Dominican Republic - Puerto Plata, Sosua, Cabaret, Santiago

This is my first time in the Caribbean. I very much would have liked to visit Cuba except it's supposed to be prohibited for me to do so. On the way there I stayed for about three days in Miami, just to check it out. I wish I hadn't, it was freezing. The DR was nice and sunny and warm except for the first week, which was rainy from a passing hurricane. I spent about three weeks there, and was ready to return home the entire last week. It was my first long trip by myself, and I found out I don't like traveling alone. I ended up feeling lonely and bored sometimes. Though it was fun practicing my Spanish, after a couple of weeks it got kind of old. I found that I generally don't care to talk to other English speakers when I'm on trips like this. I have done it before, and I actually met some who became my friends this way. But, for the most part, I don't try to speak to other English speakers anymore. I think it's because so many of them I talk to turn out to be sexpats. Now, unless it's clear otherwise, I just keep to myself. It was generally a lot fun to try and ride the taxis and guaguas with the locals around the area I visited. I usually got the idea across with my limited Spanish and lots of smiles and sign language.

I wanted to visit the north coast for several reasons. The first was that I wanted to go somewhere warm, and was attracted to the Dominican Republic because it the least expensive destination aside from Cuba. The second is I heard it is a mecca of sail-boarding. I had previously failed a sailboarding course in the Columbia River Gorge, where the wind was very high. I failed the course miserably, the only student out of a class of 8 unable to make it happen. Maybe I'm top heavy or not good enough balance. It was frustrating, and I was hoping it might be better here, but I found it's just not for me. Neither was scuba diving. I really wish I'd have just went snorkeling.

My first stop was Sosua. I can't remember the name of this hotel. It was just fair.
I wanted to visit the north coast and roam around a little. My first stop was Puerto Plata, a rather big city, and then I spent some time in Sosua. It's a big tourist and sexpat destination, very similar to Pattaya. I stayed at one hotel there for a few nights, but the hookers were everywhere and it's just not for me. The rest of my time was spent roaming around Puerto Plata, where I stayed in two hotels I think. I went ambling along the coast, hitching rides in guaguas and overloaded taxis. You buy a seat in a taxi, and I eventually decided that a guy my size really needs to buy two seats. There were a number of small towns along the way between Puerto Plata and Sosua, I would stop here and there and have a bite or drink some beers. I made it all the way to Cabarete, where I was thinking I would try the windsurfing again....but never did it. I spent a night or two there and it's a big party town for young athletic types and, while less the sexpat destination, was just too boisterous for me. Spent a lot of time walking around, trying to avoid people selling me things, and eating and drinking.

There's plenty of other places I thought I'd like to try and see, especially carnaval activites, like wherever these masks are made, and the town of Monte Cristi where (according to an old Rough Guide) the towns people have bullwhip fights in the streets. I never made it out there. I was too lazy to go to many places, so just wandered around between Puerto Plata and Cabarete, and down to Santiago once.

My waiter told me with disgust this main road was paved one month ago.

I guess there's never enough time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over.
This was a pretty good restaurant with a funny waiter

It was a delicious lunch. I made a point of eating a lot of sea food

I liked eating at the Paradise Restaurant. My waiter was entertaining and accommodating. I asked for a martini at one point, but they didn't have the right glasses, which wouldn't have been a deal breaker. But they tried to bring it to me over the rocks. It was clear they didn't really know how to make one, so I offered to give a demonstration. They didn't have a shaker, but we managed to find a plastic cup that served as lid to a tumbler. Not sure if they had vermouth, but they did have some Spanish olives. All this equipment and ingredients were brought out to my table at the end of my meal. I put it together, poured vodka over the ice and shook the hell out of it to the amusement of the other diners. Though I splashed a little vodka here and there, most of it wound up in my glass (perhaps a margarita glass), and with the addition of three of the little olives I had myself a delicious and refreshing beverage. 

I really didn't have much of an agenda. Probably would have had a better time if I did. During one walk I saw a place that offered horseback rides, so I went. The poor little horse I got seemed too small for me, and he was so skinny. I remarked on this and was told this is a particular kind of horse native to the Dominican Republic and is just skinny, but I don't believe it. I was really too big for him, but he did great. 

We started out down a barrio lane lined with small houses.

My guide told me I could buy one of these lots and houses for about $5,000

Coming to the end of the residential area

As we meandered out of the village and into the countryside
the mosquitoes really got thick. I had deet, but Pablo's ears soon became
bloodied by them. My guide had me break off a small branch to swat them away.

El nombre mi caballo es Pablo. Pablo es muy bueno caballo.
And he really was too small and bony. I wonder if not
feeding them enough has something to do with it.

