Saturday, July 19, 2014

Santo Domingo: Cuatro siglos de historia y leyenda (Sunday Week 7)

"Four centuries of history and legend"

Last weekend we took a trip to Santo Domingo, the capital of the DR. Everyone in the program came, including the staff and two of the Dominican estudiantes de apoyo--about 45 people in total. Santo Domingo is on the Southern coast, about 3 hours from Santiago.

We checked into the hotel at about 6:30 on Friday evening and got ready to head out to dinner. The restaurant was only about a 5 minute walk from the hotel, but as soon as we left it started pouring and we were drenched by the time we got there. I wouldn't have called it fun, but there was something unforgettable about running down the middle of the street, clutching my camera to my chest so it wouldn't get soaked and trying not to slip on the wet cobblestones. The restaurant was inside an old warehouse from the colonial era, and it was beautifully decorated and the food was delicious. In general, the food was one of my favorite parts of the trip, because everything was arranged and paid for by the program, and they took us some really nice places.

First hospital in the Americas
On Saturday morning we got up and took a walking tour of the colonial part of the city. We saw the house of Christopher Columbus' son Diego, who governed the city for a while, and the ruins of the first monastery (which later became the first psychiatric hospital) and first actual hospital in the Americas. We also saw the first cathedral in the Americas, Fortaleza Ozama, and the National Pantheon, where many of the country's historical figures are buried. A flame is always kept burning in the center, and an honor guard in dress uniform keeps watch over it.

Exploring the Ciudad Colonial
We had free time to get lunch on our own and explore in the afternoon. We ate lunch outside on the edge of a big square. I had a typical dominican plate of rice, beans and chicken, and we got to watch a guy making hats out of palm fronds and listen to street musicians while we ate. After lunch, we headed to the Chocolate Museum that was right across the street. It was more like a glorified gift shop than a museum, but they had free samples and didn't charge admission so no complaints here. After that we went shopping on El Conde, a pedestrian-only street in the center of the Ciudad Colonial. I successfully used some bargaining skills to get a deal on a bracelet and earrings made out of larimal, a turquoise blue mineral that's naturally found here. The fact that I saved a hundred pesos was just a bonus--the actual haggling was the fun part.

Next we went to El Museo de la Resistencia, which tells about the rise and fall of the Trujillo dictatorship that lasted from 1930 to 1961. The museum is a little overwhelming--there's big blocks of text on every wall, and it's all in Spanish--even if it were in English I couldn't possibly have read it all in one visit--but it was worth it to learn about some modern history in addition to the colonial era. Trujillo actually renamed Santo Domingo Ciudad Trujillo while he was president. They changed it back as soon as they got rid of him, but if you look you can still find some manhole covers that say Ciudad Trujillo on the streets.

All dressed up for dinner in a cave!
Photo Ryan Bowen Photography

On Saturday night we had a formal dinner, so we went back to the hotel early to get ready. It was nice to see everyone dressed up, and we spent a while taking pictures outside of the hotel before going to the restaurant. The restaurant, El Mesón de la Cava, was super cool--it's in an underground cave that's lit up beautifully with lanterns. Outside, they have terraces and lush gardens lit up with colored lights. The food was delicious, especially the creme brûlée and chocolate mousse that we had for dessert. Dessert isn't a huge thing in the DR, so I enjoyed being able to indulge my sweet tooth.

Los Tres Ojos: some of Jurassic Park was filmed here
On Sunday morning, we headed to Los Tres Ojos, a national park about 15 minutes outside the city. The ojos are natural cave lagoons, and there's actually four of them, not three. One of them was explored by Jacques Cousteau in the mid 1900s, and connects to an underground river that extends all the way to the ocean. The water is really aqua blue and there are all sorts of vines and ferms--parts of the Jurassic Park movies were actually filmed there. After the Ojos, we ate lunch a cute little Italian restaurant, then headed back to Santiago in time to watch the World Cup final. If I had one more weekend here, I would love to return to Santo Domingo--there are plenty of things that I didn't get a chance to see, including the Museum of the Royal Houses and the botanical gardens. Even though it was a short weekend, it was a great way to see more of the country and spend time with my American and Dominican friends

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