The Lonely Traveler Bug

Its funny how content I was with traveling alone, until I met the German girl. I met her during an afternoon in the park. I had been enjoying the shade beneath a massive, ancient tree. A light breeze was rustling the tree leaves, and nearby were Dominicans speaking a beautiful version of Spanish. I hadn’t spoken English in the past 3 days, and I was totally fine with that.
Then I heard, “Hello. Do you speak English? Do you know what I’m saying? How long have you been here?” come from over the edge of my book.
I looked up and she was standing there, roughly 5 foot seven, with short brown hair, and several piercings. She had a concerned look on her face, and was not smiling.
I marked the page I had been reading, gave her a friendly smile, and wondered how I could help. I was wondering how I could help her. I told her that I did speak English, and she continued talking hungrily.
“I haven’t traveled with or spoken to anybody in days. People are either going to a resort, or leaving the country when I meet them. I haven’t found anyone to travel with in this country. I feel so alone.”
She paused for a second to catch her breath, and I let her without trying to interrupt. It seemed that she had something to get off her chest.
Then she continued explaining herself, “I travel alone, but not to be alone. Do you know how I mean? The reasons I travel is not just to see new places, but also to meet people. Have you had trouble meeting people? Where are you staying?”
I tried to reconcile all of these questions, and at the same time consider how much I felt aligned with her words. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had just infected me with the lonely travel bug.
“Yeah I guess that’s true.” I said feeling a little bewildered, “I’ve been trying to meet local Dominicans, but its hard when you only understand marginal Spanish. Some of them have been pretty nice, but it definitely isnt the kind of friendship I’m used to on these trips.”
What I told her had stretched the truth just a little. My actual relationships with the Dominican people was more to do with business than anything else. The best I had managed in terms of friendship was a 20 minute bus conversation with a pretty girl from Santo Domingo, two taxi drivers in broken spanglish, and a day of motorcycle tourism with my guide Juan, who charged 30 dollars a day. So at my best, I had found friends for hire at negotiable rates.
I had been fine with this arrangement, until my conversation with the German girl made me feel like something was missing. How could I do a trip, and be fine with having friends for hire? Sure this was the thing that most tourists did during their vacations, but I wasn’t a regular tourist. I was a backpacker. And so was this German girl. If she wasn’t fine with it, then I wasn’t either.
Our conversation slowly came to and end when we realized that our hostels were on the opposite ends of town, and it was getting dark. Neither of us knew how safe the streets were at night, so she wanted to get back before nightfall. We had spent the past half an hour talking about how hard it was to find friends, only to leave each other friendless once again.
I sat under the tree, no longer content with reading, thinking about how my life as a tourist had become like a recurring joke my friends and I had in high school. I felt like I had become the punch line, though looking back I know that this is not true.
The joke was about paying for friends. We would say that the other persons parents were paying us to be their friend, and it was funny. That is it was funny until I realized that I was paying for my friends in the Dominican Republic. Only my parents weren’t paying for the friendships. I was.
I was infected by the influence of her loneliness, and wanted to find new friends with the fervor of a middle school girl. The feeling was like a sickness, and it was growing. I began a new phase of overflowing outgoingness. I tried to find new friends anywhere I could. It was weird.
Like a miracle from the sky, I found a pair of Finish guys who were eating at one of the Fried Chicken places that I liked. They were dressed for adventure, and seemed like the kind of guys I would get along with.
Our conversation was both forced and awkward, because a construction crew was working next door to the diner.
“I said, we were canyoneering today.” Said one of the men in a muffled yell.
“Oh that’s cool.” I said back, “Was it any good?”
“What!?”
“Was the canyoneering any good!?”
“One more time!?”
“Do you wanna get out of here and grab a beer?” I yelled at them over their dinner.
They looked at each other and were silent for a moment.
“We have our bikes here from the hotel. We don’t want to lose them.”
Strike one.
I left them to get deodorant at the grocery store, thinking that a new smell might help my search for friends.
In spite of not seeing any other English-speaking people during most of my trip, I was now finding them everywhere. On my way to the store, there were two people speaking English to one another as they walked down the street, and I found another group in the grocery store.
They were a group of college-aged kids like myself, but with a wonderful twist: They were volunteering their time in the Dominican as dentists.
It hadn’t crossed their mind that people would go backpacking through the Dominican Republic. From what I gathered during our conversation, they were under the impression that any English speaking person would be robbed at gunpoint after 10 o’clock. I couldn’t convince them otherwise, and was sadly deprived of the opportunity to get a beer with them later that night.
Strike two.
I wish I could say that there were a strike three, but I had given up the search after traveling volunteer dentists. Maybe I was too pleased with what I perceived as a very strange way to spend a vacation, or maybe it was because I didn’t want to try and start conversational friendships with strangers who were walking the streets to do errands.
Eitehr way, I didn’t try my luck again.
The next day I was going to tour the mountains with my friend Juan once again, and was meeting him at 8 in the morning. We were going to see the largest mountain in the Caribbean, and I was very excited.
Come by again next Monday to check out the story!

