Written by Jose Kevo on 23 Mar, 2005
The majority of travelers visiting Santo Domingo have crawled out of bed early at some resort and had time to raid the continental breakfast buffet before boarding a luxury bus. Some will ride more than 4-hours one-way; trading beach for questionable encounters in the…Read More
The majority of travelers visiting Santo Domingo have crawled out of bed early at some resort and had time to raid the continental breakfast buffet before boarding a luxury bus. Some will ride more than 4-hours one-way; trading beach for questionable encounters in the white man's first official city of the Western World. On any day of the week, excursion groups fill la Zona Colonial, which still pulses 500+ years later as heart of the metropolis. Whether huddled in guided clusters or roaming freely, I've always wondered what people really see, think, and feel, and what would ever make anyone want to return?
There was a common sentiment in NYC about not recommending Santo Domingo to anyone but a homesick Dominican, and perhaps for good reason. Age has left a scarred legacy of chaos that exhales among the ruins. The city was founded on the run in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus after his brother's first settlements on the northern coast, La Navidad in modern-day Haiti, and la Isabela west of Puerto Plata, had suffered numerous plagues, a devastating hurricane, and ongoing raids by indigenous tribes.
Hoping the southern coast would provide better prosperity and fortune, la Nueva Isabela was born at mouth of the Río Ozama along the eastern side. After another hurricane leveled the new colony in 1502, unbreakable settlers moved across the river to begin rebuilding what was destined to become ground zero for the new Spanish empire. Roots flourished with a third attempt; but accepting the disreputable capital for what it is today first requires understanding of what it never was.
Fame Without Fortune
The restored Alcázar de Colón was a former residence for Diego Colón, son of the great explorer. The museum contains sparse furnishings but does little for conveying early demises, as notable neighbors gathered to organize conquests of the Americas. Once abundant mineral deposits were discovered in Mexico and Peru, fortune seekers abandoned the island of Hispaniola about as quickly as Spain feigned interest. With absence of colonists and extinction of the indentured Tainos, African slaves debuted in 1520 and quickly outnumbered the aristocrats.
When focus turned mainland, islands of the Caribbean were up for grabs. Santo Domingo, perceived as Spain’s new threshold of power, turned out to be the goose that couldn't lay a golden egg. Ramparts did little for protecting an unguarded city ripe for slim pickings. What European invaders wanted, compared to what they actually found, all but set a precedent similar to what travelers should expect to still find today - negligence and poverty.
The city was already so depreciated when Sir Francis Drake staged the most infamous conquest in 1586, his troops plundered and destroyed many original structures in angered revenge, and held the city for ransom until Spain bought its return. Santo Domingo became a seaside patsy over the next couple of centuries, but land-invasions from the French, trying to subdue their upstart prodigy Haiti, is what really illustrates the country's oppressive history.
The Dominican Republic was born after locals staged a bloodless coup against the Haitians in 1844. However, nationalism was short lived once Spain, which had now lost control of most of the Americas, was bribed into reclaiming their original authority by corrupt government officials hoping for gains of the Motherland's elusive wealth. Civil unrest, that still burgeons today, was conceived during the Restoration War; an elongated mismatch against the Spanish crown. Eventually, the Queen gave up, withdrew troops and economic support, and abandoned the Dominicans to carry out what the country’s history has proven time and time again.
Since that point in 1865, the country has never been void of political turmoil. The U.S. intervened so often, even the Senate refused to ratify Roosevelt's 1905 amendment establishing protection over the degenerate nation. The Dominican flag proclaims God, country, and freedom, though words could as easily represent scandals, assassinations, and depravity from ruthless administrations disguised as dictatorships or democracies. Now, where are the playing fields more on display than in Santo Domingo; the first city which is capital for the second-most impoverished country of the Western World.
Modern Day Conquistadors
The sugar-coated version of what most expect to find in the Zona Colonial runs from Calle de Las Damas to the Alcázar de Colón and expansive Plaza de la Hispanidad. Views from the city's best preserved sections of bulwarks have given way to cruise ships and passenger ferries docked along the adjacent Río Ozama where Spanish galleons and invaders' ships once moored. Nevertheless, the white man still comes with familiar curiosities; now spending money rather than looking to sack and pillage.
