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Unfortunately, Dominican Republic does not have any hostels so I resort to using very cheap budget hotels within the city. As I'm checking in, the local behind the desk, Eddie, initially speaks to me in Spanish about my stay. Although I had taken some Spanish classes and did a refresher prior to my arrival, I was only able to make out a few words due to his fast pace and accent. I expected most people to not speak English, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Eddie was actually taking English classes. We have a short, but interesting conversation..
Eddie:Where are you from?
Eddie: Eh, are you originally from Dominican Republic? (No) But you look like me...
After a few more confused looks and questions about where my family is from Eddie finally gives up and believes me when I tell him I am not Dominican.
Although the average Dominican's salary is $300 per month, the typical dress does not differ that much to anything I've seen in the States. The only thing I will comment on is that despite the extreme heat and humidity here, the people all wear suits and jeans during the day with no worries and sweat! This is how you are able to spot many of the tourists because they are the ones who are typically wearing shorts.
For the most part, I've tried to blend in with the people but my ridiculous TEVA sandals and my fanny pack (I only wore it one day! I swear!) have given me away time and time again. I will walk the El Conde and a street vendor will give me a glance and not say anything and then look at my sandals and ask if I am interested in his items. I got rid of the fanny pack (hah!) and sooner or later will grab some cheap flip flops, but the sandals are comfortable and I've been able to walk for hours in them around the city with no pain.
I'll go into more detail later on my social experiences, but I've already made a couple of friends within Santo Domingo. A couple were local Dominicans my age who were interested in the States and have taken me out for drinks and dancing with the locals. I've been able to enjoy live dancing and little mini festivals at night that are separate from the tourist trail due to these helpful new friends. I've gone out to Parque Duarte, a local Dominican area, and enjoyed cerveza with the locals as they recount the drama / funny stories from their week . I am able to pick up bits and pieces of their social lives but I must admit it still is a bit difficult.
I've started to come more out of my "cautious" phase as I've explored the city by walking throughout Gazcue and other neighboring zones. And my initial caution was warranted, due to the stories about scamster tour guides and thefts and muggings targeted at tourists. Eddie, the hotel front desk guy, even gave me a warning that people who are initially nice and initially gregarious to me can not be trusted. "What reason do they have to be so nice and helpful to you in the beginning?" So I've kept his words in mind while still trying to make friends in this beautiful and culturally rich city.
Although I've provided some pictures, I've had to be a bit careful in taking pictures. While most people are courteous and nice, I believe that most do not understand why you would want to take a picture of them and are a bit skeptical. Also, I still have to remember it is a third world country and flashing a digital camera around is a sure way to call attention. Walking throughout the city, I am constantly reminded of the poverty here and it's hard to not feel its impact. You see the local homeless people ask for food or money and considering the prices at the local supermarket and the average monthly salary you wonder how most people are able to survive.
In the next entry, I'll talk a bit more about my conversations with a local bar owner, Francisco, who is from Spain, lived in London and then moved to DR where he has been for the past 4 years. I found his insight into the country and the people very interesting and has changed my view and thoughts about the Dominican culture. And as of Monday, I am taking a week long course in Spanish at the local academy.
I hope my entries should become more frequent and they will probably be just thoughts, random experiences and casual notes. I hope I haven't bored you with this introduction into my trip.
Until then, hasta luego!