Thursday, March 17, 2016

Riding In Cars With Friends

Up before sunrise!
After spending more than a week basically on the boat or around the marina, Bruce and I were treated to a ride in a CAR!!!  Our Friends from home, Robert and Kathy arrived with a rental car late afternoon Wednesday, and we were all up and ready to go Touristing on Thursday morning. 

Robert did a commendable job in getting us through horrific traffic on the main road to Santo Domingo.  There is some road construction in our path and the lanes are reduced to two and then one.  People here just create another lane on the shoulder and barge in front of one another to jockey for their desired lane.  It’s a contest of whose nerves are more steely, the winner being last to give way.  Amongst all of this are skinny vendors wandering in the traffic selling strings of cashews and other unidentifiable items that I’m sure someone wants.  None of us really had any idea where we were going or what we were even looking for… we had a vague idea where the Colonial District of Santo Domingo was, but other than that we were winging it. 

You KNOW you're in the Tourist Zone when you see these!
As the streets began to narrow and obvious tourists appeared milling about… we decided we had arrived!  But now what???  Suddenly out of nowhere, a man's face appeared in the driver's side window… He said for 50¢ an hour, we could park our car with shade and security…  Yes please!  So this guy took off at a lope and we followed… He led us to a nice parking garage and turned us over to Angel, who was a certified tour conductor. 

The very knowledgeable Angel.
Angel was very soft spoken with thickly accented English.  It took a little concentration to understand him at first but we were eager to accept his services as tour guide for the next 2 or three hours for $12 each.  I had been pricing tours and couldn’t find anything for less than about $46 per half day, and that was with a group.  This would be private for a fraction of the cost.  As long as there was no “gotcha” at the end…

After a quick history of Hispaniola, we took off following Angel like little ducks on our walking tour!  First stop was the first University in the city.  This Santo Domingo is the second town bearing the name, the first having been destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt in 1502 where it is now on the opposite side of the river from the original town.  It sort of blows my mind that many of these elaborate structures have been here more than 500 years. 

Just let your mind wander down that road for a moment… things being built today are so temporary.  I doubt there is anything being produced in our time that will still be standing 500 years from now.  And the craftsmanship is so intricate with unparalleled attention to detail.  Nobody could afford the hourly wage of an artisan with skills to create this kind of ordinary masterpiece today…

We followed Angel around through the streets, stopping to hear his brief stories about many of the city's highlights.  There is so much here that we missed.  There just isn't enough time in one day to see it all.  Will have to come back again...

The City is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and so, is full of many other "First's".
The First University

See remnants of the original walls still visible 
Christopher Columbus is big here... but there are many other historical figures that played huge parts in the country's richly varied past.  Juan Pablo Duarte was one of those figures.  It is amazing to think of an island of this size being ripped apart and becoming two distinct and divided countries.  The rift between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is still very much felt here today.

The Dominican Republic Coat of Arms
Billini - discoverer of Christopher Columbus' remains
The most interesting part of the history of the Dominican Republic is the fact that the remains of Christopher Columbus are said to be here...  The story goes that his remains were thought to have been taken to Cuba, but in 1877 Reverent Canon Don Francisco Javier Billini was said to have unearthed the true remains.  The story is utterly fascinating to me.

Angel tells us the story...
Angel says that there is still some controversy about exactly where the body ended up... so for diplomacy's sake, he tells tourists that half of the body resides here in the Dominican Republic and the other half is in Spain.  Read the story is here.

The Sales Pitch
Although we ARE technically tourists, we don't travel like other tourists.  We didn't really tell Angel that we were traveling on our boat.  Instead we let him believe that we were like all of the others staying in some hotel somewhere.  So we couldn't really blame him when one of the stops was to consider other tours that might be of interest.  And while we didn't partake of these pre-packaged tours, it did give us an idea of some of the other things we might like to see...

Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor Oldest Cathedral in the Americas

Saxophone player in the plaza


Playing dominos in the plaza

Borgella Palace
We saw so many things it became a blur.  It wasn't until I began writing this blog post that I was able to look up the places we visited and learn more about them.

Columbus statue in Parque Colon
The electrical lines crisscrossing the streets in a jumble just kill me!

Dennys.  DENNYS!!!  If they can afford to put their restaurant in the middle of the Colonial Zone... they're making too much money!

Calle Las Damas was the first street created in the Colonial Zone.  It has had many names but this one stuck as it was where the wives of important figures walked.

We visited several buildings briefly that were once homes built by and for the important figures in history.  It's kind of funny now that these homes should become things like hotels and banks...

A bank

Bartholomew Columbus' patio

Display of the natural resources of the Dominican Republic
The front door

We went inside the National Pantheon, another historical site that was once something else... It was built to house a Jesuit Church.  Later it was a tobacco warehouse, then a theatre.  Now it is the National Mausoleum and many historical dignitaries are here.

We were here during a changing of the guard.  There were lots of tour groups and children on field trips.

The building is like a castle inside and there is a gorgeous painting on the ceiling, Michelangelo style...

 We walked out of the narrow streets onto a vast plaza outside the Alcázar de Colón.  It was built by and for Diego Columbus, son of Christopher.

I was never much of a history buff... funny how I married a history teacher and all... but being here in these places and learning about them within sight of where it all happened... It really makes so much more sense to me now.  I wish I had time to delve more deeply into these stories while we're here...
The plaza overlooks the Ozama River
We walked out and stood overlooking the Ozama River and could see the other side where the city of Santo Domingo once stood.  