Conservative measures have been trampled by default from the new breed of invaders. These days, armed soldiers in dress-uniforms and military fatigues are on display like part of the tourist attraction; presence no longer enforces strict dress codes that kept most travelers from entering revered locations. There was guilty pleasure following leisurely-adorned crowds into places where I'd been denied entry throughout the years.
The Panteón Nacional, dating from 1747, is likely the most impressive structure along las Damas with the Plaza de María de Toledo off to the side. Built as a Jesuit church, the building had served many purposes until Trujillo, a former dictator, called for a mausoleum in 1958. Browsing names on tombs didn't reveal anyone of recognizable significance, but their final resting place is a sight to behold.
The domed, cavernous interior is lined with colossal wooden chandeliers; the largest hovering over a centralized eternal flame dancing in the winds from the entrances which are always guarded and never close. The afternoon sun, radiating through rear windows, castes a natural spotlight on the frescoed archway over what was once the high-altar.
Museo de las Casas Reales, on the same street, is also worth "a visit" with the refurbished structure more intriguing than exhibits. I asked the guard when was the last time any new displays had been added. He couldn't remember but seemed to eye me with recollection from asking the same question with each visit...before moving on. Indoor confinements have always been stiffling in this city which retains a behavior of bondage even in wide-open spaces.
El Parque Colón is the Zona's centralized meeting place shaded by trees and la Catedral Primada de América. Excursionists safely pass free time hounded by roving street vendors while waiting for others to finish shopping along pedestrianized Calle Conde; often ignoring all else whether by naiveté or choice.
Culture Shock - A Capital Offense
The Zona Colonial comprises an 11 x 11-block radius where the original city was hemmed within fortifications. Significant historic sites, including ruins from Americas' first Hospital San Nicolás de Bari and Monasterio de San Francisco, require straying from hot-spots through impoverished residential areas that are unavoidable. In the last few decades, Santo Domingo has been flooded with rural peasants. Crude measures of civil services have collapsed under keeping up with what's believed to now be 70-percent of the country's population.
Mountains of garbage line side streets with ongoing accumulations more than could ever be disposed of. At times, stench eludes to potential health-risks further confirmed by carcasses of dead rats, and remains of other animals slaughtered for food right along sidewalks. Shunning these third-World encounters is denying centuries'-worth of failures ingrained in history dating back to Columbus. A restless edge vibrating to Merengue permeates the close confines with factions of daily life on display most would never care to know existed, yet this is the Dominican Republic of the 21st century.
I will admit after years of country living, the survival gumption of Spanish Harlem had long-faded. Some areas previously ventured were willingly bypassed this time. The in-bred chaos and confusion are overwhelming. I've often felt uncomfortable in a challenged way, but never threatened or unsafe as one of the very few that obviously explore beyond. Curious gazes from locals confirm that, just as quickly as they'll share a smile and conversation as Living History attractions.
To fathom how the people survive from day to day in birthplace of the Americas is to also understand how miserably Spain failed with their initial greed, which essentially doomed Latin America. Atoning for my fellow white man's ways has always been a covert obligation in many ways, including travel. Coming to a place like Santo Domingo, and not experiencing life as they know it beyond the tourist trap, is all but condoning past and present conditions leaving little hope for the future.
A survival instinct has been embodied into Dominican culture as much as the Spanish heritage they're so very proud of. Together, they've withstood centuries of torment from poverty and oppression, earthquakes and hurricanes. Yet still, they manage to drink and dance and find pleasures amid their miseries. These elements are infectious appeasing when and where all else has fallen short. If it works for Dominicans on a proven ongoing basis, it will surely sustain travelers wanting to chance brief encounters just for a day.
Written by Dubba88 on 15 Dec, 2005
We had a lot of great experiences in the Dominican Republic. On our second day, a few of us hiked to the top of this mountain to the waterfalls. It was what I call an adventure. The hike there was hard, but the end was…Read More
We had a lot of great experiences in the Dominican Republic. On our second day, a few of us hiked to the top of this mountain to the waterfalls. It was what I call an adventure. The hike there was hard, but the end was well worth it. The falls were beautiful and the water was crystal-clear. Some people would call that kind of hiking dangerous due to the rocks, but we enjoyed it.
