It’s probably most parents’ nightmare to have their daughter ride off on the back of a strange boy’s motorcycle. And yet that is my reality. I, almost daily, entrust my life to a man I do not know at all. I climb on the back of their motorcycle and trust that they know what they’re doing, that they know what they’re going, that they’re not going to kidnap me. I squish myself up against a stranger and ride off on the back of a motorcycle.
This past weekend I was in Jarabacoa with my friend Quel. It was her first time in the mountains so we were planning on seeing some waterfalls. On Saturday the friend that usually takes me to waterfalls was busy so Quel and I just strolled around town looking for a couple of motoconchos (motorcycle taxis). We ended up spending the day with Roberto and Puma. We ended up flying up and down mountains soaking wet in the rain on the backs of motorcycles of men we had just met, one of whom was called Puma for goodness sake.
We went to Jimenoa 1, which requires quite the hike. In fact, the last time I went to Jimenoa 1 I cried. We took a different path this time and I didn’t cry! It took me a long time to huff and puff back up that mountain but I did it. Puma and Roberto did it, too, and they were super patient with me, never once commenting about how much I needed to rest or how red my head was. Quel was also super encouraging and patient. She knows we can do hard things. When I was flying back down the mountain in the pouring rain on the back of the motorcycle of a man named Puma that I had known for just a couple of hours, I thought about my Dominican life and the people that fill it up. I looked around at the mountains and looked at the curly mohawked head in front of me and thought, “How could I live anywhere else?”
The next day Quel and I joined a group of six going to the Secret Waterfall with David (the guy who usually takes me to waterfalls). Because of all of the rain (it has seriously rained every day for over two weeks) the river was HIGH and the waterfall was INTENSE. Where there are usually exposed rocks to sit on there was just dirty water. Where there is a ladder that you have to climb to reach the waterfall there was a mini waterfall that you had to climb through. We climbed through it anyway and stood ankle deep in dirty water to look at the waterfall. And quickly the water started to rise and rise and rise. More and more water was gushing down the waterfall and we knew we had to get out of there quick.
Except quick isn’t an option when each young woman has to be escorted through the chest deep water by a combo team of three guys. Which was definitely necessary, if not just for our feeling of safety. For a while I stood there with Quel and one of the other girls while we watched David figure out the safest way to get us back to where we needed to be. I thought about how we were placing our safety and our lives in his hands in a real way. I thought about how I had zero doubts and zero fears. I thought about how I trusted him the same way I trust the motoconcho drivers I trust every day (and even more so, as David has led me on countless adventures and hasn’t killed me yet).
Dominican men can at times be frustrating with their catcalls and their infidelity and the way they put paintings of naked women on their motorcycles. But I would trust almost any Dominican man I know with my life, because that’s just the way they roll here. This weekend, wading through a rushing river holding hands with two men I had known for about an hour, my Dominican life felt safe. I felt cared for and protected and valued. Does life get better than that?