So I wasn’t planning on blogging this trip because I thought the entries would go something like this: “Sat on the beach today. “ “Sat on the beach again today.” “Sat on the beach AGAIN!” Real interesting stuff! But yesterday was definitely worth blogging!
So if you’re on Facebook then you know that it was a real nightmare travel day. We were supposed to land at 4:15 pm (and actually likely sooner), but we didn’t actually take off from Chicago until after that. Mechanical issues and then asshattery on the part of United delayed us nearly 5 hours. Thankfully we made up some time in the air and landed at 8pm. But the ride to the resort and the lengthy check-in process meant we didn’t get to our room until after 10 pm. So tired. And we had to be up around 6am for the day trip to Santo Domingo.
Now, I booked the day trip from my phone as we sat at O’Hare because I knew we were going to be late getting in and I didn’t want to miss the tour, which only runs on Tuesdays and Fridays. We had looked at the weather forecast and Santo Domingo was supposed to be dry on Friday but it was supposed to storm most all day in Punta Cana. And vice versa for Tuesday. So we definitely wanted to go on Friday. We just didn’t anticipate the horrible travel experience and being so exhausted.
Regardless, we got up early, printed off our voucher, and were ready to be picked up at 7:20am as directed. But they didn’t come until almost 8. I just wish I had had that time to sleep! We got on the minibus (which was FREEZING) and drove a short ways until we pulled into a parking lot and the driver of another bus said that the Santo Domingo people were to move to his bus. We got on and the tour guide gave us stickers and asked us where we were from. We said Minnesota and he said, Oh, Timberwolves and Twins. Nice.
The drive to Santo Domingo is at least two hours. The guide gave us a lot of information, which I loved. So much history, culture, etc. Along the way he pointed things out, like the hometown of Alfonso Soriano, Robinson Cano, and Sammy Sosa! We stopped in La Romana to go the bathroom and get snacks. Which was good because we did not have time for breakfast and I hadn’t had any Diet Coke! I also got some interesting candy there.
Then we were back on the road. The guide was talking most of the time, but he paused at times, which let me fall asleep for several cat naps! We took a detour, though I didn’t know it at the time, to some of MLB’s training academies. The guide had talked about baseball being the country’s national sport and why that was. Then he explained the draft system between the DR players and MLB. We pulled into a long drive that had been flanked with the Yankees and Rockies logos. He said these were their academies. I took some photos and heard him mention that we would see three teams’ academies. I had said, where is the Cardinals? But he didn’t hear me because I was in the back row and wasn’t being serious. We continued past the Yankees’ fields, where the team was warming up on the field and in the cages. I thought we were going to turn around then, but we kept going a little further and then heard Tracey say, “Tor, St. Louis!” I looked out the window and there it was: the Cardinals’ academy. I was over the moon. SOOO excited. I was taking as many photos as possible and may have squealed like a little girl. I know I told the driver to stop (instead of driving slowly) so I could get photos! I was so incredibly excited! After we turned around, the Polish guy sitting in front of us asked: “your favorite team?” Yes, yes you could say that!
Of course I couldn’t see that and not think of Oscar Taveras, known as El Fenomeno, here in his home country. The Cards drafted him at 16 years of age and made his MLB debut 6 years later, in 2014. He was, at one time, the number one prospect in all of MLB. Unfortunately, his time on earth was cut tragically short when, shortly after the Cards were eliminated from the 2014 postseason, he decided to drive drunk on these dangerous Dominican roads (after being on the roads so much yesterday, I would assume traffic crashes are the number one cause of death here).
After that detour we went directly into Santo Domingo. Another note about the driving style here…we were on a road in the city that was two or three lanes in each direction separated by a median when I saw several vehicles driving against our traffic on our shoulder of the road. It was insane. There are lane lines (in most places), but they are clearly just suggestions. I have never seen people drive so terribly before and I would be petrified to drive here!
Our first stop in the city was at Three Eyes National Park. There are caves in the park and you walk down into them and there are underground lagoons. They are beautiful. The caves are stunning as well. I’ve never seen such amazing stalactites. Some of them were huge. We also saw what appeared to be ropes coming down from above ground, but we learned that they were tree roots. The trees are 10 feet tall, but the roots are 125 feet long. They run all the way down and into the water, all while containing enough water to keep lush greenery underground. So cool.
After that we went to lunch. We ate at an awesome authentic Dominican restaurant. You should see photos of what I ate. I tried almost everything! I had some weird cold salad that I have no idea what it was, cucumber and tomatoes, rice, fish, chicken, eggplant parmesan, plantains, (what I think was) yucca, and a sweet plantain dish. I liked a lot of it! And I tried it all!
But my favorite part about lunch was that there were two couples (employees) who danced for us as we finished eating. I felt like I was watching Dancing with the Stars! They were really good. After both couples danced for us, one of the women pulled a guy out of our group to dance and the guy tried to find a woman but no one would dance with him. So I said, what the heck!?! Who cares, I don’t know any of these people and when will I have the chance to dance with a Dominican again? Ha! I didn’t know what I was doing, obviously, but I had a BLAST! I allowed myself to be led and just pretended there wasn’t a group of people watching me! So much fun.
After lunch we went to the President’s palace and got to take some photos there, before heading to the old city. It started to rain a little, so we toured the Alcazar, which is where Diego Columbus and his wife lived as he ruled here. It was very interesting to see. We then saw the oldest paved road in the Americas (Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the Americas), we saw a building where Christopher Columbus lived when he was here for a few years, the Pantheon (house of heroes), and the first Cathedral in the Americas. We also saw the law school and the guide said, “here is the school for the most honest profession in the country.” I had to point out “soy un abogado.” Which then caused him to tell me lawyer jokes that would make my dad proud. And I told him my dad’s favorite. After this, he gave me his business card: he’s a lawyer!
The final stop was at a market where we tried Mamajuana (the Dominican Viagra) and got to shop for souvenirs. After I was finished shopping and we were waiting for the guide to come back, he came out the door, saw me, and announced “the lawyer is here, we are safe!” Then I gave him one of my cards and we had a great discussion about their legal system compared to ours (specifically their criminal justice system). It was nice and I was happy to have met a local and shared some meaningful conversation, which is always a goal when I travel but it doesn’t always happen! Then we had the long ride back to Punta Cana, but first the guide stopped and got us casaba bread and cheese, “the best rum in the Dominican”, coca-cola, and “the first African dish to make it to the Dominican” (coconut, rum, and sugar…sooo good!). When they dropped us off he said we would keep in touch. I said, please do! Not to mention, he was pretty attractive for an older guy! Haha!
Even though we were exhausted, it was a great trip. We were both very happy that we went and happy that we went on Friday. As we got closer and into Punta Cana, it was storming like nobody’s business. So I think weather-wise we made the right decision! But moreover, it made me realize that those are the kinds of things I like to do. Today was great, we laid on the beach and at the pool for like 6 hours. But I much prefer being out in the country, in the culture, and meeting people. The Dominican is likely the poorest country I’ve been to, so I enjoyed seeing how they actually live. Which is quite different than the all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana!