Posted by: stacylynn12 | November 13, 2011

Por que?

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Arriving in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Por que in Spanish means Why? Not to be confused with porque which means Because. There’s supposed to be a little accent over the “e” in por que but I can’t figure out how to make my keyboard do that.

Lots of people have asked us why we chose the Dominican Republic. I guess it’s not as obvious a tropical destination as say… The Virgin Islands or Hawaii but apparently the DR benefits from more tourism than any other Latin American country. I find this hard to believe but hey, I read it on the internet so it must be true.

The answer of why we chose to come here is simple though it took us two months to figure it out ourselves. To get started I plugged about 15 destinations that interested us into Kayak.com to look at the cost of airline tickets. Everything from Bali to Bermuda. The flights to Santo Domingo were by far and away the least expensive. We paid $175 per ticket (one way). An extreme bargain I think as I hear the prices have since sky rocketed. On our backpacker’s budget, cost is a key factor in choosing destinations.

The cost of travel in the DR is relatively inexpensive as well. For example we are paying $33 US a night for our sweet little casa at La Isleta. It’s a 5 min walk to a nice beach, we get drinking water supplied, cleaning every other day if we want and the owner Dominique is a helpful local french expat (who thankfully speaks english) that lends snorkeling gear and can arrange trips to nearby beaches. It’s not perfect… the hot water doesn’t always work, you can’t leave even a speck of food on the counter or an army of ants invades and sometimes the toilet doesn’t flush but that’s all part of the appeal. I know, it’s weird.

Have a looksie…

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The view from our upstairs bedroom – not bad!

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Looking in from the front door.

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The sitting area. This transforms into the boys sleeping area at night.

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The upstairs bedroom.

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The outdoor dining area. We spend a lot of time here as it doubles as our classroom, coffee nook, reading area etc…

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El baño (I figured out the Spanish keyboard!)

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La cocina

It’s a nice enough place to pass a couple of weeks.

Now back to why we chose to come here. In addition to the monetary reasons the Dominican Republic met several other criteria. First, it’s warm and sunny. After a cold, wet Seattle winter that morphed into a cold, wet spring followed immediately by a summer in Alaska, I was ready for some sunshine and heat. We have definitely found both here. For these 4 lily white gringos, it’s almost too hot. I’m not complaining. I’m actually quite thrilled as I was worried our children would have a very difficult time tolerating the heat. In Alaska a 70 degree day prompted a ridiculous amount of whining and complaining. Instead they have done remarkably well. On any given day the temperature vacillates frequently between unbearably hot and humid and almost pleasantly cool. It has rained almost every day. A fabulous downpour where the heavens open up and gift the earth with a long, deep drink. Then the sun returns and sends us in search of shade. Unlike in Alaska, the clouds are actually a blessing here. They inch the temperature closer to the tolerable end of the scale.

Wearing as little as possible helps with the heat as does swimming at the beach and regular visits to the corner shop for fresh juice. Chinola (passion fruit) and Fruit Ponch (a blend of mango, chinola, pineapple and a few more) are favorites.

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Look out Jamie Oliver, there’s a new Naked Chef in town!

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Josh enjoys a jugo fresco (fresh juice).

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Future surfer dude.

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Bodhi finds a treasure from the sea.

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Fun!

The Dominican Republic is, as you probably know, a Spanish speaking country. I began studying Spanish a few years ago but my progress has been slow. Adding two children to our family cut into my “leisure” time and I found myself with little time or mental energy to continue studying. When we began planning this trip I hoped we would be able to spend some time in Latin America so that I might dabble in the Spanish language again. It is the perfect place. There is some English spoken but by and large people speak Spanish exclusively. This is good for my language practice though it also contributes to frustration, miscommunication and exhaustion. Having to work so hard to express one’s self is mentally taxing. I’m currently looking into language schools to arrange for a week or two of classes and looking forward to having someone help me unscramble my sentences.

Another plus for the DR is, as they say, the national religion. No, I’m not talking about Catholicism though 95 % of the people here identify as Catholics. The other more rowdy religion (though give those Catholics some wine and they just might compete) is baseball. Many major league athletes in the US and Canada hail from the Dominican Republic and here they are worshiped… just not at Mass on Sundays. As it turns out, we’ve arrived just in time for the “liga de invierno” (winter league) season which runs from October to January. There are 6 professional teams here and since my boys all enjoy a trip to “the ol ball game” you can bet we’ll be at one or two. The language of fanatical fans is the the same in any country.

There are mountains here in addition to many the wonderful beaches. In fact, Pico Duarte at 3,087 meters is the highest mountain in the Caribbean. There are 4 significant mountain ranges in the country and the biodiversity is exceptional. We are looking forward to getting to the countryside and doing some hiking. Hopefully it is a bit cooler there as the idea of physical exertion in these temperatures is less than appealing.

