Hi,

A review of the El Otro WA archives reveals that I’ve spent a surprising amount of time talking with you about the roads around here. I’ve written in particular about the disastrous 35 km. stretch between Santa Barbara de Samana and Las Galeras. This is what Philippe once referred to as “the small road–the one with the big holes.”

Now, in fairness and with full realization that several sets of you are heading this way and will eventually see for yourselves, I find that I must hit the subject of the Dominican highway at least one more time.

Move along if you’ve had enough, I’ll understand.

Nearly everything about this small road between the two towns is different. This is also true for several of the larger roads. (But, really, enough is enough—yes?)

For small road starters, the water main is now laid all of the way from the treatment plant in Samana to the foot of the hill where I live in Las Galeras and most of the leaks have been repaired. (No, I won’t have public water anytime soon.) Where the pavement was formerly relatively intact (almost nowhere), the service cuts in the asphalt have been carefully and completely patched. Where for years there was no pavement to speak of (which was most of the distance between Las Galeras and Samana) there is now decent asphalt laid over a well-compacted if sometimes oddly banked base.

The folks who live around here had no sooner gotten used to this startling turn of events—a paved highway–than the line-painting crew showed up to make a yellow line down the middle of the road.

Our centerline is a good line. Clean. Crisp. Bright. And right exactly down the middle.

Mostly it’s an unbroken line. At several locations it’s dashed, indicating that it’s OK to pass, even if in one place or two it’s dashed around a blind curve. Curiously, the dashed line also indicates that it’s OK to pass while crossing over two of the “sleeping policemen” speed bumps, these in front of the local elementary school. So take the new centerline with a grain of salt, but do enjoy it as an aid no navigation. I do.

Some people were complaining about this stripe down the middle of the road, asserting that it was sure to cause accidents. They actually made a half-way decent case for the argument, at least until the white lines at the sides of the road materialized. Now all of those bets are off.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but traffic has even seemed to slow through residential and commercial areas, if not so much around the blind curves. Go figure.

A few weeks after the stripes were apparently finished on the road I found myself returning from the Capital in the dark. I try to avoid doing this for a whole host of reasons, some of which may be obvious and many of which are reasonable. But a night-time return often happens anyway–the day can just get away from me in Santo Domingo. So, driving in the dark and passing through the washout just before La Balandra I snapped on my headlights and—I am not making this up—there were REFLECTOR BUTTONS glued down the middle of the road! It felt as I imagine one must feel when bringing a 757 in for a smooth night landing! Incredible! Astonishing! Wow!

Shortly after the revelation of the reflector buttons there came one other. Professionally painted road signs materialized, identifying each wide spot on the road between Las Galeras and Santa Barbara de Samana. Even after six years here there were a number of names that were new to me and several places that I hadn’t even recognized as discrete barrios. It’s wonderful. There’s even one yellow “curve ahead” sign.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get much better in the road department, they began to raise the manhole covers to the same elevation as the pavement, eliminating that jolt when your tire suddenly drops six inches off the pavement to the steel manhole cover at 60 kilometers an hour. Actually, that has to happen only once before you commit every manhole between the two towns to memory…

And now there is a GUARD RAIL CREW installing shiny new guard rails in lots of interesting places!

I’m thinking that the engineering specs and the stamping machines may be right out of 1950’s and ‘60’s USA, even if the placement is 100% present-day RD. Most of you remember the old-style guard rails that could just IMPALE a car at either end, I know you do. Well, we got ‘em here now. Secure in the middle, though.

Now, late in 2011, the ride to Las Galeras—all of the way from the Capital, nearly all of the way from Santiago and—especially–all of the way from Santa Barbara de Samana into downtown Las Galeras is pretty quick; the ride is quite smooth, and it is still remarkably beautiful.

Keep an eye out for that idiot who’s recycling the manhole covers, though.

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