Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Leaving Luperon Behind, Heading To Santo Domingo

The cross country bus trip from Luperon to Santo Domingo with a stop in Santiago was $8US each, a great fare. For the most part we relaxed and enjoyed the ride. However, on occasion our bus driver was a tad more assertive on the mountain roads, passing in close proximity to oncoming traffic. He drove with a certainty that everyone else would surely give way to us, we being in the larger vehicle. The locals showed no sign of worry so we settled in and took in the scenery.

A bus stop outside of Santo Domingo. 
The ubiquitous plastic chairs a Central American fixture. These three-legged chairs with the log support re-enforces what we have seen throughout the country. Dominicans use every little thing until it has absolutely no further use. 

On our first morning our Dominican friend, Pura picked us up and took us to a gorgeous breakfast spot where we had a typical Dominican breakfast. Starting with a small dark spicy cup of hot cocoa served with small Pan - bread for dipping; rather like a good Scandinavian dipping doughnuts in their coffee. Pura's recommendation for breakfast was; Mangu-mashed plantains, topped with grilled peppers and onions, with a side of Salami-Dominican sausage and Queso Fritas- fried cheese, boiled yuca, and very good Dominican coffee. 

Pura gifted us with several Dominican treats. Coffee, Caribas Plantain chips, stuffed figs, cinnamon lollipops, avocado and a very good bottle of rum.

The street outside our first hotel was under construction and closed to traffic. That meant we were dropped off two blocks from our hotel and had to slog along with our very heavy sailing gear dufflebags. Without our asking; two construction workers jumped in and relieved us of our bags and walked with us to the hotel. We expected we would have to tip them but they wanted more than we were willing to pay, in fact more than our taxi ride. In the end they received $2.50 each, rather than $5.00 each. They grumbled and we were grumpy, hot and in need of a shower and siesta. Lesson learned again; as normally we negotiate the fee before receiving any unsolicited help, however due to the construction we didn't take the time. 

La Arcada an Aparta Hotel in Zona Colonial/Historic District

At check-in we were informed the rates had gone up from $20 per night to $40 per night due to remodeling of the rooms. We were not pleased but again were hot and tired so we decided to give it a try for one night. The room we were assigned had never seen any remodeling, as you can see. Very gloomy with old curtains, old bed linens with sheets so thin and torn at the corners they wouldn't stay on the bed and a motley assortment of furnishings. Mind you we do not require a first class room but if we are being charged for a newly remodeled room one would expect better accommodations. We decided to wait for our Domincan friend, Pura, who was coming the next day and enlist her to help us, as the desk clerk could not speak any English and feigned ignorance at our limited Spanish. 
They also do not offer coffee or breakfast. 
We have a coffee shop story that will require its own paragraph or two, near the end of this post.

Not sure which is funnier; the short bathroom door or the lovely "artwork" above Charlie's shoulder.
It was one of those pictures that change as you move around the room. At first glance a lion resting in the savannah followed by a bikini clad, beach crawling chicka.

Perhaps the one new addition was the in-line hot water heater for the shower. Note the wiring job attached to the pipe with electrical tape, as well as the wrapped connections. We gazed upon this marvel wondering whether we would get electrocuted. I turned on the water and carefully set the switch, located on the front, to the hot position and waited. Three minuscule needle piercing streams of water flowed out, hardly enough to get wet not to mention most uncomfortable being stabbed. Then
the smell started; hot electric wire burning smells. Out of the shower I quickly hop with a hail to Charlie, "Your turn, you give it a whirl!" His shower wasn't much better. We did learn that the hot smell was the internal heater and for future showers opted to not use that setting for long.

When our friend arrived the next day she helped us negotiate a reduced rate for two more nights allowing us time to see some sights and find another hotel.

The one nice spot at the hotel is the roof terrace. 

Views from the roof terrace

Street scene

Below the ruins of the monastery - Monasterio de San Francisco, a Franciscan establishment.

 On Sunday evenings a 12 piece Cuban band performs here and the streets surrounding are closed to traffic. Food and beverage vendors gather, chairs are set up and the dance party begins.
We enjoyed a few Presidente cervesas while watching the locals dance. Strikingly, the participants are of all ages from 3 to 83, as the trans-generational music gets everyone on their feet dancing a little salsa, samba, or merengue. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves from our perch; pictured on the street to the left, up against the peach colored building by the black door under the flag.

Another view of the monastery

Our new hotel located across from the monastery. The Tierra Plana Hostal/hotel. We booked a room for $30 per night and moved in the next morning.

Smaller room but lovely, with a beautiful bathroom and an in-line hot water heater that is installed correctly and works properly with plentiful water pressure. We also receive coffee and a breakfast of fresh fruit and toast with jelly. 

Our bedside vignette


Lobby artwork, which is a painting of the power pole at the corner. Not sure about the zeppelin.

Hallways and art with bright blue double doors to the rooms.


Alcazar de Colon - Christopher Columbus' sons house located overlooking the river that empties into Santo Domingo Bay. It is worth touring should you ever get the chance. You can learn a great deal about construction of the time and of course history. The furnishings are interesting in that they come from all over the world. Not all original to the family but rather collections acquired.

The Dominicans tolerate the history of Christopher Columbus and his family but do not embrace it.
The common turn of phrase is, "The only thing Columbus discovered, is that we were already here!"

The building to the right is the museum- Museo de las Casas Reales. Again worth the tour.

This family was taking a rest and one of the daughters was standing up inside the horse sculpture.
She struck a pose laughing then wanted to see the picture......

....as did little sister, perched on the cannon. Then she too, wanted her picture taken.

The Bull and the gringo matador

Close-up of the artists' plaque

This plaque shown below, is located next to the tower shown in the following picture.
The plaque above shows the latitude and longitude in the upper corners. There are twelve columns for twelve months. We are researching what the numbers on each axis measure and what data the graph line represents.  More to come.

La Catedral - a Catholic cathedral. 

After a day of sightseeing we are back at our hotel having a lunch of avocado boats and Dominican Rum with coca-cola. The insulated mugs were purchased at Goodwill in St Petersburg, FL so that we could have our own beverage containers while sailing on Ati. These mugs have seen more of the Eastern Carribean than most people and now they are with us in the Western Carribean.

The roof top terrace of the Tierra Plana reflected in the mirrored bar, where we enjoyed a lovely dinner 
that closed with the Dominican version of Bananas Foster. Delightful!

View of monastery from Tierra Plana's roof top terrace.

Now for the coffee shop story.

On our first morning in Santo Domingo the primero chore was to find coffee, as the hotel did not have any. Charlie set out on a prospecting walk with our traveling mugs, arriving back at the hotel in due time with two good cups of coffee. He mentions that the next morning I need to accompany him to see this very beautiful hotel and their grand coffee shop. 
The next day we ready ourselves for a day of sightseeing and head out with our trusty Goodwill traveling mugs for this beautiful hotel and coffee shop. On approach, I see a security guard standing just inside the open doorway but think nothing of it as that is a common sight in the historic district. 
We enter into a stunning courtyard with beautiful floors and woodwork and well appointed tables in the dining area. Charlie walks to the cashier and orders two coffees, again handing over the mugs. The security guard, a small diminutive woman, barely coming to my shoulder, whisks right up to me questioning why we are here? At least I am fairly certain I understand that much Spanish. I try to explain we are buying coffee so we can stroll the streets sightseeing. This accompanied by many hand signs, and a charade of my strolling in place, and also inquiring where I might acquire a map - mapa. 

When Charlie returns with the coffees the security guard directs us out the door and into the main lobby where we are to pick up a map. We are greeted by a debonair and gracious doorman. We have entered a five star hotel oozing elegance. I pause to wait near the glorious floral arrangement perched on an equally gorgeous round table in the center of the stunning lobby as Charlie walks to the Reception Desk to request a map. The hotel clerk directs Charlie back across the gargantuan lobby to the Concierge Desk where our debonair doorman is patiently observing. 
The gentleman greets Charlie inquiring, " Which language would he like to speak, Spanish, French, English...?" It seems he is multi-lingual. Charlie opts for English, requesting a map. The gentleman whisks a map out from under the counter and with a flourish indicates with a blue X that we are here. With a gracious thank you we depart for our walking tour with our coffees in hand.
Once outside we pause in the shade to study the map and plan our walk. I see the blue X and say to Charlie, " This says Embassy of France!" He says, "No, let me see." I say, " I can read that much Spanish and it says Embassy of France. "  We have been using the French Embassy as our coffee-to-go shop!
 We had a good laugh. Traveling is such fun.

We have walked and walked around the city and are ready for some open spaces, salty kisses and sandy toes, so today, our last day in Santo Domingo, Pura is taking us to the beach at Playa Juantillo. You may think the beach common here on an island country but that is not the case. Most water access is very rocky with little sand and where there is sand, there are resorts or large developments that sell real estate to foreigners making the beach not accessible to the locals.
On this day it is very quiet. The resort and condo sales having fallen on hard times due to lack of tourism or foreign investors. Lucky for us though; we get to use a cabana as long as we partake of beverages and lunch, which we planned on doing. We again enjoyed Presidente cervesas, along with very good ceviche.

Pura on the left, Charlie in the cabana

Beach view

Another with the lovely Mariel, Pura's friend.

The four of us. Mariel on the left and Pura on the right.

We fly out tomorrow heading back to Roatan and our much missed Leap.