Ok, so maybe that's a huge generalization and completely inaccurate. Dominicans aren't necessarily terrible at directions, many are just terrible at admitting when they don't know how to give you proper directions to where you want to go.
Now to my American mind, admitting that you don't know how to get to a specified location is far better than sending a stranger off on a wild goose chase in the wrong direction.
Is that how Dominicans see it though?
Of course not!
Nope, instead it turns out that Dominicans are masters of "inventing" directions.
Now I'm not sure the mindset behind this. Perhaps Dominicans just don't like to give the impression that they don't know their way around, especially in their hometowns. Or perhaps, and probably more likely, to Dominicans it would seem extremely rude and unhelpful not to at least attempt to point a stranger in the right direction. Does it matter that they themselves don't know where the location is situated. Not one bit. Best just to give the strangers your best guess and send them merrily on their way, happily believing they are headed on the correct path. I mean, at least you did the best you could to help them and you sent them off with a smile, right?
I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but it's true.
I wouldn't be writing to you about this interesting phenomenon had I not wandered streets aimlessly in the wrong direction, multiple times, after asking a local how to reach my destination. And nearly all my friends have reported similar incidents. Most recently though, I experienced this lovely cultural quirk on a hiking trip to the highest peak in the Santiago area, Pico Diego de Ocampo. Being the highest mountain in the surrounding mountain range, you would think it would be a fairly popular location. Or if not popular, at least easy to find.
You would be wrong.
So the adventure started with Sydney, Davíd, and I catching the M concho to the Javilla Tours bus station on Saturday. From there we hopped on a guagua to Villa Gonzalez, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Santiago. We knew that the entrance to the hiking path was located somewhere in this vicinity. We just had to find out where. Since pretty much all information is communicated by word-of-mouth here (which is the catch-22 of having to ask directions), we stopped and asked two motoconcho guys if they could point us to the trail for Diego de Ocampo. And OF COURSE, they knew where the entrance was and would gladly take us there for 100 pesos each. First mistake. If I've learned anything about finding locations in the D.R., it's that you should always double-check your information. Asking one person is not good enough, you literally need to get the opinion of a minimum of 3 people in the surrounding area, 5 is even better. For certain at least 1 out of 3 of those people will give you directions in the exact opposite way of the others.
We hopped on the motorcycles willy nilly though and let them drive us upwards a ways and deposit us at the foot of a path that at least looked like it might be the start of our climb.
So into the woods we went.
Ummm, is this the right way to Diego de Ocampo? we questioned our "guide."
"Oh no, this path won't take you there, you have to go to another trail very far away to climb that mountain."
Thanks, guide, for mentioning that 15 minutes earlier when we told you we wanted to go to the top of Diego de Ocampo!
So faced with the decision of turning around and trying to find our way to the correct path, or continuing on, we decided just to hike on. The hike, afterall, was turning out to be both beautiful and challenging, as we were spending most of it scrambling across rocks, dodging muddy paths, and skipping back and forth across the creek bed. So maybe we wouldn't make it to the top of Diego de Ocampo today, no problem, we could save it for another weekend. You have to roll with the punches here and learn to appreciate what you have, even if its not what you originally planned or wanted.
And since the hike was so pretty, we weren't having any trouble appreciating it anyway.
And our guide was super nice, helping us across the creek and up tricky steep areas, even if I did question his directional knowledge.