I enjoyed visiting the church in Villa Altagracia. They mix the rhythms of island music with worship, which was awesome. I loved the energy and the friendliness of the people and how they welcomed us to their church. We spent our days doing mostly children's ministry.
We visited some very poor areas but met some really amazing people. We got to work with the people and experience life there from a non-tourist standpoint. I'll never forget the children and their smiles. These were the best experiences we had.
We had one free day. We drove to the coast, east of Santo Domingo, and boarded a boat that took us out into the ocean. The water was some of the most beautiful that I've ever seen. You could see right down to the bottom. We stopped for a while and were able to go snorkeling. They took us to Catalina Island, but we had some engine trouble before we got there. While we were stopped, they let us jump off the top of the boat into the water. It was awesome, like something from a movie. The beach was the most beautiful that any of us had ever seen. The sand was soft and the water was perfect. A few of us went tubing, which was a lot of fun. They had a great buffet there with really good food. The island has bathrooms, island shopping, and hair braiding. It was like being at a resort. Later that day we went shopping at a local market. I found some interesting souvenirs and Dulce de Leche, mi favorito.
Written by qcommconsultants on 08 Oct, 2003
I have been on a few cruises in the Caribbean, but this one was definitely overrated. This was supposed to be a fabulous New Year’s cruise, but everything except the islands was disappointing.
I think the main reason why I disliked this cruise line was…Read More
I have been on a few cruises in the Caribbean, but this one was definitely overrated. This was supposed to be a fabulous New Year’s cruise, but everything except the islands was disappointing.
I think the main reason why I disliked this cruise line was because of the language issues. For most North American travelers, we are used to English-speaking cruises. This cruise line REALLY caters to the European crowd and it gets a bit overwhelming. English is not a language that is really used or catered to, and everything that is said on the PA system/ message broadcasts are translated into five languages: French, Italian, German, Spanish, and, finally, English. By the end of the cruise, we English-speaking few were laughing at all the time spent on saying everything over and over and over . . .
Overall, bars and lounges were nicely decorated and well lit, but the entertainment was absolutely HORRIBLE. It was the same old thing every night, and the entertainers were almost falling over from the movement of the ship. Onboard amenities and recreation were very minimal -- there was ONE little pool and then the so-called sports deck. Apparently, there was a golf simulator, but, naturally, it wasn't in working condition.
We unfortunately chose the second seating for dinner, and that was for 9:30pm. For other cruise lines, second seating is not a bad choice, because it allows you to go on the islands and still have enough time to get back to the boat without having to rush anything. In this case though, it was just too late. We ended up waiting for dinners, and, worst of all, some nights we ended up missing some of those "crappy shows." Snack times were nonexistent. There was only one pizza bar that was open during the afternoon hours and the lines were just ridiculous. Late-night food was also pretty pathetic, since there was a late night snack, which only served hamburgers, hotdogs, and french fries. I know I may sound very snob, or obscenely picky, but for $2,200 (standard cabin price), wouldn't you expect a little more?
Anyway, if you are reading this, please take note. To be honest, I'll probably cruise again, but only with the BIG names in cruise lines. I have been on three previous Royal Caribbean cruises and have only good things to say about them. So be careful in your travels, and have fun.
