Capital of República Dominicana, the oldest colonial city in the America’s and the principle city of Hispaniola. Built on a bay overlooking the Caribbean sea to the south, this was the first city from which the Spanish governed their growing American empire.
There is a distinctive feel to each area of modern Santo Domingo, the colonial zone with it’s attractive crumbling Spanish architecture and tourist friendly shops and restaurants. Downtown – for the great and the good of the city, built on a blueprint of North American urban planning. Friendly for cars but not for people with it’s grid system of six lane boulevards named after such icons as Bolivar, Churchill & Kennedy, interspersed with sprawling shopping malls and towering hotels. And finally the inner urban area, full of life and bustling with activity. Also, for the most part laid out on grids but with much smaller streets and generally low rise development. Walk around here for a few hours and you might find yourself walking down the upholsterers street, clicking with the constant sound of staple guns and sewing machines. Lines of workshops on the pavement putting together the next batch of sofa’s to adorn the flats of downtown. Or through the claustrophobic markets along the streets of Avenue Duarte and Avenue Mexico, where the traders will try to lure you into buying the latest knock off belts, jeans and watches.
You have a few options for navigating the city, there is a metro system here. The trains are reasonably frequent and outside of rush hour it is quiet, cool and a comfortable way to travel, despite only having two lines. The popularity and scope of the metro is dwarfed by the bus and gua gua (public minivan) system of the city which is by far the most popular means of transportation around the inner urban areas. While they venture less into downtown (where you will be walking or getting a taxi as the metro generally sits on the perimeter) they provide cheap and frequent transport to most parts of the cities, although you may end up needing to catch two or three to cross the city.In terms of food, thankfully the city has a great mix of restaurants and street food options. Being a vegetarian in the Caribbean can be a challenge. In a part of the world where asking for something that is not chicken and rice can be met with outward aggression, Santo Domingo’s offerings are both varied and cheap. My favourite places were the traditional sort that can be found all over the city (outside of Zona Colonial and Downtown) where I was served a huge plate of beans, plantain, egg fried rice and salad for 100 pesos, around £1.50. Incidentally, the shredded salads here are great but beware, they range in spice from mild to thermo-nuclear.
I had been in and out of the city so many times that it started to feel like home and returning to see old friends was always a pleasure. There is a lively Sunday night party in the Colonial town that I always made sure to catch. Although my dancing skills leave a lot to be desired, you can at least be sure the locals will take pity on you and take you under their wing albeit with their credibility at stake. The dancing all over the DR is on another level, making white boys from Europe who grew up drum and bass/house nights look like stereotypical “dad dancers.”Everyday is a day for baseball here, I got peeved when Sky brought in Monday night football in the UK but these guys think nothing of a game everyday. Cars are festooned with team colours, and every evening you will find groups of Dominicans huddled around the TV watching the next potential all star hoping to elope to the Major leagues. I couldn’t leave before heading to the national stadium in town to experience the atmosphere I have missed so much being away from football. Yes, it’s a lot more geared towards entertainment with games seemingly lasting hours and food being only slightly secondary to the game – but hugely enjoyable nonetheless. My favourite part about being in a baseball obsessed country is being able to grab a beer and hit the pitching lanes. They start off at a leisurely 50mph and wind up to 90mph which is like trying to hit a mosquito travelling at light speed for an amateur like me (which would be decidedly satisfying.)And thats that for the Republica Dominicana, now I head to an Island that for it’s size, has probably had more of a cultural impact on my life that anywhere else. I can’t wait!
See you in Jamaica.