Sometimes Shady Situations Hold the Brightest Possibilities

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Sunbeams worked their way through the small leafy openings in the palm trees that lined the edge of the airport exit, forming shadowy, thought-like patterns on the pavement below. I stood in the shade of the airport terminal with my backpack weighing me down. watching the patterns of sunlight wave back and forth in the breezes against the bleached whiteness of the concrete in front of me, anxiously unsure of what I should do next or how to go about it.
The goal was to travel using the locals gaucho bus system to get a better view of what it was like to be a Dominican, and save some money. For those of you that don’t know, gauchos are essentially privately owned vans that have extra seats added to them to fit more people. They don’t stop picking new people up until every seat is full, and people are literally hanging out of the doors and windows.
While the idea of riding the country in Gauchos felt authentic, and appealing, I was terrified that it might end in a brutally violent robbing.
Let me explain why I thought that.
The night before dropping my father and sister off at the airport and continuing the journey on my own, I had been sitting at the time on the edge of a feather bed at a 5 star resort, which had been aesthetically sprinkled with rose petals to add to the extravagance of this comfortable situation, browsing the internet for information on the Dominican Republic. And it was here, at the moment of my supreme comfort, that I made the grave mistake of reading the U.S. Travel Advisory Page on the Dominican Republic. The results were terrifying.
I may have a yellow belt in Taekwondo, but some of the stuff they were saying sounded like it might exceed my third grader’s knowledge of self-defense. To give you an example, the story that stood out strongest was about a Dominican citizen who followed an American couple home, and murdered both of them in their house with a machete, like a Hollywood psychopath.
How could I feel that this country was even remotely safe, when something like that was happening?
Was a solo trip here going to be safe?
Was I making a huge mistake?
But most importantly, Was I going to get robbed by a machete wielding man?
To top off this pyramid of anxiety, there was the nagging promise of a safe taxi ride. I wouldn’t necessarily be doing the journey justice in taking their offer (as I wanted this to be a more authentic, soul journey), but I would be reassuringly safe taking a taxi across the island. I was so nervous I almost took their offer. But then something different happened.
The palm trees shook violently under a gust of wind, breaking the methodical wavy pattern I had been watching, and freeing my spell of interest in them as a means of avoiding action. The least I could do was try, and then take a taxi wherever I wanted to go on the island.
Tightening the straps on my backpack, I left the safety of the airport’s central area, and stepped into the intense the spotlight of the Caribbean sun. If this country was going to rob me, they would have to do it right outside of the airport.
I approached a group of airline workers on break, who looked like they could help.
As I stumbled over a line of broken Spanish asking them where I could find the bus station, one of the workers peer up from their conversation and pointed me towards the highway with a nod and a smile. It wasnt exactly the most reassuring, or informative set of directions, but I Finally something to work with.
“Gracias Amigos!” I said, and headed across the very long parking area of the Punta Cana Airport.
Bus station is a very loose word wherever you go. It can either mean a large, air conditioned building outfitted with bathrooms and a restaurant, or a tiny roof hovering over a spot of grass on the highway. But in the Dominican, it can also mean anywhere along the highway you are brave enough to stand by with your thumb sticking out. I was lucky enough to have a little roof.
Soon enough a Gaucho came coughing up the road, and we got in. All of my fears were about to be absolved, as this trip was about to change my opinion of the Dominican Republic forever.
When we got into this makeshift bus-van, which was all but falling apart, I couldn’t understand the price. Mistaking 30 Dominican dollars, for 300 Dominican dollars, I began trying to haggle in the most pathetic way possible.
As the money manager was trying to persuade me against ripping myself off, I started arguing that I wouldn’t pay any more than 300. 300 was my final price.
Most of the people in the van were either laughing, or smiling broadly about my incorrectness, as they should. I was being the stock foreigner that it has become impolite to mock in the 21st century. I was completely at their mercy, but these were not bad people.
The man didn’t take my money. He could have. But instead, he helped me correct my mistake.
Annunciating as clearly as possible, he said, “Trenta! Tres, y zero, trenta!” miming with his hands as he talked, showing me that it was 30 dollars, not 300.
I looked like an idiot. That being said, I could not have been happier about my significant mistake. These were kind people. It would have been easy to take all of that money, because I was not only offering it to him, I was refusing to pay any more. He could have taken the money, and I would probably be writing this post about how my first ride wasn’t such a great deal, but that travel in the Dominican is expensive. I’d be ignorant.
Happily handing over the correct amount of money, I seated myself comfortably on a lumpy wooden bench, and looked out to the scenery around me. There were plenty of shady areas near the side of the road where I could get lost in the patterns of possibilities, but I barely noticed them now. I didn’t have time to get lost in the shady uncertainties as we raced along the highway towards the next bus stop. There was sunlight on the land around me, and I knew that as long as I paid attention, I would get where I needed to go.

