Exotic, hot, humid, passionate, breathtaking and heart wrenching! These are only some of the adjectives that I could use to describe the right side of the island of Hispaniola, known as the Dominican Republic! It is a land of beauty and of contrasts; a place where the beats of bachata or merengue can be heard anywhere; where men play dominoes on any table they can find; where cockfights are the norm rather than the exception! A place where you can see more four wheel drives than in Toorak, and only metres away see people begging for food! Amongst the beaty and the pain, however, rises the crown jewel of this fascinating country……and that crown jewel is……the people! And this has undoubtedly made this country one of my favourite places on earth!
What is the country best known for? Cigars that rival Cuba, and Amber and Larimar; two semi-precious stones, the latter which can only be found in the Dominican Republic. Most people are surprised to find that Amber exists here, thinking that it is only from Poland and the Baltic countries.
The single thing that has had the biggest impact on both Alex and I, in this country of juxtapositions, has been the human face of the nation. Friendly, exuberant, life-loving and always smiling, despite the hardships we know so many of them must try and surpass on a daily basis. Dominicans are predominantly of Hispanic- African extraction. Africans were brought over as slaves; the Spanish “colonised”, and the rest is proverbial history. Physically they are a beautiful looking race, with their dark skin and Spanish features, often including blue or green eyes. I have looked at many of them and wondered why most of the world wants to be white….why,when you can look THIS beautiful! ( A discussion for another day).
We had an amazing time in Santo Domingo, the country’s capital. The city’s Old Colonial Centre is not only the oldest in the “New World” (Carribean) and has been declared patrimonial heritage by UNESCO, but we were also privy to a free one week concert. A series of concerts, involving artists from the Carribean, Africa and the Pacific Nations, were being held in the central plaza, “Plaza Espana”, each night. It was exuberating to hear the reverberating beats of Jamaica, the melodic and spine tingling melodies from Mauritania and the blood pumping bongo beats from Burundi, amongst so many other fascinating sounds. The world suddenly felt so very small, as everybody jammed to the beats of the world! If only this could translate to how ALL human beings of all nations could treat each other.
I want to mention Santa, Johanni, Patricia and Annie. These four ladies were employed by Hotel La Danae, the place where Alex and I stayed. Four lovely ladies who always had the time to chat, and even offer us coffee. Santa had a particularly happy disposition, and was always smiling. One day she hugged me, and told me that she had never met tourists like Alex and I who were so humble and gracious. What a compliment! The reality is that it is really natural for both of us to be able to talk so easily to anyone and everyone!
We spent four wonderful days in Santo Domingo. Apart from the free concerts, there was so much to explore. We found watching how they made and rolled cigars fascinating, but often we could not stay in the shop for long, as clients happily tried out the product. After some investigating, we found out that the Dominican Republic has some top notch cigars……Cuba has the name you see! As non-smokers, neither of us are able to give you any type of evaluation!
It was fun to walk around the “Zona Colonial”, and just get lost in the tangle of cobble stone streets, and alleyways. This is where the real people live and do business. Whenever eye contact was made (which in my case, as you would know, was often), we were always greeted with a “Buenos dias” (hello) and a big smile!
Next: Our travels in the north east of the Dominican Republic.
(Photos: 1. Gate to the old city Independence Park. 2. Osama fortress. 3. Colonial Santo Domingo. 4. Traditional drummers. 5. The shop comes to your door. 6. Making cigars….)