We’ve had one heck of a lot of snow and cold weather in Hawkestone this year so when the opportunity came to head south I took it. Paul’s brother Peter has been staying in an apartment in Juan Dolios for most of the winter and Paul decided to visit for two weeks. I was only able to go for one week but getting some sun was worth it even though a week is a short time to experience a foreign country. Still, it was a great time and I did get to see some of the southern coastal cities and countryside. I was also keen to experience “Carnival” which was taking place in Santo Domingo.
Peter’s apartment is located between Santo Domingo and La Romana on the south coast. The area has a permanent population but many people come for weekends from the larger cities, especially Santo Domingo. Therefore, the beaches are quiet throughout the week. Guide books suggest you ‘bring a book’ if you are a tourist planning to stay in the area.
The apartment building has four units but only two were being rented out and the one had a person who left frequently for days at a time. Each night the windows were left wide open and (as you can see) the ocean was so close, the waves ‘sang’ me to sleep. What a great location on a beautiful beach which was practically ours alone.
Although my visit was short, we packed a lot into a few days. Peter, knows his way around and understands the culture as only someone can who has spent a long time on the island and he was an amazing “tour guide”. His friend Mav, who is Haitian but has been a resident of the Dominican for several years, also spent most of his time with us while I was there. This was so helpful in making connections by bus for our various day trips.
The bus system in the Dominican is excellent. We never waited longer than 5 minutes and for a few pesos we rode to the cities of Boca Chica or Santo Domingo.
I avoided the water from taps or ice cubes and stuck to drinking mostly Presidente beer. As a result, I didn’t have any health problems and had a nice buzz on at the same time. I’d say that is very clever traveling.
Carnival is held each weekend during the month of February and culminates with the giant festivities and parade on the last weekend of February. Santo Domingo has the largest parades and we attended it after taking in some of the sites around this big city. Colonial square has a lot of museums and historical sites and boasts the ‘firsts’ in the ‘new world’….first cathedral, first city, first university, etc.
Of course, Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit the Dominican and Haiti. He called the island “La Espanola”. He soon enslaved the local peoples from the ‘Taino” tribe. After so many died from the diseases of the Spanish as well as hard labour, Columbus needed more workers. That’s when he started bringing slaves from Africa. The Taino people were eventually completely wiped out.
The first Cathedral of the new world was started in 1512 and completed in 1540. It is an impressive building and one marvels at the construction considering the tools of the day. However, I also couldn’t help feel for the many slaves who must have toiled and died during the construction. The Cathedral is even bigger than I’m showing in the pictures below. There were chapels constantly added over the years which extend out from the side walls.
We went to Santo Domingo on two occasions – once for Carnival and once for the hell of it- so we actually got to see a lot of the city. There are the typically crowded ‘market’ streets, poor areas, rich areas, and tourist areas. Traffic is a bit of a nightmare and I never did quite figure out how they decided who had the right of way apart from who was the biggest, the fastest, or the bravest. Here are a few pictures I took around the city.
The Taino people eventually rebelled against the colonists and one such uprising was headed by a chief called Caonabo. In one of the museums we visited, we saw early Taino artifacts and a statue of Caonabo. He was eventually captured by Columbus and sent to Spain along with other captured Taino people. The boat carrying Caonabo capsized on the way and Caonabo drowned before he could be put on “display’.
We also took two trips to a much smaller ‘beach’ town named Boca Chica. Sadly, Boca Chica has a bad reputation for prostitutes. It’s not the prostitutes who are so bad but the creepy older male tourists who come for the sex. Everywhere, there are a lot of old white guys with young attractive locals on their arms. There are also a few older (mostly unattractive) white women with young Dominican men as well but not nearly as many.
Boca Chica has a beautiful beach and lots of interesting shops and restaurants. At night, the street is closed and all the restaurants put out tables and chairs on the street. There is lots of music playing and a large crowd of mostly locals in the main section of the town.
On our second visit to Boca Chica at night, a friend of Peter’s named Victor acted as our guide to take us to some “salsa bars”. This took us out of the downtown area and into some truly ‘local’ areas. We stopped at a a pool hall where I got in a couple of games and also provided a few laughs for my Dominican opponents who forgot to tell me about a few ‘local’ rules to the game of eight ball. I thought I had won and would have in Canada. However, I wasn’t in Canada was I?
Like I said, I saw a lot thanks to Peter and Mav but it was still only a small portion of the island. The weather was hot and sunny every day and we did a lot of drinking, tanning, swimming, snorkeling.
Thanks Peter and Mav…..it was a fun and interesting week away from the harsh winter of 2014.