We’re in denial. We can’t quite believe that Zach, our youngest, our baby, is four. Saturday was his big day. He was, of course, very excited. He wanted Friday to go quickly, so it would be his bithday sooner.
The day started early. At around 5.30am a very excited Zach bounded into our room, presents in hand. “Can I unwrap them, Dad? Can I? Mum, Mum. MUUUM.” We were headed to Santo Domingo for the day, so needed to be up at 6am anyway, so rather than shooing him back to bed with a weary “it’s too early”, we shook ourselves awake and enjoyed sharing his excitement.
By necessity (and by choice) his presents were few and simple. A toy car set that Granny & Grandad had left (complete with fold-away play surface – a great present for travelling light – well done G&G). A new rucksack for school. Colouring pencils and play-dough. A ‘learning to read’ book. Some cards – including a lovely one that Matthew had spent most of Friday afternoon painting and glueing. (Matthew was so sweet, almost as excited as Zach himself. After Zach went to bed on Friday, he made sure that Zach’s small pile of presents and cards was neatly arranged on a chair beside Zach’s bed, so they would be the first thing he saw when he woke up).
Before I go on – huge thanks to all of you who sent cards, birthday emails and other birthday wishes. We’ll thank you all personally, but here’s a broadcast thank-you – it really means a lot to us the efforts you make while we’re so ar away.
Santo Domingo on the Big Yellow Bus
Our bus to Santo Domingo was at 8am, so the birthday morning was a blur of presents, breakfasting, dressing, tooth-brushing and shooing out of the door. We found a few moments to make fire (as Zach asked us to) on his birthday cake. We lit the four candles, sang a quick ‘Cumpleaños Feliz” (Happy Birthday) and scooted out of the house for the 15 minute walk to the bus station.
Children under 4 are free on Caribe Tours. Clearly, Zach and Katie are still three year old for the purposes of buying tickets, so Zach waited outside the bus station with me and Katie – just in case he couldnt resist telling the ticket-seller his phrase of the day: “Tengo quatro años” (I’m 4).
Two hours later and we were in Santo Domingo. A short walk later and we were on Avenid Mella – the main pedestrianised shopping street in the Zona Colonial (the old town). Al’s writing a post on the slightly disappointing shopping trip (that had a happy ending) so I won’t elaborate here.
On the walk we passed the presdential palace. Very White House, including armed (but friendly) guards and military helicopter. I can’t imaging that in America (or many other countries) you could ask the gate guard if the President is at home today, and get a polite “Si” in reply.
Lunch was the children’s choice – so of course was pizza. We found a decent-ish restaurant that served Dominican food (I had albondigas con arroz – meatballs with rice), as well as decent pizza.
Replete and recharged, we had two hours left before starting our journey home (the last bus home left at four). To continue shopping (which would have meant t taxi ride to an american-style shopping mall), or visit a child-friendly museum that Al had read about in the guide book.
El Museo Infantil Trampolin
Luckily, Al convinced us all to choose the museum. And it was splendid, even with some oddly Dominican quirks. El Museo Infantil Trampolin is situated in one of the oldest buildings in town, right next to Christopher Columbus’s castle. We went into the reception area and paid the entry fee, and then proceeded to enter the museum. “No, tienen que esperar aqui. La guía estará aquí en 5 minutos” said the receoptionist. (You must wait here. Your guide will be here in 5 minutes). We waited, and sure enough in a few minutes, Elizabeth arrived and showed us into the first room. She showed us a short video about the museum (in Spanish; we understood the context if not all the content). Then we had to say the magic words “Descubrir es divertido” (to discover is exciting), the Puerta Magico (magic door) swung open and we were in to the first exhibit hall: The Universe.
We sat on the floor, as instructed, in the dark room, and then the ceiling lit up with a thousand twinkling lights. “Las estrellas” (the stars), proclaimed Ben. Another video, on the universe, the planets, the stars, the moon, and then we were into the next room.
At this point Elizabeth handed us over to Mariele. As we were to find out, each exhibit room (there were around nen) had it’s own guide. The guides only spoke Spanish (and to our great happiness, we understood most of what they said). Most were students at the local university. All were very knowledgeable about their exhibits. All handed us over to the next guide after their short bit was completed.
The second exhibit room was the Earth. The children (except Zach, who was strangley reticent and shy) went on the earthquake machine and had a good shaking. They went inside the model earth which lit up automatically as they stepped inside.
Then it was dinosaurs. Then it was the energy room, charting the development of machines form steam powered to nuclear. Then a nature room, with all kinds of stuffed animals and local plant life. In each room we were given a short presentation by the guide, who then marched us to the next room and handed us over to the next guide. Each exhibit room was small – the Natural History Museum this wasn’t, but each was full of interesting content and exhibits – most of which we never saw as the guides sped us from one room to the next.
Each exhibition room contained many more exhibits than we got a chance to see on our whistle-stop tour. Our guides were friendly and knowledgeable but seemed perplexed when we stopped to read information or look at exhibits for ourselves. For our part, we were equally perplexed at being chaperoned (hustled, even) around a museum, where normally we would browse and read every sign and peer at every exhibit.
We all agreed that the last two rooms were the best. The Human Body and Life in the DR. The first contained cut-away models of the human body, with great descriptions of how our body works. A life-size model of a man (complete with removable willy) of course was the main attraction to the boys. Matt and Zach especially spent several minutes removing and refixing this appendage. A cut-away eye, an ovrsized model ear, a picasso-esque climbing-frame representing a face (complete with stubble covered skin that doubled as a climbing wall)
The Life in the DR exhibit included Carnaval costumes, stories from the wars of independence, and mock-ups of shops, a school and a church.
“It’s twenty-past three” I said to Al as the kids played in the shops. “We need to be getting back to the bus station”. So sadly – as we could have spent much more time in this lovely little museum, we said goodbye, collected our bags, and headed to the taxi rank to catch an exhorbitantly priced taxi to the bus station.
As it happens, this ‘fly past’ approach to our visit was just perfect. Our time was limited, so our normal slow-browse approach to museums would not have worked even had we been allowed. The kids, too, have much shorter attention spans (with the exception of Matt, who could have spent the day looking at diagrams of steam engines – and playing with willies, of course). We hope to go back – and next time if possible, take an unguided, much longer saunter around this lovely little museum.
The Bus Home
The bus left at 4pm on the dot (on schedule, very Caribe-Tours, but very un-Dominican), and arrived back in Nagua bang on the dot of 6pm. The children (even Ben) slept for most of the trip. The adults, of course – each of us with a child on our laps and another nestling against shouldew and/or leg, didn’t. After a happy day, we walked the mile or so to home from the bus station (stopping at the shoe shop on the way – see Al’s post to follow). Too tired to put the kids to bed, we let them stay up playing with Zach’s new toys until gone ten. When they had practically put themselves to bed, we fell into our own, put on the podcast of the Friday Night Comedy from Radio4 (don’t we know how to live), and promptly fell asleep to the dulcet tones of Sandi Toksvig.