January 2, 2022

How Feeling Safe can Sometimes be an Illusion. {Part II}

Read part one of this series.


My wife and I looked at the map showing the best route from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, to scenic areas around Montana Redonda.

It showed that it was about 87 kilometers north.

“That didn’t seem too bad,” I thought. “We should be able to get there in about an hour and a half easily. And with the gas mileage these little motor scooters get, we should have no problems.”

Have you ever ridden on a small motor scooter for a long period of time? Have you ever had someone sitting on the same small seat with you? I’m telling you flat out, don’t do it. It is one of the most uncomfortable and exhausting experiences you’ll ever have.

After leaving the rental shop and me going into full emotional meltdown, I focused on navigating out of Punta Cana and getting on the road north to Montana Redonda. I knew that my phone with its local SIM card could be checked at any time in case we got lost or needed to check our progress.

As I focused on the road and navigating traffic, I was able to calm myself enough that I had stopped heaving and balling from the experience we had at the rental place. With my previous experience riding motorbikes, I was familiar enough with the machine to safely ride and check my gauges and the fuel level. Everything seemed to check out.

I tried to relax a bit and dared to take a peek at the countryside, swimming by on each side of the highway. My wife was still holding on tightly to me, trying desperately to keep her feet on the passenger foot pegs and her butt on the seat.

The downside to sharing a small scooter seat is that it’s not designed for long trips, and this seat had a slight decline forward toward the front of the scooter. This caused us both to slide forward ever so slightly when going over each bump in the road. This resulted in me having less and less seat under my own butt.

We had ridden for about 20 minutes when I needed to stop and reassess the seating and check our progress on the mobile navigation and stretch. We pulled off onto a side road and found a safe place to stop. After standing, pulling my shorts out of my groin and butt crack, my wife nudged me and said, “Look!”

Confused, I looked around, and driving up next to us was a motorcycle with two armed military men. They looked concerned and said something in Spanish that we did not understand. The only thing I could look at were the machine guns they were carrying, with one of the men holding his in ready position.

Without thinking, I clumsily spit out, “Gracias, gracias. Nada entiendo por favor.” As I held up my phone and pointed at the screen. “Gracias, gracias,” I continued with a big smile on my face. “Let’s go,” I said to my wife, and with that we quickly waved to the men and turned our bike and continued driving north.

I only dared to look occasionally in the rearview mirror to see if the men were following, but I didn’t see them. “Holy sh*t! What the hell was that!” I thought to myself. I realized then that my heart was racing fast, and my hands gripped the scooter as if my life depended on it.

We drove, and we drove, and we drove for what seemed like an eternity. The white painted lines in the road started to mesmerize my mind, and the visual rhythm lulled me into feeling disassociated from my body. I held my body completely ridge. I no longer knew where I was nor could feel the pain shooting up from my groin, as only the very tip of the seat held me from sliding off the seat completely. I only had one thought in my mind—and that was looking for any sign that said Montana Redonda. I was going to get us there, even if I would never have feelings again below my waist.

After more than an hour and a half, we finally saw the sign indicating “Montana Redonda next right.” I was overjoyed and felt as if I was going to burst into tears again. We turned off the road and surveyed the area. There were a few cars haphazardly parked around the lot, and I could see several men sitting off to the side under the trees eyeing us and smoking cigarettes.

Near the men there were several other scooters parked, so we decided that was the safest place to go. There were signs saying things like, “Parking 100 pesos” and “No motorized vehicles allowed on mountain” and “You must walk or pay a fee to ride the bus” and “Montana Redonda access 250 pesos on bus.”

We recalled our Airbnb host telling us that it shouldn’t cost more than 200 pesos to park and access the mountain. We had no idea what to think about the signs, and the men kept staring at us, talking, and laughing, then staring at us again.

We decided to call the host and ask her advice. She agreed the amount was high. She suggested we pay the parking and the minimum fee of 100 pesos to walk up. She said, “If you start walking and someone comes along, they will likely stop and pick you up for free.” It worked.

We walked for about 10 minutes, which felt good after sitting on the scooter seat, when a large empty bus came bouncing up the road. The driver stopped and said, “Hey, mister, you want a ride?” I said, “How many pesos?” He said, “No problem, mister. No pesos. You sit here with me. We will go to the top.”

