29 October 2011

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

a road under water and monsoonal rains will not stop a good time

In June of this year, I took advantage of living on the island of Hispaniola by visiting the other country on this small, Caribbean paradise - the Dominican Republic. Obviously, this decision was augmented by the fact that I have had multiple friends live in and fall in love with this Spanish-speaking nation - I mean - I had to go. 

I decided to head for Santo Domingo, as I had heard very good things about it, and did not want to chance having rainy weather at the beach. I hear there are some absolutely gorgeous beaches in the DR though. Next time around...

getting there:
super small planes for the super small airport.
Since I was living on the same island as the Republic, I decided to travel there a bit unconventionally - by road there and by plane back. I loved doing this, as it allowed me to experience the gorgeous jungle-y scenery of the island, while allowing the maximum time to adventure in the city.

A word of warning, should you decide to travel this route - the road is notoriously bad and unpredictable. Oftentimes, vehicles cannot get through and/or get stuck. We happened to plan our trip during rainy season, which allowed us the fun (and a little stressful) experience of driving through the lake, which had flooded the road. I am amazed our little vehicle made it through. But an adventure it was!

There are also buses to take from Port-au-Prince and other areas of the DR, as well as 2 airports to service your needs. I flew out of the smaller one, as I was just making a short hop. Do not be surprised to have to pay an airport tax in cash upon arrival. And if you do decide to make the short hop over to the other side of the island, also do not be surprised to have hand-written boarding passes and no computer to register your payment. Some of the airlines have yet to enter the computer age - as much charming as it is strange.

to stay / get around: I ended up staying more in central Santo Domingo, which was not super convenient for doing what I wanted to do. But it was cheap. And close to a Taco Bell, which, after almost 2 years away from the US, was a HUGE plus in my book. 

just off the Malecon - not much of a beach,
but still with Caribbean views
On the other hand, I would recommend staying in an area close to Zona Colonial, which will likely be where you will want to spend your time wandering. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs to choose from on Avenida George Washington (also known as the Malecon) and Avenida Independencia. A search on your favourite travel site should find you some great options ranging from as little as $20 per night for a homey B&B to upwards of $175 for a more ritzy hotel.

Should you choose to stay on one of these roads, getting around will be very simple. Santo Domingo is a very walk-able city, with lots to see and experience. And for times when your feet are just too tired to take another step, taxis are plentiful and cheap. My experiences with them proved them to be very knowledgeable of the city and willing to hand you their cards should you want to hire them for further services. Don't expect much English though.

As with all travel (and arguably with life), be aware of your situation, whether it is walking around, in a taxi, or at your hotel. I had no bad experiences myself, but that does not mean that all tourists are left alone...

to see:
Contrary to the belief of the average American, the New World did not begin in the good ol' US of A. Au contraire, mes amis, Santo Domingo boasts being the oldest European city in the Americas, founded by the Columbus family, whose influence can still be seen throughout the city.

This is most notable in the Zona Colonial, where one can find:
Calle Las Damas: the Oldest European Street in the Americans 
- Fortaleza Ozama
- Alcazar de Colon: the former residence of the Columbus family, now a museum
Me and the Alcazar de Colon!
- Panteon Nacional
- Ruinas de San Francisco

The river of water emerging from the
Ruinas de San Francisco
- Iglesia Regina Angelorum
- Catedral Primada de America
The gorgeous Catedral Primada de America
- La Puerta del Conde or Puerta de la Independencia, which leads from a major shopping street to the plaza where the DR proclaimed its independence.
- Altar de la Patria, which houses the remains of the DR's founders
- And lots of other beautiful pieces of the Americas' history. 

Ruinas de la Iglesia y Hospital San Nicolas de Bari
I highly recommend just taking your time and exploring Zona Colonial. You never know what you will find.

