Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stolen Bike

            No more bicycle sojourns in Santo Domingo. I dozed off for a minute on a park bench with the bike on its kickstand inches from my feet and it disappeared. Nobody saw anything.
            I went to the Tourist Police office in the Fortaleza and filled out forms. One of the cops there gave me a ride to the Destacamento of the Policia Nacional and I filled out forms there too. I walked back home through the Colonial Zone peering up and down the cross streets hoping to catch a glimpse of my bike.
            The next morning I printed up posters announcing a 3,000 peso ($70 USD) reward for the return of my bike and posted a bunch of them in the park where it was stolen. There are very few folding bicycles with 20-inch wheels in the DR which makes mine easy to spot from far away. A Haitian guy who lives in the area read one of the posters carefully and said that he had seen a limpiabota, or shoeshine boy, riding that very same bike and that he had seen me too but had not connected me with the bike. When I pinned my reward posters up on bulletin boards inside the two police stations they attracted a lot of attention. A wiry, shifty informant type who had been hanging out with the cops followed me out of the destacamento and asked for more details and a copy of the poster. He explained that bicycles stolen by limpiabotas generally wind up in either Las Cañitas or Guachupita, both notoriously tough barrios, and that he knew how to find it and get it back. I loaned him two dollars for bus fare. I haven't heard from him.
            In the days that followed I searched the streets of Santo Domingo where used bicycles might be bought, sold or traded. I was lead into back rooms of tire repair places and pawn shops where I looked for mine among piles of rusty-framed mountain, BMX as well as kid's bikes and trikes and scooters and roller skates and, incongruously, even a pair of ice skates. I visited bike stores in both fancy and poor barrios and I scanned the online classified listings for Bikes for Sale on, and I crept slowly in the guaguita through the maze of streets in Villa Consuelo where everything is for sale and piled on the street and spilling out of warehouse doorways-- from giant slaps of rough-hewn mahogany, to piles of wheelchairs, heaps of toilets and plumbing parts, tangles of used copper electrical cables, barber chairs, bales of used tee shirts, towers of cheap foam mattresses, pyramids of bolts of cloth, cut rate perfumes and gold filled jewelry. Forklifts and wheelbarrows crisscross traffic in the crowded streets carrying stacks of plywood, Masonite, 2x4's, tinacos and stacks of nested plastic chairs. Motorcycles everywhere. People say my chances are good of recovering the bike since it is practically unique here. On the bright side I have sold a few Airzounds in my meanderings.
            Two nights ago I got a call from an agitated guy asking about my bike and I eventually gathered that he had a similar one. We agreed to meet at the colmado on the corner. Santiago is short, blocky and intense with eyes that look in slightly different directions. He ordered a Bohemia beer which we shared while he excitedly related that he had just been riding his black, 20-inch wheeled folding bike through Parque Colón when he was apprehended by Sosa, the Chief of the Tourist Police in the Zona, because the bike looked just like the photograph of mine on the poster. Sosa is famous here and not for patience or compassion for thieves. It was lucky for Santiago that the brand of his bike, Bfold, was clearly decal-ed on the frame and that Sosa had a photocopy of my ad in his pocket that clearly stated the brand of the stolen bike as Retrospec. Santiago pocketed two copies of the poster and is hot to recover the bike for me and it turns out that he lives only two blocks from my apartment. I hope nobody mistakenly kills him for his Bfold thinking it is mine hoping for the reward.

            It has been more than two weeks now and I spend less time in the evenings sitting in Parque Juan Barón or Maria Eugenia de Hostos or Playa Guïbia or some other bicycle meeting spot with a copy of the police report in my pocket waiting for my bicycle to pass by. I think it may still appear perhaps months from now after all my posters have been torn down or dissolved by rain and time. I keep a scan of the poster and the police report in my cell phone just in case. Hopefully the phone will not be stolen before then

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

More Bicycle

            My Airzound bicycle air horn arrived and it is an extremely effective traffic control. You get about 60 short piercing bursts of penetrating honk out of each 100 psi canister of air and you can refill whenever you like using a gas station compressor or your own bicycle tire pump. It stops busses, dump trucks, motorcycles, cars backing out of driveways and startles pedestrians a half block away. Drivers opening doors in the street recoil back into their parked cars like turtles backing into their shells when the blast hits them. People who have heard me honk before call out from sidewalks or colmado entrances when I pass by, “Pita, pita!!!!” (or Honk, honk!!!) wanting to hear it again.
            I have imported 100 Airzounds from the factory in Canada. It is too many but it was the minimum order for the maximum discount. My apartment is full of them.

