Concluding the tale of our recent Roadtrip. From Jarabacoa we travelled north to Santiago de los Caballeros. Santiago is the second city of the DR. Leaving Higher Salto Jimenoa and Jarabacoa behind, the journey of 40 miles took us first back down the mountain road to the Duarte Highway, then northward..
Drivers in the DR at unbelievably impatient. Horns are honked at the slightest delay. Gaps too small to fit a bicycle are suddenly occupied by two cars. Traffic lights seem largely to be advisory, not obligatory. So driving in a big city – in the rush hour, was a scary prospect.
Night 2 (Wednesday): Hotel Colonial Deluxe
Happily the journey passed without incident. The roads were reasonably empty (possibly because it was Easter week) and the city is laid out in a clear grid-system. So some excellent navigation by Alison and all my Spider-senses focused on the road, we arrived safely at what we hoped would be our hotel for the night.
The Hotel Colonial Deluxe is very centrally located and received a good write-up from the Lonely Planet. It was to be our most expensive hotel – at £25 per room, breakfast included. The rooms had air conditioning (not used), hot water showers (much enjoyed) and TV’s (loved by the kids). Each room had a double and a single bed – so as ever and to make sure of an adult in each room, Alison & me slept in the singles with 2 children to each double.
After checking in we took a quick stroll to the local ‘Parque Duarte’ (as ever, no grass in sight, just concrete/paving and a larger central bandstand). On the way we passed – and stopped, at the local La Sirena. A supermarket. A real, proper, almost-Tesco supermarket (actually, almost-KwikSave would be nearer – we’re out of the ’70s but not quite into the 21st century yet). Bread, ham, butter, pringles, coca-cola – all that we needed for a nutritious(ish) picnic-supper.
At the park – and newly fuelled by pringles and coke, the kids played a game of ‘kick the empty plastic water bottle around the park’. Home-made fun – just can’t beat it!
Back to the hotel, but of TV, long, hot, lovely shower, bed. After a very pleasant breakfast the next day we checked out, left the car in the hotel car park, and headed out.
Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración de la República
The skyline of Santiago is dominated by the long-windedly named Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración de la República (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration of the Republic). This was originally built in 1944 by the last dictator and named “The Moument of Peace from Trujillo”, as an truly egotistical monument – complete with massive statue of him on horseback riding atop the spire. On his downfall in 1961 fall the statue was quickly torn down and replaced with a female figure, arms raised, and renamed to celebrate the founding fathers of the country and other heroes who restored the country’s independence from Spain in the War of Restoration of the 1860’s.
It is a truly impressive sight. Standing on a hill at the eastern end of downtown Santiago, it has an eight-story high base, with a spire that rises some 70 metres (229ft)
The base of the building is surrounded by statues of the many Héroes de la Restauración, including Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Gregorio Luperón, plus other statues representative of this country’s past.
The kids, as ever, found their own fun. Being bored of the monument itself with in minutes, they proceeded to play ‘roly-poly’ down the steep, grass covered banks that surrounded the monument.
Grass-stained (the kids, that is) and a bit whingy for want of foods (all of us!), we headed off to find somewhere for lunch. On the way we passed by the rather fabulous Parque Colon. This is the local monument to Christopher Columbus, complete with metal statues of his ships. The kids once again had an impromptu game of chase, so all were happy once again.
For lunch we chose the best looking ‘fast foodery’. One that contained plenty of locals is always a sure sign of decent and inexpensive grub – and several plates of chicken, rice, mangu and russian salad (!) later, we left, replete, for less than £6
Night 3 (Thursday): Hotel Colonial (Non Deluxe)
After our late lunch, sadly, the weather closed in. So we decided that rather than heading on to a new location – which would have meant driving in the pouring rain, that we’d spend a second night (our third and last of the trip) in Santiago.
The Hotel Colonial Deluxe whilst being the nicest of our hotels, was also very much the most expensive. So we opted for it’s neighbour – the Hotel Colonial (non deluxe, basic, down-market. bargain-basement). It’s in the very next building – and the two share the same staff, but the prices are very much lower (£20 for two rooms rather than £50), the rooms smaller, the TVs older (and chained to the walls).
After a TV dinner of bread, butter and jam (bought from our new favourite supermarket) we settled the kids and settled ourselves to watch …. Greys Anatomy (don’t anyone say that I don’t know how to spoil a girl….). Al loves her American TV dramas, and this one had subtitles in Spanish – so it was educational as well. At, oh, at least 9.45 it was back to our own quarters (single beds!) and off to sleep.
Day 4 (Friday): North coast and home
We set off early on Friday, headed for home along the north coast, with a plan to stop for brunch and then some beach time in our very favourite town of Cabarete.
The plan went a bit awry for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I got lost. Rather than heading north-east toward Cabarete, we ended up heading due north to Puerta Plata, which added around 40kms to the journey. Still, we were in Cabarete by 11am.
The second problem was none of our making. On the drive to Cabarete we had noticed many flag waving, orange t-shirt wearing members of the Civil Guard. This purely civilian outfit is dedicated to the safety of Dominicans and had clearly decided that this being Good Friday – which in the DR involves a lot of Rum, that their presence was needed. As we crawled through Cabarete town looking for a parking space, we were stopped and admonished by the Civil Guard for having Zach sitting on the front seat with Alison. (It’s no excuse, but as we were being chastised and made to put Zach, without seatbelt, into the rear of the car, we were overtaken by a motorbike carrying 3 people, and then undertaken by one carrying four, including a babe-in-arms).
Parking space found, brunch demolished, we headed for the beach. Oh, Cabarete beach, our favourite of them all. But sadly, not today. The beach was being patrolled by the Civil Guard (carrying flags and blowing whistles), the Police (shouting and carrying guns) and the Army (not talking but carrying big guns). Their main intent seemed to be to keep everyone out of the water.
“La Marea” (the tide), we were told when we asked why the water was off-limits. “But we’ve swum in this water many times before” we replied and continued spashing. “Fuera” (out) commanded a man in uniform carrying a big gun. So out we got. Quickly.
Cabarete beach was packed with Dominicans enjoying Good Friday, and it’s fair to say that they were the main object of the anti-fun brigade. Also judging by the number of rum and bottles on the beach, many were enjoying their day-off most wholeheartedly – so keeping them out of the water was probably a sensible move. But, in this land of do-as-you-please, where rules are for the weak and the gringos, were were left disappointed that by this sudden outbreak of crowd-control that meant we left the beach early (and moreover, dry), to start the last leg back to Nagua.
Two hours later – and with time left to give the car a quick once-over with a brush before returning it to the hire company, we were back in Nagua. There’s always something strangely comforting about a homecoming (even to a temporary home), and we still had the weekend to enjoy before it was back to school on Monday, so spirits were back up.
Our Road Trip had taken in 400 miles of great scenery, at elevations from below sea-level to 1600 metres. We had ventured without booking hotels – and trusted to our increasing knowledge of this country (and to our guide books) that we would be able to find cheap hotels. We increasingly eat what and where the locals eat. And we’d even squeezed in an hour at the beach. Not bad, really. Not bad at all.