Written by Jose Kevo on 05 Mar, 2004
Splatterings from noon shower were a welcomed relief straddling back on the motoconcho while shifting the strap of my oversized bag to maintain balance. The gua-gua I'd stepped off of sputtered before heading towards Santo Domingo along with enticing plans for extending my trip.…Read More
Splatterings from noon shower were a welcomed relief straddling back on the motoconcho while shifting the strap of my oversized bag to maintain balance. The gua-gua I'd stepped off of sputtered before heading towards Santo Domingo along with enticing plans for extending my trip. There was no looking back navigating towards Boca Chica for my last few hours in DR.
Unpacking wasn't necessary and 1:30pm was too early for considering a nap despite consuming fatigue. It was time to be the dutiful tourist and see what all the fuss was about with this Sin City along the Sands. Hopefully, it would be reputable enough to distract from leaving home in Bayahibe before returning to the States the following day.
Caught In the MiddleWelcomed calmness heading down Avenue Duarte soon turned ordeal with aggressive shopkeepers manning sidewalks and pegging me as potential for turning a profit that day. Aside the deep tan of my pigment, I felt to have a green US-dollar tattooed on my forehead and was curt resenting they saw me as nothing more. Purchasing an ice-cold Presidente in hopes of taking the edge off, I made the short-walk to the beach in search of solace and escaping the capitalistic zoo without cages. There's no denying that by this point I was merely going through the motions.
Showers had subsided luring travelers and locals back onto the sands, but it was only fitting dark clouds still subdued the skies. Kicking off my shoes, I dug my toes into the sand taking a contemplative swirl off the green bottle satisfied I'd dodged those hawking beach chairs and other scavenging opportunities. That is, until some kid appeared from back of the vacated restaurant and asked me to purchase another beer or leave.
My feet were weighed down heavier than my heart trekking through the sands. I didn't belong on the tourist strip anyway and was heading to the far end where locals are known to congregate. I could see a few scattered faithfuls out on this rainy Monday afternoon and shrugged off initial rudeness from the individual demanding pesos as I stopped to photograph some boats.
But coolness I found was from more than just absence of sun. No one engaged my Spanish conversation. I felt brief resentful stares before people turned their backs. If only they could've look beyond the facade to see and know I was really one of them, but the Dominican hospitality I craved was denied from my unwelcome presence in their domain.
Waiting to purchase another beer for walking to the hotel, three young ladies lounging over a shaded checkers board gave me attention with a look and that world-renowned hissing noise that indicates one thing only -- ladies of the evening. . . obviously trying to get a jump on the day's work. I detested them for it; almost as much as being charged fifteen extra pesos for a beer compared to the local in front of me!
The bed sheets had a cooling, soothing affect thanks to half-heartedly drying off after an elongated shower. At this point, sleep was the only alternative for escaping my present reality as well as weeks' worth of memories reeking havoc within my mind. Instead they held me an attentive captive until replaced by noise levels below from setting up the restaurant.
The late-afternoon Caribbean sun appeared in a final encore making shaded benches in the shabby central plaza welcomed. Grown men masquerading as shoeshine boys were offering everything but a fresh polish; evident by smells of burning reefer and decrepit older travelers with teenagers tagging along far too close! Closing eyes to events around me was only more painful trying to recapture the country I'd came to know and love.
Gua-guas arriving from Santo Domingo were increasing as were passengers deboarding for working the approaching night shift. Prostitutes, hustlers, and an assorted crew from paradise gone wrong. Determining I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, it was time to bolt! Stopping to snap a picture of the quaint cathedral, which traditionally borders every Spanish plaza, I hadn't realized from where I'd been sitting that a telecommunications tower had been erected directly behind overshadowing any quality of photo. Somehow appropriate with 12 hours to go, but I'd already given up.
IDENTITY - The Struggle of CrisisAll the players had positioned themselves along the pedestrianized avenue waiting to feast at their banquet of scope. The more I paced back-and-forth searching for anything, the more trapped I became as a potential victim. Looks and catcalls; the pulsation of club music second only to the concerted chorus of ladies' hissing which had me ready to backhand the first one which got to close.
A reappearance in the beachside park prompted a young man to ask what I was looking for; replying honestly not knowing. Leonardo offered to show me the sites but I indicated the norm was not my scene. We made our way back to one of the beachside bars and he purchased a beer to share, but quickly moved to the far section so conversation could be heard while escaping the assembled cast of international hostesses.
It became quickly obvious that Leonardo was not about any of this either for one of his rare nights off as a local military policeman. He begin to share about his wife and small children living in another part of the country and how much he missed them. Chiming in with my own current sob stories, he began to realize I wasn't just another mixed-up tourist. He smiled and said he had just the place.
Hopping off the back of his motorcycle, all was too familiar yet different with the colmado doubling as the locals' watering hole. Based on receptions I'd gotten throughout the day, there was self-consciousness stepping inside, but introductions to a few acquaintances quickly detailed how I wasn't "one of them", and all was well. . . almost. The beer tasted the same, everyone crooned along with the saddest of Bachata songs, but faces had changed.
