The Dominican Republic.
I have visited the Dominican Republic on three different occasions. My first trip to the DR was in the summer of 1987 with friend Jim Newsome. We were guests of his sister and brother –in-law, Dr. and Mrs. Max Ruiz in Puerto Plata, DR, which was so very much better than staying in a hotel or inn as we really got to know Puerto Plata as it truly it. There were parts that I just loved, including the long beach highway which ran along the northern coastline throughout the entire length of the country. As Puerto Plata is almost in the geographic middle it was a central location for discovering the northern coast which the four of us did by car almost each day for three weeks. There were so many places that we visited but one of my favorites was the Amber Museum, which is one of the best for fossils in the world. Amber is fossilized tree sap and sometimes has insects embedded in it. It varies from pale golden yellow to very dark brown Of the exhibited ones, the most studied and appreciated is a lizard of 40 centimeters in a state of perfect conservation that dates from about 30 to 40 million years ago. The lizard is included in an amber piece with a length of 42,5 centimeters. Loving both lizards and amber I found this one most exquisite. I also loved the gift shop but didn’t buy much. The museum was opened in March of 1982 and has thousands of pieces, although all are not exhibited. Some are very beautiful and very rare. Actually, two gems are found in the DR, larimar and amber. Larimar is a blue stone, varying from a deep robin's egg blue to pale light blue, sometimes with variations of white. It is very hard.
We also took the cable car up the mountain. The view was fantastic. Once you are on the top of the mountain you can see the town of Puerto Plata, the ocean and the many bays along the coast, if it is not too cloudy! The clouds usually gather towards noon. So try to make it up early! We got there in the afternoon so we could not get a good view from the lookout point at the top! We walked through the tropical forest and gardens at the top and loved it! The guide gave us a lecture on the flora over there. We had brought a picnic and settled down to have wine, local goat cheeses and fresh bread, surrounded by the largest green and white Elephant Ears I have ever seen. At the top of the mountain is an enormous statue of Christ with outstretched hands.
Max and Jim loved to play dominos with their friends in the afternoons so Maryanne and I would join them in the local pub for awhile after they had finished. Latinos love their dominos and slap them down with much fury during the game. I love to play also and really got their macho feathers up when I won. So Silly!
To most Dominicans, good entertainment is loud entertainment. If a stereo isn't distorting then it obviously is not loud enough. They love their meringue music which, I must admit, I don't really have much fondness for, finding it rather repetitive. But, it is everywhere so I'd better learn to love it. When the hour gets late the Dominicans move from listening to music on the streets to in flashy modern discos—of which every town has at least one or two. In sharp contrast to this, I went to a classical concert by some imported musicians which clearly attracted the crème de la crème of Dominican society. This group was so separate that I really had not known of its existence. In a country which I had thought of the people as predominantly black with some Hispanic features, suddenly there were no black people except the ushers. I know it sounds surprising but before this I had thought of the DR as a somewhat integrated place—what I found out was that the upper class was small enough that it was easy to miss. With tickets priced from about $11-$45US, quite a sum to most Dominicans, there was no question of the two societies mixing. I wasn't quite sure whether the concert was part of their culture for their country within a country or was just a social event whose continental appeal made attending a requirement—I expect the 2000 people there represented a substantial percentage of the ruling class. Meanwhile, back in the rest of the country they'd be watching on cable TV the worst sort of ultra-violent American movie. It seemed that the cable operators programmed only the trashiest and ugliest of American flicks—perhaps in a conspiracy to keep more people from wanting to emigrate. But then again, I read a newspaper article that a primary goal of the new Dominican ambassador to the US was to increase DR exports—of people! Well, it turns out that the 1 million Dominicans in the US are the largest source of foreign currency to their mother country.
All in all I loved Puerto Plata but not nearly as much as I did Sosua, which is just an hour down the coast from Puerto Plata and is a different world -A world run by Germans and gays. The day that Jim, Max and I visited they were having a huge international windsurfing competition, which was really great as we had all of these beautiful guys to hang out with. Having been a mom to Michael and Greg, who both owned windsurfers and loved the sport, I felt like I was right at home. We consumed much local beer and had a generally great day. I loved Sosua.
