Today is May 4th, 2018. I am currently traveling through the Dominican Republic as part of my goal to travel the world.
As I sit in a bungalow on the Samana peninsula reflecting on my first week in the Dominican Republic, I can’t help but wonder what might have been had I decided to take this trip a month ago. Before I summarize my last few days, I would like to point out that when all is said and done, one month of living on the beach will cost me less than $500. This is a far cry from the $1900 per month that I was paying to languish in my apartment in San Diego.
As far as the trip itself, the rest of my time in Santo Domingo was uneventful. I spent one day laying in my bed feverishly reviewing Spanish coursework from my classes at San Diego City College. I also found a few cool videos on YouTube that allow me to test my listening comprehension. I tried to be a little more active on my last day in Santo Domingo, in that I walked 2.5 km to the Natural History Museum. On my way I was also able to get some pretty good pictures of the Presidential Palace. As I thought that the museum itself would be more oriented towards the history of the Dominican Republic, I was disappointed to learn that it was more a scientific museum that dealt with biodiversity and astronomy. Nevertheless, it was good value for the $50 DPO (.60 cents) ticket. After that museum, it was only a short walk to the Museum of Art. While art itself doesn’t really peak my interest, there was no cost to enter and some of the exhibits provided a fascinating perspective on how Dominicans view the United States. After that museum, I found the history museum that I was originally wanted to visit (called the Museum of the Dominican Man). However, there was a $100 DPO ($2 USD) entrance fee and I was so exhausted from 4 hours of walking in the Dominican sun that I didn’t think I would be able to focus enough to get full value for my ticket. I left the museum and went back to the hotel to prepare for my departure for the next day.
The next morning, I woke up and took an Uber to the Caribe Tours to embark toward my next destination-Las Galeras. Las Galeras is a small beach village on the northern tip of the Samana peninsula that is known for white sand beaches and seafood. Although it can be challenging to get to, it is more laid back than traditional tourist destinations such as Punta Cana and Cabarete. I got to the bus terminal at 8:10 a.m. to catch the bus to Samana City which I expected to depart 9:30 a.m. (as stated on the company’s website). However, upon my arrival, I learned that I missed the bus by 10 minutes and would have to wait until 10 a.m. for the next one. The ticket to Samana cost $340 DPO ($7 USD) and would take 3 hours. The bus ride itself was extremely comfortable as there were only 4 other passengers on a full-size coach bus. Not only was there plenty of room, the bus was also equipped with air conditioning and Wi-Fi (albeit not the most reliable).
I arrived in Samana around 1 p.m., but still had to get to my hotel in Las Galeras which was about 45 minutes away. As I was coming off the bus, I was immediately confronted with taxi drivers who wanted my business. While I knew that I could find cheap public transportation if I looked for it, I don’t like walking around unknown places with my full gear (i.e. passport, laptop, both credit cards). I ended up negotiating with one of the drivers to take me to Las Galeras for $800 DPO ($17 USD). The ride itself was nice as a majority of it was down the coastline. However, when we arrived in Las Galeras, the driver tried to extort me for another $200 DPO ($4 USD) to drive me the additional 2.5 km to my hotel. I ended up giving him another $100 DPO ($2 USD) for the extra “inconvenience”. My hotel was called La Rancheta which I booked for 7 nights at about $25 a night. Like the Santo Domingo Bed and Breakfast, this place didn’t take credit card for payment. Not wanting to give up all my cash without testing the ATM, I only paid for 5 nights. While the hotel was a little far from the center of town, it was the extremely laid back. The owner, who I believe is Belgian, was extremely helpful in orienting me to the city. The “room” was a house with a private bathroom and to twin beds pushed together. There was some issue with the water pressure my first night which made taking a shower an interesting experience. However, these was no issue this morning when I took a shower after my run. The town itself was small and was populated by small hotels and European themed restaurants. I was able to find a small comedor that had El Plato del Día for $200 DPO ($4 USD). The food was pretty good. In fact, it was so good that as I was going to get more rice, one of the cats that was hanging around the table literally stole a piece of my chicken. The owner was understanding and gave me more meat and rice which I paid her $100 DPO ($2 USD) for her trouble.
