Out of Santo Domingo
Trip Start Apr 12, 2007
9Trip End Apr 22, 2007
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The question I'm plagued by is, do I have the right to complain about and criticize the overtly deceitful and shameless methods which people living in poverty rely on in order to negotiate their precarious existence? I think not, for I am a mere transient here who will return to gainful employment, solvency and stability. And although I have spent more time than many of my countrymen living, working and traveling in the developing world - primarily in Latin America - even in times of shortage, drought and so-called "famine'' I never went broke, hungry or without recourse to medical attention if needed, making my hardships insignificant compared to those I observed on a regular basis around me. So yes, I feel a veritable sympathy for and possess a keen knowledge of those in need and in poverty, but I cannot claim to comprehend the extent to which it affects and influences everything from identity and psychology to morality and spirituality.
Obviously, I am now feeling some inner compunction after gaining a better understanding of the conditions here in the Dominican Republic, though I in no way accept the vulnerability many people have assumed I possess due to my appearance, nor do I submit to serving as a pushover with an endless amount or pesos. It is truly frustrating to see Dominicans purchase the same food, drink, taxi ride, bus ticket or hotel room as I do but at a discount, which I've argued about many times, sometimes getting the real price, other times having to submit to the swindle. While it's never more than a few dollars here and there, the point is I'm finding out that almost everyone overcharges foreigners everywhere I go. And even if you call them on their fraud or point out that you understood the entire transaction the person before you engaged in for 30 pesos less than what they ask of you, they cry about the prices of everything they need to scrape by here, making you out to be the bad guy for not having pity on them and donating some of your riches towards allaying their troubles.
Once beyond the scams and rip-offs the country is indeed very nice, with some of the best beaches I've ever seen. Though there are plenty of good colonial sites, there are also some that are a bit over-rated. I'd suggest seeing the Catedral Primada, Parque Colon, Fortaleza Ozama, Plaza de la Hispanidad and the Museo Alcazar de Colon. There are some nice shops if you're looking for ambar, larimar, cigars or good rum, but other than that it's just cheap bric-a-brac when not just utter rubbish. Oddly enough, I do recommend hanging out along the Malecon during the early evening, but just stick to the parts where there are other people. The culture here is very Caribbean, as drinking, dancing, dominoes and drum circles are often found along the street, outside a residence, or on the beach, many times in an improvised fashion. You still have to be careful at night since the police simply go home once the bars close, which leaves you at the will of the bandits and other nightcrawlers who might be up to no good - and full of rum to boot. I certainly wanted to avoid the major tourist destinations like Punta Cana in order to see the real Dominican Republic and I think I've succeeded in doing so. I do very much like it, but am pretty amazed at the level of need and desperation I'm seeing despite having spent more time in even poorer countries where things never appeared this bad. (Being white really made my trip a lot harder than it could have been otherwise...)
Ah, but help is apparently on the way and coming from the north, where of course the only true remedies are produced. The very swine who have caused, worsened or simply ingnored many of the current distempers infecting this nation are now negotiating a free trade deal with the USA and have promised that if the gringos and their economic elixers are allowed to flow freely across the Dominican Republic, the American Dream will migrate south and provide all the material talisman so cherished by people here. If only it were that simple, and if only people weren't so easily duped by the promise of their very own bling. In truth, I have to say this place reminds me very much of a rap video, for hip-hop and reggaeton are wildly popular as are the costumes the ostentatious rappers like to do their bragging in. People here look very good, just as the people in any rap video do - jewelry, designer jeans, fancy footwear, bright colors and flourishing brand names are everywhere to be seen. And as in many rap videos, the women are scantily clad, though the weather does plenty to inspire this fashion.
I know much of this has to do with the throngs of Dominicans who reside in the US and have made it big there or because of those who return here often, flashing the latest trends and symbols of success and giving some credence to the line currently being peddled that if they can't get to Gringoland in order to enjoy the same material goodies, then maybe Gringoland can indeed be brought to the Dominican Republic. The lure is an attractive one, that is certain. But in reality, just as any rap video is often merely fluff and folderol, so too is any free trade package, despite the hype, hooks, catchphrases and seductive imagery. And just as those who produce the records are the real stars, so too are the creators of the infallible commercial wizardry, though there is no shortage of shilling done by those who have been tossed a few bones. Just look at the number of Mexicans heading north and the levels of crime, corruption, poverty and unemployment they've left behind since NAFTA beshrewed their nation and you'll get an idea just how widespread the benefits of free trade are. Hell, what great miracle has it produced for the average gringo? What does Flint, Michigan have to say?
I'm now destined for Las Galeras and the isolated beaches at the point of this peninsula. I'll try to find a throwaway camera to take some pics which I'll eventually post, for the scenery here is idyllic to say the least...