Should you desire, there are tour guides available to explain the history of the area. Of course there is a small fee (negotiable). Beware, though - they may try and force themselves on you. At this point, I was touring alone and had not done enough research, so I welcomed the information from my friendly tour guide. He offered to take me around the city, which I didn't have time for, but walked with me as I finished my visit around the Zona Colonial. I learned much more than I would have if I had been by myself, including information about the Dominican crest, the first sundial, and the Columbus family. But it's up to you... (I think my guide was also excited to do something - there were not a lot of tourists around in the monsoon I found myself in.) 
Take note: most museums and indoor experiences are closed on Sundays, much to my detriment. If you plan your visit to the Zona Colonial better than I did, you will get to experience the magnificent finds in this historic city.

don't forget:
  • to enjoy Dominican life through observation.
There are lots of lovely plazas and parks to just sit and relax with a book and a Presidente, watching life pass by. Don't forget this integral part of your cultural experience! Recommendations include: Parque Colon, El Parque Independencia, or Plaza de Espana.
Parque Colon: a place for pigeons and people watching
  • to dance the night away. 
Music and dance flood the streets of Santo Domingo. While the DR's national dance is the merengue, latin / haitian-based rhythms can be found at most clubs, including salsa, bachata, and kompa. Clubs playing other types of music can be found, but don't miss this opportunity to move your body to the Dominican beat.
And don't be surprised to find live bands playing on any old street corner or plaza. Enjoy! This is the Caribbean! 
No, I am not talking about the well-known plant. Mamajuana is a traditional Dominican drink, which infuses Dominican rum, red wine, honey and locally-sourced bark and herbs to produce a sweet-tasting potable with medicinal properties. It is said to aid digestion and circulation, cleanse blood, livers and kidneys, and cure the flu. And for those who are interested, it is also known to be an aphrodisiac with Viagra-like properties. 

25 October 2011

The 5 Most Interesting Ways...

I've been meaning to write this for a long time - just never got around to it. But today, I decided, is the day to write the story of my last week in Haiti. Because it's a good'un. 

I believe I said over and over again (verbally, if not in written form) that Haiti is crazy. (in the best way possible, of course). Crazy in that every day something new happens. Sometimes it was scary; sometimes it was random; sometimes it was just plain AWESOME!!!! Well, my last week in this ever-changing country is just an example. One that sums up the entire experience. So...here it goes.


1. You get pickpocketed. (I'ts only $15 - not the end of the world. And definitely not worth fighting over, mi amigo)
Back up the river. We wanted to go home too...

2. On the way to the beach, the bridge is out. So, you have to drive down into the river, down stream until you get to the beach, drive along the beach (tires in the waves), through a jungle, and then have to pay to exit the land to get back on the road. 

3. A streetchild attempts to steal your purse. Attempts, being the operative word. As in, you fought back, got the purse, cursed after him, then climbed into the car as if nothing happened.

4. There is an earthquake. Being a Californian, this is no big deal. But Haitians are still scared to death of them. (Rightly so, of course - you never know if the building will come crashing down around you). 

5. You are forced to leave the country within 24 hours of your contract ending, regardless of the fact that you and the HR representative signed a document saying you had 30 days to relocate and repatriate. HUH?!?!!?

ahhhh. this is the way to travel.
*both photos from a colleagues Facebook. Hey, I was driving. 
Down a river - and you expect me to take photos too?
Yes - those all happened in 1 week! Surrounded by other interesting experiences, such as goodbye lunches, dinners, dances, and finalising all my last bits of work. 

I am not sure if Haiti was telling me that it did not want me to go, or if it was telling me to get the hell out. But no matter what, it stuck with me. 

Haiti, I miss you and your unpredictability. Do you miss me too?

07 October 2011


When I was living in Pasadena a few years ago, I had a fig tree that hung over my balcony. It was intermixed with a Jacaranda tree that bloomed lovely purple flowers every spring. 

This sounds amazing, right? Beauty every spring, and fresh fruit every summer? To me though, it was annoying. The purple flowers would fall on the balcony and litter the ground with slippery, dried up, dead flowers. It was a terror to clean. The fig tree, on the other hand, went unappreciated. I am not a big fan of figs. 

Literally or figuratively. 

You see, in my life, it seems like every choice, as so eloquently put by Sylvia Plath, is a fig. But if I choose one, I cannot have the others. They will just wilt and die. 

Every woman has this choice. It is particularly strong in the humanitarian field. It is very rare to find a woman who has spent the majority of her life in the field, who is married with children. In fact, the great majority of people in the humanitarian sector are either single, or divorced. 

So what is the most important? What is your priority?

This question - which fig to choose - and even, do I have to choose a fig - are thoughts that regularly fill my mind. 

I only hope I choose one and am happy with my decision before they all fall, rotten, to the ground.