14 Nov Santo Domingo Dominican Republic
Of all the immigrants that have made it to the shores of the United States the cultural influence of people from the Dominican Republic has always stood out. When driving down 17th ave in Miami one can’t help but be transformed to a different place where arroz y frijoles reign as dinner time staples and merengue and bachata rings from cars that pass by. It’s these influences that first triggered my admiration and romance for this Caribbean country that along with Haiti occupies half of the island of Hispanola. But after my initial visit, I was hooked forever.
I first journeyed to this beautiful Caribbean island in 2014. When I landed at Aeropuerto Internacional Las Américas in Punta Caucedo I knew that I was in for a treat. When I exited the plane oddly enough I saw 2 planes that I thought were Air Force One but I couldn’t be sure because of the distance. Oh well. As a native english speaker with very little grasp of the spanish language, communication has always been somewhat difficult in my travels and it became more apparent when I hopped in a taxi en route to my hotel. I knew my phone might not work so I jotted down the hotel address before leaving Miami and gave the paper to the tax driver. The trip towards the hotel was very quiet but I attempted to put together a few sentences using Google Translate app.(download the dictionary in advance in case you don’t have a signal) We got to a street about a half a mile from where my hotel was and were greeted by military personnel who said we couldn’t turn there. Using hands motions, and the 5 words I know in spanish, I asked the soldier if I could walk down this guarded and deserted road to my hotel. He said sí. When I was almost at the hotel I saw a well dressed guy who asked if I was from america and if I needed help. His name was Santo and he would eventually become our personal concierge for the entire trip. When I asked why the streets were blocked off he replied ‘your vice president Joe Biden is in town. He’s staying at the Crown plaza right there’ while pointing at the hotel directly across from mine. That explains the planes from earlier.
After checking in the room Santo escorted me to a restaurant/bakery/deli called Villar Hermanos! Here you can find almost any food imaginable from pasta to pastalitos! I has a great meal for under $10US. One thing i found fascinating about Santo Domingo was the number of outdoor bars they have. After eating lunch we went to what appeared to be an open front liquor store I but soon discovered that you could grab a plastic chair from inside and enjoy your purchase in the small parking lot in front of the business.I was waiting on my college budies plane to arrive and had some time to kill so Santo and I sat outside for hours talking, listening to music, and drinking Brahma and Presidente beer. I would later find that these places existed all around The Dominican Republic. When my homeboy arrived later in the evening we ate and headed to Club Pure inside the Sheraton hotel. As DJ Jo Blaze rocked the turntables, the sounds of Reggaeton and Merengue filled the room and patrons danced their cares away. This was my first taste of an authentic Dominican party!
The next day Santo grabbed us from the hotel and we took a walking tour of the historic colonial district. Dominican Republic was the first port in the ‘new world’ that Christopher Columbus encountered in 1492 so this area contained a lot of ‘first’. We were privileged to see The Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, the first university of the western hemisphere which opened in 1538. We also visited the Monastery of San Francisco as well as several monuments dedicated to Juan Pablo Duarte who, along with Matías Ramón Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez, is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic in its successful plight for independence from Haiti.
One thing that has to be noted is that Santo Domingo( and most of the Island to my knowledge) is operating on an outdated power grid which results in frequent power outages. As we were walking down teh street one night everything went completely black as people were chating and playing cards along the sidewalks. Everyone continued as if nothing happened and local told us that it happens all the time and can last anywhere from an hour to all night. When we got back to our hotel the lights were on because most places that gringos frequent have generators for these occasions. To no surprise when we got up in the morning and headed down the street to grab some food, the lights were still out from the night before so thw restaurant couldn’t help us. Of course this was just 1 of the minor inconveniences in an otherwise glorious trip.