By: Atisha Paullson
25 years ago, Las Galeras (In the Dominican Republic) could not be found on any maps. It’s a small fishing village, a one road town that leads to the sea. The most fascinating thing about Las Galeras is the culture that surrounds the most popular mode of transportation, which is by far the motorcycle, scooter and ATV.
These vehicles are much more than a way to get from A to B. They reflect the identity of the rider, status and wealth, masculinity and power. Because Las Galeras is so small, people encounter each other on the road day-after-day, year-after-year. What they ride is essentially who they are. Whether they’re Hells Angels on massive Harley’s, rebellious adolescents on souped up scooters, or a family of four crammed on a moped, in the town of Las Galeras, your ride is your brand, and even there, perception is everything. With petrol scares and very expensive (there is no actual gas station in Lasa Galeras, people purchase gas by the gallon out of a plastic bottle dispensed by a man at a stand on the side of the road), many commute on foot or hitch rides around town from others willing to lend a ride.
I was in the Dominican Republic trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. New York had beaten me down like a dog; the frigid weather, exorbitant rent, jackhammers and dickheads, all competing for every square foot of space. What I needed was a little time to get away, reflect and pull myself back together. I had never been to the DR before but someone said the beaches were nice, the beer was cheap and I could catch a Jet Blue flight from JFK to Puerto Plata, in less than four hours. I was sold, single and most of my friends had day jobs so I booked a flight, packed my bags and migrated south.
A few days after arriving in Las Terrenas, I met this kid, Santiago. He looked to be about 18, with long limbs and jet black eyes. He was sitting on his motorbike in front of the place I was staying. I noticed him staring at my shoes, so I nodded in his direction. He said he liked my Pumas and that if I gave them to him he’d pick me up the next day and drive me to a secluded beach a few hours outside the town. So I did.
The next day Santiago showed up at 10AM sharp. He motioned for me to get on the back of his bike, explaining in broken English that we were going to La Morón – a secluded beach past his town of Limon. With a fair amount of hesitation, I climbed on. Once we were on the road, I was able to relax into the warmth of the sun with the wind on my face. My Mojito hangover from the night before subsiding. I was ready for this beach, which was way off the beaten path and took an hour to reach. Well before arriving, we traded concrete for dirt and I saw Dominicans lazing away in front of their humble dwellings. Some were made of tin, others from dilapidated wood. All were brightly painted and surrounded by sweeping palms.
Along the road we encountered two small children. One, a boy, was holding a leash attached to a dead dog. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes, as he pulled on the leash, the unresponsive corpse of the dog lying motionless in the dust. The other child, a little girl of about four, was tending to a dead cat. She was squatting in the dirt, as if to coax it back from the dead. Santiago murmured something but it disappeared in the wind.
Finally we reached the beach, which was secluded and perfect. I took off my shirt and felt the first rays of the sun on my back. Santiago reclined on his bike in the shadow of a palm. Part of me wished he would go, somewhere, anywhere, so that I could be alone. But he couldn’t because the ride was too far back and the road too rough. I had no choice but to pretend he wasn’t there, making my way across the white beach into the sea.
Once I was ready Santiago picked me up and took me to a place down by the river, where loud music filled the air. Men drank from large bottles of rum and played dominoes. Many wore sunglasses and looked intimidating. I asked Santiago why there were no women there.
“Later,” he said. “Later, there will be more women than men and by then, the men will be drunk, the sun at full strength and the night around the corner.”
I asked him if he’d be returning. He said he’d like to but that he had no money. Here comes the rub, I thought to myself.
“Where are your wife and children?” I asked.
“At home,” he said.
I was ready to go.
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By: Atisha Paullson
Atisha is a photographer who captures intimate moments, furthering the sense that you are witness to something important happening in the most ordinary circumstances. With a gesture, a look, he highlights the extraordinary in the everyday.
You can find him on Instagram @atishapaulson and see more of his work HERE.