Dragged Out of Hell By Google Maps

 

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As we turned between a set of tall, shady palm trees, greying under the firey sky of sunset and out of the gated entrance of our resort and towards the highway, I was feeling optimistic. They had given us a map at our hotel, and I found myself niavely, but firmly believing that getting from our current resort to the next one was going to be as simple as following a skinny black line on the map. Shakespeare once said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but what he forgot to mention was that google maps will get you back off of that road, and on the one heading to your destination once again. I just hadn’t realized it yet.
I was following our path on the skinny black line that connected our resort with the town. It was easy. Almost impossible to get lost. And then my father said this.
“I just want to drive by the resort row up here.” He said, “Its on the way, and this way we will be able to see more of the area. I want to see them all lined up together.”
And just like that we were lost. Dante and shakespeare would have both agreed, that we were now on our road to hell.
Minutes after turning off the road, I was in over my head in over our heads. There were hundreds of roads that deviated from the main one we were supposed to be on making new black lines that didn’t exist on what now struck me as the small, cartoon depicted joke of a map that our hotel had given us. We were lost in a maze of huge, gated resorts.
Mopeds were deviating around us in swarms, while massive pickup trucks lingered, tailgating our little fiat under their stream of heavy headlights until they had enough marginal room to pass. If the mopeds weren’t passing us, they were so overloaded with people and baggage that they couldn’t go faster than 10 miles an hour, and clogged the road in front of us. We were surrounded by a very active, and hellish traffic that put me in an anxious hell.
My dad didn’t seem to care very much.
“Look at these massive resorts.” He said, “They each have the same setup. A guard station, massive fake walls, tons of lights, and what looks like the promise of a little paradise. Its so over promoting.”
Between my anxiety with the mopeds and pickup trucks, I was barely able to look over and see that he was right. Each resort set itself up like a miniature city state, A sort of modern Sodom and Gomorah that promises every pleasure in life, just on the other side of its massive stucco walls. But the most frustrating thing of all was that we hadn’t reached our own resort yet, and we were lost.
“So where are we George?” my dad asked, as though he had never deviated from our original route, and we werent in the middle of a massive maze of resorts. “Should I keep going down this road? Or where do I turn? Are we close?”
With a smug smile, I Pulled out what I had long ago realized was a joke of a map, I pointed out to my dad how there were 3 black lines we could have followed, and we had chosen to try and make our own, somewhere in the middle of the off yellow ocean that made up the land around cartoon characters.
“Well we must be somewhere between the cartoon guy smiling on a surf board, and the happy lady enjoying the shopping center.” I said, “Or perhaps we are somewhere near this large cartoon building with the very smiley guy standing out front. Do any of these look like they could be a large cartoonish building?”
My sarcasm was not appreciated. “Why don’t you just take your bloody phone out?”
“You know how much that would cost. Data Roaming costs a fortune.”
He looked over at me, and at that moment a pickup truck chose to go roaring past us, narrowly missing our tiny rental Fiat. A flurry of curse words and braking followed followed by me turning my phone back on.
I opened Google maps, like a good son, and everything started becoming better again. We had just grazed against the deepest circle of hell, and were now on our way back towards the lights of our own room and sleep. Or so I naively thought.
