by Jose Kevo
March 23, 2005
With years spurting around Santo Domingo, taxis had always been a cocksure choice. Any foreigner that has ever stood along the loop encircling El Parque Independencia has likely been just as dumbfounded by perpetual traffic dominated by beat-up cars, vans, and buses known as públicos and gua-guas. Methods to the public transportations' madness had always been indecipherable until spotting the keyword bound to extend the day's adventures.
Waving down opportunity, apprehensions weren't abated when the bus made a curbside swerve and the porter yanked me on amid the rolling stop. Morning commuters eventually thinned out, allowing a back-row window seat for absorbing all that was about to unfold. Passing Parque Enriquillo along Avenida José Marti, the bustling shopping district was a congested jumble divulged at a snail's pace. The parade of sensory assaults with sights, sounds, and noxious smells was hideously invigorating to think such hidden travel experiences were waiting to be had.
Blocks of commerce gradually eased into residential areas, but sidewalks were still coursing with activities. Major intersections still hosted traffic jams with the absence of working stoplights; at times, policemen, all but dancing to the rhythms of their whistles, ushered through carts, horses, and about any other forms of go that would get one there. The porter eventually made his rounds to collect fares. A 100 peso bill was smallest I had. Eventually receiving RD90 in change wasn't an error with a ride to the zoo costing $0.33!
Traffic and frequent stops had elongated the trip beyond 1 hour when the bus descended a steep hill into a small shaded plaza. When pulling out, I asked another passenger where the stop for the zoo was. She indicated I'd just missed it, but another's prompt reaction had this clueless tourist off at the next corner. Returning to the plaza and asking directions, locals kept pointing farther down the hill.
A fertile gulley, where crops are grown, splits two major thoroughfares, which unknowingly led in the same direction. For all purposes, travelers will probably feel more comfortable if they walk the half-mile or so remaining using roadway on the right. I took the left, and uneasiness was more from heading into the unknown rather than watchful eyes of people milling about, wielding camera totally out of the question!
The area is crudely impoverished - waste piled along the streets from the cinder-block shanties that crowded surrounding hills. The biggest disadvantage was not properly pronouncing zoológico, but hopefully these instructions will encourage thrill-seekers regardless of language barriers. The entrance to the zoo was at bottom of the hill, as was a taxi stand for when it was time to leave. The ride back into the city was RD180/$6.
From journal Legacy Lullabies: Rocking the New World's Cradle