            My main selling strategy is to put 3 or 4 horns in my backpack and a sign on my bicycle and pedal through the city and its parks tooting occasionally to attract attention when I see a group of bikers. This is not a high percentage strategy since very few people here go out with 1200 pesos ($25 usd) in their pockets. I think of it as akin to the Theodore Cleaver plan, named after the Beaver's idea of sitting on the steps of a bank waiting for a nice old man to come out and give him a bunch of money. But you never know!

            Thursday I joined up with the group of about 75 cyclists for their weekly nighttime 30 km tour of Santo Domingo. They hire 2 Amet motorcycle cops, one of whom rides ahead and closes intersections to car traffic while the other brings up the rear of the peloton to collect stragglers. If a cyclist falls or gets a flat tire the whole group stops and waits. Front riders shout out, “Hoyo!” to warn of potholes or missing manhole covers. I honked my horn when appropriate and gave out my phone number to all interested.
            Interest in the Airzound is intense, but sales not so. Today I will go to Aro y Pedal, the largest bike shop in the DR with 10 stores scattered around the country, to try to sell wholesale.

Last week marked the 36th annual Vuelta Independencia International Bicycle road race in the Dominican Republic. 17 teams participated over 8 stages ranging in length from 196 Km to 84 km traversing the country.
            On Monday I hung around the start line before the race talking to racers and a few fans and when the gun went off the bikers were gone in seconds and on their way to Samaná 177 Km away.
            On Saturday the race returned to Santo Domingo and I waited near the finish line in the rain at Sambíl Mall. Talking to the official Timer I learned that each racer has a small computer chip attached to his front wheel that triggers a sensor at the exact millisecond that he crosses the finish line that communicates with the timer's computer. A half-hour before the racers were expected the electricity went out. A battered pick-up truck eventually dropped off a gas powered generator and the harried Timer heaved a sigh of relief. The route to the finish line on Avenida Kennedy, a large multi lane divided highway through the heart of the city, was in the right hand lanes but, about 300 meters before the finish, crossed through a space between the jersey barriers to occupy the three left hand lanes hugely complicating traffic control for the Amet police. Cars coming out of the mall's underground parking garage kept entering the bike lanes head-on and a motorcycle suddenly appeared in the crossover area causing the American who was leading the race, as well as a few others, to crash on the wet road. He finished roadburned and near last.
27th Febrero and Ave. Winston Churchill
Sunday marked the 8th and final stage of the race and consisted of fourteen 6 km laps down Avenida Lincoln, across Ave. 27 de Febrero, and up Avenida Churchill; finally an ideal scenario for spectators. I watched the start in a throng of about 50 aficionados and then biked down the empty closed-off boulevard to the first corner to watch the next lap on the inside turn. There were no barriers so I sat alone on the edge of the sidewalk and when the racers whirred past they were only a few feet from me and were going so impossibly fast that I could feel the speed and danger in my chest. After the bikers were clear and the support cars and the trailing ambulance passed I, and 3 other fans, biked to the next turn to await the passing of the next lap. And so on until we all arrived back at the finish line for the exciting conclusion of the Vuelta Independencia, to the relief of all.

If you are interested in purchasing an Airzound Safety Air Horn I can give you a good price.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Turns out riding a bike is not like riding a bike, in that, you can forget how. After a 30 year lay-off I was wobbly and nervous the first few days that I got back on and when I mentioned that I made it up the hill in the center of South Egremont (Massachusetts) other bicyclists said, “What hill?” I started off on a borrowed 1979 Eduardo Bianchi 3 speed folder with 20“ wheels and, as I gradually regained the hang of it, I started to like it.
            I bought a more compact, folding single-speed, coaster brake Retrospec bike that fits on the front seat of my pick-up and brought it with me on my weekends in New York City where I sell rock art photographs and tee shirts on various sidewalks of the  five boroughs.
Isham and Cooper, Inwood, Manhattan

After work I would choose a restaurant that sounded good in a magazine review or on Yelp, and that was a suitable distance away, and strike out biking for it. In just a few weekends I pedaled the length of the bike paths on both the East and West sides of Manhattan and crossed the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queensboro, University Heights and Pulaski bridges and ate at some good Mexican food trucks, gourmet hamburger and hoagie spots and Caribbean Jerk Chicken stands.
Brooklyn Bridge, bike path