We found our way back onto the highway, and towards our resort. The road passed through the lights of resort row, and continued to cary us into the rural area of farmland outside. Our two lane highway slowly turned into one, and then had us turn off onto a conspicuously empty looking road.
“Are you sure this is right?” my dad asked.
“Yes” I said, showing him my phone as proof. I watched him examine the little glowing blue turn from the highway and onto the conspicuously empty space of a palm tree forest. we reluctantly continued.
What I had thought was the deepest layer of hell, wasnt even close to this. As we turned off the main road, things started to get creepy. First we passed a tin hut farm. There were no lights on, and no fire was present. It had only just recently gotten dark, so the lack of activity was slightly unsettling.
Particularly because the next thing we passed was an abandoned hotel resort. The grand structures skeleton was still in place, but everything that had value was taken. Concrete bricks were stacked in piles near the bare poles of what had been a massive sign. All that was left was the skeletal body of a city state.
“They look a lot worse without all of the grandeur and color.” said my dad.
“Kind of creepy.”
Our car pushed through a few branches of overgrowth, and we were once again flooded with the lights of a resort.
“Is this it?” my dad asked.
“Google maps says it should be a little further up. We are almost there.”
We continued driving, passing the gate of another resort very closely situated next to the first, and the road stopped. Well I guess not entirely stopped, but turned into a 4 wheel driving adventure that our little Fiat could not handle. And there was more.
“Good God!”
There were a pair of very rabid looking sick dogs, eating trash that we could see from our car had rotten a long time ago.
“Oh no.” said my dad, “We are done with this road.”
We turned our car away from the final circle of hell, and backed into the light of the resort. I got out and asked the guard, only to find that our resort was the first one we had passed. We checked in, and found ourselves once again within the amazingly relaxing confines of resort life. There was free beers, free food, and beachfront access. We were once again wrapped in the safe arms of resort life.
If you are looking for the road out of hell, turn your phone on and go to Google Maps.

Scuba Diving Makes Me Feel Like An Alien

 

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The bubble of resort life is hard to break. How could one be persuaded to leave the warm comfort of a resort, where food is everywhere and drinks are free? The answer is simply: scuba diving.
Scuba diving is the ultimate activity to mix things up during a tropical resort vacation. Leaving the nest of the resort, I can suddenly be swimming through what can only described as the closest thing to alien life that can be found on earth (outside of Roswell New Mexico of Course). Life underwater is a menagerie of sand and colorful living rocks, the fish flying like birds in swarm-like clouds above coral forests, the sunlight refracting through water on the surface to create a blanket-like patterns of shadow and light on the sandy floor below. Its awesome.

 

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Stepping off the sandy beaches of the resort and onto the narrow seats of a diving skiff, I found myself lurching over the aqua marine blue colored water. As we bumped along, the dive instructor was filling my Dad in on the do’s and don’ts of scuba diving. For instance, your life is sustained through oxygen that flows out of a little plastic tube. Dont stop breathing. Holding breath can lead to other health complications, and so on and so forth. Essentially, he told him that once he started breathing under water, the goal was then to never stop. Pretty basic stuff.