My first night in Las Galeras was indeed interesting and should be more interesting the next 4 days.
Today is April 30th, 2018. I am currently traveling through the Dominican Republic as part of my goal to travel the world
My second day in the Dominican Republic got off to a better start than my first as I woke up at 10 instead of 11. Although my purpose here isn’t entirely due to tourism, I wanted to be sure to take advantage of the few days that I was in Santo Domingo by seeing the appropriate sites. My first stop was to the Parque Independencia which I had seen from the outside during my earlier walks around Zona Colonial. As I was preparing to leave the hotel, I was informed that today was Labor Day in the Dominican Republic. Although I was sure that the park was still going to be open, I hoped that it wouldn’t be too crowded with local tourists taking advantage of their day off. My first impression of the park was that it reminded me of a combination of the Lincoln Memorial and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington DC. While two formally dressed soldiers stood guard at the gate, there was no entrance fee to enter the park. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that there were only a few people milling about. Upon entering the park, you see a walkway surrounded by two rows of bronze busts of various important figures in Dominican history. Given that I did the unguided tour, I’m not entirely sure if they were all related to a singular event in the countries history. The walkway led up to a white mausoleum that housed statutes of the countries three founders (Duarte, Sanchez, and Mella). Although there wasn’t much else to see in the park, I did take plenty of nice photos.
I left the park and walked towards the ocean. Even during this holiday, there were plenty of empty benches where I could sit and ponder my next move. I decided that I would check out Parque Mirador Del Sur. From what I read during my internet research, I was told that it was an expansive park which I could rent a bike and get great view of the city. The only challenge was that it was about twenty minutes away from my current location. After waiting about ten minutes for a camioneta, I decided to bite the bullet and call Uber. However, feeling adventurous and cheap, I opted for an Uber Motorbike as opposed to the traditional car. The Uber driver was a nice guy, but he seemed more concerned with carrying on a conversation with me than finding the park. This became apparent when he asked me to pull a map up on my phone. After asking for directions, we eventually found the park entrance. As expected, the park was lively and busy. There was plenty of outdoor exercise equipment and the road was blocked off to allow for cycling. There were family reunions, groups of teenage boys, and people enjoying an afternoon picnic. The most interesting group I saw was a Dominican family playing a baseball with a coconut and a wooden tree branch. I was quite impressed as even the old and heavyset Dominican women were getting pretty good hits on the coconut. No wonder the Dominican Republic accounts for most of the foreign-born players in Major League Baseball. It took about a mile walking before I reached the bike shop. While bikes were a plenty, unfortunately I needed a Dominican identification card to reserve one. Despite not getting a bike, the walk throughout the park was soothing and relaxing. Parque Mirador Del Sur is a good place to go if you want to get some good exercise while in Santo Domingo. Speaking of exercise, I got plenty of it as I made the 2.4 mile walk back to the entrance of the newly installed metro station. It was an interesting walk, as I passed the Congressional building and various ministerial headquarters. While I wanted to experience the metro, there wasn’t a stop within walking distance to my hotel, so I opted for the colectivo instead. For $25 DPO (.60 cents), I was dropped off on the exact street of where I was staying.
On my way back from the park, I spotted a comedor that was two blocks away from my hotel. I decided that I would walk there for dinner. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for as it had a variety of Dominican Cuisine to try. I ended up going with the Plato Del Día, which came with 1/4 chicken, rice, beans, and potato salad. Even with having to buy a drink, the meal only cost me $200 DPO (or $4 USD). The best part is they close at 9PM which means I finally have place to have dinner during my remaining time in Santo Domingo.
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.