12 – 18 December 2012
With a 20 kg luggage limit on the Santo Domingo flight and 3 weeks in Saint Martin and surrounding islands, I needed to clean out my bag. The flight was scheduled for 3pm so Patrice took me to the airport around 1pm. At check-in they told me the plane was delayed 1½ hour but it ended up being 3 hours.... the upside was the rare occasion of experiencing a beautiful sunset during the whole flight. I spent a long hour in immigration but then at least I didn't have to wait for my luggage.... There is no public transport from the airport and as all taxis are coordinated so the prices are horrendous (read: monopoly or the “taxi mafia” as people call it). On the internet I had found a very cheap way to go with the airport employee bus to town and then by local bus and foot the rest of the way. However, at this late hour it didn't seem attractive trying to find my way around an unknown big city with a lot of luggage, so I ended up sharing a taxi with a guy from Saint Martin who was in Santo Domingo for surgery. Before leaving the airport I asked the driver 3 times if he knew my hosts address – yes no problem.... but of course he had no idea..... Despite my small map with lots of street names he still had to call my hosts for directions and even so it took another 10 minutes..... In Denmark many people complain about the taxi drivers but at least they have a gps to find their way when they don't know an address.... Anyway, I finally arrived at 9.45pm and was invited for dinner by my French hosts Anne and Vincent. I immediately felt like home and we talked for some hours but as everybody was tired it didn't get too late.
The next day I went sightseeing in the old town (Zona Colonial) which has the oldest churches, fortresses, hospitals, universities, etc. in the “New World”. First a long walk along the big but nice coastal road into and around the old town. Then walking around town amongst other visiting Museo Alcazar de Colon (the home of Columbus' son Diego), the cosy Plaza Espana, Catedral Primera de Americas (the oldest cathedral in operation in the Americas) as well as the ruins of Monasterio de San Francisco and Hospital San Nicholas de Bari. On my way back to Anne and Vincent's place I passed by Parque Independencia with many different monuments symbolising Dominican patriotism all the way back from 1655. Walking around town was also a good opportunity to observe the a great mix of architectural styles and meet the locals – everything from young lovers and old ladies chatting on a bench to shoe shine boys, guides looking for a work, people playing checkers, chess and backgammon, etc.
As I had seen most things in town the day before and had to “change host” during the afternoon, I used the day for relaxing and updating my homepage. Late afternoon I left most of my stuff at Anne & Vincent's and walked downtown to meet my new host David – a very friendly and accommodating guy. The next day I walked a bit outside the centre to find the bus for Pedernales close to the Haitian border (as in most Latin American cities there are countless bus stops/stations depending on the destination, so it can take a while to find the right place). While searching I enjoyed the atmosphere of the “real” Santo Domingo – chaotic traffic and backfiring cars, guaguas and motoconchos (buses and motorbikes) looking for passengers, loud merenge and bachata music, busy shops and numerous street vendors, etc. Vibrant and Latin American and very different from visiting the previous islands on this trip - yet everything felt so right that I almost forgot I was in the Caribbean. In the afternoon we went to the art fair in town and had some beers with David's friend Manuel – a paediatrician amongst other providing interesting insights on the country's health care situation.
Another day David and I went to the famous Boca Chica beach a bit outside town. I had read many less appealing things of how the beach vendors constantly harass people, but it was a quiet Monday and since it wasn't too hot it turned out to be a fairly pleasant afternoon. David was nice to let me stay a couple of extra days so on the way back from the beach we picked up my big bag and in the evening another friend joined us for dinner – a Spanish journalist with the whole world as his workplace, he shared many interesting stories and viewpoints.
The last day in Santo Domingo I used to do practical things – laundry, shopping, updating my homepage and searching information about future destinations primarily travelling to the border and Haiti.
I was lucky to do most of my sightseeing the first day where the weather was fantastic – it was still warm the rest of the days but much more clouded. In general people in Santo Domingo are friendly and for the first time on this trip most people allowed me to take their picture. And even though people warned me about certain areas and to be careful I didn't experience anything - only that it's difficult to get a greeting and a smile – probably more because most people are poor and consider every gringo rich.....