At midnight on the last day of 2014, my Father, Sister, and I boarded a plane for Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. It almost felt like I was escaping something, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it might be. Maybe it was a part of myself which had become locked away during the habitual schedule of work and school? Or maybe it was just cold weather? Either way, I felt like I was trying to leave something behind.
We stumbled off the plane at 4 in the morning January 1st 2015. The air in Santo Domingo was warm and thick. Coming from cold and dry weather, it felt like we were wading through warm air on our way to the rental office. Toting our bags out of the automatic front doors, we left the airport for the freedom of the Dominican Republic, the sky slowly lightening from night to morning behind us.We then picked up our beige, scraped up, sort of smelly, Fiat, with an awful transmition, and was covered under as much insurance as the company was willing to offer. Then, we turned onto the most dangerous highway in the Caribbean during the aftermath of one of the drunkest holidays in the world, a sense of moderately extreme danger looming just over the horizon.
Driving down the two lane highway, the ocean was gently lapping against a beach on our left as we drove, the sun slowly approaching the horizon behind us. The scene would have been very relaxing, if it weren’t for the locals racing by us in the passing lane, laying on their horns as they went, and flickering their lights. I would later find out that these wasn’t a personal insults directed at us for our slow and careful driving, only that they were making sure we knew not to change lanes at the moment they were passing. Kinda makes sense when you think about driving down the most dangerous road in a region, on the most hung-over morning of the New Year.
The Zona Colonial is located at the beginning of Santo Domingo, and almost impossible t find without using Google Maps. We rolled onto a promising looking street, parked behind a tourism police car (seemed safe enough), and got out to check out what was behind this massive wall with a small, slightly ajar, black door. It was the oldest fort in the Americas.
The original Fort of Christopher Columbus is a squat, medieval styled, castle of a building. We were able to explore the entire building without another person around. We had the place to ourselves. Walking through a maze of small rooms, dimly lit by narrow window slots. Making our way up spiraling staircases to the top of the fort, the whole of Zona Colonial stretched out below us.
From the top, we could see snow white storks circling over the river down below, an earthy brown body of water bordered by lush green foliage. There was a massive cruise ship docked at the mouth of the river. Down below us, Tourism Police were doing drills in the main square. I realized that this had probably been happening at the fort for the last several hundred years.
For a moment, I no longer thought about my feelings of escape. We were in a country thousands of miles away from my life in the United States. I took a deep breath, and felt the sun on my face, clearing the fog of my mind. We then went for breakfast at one of the locals café, drinking freshly squeezed pineapple juice, and coffee right from the source. Everything felt so oddly tranquil, which is strange, because every trip I take usually begins with a rocky start. What I didn’t know at the time, was that I was enjoying the calm before the storm.
Just a few hours, we would be witnessing a third world riot first hand, complete with gunshots, police fleeing, and concrete bricks being hurled over a highway. Life went from paradise, to chaos, and then back to paradise in the span of ten minutes. Check out the next article this Sunday for the full story. Thanks for reading!