In mid February Donna and I had spent a few days in Santiago De Los Caballeros in the center of the Dominican Republic, do not confuse it with Santiago, Chile. This was a medical business trip so we didn’t have enough time to explore like I’d like to have done, but in 2 days we did get to see some of the city and it’s people. After we landed about 8:30pm Atlantic Time), cleared customs and left the baggage claim with my checked bag still in Miami, oh well, I hope nobody expects me shaved in new clothes tomorrow. I retrieved it from the airport the next evening.
The ride from the airport to Hodelpa Centro Plaza was in the dark, but even at that late hour I noticed that as we got to the closer to the center of town the traffic began to look like a nightmare. Frank, our host guide for the days while we were there arrived on time the next morning to take us to our destination for the stay, a medical clinic/hospital where Donna was admitted with no problems and after some preliminaries was off with her doctor for her Stem Cell treatment, the real reason for the visit, more on that when we see the progress.
Meanwhile Francisco, he much preferred to be called Frank, took me back to the hotel. That’s when I really saw what traffic in Santiago was like. In one word “horrible!” I never would have been able to get anywhere if driving on my own. The streets are packed and although horns honked, it was not the cacophony one expects in crowded streets. I’d summarize the method of driving as; push your fender into traffic and hope there is space! Besides cars and trucks, hundreds, if not thousands of motorbikes and motor scooters abound everywhere. It seems that if 2 inches extra space exists motor scooters or bike will whiz trough the space, at full speed. and most riders don’t wear helmets! I took a look at most of them, most were smaller than 125cc, tiny by USA standards.
Donna was released the next morning, so after a breakfast in the hotel restaurant we decided to take a short walk. Our hotel looked like most mid-scale hotels here in the US, with an attached Gambling Casino as well as one across the street. But once we rounded the corner we met with the sidewalk crowded with vendors selling most anything you can think of, and possible lots you can’t immagine. Stands and bicycles were piled high with Coconuts, Bananas, Oranges, and local fruit and vegetables of all types I couldn’t identify. We walked about half-a-dozen blocks, strolled through one side of Parque Durate and back. Together we felt fairly safe, but uncomfortable mainly because of the language barrier, I know no Spanish, and Donna can pick out some words and phrases if spoken slowly enough.
Later we walked three blocks the other direction to Parque Colon, 1 block square park dedicated to Christopher Columbus, the to a Catholic church, Iglesia de la Altagraci, across the street, where afternoon Mass was begin said in Spanish, but even though I could not understand the words, I could follow along with the order of prayers.
After a meeting with Donna’s doctor – in the hotel room, yes he does make follow-up ‘house calls’ – Frank drove us to Camp David Resort and Restaurant, atop a mountain about 2000’ above and a few miles from town. According to Lonely Planet this resort founded by an admirer of Rafael Trujillo and now holds 2 of his cars, Cadillacs from the late 1950s.
For dinner we treated Frank to dinner, we asked him to recommend one where we would get a taste of authentic Dominican Republic cuisine. La Pez Dorado was the choice, and an excellent on it was. Frank negotiated with the waiter, in spanish, and we partook of sumptuous feast. Chiva – “something like a small goat”, Fried Green Bananas, Beans, Fried Rice – nothing at all like Chinese fried rice, and a few other dishes that I don’t recall. All were good enough to go back again if I ever return. If any of you readers travel to Santiago, this is a place I recommend. It you can find it on Calle Del Sole across from Parque Colon.
My impressions, what little we saw was of in need of restoration, and poverty abounds. Driving up to Camp David Resort we passed many gated mansions, and I noticed that a couple of the gates closed off driveways that were in need of repair, but most showed that there is also a very affluent part of the population, though not many.