After a few hours we stopped at a small house where we could have a beer
and cool off. This young guy was very friendly. The beer was tasty. 

More just walking around and fending off people trying to sell me something

I heard about the aerial tramway here, the only one in the Caribbean, so I went for a ride up to the top of the 793 meter high Pico Isabel de Torres. At the top is a botanical garden and small restaurant. Very nice place to hang out for a little while. 

Off we go. It was very high up in this little car. 

Oh, did I tell you I'm afraid of heights?

The car was kind of cramped, and we had one guy who was pretty fat in there with us. Here's a video someone else took of the tram ride. 

Finally at the top. The system was quite old, but recently rebuilt
and seemed OK. It handled the fat guy OK. 

I wanted to take trip inland to see something other than the coast, so it was a day and night to go south inland a ways to the city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a large, interesting city with much less touristy feel to it. I wished I could speak Spanish a lot better. Again, it was just walking around a lot and getting lost a few times, seeing the sights, stopping to eat or have a beer when I saw something good. 

This was one of the oldest looking buildings around, shuttered.

A city park in the midst of some construction.

I thought this was amusing: the only reason there are street signs is because a
business sponsors one. The business name is the bigger sign of course.

I had to snap a pic of this. I'd have to call a tow truck
if I put  a wheel down in that gutter.

Coconut vendor. They were very popular. 

This was just the threshold of an old business building I saw as I was
wandering around. I like the look of it.

This old guy was shining shoes and he suggested shining my sandals.
I paid him a couple bucks to take his pic, and he insisted on posing like
the all-knowing, all-seeing shoeshine guru.  

This colorful cart caught my eye: flavorings for snow cones.

Really friendly dude with a shotgun. One at every ATM. One night in Sosua
I heard a shotgun fight somewhere in the town. 

Did I overdo it? This was a "Sampler Platter"

"The Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration",
as seen from the restaurant where I had that sampler platter.

A guy in front of the monument, in the median of the street, giving away free puppies

The Rough Guide is what I brought along with me, it helped a lot.

I think this was goat stew, with rice and beans I. So good with the beer. Not cheap though.
To get the cheap food, I finally learned to look where the Dominicans ate. Small huts on the
beach for the most part, friendly people, delicious food, get a big plate for about a dollar. Nobody spoke much English in the smaller places, but everything was cool.

Pretty crazy, standing out there to cross through this tiny opening in the barrier. 
Residents of a neighborhood on one side, and the supermarket on the other side. Plenty of
people, young and old, crossing through this little unprotected break in the barrier. Harsh.

I was ready to leave after two weeks, but my stay was for three. Then entire first week was heavy rains due to the tail end of a hurricane. I hadn't really learned how to travel alone yet....I'm writing this in 2014, thinking back...I believe this was my first long trip alone. I found myself getting bored, lonely, and tired of not having anyone to speak English to. I did my best though, and it was a reasonable success in that I was able to get away from the cold, rainy northwest for a while. Anyone would have had a better trip if they can speak Spanish fluently, and perhaps ventured out to see more of the island. 

Perhaps the most disappointing experience for me was scuba diving. Mid-way through my stay in Sosua, I was walking around thinking I would go snorkeling, so I went into a dive shop to inquire about a snorkeling trip. A beautiful girl promptly gave me the hard sell for a dive course, showed me some pics and I caved. I was given a lesson in a hotel pool that afternoon. When I had the basics down, I was to go back the next morning and we would go out in Sosua Bay. We headed out in the boat and there were some pretty good swells. Down in the water we go where I find out about 10 meters down that I can't clear my ears. I try and try, but the instructor finally says no and signals to go back up and wait in the boat. Dammit all to hell. Up I go, dropping my heavy weight belt to the bottom of the bay trying to get back in the boat, and sat with another member of the group who had other problems (perhaps fear). Due to the four foot swells, repeated vomiting was involved. We had to sit in the boat in the swelling seas for what seemed like an eternity before the rest of the group came back up.

The most pleasant experience was walking along the Malecon in Puerto Plata in the evening, finding a little restaurant and eating 75 raw oysters with lime juice and almost half a bottle of rum. They were tiny oysters, not the size I'm used to. I told them to just keep 'em coming. At the same time vendors were walking by with what looked like french fries. It was conch, which they caught in the mangroves. I ate a heaping helping of those too, raw with lime juice. Eventually it got dark and I watched the moon come up behind the palm trees, with a gentle breeze cooling things off. I spent quite some time just sitting and enjoying this and getting soused. I vaguely remember once drinking too much rum, going into a hotel that had karaoke, and singing "She's A Brick House" and maybe something else. I don't remember anyone clapping. Somehow I made it back to my hotel in one piece.