Luperon to Santo Domingo
We hung out in Luperon on the boat and in the town while Stephen and Natasha went to visit Santo Domingo and Santiago, this way our boat always had occupants. Luperon is not a large town but it does host several cruisers and full time live aboards in the anchorage. It’s fairly safe and very protected from the elements. You can walk to all that Luperon offers and most of is with in 3 or 4 blocks from the dingy dock. Believe it or not Jaxson’s favorite haunt was Wendy’s, the local bar (yes I said bar). This is one of the first establishments you reach from the dinghy dock where you can sit down and enjoy a very cold beverage. Una Cerveza fria (a cold beer) if your an adult or an orange citrus if your not. My favorite beer here in the DR is one of the local beers the Presidente.
We would often go in to Wendy’s to have a cold drink and meet and talk to other cruisers, the bar also offers free internet which is an extra appeal. We met a lot of gringos and locals alike at Wendy’s. One such couple was Norman and his wife Jani, he’s a Gringo and she is a Dominican, they live and farm in Luperon. He and his wife met Jaxson at Wendy’s bar and invited us to a day on the farm. We met at Wendy’s for the short ride to the outskirts of town to their farm. Norman just started farming a few years ago and has a nice selection of dairy cattle and crops on their place. Jaxson was very excited to get to run around in the country and help on the farm. His first adventure was helping to nurse a calf along that had contracted an unfortunate virus through a tick bite. Next, it was riding Toby the burro and checking out the sugar cane and vegetables that grew in the fields. In the back of the farm they cleared out a nice pond and it came complete with several white ducks. While Jaxson and Shawn were the newest farm hands feeding the ducks and cows, I was the observer noticing how similar yet different a farm here is from our own at home. Here cows graze under Royal palm trees and large trees dangling with gourds, almonds or mangoes. While at home our own live stock seem to have an endless amount of green grass to munch, here farmers need to be vigilant in rotating stock to extend the grass and spread the manure. While the cows here do produce milk, it is not near the amount our cows at home do and most of the milk harvested here goes into the production of cheese. Norman is slowly starting to build up a cache of customers that regularly buy fresh milk for drinking. Most Dominicans are used to drinking shelf stable milk from a box. Very few have even tasted the sweet rich milk we take for granted in the US. As the day was drawing to a close we watched as one of the cows was milked by hand into a pail and marveled in the fresh taste of the warm bottle full we got to take home.
Our next adventure was to explore Dominican Republic’s Capitol City. Santo Domingo is located on the far south side of the island and is best accessed by the bus. Armed with our information from our travel books, locals and cruisers we left on the 1:30 bus from Luperon to Santo Domingo. After a long, loud, and sometimes amusing 7 hours later, we arrived in the bus station near La Zona Colonial. This trip should have taken around 4 hours. What we didn’t realize was that our bus regularly stops to pick up and deposit school children, carries various riders either with a destination to get to, or a food or item to sell, makes 2 bathroom stops and a bus change in Santiago. Good thing we have already adjusted ourselves to island time.
We walked a few blocks and the first area we encountered was Chinatown. The Chinese immigrants that have settled here have opened restaurants and gift shops and to our delight, all were priced reasonably cheap. Since we left home in November we have not encountered any Chinese food and this was the place to remind our palettes of the distinctive taste. Since it was so late our next stop was the Hotel Roma where we found an inexpensive room and delightful clerk from Russia that spoke 5 languages.
