I was reading about a hot air balloon accident that happened a few days ago and it got me to thinking about the safety of many of the excursions and other tourist (and non-tourist) activities in the Dominican Republic. This particular incident was with a Hot air balloon company in Higuey called DomBall. Apparently they had a “rough” landing and had to come down in a sugar cane field. None of the 12 passengers were hurt and in the end “all is well”. But this got me to thinking of the many other potentially life threatening activities available here and the general regard for safety concerns I normally see here.

Let’s start with a joke. In this joke it was mentioned “I’m not saying I want to kill all stupid people, I’m just suggesting that you remove all the safety labels from common items (i.e. ‘CAREFUL the coffee in this cup is very hot!’) and let nature run its course.” This kind of illustrates what seems to be a general attitude in this country.

Let me give just a few examples of things I’ve seen

  • I went on a horse ride to a waterfall a while back. Great trip! However the path was very washed out, the horses were forced to stumble over large loose rock, frequently slipping and barely catching themselves and you went up and down these steep hills. O yes, and if the horse does lose its footing on one side at times there is a steep drop-off just at your side. There were also areas of small mud slides that the horses had to try navigating through.
  • I was snorkeling at one of the beaches with my kids. Most of the water in this area was very shallow, only a few feet deep with patches of coral and rock. I lifted my head to check out the sound of a boat to see one of those speed boats that they use to pull the banana tubes with people on them flying over the area my family just left. Now, when snorkeling people often drop below the surface of the water. High speed boats and snorkelers just don’t mix and at certain times of the day this happens very frequently. There are no regulations (or at least nor enforcement) keeping the boats from going high speed near the beaches and in the swimming areas.

  • I was talking to a local about one of the rafting trip excursions that is offered in one of the mountain resort areas. He stated that during the main season, pretty much daily people end up getting hurt and taken to the hospital from this excursion company. Standing on the bridge looking down at how the raft was being navigated it became pretty apparent how that can happen.
  • At another tourist town where they rent out quads (4 wheeled motorcycles), there appears to be no real criteria as to who can rent them. For the most part they are used for traveling the packed streets of the town very often by kids and people who have obviously never used one before, let alone in tight traffic with people all over the place.

    For this one I find it quite entertaining to buy a beer and kick back at this one restaurant that looks over a speed bump in the street. Fortunately I’ve never seen someone get hurt, but the antics of watching people try to slide to a stop or otherwise control a quad while going over this bump while dodging people is quite entertaining.

    The real danger comes from the guys that think they know how to control the quad but can’t seem to get it into their head this isn’t a deserted sand dune, they are in the middle of a crowded street. The police don’t want to upset the tourists so they pretty much let them do whatever.

  • I couldn’t count how many times I’ve seen guys on motorcycles sipping on a bottle of beer, or looking back and passing it to their passenger as they head down the road. While I didn’t have my camera to take a picture one of the more entertaining things I seen was a Presidente beer fridge between the gas pumps at one station. This gave the opportunity to tank up in both senses of the word without even getting off your bike.
  • As I hear explosions outside my window while writing this post I am reminded of another common occurrence this time of year. At the local hardware store kids buy carbide (or maybe their parents buy it for them, not sure). Carbide, when you add water will create acetylene gas. So, stick a few rocks in the bottom of a can, spit in the can (along with all your friends so you get enough water), and then light the gas. This creates an impressive explosion and is used by all the neighborhood kids as firecrackers.
  • Bridges and mountainous paths without hand rails or other safety precautions in place are common at the various parks and attractions. Or if they were ther at one time they are now washed out and in extreme disrepair.

OK, I think you get the point. There are very few regulations and laws (at least enforced) when it comes to safety. For the most part the excursion companies choose their own degree of safety and drinking while guiding the group often isn’t considered a problem. Common sense often isn’t that common with both the partying tourists or the locals.

Unlike the U.S you can’t just assume that the way the excursion is handled (or even walking down the street) will be safe. As was mentioned in the joke at the top of this post, the “warning stickers” will likely not be there, if you want to remain safe it is up to you to use your own common sense and not rely on the tour guides, people around you, equipment or other things to keep you safe. Before saying yes to an excursion, check it out. Make sure it is operated in a safe manner and understand that once you hand your money over it is going to be close to impossible to get it back if you change your mind, so do your homework before you agree. This is a great country to visit and have some fun, but be safe!