I loved it so much that Dave and I stopped for a three day visit on the way back to Tortola from a five week sailing trip to Cuba. We stayed at a lovely German Inn on the beach. Sousa has a very pretty bay with a lovely beach and a nice swimming/snorkeling reef. There is a mostly Dominican town on one side of the beach and a tourist town on the other. Behind the beach are over 200 (numbered) souvenir stands, bars, snack places--endless rows of the same stuff. Of course you can get anything you like from your rented beach chair so you needn't even leave as a stream of vendors is on the beach. The town's European influence started in 1941 with the arrival of German Jewish refugees. Today, the Germans have pushed out all the locals from this part of town. There appeared to be only 1 Dominican run restaurant and hotel out of perhaps a hundred--the others were German or Quebecois or other European. One Austrian fellow explained how the Germans owned the town. When the police started to try and close down the discos in town because they were little more than fronts for sex tourists on the prowl for prostitutes, of both sexes, they only succeeded in closing the locally owned places. The 2 large German-owned discoes who could afford to pay the appropriate bribes were rewarded with a monopoly. The owner of one celebrated by opening a hotel next door to his disco doing a booming and lucrative business in rooms by the hour. Sosua also had the distinction of being the most expensive place I have been in the RD. It is a cross between Greenwich Village, which I love, and a small European seaside town. Dave loved it too and we had a great time just limin’
Luperon - On our trip to Cuba we sailed with Bobbie, John and Bob on their 54’ CT Windwalker from Puerto Plata, where Dave and I had met them, to Luperon. It was a long sail but with lovely west winds behind us so it was most comfortable. After having visited both Puerto Plata and Sousa I was unprepared for the starkness and poverty of Luperon. We’re talking about poor, here. Located just miles from Haiti the locals have no visible means of income except as an immigration port for traveling cruisers. We had to stop here to check out of the Dominican Republic so we only spent a day and a night but that was enough for me. We did have a local dinner though which brings me to the subject of local food. The Dominican diet is very routine. They eat meat, rice and beans almost every day. Meats were not recognizable cuts and at first glance looked like "mystery meat." Chicken and pork were the main entrees with some beef, but the beef was very lean and not marbled with fat so was not as tender as American beef. Meats were usually cooked slowly in liquid and were well seasoned. Salads of shredded cabbage were served often, sometimes with sliced cucumber and less often with shredded carrots or sliced tomatoes. Maybe once a week they ate fish. This seemed rather peculiar since the DR was an island with access to so much seafood. Shrimp and lobster were available but cost about four times the price of chicken. One of the restaurants served pizza but when we ordered it, it was prepared without sauce and with yellow cheese. Not what we expected. And that meal was one of the more expensive we have eaten in Luperon, illustrating the fact that it is cheaper to eat local than foreign. Desserts are not served in the smaller restaurants. A larger restaurant may serve ice cream, even with rum. After a meal in a small restaurant, if you have a sweet tooth, you can go to one of a number of ice cream parlors where unusual flavors are served.
A national political campaign was in full force during our stay. Signs, banners, flags, and pennants were used to get the candidates' names before the public. Trucks with monster loud speakers went up and down the streets screeching the party line. In America, colors are selected for campaigns but used more subtly as a background for buttons, posters and bumper stickers. Here, parties were called a color. The three main parties were purple, red, and white. Workers painted the colors on telephone poles, power poles, highway guardrails, concrete abutments, concrete drainage ditches, houses, and even on the highway like turn arrows. If the amount of paint spread was any indication, the purple party should win. Huge posters displaying the faces of the candidates were suspended from the telephone and power poles, even in the smallest populated areas. People really got into politics. In Santo Domingo, our guide and taxi driver began talking politics. Very animated, they affably agreed to disagree.