Santo Domingo, of sun & rain

Friday 20 to Monday 23 February

We arrived in the Dominican Republic at 3am local time. By this time we had been en route for 29 hours, with a 12 hour layover in Frankfurt.

After a sleep in we found a local coffee shop and started to get the feel of our first country in Central America.

It was warm, as expected. And humid, as expected.

As we enjoyed breakfast on the street, scores of school children passed by. They were all sizes, from little kinder kids to senior students.

At the same time a street entertainer dressed as Michael Jackson, set up outside the coffee shop. Children from different groups scrounged enough money together to pay for a performance. The younger kids were bemused, the middle aged group were highly entertained and the older school children were amused by his short performance.

The school children were bright and lively, and like our time in Tonga, asked us to take their photos. Many didn’t even want to see their photos, just posing for us was enough.

The pedestrian street El Conde has the Parque Independence at one end and the Parque Colon (Columbus) at the other end. This appeared to be the focus of their excursion – to celebrate the independence from Spain in 1844.

“In 1838 Juan Pablo Duarte, an educated nationalist, founded a resistance movement called La Trinitaria (“The Trinity”) along with Matías Ramón Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez.”

They proclaimed independence on February 27, 1844,

So it turns out that the children were visiting the mausoleum in memory of the fathers of the Dominican Republic.

The Republic was short lived but the nationalism was born.

As we visited the mausoleum school children stopped us asking to take their photos. The young cheeky boys wanted money however the older stylish groups simply wanted to pose for us and were barely interested in the results. We laughed as we remembered similar situations particularly in Tonga and in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

A wily old man insisted he show us the inner sanctums of the mausoleum and took us up some stairs for a view at the top. There was a mural of a gilded mosaic map of the country, leaving Haiti in the west looking rather dull. Of course he was then forced to hurry us along, and then ask for a fee for the privilege. I don’t think it was a government coffer that we were contributing to.

From there we took a walk down Padre Billini street, where the Iglesias Regina Angelorum and Convento de los Dominicos are located.

A turn into Las Damas and we were in front of Forteza Ozama. After consideration of the grey clouds above us we decided to make the most of the fort while the weather was dry. We had a spectacular view over an unspectacular river, at least we were able to appreciate the first permanent structure built by the Spaniards in the Americas in 1503. It was also the initial residence of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego and his wife when they took up residence in 1509.

We beat the rain back to the hotel and emerged to eat when the air had dried.

The next day we took a walk down to the Alcázar de Colon, the official residence of Diego Columbus as governor of Hispaniola.

We stopped by the Panteón de la Patria, a former Jesuit convent, it is now the resting place for many heroes of the Dominican Republic and a place of pilgrimage for the Dominicans.

Diego Columbus’ house displayed an excellent collection of furniture and life style from the early 16th century.

After a stop for lunch and a review of the outside of the Catedral Primada de America in the Main square, we headed down to the Malecon with a view to walk part of it. As we were examining the statue of Fray Antón de Montesinos the skies turned black and with some quick thinking we took shelter under a portico nearby, while a deluge enveloped the streets.

Fray Antón de Montesinos was a champion for rights of indigenous and poor people and his statue is massive, overlooking the river mouth.

As the sky cleared we made a quick dash to the Catedral Primada de América, only to be hit by a second deluge.

I am not sure if Bruce has spent so much time in a cathedral. Certainly inspiration for photos ran out long before the rain stopped and we were forced to stay sheltered there until closing time. And ‘no’ we were not converted during our elongated stay.

Fortunately, next day we hired a car, and could lay our wet clothes and shoes out to dry.