Trip to Dominican Republic (January 2006)
Final Notes - Overview of the City
A picture northward from the Puente Ramón Matías Mella bridge, showing Puente Juan Pablo Duarte (founder of the country) and homes on the banks of the Rio Ozama. (Click for a much larger version.)
A view south from the east end of the same bridge, toward the ocean.
A picture of traffic on the bridge. This view shows a 'guagua', which is a form of public transportation, that goes along fixed routes. All along the way, the 'cobrador' (you can see his arm hanging out in this picture) will call out to see if people need a ride. Regular buses are also seen in the city, as are 'carro publicos', which are cars that operate like guaguas (e.g. travel along fixed routes).
One other note about driving in the Dominican Republic. Although we were there for six days, I think we saw only two traffic lights that were operating (due to energy shortages). Most of the time, cars would slow down as they came to an intersection, possibly honk, then proceed if it was clear.
Unlike in the U.S., the traffic lanes were merely suggestions. Most vehicles simply ignored them, and squeezed in and passed wherever possible. During one traffic jam, we even saw vehicles take over the left lane of the other direction of traffic, trying to pass by the clogged cars going our direction.
One contributor to the Dominican Republic's energy problems is that government buildings and offices do not pay for electricity. Hence, there is not much motivation for conservation.
P. S. Don't forget to pack some small flashlights. The electricity in our hotel went out a couple of times, so the flashlights came in handy, (especially a headlamp).
A small park near the bridge. Fuerte de Santa Bárbara (at the northeast corner of Zona Colonial) is in the background.
Old Fort vs. New City
The Columbus Lighthouse (known locally as El Faro, or "The Lighthouse") is almost universally disparaged. The Rough Guide guidebook calls it a "bombastic eyesore", and says it resembles an "immaculately scrubbed penitentiary". The lighthouse's most impressive feature is a 250-laser cross of light that projects on the night sky. I did not see this in operation, but it is said that whenever it turns on, that the electricity goes out in villages across the country.
Another picture from the top the Fuerte de Santa Bárbara, looking east across Rio Ozama.
A view southwest from the bridge. This shows the mixture of old colonial buildings, and newer structures. The Puente Flotante (Floating Bridge) is in the foreground. You can see the Alcazar de Colon in the middle, with Museo de las Casas Reales behind it. (Click for a larger view.)
There are very few English speakers in the Dominican Republic, so this is not a great country to travel alone if your Spanish is not up to par. My moderate Spanish was enough to get by, but I could have benefited from greater comprehension. Conversely, we could have had many more problems had my Spanish not been as good. It was fun for me to realize at the end of the trip, that I was thinking in Spanish, rather than English. I recall Lucinda asking me something in English, and my first thought was the answer in Spanish.
On the flip side, U.S. dollars are accepted almost universally (although you will get any change in Dominican pesos). However, you cannot rely on being able to use 'large bills' and get change. More than once, I tried to spend a bill that the receiver could not make change. Once, it was a 100 peso bill (about US$3) at an internet cafe. Our 500 peso notes (worth about $15 US) occasionally came under scrutiny by shop owners trying to determine if they were counterfeit.
Lucinda and I went on this trip with the idea that it was a last-minute 'budget' trip. In the end, we spent $208 per person on Delta air fare (actually, $326 including fees/taxes), and ended up spending a grand total of $763 per person for 7 days and six nights. This included absolutely everything including air fare, fees, transportation, hotel, food, phone calls before the trip, a few gifts, a few bottles of 'ron' (rum: Brugal Extra Viejo, and Macorix Agua de Coco) and El Presidente beer. If you buy rum, you are better off to go into a regular grocery store and buy it there, rather than in one of the numerous tourist specialty stores.
Regarding air fare, I have Santo Domingo on my 'watch list' on one of the internet travel sites, and that is how I got a good fare. Since we were clearly traveling at non-peak days/times, the Delta plane was less than half full, and the pace was relaxed. If you go using a charter flight (as I've done before), you can expect a full flight, an older plane, and less legroom than a name-brand carrier.
About a month before we left, there was some announcement about how the rules had been relaxed about traveling with scissors and tools. Knowing that there was a possibility that something might need fixing while we were on the trip, I packed a pair of pliers and a very small (maybe 4 inches) screwdriver. As expected, I had no problem leaving the U.S. However, what I failed to realize (and is not well advertised) is that the rules on the return trip are governed by the Dominican Republic. After finding these two items, they were confiscated by airport security. I could have put them into a checked bag, but that would have been a major hassle, since we were both traveling with only carry-on luggage.
All in all, we had a good time. The people were friendly, and we learned a lot of early history of the Americas.
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