White Knuckles Meet Amber Cervesa
By Cliff Lambson
San Juan is an accommodating stopover
when traveling to the Caribbean; a modern air and
seaport surrounded by teal water and spiraling mountains
dashed in jungle flora. All the fair-skinned northerners
gleefully get off to island hop, or join up with cruise
ships. My connection to Santo Domingo, the capital
of the Dominican Republic, is less than an hour long.
The plane is all but empty now, save a smattering
of Dominicans on their annual pilgrimages to the homeland
to see what their relatives have spent their Western
Union monthly remittances on.
I’ve always dreamed of living in
a Caribbean beach town surrounded by tall mountains
of flowing jungle to explore. I’ve moved back away
from my wing seat to take in the—now quickly approaching—mountains.
Our pilot has us up on a steep bank, turning hard
away from the spiraling rock and palm. I head back
to my seat to buckle up and prepare for impact and
notice a giddy gent in the row ahead of me—mercilessly
devouring a pint of Johnnie Walker Red (he obviously
likes flying as much as I do). He’s pantomiming as
if he’s the pilot of the plane—holding a pint—flying
us over the abruptly rising mountains of San Juan.
He clearly he hit that bottle long before we took
I drop my lack of knowledge on him—I’ve
never been to the Dominican Republic—and he, as any
typical Dominican would, offers help. It turns out
that my new friend (Daniel) is a maintenance man and
works just down the street from me in Boston. In Latin
America—or so it seems—that makes us as good as “primos”
(first cousins), this comes in handy. He rummages
through my Lonely Planet and web page printouts and
locates a place to stay in the capital that fits into
my plans and budget. I had absolutely no plan on those
subtleties. I had a little bungalow on the beach in
Las Terranas on the North Coast in mind, and tickets
to see a baseball game back in the capital a few days
later, and an open slate beyond that.
Our flight—and my thumb gymnastics
through the translation dictionary—is now over and
I find myself in immigration, filling out forms in
Spanish; completely guessing the logical answers.
I get enough of the questions right and I’m through
customs and into a huge pool of finely clad, almond
skinned welcoming parties. No one’s expecting me,
but that doesn’t slow the huge smiles and inquisitive
looks. I pick up the pace as if I’ve got somewhere
definite to go and burst through the doors and outside—into
a scorching heat like I’ve never felt before; 7 to
107 Fahrenheit in 4 hours.
I was really expecting much more—like
a city for instance. The water is straight in front
of me and I honestly don’t know if Santo Domingo is
to the right or left, I haven’t a clue. The horizon
is water ahead and hazes on the sides. I have a week,
dollars, a decent smile, and a decent way, I’m just
a little short on a clue. I’m holding the dice at
In comes my hero Daniel, he’s just
been received, and his entourage is now making its
way to a taxi. Daniel has big family here on the island
and his support and annual visits are what keep them
stable. He asks me if I need a lift; his cabby-buddy
Vito or Bito or Beeto (actually “Victor” in Spanish,
but I was struggling with their mangled diction) was
there to take him to the city. A lift to somewhere
might be a good start; they’ll take me to capital.
With the only word I really knew
well in Spanish – “Si” - I jump in with him and Vito/Bito/Beeto
and we're on our way.
I was awarded the front seat and
the view was paralyzing. I'd never seen anything like
this before. One ramshackle hut after another, piles
of trash, abandoned cars—some still being driven—small
refuse fires, and possibly the worst sight of all,
dead dogs every few miles on this now very busy highway.
I wanted to ask if perhaps this
devastation was from a hurricane. I was curious to
know what month they pick up the trash here. Is that
house being built, or torn down? But like the rest
of my questions, they’re returned simply with smiles
and splashes of laughter.
However, I do understand 'cervesa'
and "si" I'll gladly have one. We stop at
the first pile of squared cement and this colmado
(corner store) has a dutiful freezer from heaven.
Encased in ice, our purveyor of the islands nectar
(Presidente beer) pries three huge “grandes” from
the ice chest. Caked in ice shavings, a napkin is
quickly wrapped around the bottle in an elegant and
quick fashion and the top is popped off.
Page 1 of 2 Next
All contents copyright ©2005 Pology
Magazine. Unauthorized use of any content is strictly