I flew to the Dominican Republic on Valentine’s Day 2011 on Insel Air Airlines from the beautiful Caribbean Island of Sint Maarten, I was going to visit an Island I had only ever seen from the air flying between Miami and Barbados; friends from the US Embassy had once invited me to visit the DR when they were stationed there – but that was 20 years ago and I did not go then. This time I was going with my new friend and business partner Andrew from Sint Maarten, his lovely wife and their adorable son.
The first thing I noticed on Insel Air was the beautiful stewardesses, they looked like sultry models (always a welcome sight for the average man), second thing I noticed was that even though Insel Air was using a large McDonnel Douglas jet – the seating was open just as it is on a small turbo-prop aircraft such as LIAT; we learned this when we saw other people sitting in the seat numbers that were allocated to us on our boarding passes – and they told us “It’s OK no problem ju can sit anwhere ju like“.
The third observation was well into the 55 minute flight when the Stewardess handed out numbered tickets, as it turned out on EVERY Insel Air flight each passenger has the chance to win a free ticket for the same route, the winning number was called out – and a lucky fellow in front of us won the free trip.
I thought to myself, this is a great idea, why can’t LIAT do the same? I have been travelling with them for over 20 years, logged in over 100 trips and never even received a single frequent flyer mile – much less been afforded the opportunity to win a free trip such as even a first time traveler on Insel Air could!
The next thing one notices (upon coming in to land) is the vast expanse of land stretching to the horizon one espies in the DR, the only Caribbean island bigger than this country is Cuba, my next must-see Caribbean destination; and a place where I have long lost relatives from Great Uncle Vidi Arnold DeWeever who emigrated there in 1926 to manage a Rubber Plantation in the East (not far from Guantanamo). He married, started a family, wrote some letters to his sisters (who married and settled in Barbados) before 1930 and was never heard from again.
I know I have relatives there because I once asked a Cuban nurse working in Guyana if she ever heard that surname in Cuba, and it just so happened that one of her colleagues bore that Surname and was from that same part of Cuba, the nurse went on to add it is a very rare name in Cuba – and all belong to one family from that area.
This is how I know that I have long-lost blood relatives there; but that will be another article someday.
Once outside of the Santo Domingo airport we were met by Andrews in-law William (uncle of his Dominican born wife), I like William, he has that eccentric quality that reminds me of myself. I quickly deduced that William’s favorite letter is ‘W‘ when I learned that his 4 children all bore names that began with that letter – daughter Walki, son Wilsander, son Willie, and son Wil.
We set off on our 2 hour drive from the capital – which by the way is the OLDEST city in the Americas having been founded by the villain Columbus himself over 500 years ago, to our place of residence – the domicile or hacienda of Granny and Grandpa Garcia; located in the Central mountains of the DR in a town called Maimon.
Like Puerto Rico the capital is very ‘Americanized‘ (though it retains a distinct Spanish flavor – architecturally speaking) but once in rural areas the vestiges of Indigenous Taino culture quickly become evident in place names and bio-degradable house construction; I noticed Amerindian genetic features in many people, not the vast majority – but often enough to lend me to wonder if a similar DNA test (as was done in Puerto-Rico) had been conducted in the DR that it might likewise find a 40% Taino DNA genetic evidence in the general population (as was found in the population of modern-day Puerto-Rico).
We passed vast cattle grazing plains and fields of rice and other food crops, and then entered lush mountain valleys before we reached the Garcia residence.
I was out and about hiking the hills and valleys the very first night, and did this for almost every subsequent night until we left, it was some of the best hiking I ever did, the DR is a treasure trove of endemic and unique Biodiversity (you didn’t think I hiked by night for love of walking with a flashlight did you?); I thoroughly enjoyed the myriad of unusual creatures I saw once the sun went down such as a long-legged arthropod that resembled a cross between a ‘hairy caterpillar and a centipede‘, Vinegaroons; and Tarantula spiders bigger than your open hand!
