I’ve been in the Dominican for six weeks although it feels much longer. I had intended to blog more about the sociopolitical issues here and why it seems no two people agree on any one topic. I also wanted to blog more about the culture – food, dance, music, et al. It’s just entirely too difficult to keep up with daily life, photography and post-processing and writing when I’m busy chasing a very active toddler for 12 hours a day. Said toddler doesn’t nap much which means I have very little down time.
That said, in six weeks I’ve traversed a good portion of the eastern half of the island. Although based in Bavaro, I’ve visited Bayahibe, La Romana, Santo Domingo (a few times), Puerto Plata, Cabarete and Las Terrenas. Each place has its charms but if I had to pick my faves, I’m going with Puerto Plata, Las Terrenas and Bayahibe. Fortunately my years of Spanish in college paid off and I’ve been able to converse with many people and get around quite easily. I’ve made fast friends with Dominicans, Haitians, Dominican-Americans, a few visiting Europeans and several expats. I can see the allure to stay here. The beaches (those not clogged with sargassum right now) are breathtaking, the sun shines daily, the pace of life slower, the fruit is incredible, the men are drop dead gorgeous – honestly there is a disproportionate amount of good looking people in this country – the food is pretty good and Dominicans, when you break the rough exterior are friendly, fun and good-natured. This country loves music and if you are a fan of Merengue, Bachata, Dominican Rap or Reggaeton, this is your place. Sound systems prevail here and although some can be ear-splitting, I’m typically a fan of loud, deep beats so it works for me. It’s delightful to be in Latin culture where the norm is to partner dance. I love seeing couples dancing in small colmados or just on the street.
Driving in this country is not for the faint of heart. I’ve driven in intense places in my time, but holy shit Dominicans take the cake. Rules of the road here: there are none. They drive clenched-knuckle fast, ride your tail, pass from both sides within inches of your vehicle and never seem to use turn signals or have break lights. I’m not a fan of the no-break-lights at night driving. It’s dangerous and difficult to spot vehicles much less motos. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of road rage which is nice. Forget stopping for pedestrians or bicycles. The modus operandi is get there and get there fast. The left lane is not reserved for the faster drivers and vice versa. Do what you want, where you want – it’s basically a free for all. Nowhere epitomes this as much as La Capital. Santo Domingo is a true and utter shit storm. I’ve yet to find a decent map, many streets do not have signs and without fail, I get lost. But I somehow manage to navigate my way in, around and out (I’ve done it four times now) with not so much as a knick on my car and only a few swear words. At one point I was so frustrated trying to find my segway to Highway 7 from Highway 3, that I pulled over a truck of traffic police (at least I think that’s what they were). I literally rode their tail, flashed my lights, then got in front of them and slowed them to a stop. This worked out well as they informed me where I was to go. I only lost my cool once when a guy at the petrol station tried to rip me off by not giving me my change. I demanded my 500 pesos and cursed him a bit. No hard feelings. SD is teaming with busted out Toyota Corollas and I mean busted out. No windows, crushed doors on all sides. Dios mio! I think I’m done with Santo Domingo.
There is a fair amount of daily hustle and hassle which wears thin quickly because 1) I’m in the number one tourist destination of the entire country and 2) I’m white. It’s nothing like India or Nepal and I realize it’s a symptom of economic desperation. People are just trying to survive but it does get old when you feel everyone and their cousin is trying to hustle you. I’ve been flirted with a lot and I could’ve have a different date every night of the week but none of it felt authentic. Hustle is the name of the game and I ain’t playin’.
With time, I’m certain I could find my groove here. The Caribbean colors are enough to keep me enchanted for some time and I would love to really master my Spanish language capabilities, but having said that, I feel something is amiss here for me. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It doesn’t click. I feel a disconnection. I don’t find things coming easily. I get pissed off in one way or another on the daily. I also don’t find people to be overly warm or welcoming. I don’t get smiles on the street from passerbys. Of course I have met many delightful people but they are minority for me. I know I need a place less like America in terms of both culture and cost. The living isn’t exactly cheap here and that alone is enough to send me packing. I’ve enjoyed white-sanded beaches, incredible seafood, vibrant green fields of rice and cane, cigar factories, drives through natural preserves and villages, a night or two out on the town (one in which we accidentally ended up in a Dominican brothel mistaking it for a club), the most perfect mangoes and chinola, some whiskey, rum and mamajuana, parasailing, swimming with starfish, and deep sea catamaraning. It’s been incredible overall but it still doesn’t make me want to live here.
I’ve had my share of challenges from the get-go and while I like the DR a whole lot, I’m not absolutely over the moon about it. So much of the country is owned by foreign investors who built four and five star resorts for the rich. Nearly every residence and resort (out of the barrio of course) is gated. Nearly every gate and beach in Bavaro has an armed guard. I hate exclusivity and the distinction here between the ridiculously wealthy and incredibly poor is stark. The Dominican really did itself a disservice by pimping itself out so badly. And all for the all mighty dollar. I’m not much of a fan of machismo either and I’m not sure I want my son taking on that aspect of the culture. Perhaps I miss the low cost of living in Asia or the very friendly, soft nature of the east. Perhaps I long for a culture that is far more different than my own. One with a pronounced spiritual element, ancient architecture, a place further from my comfort zone.
And so it is with a heavy heart that I say hasta la próxima to the Republica Dominicana. It’s been a dream of mine for 10 years to come here and I’m delighted I did. I thought I might stay a while longer but the doors didn’t really open easily for me and I’m not gonna force them. I’ll miss the incredible people I’ve met and the crew here at Estrella de Mar and how they have embraced my son so open-heartedly. My lil’ guy was beloved by all here. He got his four molars in this country and he learned how to fist bump. He fell in love with mangoes and chinola and felt the ocean waves lap upon his toes for the very first time. He also learned how to walk down stairs on his own and climb onto beds, chairs, strollers. He also got his very first mouth kiss by a very admiring and aggressive two-year-old Dominican by the name of Janalise. He’s becoming his own each and every day. I’ll miss the Haitian security guards who look after the place and all the stories we’ve shared about our lives. From ex-wives to children to racism, you name it, we’ve talked about it. I’ll miss the incredibly sweet Dominican man and wife whom I buy my fruit and veg from. I’ll miss the owner of our neighborhood bistro Pastrada and I’ll forever give him kudos for buying highchairs for his restaurant because of my son. Most of all I’ll miss Sundays. Sundays in the Dominican are for families – something revered and cherished here. I’ll miss packing us up and heading north 22 km to Playa Macao for a day at the beach with all the Dominican families there to do the same. I’ll miss talking to moms, playing with kids, eating fresh grilled lobster, getting Gran her El Presidente grandes, taking in all the great people watching, listening the music blaring, and most of all I’ll miss swimming with my Bubs in the perfect, turquoise waters.