There are so many sites to see in Santo Domingo that one could not possibly see every thing in a week or more much less the 3 days we had, so we had to pick our must sees. We walked by or though most of the 24 listed popular sites to see in the Colonial Zone but The Catedral Basilica Santa Maria la Menor was one of my favorites. It was began in 1514 and consecrated a cathedral in 1540, it was the first cathedral in the New World and well as the oldest church in the Caribbean still in operation. Inside was just awe inspiring, the 14 chapels lining the sides of the church were each dedicated to something different, large stained glass windows flanked each end of the structure and all through were arches and columns of several architectural styles. Shawn was most impressed by the 2 ton wooden and metal doors at all the entrances that seem to open and close with a touch of a fingertip. We strolled through the Plaza Espana and looked at the Alcazar de Colon and the Casas Reales. The fist was the residence of Diego, Columbus’ son and his wife and the later, a longtime seat of Spanish authority for the entire Caribbean region. Aside from the history of the Colonial Buildings the general atmosphere of the place and it’s people intrigued us. We were drawn in by locals selling tours of anything and anywhere, food, sunglasses, cell phone covers, and jewelry. Taxis, horse-drawn carriage rides and even a small electric train were offered as transportation. We finally opted to go it our own and save our money for places we could not reach by foot. That night we wandered down to El Malecon, The Avenue by the Sea and took Jaxson to a seaside park to ride rides while we relaxed and enjoyed a cold Presidente and some tacos.
On my list of must sees was the Santo Domingo Jardin Botanico. It is the largest and most complete botanical garden in the Caribbean and Central America but I’m afraid it was a little neglected. While we had a lovely ride through the 2sq kilometers of the park, the museums in the beginning were closed or should have been. The water ponds were a joy to see with a lot of the plants in bloom the aquariums however, were more of a mossy green mess than a display of aquatic plant specimens. Although there was a wide variety of endemic Caribbean species, ferns, palms, bromeliads, orchids, cactus, succulents and medicinal plants, few were labeled. While visiting the gardens we met Juan Ovalle and his 3 sons. Juan was a retired firefighter from New York that came to live in Santo Domingo and visit with family. Jaxson and the boys made quick friends and the four running around together allowed them plenty of exercise and me a chance to really look around take in the garden’s beauty. Juan spoke very good english and helped set us up with a taxi driver friend of his that took us to various other museums, restaurants, and hotels during the rest of our stay. It really took the stress out of maneuvering around in a city that mainly speaks a language you don’t.
Faro a Colon and Los Tres Ojos were the last 2 sites on our list. The Faro a Colon was really just a sad site. Beautiful inside, this monument was built as part of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landfall in 1492. The exterior looks like a concrete apartment building that is badly in need of a cleaning, the inside has several small museums with displays from several countries relating to Columbus expeditions. I might have enjoyed them more if I could have seen them, apparently along with the general cleaning of the outside of the building and upkeep of the grounds electricity is also not considered a necessity. In the center of the interior there is an impressive marble and bronze tomb said to hold the remains of Columbus. All our travel books show this tomb flanked on four sides with armed Navy Guards, sadly this also must have been a budget cut. As if the condition of the monument is not enough, there is considerable doubt that Columbus’ remains are actually in the Faro a Colon. Spain and Italy both claim to have them. All I can say for Columbus’ sake is I hope either one of them is right.
Los Tres Ojos was not far from the Faro a Colon and far more enjoyable. Although being from Kentucky we have been to the most impressive cave system there is, this was still a fun site. Even though it’s called the 3 eyes the cave has 4 clear underwater lakes. A staircase leads to the bottom of the caverns used by the Taino Indians. You can cross the lake Nevera in a rope drawn raft and this was Jaxson’s favorite as he got to pull us across, once on the other side there is a bridge to walk across to another lake open to the outside.
We rounded out our last full day in the city with a trip to the mall. Malls here in the DR are very similar to those in the US, lots of stores, a food court, and even a Starbucks kiosk. We went on Sunday and the mall offered several free inflatables for the kids and even a small traveling band of clowns to entertain the shoppers. Jaxson loved the inflatables to climb and jump on, but he was not a fan of the clowns. A trip to the theater on the 4th floor of the mall to see Rio 2 (in spanish) and the travelers three were ready for our hotel. We ate that evening at El Conuco, a restaurant recommended by our cab driver. It was by far our favorite eating spot. The fare was local Dominican food and the ambiance was lively dancing by the wait staff. Jaxson finally got up the nerve to dance the Merengue with our waitress Ava and entertained the whole restaurant. A great ending to a great visit.