In the urban areas I saw that a local pastime was sprinting across 4 lane highways mere metres ahead of oncoming traffic, and that vehicles on DR highways change lanes at will with no indicator light or hand signals to forewarn other motorists… just keep your eye on sudden veering to the right or left and adjust accordingly.
In one interior city I was driven through I was shown a middle-aged and portly policeman William said was called the ‘Lieutenant of Robberies‘, impressive…did he solve a lot of crimes of that nature? (I asked)…”No, he not only is the one who comes to take your report and oversee the crime scene – but he is the one who orchestrates the robbery in the first place!” William informed me very matter-of-factly.
But I noticed too a very retrograde cultural habit, in the sense that I cannot see how the country can progress and be a serious place of commerce until it abandons the practice – namely the 4 hour workday. Time and time again we went to various so-called ‘places of business’ and were told “Come back tomorrow, it is 12 noon now and we are going to lunch till 2:00 pm” OK so can we return at 2:00 pm then? I asked foolishly…”No – we go home at 2pm”.
All I could do was laugh…”Are you kidding me? This country is even more ridiculous when it comes to ‘work‘ than France!” (and I wonder how THAT European country ever became a world power too) I said to William.
One consolation was the tasty and very cheap food, and the usual plethora of drop-dead gorgeous Latin women…not that a happily married man like me was looking…very often.
We also were shown a very seedy looking neighborhood on the outskirts of Santo Domingo where William told us we would not live 5 minutes if we tried to walk through there, and coming from a man with a .45 Magnum on his waist – I took him quite seriously.
One excellent thing they are doing in the DR is having almost every vehicle dual fuel capable, their cars and trucks etc. can almost all use either gasoline/diesel or natural gas – the latter being most popular BECAUSE IT IS CHEAPER THAN GASOLINE! I hope Barbadian politicians take serious note, last I heard Barbados was producing 90% or more of the natural gas we need, all we need is the political will to duplicate this very progressive feat in our our little island paradise.
I was given an accidental tour of the Town of Bonao (another Taino name) and I noticed several large wall murals with paintings of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and words of praise directed at him, so I asked William what was the reason for it. William said “The people in this town love Chavez because when we had severe flooding a few years ago this whole neighborhood was destroyed – and Chavez rebuilt it“. I did not know about this, but then again one never hears of anything positive Chavez has done during his Presidency at home and around the world (especially if you depend on what you hear in the western media). If my only sources of info were ex-pat Venezuelans I would likely believe that Chavez was the most evil human being ever to live in Venezuela or even walk the Earth – and he has never done anything good whatsoever. I am not of the opinion that the man is the second coming of Jesus Christ, but all my relatives and friends who actually live in Venezuela (over 24 people in all) always tell me “Chavez is the best President Venezuela has ever had for the poor” (and the worst ever for the middle class and wealthy perhaps).
I was raised to ‘Give credit where credit is due‘, so if someone cannot admit to even one good thing Chavez has done for anyone, I suspect personal reasons have trumped the totality of facts. I have no doubt anti-Chavez Venezuelans exist and have legitimate reasons for hating him, no leader in history has ever been loved by all the citizens in any country, even the Royal family in England is despised by a percentage of that countries population who would love to see the Monarchy abolished (and they are not even ruling the UK anymore!); such is life.
Grandpa Garcia was the coolest old-timer I ever met, one day he took us to tour his land – which he measures in square miles and not acres by the way, it took us several hours of driving and hiking; better part of an entire day to see a lot (but not all of it).
On the way back our 4×4 vehicle (driven by Grandpa) began to slide off the mud road over the mountain and edged ever closed to an ignominious fall over the abyss…but Gramps pulled a Rally move that would have made the Vaucluse Posse go wild – as he did a 360 in the mud and saved our much relieved (and now cheering) selves before speeding down the mountain at full throttle.