Pacifying substitutes of distraction became riddled with guilt of disloyalty and drinking up their few hard-earned pesos. I made my excuses and expressions of gratitude before slipping out for walking back to the hotel. My scheduled taxi pick-up was in less than five hours and at this point sleep was the only thing I wanted to be taking advantage of.
The hotel's restaurant was closed and staff had gone home, but I was bewildered to find the courtyard stereo system playing louder than ever. Looking around, there was a mutual startling with the skinny kid I almost ran face into. Javier was night watchman also responsible for breaking down and cleaning up the dining area. Once convincing him I was a guest of the hotel, he insisted I join him for his feast of leftover foods and half-drank bottles of wine. Hints of needing sleep did nothing to curb his invitation nor lowering volume of music.
Conversation never went far with all his interruptions only magnifying the self-imposed question of why I was staying up. Reprieve for eventual escape was foiled by three young Italians who came reveling in as the only other guests staying here. They uncorked a bottle of red wine pouring me a glass and at this point I resigned to my second night of no sleep.
Their obnoxious details of local escapades were confirmed by Javier who marveled his new foreign friends with heroic status. It turned out my English was the go-between for filling in a lot of blanks that had accumulated over recent nights, but was also common denominator for linking such different individuals. U2's "Joshua Tree" became the accompaniment of choice with everyone singing along; something the Italians described as the international music that everyone knows regardless of what language they speak. Little did they know, all this only confused the current issue as to who and where I was.
I was dragging worse than the actual check-in line once arriving at the airport. Members from various countries' Pan Am teams were returning home and proudly waving flags and wearing colors to signal their obvious final destinations for the day -- something I was trying to deny but certainly couldn't avoid any longer.
With seatbelt fastened, I melted into the window seat all but numb except for tinglings in my brain like from taking too big a bite of ice cream. Lack of sleep had been my only scoop. The moment I dreaded was upon me as the plane raced down the runway and lifted off from the soil I'm anchored in. The freshest of memories could wait, but I couldn't resist raising the window visor for one last look. . . over a dark bed of clouds. I leaned back and closed my eyes. And the jet whisked me northward; a man without a country.
With major cutbacks on American Airline flights servicing DR's five other major airports, more travelers are finding themselves at Santo Domingo's Aeropuerto Internacional Las Americas and then needing to take Ground Transportation to final destinations The airport's close proximity to Boca Chica is a…Read More
With major cutbacks on American Airline flights servicing DR's five other major airports, more travelers are finding themselves at Santo Domingo's Aeropuerto Internacional Las Americas and then needing to take Ground Transportation to final destinations The airport's close proximity to Boca Chica is a bonus for the added convenience of catching early morning departures while being able to avoid the actual further distance and chaos of staying within the capital.
Publications continue to rank this airport as worst for the entire Caribbean. After all, it does set the tone for most travelers' first and last impressions of the country. For various reasons, even I have tried to avoid using this airport, but was quite surprised by the major renovation improvements, which have taken place over the last three years. Here are some introductory suggestions for survivng potential confusions:
The crowds are thick with locals waiting to pick-up family members. The frenzied hubbub of activities is worsened by unofficial individuals offering to assist you with directions or excessive baggage. Since all forms of public transportation are banned from local airports, taxi service is the only means for departing the airport provided pick-up service isn't included with your travel package or you haven't obtained a rental car from one of the counters just beyond the luggage retrieval area.
Look for official transportation airport employees designated by their vests and name badges. Don't expect them to be bilingual, nor for there to be any semblance of waiting your turn in line. Tourists are usually given private service, but can also be grouped with others traveling to the same vicinity which helps minimize cost. Actual fares are supposed to be preset, but make the verbal confirmation before allowing them to load your luggage just to be sure.
I've yet to be on any flight to/from Santo Domingo that had any empty seats or that didn't have an apparent long stand-by list. Agents are now on-hand to write your arrival time on the ticket jacket as if to suggest a "first come first serve" for seats potentially to help curb the locals' excessive tardiness.
Random passengers were pulled from the slow-moving check-in lines to have bags thoroughly examined before approaching the counter. All luggage is officially screened after being checked. And as if all of this wasn't enough to have me sweating bullets for catching this flight, the excitement and chaos were only compounded by all the International teams departing that morning after the Pan Am games!
For this particular trip, the tax is now collected at the departure counter when checking in for your flight. Where it gets confusing is how they're willing to accept payment. Expecting a flat fee in currency of the country you originated from is no longer accepted. The departure tax was set at RD350 which puts the actual cost at the day's exchange rate. Fortunately since I had no leftover pesos, they were willing to accept credit cards for the first time. The actual converted cost was US$10.71, but based on the government's willy-nilly changes and fluctuating rates of peso value and tax amount based on the season, travelers would be advised to have ample amounts of pesos, home currency and credit card on hand just in case. You can not board your flight until this tax is paid - No Excuses!
Liquor seems to be the best buys; 1.75-liters of quality rum for as little as US$3. Actually getting it back into the States is a different story. While I've never been checked when reentering the country through New York's JFK, they tend to be much more strict on enforcing limits for flights connecting through Miami International.