Wednesday, 2020 March 18

We were up very early for the Santo Domingo tour - I think I woke up about 0530, and Krista had set an alarm for 0600. We once again ordered room service (just a light breakfast), and managed to be up at the lobby right at 0715 as requested - only to have the van and driver not show up until 0730 sharp. I suspect they do this on purpose and it's probably overall good, but it's a bit of a nuisance for people like Krista and I who are always punctual.

While we were waiting, I swung by the front desk to ask for more pillows as well as to report that one of our toilets was clogged up.

We headed towards highway 3 after the van picked us up; this would take us directly to Santo Domingo. However, instead of getting on the highway when we reached it we headed north, which seemed weird. A few minutes later the driver dropped us off at a bus depot and we transferred onto a very nice Volvo touring bus. I was doubly happy - the bus was much more comfortable than the van, and the van's driver seemed to think he was Mario Andretti. The bus driver (Eric Gonzalez), on the other hand, drove like a true professional (he said he had fifteen years experience and I believe it).

It looked like there were about ten or twelve of us on the bus. It left the depot promptly at 0800 and we were on our way. The tour guide (Rosario - one of his family names, he said that's the easiest way for English-speakers to refer to him) started giving all of the information in both English and Spanish, but after about a half-hour he asked and discovered that everyone spoke good English so he dropped the Spanish explanations. (We later found out that one of the passengers, who had had his earphones in and had missed the question, did not speak English. After that discovery the tour guide went back to doing everything bilingually.)

Like the true Hamacher that I am, I spent the entire two-plus-hour trip staring out the window taking in the countryside. Some observations from the first leg of the trip:

There was ongoing conversation in the back of the bus about new restrictions that had been put in place by the president of the Dominican Republic; points I overheard included "all tours canceled" and "borders being closed". Needless to say this made me nervous, but I was unable to find any details online at the time. I managed to put it into the back of my mind and resolved to enjoy the day.

Once we reached Boca Chica we got off the highway so we could pick up two additional tour members. My opinion of Eric's skill (the bus driver) got even higher after watching him navigate the full-size tour bus through the narrow, crazy-busy small streets of this town. Luckily it was probably only a kilometer or two each way from the pickup spot to the highway; we were soon on our way again.

The tour proper started at the Three Eyes cave complex just outside of Santo Domingo. We were able to descend (the stairs are steep and treacherous; Krista was not a happy camper about navigating them, but she made it through safely). It was beautiful and I personally would have liked to have more time to just check it out, but Rosario hustled us through (this was a recurring theme; everything about this tour seemed rushed).

We had to exit through the "gift shop", which had some of the pushiest vendors I've ever seen. Krista, being a nice person, was almost overwhelmed. Finally she asked me to get us out of there and, so I just barged through. (I don't know why a "no" from me seems so much more effective than it does from her, but that's one skill that I'm happy to have.)

Eric hadn't left the bus running so it was very hot; we sat on it for a few minutes feeling miserable before someone else asked him to turn on the A/C. That helped, but I wish he had left it on the whole time.

We watched one of our fellow passengers being pestered by a vendor all the way out into the parking lot.

Once we left the caves we drove into Santo Domingo proper. On the way we went by a guy wearing a #90 Detroit Lions jersey.

We drove by a couple monuments on our way to the old town:

Eric dropped us off right outside the historical center of Santo Domingo, right in front of the Ferries del Caribe terminal. We climbed some steps, emerging onto Calle el Conde, and a short block later we were standing on Calle las Damas - the oldest street in the Americas.

From there we walked a couple blocks to Basilica Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas. We all picked up audio guides and Rosario handed us off to a tour guide from the cathedral. We were clearly on a tight timeline - a recurring theme for this day - so he guided us through about ten of the twelve side chapels, and we were done.

We exited the cathedral into the adjacent Parque Colon, complete with a statue of Columbus with a topless native woman staring adoringly at him.

This square, and Santo Domingo in general, seemed to be full of semi-stray dogs. In general they had collars on, but they seemed to pretty much roam at will. They were all friendly, though.

Next on the walking tour, about three or four blocks away, was the Pantheon of the Fatherland. This building was originally built as a Jesuit church but is now used as a mausoleum.

Leaving there we continued north, passing by the Museum of the Royal Houses and the adjacent sundial ("Reloj de Sol"), conveniently located so judges could see the time from their chambers. There were also some modern sculptures in the adjacent square.

We stopped next in the almost-completely-deserted Plaza de la Hispanidad.