Perhaps above all, the reason I wanted to come to the Dominican Republic is because it is a Developing Country. Now this term, Developing Country, is worth a post in and of itself. It replaces the formerly used term “3rd World Country” but is really no less controversial. Criticism emerges because the term “developing” infers inferiority and also an assumption that the nation in question has a desire to develop according to a traditional Western model of development. A quick Internet search pulls up a (I think) decent Wikipedia entry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Developing_country

Additionally there is no internationally recognized definition for the term. Common indicators cited by such entities as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank include per capita income, GDP (Gross Domestic Product), life expectancy, literacy rates, quality and availability of health care, infrastructure, rates of poverty, export diversification, government stability and more. There is a tremendous amount of statistical analysis of these indicators to determine where a country falls on the worldwide development scale.

Though I understand and agree with the criticism I don’t have a better term to use. And, few would argue that many of these indicators present distinct and unique challenges to the people who live in developing countries. The danger I see is when we – and by we I mean the collective developed global community – assume that developing countries wish to be more like us.

(For a UN list of developed countries see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Developed_country)

As a US Citizen I enjoy many freedoms and privileges. I have an extremely high standard of living despite my position in middle class. I have access to some of the best health care on the planet, I can turn on my tap and drink the water. I don’t run out of hot water (well let me take that one back… I live with Randy, king of the long hot shower.). Education, sanitation and infrastructure are all present in highly developed systems.

Please don’t get me wrong, I know these are all good things. I also think that some of what we have comes at a cost. The list of problems in the US is too long to list here, not many people from the US would argue that we live in a utopia and that’s not really the point anyway. The point is that I don’t think all aspects of our way of life are superior or even desirable.

I enjoy traveling in less developed nations in spite of the challenges associated with it. It’s an opportunity to explore other cultures and to scratch beneath the surface a bit. It’s very easy to pass quick judgements. We all do it all the time. Some of the more egregious and widespread judgements are for example… “those people are poor because they are lazy” or “if they just worked harder they wouldn’t be so poor”.

The list of reasons as to why poverty exists is multi layered, complex, not easily understood or widely talked about. There is no doubt that most of the people I have met here in the Dominican Republic are poor, at least in economic terms. I’ve seen some crazy things here as well that would blow the minds of many in the US and I’ll share more about that in another post… Until then, suffice to say…

“Una mente que se estira por una nueva experiencia nunca volverá a sus dimensiones previas.”

(A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”)

– Oliver Wendall Holmes
– translated by Tia Kelly

You ask… ¿Por qué? (why?)
I say… ¿Por qué no? (why not?)

Here are a few more images from our short stay in Santo Domingo and the first few days in Las Galeras… a small town on the Samana peninsula in the north east corner of the country. (See our Google map). We’ve been here for almost two weeks now and will likely stay another week.

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Our Hotel, the Hotel Palacio, in the Zona Colonial – the oldest and most historic section of the city.

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The Hotel Palacio, definitely a splurge for these backpackers but we wanted to arrive in style!

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A Santo Domingo street vender selling beautiful artwork in both a modern style and a Taíno style (the now extinct indigenous people from the DR).

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Bodhi catches a gecko…the kid has got something with animals cause these things are ridiculously fast.

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Joshua finds a coral treasure.

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Building sand castles.

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The guys and their fortress.

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Prepping young coconuts for drinking with a machete. (Less mature coconuts are called drinking coconuts and are filled with water. More mature coconuts are smaller, and contain less water and more coconut meat.)

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Bodhi enjoys his drinking coconut.

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Fresh fish, tostones (fried plantains) and eggplant all prepared in a tiny shack at Playita (little beach). This meal also came with a large serving of arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans).

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The chef having a siesta after cooking our meal.

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The restaurant at Playita.

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A beautiful day at Playita.

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Unique fence posts. Portions of these trees are cut and planted in the fence row where they begin to grow again forming a living fence.

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To market, to market to buy a fat pig…

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This fella comes by our place regularly with everything from conch shells to fish for sale.

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Here he wanted to sell us a piece of this huge squid (I think). Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do with it, so we passed on this local delight.

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Responses

  1. Wonderful Stacy! Wish we could join you…alas the tickets are outrageous. The boys are growing and changing fast so we really love and appreciate seeing regular pictures of them. Can’t wait to hear more.
    Instead of going tropical, we are going to the NC mountains with a few friends. Quiet weekend in the woods….lots of turkey and beer. Love you all. Big smooches.
    Aunt Jen

  2. ¿Por qué no? Seems like a good enough “reason” to buy tickets for Christmas 2011 in COSTA RICA BABY!!!!!! See you there!
    p.s. Thanks for another great blog post… I have to admit that seeing pics of the boys growing up so quickly (where are Bodhi’s front teeth?!?!?) may have been the final straw in sucking it up and purchasing those tickets. Can’t wait to spend some time with you four!!

  3. Another wonderful post. Thanks. Will be thinking about the sea, sun and tropical weather while we are in New England for Thanksgiving. Ditto on the Seattle weather. Your peddlar looks like he could play shortstop for the Red Sox.


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