I lived in Jarabacoa for 9 years between 1999 and 2010. There are various options for personal conveyance around the town, including on foot, mule, horse, moped, scooter, motorcycle, motoconcho, 4-wheeler, dune buggy, gator, private or public car, taxi! Though, once I got myself on a motorbike, that was the only transportation for me!
Upon my arrival to the Dominican Republic, I had never ridden on a motorcycle or even seen one close up. Since mechanically-propelled two-wheeled transportation is the preferred method in and around Jarabacoa, it was not long before I was initiated into the “motorbike passenger” role. Since my first job position at Escuela Caribe required that I live on campus in a student residence, I was dependent on hitching rides to town either by taxi, staff van, or motorbike. That was in the early days, when our school owned more vehicles than our staff, the majority of whom either rode their own motorbikes or were picked up by the staff van. Fortunately, I lived with a motorcycle aficionado who purchased and rebuilt older bikes in his time off, which gave me plenty of opportunities to learn how to ride safely as a passenger.
I decided to stay in the country longer than my initial two-year commitment, so I decided I wanted to learn how to drive a motor scooter. Dominicans call them passolas (pah-SOH-lahs). These are interesting little bikes that you can drive without manually engaging clutch and gearshift, as they employ CVT technology. At this time I was intimidated by shifting and clutching both with bikes and cars, so I thought I’d go the “safe route” with the scooter. With the help of my friend’s spanglish, I purchased a used 90cc Yamaha Axis 3VR scooter at Lantigua Motors in Jarabacoa. I was glad to have the freedom to drive myself to work and get around town. I thereby finally became more comfortable with the area. I did burn through a few clutches that year, especially from driving up steep roads so often. Needless to say, I never took it off-roading or on any long trips, and I sold that bike when I left the DR for what turned out to be just 8 months.
On my return, I decided I wanted to master the clutch and gearshift concept, so after a few months of saving my pennies, I purchased a used 4-speed Honda CG 125 road bike from a friend who happened to actually possess his motorcycle license. He offered to teach me to drive it, and after about a 30 minute lesson, which likely included 20 minutes of trying to get it into first gear while pointing steeply uphill, he hopped on his newly acquired 600cc Yamaha and accompanied me into town until we were close to my house. After that I was on my own! That bike ran like a charm, it was basically maintenance free and easy to drive. But I outgrew it and longed for something with more power.
I put out word that I was looking for a 225cc Yamaha Serow, and like a fool I went for the first one that crossed my path. That thing was a nightmare. Ok, when it ran, it did run well! I enjoyed many dirt-road rides on that bike. But it had persistent carburetor and electrical issues, and my mechanic refused to install a kickstart for me as a backup for when the battery mysteriously died. It got to the point where I was spending every day off taking the bike to the mechanic shop, wasting more money than I wanted to supposedly fix the thing. So as soon as I could, I sold it and purchased a brand new passola!
The new bike was a Hussar CPI 125cc scooter, bright yellow with contrasting black trim. That thing ran great, all I had to do was get the oil changed. It ran up the hills pretty well due to the larger motor. There was a small electrical problem but it involved the clock, which kept resetting every time it rained. I guess that part of the bike was not waterproof, which seemed odd, but I did not rely on the clock and soon forgot it was even on there. May 1, 2005, I was on my way to church for music practice before the service when I was hit by a drunken man on a motoconcho (motorcycle taxi) who was going the wrong way on the wrong side of the road, and that was a big wake-up call. I had a helmet on, which pretty much kept me from needing a face transplant, but I hurt my back and wound up with some road rash, whiplash, and several large bruises. After 6 years the scars have faded and the back is manageable. I have some lingering nerve damage in each of my feet (from sandals), one of which has become pretty accurate at predicting when it’s going to rain. Anyway, after a few days of taking it really easy and ingesting high quantities of ibuprofen, I rode the scooter a few times and decided I was terrified of getting hit again and sold it.
My next purchase was an old minivan, which I was thankful to have, on occasion. While I had it, I did feel safe from motorcyclists, until I heard what seemed to be an alarming number of stories of Dominicans appearing to intentionally drive their two-wheeled conveyances into the front corners of gringos’ four-wheeled vehicles. Mostly it guzzled obscene amounts of expensive gasoline, burned through 2 transmissions, and had electrical problems that left me in more unpleasant situations than I like to remember. As soon as I could unload that car I did, for way too little cash, but at least it was off my hands.
While I still had the van I decided I needed something more gas efficient, and that I was again willing to brave the two-wheeled world. A friend was leaving and selling his Nipponia 90cc concho bike, so I took that off his hands. This kind of bike has what’s called a semi-automatic system of gears. The gear change and clutch both work off of the foot-operated pedal, and the thing only has 4 gears. That bike had good reliability and was basically maintenance free, although the ride was quite bumpy and I found it had a negative affect on my injured spinal column.
So when the opportunity to purchase a reliable 225 Serow arose, I didn’t think twice! I bought this one off a friend who had kept it up well and had recently had the clutch disks replaced. I adored that bike. It ran like clockwork and was a joy to take on bumpy, hilly mountain roads. Well, once I got what I really wanted in a bike, I was asked by my employer to transfer stateside and had to sell my beloved Serow to return to USA to work.
After a year away from the Dominican Republic, I returned again for a summer and purchased another bike in anticipation of a future return. It was a 5-speed Yamaha YBR 125, and was everything I wanted in a road bike. Less than a year later I was able to work again in Jarabacoa, and I thoroughly enjoyed riding this bike. It was very easy to maintain, reliable, and great for getting around town. It served me well for my latest stint in Jarabacoa. I’d definitely buy it again in the future, but would want to have a dirtbike for fun rides and trips!
Yes, the “motorcycle bug” definitely bit me in Jarabacoa.