I looked at my wife and she nodded her head. I said, “Okay, but we will ride in the back, okay?” He said, “No, mister, you can ride in front.” “That’s okay, the back is fine.” I continued. He looked perplexed but jumped down and lowered a small ladder for us to climb up. And off we went.

It was horrible!

The road up Montana Redonda was washed out with huge ruts in it. As we climbed up the mountain, we hit each and every bump in the road causing my wife and I to be unceremoniously launched in the air, then slammed back down onto the wooden benches.

My wife’s eyes were wide as she hung on as tight as she could to the bus seat. I adopted a sort of crouching position above the seat where I tried to absorb the bumps as best I could, but I still would either hit my head on the makeshift ceiling above or the back of the seat as I came back down.

We managed to make it to the top of the mountain. We smiled widely at the driver saying, “Gracias, gracias, señor,” with him having a small knowing smile on his face as he watched us carefully climb down off the bus.

We began walking toward the gift shops at the top, and seeing a good opportunity for a photo, I pulled out my phone and lined up the shot. Just as I did this, I looked over and my wife had her phone out lined up with the same exact shot. Confused and feeling a sudden urge of frustration, I said, “We don’t need to both take the same picture!” My wife looked at me with equal frustration, shook her head, and walked away from me.

I had just f*cked up, and I knew it, but I was so emotionally raw at this point I couldn’t muster the courage to apologize. I had just cut myself off from the only person who understood what we had just been through. Now I was alone and felt as if all of what we just went through was completely my own fault.

My mind was racing. I thought, “If I was was more of a man with the balls to have stood up to those rental guys, we wouldn’t be in this situation. If I had realized how far it was and that this small scooter would be hell to ride, I wouldn’t have just said such a stupid thing to my wife to make her mad at me too. I am such a f*cking loser.”

I wandered aimlessly around the top of the mountain pretending to enjoy the scenery, taking pictures of the ocean views on one side and the deep, lush forest on the other. All I could think was how I wanted to be back home and to have never even suggested going to this godforsaken place. There was nothing about this place that felt amazing, even though it really was.

The only problem was I didn’t want to be there, and my emotional state did not allow me to see beyond my own self-abusing mind.

My wife and I had gone our separate ways after I made my asinine comment about taking pictures. What the hell was I thinking? I mean, who cares if we stood side by side and took the same photos of each area of the mountaintop? These are digital cameras and the delete button is our friend. Besides that, no photo is the same anyway, and her perspective of the scenery is important to capture as well.

She found the large swing where you can be pushed and feel as if you are flying out over the edge of the mountain. Seeing her sitting there, I wandered over and offered to take a photo of her, and without speaking, she nodded.

Ever so slowly, we circled each other for the next 30 minutes, making comments about the weather or the view, but never talking about the emotional elephant on top of the mountain. I felt ashamed of myself, but because she is a forgiving person to her middle, and because neither of us want to be alone there, we managed to focus on what was next. We needed to get down off this mountain and try to make it home before it was dark.

We found a group of people walking toward a small pickup truck that was preparing to leave. We asked if they had room and the driver waved at us to jump in the cab where there were seats available in the front and back seats. We readily agreed this time, remembering the harrowing and body-jolting experience we had coming up the mountain. I began to feel a bit more normal at this point.

There was loud music playing on the radio, and many were singing along with the Spanish music. I could feel the joy emanating from the driver and the group of people traveling down the mountain. I started to take deeper and slower breaths and allowed myself to smile and laugh along with the group, even though I didn’t know what they were laughing about. It didn’t matter. The elephant wasn’t with us in those moments, and I never wanted to see or feel it again. I was hoping the moment would just fade and be forgotten as an unfortunate incident.

After reaching the bottom of the mountain and having a much slower and smoother ride, I could feel that we were both emboldened to head back to Punta Cana. We decided if we made good time, maybe we could stop by Playa Macao for a few minutes to eat our lunch on the beach. We put on our helmets and adjusted ourselves for the ride, and off we went. All seemed right, and maybe we could salvage the rest of the day and really enjoy ourselves.

What I didn’t know at that time was how our journey was not yet over and we faced even more challenges.

Yet, the purpose for our journey would finally be revealed in a very simple act of kindness and perspectives we would have never considered.



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