 

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Our captain somehow found the floating anchor amidst the rest of the open ocean, and once we were attached, it was time to get in the water. Getting over the idea of breathing out of a plastic tube, I moved the goggles over my eyes, and began my descent.
The water was close to 80 degrees farenheight. I cleared my ears of pressure by equalizing, and began kicking my flippers towards the swarm of coral life that teems like a miniature metropolis on the ocean floor below. A school of fish approached like a rolling fog, and then spread around me on either side as they continued towards their destination in the blue unknown.
I stopped my descent on the sandy bottom with an outreached hand. We were now 40 feet below the surface of the ocean, and would be going no deeper. Our dive master hit something hard against the side of his tank, and I looked over to see that he was leading us away from the anchor attached to our boat, and further into the underwater jungle. I kicked my fins and followed.
Weightlessness is another part of the space-like feel of scuba diving. I floated weightlessly above the coral, flying through the thick new aquatic atmosphere, where I could choose to either hover over an interesting scene of vibrant and colorful coral life, or kick my feet and fly to a new destination. My lack of weight made it feel like I was in space. The life around me made it feel like I had been abducted. Everything was interesting, like being in the setting of a science fiction novel.

 

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After what felt like 10 minutes, but must have been closer to an hour, our dive master hit something hard against his scuba tank again. We were now back at the anchors we had started at, and it was time to re-surface.
Waiting for 10 minutes at an altitude of 10 feet below the surface of the ocean, we did a safety stop for decompression, an added layer of protection between the diver and the bends, and one of the signs of a good diving company. The light blue color of the water glittered like jewelry as the sunlight shined in varying degrees of intensity along the waves.
After the 10 minutes was up, we rose above the quiet sanctuary of underwater silence, and burst into the sounds of seagulls and crashing surf of the surface world above the coral. One of the boat workers lent me his hand, and I returned up the ladder and into the quasi dry area of the skiff. Sitting down on the narrow seat, we were driven back to the resort.
Comfortably back on the beach, I got a margarita from the bar, and settled myself into the seat of a lounge chair. Looking out over the sweeping blue landscape of the ocean, my thoughts once again returned to the coral life down below. I almost wanted to stand up, throw my shirt off, and start swimming back into the alien world of coral beneath the ocean waves. But it was almost dinner time, and we were eating fish. I kicked my feet back into the sandals at the base of my chair, and stood up returning to my room for a shower. It had truly been the perfect way to escape from the bubble of our resort.

The Cultural Gift of a Coconut

 

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For some reason, I cannot handle resorts. After a day or two of sitting next to the relaxing sound of beach surf pounding powder white sand beaches, drinking free drinks, and eating whatever I want without paying a dime to anyone, I start to go crazy. In the past, I always thought that this was because I have some strange aversion to over-relaxation. But now I think that I have always disliked resorts, because they have no culture. And of course, there is a story that goes behind all of this.

My father and I were finishing up a very relaxing session of drink beer in the pool under palm trees and brilliant sunlight, and were going to head out for a little adventure. The plan: go through the other hotel next to us, designed to look like a castle, and eventually reach the massive beach near our resort.
We walked off the path of our resort, and into the strange limbo that made up a 5 star resort that people will pay thousands of dollars a night (equivalent to like 6 backpacking vacations) to stay in for a few nights.
Shadows danced on the walls under the light of fake torches attached to the wall. The hallway was wide and tall, full of echoes that appeared to come from shadows that clung to all of the corners.
Occasionally we would hear the dull echoing of a worker moving between rooms, only to have the noise and shadow of that worker disappear like a ghost the moment you took notice. And all through the while, a massive waterfall pouring through the middle of the hotel lobby, made resounding thunderous noises throughout the area.
All of these influences combined together and made it feel as though we had been thrust into the setting of a 5 star horror movie, full of delicious food and snowy white linens.
And then just as suddenly, we were thrust back under the brilliant light of the sun, and beach lined land of the Dominican Republic Coast. It was like we had walked through a very vivid and bizarre daydream.

