CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES
It's not just a sterotype, but there's cause and reason why islanders have long been portrayed wearing their pressed/starched all-white clothing. Obviously, lighter colors are cooler and attract less bugs, but the biggest factor for white? It doesn't show sweat stains like most colored fabrics! No matter where you go or what you wear, plan on sweating, often until your clothes are soaked! It's inevitable, further brought on when applying any type of body lotions, creams or moisturizers.
A washcloth, bandana or some type of rag is essential to keep stuck in your back pocket for frequently wiping your brow; especially when crammed in a 15-passenger, un-air-conditioned publico with 19 other people!
Especially if venturing into one of the larger cities, consider wearing a comfortable pair of beach flops or sandals rather than regular shoes, which will help ward off the hordes of little shoeshine boys who are not only persistent, but often pitiful enough to prompt emptying your pockets 5 pesos at a time.
Resort tourists tired of going on vacation and having to deal with dress codes should highly consider staying in a coastal village like Bayahibe where proximity to the sea excuses any comfortable and casual mode of dress you choose to wear...also erasing the need for packing extra clothing.
In general, Dominicans have became more relaxed in expectations for dress. When entering local churches/cathedrals, "dress as you may" has replaced the reverent, restrictive codes which kept most tourists out. However, there's obviously some expectations one's just not aware of - of course, until it's too late...like when you come off the beach and prepare to go into town with your Mami...and she sends you back to the house to change the beach flops for shoes...just because it's Sunday.
Summer travelers will get an added bonus for arriving while mosquito populations are at their lowest. Yes, even on notoriously infested places like Catalina and Saona Islands. Sandflies were also all but absent, but there's plenty of other insects at their peak in places to more than make up for them.
Very aggressive wasps/avispas were everywhere on the prowl. If you get stung, apply cooking oil and sugar, or if you can reach the bite, squeeze a lime and then dab some Mama Juana on it and suck the poison out. If you can't reach the sting, ask a friend or significant other to do it for you.
Also while you're out and about, think twice before you sit down on anything that's not furniture, or casually lean up against a wall. It will be too late when you discover you've got ants in your pants! I'm also willing to bet it won't happen more than twice.
Thankfully, all that sweating, regardless of how much liquid you're drinking, will keep the need for finding a bathroom to a minimum. It's just as well, since public restrooms are often very hard to come by even when entering places of business. Don't expect to automatically find toilet paper, and ladies - finding a toilet with an actual seat is even more rare.
RECEPTIONS vs. PERCEPTIONS
I admit to being very spoiled by the warmth and hospitality of my village and too often use this as a measuring stick for anywhere else I go, whether in company of family/friends or alone.
La Romana was full of obvious travelers, and locals appeared more than eager to interact and be helpful. At one point, after paying a driver, a RD50 bill fell out of my pocket and a young man quickly rushed to pick it up and hand it back - something my friend assured me would never happen in Santo Domingo. In Higuey, I never saw tourists except in/around the Basilica, but reception of locals everywhere was still warm and somewhat curious.
Don't expect to find this in the tourist meccas of Bavaro or Boca Chica, where regardless of my local knowledge or ability to speak the language, I was perceived as just another stupid tourist with pockets full of money that somehow needed to be emptied! There was blatantly obvious price-gouging, which upcoming journals will detail so you'll know what to be aware of or avoid altogether.
Pay very close attention to prices I've listed regarding all forms of transportation, and use these as a guide, since this was one of the easiest sources of getting overcharged. Confidently hand the driver the exact change when ever possible. There was never a problem with publicos or gua-guas, but private taxis (where you should always predetermine the rate) and motoconchos were something else.
We'd hailed a couple of motoconchos in La Romana, where a ride in town should never be anything more than RD10. When we'd arrived at our destination side by side, my boy handed his driver 10 pesos, but mine looked at me and demanded 15. Before he could even intercede, I exclaimed, "Te doy diez y nada mas, coño!"/I'll give you 10 and nothing more, [common local expletive]. The driver obviously wasn't expecting that and snatched the money...Junior just shaking his head, laughing that I could fend for myself.
For the first time ever when returning from a trip, I was highly disappointed to get pictures back and find three rolls of film blank, another blank after the third frame, and others had hit-or-miss spots appearing to be from exposure. I tried reasoning different possibilities: too much heat/sun, a bad batch of film; but at this point, I'm more inclined to believe it was from airport screenings/X-rays.
Obviously, with heightened security, travelers should expect more checkpoints. Notices warn never to leave film/camera in checked baggage with new high-tech X-ray machines...not that any of us ever did or would before these advancements, or you could even lock your luggage. My film was in the black canisters, double-wrapped in paper/plastic bags, and in my carry-on backpack. Trouble was, all those new heightened security checkpoints!
I have to figure: in addition to expected routine and random screenings, I had the extra check-in after a 5-day layover in Puerto Rico. There's now U.S. Agriculture X-ray screening at Santo Domingo's airport. And after enduring rigorous screenings/X-rays for clearing immigration/customs at Miami International, you're immediately processed through again to reenter for your connecting flight...of which we got the double screw of having our gate changed to another terminal and having to complete the entire search process all over. Altogether, my film was X-rayed nine times!
These are the days when it's definitely time to invest in special film-carrying cases which block X-rays - especially if you expect so many checkpoints. I've quit trying to determine which captured experiences have been lost forever. Thankfully, I've still hundreds more to keep and share.