We finally reached the Dominican Republic, which is our springboard to the United States. We need to be outside of Europe and in a “green” country for two weeks before we can travel into the US – so we’ve flown to the Dominican Republic (DR) and are taking a beach holiday.
DR shares the island Columbus named Hispaniola, with Haiti. He landed here in 1492 on his first trip to the New World. The island was, at that time, populated by the Taino Indians who had divided the island into five great “Chieftain Areas”. While no one is certain, it has been estimated that there were over 100,000 Tainos living on the island when Columbus arrived. Relations were friendly at the start, but wars soon erupted between the Europeans and the natives. Many Tainos were killed in the wars, but it was smallpox, introduced by the Europeans, that killed off the majority of the natives. Those that survived were enslaved and put to work in the gold mines, gold having been discovered on the island. Columbus became Governor General of the entire Caribbean and Hispaniola his headquarters. Later France established a colony on the western end of the island (today Haiti), and the island was divided.
The Haitians purchased their end of the island from France in 1804. They quickly reached an agreement with Spanish rebels on the Spanish side of the island and together they threw the Spanish troops and government out. As soon as the Spanish were out, the Haitians betrayed their rebel friends. The Haitians owed the French over 100 million francs for their purchase of the island and they forced the Spanish side to pay for most of it. Their rebel colleagues were jailed or executed and the rest of the island was looted for anything of value. Heavy taxes were imposed and the Spanish side population became virtual slaves. In 1844, the Dominicans rebelled and threw the Haitians out. Since then there was been several wars between the two countries.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. DR is the most prosperous country in the Caribbean with a GDP almost 1000 times higher than Haiti. The population of DR is 11 million, of which 3.5 million live in the capital, Santo Domingo. The country has a stable democracy and the economy is growing rapidly. While many here do not earn much money, their income is supplemented by the government, so abject poverty is not seen here. The citizens receive child support, school money and other support payments.
So much for history. We arrived after a tiring journey. We flew from Copenhagen to Madrid (the only city in Europe with a direct flight to DR). One has to change terminals in Madrid.
Ok you ask – how hard can it be?
Very hard since you’re asking. First, you pick up your baggage then go outside to take a bus. For some reason, the Spanish think that once they are inside the bus, there is no reason to move away from the door and into the bus itself, so everyone is packed solid by the door (with their luggage) and the interior of the bus is empty. Finally, we arrive at terminal 4 and now we begin to walk. And walk. And walk. But, but, but – after walking halfway to China (ok – maybe a little exaggeration) we arrive at the terminal train. The train now takes you on a ride that must have been all the way to France (ok, another exaggeration) before spewing you out in a building in the middle of nowhere. Here we began to walk. And walk. And walk. All the way to China again. The only good thing that happened to us on this journey was that the lounge was good, with excellent food and the seats were comfortable. Afterwards, it was an eight hour flight to DR.
Arriving late, we now could get our rental car and drive three hours across the island to the AirBnB we rented in the town of Las Terrenas, arriving there at 1:00 in the morning. There is a curfew on DR (because of Covid) at 9:00 pm so as soon as we entered the town, we were stopped by the police. They were friendly enough, despite our non-existent Spanish and their non-existent English. Once we showed them our boarding passes that said we had just arrived, they let us go.
Google, however was not up to their usual standards. Google Maps told us where the AirBnB was, but it wasn’t there. When the police spotted us driving around town the third time, they decided enough was enough and stopped us again. After many minutes of trying to communicate (no English on their side – no Spanish on ours), they finally took us to the correct address. The office, naturally, was closed at 2:00 am so they took us to a cheap hotel where we could sleep for a few hours.
Of course, all this help comes at a price – they let us know that a small gratuity was in order and they each got $20. Now everyone was happy and the next morning we could check into our BnB.
