As we approached the coast of the Dominican Republic shortly before sunset, it looked like a mirage. Could the island possibly be that big? Could the mountains possibly be that tall? After nearly two months in the Bahamas, which are generally quite small and very flat, in our eyes, the Dominican Republic towered in nearly every way imaginable.
The DR has the largest economy in the Caribbean islands. The annual per capita GDP is approximately $10,000 and the minimum monthly wage is approximately $150-200 depending on the sector. Over thirty percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
It reminded me of Cuba, the way the people live so happily despite the oppressive, irreversible poverty. It made me slow my step and widen my smile, stop to say hello, open my eyes to see the flowers, savor the food, watch the people. It is everything I loved about living in Latin America all those years.
Jason and I keep eyeing each other doubtfully, asking, “Could you see us living here?”
We skirted the northern coast and landed at a marina in the Samana Peninsula. The town of Samana was very generous to us – from $1.50 lunches at informal outdoor eateries, to $4 for a large bag of produce, from bottles of Presidente beer delivered to the boat for $29 a case, to $1 rides on the back of motorcycles to and from the marina. The marina was highly recommended and exceeded all of our expectations. It is connected to a high-end hotel and resort, so we had access to two infinity pools, an indoor gym, three restaurants, shower facilities and laundry facilities. There were a handful of guys hanging out on the docks that do good boat maintenance work for a reasonable price. With very rare exception, everyone we encountered at the marina and in town was very helpful and very friendly, always with warm smile.
We took a bus to Santo Domingo for a night. The “guagua” that took us there stopped periodically during the 3+ hour trip to pick people up (until even the aisle was packed standing room only) and to pick up and drop off packages and envelopes. It was surprisingly quiet for a bus in Latin America (we think because it left before the sun rose and everyone was a little sleepy), other than the guy whose cellphone cockadoodledooed every time he got a text, which almost satisfied our expectation of traveling with chickens on the bus. The bus on the way back was only half full, didn’t make any stops, took an hour less to make the same trip, and only cost 25 cents more – we are still trying to understand the economics.
We spent the night at a small hotel in the heart of the Zona Colonial, where we reveled in land showers, flush toilets, television, air conditioning and a real bed. The hotel had a bar downstairs on the Plaza Colon, where we stopped for food and or drink a few times a day. We had a fabulous lunch downtown with my friend Alessandra and her husband and a fabulous dinner on the main plaza in the Zona Colonial.
Taxi drivers, hotel receptionists and customer service at the grocery were all overly gracious and friendly. Traffic is bad, some vendors are overeager to sell their t-shirts and mamajuana, and the marina on the river is stuck between large industrial facilities on a dirty river.
But it may be the most fun we’ve had on this voyage so far – just wandering around, drinking beers on little plazas, people watching, and eating good food.
Could we live here? I say yes. Jason is still hovering around maybe, I think.