Things I Learned In The Dominican Republic

If you saw my post “Vacation”, you know I was out of the country last week in the Dominican Republic. One of the companies that we own interest in, had the annual stockholders meeting down there. Since this blog is about learning new things as well as critical thinking, I wrote the following piece while I was there. Enjoy 🙂

* The kids you see running around during the day are orphans. They shine shoes and sell fruit to make money so they can eat.

* Street kids sniffing paint thinner is a big problem down there so don’t just give the street kids money. Make them do something to earn it. That way they learn that if they work, they get paid.

* Give what you can but don’t be afraid to say “ No dinero”. Yes, it’s heartbreaking but you can’t save everyone. We do what we can and hope that it helps make life better for some.

* Even if you don’t think your shoes need shined or they’re the wrong kind of shoes, get them shined or cleaned anyway. It’s $3.

* If you’re eating at a sidewalk café and you have leftovers, GIVE them to a street kid. You’ll have a fan club for your entire stay. Yesterday after I fed one of the kids and got my shoes shined, he came back later and brought me a flower for my hair. It’s a memory I’ll always treasure.

* Langostina and camarones in ajo mantequilla while sitting on the beach is an experience everyone should have once in their lives. Yes I’m going to make you look it up.

* Which brings us to the next thing: Learn un poco Espanola.

* Presidente, while not an excellent beer (cerveza), is a good one. It is brewed right there in the Dominican Republic.

* My favorite new saying at a bar is “Uno mas por favor”.

* Even those in abject poverty in the US have a higher standard of living than many of the local people in Sosua.

* Don’t be afraid. If someone approaches you with something to sell and you’re not interested, they accept “No, gracias” and go on their way. It is EXTREMELY rare for a gringo to get hurt or attacked there. Unless of course you don’t use common sense.

* Go out at night with a group. It’s SO much fun. Plus, whatever Spanish You can’t figure out, someone else probably knows.

* The street dogs are very sweet animals. They will only eat meat though so don’t bring doggie treats for them. That’s not real food to them. They also won’t eat fries or veggies when offered. They won’t be pushy and beg either. Remember, if you have leftovers, PLEASE feed a human first.

* Fights amongst the street kids do break out sometimes. Local adults will usually break it up though so don’t worry. It’s like watching baby piranha go after a wounded cow and sometimes they do get hurt. Sadly that’s part of life there.

* El Flow is the most popular bar in Sosua. Get there early if you want a seat.

* My favorite night spot is on the beach is in Cabarette. It’s called Lax, as in Re-Lax. They have couches on the beach as well as tables, a bar and live music. They also have hookahs that you can get flavors for. Apple with cinnamon on top is really good.

* Which reminds me: Tip your live entertainment.

* Always keep some small bills handy whether it’s for flowers, tipping entertainers or giving to street kids. When you have a wad of pesos, keep the small bills on the outside so it looks like that’s all you’re carrying.

* Don’t be afraid to go exploring on your own during the day. I did and had no problems at all. But always use common sense. Don’t go down dark alleys at night. Don’t go off alone with a local.  If you leave the tourist areas, go with a group.

* Thursday we rented dune buggies and drove up into the hills to do some four wheeling. It was SOOO much fun!! A friend took us to a great place up on a beautiful, clear turquoise green river where the locals have cookouts. It was absolutely gorgeous.

On the way we went through a few remote villages. People were SO friendly and helpful though we were initially greeted with some suspicion. When we had mechanical trouble with one of the buggies we stopped in one of the villages. Ever try to communicate the need for a crescent wrench in a foreign language? Trust me, it’s not that easy.

Finally after showing someone the nut that had come loose, detaching the drive shaft from the steering column, they sent a kid to go get one and before long we were on our way.

* After only a few days of being on my own in Sosua I started to think of some of the street kids as my kids.

* I really think that if I had been in another town like Cabarete or Puerto Plata, I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself NEARLY as much. In Cabarete the shop owners and the people selling on the beach are SO pushy. If you go in someone’s shop, you had better have an iron will or you won’t get back out again with all your pesos.

Competition is fierce and many of these people are hungry. I don’t mean the kind of hungry where you’re a bit peckish at 3:00 and could use a snack. I mean the kind of hungry where they haven’t eaten anything for a couple days.

Since Sosua is smaller and more tourists come there, there’s more to go around. Cabarete is great for the beach side restaurants and bars but be prepared for ultra high-pressured sales.

* On the flip side of that, DO be hard nosed. Negotiate a good price for yourself. I found a painting I liked in a native art style and was originally quoted 4500 pesos. I got it for 2000 because I was willing to walk away. As quickly as he agreed to 2K (which is $55) I probably could have gotten it for much less. I’m still working on my negotiation skills.

The general rule of thumb seems to be that you should only pay 1/3 of what they originally ask.

Later, down on the beach, I got three really cute necklaces for 700 pesos (about $19.50). One was a Sea Heart which is a good luck charm, the second was a string of brightly colored shell bits and the third was tear drop shaped cocoanut shells bound with silver. He originally started at 3500 pesos (about $90 – To which we replied basically “Oh HELL no” so we got a good deal there).

* I would suggest only keeping small amounts in your wallet when you go shopping. They will actually ask to see how much you have if you tell them “I only have _______”.

* Some of them will even offer you credit. That’s when you tell them you are leaving in the morning especially if you’re shopping in Cabarete and staying in Sosua.

* There ARE shop owners who are not native but are expats. Those are peoplwho don’t do a hard sell. There is a great little jewelry shop in Sosua owned by really nice people called Patrick’s. They have a fantastic selection of beautifully set local stones. The stone itself is a vivid aqua blue and it is called Laramar. I got a beautiful piece and a discount because I mentioned I had been sent by another local business owner.

This particular piece of Laramar looks like someone took a piece of water, froze it in time and mounted it. It almost looks like it could be a glass bead.

* Another thing I learned is that even now that I’ve left the DR, I’m still speaking Spanish. On the plane when the steward asked if I wanted another drink, without thinking I replied “No mas, gracias.”. I’ve done that intermittently for a few days.

* The Dominican Republic is a rich, beautiful country with a full spectrum of financial status from multimillionaires to orphan street kids. It has everything I could ever wish for in a tropical paradise. I fell in love with ALL of it: the people, the mountains, the beaches and I can’t wait until I can go back again.


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