The old city wall still stands

Across the Ozama River
This little building is all that is left standing of the original city that was destroyed by a hurricane.

We continued on walking down a hill towards the outer walls of the original city.  Again I was amazed that these structures are still standing.

Looking up at the archway

More parts of the original wall around the city

The wall

The city entrance from outside

We walked through the arch and exited the city where untold numbers of ghosts have tread...

We continued along the outside of the city walls to the old Customs entrance.  This would have been where all of the goods were brought to be processed into the city and proper taxes paid.

There are still remains of more buildings that once stood here housing goods waiting to be processed.
Remains of the old walls

Walking through the main entrance

Inside the wall

We re-entered the city through the Customs Gate and continued up the narrow  hilly streets.

Angel brought us next to a rum museum.  Yes, there is a museum dedicated to rum!  

We got a mini-rum tasting which helped us to make our choice
I guess it's more dedicated to the SELLING of rum to tourists and we were happy to oblige.
Rum tasting

We purchased some old reserve and a small bottle of cinnamon rum.  It's a sipping rum and tastes awesome!

Outside there was another display of sugar cane and the cane processing methods.

No lawyers here...

We left the rum museum and continued up the narrow winding streets past the old Jesuit Monastery... no time to visit there today, must come back.

We walked the sidewalks of a cute little area with small condo-style homes squished together on a hill.  The sidewalk had stairs going progressively down to the lower level.  

We were headed for the next "attraction" and by this time we were on the downhill slide of Angel's tour... the side where he brought us to places we might wish to purchase some souvenirs...

Bruce already has a year's supply of cigars that he got at the grocery store... but it was fun seeing the cigars being made.

The man's hands literally flew as he rolled the tobacco inside the leaves.

We were getting really hungry and asked to be taken to a place where we could get some lunch.  On our way there we passed the ruins of the first hospital, another place we would like to come back to visit...

Leaning tower...

Two happy women!
We had a really delicious lunch at Jalap Restaurant where I had Pastelon while everyone else ordered burgers...  After lunch our tour was near it's end.  We visited one last place to shop and I splurged to buy a set of Amber Jewelry.  We don't take many souvenirs as they don't fit on the boat very well.  But I have been collecting jewelry from the places we visit for decades.  I like to find something that is locally made and supposedly this is the only place in the Caribbean where it is mined.

This concluded our tour with Angel.  He led us back to our parking garage where we found our car and paid the tiny price for parking. (We once paid $27 for three hours in California)  We had talked amongst ourselves at lunch about paying Angel and what would be an appropriate tip.  We were all very happy with his service and agreed that it would have been a different day without him. We decided what we would like to pay and when he asked us for the $12 per person at the end... his eyes got really big when we gave him that plus a nice tip.  At first he corrected us but Bruce told him it was for him.  I thought the man was going to cry.  It feels nice to give to someone who doesn't first try to take it from you.  More info here: Colonial zone info

Walking up to the top right-hand side
We piled aback into the car and took off for the next attraction.  We wanted to see where Christopher Columbus' remains were kept.  The country built an elaborate and very ugly monument to house the remains.  I hadn't realized the the lighthouse I had planned for us to see was to be the same structure, Faro a Colón.

Looking down the long part of the cross
Faro a Colón is a huge concrete structure.  HUGE!  You can't tell from looking at it but it is built in the shape of a cross.

We had no idea what this thing was... we just wanted to see a lighthouse!!
Names of other countries on the sides 

The front door. 
We entered at the grandiose front door... Looking over my shoulder for Indiana Jones... didn't see him. We entered the Temple of Doom.

There were Bible scriptures engraved all up the front walls and a narrow entrance, relatively speaking.

Looking up inside the entrance.
Inside the towering concrete catacombs rose above our heads.  It was like being inside a bee hive or a space ship...

We turned our eyes toward the shrine of Columbus.  It was a complicated carved shelter with the lone dark box inside.  And it was HUGE!

Carved in creamy smooth stone, the monument rose from the steps before us.  There was no guardrail around it.  We could just walk right up to it.

And there in the middle was a rather stubby box.  It did look old.  And maybe there are only half of the remains as it was not full body length... but plenty roomy otherwise.

I stared at the box and thought about the possibility that inside were the remains of the famous Christopher Columbus.
Looking up from the box

Beautiful carvings in stone

After we had finished marveling at the intricate carvings, we continued on into the body of the cross structure. It was lined with adjoining rooms all made of grey concrete.  The rooms had windows and were named for a country.

It seemed that some countries have provided a sampling of informational literature or artwork... things that were representative of their culture.  Many of the rooms were completely empty or only had one to two random displays.
These were replicas but there were some original writing here.

Looking up.  Like being inside a gigantic elevator shaft

Each room had a window like this
Pope room


In reading about this structure, it seems that maybe there has been some controversy over it through the years.  It is sort of an ugly useless structure and I'm sure the upkeep isn't cheap.  It was somebody's dream and the architect who designed it was actually the winner of a contest.  It's kind of unbelievable when you think about it.  So much money went into creating this monstrosity and keeping it up... for a few tourists per year to visit... That money could have been spent better otherwise... I think that is the general consensus today.

The US had a dismal display I might add...

This was the end of our first day touristing in the DR.

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