Dominican Diamond and Haiti Hag
Apr 1, 2008
David Rich 1000 Words
34 Dominican Pesos=$1
38 Haitian Gourdes=$1
DOMINICAN DIAMOND & HAITIAN HAG
The Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti split Hispaniola 2/3 by 1/3, so-named by Columbus on December 6, 1492. Unlike the columns in a Chinese menu the two parts provide stark choices:
World Class Beaches
A few Gated Beaches
Luxury Bus Transport
Tap-Taps (140 in buses meant for 40)
First World Supermarkets
No Affordable Food
Nice Affordable Hotels
Nice Hotels Pricey (10 in whole country)
Mountains Denuded for Fire Wood
Poorest of the Poor
Naturally the first question is what the heck’s blue amber? And the second is why no columns, and the answer is because this website cannot do columns: please consider every other entry in the same column.
Those relishing true adventure travel can check out column B by flying to Port-au-Prince or Cap Haitien, but why bother? Haiti’s business and government structure collapsed a week after I left in April 2008. Food riots plagued the country because at an average income of $2 a day few could rice or cheese whiz crackers, the most common street fodder. Adventure travel at its rawest is when the price of food sky-rockets 50% in a single year: “We used to be hungry enough to drink Clorox, a local mechanic told TIME [Magazine] by phone from Port-au-Prince. Now it's battery acid — it gets the job done quicker. April 9, 2008. Only Somalia and Afghanistan are poorer than Haiti, elevating Bangladesh to near stardom status. However the Haitian people, poor souls, are the friendliest desperate folk I’ve met traveling the globe. However, in their shoes I’d be sorely tempted to battery acid.
Columbus explored most of Hispaniola’s north coast for a base for operations in the New World, plunking down the first colony of 39 men near present-day Cap Haitien. These horny Spanish aristocrats were above physical labor, instead enslaving the Taino Indians (friendly people) to empty chamber pots and scour barnacles, ultimately committing the fatal error of kidnapping and raping any native woman they spied. The Indians reacted predictably, slaughtering the new world’s first colonists. In revenge Columbus exterminated the Tainos in two short decades, efficiently destroying an empire that in 1492 had stretched from the Guyanas in South America to Puerto Rico, and introduced the world to sweet potatoes, pineapple, peanuts and tobacco.
Wars and territorial competition between Spanish and French megalomaniacs churned the island into direst poverty for centuries. By the 21st Century travel and living conditions had deteriorated to horrific in Haiti while rising to idyllic in the DR.
From its founding in 1504 charming Santo Domingo became the epicenter of the New World, the first and foremost city for centuries, coordination headquarters for Spain’s acquisition of most of South America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Colonial center has been lovingly restored and refurbished, a 120 square block area easily digested in a few days, from the statute of favorite son Chris in the main square discovering the local Hard Rock Café to a pedestrian-only street smack through the middle of fanciful colonial churches. Dozens of tourist-trap shops offer heaps of blue amber for sale along with the boring golden kind, and are sprinkled among Columbus family houses, Chris’ tomb, the house of Hernan ‘Dave Baby’ Cortez who subjugated Mexico, the digs of Ponce de Leon who died in a Florida retirement community searching for the Fountain of Youth and not least, excellent museums.
The best museum is the Museo de las Casa Reales, the museum of royalty, showcasing replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, spiffy swords and fancy guns, ballrooms and palaces, Taino artifacts and special exhibitions which, when I visited, featured period photos of Diego Rivera, Freda Kahlo and Leon Trotsky. Other museums center on such as blue jade, certainly a don’t-miss opportunity to find out what that’s about. I alternated shopping with the Santo Domingo’s sprawling botanical gardens which offer excellent Japanese and orchid sections.
DR today is beaches, babes, beer and baseball, not necessarily in that order depending on location and proclivity. The gorgeous beaches on the north coast are crammed with world class resorts of the all-inclusive kind, some of the world’s most exclusive and expensive. But deals can be had, easily. Google Dominican Republic Resorts and 207,000 incredible deals will appear in .25 seconds. The result of a wildly successful resort scene has lured ex-pats in droves, perhaps spurred by the best race relations between blacks and Hispanics anywhere in the world.
I personally prefer mountains and those of such ilk are in luck because DR’s mountains stretch the length of the island, criss-cross the extremities and make up 30% of the land mass. The best entrees to the highest peaks, waterfalls and canyoneering are at Jarabacoa and Banao. From Jarabacoa I’d planned to climb Hispaniola’s and the Caribbean’s highest peak, Duarte at 10,417 feet (3175 meters) but the airlines intervened to lose my luggage, hiking shoes and warm weather gear, saving me a ton of exercise together with the usual two or three day climb. Instead I went shopping for the most fabulous of amber, the blue kind, which comes in shades of psychedelic blue similar to the bluest turquoise if it were translucent. DR’s diamond is blue amber while Haiti remains an unfortunate hag.
When you go: Flights to the Dominican Republic range from Florida for $9 and up on Spirit Airlines; the plus-tax catch still nets fares from $80. However the cabbies’ union has managed to prevent public transportation to Santo Domingo’s international airport with the result that a cab will cost $30 by day and $40 at night. For a nice range of all-inclusive resorts see http://www.changes.com/dominican-republic-resorts.html and http://www.resortvacationstogo.com/Vacation/Dominican_Republic_Hotels_and_Resorts.html?source=google. Travel around DR is simple with luxury bus-lines Metro and Caribe Tours, both traveling to most resort and metropolitan areas often and inexpensively. For gourmet lunches in Santo Domingo try the French Chef’s specials for $6 at the Hotel Mercure on the Zona Colonial walking street, El Conde, a block west of Calle Duarte: fabulous!