Tonight I felt better. The earlier weariness, and sadness to leave my friends has faded. I had some beers, and chilled in my lovely room at Hotal Atarazana, took a shower and hit the street. Some combination of all that and the pretty lighting of Viejo Santo at night made everything more inviting. Lots of weird smells and sounds, but they summon a wonderful feeling that comes with traveling. Its food for the wanderlust. I don’t totally feel safe here I should say, but have no actual evidence to support this fear. The place is dirty, and yes I am usually trailed by a wake of curious stares, but everyone I’ve actually talked to is incredibly nice. I was walking through some streets trying to stumble upon dinner, and a hawker rushed to me, eager to offer his girls and drugs in Spanish. I made a joke and said I just wanted dinner. Turns out he had the perfect spot for that too. Hesitantly (but probably not hesitantly enough…) I followed this pimp down dark streets and passed decaying monuments. Eventually we walked up to La Masia, and I will be taking my restaurant suggestions from pimps from now on. This place is great. Too full and tired to be very descriptive, but it felt like I was transported to Barrio Gotico in Barcelona. The owner was a jovial ex-pat from Catalan, kind of like an older, spanish Dean Martin. Funny, fond of the drink and always with a mischievous gleam in his eye. He pointed me toward the mero catalan. Fish, red pepper, garlic, white wine. Blammo! Goooood. Had to do some calamari to start (also awesome), and loved sitting in the old, brick dining room, smoking, drinking Presidente and talking with the pimp-guy. Turns out pimps are very nice conversationalists. After dinner, I lingered at the bar with the owner drinking scotch. I was enjoying myself, but it seemed my pimp friend was getting impatient. When I finally left, he asked for a “tip”. I smiled internally and handed over some cash. Pimps always get their money.
5/22 Boca Chica
After a tranquil breakfast at Atarazana, most of my morning was spent trying to track down a ticket to this supposed ferry to San Juan. It looks awesome, a Caribbean version of a Mississippi steam ship, in my mind at least. Once that was all sorted, I got in touch with Jesus. Jesus is basically my local “fixer”. The Santo Domingo transporter. He gave me a ride from the airport, and I immediately took a liking to him. He was full of knowledge of the city, but the one thing I’ll never forget was his driving. I’ve read a million times in different guide books “the driving here is crazy”, but Santo takes the cake. Jesus is a maestro of taxi driving. Flying down the multi-laned highway along the Caribbean (although I’m at a loss for the purpose of lanes here), Jesus dissected the flow of traffic like a surgeon, rarely dropping below 90. Half the time he was checking messages on his phone, one finger on the wheel, but I felt entirely safe. Like cruising the slaloms on the back of an olympic skier at 100 mph. He had mentioned a close beach (Boca Chica), and after my voyage to Puerto Rico was sorted I asked him to take me. On the way I had to stop at my main destination in Santo; El Faro de Colon. I’ve read about this “monstrosity” and couldn’t miss it. It’s disputed, but one of the sites of Columbus’ remains is inside this immense complex, and the century long process to complete it is riddled with controversy. The place is fucking huge! For better or worse, I feel like in a few centuries the Predators or Terminators or whatever will wonder what this monument means and how “humans” could’ve built such a thing with our “primitive” technology. I love it. I wish it was more well known.
Santo Domingo isn’t in perfect condition by far, but for us “Americans” from Maine to the Magellan Strait this place is the the Rome, Athens, Mesopotamia, Jerusalem, Istanbul. This doesn’t include the decimated indigenous, who were happily on the island for millennia before we arrived with germs and guns, but for us crackers/latinos/mulattos/african americans/whatever; for better or worse Santo Domingo is literally where it ALL began. In 1493 the first place Columbus stumbled upon was a little east on the coast of DR (then called Hispanola), and his first digs came a couple weeks later in Santo Domingo. Santo was LITERALLY the first of everything that we in the western hemisphere know as history. That was their first stronghold. First street, first church, first university, first bar. Of course, as with a lot of things in the caribbean, this is all debatable, but fuck Williamsburg or Plymouth Rock! This should be a place that school kids go on the regular. It could use some cleaning up and a few laws before the children come, but it really bums me out that I knew so little about this place before getting here.
ANYWAY, Jesus raced me to Boca Chica. Although I’m overdosed on gorgeous tropical beaches and there are oil refineries in the distance, I like it. Wish I knew about it when I first got here because I would’ve stayed here for a few nights. He took me to a friend’s hotel, Hotel Zapato (it’s obvious that Jesus, Atarazana and this place are “connected”), and it’s cozy, with a beach bar, palm trees, azul view. It’s proximity to the city leads to Jersey Shore like crowds on weekends I hear, but it’s a nice escape/glimpse into local life. An interesting point that Robert, the owner’s son, brought up is that the indigenous people here were the Tainos, whose name meant the “good people”. Santo Domingo might feel rough around the edges (very rough), but the spirit of the extinct Tainos lives on strong with everyone I’ve met here. Good, very good people.
***DISCLAIMER: I learned later that this is a hub for the sex trade outside of Santo, but didn’t catch any of that the afternoon I was there. The owner did say not to go “too far to the right with that camera”, but whatever I thought it was nice.***
5/23 Mimosa, Old Santo Domingo
Well, I figured out how to fix my sleeping problem: Brugal (potent Dominican rum). Shit. I’m still feeling it I think. Woke up feeling like there was someone using a Shake-Weight in my skull. I’d heard from multiple hawkers and Jesus that Restaurante Mimosa was the place to eat, so I eventually got my shit together and came to this off-the-beaten path establishment for lunch/breakfast. Another example of a beautiful space tucked behind the ancient, rough and tumble streets. For $6 you pick a salad, side and main. There’s an attached “fancy” restaurant called Dajao, but the plain Mimosa menu seems more typical. Besides the sides of rice, beans, yuca, etc there are a dozen delish choices of meat, poultry or seafood. My crab criollo and habichuelas arrived with a mound of rice, salad and tasty hot sauce. Awesome. I cleared the plate. Life after Brugal, gracias a dios!
5/24 Santo Domingo > San Juan by Ferry
Ok. A lot of cool stuff has happened in my life, but this is fucking sick! I’m on the ferry from Santo to San Juan. Its 12 hours (8PM-8AM) and its either the shittiest cruise ever or the insanely best ferry ever. It took forever to get into my cabin, but gawddamn this is awesome. Rocking side to side through the caribbean. There’s an outdoor bar on deck. There’s a buffet restaurant. There’s a fucking casino and nightclub! I’m all showered and dressed up with fantasies of hitting it big at the craps table, meeting the hooker with a heart of gold and watching the sunrise over the caribbean from the aft.
5/25 Back in Old San Juan
I find myself back in Old San Juan. Ghosts of good times passed ricochet among the narrow streets, wafting like the salsa music from the cafes. I think I’m ready to set my bags down. Ready to be back in NYC. I know I have a week of revelry left in St. Thomas if I go back, but every day some one will go home and soon this adventure in the islands will be over. Looking forward to sleep and sobriety…more or less.