Christmas in the Caribbean

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, January 9, 2019

by Frank A. Davis

With the exception of 1978 when I was in the Air Force and stationed at Cam Rahn Bay Air Force Base in Vietnam, I have always spent the Christmas holiday at home. However, Christmas 2018 changed that pattern. My wife Almeta and I started to think about during something different. We both agreed that it was time for another road trip.

After some investigation, it was agreed we would go back to the Caribbean. Further research narrowed it to the Dominican Republic. Looking at the options for the island, there were two major choices, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. Punta Cana was very well known, listed as the most expensive and arguably most beautiful of our choices. Therefore, always being the adventurers that we are, the Davis’ selection was to visit Santo Domingo’s not so well-known Boca Chica.

Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and is noted to be one of the Caribbean’s oldest cities. With a population of 3,658,648, it is one of the most populous metropolitan cities of the West Indies. The island was first explored by the Christopher Columbus on his first voyage in 1492.

For this trip, we chose to fly out of the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport. Traveling on the weekend before Christmas and bad weather conditions we were fated with cancelled and over-booked flights.

The first leg of our flight was delayed one hour going to Charlotte, North Carolina. Arriving in Charlotte we were advised to run through the airport like OJ [Simpson] to our next connection. Unfortunately, our sprint did not pay off, they had just closed the doors as we arrived. We were placed on standby for our next stop to Miami, Florida. We made that flight by the slimiest of margins being the very last to board the plane. Arriving in Miami, we had a longer time layover to get to the next plane for the 2.5 hour ride to Santo Domingo.

Arriving around 10 p.m., we soon discovered that our luggage was nowhere to be found and airport staff advised us that it would be delivered until the next day. After clearing customs we found our ground transportation to our resort.

A keynote for this trip. Although many could speak some English, the majority of people we came in contact with only spoke Spanish. Having learned from our trip to Paris, we were prepared. Almeta had tried a new app for translating languages by downloading the Google Translator app, that worked just great.

After checking in and finding our room, we quickly observed that the accommodations that we saw online did not equal to what we were seeing up close and in person. To make a long story short, it took much negotiation between the hotel customer services representative and us to finally get a room that to some degree met our satisfaction.

The grounds on the resort were beautiful, the weather warm and sunny, the room OK but no luggage. After considerable investigation and many calls, our luggage was located and delivered to the resort later on the next day. The luggage was sealed with a ziplock by the airlines. However, after opening both bags, we discovered that someone somewhere had gone into our luggage. Almeta was missing a very expensive hair-curling set, and for me, my personal hygiene bag that had things for shaving, deodorant and contact lens were also taken.

Moving on, it was time to look at travel packages. The resort travel services made me an offer for a private driver to tour Santo Domingo. Jumping quickly on this we were off for a day tour. Our driver was given the key locations to take us. Our first stop was a mall in downtown Santo Domingo to replace some of the items stolen from our bags. The mall, very similar to ones of the U.S., was packed with people looking for deals before Christmas.

Moving on, our next stop was the National Palace. Noted as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, it houses the offices of the executive branch of the presidency and vice presidency.

Continuing to our next stop and now having a tour guide on a walking tour was the Ozama Fortress of Santo Domingo. This was built in 1502 by the Spanish at the entrance of the Santo Domingo’s Ciudad Colonial and overlooking the Ozama River. This coral stone building presents a shape of a European medieval castle and its main objective was to protect the city from the attacks of English, French and Portuguese pirates and invaders.

We saw the Alcazar de Colon or Columbus Alcazar that was built by Diego Colon, the son of Christopher Columbus as a family home and governor’s mansion. It now serves as a museum. Continuing on our walking tour we saw the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic, built from 1714-1746 was originally a Jesuit Church. Today, this chapel serves as the final resting place for military heroes of the D.R. Similar to our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it is guarded 24 hours of the day.

Our last stop was the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor in the Colonial zone of Santo Domingo. This is dedicated to St. Mary of the Incarnation. It is the oldest cathedral in the Americas; construction began in 1512 and was completed in 1540.

A wide-angle view of the many small and colorful streets in the downtown district crowded with people shopping and touring reminded the both of us of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Our next major trip was a group tour on a small bus that carried us out into the countryside. The first stop was a sugar cane farm. A farm representative using a machete cut a stalk of a plant into pieces after which portions were given to each person for tasting. Back on the bus we continued to the small city of Bayaguna where we visited a person who rolled cigars for sale. Next we walked the streets of the city and through the market place where many people were buying many food items. Many of the vendors were open market without refrigeration for any food, and that included meats. Back on the bus, our trip director speaking mainly in Spanish, but also using English for Almeta and I, pointing out many U.S. baseball team training camp locations in the country. He also give much information about the sites and other information of interest.

We visited the Salto Alto waterfall high in the mountains. Quite a few members of our tour took the opportunity to swim in the pristine waters and do some rock diving.

Lunch was the next stop where we all enjoyed a diverse selection of food prepared with the local flair. Additionally, something that is different from most tours in the U.S. where your are offered water or a soft drink, our tour guide started off with water, then beer and finally progressed to rum as their refreshing drink offers.

The last stop of the trip was to a small private farm where the farmer and six other family members lived in a small farmhouse. They grew coconuts, cocoa beans, passion fruit, oranges, avocados, bananas, coffee and vanilla beans. Many of the named items they cut directly from the tree and gave samples for tasting. The farmers at the end of the tour had many of the aforementioned items for sale.

Our stay at the resort was all-inclusive. They provided a wide variety of foods. People staying at this resort came from many countries and the food selection addressed this as well. Many of the items I did have not a clue as to what they were, but we ate well and enjoyed the food. Each night the resort offered entertainment and one of the most memorable nights they presented a performance of the “Nutcracker.” I believe we only ran into two Americans on this trip. The resort staff was most helpful, friendly and always wanting to talk using the Google translator app.

Our flight back went as scheduled through Atlanta and back to Newport News/Williamsburg Airport.

As always, we are thankful to God for safe travel to and from the D.R. In conclusion, we both enjoyed the trip. We again add, we are most thankful and blessed that we live in America but more so, that we live in the great city of Franklin, Virginia.