We then walked the beach, past all of the cabanas trying to set up a beach party, different people trying to kite surf, and eventually to a shady grove of coconut trees at the end of the beach. We startled a security guard on our approach, who had been passed out in a foldable chair next to the ocean. Hearing us approach, he jolted awake and proceeded to tell us that we couldn’t go any further. We had reached the velvet-lined border of another resort, and were asked to turn away. Right before I could shrug the experience off as another reason why I dislike resorts, he called us back.
“Follow me,” he said, “I will show you.”
I thought that he was going to show me a little map that explicitly showed why I couldn’t go any further, but I was about to be mildly terrified, and then pleasantly surprised.
Reaching into the roof of his hut, he removed a machete. Before I could get the wrong impression, he pulled a coconut from the bottom shelf.
“Ah,” I said sheepishly nodding my head, still unsure of what was going on.
He swung the machete overhead, and split the top open.
“drink,” he said enthusiastically, looking excited to finally have some human contact during his long day of being away from people.
My father and I drank from the coconut, and it was amazing. It had to be one of the best forms of coconut water we have ever had. We finished drinking the coconut water while walking away, but were called back again just as suddenly.
“Please,” he said beckoning to me. I handed the coconut back over to him, unsure of what was going on. He cut the coconut in half, exposing the rest of the coconut meat for us to eat, and handed it back to me.
My dad and I were bewildered. Not only had we been only barely told off by the security guard, but we had also been given one of the most delicious coconut treats I have ever had in my life. But more than that, it had felt like a genuine gesture between human beings, than the actions of a hotel worker who was obligated to by money serve our needs.
We had to go to the end of the beach to get an actual Dominican experience. The gesture of giving a coconut to potential intruders reflected what I would later come to know as Dominican kindness and hospitality. Not to say that Dominican people are perfect, as we had driven through a riot the day before, but they are more than a country of resorts with servants.
So whenever I reflect on the reasons why I dislike a resort, and why I wouldn’t ever travel there, I think back to the man with a coconut. I cant ever be content with traveling around the world to have people wait on me, when I know that somewhere out there, maybe at the end of a beach, or in some obscure town, there is the unexpected chance that a man might be waiting to hand me a coconut.

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Very Boring Post: Do Not read.

 

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After driving through a riot on the most dangerous road in the Dominican Republic, it was unbelievable to turn up the driveway of our 5 star, all inclusive, resort hotel. I typically hate resorts. I prefer a nice, cheap hostel, complete with copious amounts of cheap booze and rambunctious travelers. But I have to admit, that they are one of the most perfect places to relax.
The place was a mansion set up with a colorful, colonial style adobe exterior that overlooked a sky blue ocean lined with palm trees, powder white sand beaches, and small tiki huts for sun bathing. Not only that but it had four pools, one of which was equipped with a swim up bar (from which had the dangerous choice of not having to pay for drinks), and waterfalls that added a layer of natural sounding ambiance to the tranquility of the location. After being awake for what was now close to 30 hours, it was like a little slice of heaven.

 

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We went to a delicious multiple course seafood dinner, at a restaurant situated directly over the water. Course after course of seafood in a variety of different forms, from raw, to smothered in sauces, and finally a medley of seafood situated in a field of rice.
Not much later, we did exactly what a person is supposed to do at a resort: sleep. The rest of the trip gets more exciting, but I felt like a story about resorts needed to be included. Stay tuned for more exciting stories about the rest of the Dominican trip. I hope you enjoyed!

From Paradise, To Riot, and Back To Paradise Again: A Tourists Tale

 