The BnB was a wonderful surprise. We got our own townhouse (2 stories) with bedroom and bath upstairs, kitchen and living room downstairs. Small terraces on both floors. A beautiful swimming pool and the townhouse was CLEAN. We’ve been here two weeks and have not seen a cockroach – unusual for the Caribbean. The pool is cleaned every morning and the gardens tended all day. If any of you are thinking about vacationing in the DR – this is a great place to stay and it only costs $25 per night.
Fortunately, our flight arrived late in the evening and we drove the 3 hours to get here at night – so we didn’t die of stress getting here (which, as you will learn in the following, is easy to do here).
How can I best describe the traffic? A mild description is that the roads are filled with suicidal maniacs seeking a martyr’s death ala Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (for those of you old enough to remember that particular flick). Almost everyone here rides a motorcycle or a souped up moped. Not only are the mopeds souped up – they mufflers have been souped up also – a small moped sounds like a huge Mack truck. The cars aren’t any better. Traffic rules don’t exist and it all seems like a mixture of anarchy and chaos theory. The faint of heart should not drive here. Double yellow lines mean nothing – we saw a number of cars and motorcycles passing on roads with double yellow lines right in front of the police, who did nothing. It seems as if the government got a great deal on yellow paint and decided to use it on the roads – it means nothing. Speed limits are for the other guy. Turn signals are not used – they only confuse people. The horn is used constantly, so you can be sure it will work if you ever really need to use it. The city resounds with a cacophony of car and motorcycle horns, joyfully mixed with the loud pipes of the motorcycles revving up.
If you do see a car using its turn signals, you can be sure he is a “gringo tourist” and that means you have to be extra careful. He probably believes that there are traffic rules and he is capable of doing anything – for example, he might decide that traffic coming from the right has a right of way (it doesn’t on this island).
Somehow, it all works – we haven’t seen any accidents, even though they must occur. 2,3,4 or more sit happily on the same moped. Helmets are not used by anyone – despite the moped running more than 60 miles per hour. Mother and father sit with children, even those in diapers, on the moped. As soon as they are old enough to sit upright they sit behind mom or dad and it is their problem to hang on.
We are amazed at what they are able to transport on their moped – doors, closets and whatnot.
The noise level in the streets is beyond belief. You have to yell at each other to hold a conversation – not only from the traffic, but also from all the bars playing salsa music at full blast. It simply isn’t possible to describe how loud the music is – they must be able to hear it all way over on Jamaica. Pick-up trucks, some so decrepit that you expect them to collapse at any moment patrol the streets, filled with fruits or vegetables. All these trucks have a big megaphone mounted on the cab and a tape recorder that screams, “bananas, bananas, bananas – get your fresh bananas here!” or some other vegetable.
Note the Loudspeaker on the cab – it blasts out its message constantly.
Fortunately, there is no steel drum music here as there is everywhere else in the Caribbean. Steel drum music sounds good the first couple of times you hear it – but you soon tire.
We live 10 minutes’ walk from the beach and have to pass through this noise hell each morning. No quiet saunter listening to birds sing.
Denmark has discovered “street food”, but what we have there is immeasurably poverty-stricken compared to the streets here. There are so many street food vendors that it is impossible to count them all. Aside from all those that have a stall on the street, there are innumerable mopeds that cruise around with a grill or old drum filled with hot water selling corn on the cob or spare ribs.
The population here is a generations old mixture of slaves, Spaniards, and Indians, so the local skin colors range everywhere from black as coal to very light. Most are either light brown or cinnamon colored. The men are almost all thin and the women (let’s be kind) hefty or worse (especially after they have married and had children).
The beach here is magnificent. There is a reef out at the far reach of the bay, so the waves here are very small. The sand is fine yellow and the water is shallow far out from the beach so everyone, including children can enjoy the water. The water temperature is 80+ degrees F – meaning it is almost warm enough for me. The sun here is fierce and unless you already have a deep tan, sunscreen is a necessity.
