June began with a five day, six night getaway to the Dominican Republic; specifically Santo Domingo, the largest city in the Caribbean, and then somewhere upcountry- details and a video below.
In my opinion, any trip which is not a 5-star fantasy island, an all-inclusive, caged resort, or partying and pigging out on a cruise ship, is likely to be exhilarating, typically very enjoyable and often eye-opening. Hmmmm, I guess I’ll call that my 3-E’s of worthwhile travel. Frankly, I do not like being catered to, and prefer to get my hands dirty with the locals, so-to-speak.
After arriving a couple of hours late to Las Americas Int’l Airport (my apologies to the Spanish language for not including proper accents here…it’ll be hit-and-miss at best), Ana’s cousin Carlos drove us to the boutique hotel Villa Colonial in the heart of the historic Colonial Zone; the oldest European settlement in the New World (click here for more info). Ranked #1 out of 74 Santo Domingo hotels on TripAdvisor, my 3 night stay was wonderful. Kudos to Ramon and his staff.
The Colonial Zone lived up to my expectations insofar as history and culture. Of course its rough-around-the-edges, as is any, ahem, 3rd world country, especially one which could have inspired the term “banana republic”.
Having briefed myself with pre-trip info from a variety of sources, I believe I maximized my brief peek at the island of Hispaniola. One of my favorite resources when it comes to venturing off the beaten path is Anthony Bourdain. The last season of “No Reservations” featured an episode from the DR. For me it was gold. I followed in the master’s footsteps to a couple of great places. El Meson d’Bari in the Zone, is an intimate, rustic, but higher-end bar/restaurant which according to Bourdain’s host is a regular spot for artists and politicians (what a mix, hey?). While the dining room was a little slow, at the bar there were a couple of groups of well-dressed Dominicanos engaged in lively banter. Sure enough, according to Ana, one of those men was the highest ranking non-elected official from the party of the President. I had no idea who he was but okay, cool.
Another adventure took place when we headed to “Barra Payan” in a bit of a rougher area of town…okay, a lot rougher area. Imaging the lanky Bourdain stepping up to the counter, I went in and immeresed myself in the almost hyper atmosphere. Customers, cooks and the counter lady were loud and evidently hilarious (my Spanish was as useless to me here as a blow-driver is in my bathroom). We enjoyed their trademark Especiale sandwich and the ever popular Morir soñando (die dreaming). A blood sugar rocket fuel containing orange juice, Carnation milk and sugar cane. A liquid Dreamsicle.
Other restaurants included the travel guide recommended El Conuco, and Adrian Tropical right on the Malecon that winds along the Caribbean in Santo Domingo. I sampled a cornucopia of Dominican dishes and fare; La Bandera, chimi, sancocho, arroz con pollo, goat, fish, pork, guandules, tostones, mango, banana, pineapple, coconut, guanabana, and more. Also my fair share of the unofficial national drink, Presidente cerveza. Well maybe, its official who knows. I do know that its drunk like coca-cola here…as in while they’re driving. It is rather weak however.
The weekend involved a side-trip to “el campo”; or upcountry. Heading northwest out of Santo Domingo our trip took us along a glistening Caribbean, a desert-like coast, beautiful green mountains and tremendous tropical scenery. Army checkpoints allowed for Dominican entrepreneurs, young and old, to approach the vehicles with their products. We picked up some cashews and a bunch of some type of green leafy stuff which was later used to make a very tasty salad.
Four and a half hours later, the last hour over the roughest road I have ever ridden, we arrived. No one could tell me precisely where we were on a map, but in my opinion I’ll put it this way…
My own guesstimate was that I was (literally) a stone’s throw across the river from Haiti in the central part of the border area. Here, Haitian “illegals” are apparently plentiful, working the fields and sending money home. Dominicans are wary but acknowledge the dynamics are complex…hmmm where have I heard that before Arizona?
The compound I stayed at was primarily powered by candlelight. A large generator near the river was sporadic at best. It was one helluvan experience. Many people, many, MANY varieties of animals and not much when it came to comfort. But as a one night visitor I offer my respect and admiration to those whose lifestyles are based here. It ain’t easy.