DAY 1 Departing for the DR

Waking up at 4 is not an easy thing to do, especially after only about an hour and a half of sleep. However, there was traveling to be done. I threw on the lights, roused my sleeping roommate, and threw on my clothes. As we shambled to the lobby, and as we met up with others who were shambling to the lobby, one thing was apparent. We were all gonna nap on the plane. Our foresight and planning paid off in spades for catching a shuttle from the hotel to the airport was a very easy affair. We had all our bags checked and we were heading through a small gate sequestered in a tiny corner of the airport.

As someone who’s been a loyal customer to Southwest airlines, flying with American Airlines was different to say the least. The gates were separate from the rest of the airport, and there were a myriad assortment of people to be seen, from soldiers to families to high-powered businessmen. Everyone quickly foraged some food, and we sat around until we were able to board. One of the great things about a hearing loss is that you’re allowed to pre-board.

Our flight to Miami went smoothly as we landed at about 8:15 or so. There’s a two hour layover, but due to a bridge/gate malfunction, we’re left with about an hour and a half to quickly grab a bite and get to our gate. Miami Int’l airport is monstrous. I had never experienced an airport that was so big, it had it’s own rail-shuttle that had 4 different stops. We eventually arrived at our gate, with some quick-take-out-fast-food (Chinese), and after some light chatter, we’re on the flight to Santo Domingo.

The rest of the flight’s uneventful, but the excitement rose when we began flying over the land of the Dominican Republic. As we’re flying in, and as we’re approaching the runway, we’re looking out the window and all we see are these run down shanty villages amidst clusters of palm trees. That’s the first sign telling us we’re not in Kansas anymore. We touch down, and I was somewhat surprised that the runway was actually a tarmac. The airplane’s bouncing all over the place as it slows down, and eventually we taxi on over to the airport itself.

Having just come from the monstrosity that is the Miami Int’l airport, this place was so, so quaint. After stretching our tired legs, we ambled on over to the customs area, where we paid our $10USD entry tax (They call these “Tourist Cards.” They’re really just receipts that show that we paid our tax) and headed over to customs. I was without my hearing aids at this point, and I wasn’t about to stick ’em back on. I was surprised when telling the customs officer that I was “Sordos”, he doesn’t even look fazed. He processes our paperwork, and we’re through like lightning. Everybody gets through without any issue, we get all of our bags, and we head through the declarations line, which is easy-peasy. Just as I’m still marveling over how not-difficult that was, we pass by a kiosk where a nice-enough looking guy is pouring out shots of rum into these little cups of soda. We were greeted by free samples of local rum cocktails at the kiosk!!

And they were tasty! I took a sip, and it started to really feel like we were there. Then we walked into the lobby. There were people EVERYWHERE. We somehow managed to find our guy, who rounded up some other fellows to help us with our bags, and we and our luggage were piled into this tiny, loud, old van with a two-wheeled trailer, and we were whipped off on our introductory tour of Santo Domingo. As I sat in the very back of the van I realized something: I’m in a developing country. There wasn’t a building that didn’t look worn, or somewhat run down, and there were even buildings that were straight up rubble. Driving was nuts (loco). There were no traffic lights, and next to zero regard was paid to signs, lanes, roads, or even other people on the road. There were just as many, if not more, motorcycles and dirt bikes on the road than vehicles. There would be trucks barreling down this highway at close to 55 miles an hour with people standing on the back, or sitting on the back with their legs hanging off. There were more bars and restaurants than houses, and people seemed perfectly content to sit outside of these establishments, watching the world go by.

And just as I was beginning to adjust to the whole concept of being in a different place, we drove into Santo Domingo proper, and I was amazed, once again. From hulking monuments that looked like they had been bombed to flooded streets that had to be driven through, to packs of emaciated dogs limping around one another, nipping at their compatriot’s open wounds just so that they could get one bite of whatever morsel of trash they’d happened upon. People mulled around, and drove with what seem to be very little regard for anything, especially their own lives. They would simply pull out into traffic whenever they felt like it. The occasional military suit would be spotted here and there, and the occasional battered police car would show up.

And, as we’re driving through some more depressing slums, we burst into what can only be called the tourist district: Hotel-Casino after Hotel-Casino. They all rose up into the sky, ugly marks of capitalism on this ailing country, and we drove past these hives, these sentinels until we arrived at ours. Without much ceremony, the driver squeals into the rotunda, helps us out, hands our bags to a couple of bellboys, and speeds off to whatever other shuttling endeavors he had to attend to.

We walk into the hotel lobby, and it’s huge. Dr. Rust gets right down to business, and gets us our rooms. Our passports are inspected yet again, copied, and annotated, as we each sign for our rooms. We get our keys, head to our respective rooms, and get settled in until dinner.

The good weather held out until the exact moment that we were all preparing to go out and eat at a more local, more traditional place that Dr. Rust had often extolled the virtues of. We ended up staying at the hotel and eating at the in-house place, called “Champions” which was typical American fare with sports photos all over the walls and a disco ball. Non-stop American hits played over our meal. I had my very first legal beverage in a restaurant (A popular brand of beer down here called Presidente – very much like our own Miller), which made it taste that much better. Some cheesy fries and mini burgers later, we checked the weather again. It had stopped raining, so we set out for a post-dinner walk.

We found ourselves in one of the more commercial areas in the immediate vicinity of the hotel-casino complex. We ran into the man who’s son owns most of the establishments in the area – a Deaf barber whose spoken name is unkown, and his sign name is simply the same as the sign for “Barber.” Being deaf in the Caribbean isn’t easy – in puerto rico, your family disowns you. Some other places, they think you’re a witch or a devil of some sort. It’s not so terrible in the DR, but it’s not the easiest.

The barber recognized Dr. Rust almost immediately, and was ecstatic to see us. He brought us all to his apartment, where he and Dr. Rust spent a bunch of time playing catch-up while we were all introduced to his wife, Maria, and her friend. I tried to join in the conversation here and there, but there was still a lot of different signs that even Dr. Rust was able to understand. Dr. Rust and I made appointments to get our hair cut with him, which will happen tomorrow (Saturday, March 10).

After we chatted with him, we swung by the bakery real quick, and people grabbed some sweets. We then found a local “Supermarket,” where some essentials were grabbed and retired to the hotel room.

Welcome to the DR,

Max

 

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One Response to “DAY 1 Departing for the DR”

  1. Tracy Says:

    Max….
    Thank you for sharing the blog and now I am glad that you feel better about my driving now!!!! Too bad you are wearing hat Pimping hat so we all can’t see your cool haircut!!
    Tracy

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