We rented a car and drove all over the island (at least on the paved roads). The island is unbelievably lush – green everywhere with palm trees, banana trees and mimosa everywhere. There is plenty of fresh water on the islands and both tobacco and rice are farmed here. The island is known for producing some of the best cigars in the world. My father told me that legend has it that the best cigars are rolled on the inner thigh of a pretty young woman. Not much inner thigh, nor young woman about the rolling of these cigars at the cigar factory (sigh – another urban legend busted).
Driving around the islands we saw much primitive housing. Seen with our western European eyes these people must be poor – but we need to remember that this is the tropics – people only go inside to sleep or escape the sun or the occasional rain – so housing doesn’t need to meet the same standard we have in Europe (or the USA).
Of course, you can also live in more elegant quarters – here a hotel built to resemble a Cruise Ship.
Some have decided to have their own cruise ship – this one is built on top of a store, has an anchor, lanterns, portholes, landlines and a flag. What more do you need?
There are also mountains here (Pico Duarte at 3175 meters, 9843 ft., is the highest peak in the Caribbean). Pico Duarte is high – but there is no snow. The lowest point in the Caribbean is also here, the salt lake called Enriquillo, 44 meters, 145 ft. under sea level. The topography varies, with everything from large marshes to mountains.
The traffic in the cities and towns across the island are just as murderous as in Las Terrenas. We saw a traffic light in one of the towns – but it didn’t work.
To round off our description of the traffic here – we drove into Santo Domingo to take a Covid test (for entry into the US). Driving in this city is every person’s nightmare. Both cars and motorcycles cross through traffic from both sides with no regards to normal traffic rules. If you want to get anywhere in this city, you have to drive like a local – otherwise you will simply sit still at the side of the road.
Saying that strong men pale and weak men faint when driving in this traffic is NOT an exaggeration.
We stayed the last two nights in Boca Chico, a beach community only a few miles from the airport. Our flight leaves at 6 am so we don’t want to have a 3 hour drive across the island to get to the airport. We rented a small apartment only a few hundred meters from the beach.
We were extremely disappointed. Our townhouse in Las Terrenas was fantastic – immaculately clean and had everything one could wish for – 6-8 towels, all the kitchen things necessary for cooking – even beach towels and blankets. Here in Boca Chica, the apartment was older and run down. We found a dead cockroach in one of the kitchen drawers and there was 1 fork, 1 spoon, no knives, 1 bowl and a couple of plates. Apparently, no one has ever cooked here. We eat in shifts, sharing the bowl. Thankfully, it is only for two nights, so we’ll manage.
Boca Chica is advertised as a fantastic beach community, very popular and supposedly a great beach. It certainly is popular, but not a town we want to spend any time in. The beach is shoulder to shoulder restaurants that have tables all the way to the edge of the water and the noise level here is much higher than even in Las Terrenas (I wouldn’t have thought that possible, but it is). Every restaurant has a stereo system going at full blast – when I say full blast, I mean so loud it is not possible to have a conversation – you have to yell at each other. People on the beach bring their own soundboxes and they are also turned up high (to drown out the music being played by the restaurants). To top it all off, there is garbage everywhere. Huge piles of garbage and there must be an enormous rat population here. I assume the garbage is removed once in a while, but it is easily seen that a lot of it has been on the street for a long time (the stench is awful). Good thing we’re leaving in a couple of days.
While I’m writing this, we are one day from our flight to the US. We took our PCR test yesterday – negative as we expected. The only major problem we have now is that Vinni’s laptop decided to die and depart for wherever dead laptops go in the afterlife. We need to have some friends buy and ship a laptop to us in the US (you can’t buy a laptop with a Danish keyboard in the US).
Right now we are aquiver with excitement at the thought that we will be back aboard Capri sometime late tomorrow night. We can’t wait. We have been gone much too long and our lives as wandering vagabonds is pulling at us.
More at some later date when we are back aboard, getting our “hippiecamper” ready for The Great American Road Trip.