Friday the 13th: Machetes on the Malecón

Trip Start Apr 12, 2007
Trip End Apr 22, 2007

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Saturday, April 14, 2007

I´ve never associated Friday the 13th with anything but bad movies - until the proverbial day of bad luck brought me my closest brush with death to date.  After traversing the colonial zone with my new Dominican friend, Mary, who's apartment I am now taking residence in for the remainder of my sojourn here in the capital, we returned home to a good Dominican meal cooked by her mother and a much needed shower, as the heat and humidity are oppressive to say the least and constantly militate against physiological freshness.  (There is also a Cuban and an Italian renting rooms in the flat, leaving the whole family to share one bedroom until I leave.)  Mary wanted to go out dancing again this evening, this time to a more modest local where salsa and merengue are played, as opposed to the posh disco we visited last night where only the upper crust and tourists are granted admission, as they are the only ones who can afford the outrageous prices of alcohol on hand, which boasts the same taste and appearance as that which is sold for a fraction of the cost in the poorest sections of this polarized city.

We had decided to take a stroll along the malecón at sundown, as the heat lets up and the mist coming off of the crashing waves below is quite refreshing.  Opposite the seaside walkway of the malecón, four lanes of busy traffic later, lies a strip of fancy, neon-laced hotels and gambling dens - the nicest and most popular in the city - where tourists tend to congregate and roister in the surrounding area which is a zona rosa, or playground of various amusements, appetites, vices, carnalities, miscellaneous diversions and mischief - all in all a place to have a good time, but also a place to find plenty of the bad, hush-hush, naughty and shhhhh.  Casinos, bars, malls, restaurants, discoteques and fleshpots are numerous, as are the meretricious corners and alleyways where drugs and doxies are readily available and advertised without reticence.  By the time we bathed and made our way down to the ocean, it was already dusk.  We crossed the four lanes and purchased a caguama of Presidente, or 40 ounces of Dominican freedom and two cups to drink some good beer as we talked and enjoyed the more comfortable climate of the evening.  There were people scattered all over the benches and gathering spots that pepper the malecón, bottles of beer and rum being sold and consumed everywhere you looked.  It was a good vibe and reminded me of the malecón in La Habana, though this one in Santo Domingo is in much better shape and displays a ripe tourist industry.

I imagine we had walked a solid half hour by the time we started leaving behind the main strip as we continued on the extremely long malecón, which stretches on into the horizon hugging the rocky coastline.  Although there were no street lights on the side of the malecón we were traversing, there were plenty of passing cars and still a presence of flashing neon across the street, though it was obvious we had left the center of the action behind and were treading into a less-populated and less-visited part of the tourist zone.  Suddenly I saw a kid appear on the opposite side of the stone bench that separates the sidewalk from the rocks and sea to our left.  He walked alongside us only a few meters away and appeared to carry a stick, though I couldn´t tell for sure because I made an effort to ignore him as I do with all bothersome touts.  He was trying to get our attention and continued saying something to me which I couldn´t hear due to the noise of the traffic to our right.  I figured he was just another kid trying to sell a tourist some drugs or wangle some change for what he said was food, but judging by his appearance would be for drugs.  I realized there was no one walking in front of us at this point, and though I didn´t realize it until shortly after, no one behind us for a ways either.

Before I could completely comprehend what was ocurring, the annoying, shabbily-dressed tout with the stick turned into an angry urchin wielding a three-foot machete.  From out of nowhere appeared two more soiled rascals who grabbed Mary as I approached the street, hoping she would follow my lead and run towards the bars and restaurants on the other side, but somehow, and I´ve no idea how, we reacted in a disconcerted way to the interruption and ended up with a space of about five meters between us.  I froze as they grabbed Mary and demanded her money and possessions, of which she had none, for all she brought with her was her keys which I carried in my pocket.  Then the waif with the weapon approached me, machete high in the air and threatening, and though I had an almost empty 40 oz bottle of beer in my hand as my best defense against his arm of choice, the other two mangy derelicts held Mary´s hands behind her with a knife to her back.  I receded towards the cement bench along the border of the malecón, the blood rushing through my body as I prepared to surrender whatever they wanted and fight for my life if he intended to do more than rob me.  I had a $300 digital camera in my left pants pocket and a few hundred pesos (about $10) and Mary´s keys in the other. 

The ragged thug with the machete kept yelling at me to give him my cellular phone despite the fact that I had none and told him this numerous times.  Bringing the machete to my chest as the other two thieves ransacked my pockets after obtaining nothing from Mary and releasing her, I told him I only had a camera and would give it up, yelling at him to just leave us alone.  I pulled the camera out and handed it to him, which led the three of them to anxiously inspect it at once and gave me a chance to grab Mary and run like hell.  That we did, and before we crossed two lanes the beer bottle I had lost a hold of came flying after us followed by Mary´s keys which one of the thugs had snatched from my pocket.  And while they made off with my camera and the $10 in pesos, they weren´t smart enough to look through that little pocket within the pocket on the right side of all jeans, where I had stashed 1500 pesos.  Although I lost the camera it was only the pictures it contained that bothered me.  Mary and I were unharmed, which was the most important thing.  I´ll trade a camera, a few dollars and any number of photos in exchange for being spared a hack or two with a machete.

Adrenaline rushing like mad we ran into a Tony Roma's restaurant and had someone call the police, which I assumed was pointless as the delinquency in this city has recently gotten so bad bars are only open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2:00 am on Saturday and Sunday.  When the cops finally arrived they dismounted from their car with sarcastic grins upon their faces, as if it was almost comical I got mugged.  Surely it wasn´t, but compared to the crimes that are proliferating throughout this city what happened to us was pretty trivial.   Mary made a scene and denounced her country and its capital, adding a few criticisms of the lousy police force and private security that pepper the malecón which many people claim take bribes from thugs in exchange for doing nothing while the latter rob and attack people before their very eyes.  This was confirmed when we crossed the street before the flying beer bottle and came upon an armed security guard busy savoring a sandwich directly opposite the spot where we were assaulted.  I just wanted to get back to Mary´s and away from the malecón.  Losing $300 dollars to a desperate drug-addict with a machete half his size was a small price to pay for a lesson learned. 

And so I´ve no pictures to post yet again, but will borrow Mary´s camera and do my best to add a few so as to give some more color to my narratives and show the nicer side of Santo Domingo.  Tomorrow we're heading to the beaches of Boca Chica for some sun and surf.  I also intend to take in some cockfights tomorrow evening.  But right now, I think I´ll go get another drink...
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