Next was lunch, at Restaurante Atarazana, down a street right off of the square. Lunch was served buffet style, upstairs in a private room. The food was uniformly good; I tried a bit of everything and thought the real standout dish was some sort of braised pork chunk which was fall-apart tender, but which had then been crisped up. I'd love to know how to duplicate that.

At our table, we sat with a couple from Kansas who were originally from Chihuahua Mexico. We also sat with a man from San Francisco. The Kansas couple (we never exchanged first names) had been to Portland, so we all had some sort of Pacific Northwest connection.

After leaving the restaurant, we walked back to the square to the Alcazar de Colon, which had been the home of Diego Columbus (Christopher's first-born son). Normally we would have entered this building, but due to the current restrictions we had to content ourselves with some pictures of the exterior.

After this, we entered the shopping portion of the tour. We first stopped at a shop where we were taken into the back room and theoretically shown how they make jewelry from larimar, jade, and black coral. In reality we spent about two minutes in the back room, then we were forced out into the shop proper where the staff aggressively tried to get people to buy stuff. Krista and I just walked outside, as did about half of the group.

A short walk later we were at another shop; this one sold a bit of everything touristy, and included a small drink counter. Rosario announced that we were on the two main shopping streets and had an hour of free time. Krista and I walked a few blocks down the one street; between the pushy street vendors and the never-ending sea of identical tourist shops, we were very unimpressed. We turned around and went back to the meeting point. I drank a couple beers while we were waiting, and Krista had a soda.

One of the vendors on the street was a Tigers fan, of course, but he had actually been at the Tigers-Twins game that had been played in the D.R. earlier in the year (or so he claimed).

Once everyone had gathered, we walked back to the bus (which was parked in the same spot, in front of the ferry terminal). We went by a few more items of note on our way out of town; I took a few quick pictures with my phone, but didn't really catch any of the names.

We also passed by the naval academy; I don't know why I was surprised that an island nation has a navy, but it looked to be a sizeable facility.

The ride back was uneventful, basically the opposite of the ride there. We stopped once again in Boca Chica to drop off the couple we had picked up there. We also stopped along the side of the road at an exit ramp maybe fifteen minutes outside of Punta Cana so Rosario could get off; I assumed someone was picking him up or he was taking local transportation to get home. I and several other people tipped him.

Once we reached Punta Cana we actually went past the bus depot we had started from that morning; this seemed odd, but at this point I was learning to not question their methodologies. We stopped about five or ten minutes later at a smaller bus depot. (We actually entered this from a back entrance, an unmarked unpaved lane right off the highway; Krista joked that she thought we were going to the ax-murdering spot. She watches too many horror movies.)

One final van ride later (this time our driver was much less aggressive), we were back at Sanctuary. It started raining on the drive and was pouring down when we got dropped off. There's a large canopy so we were able to get into the lobby dry, but we decided to camp out in the Love Bar rather than making a run for our villa.

I of course ordered a beer and we sat there watching it rain. A bride and groom soon came in; once we started looking we realized that there was a bar cart set up out on the veranda. Apparently their wedding reception was being rained out, unfortunately. Luckily the rain slackened in about fifteen or twenty minutes and as soon as that happened someone (probably the most junior member of the staff) was sent out with a giant squeegee to start brushing water off of the veranda. Hopefully the reception was able to continue.

We headed back to our villa as soon as the rain stopped. We found that housekeeping and maintenance had both been here, so we had the extra pillows we requested and both toilets were working again. Krista took a video of the room to send to her Mom while I chugged water in an attempt to rehydrate; today had been brutal on me in terms of liquid intake.

We both felt absolutely grimy from all of the travel and walking so we took showers, ordered room service, and settled in to relax for the night.

And then the phone rang. I answered it and was informed that the resort was shutting down on March 21, due to the borders shutting down, and Krista and I had to be out by then. This was not what I was expecting to deal with at this point in the day, but there didn't seem to be any way out of it.

We immediately grabbed my laptop and started looking at changing our flights. We couldn't leave on the 19th or 20th, but Delta did have seats available on the 21st. We booked those (hilariously, they ended up being cheaper than our original flights, so we now have an ecredit with Delta).

That done, we walked up and confirmed with the front desk that we'd be leaving on the 21st. We should be able to get a refund from Costco for the five nights we won't be able to stay, but we'll deal with that when we get back to the US and our phones work. Claudio should be around tomorrow so we can see about refunds on the other two tours we had booked.

This done, we headed back to the villa and tried to relax. I did eventually fall asleep; I think it helped that I was thoroughly exhausted.

Tuesday, 2020 March 17 Thursday, 2020 March 19