Written by janelle_samuels on 11 Sep, 2006
Everyone goes for the beaches but why not explore the city and see what Santo Domingo is really like? Why not travel around the city and see where the locals go and what they do? Santo Domingo has great beaches and is a…Read More
Everyone goes for the beaches but why not explore the city and see what Santo Domingo is really like? Why not travel around the city and see where the locals go and what they do? Santo Domingo has great beaches and is a great city full of friendly and dedicated people. My family and I took a tour of the city neighborhoods and met local people. They were very friendly and welcoming. I got to learn about the Dominican culture and their way of life. For a brief moment in time, I was able to immerse myself in their way of life. Close
Written by mannyb on 25 Oct, 2000
The trip there is both long and treacherous. The roads, or what passes for a road, are still dirt in some areas with no stores, gas stations or population . It is remote but worth the trip. Bear all this information in mind if you…Read More
The trip there is both long and treacherous. The roads, or what passes for a road, are still dirt in some areas with no stores, gas stations or population . It is remote but worth the trip. Bear all this information in mind if you are going. Close
Written by Kryptics on 04 Jan, 2006
I want to start by saying that this is the first time anything like this has happen to me, and no matter happened on this trip, I'll be going back to visit really soon.The main purpose was to start/finish filming my little project I been…Read More
I want to start by saying that this is the first time anything like this has happen to me, and no matter happened on this trip, I'll be going back to visit really soon.The main purpose was to start/finish filming my little project I been cooking up for the last 2 years, my film. This is all true, and even though I like to add some spice to my stories, this time I didn't have to.On Thursday December 8th, I was at Newark Airport, getting ready to board my flight to the Dominican Republic. It was cold as hell here and I couldn't wait to leave. The forecast called for snow, but that was much later in the afternoon, so I was in the clear. As I was checking in, I noticed that the clerk was not paying attention to what she was doing and put my claim ticket on someone else's bag. I quickly corrected her--little did I know that this was the beginning of a crazy trip. The actual flight to DR was pretty good, nothing out of the ordinary. One thing I did notice was that they were taking out bags out of the plane at Newark. Hey, I wasn’t worried, I was lucky enough to be flying first-class. Anyways, the planes lands in DR--people are clapping and everyone is excited. Now we are all walking down the aisle toward immigration and locals are handing you drinks of rum to welcome you to the motherland. Anywho, immigration is a breeze. I pass through the doors and hell is unleashed!!! People are running around like chickens without heads, children crying, etc. I make my way to the baggage belt with the Newark inbound sign. People are going nuts and never have I seen so many bags before--I knew I should have packed light. Anyways, 30 minutes passed and I didn’t see my bag. I wasn’t worried--I traveled first-class! If anything, my bag should be coming out any minute now--1 hour has passed and bags are STILL coming out. When a airline rep comes out and says NO MORE BAGS ARE COMING OUT, I am pissed. It turns out that my bags were part of those they left behind because the plane was overweight. Just great!!! Her are I am in DR without swimming shorts to just go to the beach!!! Great. Now I’m in the airline office finding out what to do next. They tell me that they’ll give me $50 the first day the bag's missing and $25 every day after that. Hey, what can I do, so I left to pick up my car rental.At this point nothing surprise me, so I’m at the rental office picking up my car when the l rep tells me the they gave my car away because I was suppose to pick up the vehicle 2 hours ago. I thought I was going to flip, but no, instead I said, “You can either fabricate a car right now or call the central office in the city and have them send another car right now, the exact same car.” So they did the call the office and a car was on its way. While waiting, they offered me coffee and cookies. About 35 minutes later, the car arrives and everything is in order. I jump in my car and head to the city. I arrive at my aunt's house and all is good. I told her what happened and she suggests a visit to the local mall and get some clothes. I did manage to get some swimming shorts, underwear, and socks. Sunday, 2 days later, my bag arrives. The lock is still there and there is no visual damage--great! I take my bag up stairs, open it up--WHAT THE HELL!!! It looks as if someone went through my stuff, so I quickly go thought through my bag, and sure enough, some electronic equipment is missing, as are some perfumes, etc. Again, not a surprise. Now I have to go back to the airport to claim the items that are missing. So I did. The next 3 days are not eventful, but on Thursday the fun starts again.A buddy of mine sent some stuff for his girl, a purse, video camera, and some perfumes. Well, the perfumes where gone, but the camera and purse did make it. I drop the purse of at her house but forgot the video camera, which I placed under the driver seat, since I was making a couple of stops and didn’t want anyone breaking a window for a crappy camera, so I decided to go back to her house. As I’m driving back, a light falls. I think that people forget how to drive when it starts raining, and as I was nearing her house, a crazy cab cuts me off to pick up a passenger to his right. I hit the breaks and look through the rear-view mirror to see this HUGE truck coming towards me. It turns out that he hits the brakes about 20 yards back, but his tires where so worn out that he was just sliding, at this point I just brace my self for impact--CRASH! The bastard takes out the left rear tail light, along with some of the trunk. I check myself--I’m good and get out to check the car. The hit wasn’t as bad as it sounded. He did pop both of my headlights out, not sure how, but he did. Luckily a traffic cop was there to SEE it all. We head down to the police station do a report. At this point I’m wondering what else can go wrong, what have I done to deserve all this fun. Well, I go to the car rental and they give me a new car--I was covered. I figure I have 4 more days to go, better keep it low-key, maybe a beach day here and there, but that’s it.
