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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Santiago

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC | Thursday, 7 June 2012 | Views [2036]

Cookies & cream coloured house

Cookies & cream coloured house

Santiago de los Caballeros is it's official name but it's often just "Santiago" in the eyes of the locals. This is where I arrived this afternoon. There are airports in Santiago as well as Puerto Plata but it's a rather short bus ride of less than two hours, so you'd think everyone would just fly into Santo Domingo. Anyways, a little Dominican approached me as I was buying an ice cream, and it turned out he is Israel, my CSer whom I'm staying with tonight. He's small in stature and you'd think he's about 11 years old if you didn't know him. Santiago is much more colourful than Santo Domingo but here you get a taste of how ordinary Dominicans live, work, and play. We took a carro publico (public car) part way to his home and then walked the rest of the way. The homes are very colourful but the streets are unpaved and there's a lot of rubbish in the streets. Welcome to the real Dominican Republic! Staying with Israel is a full-on Dominican experience and is a complete 180 degree turnaround compared to staying with Jorge. With Jorge I was fed handsomely, slept on a leather couch beneath air conditioning, shown around in an air conditioned car, and was treated like a prince with all the luxuries of a hotel (and then some). In addition, Jorge lives in a spacious home, each family member has their own vehicle, and his mother goes to the gym. Israel's home is very tiny and his on the second floor of a seemingly Soviet-style apartment block. He lives with his two sisters, nephew, brother, and parents in an apartment not much bigger than the room I slept in at Jorge's house. Their kitchen is very tiny and tonight the water is off. In their bathroom they have a large drum of emergency water for when this happens. Water is a complicated issue here. It's considered unsafe to drink tap water anywhere in the D.R. and it's bad for the environment when you have to buy a small bottle of water every two hours or so. It may only cost about 10 pesos but the bottle costs the environment a hell of a lot more! I should talk about Santiago a little bit. It's the second largest city in the country but compared to Santo Domingo it's rather devoid of historical sites and it's visually like Sancti Spiritus (Cuba) with its wedding-cake style apartment blocks, colourful homes with elaborate iron grating, older people sitting in rocking chairs, and younger people slapping down dominoes surrounded by a cup of cold Presidente (the national beer). Israel and I brew some coffee, which in the D.R. I could drink any time of day! Home-brewed coffee tastes even better than what's sold on the streets but the street coffee is good in a pinch. Antonella stayed with Israel a few weeks ago and told me to say hello for her, so I did just that. Tonight was a big basketball game and I wanted to get pizza, have a cold beer and relax for a bit. Whilst Santiago is a little higher in elevation than Santo Domingo it's just as hot and steamy. We visited a street stall and got some pizza and then enjoyed the basketball game. It's a popular sport here despite the fact there's never been a well-known Dominican in the NBA.

The next day Israel and I set out into the sights and sounds of Santiago. Straight as an arrow, Israel knew where to go. Even though I had to be at the airport tonight I opted to leave my backpack at Israel's house so I wouldn't have to carry for the majority of the day. After taking a couple of public cars (and an ice-cold bottle of water through the back window from a street seller) we were in downtown Santiago. In the searing heat, a coconut full of water would quench my soul. Unlike other places, here with a coconut you're offered a cup of ice and a spoonful of sugar to sweeten it. Afterward we visited Fortaleza San Luis.

Over the years the fort has been used as a military training facility and, during the Trujillo regime, a prison. These days it's a museum with several tanks on the grounds.

In the distance there was this odd-looking building, shaped somewhat like an inverted meat mallet. This is Monumento a los Heroes de la Restauracion.

Made of gleaming white marble this has got to be one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen! It looks like something in which you'd find Ho Chi Minh embalmed in. However, Trujillo had it built in his own honour and after his assassination it was remained to honour the heroes of the War of Restoration. It makes me wonder if perhaps he had it built as his potential final resting place. The monument stands out in stark contrast to the rest of Santiago; white marble steps alongside perfectly trimmed grass lead to a spick and span monument whilst in many parts of Santiago the power is sporadic, there's rubbish everywhere and people defecate on the sidewalks. It cost about $2 to enter the monument but you can only go halfway up; the spire is closed to visitors. There's a decent view from as high you can go but other than that it's not really worth it to pay the fee to go inside. Israel had to take care of some stuff at his work, so I opted to go online for a couple of hours whilst he did his thing. Before though I got a picture of myself displaying the Dominican flag.

I've been to several countries with a red, white, and blue flag (USA, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba, Panama, Iceland, and several others). Whilst waiting for Israel I got bread pudding and a coffee from a street seller before we made our way back to his place. The colours and iron grating of the many homes remind me of many other places I've been in Latin America. Put a blindfold on me and then transport me I'd think I was in Suchitoto, Esteli, or Sancti Spiritus. The guidebook states the only way to the airport is a $20 taxi ride but I got a public car for only 40 pesos. It would be about 15 minutes before the group arrived, or so I thought. And I was thinking I'd have an air-conditioned airport to wait in but it's more or less an outdoor facility. As I walked upstairs to look for a bathroom I hear this voice behind me saying "Excuse me, this may be an unbelievable coincidence but are you Chris Farrell?" In shock I answered "that's me." It was David DeMinico, the program coordinator of ISV for the Dominican Republic. "DeMinico" sounds rather Dominican. He recognized me because Irene (in the USA) emailed my blog link to him. He wasn't meeting the group tonight, but was picking up a friend named Jordan. Earlier I was with Israel and now I've met Jordan. Who's next? A guy named Syria? David called up Irene and I got to say hello to her for a minute. It then turned out the ISV group flight was delayed more than an hour due to bad weather in Miami, so I'd be stuck here for a good while and I had almost no Dominican pesos. I had just enough to get a chocolate milk. For what seemed like all day the flight finally showed up at like 10 PM, almost two hours after it was scheduled to arrive. Jesson, the group leader, recognized me after receiving a description of me from David. After everyone went bought their tourist cards and went through the usual customs stuff, we were all on the bus headed to our homestays. There are people from the USA, Canada, UK, and Ireland in the Spanish course. Some of us will be working on the DREAM project whilst others are on the Blue Moon project, and many of the participants will go on the Adventure Tour at the conclusion of the project. Due to the flight getting in late, we all got to our homestays at close to midnight. My host is a pretty Dominican woman named Monica. It was too late for her to cook but she made me a plate of fruit. And whilst I was sort of expecting a hot shower, the shower doesn't even work! It's the wash-with-a-bucket kind. That's OK though; I've dealt with them plenty of times on my travels. Tomorrow is the start of my Spanish course, and I shall say "como ta" (the fast way of "como estas") in the morning! 

 

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