The Little Red Light House under the George Washington Bridge, NYC

            Once, I stopped to rest at one of the many little parks on the Greenway along the Hudson River. I was sitting on a bench with my Spec on its kickstand near me and a couple of men wearing nice slacks, loafers and sport jackets sat nearby, next to their own parked bikes that had fenders and baskets, when a guy heading uptown biked up fast off the sidewalk, locked up his brakes, hopped off the skidding bike, picked it up and smashed it against a tree, picked it up again and hurled it into another tree. He picked it up one more time and bent over it, apparently inspecting for damage, got on and rode away. After a moment the Italian guys stood up and, as they were starting to get on their bikes, one looked at me and said with an accent, “In the Old Country, sometimes, we used to fix things that way too.”
            I got used to riding in traffic, stopping for lights and not being afraid when I had to insinuate myself into the left hand lane ready to make a left turn when the light changed and I learned to watch for doors of parked cars suddenly opening in front of me and I rang my Schwinn bike bell when a pedestrian, or a squirrel, looked like they might step out in front of me. The Spec coasts and pedals nearly silently having no gears that make clicking noises so no one hears you coming. When I am biking alone I feel like I am going pretty fast on the level or downhill but I am often passed and rarely pass another bicyclist unless they are distracted talking on their phone or eating a slice of pizza or a sandwich while pedaling. On a longish trip with grades but few hills I average 9 mph.
            I am now in Santo Domingo which, this year, finally made it to the number one ranking of world cities with the highest traffic related mortality rate. (41 deaths per population of 100,000 with 20 being the international average.) On my first bike outing I cautiously crossed the Malecón on foot, walking the bike, to get to the miles-long sidewalk that runs along the Caribbean and that has few curbs. It is like a boardwalk but built with bricks and concrete. Heading west I kept looking over my shoulder for other, faster cyclists approaching, but there were none. Once in a while a Honda 70cc, heard from a great distance, would pass. I turned right on Alma Mater which cuts through the UASD, the giant public university, and wended my way through the strolling students until I had to return to traffic on Bolivár. Cars, semi-s, decrepit taxis, busses and guaguas and motorcycles, half of which go the wrong way on one-way streets, all vie to beat the yellow, and for that matter the red lights too. The stoplights that work, that is. Years of piling on layers of blacktop have left deep precipitous gutters and there are frequent potholes that would catapult any cyclist into the next lane who hit one full speed. Wherever the street became too narrow I bailed for the sidewalk. 
El Malecón, Santo Domingo
            On my next bicycle forays into the maw of Santo Domingo I realized that the drivers here are accustomed to looking out for slow moving obstacles in the street. Fruit carts, children, people in wheelchairs and on crutches, shaved ice slushy salesmen (or frieros), cars gimping along on flat tires, livestock, delivery motorcycles, windshield washers, and people selling mangos, avocados and bottles of cold water at stoplights and near speed bumps are common and all need to be avoided. Liability here is generally ascribed to the vehicle that did the hitting, even if the other object was passing in the right lane in an intersection or screaming through a red light. So while the side-view mirror on that Toyota Corolla that just passed my left elbow felt too close for comfort, I believe the driver saw me and missed me on purpose.  My biggest fear, and one that almost no amount of alertness can protect against, is of getting hit by a motorcycle coasting silently with no lights through an intersection going the wrong way on a one-way street at night. (As I write this I see in the news that AMET, the traffic police, just gave out 3,433 fines during a 10 day period for vehicles without lights, a little over half of which were motorcycles.) I have ordered flashing lights for the front and rear of the Spec, and an Airzound, a bike horn purported to be the loudest ever made and that runs on 80 psi of compressed air in a plastic canister that you refill yourself every 50 honks with a bicycle pump or at a gas station.
Malecón looking west.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Rock Art Discovery in Cumayasa

Before meeting Rafael in La Piedra, Alain and I searched caves for several years in Cumayasa with Chichi. Chichi’s knowledge of local caves came, not from hiding illegal pesticides in them, but from looking for lost livestock; goats in particular have a penchant for wandering into cave complexes, not being able to find their way out and dying. We turn off the main highway, between San Pedro de Macoris and La Romana, after the
The guaguita can just be seen parked to far left
monumental Presidente beer billboard and more or less follow the high tension electric towers past several dumps and charcoal making piles and we turn after the shack where the Haitianos live and bounce down the brutally rutted dirt road through several barways until we get to Chichi’s mother-in-law, Isabel’s house.
Pile of branches ready to be burned for charcoal.
Isabel raises mules and donkeys and has taken in several wan, thin orphans over the years and feeds them partially with bread made from the rhizomes of guáyiga (Zamia debilis), a wild fern-like cycad that grows in abundance here. If the sap is not properly purged from the mashed rhizomes the bread can be
Plantains and papaya planted on limestone
deadly poisonous but Isabel’s, while very dry, is filling and sticks with you. She claims her recipe hasn't killed anyone yet. They also grow yucca (manihot), guandules (pigeon peas), habichuelas (kidney beans) and lechosa (papaya), although I don't know how since the ground appears to be about as fertile as the Moon. They have to find or smash and chisel holes in the jagged limestone crust and fill them with dirt and manure in order to plant anything. Walking through a planted area is an ankle turning, shoe-ripping ordeal.
Chichi is married to Isabel's deaf mute daughter, who I am not sure has a name, and they have one child together.
Chichi with wife and child in their back yard

Unlike Rafael, who took a shine to looking for petroglyphs with us and who explores the caves with us when he does not have somewhere else he needs to be, Chichi leads us to a cave entrance, follows us in to the edge of the dark zone, shudders, leaves, and comes back for us in the afternoon. If we need to rappel into the cave we ask him to wait for us above ever since the morning some itinerant, machete-wielding tigueres shouted down to us, at the bottom of a 30 foot deep drop with sheer walls and no other way out that we knew of than up by the same 9mm rope that we had descended with, that they were going to cut and steal the rope. Luckily we were able to name-drop several local landowners and managed to talk the thugs out of it. They would have probably cut the rope into short lengths to make halters and hobbles for stolen mules or to make towropes for broken down vehicles.
This area of Cumayasa is rich in caves but was not known to be so rich
Petroglyph from Cumayasa.
Unusual with two connected heads,
perhaps suggesting Siamese twins.
in rock art. As in almost all regions of the Dominican Republic, close to half of the caves will have at least one or two, often badly eroded, petroglyphs carved into calcite formations near the entrance, in partial light. These petroglyphs are nearly always faces comprising a circle, two eyes and a nose or mouth and are thought to be guardians of the deeper regions. We don't know why the Taíno (or their predecessors) decorated their caves but they did believe that they were special places; the sun and moon emerged from caves in their creation and the souls of the dead were thought to be tied to the comings and goings of bats in the caves.
During a previous year Alain and Eric LaBarre, another French caver, along with Chichi, had discovered both a painted mural and a finger-fluted boulder in a previously unreported cave that they named Cueva del Peñón. Chichi kept coming across unknown entrances and Alain and I kept exploring, measuring and mapping them and it turned out that many of the entrances were interconnected and that it was not an area of many small caves but of a few large, almost maze-like cave systems.
One drizzly morning Chichi led us to the back of a small property owned by Vidal and that had a small shack on it and eventually we spotted the entrance at the bottom of an overgrown gravelly slope. After being assured that we would not need to rappel Chichi promptly left to go chop firewood with his colleen*.
After taking the GPS coordinates we ducked under a low lentil and crawled into the cool penumbra of the cave. I readied my camera stuff while Alain wandered off to reconnoiter the first rooms and within minutes got lost. When he called out sometimes the echo came from nearby and sometimes from what seemed like from the bowels of an empty, subterranean coliseum. I hammered on the wall near me from time to time and he found his way back
Remains of a lost goat. A strand of
our discarded measuring thread
can be seen to left.
after about 20 minutes. He handed me my end of the string from his Topofil gadget and we began measuring the few nearby dimly lighted rooms and their interconnections before striking off down a slick, smooth, mud glazed decline and into total darkness. At first when I looked back I could see points and dim glows of light from where we had come, but one turn later and all was dark in every direction except where our helmet spotlights shined. While Alain sketched and calculated the rises and runs and azimuths I cast my light around the walls looking for art.
We measured our way off to the right where we soon came to a cliff with a 6-meter drop, too steep for us to descend without rope. As we gazed down into that space Alain thought he recognized one of the boulders on the floor as one he thought of as “camel hump” from Cueva del Peñón. We turned and, punto por punto, worked our way back through a sort of high lobby with a dark triangular opening in the far end. Alain bit off the used measuring thread and sat down to sketch some ceiling details while I wandered off through the lobby. High and to the right of the triangle I saw the first pictograph, “Alain, hay dibujos!” I said.

We left our packs at the base of the triangle and crab-slid our way through the opening into a narrow passageway about 15 meters long and that had a shelf like a stair-tread about 1 meter high extending the length of the left hand wall and above that shelf the wall was covered in rich black pictographs. Some were covered with natural deposits of calcite, which attests to their antiquity. The ceiling was high, evidently nearly reaching ground level since we could see pinpricks of light above.

We did eventually determine that the cave on Vidal's land did connect with Peñón at the intersection by the “camel hump” rock and that the whole system contains almost 3 miles of passageway and 4 important areas of rock art. Alain published his findings in a private publication in French and I published Finger Fluting and Other Cave Art in Cumayasa, Dominican Republic in Rock Art Research, a juried, peer reviewed Australian journal available to download HERE. Rock art image galleries HERE and at

* Colleen is a vernacular term here for machete because many years ago all the machetes were imported from The Collins Iron Works, Collinsville, Ct., USA and they had the word Collins stamped in the steel up near the handle and colleen is the Spanish pronunciation. In those days when you were wading into a machete fight you might threaten to stick it into your foe “up to the colleen”.