Well, Monday rolls around--I made it! I made it to the end of the trip. I drop off the car at the airport and go to check in--FLIGHT 754 DELAYED 3 hours. Keep in mind that it’s 11am and the flight was suppose to leave at 2pm, so now the flight is leaving at 5pm (maybe), so what is Kris to do? Sleep, why not? Believe it or not, I slept a good 2 hours. Anyway, I was lucky enough to get a first-class seat. We are now cruising at 32,000 feet when the captain comes on the PA and announces that we won’t be able to watch the film because one power generators wasn’t working. He later follows with the classic, “There is no need to worry. We have two backup generators and they are working fine.” Regardless, we still had no movie for 3 hours, and all the lights on the plane are off. It’s about 8pm and pitch-black out--only the lights on the floor are on. I did what I would have done any other time-- go to sleep.It looks like the plane just keeps going around in circles at Newark. I can see the runway below and flashing lights. Again, nothing at this point would surprise me. When the planes lands, there is a line of emergency vehicles and police cars lined up on the runway. I figure that's not for us--wrong again. The cars start to follow the plane to the gate. Just before we get to the gate the plane stops. They open the door and grab some dude. No struggle, he just goes with them. It turn out that he was a fugitive who they let board in DR to catch him here. At this point I had had just about enough. As soon as the doors open, I just grab my bag and do the mad dash to immigration. It’s like a 10-minute walk from the plane. I’m the first one there--YES! As I start searching for my papers, guess what I left back in the plane in the pocket in front of me!!!! ARGGGGG!!! I just started to laugh like a crazy person. A lady was just informed that my papers where found. Ahhh, what a relief. She told me that I could go meet the person halfway if I wanted to. I said sure, so I started to walk back. Before I knew it, I was back at the gate where the plane was. I push the door and an alarm rang. I figure I might as well just keep walking. NOW I’m all the way in the plane AGAIN, the cleaning crew is there and as shocked as I was. Anyways, I walked over to my seat and sure enough my papers were gone, so I figure I might as well go back. Only one little problem--all those doors I walked through were one-way unless you had the code to open them, so now I’m stuck in between the plane and the gate, with no way out except the runway. Now I’m stuck for 45 minutes. And the cleaning crew is gone--my only option is walk down to the runway and get someone's attention or get arrested. Just as I’m about to walk out to the runway, one of those one-way doors pops open. It’s the lady who found my papers. She asks me what was I doing there and I said looking for her. She says that if I would have walked down to the runway, I would have committed a federal offense. I tell her that nothing surprises me anymore. The fact that I was able to go all the way back to the plane kinda worries me. I saw about 15 to 20 cameras on my way back, and you mean to tell me NO ONE saw me walking back and hanging around the plane?
Written by alieninvasi0n on 26 Oct, 2010
I went Hainamosa, a part of Santo Domingo with 16 other people to run a 3-day Vacation Bible School. We were there for 8 days in total. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. There were over 200 children in our Vacation Bible School. We had…Read More
I went Hainamosa, a part of Santo Domingo with 16 other people to run a 3-day Vacation Bible School. We were there for 8 days in total. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. There were over 200 children in our Vacation Bible School. We had supplies for a maximum of 200 children, so we kept track of the children that had come each day by giving them bracelets to wear. We found that some children gave their bracelets to their siblings or friends in the next days, so that they would be able to enjoy the VBS as well. Close