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When my Father, Sister, and I were caught in a traffic jam in the Dominican Republic, the last thing I would have thought was starting this jam would be a riot. I was convinced that it was a farmer herding his cows until I heard gunshots. Then we watched the police run to their cars to flee the massive crowd blocking the middle of the highway. Thats when I knew it was a riot But first let me take a moment to talk about how strange it was to be seeing all of this under the dreamlike influence of insomnia.
Many medical websites say that a lack of sleep affects your mental state, particularly mental stamina, which essentially means that not sleeping makes you a little stupid. So I guess I was feeling a little stupid when we drove up to this riot, as most people would tell you that it would be better to stop the car before reaching the riot. But that wasn’t the way it seemed.
For my parents and myself, it felt more like there was a hazy dreamlike quality to everything happening. Nothing felt entirely real. When we were driving towards the scene of a riot it felt almost natural, even a bit exciting like, “Oh how wonderful! We get to drive through a riot and see what is happening.” Yes, we were being stupid.
So there we were, the tropical sun shining over our heads and igniting the palm trees along the shore next to the highway into a vivid green canopy. My father was intently trying to navigate the confusing Dominican traffic, and my sister was somehow sleeping in the backseat in the in spite of the ridiculous heat. I was craning my head in shotgun, trying to see why traffic was stopping up ahead.
“There sure are a lot of people standing in the middle of the highway.” I said to my dad who was paying more attention to the hectic, weaving, honking traffic in our lane.
“Well hopefully they’ll move so this crazy traffic can clear up.” He said.
Then we heard the gunshots.
“My god!” said my dad, “Are those the police are running away?”
They were. Somehow, nothing else was said about the issue. We just watched the events happening through our windshield with a renewed sense of interest. It was almost cool.
Looking back on how everything seemed on little to no sleep, it felt more like we were watching everything happen on TV than in person. The cops literally fleeing the section of road we were about to drive through felt like a welcome plot twist to the story of our all inclusive resort vacation.
As the police drove away, the traffic began to move again. I guess the riot had gotten rid of the real traffic issue.
We inched forward into the crowd, our Fiat slowly becoming enveloped by the crowds and loud music of a party. People were moving between cars with bottles of rum in their hand. Most of them were smiling, as though the police being chased off was a big joke, and since I was under the stupid effects of insomnia, it kind of felt like a joke to me as well. Everything felt like a joke, even the concrete blocks being thrown over the highway.
In fact, I think one of the oddest sensations I have ever known is sitting in the front seat of that small Fiat with my father driving next to me, and my sister sleeping in the back, while thinking, “this is oddly beautiful, and fun.” as concrete blocks flew soundlessly over the car. At the time they reminded me of doves flying over our car, and smashing into the doors and windshields of the cars next to us.
Somehow, as though we drove through some sort of wormhole portal, we passed through the riot completely unscathed. None of the concrete blocks hit our car. We didn’t encounter any aggression. Not even an angry stare. Our journey simply took us from one end of blissful Dominican Paradise, through a riot, and back into the gorgeous palm tree dotted paradise that led us towards our 5 star resort. It was exactly like a dream.
The first morning of our trip took us from paradise, through a riot, and back to paradise in a matter of minutes. It was almost as though the rioting people didn’t exist, and everything was once again, just a tropical paradise.

Columbus’s First Fort: The oldest Fort in America

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

Backpacking Through The Social Desert of The Dominican Republic: With Some Pictures

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The Dominican Republic is an exciting destination for those who want to step outside of the traditional backpacker destination. Sweeping mountains vistas speckled with palm and fruit trees, and sprawling powder sand beaches and salsa music. But it is also a social desert for backpackers.
At one point I was reading a book in the main square of the town Jarabacoa, enjoying the people watching, sunshine, and mountains. A German girl appeared almost as though from nowhere, and asked in an almost desperate tone of voice if I spoke any English. She had several piercings, a buzzcut, and was wearing a black tanktop with calf high pants.
After a few moments of talking, she told me the profound statement of, “I want to travel alone as a backpacker, but I don’t want to be alone while I’m traveling”. Her statement was profound in that it applied so much to how lonely things could get in the Dominican, but also captured the reason of why the Dominican was such an interesting place to travel, because other than meeting a few locals here and there, you were completely alone. Every English speaking person was like an oasis in the desert, and made you appreciate everyone you met like a drink of water.

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Over the course of 11 days, I traveled to different cities across the beautiful island, staying in places that ranged from elegant, with darkly stained doors that opened to balconies that overlooked the ocean, to quaint little hotel rooms with a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling on a string, and a highway of ants moving across the floor between the bed and bathroom. I guess some would call that the full experience. Over the
For the next few weeks, I will be posting different pictures and stories of the trip twice a week. Please comment or like one of the articles if it stirs you enough to say something, and I will be sure to reply!