Today is April 29th, 2018. Today is my first official day in the Dominican Republic.
I arrived in the Dominican Republic around 2pm yesterday afternoon. Upon exiting the airplane, I could immediately feel the heat and humidity welcoming me to the Caribbean. I made my way to the airport and the first thing that I saw was the money changing window. I was excited to be able to test out my Spanish skills and change my $180 USD into Dominican Pesos (DPO). I was surprised by how well I was able to communicate considering I hadn’t touched my Spanish workbook in 4 months. Upon going to the window, I learned that they would give me 40 DPO for every dollar. As I was thinking, a local Dominican informed me that the official exchange rate on the outside was 49 DPO for every dollar. I decided that it was better to be safe than sorry and did the exchange anyway. My next station was through immigration which immediately charged me $10 USD for a “Tourist Card”. However, I was able to make it through both immigration and customs without issue. I finally arrived outside of the airport to what was a bazaar of taxi drivers. Based on the 10-minute research I did during my layover in Fort Lauderdale, I knew that the airport was 20 minutes from the city and there was no regular public bus that passed it. I walked up to the taxi stand and before I could even open my mouth to ask, I saw the price list that showed it would cost $40 USD to get from the airport to where I needed to go. Had this been my first rodeo, I might have paid the “gringo” price but I knew that I could find a better deal even if I had to barter with one of the locals. It turns out that my intuition was correct as I found a local camioneta colectiva that I was able to barter down to $16 USD, although I’m sure the locals only paid $2 USD. What I was able to save in price, I gave away in safety as the van literally had a hole in the floor and the seatbelts were broken. Safety aside, the drive itself was scenic as the highway stretched along the ocean. I was the last person to get dropped off so that allowed me a good opportunity to ride through Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.
My first impression of the city was that it was like other capital cities throughout Latin America in that there is a part geared toward local living and a section built up for tourism. The hotel in which I was staying was in Zona Colonial, the main tourist area in Santo Domingo. As we got closer to the hotel, it became apparent that the driver didn’t know where he was going. Fortunately, I had just enough battery life on my cellphone to be able to use the map and we were able to find the hotel after getting directions from 4 different people. The hotel, called Santo Domingo Bed and Breakfast, was a multistory house of right off La Avenida Independencia in which the 2nd floor rooms had been converted into dormitories. I originally booked for 8 nights but because I couldn’t pay with my credit card, I paid for 5 nights in cash. After seeing the room and realizing that Santo Domingo wasn’t exactly a tourist destination, I ended up canceling the last three nights. The room in which I was staying composed of a bunkbed and a nightstand and was a little bigger than a walk-in closet. Meanwhile, the shared bathroom WAS a walk-in closet as there was barely enough room for me to sit on the toilet. After settling in, I decided to take a walk and search for somewhere to have dinner. My primary goal was to find a local comedor in which I could get the plato del día. The comedores are local restaurants which are set up similar to a cafeteria, they usually have a plato del día that is a combination of meat, rice, and beans that cost under $3 USD. Unfortunately, many of the restaurants that fit that description were closed and I was forced to take an Uber to Denny’s.
Given that I had been living in the Pacific time zone and the Dominican Republic is in the Eastern time zone, I knew that I would have to fight through a bit of jet lag. As a result, I did not wake up until 11 am this morning. However, I did feel refreshed enough to go check out one of the main attractions in Santo Domingo known as Los tres ojos. The park was about 15 miles from the hotel and while I could have easily called an Uber, I decided to try and figure out the local public transportation. I walked to the gas station across the street where about 7 men were congregating next to 3 barely functioning vans. Upon telling them that I wanted to go to Los tres ojos, one of the me signaled me to get into one of the vans and we were off. As we were slowly going down Avenida Independencia, the conductor was catcalling women and blurting out the destination to entice potential customers. We eventually crossed an intersection in which he instructed me to catch one of the camionetas heading north. I paid him $25 DPO (.60 cents) and hopped out the van. Luckily, there was a van waiting for me as I rushed across the street. I told the driver where I needed to go and jumped in before he could even give me confirmation. The van was so full that I had to sit in between the driver and the passenger in the front seat. After another 10 minutes, the driver instructed me to get out on the side of the highway. I gave him another $25 DPO and complied. It turned out that it was about 200 feet from the entrance to the park.
I walked over to the ticket booth and looked at the price list. There were two prices, one for locals ($2 USD) and one for extranjeros ($4 USD). I half-heartedly hoped that I could pass as a local, but my travel bag must have given me away as I was charged the tourist price. There was a soldier guarding the gate who let me in once he saw that I had a ticket. After buying a water bottle at the cafeteria, I walked around the top level of the park. I was able to take some nice pictures of the main lagoon from above. There was a staircase which went down to the cavern which contained four “lakes” (more like tide pools). The water was pristine and probably the clearest I’ve seen throughout my travels. In addition, the park wasn’t overwhelmed with other tourist which allowed me to enjoy the park at a leisurely pace. As I got deeper into the park, there was a ferry that allowed me to cross the main lagoon for $25 DPO (roundtrip). After crossing in the ferry, I arrived at the base of the lagoon which I had taken pictures of above. Although the water outside the cave was emerald green, the water inside the cave was so clear you could see schools of fish swimming about. After taking a few pictures, I returned on the ferry and headed for the exit. Unfortunately, the park was so out of the way, I had to call an Uber to get me back to my hotel. Nevertheless, visiting Los tres ojos was a great way to start my trip.