Santo Domingo: traffic chaos and the Dominican passion
January 1, 1970
by Anja Johnny
HISPAÑOLA AND SANTO DOMINGO
For all of you who are not completely sure what or where that is; Santo Domingo is in the capital of the second biggest island in the Caribbean, right after Cuba. The island is now officially called Hispañola, due to Peter Martyr d’Anghiera (with his apparently bad Spanish thinking it means ‘small Spain’) who changed its name from La Española – as Christopher Columbus named it in 1492. Dominican Republic is sharing the island with Haiti and as most of neighboring countries they are not precisely fond of each other.
This beautifully chaotic Dominican Republic and it’s Santo Domingo is one of the oldest inhabited European settlement in the Americas – as you might have guessed, yes, it was colonized by the Spanish. And OH MY GOD, what a history and passion it has.
ARRIVING TO SANTO DOMINGO
When you arrive to Santo Domingo, driving from the airport, you can already see the city’s passion as the view on your left. The high road takes you along the sea shore the entire way to the city. There are huge rocks, almost like cliffs with normally emerald blue ocean water (that is of course if there were no hurricanes). You can see the passion of the waves hitting the rocks and the water foaming, not to mention the pretty tall palm trees and coconut trees along the road reminding you just arrived to paradise.
Since this is the Caribbean side of the island, the rain comes rarely (that is of course if there were no hurricanes) and we constantly have sunny, hot days. You can see the city with tall buildings getting closer, and when you finally reach the edge of the city, well, the enthusiasm dies a bit. You end up on a road that makes NO SENSE whatsoever, there are like 5 or six lanes, but you couldn’t be really sure, since there are NO lines drawn on the road. Yes, I advise you to get a taxi driver while you are staying here; it will save you some of the stress in the traffic chaos.
The enthusiasm returns for a while when you reach Juan Bosch bridge. Huge construction that divides the city into 2 parts: the fancy part (over the bridge) and the less fancy part (viz. ‘poor part’ before crossing the bridge). The bridge is truly lovely, as long as you are not trying to cross it in rush hours; that is in the morning around 8am and in the afternoons around 5pm. Just as you cross the Ozama River you should immediately go to your left. That’s where the true magic lies. COLONIAL ZONE. Officially declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. If you ask me, without it, the city just wouldn’t be worth seeing much.
COLONIAL ZONE AND GRINGOS
All the historical monuments, narrow streets, authentic shopping, amazing bars and astonishing buildings, really bring magic to the city. This is also known as ‘the foreigners’ area’, where you see the biggest percentage of ‘gringos’ in the city.
GRINGO is an old expression that was given to all Americans on the island as in those days they were dressed in green army uniforms and the locals only learned how to send them home saying: “Green go!” This turned into Spanglish expression GRINGO and is now generalized for ALL WHITE PEOPLE. I am from Europe, so sometimes I get offended when they call me GRINGA but at least they give me a chance for a short history lesson on the word. So now they basically changed my nickname to RUBIA (‘Blondie’ – FYI My hair were red in between but they still called me that, so I guess it has something to do with the color of my skin too 🙂 ) which is a bit more expectable.
COLONIAL ZONE is definitely the safest place for a tourist to be, even though Santo Domingo isn’t even in the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world, so don’t worry. The main street, called El Conde, has nice bars and restaurants and amazingly reasonable market places for all your souvenirs. You can get anything from a nice larimar jewelry sets to abstract paintings and wooden statues. The shopping is advised especially if you come in later afternoon hours when the bars all around turn into the best hanging spots in town, many with lively passionate Dominican music. And only then is when you learn what Dominican true passion is all about. But nonetheless, the real city chaos here is reduced to a minimum.
DOMINICANOS AND TRAFFIC
If you haven’t completely gotten the idea yet, yes, Santo Domingo is a huge chaos filled with waiting-to-explode passionate people. Please, don’t get me wrong, I LOOOOOVE the people here, but they have no idea what PATIENCE means.
So as you know, streets rarely have lines on them, and if they do, who cares, nobody really pays attention to them. It’s all about: Who’s got bigger guts. If you have a big car, no patience, and you’re guts-y you just drive, praying everybody else will stop. Most of the times it works, but occasionally it doesn’t, therefore Santo Domingo has bunch of daily crashes and not to mention traffic JAMS. Rush hour here is horrible! It can take you 1 hour to drive 2 blocks that you could walk in probably less than 15 minutes. Yes, most of the time you are better off on your feet (not minding public transportation) or like me, living in the ‘poor part of the city’, before crossing the Juan Bosch bridge, where the traffic is comparably low.
Here, I have to explain that this ‘poor part of the city’ was marked due to many Dominicans who were deported from the States and are now living in this part, who, in my opinion, just know better: I would never be crazy enough to live on the other side and have to deal with the traffic they deal daily.
So chaos on the streets is a daily routine in most of the parts of Santo Domingo. Nobody obeys the ‘normal’ driving rules, neither do the policeman. When they have a check point and see me, Rubia, driving in my huge Tundra truck, they just let me go, always! If my boyfriend is driving (Dominican), they stop us but basically just to ask us for some ‘goodies’ and then let us go in a jiff. No papers, nothing. Well, they have to make money somehow!
I hope by now you can imagine what all the Dominican passion has to do with traffic jams. Most of the people wouldn’t survive a day without screaming at least one bad word to some random person on the road that is driving poorly – not that they are driving any better. When it comes to real traffic accidents, they love the attention of everybody observing, the free will of voicing their feelings towards strangers and passion of expressing the entire vocabulary of curse words they have learned.
Yes, Dominicans love to argue. The passion for noise is on every step; loud honking traffic, loud screaming strangers, loud music on each corner and even loud discussing friends. But this passion comes with its perks too. When it comes to music and dancing everything is leveled out.
The sensual sounds of bachata, merenge and salsa you can hear coming from each colmado (bodega). When it comes to music and dancing everything falls into place. There is NO person in this country that doesn’t dance at least one of these dances, and most of them do it with such indescribable passion you forget all the other less joyful things. I wouldn’t want to imagine a passionate country like this without its music. Dancing is just another way, better way, to get all the passion out of their system.