Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dominican Republic: What is the Opposite of Despacito?

All my life, people have been telling me to slow down. I talk too fast, walk too fast, and write so fast my teachers compared my handwriting to Egyptian hieroglyphics. For the first time, I've found people who operate at a similar speed--and it feels wonderful. In the Dominican Republic, everyone speaks Spanish faster than in any other country I've visited. Their best modern writer, Junot Diaz, practically invented his own literary style. It's as if everyone realizes being Dominican means being different, so why not take it up a notch and let others catch up? 

Most people who visit the Dominican Republic will stay only one day in Santo Domingo, the capital. They might venture to Santiago, 
La Romana (my choice if I could live in the Dominican Republic), or San Francisco de Macoris (not to be confused with San Pedro de Macoris), but almost all of them will use the capital city as a launchpad to more popular beach towns or resorts such as Punta Cana, Boca Chica, 
Me, when I was younger and innocent, in Boca Chica ;-)
Samaná (and El Limon waterfall), Bayahibe, 
and the lesser-known Juan Dolio. I think tourists are making a mistake bypassing Santo Domingo, and I suspect in ten years' time, the area known as the Colonial Zone aka Zona Colonial will lose its charm as more corporate and foreign investment enters, driving out locally-owned small businesses like Carmen and her Cafeteria Carmen, which doesn't have a sign because almost all her customers are regulars. 
Dominicans have the best smiles in the world.

I'll give you a quick rundown of the must-see places in Santo Domingo, and you can decide for yourself if you want to stay my recommended three days. 

Visit Kah Kow Experience, take the chocolate tour (15 USD), and add the soap-making or chocolate-making workshop. 
Is that you, Tyler Durden?

Get a cappuccino and Vietnamese salad at Mamey Libreria Cafe. 

See the Monumento Ruinas de San Francisco (not technically open as of January 2018, but still interesting). 

Go to Parque Colon, see the Columbus statue and if you're lucky, some performers. 
Go to Grand's Cafeteria y Bar and try the national dish, La Bandera, which has a rice base surprisingly similar to the Perisan tahdig. (How two totally different countries ended up with the same unique rice dish is something I'd like to know.) Grand's didn't have locrio or res/carne guisada when I visited, but you can try those dishes at the more upscale restaurants in Plaza Espana in the evening, an 18 minute walk from Grand's. 
La Bandera con concón with zapote and melon juices (sin leche).

My favorite drinks are zapote juice (without milk) and morir soñando. I do not recommend the mofongo, and I even tried it in Santiago, which is famous for it. (Note: mofongo should not be confused with sopa de mondongo, a Costa Rican soup.) 

You like baseball? It's the national sport. Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Juan Marichal all hail from the Dominican Republic. Catch a game at the local stadium, Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. 

Want an interesting-looking statue? Check out the Monumento de Fray Anton de Montestinos on the Malecon. 

Personally, my highlight was Catedral Primada de America. It's not an architectural masterpiece by any means, but how many Catholic churches have Andalusian-inspired tiles and glass-stained artwork that look like something Picasso would draw? 
So there you have it. I won't hide my bias--I'm a fan of the Dominican Republic. No other place has more color, more energy, and more friendly noise. If there's a heaven, you'll probably see Dominicans welcoming you with their beautiful smiles. For me, talvez algún dia, puedo conocer a Lola De León. Hey, nerdboys and men can dream, sí? 

Bonus: below are my favorite Junot Diaz quotes. If you haven't read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, you cannot call yourself a true bibliophile. And I'm not just saying that because I identify with Oscar. 
"Beli at thirteen believed in love like a seventy-year old widow who's been abandoned by family, husband, children, and fortune believes in God." (from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

"It would have been one thing if like some of the nerdboys I'd grown up with he hadn't cared about girls, but alas he was still the passionate enamorao who fell in love easily and deeply. He had secret loves all over town, the kind of curly-haired, big bodied girls who wouldn't have said boo to a loser like him but about whom he could not stop dreaming. His affection—that gravitational mass of love, fear, longing, desire, and lust that he directed at any and every girl in his vicinity without regard to looks, age, or availability—broke his heart each and every day." (Id.) 

‎"For the record, that summer our girl caught a cuerpazo so berserk that only a pornographer or a comic-book artist could have designed it with a clear conscience." (Id.)

Bonus: don't miss my favorite dulcería in Santo Domingo, Dulcería Maria La Turca, near Calle Mercedes and Calle Jose Reyes. Her cakes and flan are incredible. The store has been in business around 84 years. 

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