Traveling in an unknown land can be scary, I mean who do you trust? When you hit the ground who can be an ally? Who is that local person that can give you the real insight to what is cool and leggit?
You have the hotel people who want to steer you to places that are touristy and likely unauthentic.
You have random people you encounter that can give you some insight, but that source is inconsistent and not the most reliable.
You’ll need someone that you can call on over and over again, who knows all the ins and outs of a city, who understands what you really want and can be your best guide and steward.
So who then?
A good driver is your key to an authentic experience. They can be your translator, your negotiator, your guide, your protector AND your ride.
Enter Rene Robles of R.V. Private Tours and Taxi in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. I selected him prior to arrival because of the 270 reviews that were all 5-star on Tripadvisor. From the very beginning, he was responsive, polite and professional.
The experience got better from there. From his warm smile and offerings of refreshing rum & cokes to his punctuality, genuine care, and fair pricing. That alone is deserving of a 5-star review. But beyond that….Rene is someone I would call a friend. He pulled over to treat us to local, organic ridiculously delicious fruit from a roadside stall. He introduced us to his entire family over a shared meal at his favorite go to restaurant and afterwards he invited us over to his house for coffee. This is the authentic experience. The connection you receive ONLY from a local guide with a big heart.
At the end of our 5 day stay, my flight got cancelled leaving me in the lurch with no clear idea of where I would stay and how I would get there. I emailed Rene. He could have said sorry it’s late and I don’t work after-hours or this is the airline’s problem and not my problem or simply he could have not bothered to respond to me. Instead he promptly called around on my behalf looking for hotels, transport and even offered his own personal home for me to stay the night. These are authentic actions of someone who genuinely cares for your personal wellbeing. Someone who is a friend. Mi amigo.
For without a great driver I would have a less than authentic experience. My best experiences…the vacations of my life (Namibia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Thailand, etc) all involve a fantastic driver who imparted their knowledge and which I fully entrusted to take risk. And for that…I experienced a rush of exhilaration in my veins and life experiences that could not be replicated. I journeyed beyond the road less traveled through the dusty dirt roads and dark corners to witness real life, to taste exotic flavors and receive both wisdom and love from worlds I never knew existed. And through this process, this unique journeying, my driver became my friend, quite literally my ride or die.