We got up at 7am and had breakfast, then hung out on the deck watching the approach to the Dominican Republic. It was sunny and perfect outside, which was good, because it was time for the beach.
They loaded us all into tender boats (which also happened to be the lifeboats), and ferried us to Catalina Island.
i hold to the belief that ‘beach chairs are free’ is the dominican national motto.
It was perfect. There were beach chairs and umbrellas for everyone, waiters bringing drinks to us on the beach, and lunch served in a big pavilion in the midst of palm trees. We spent very little time in our chairs, and most of it just floating around in the ocean.
sport cup with strawberry daiquiri
There were tiny jellyfish that would sting us occasionally, and they managed to chase Stephanie out of the water. Wendy and I spent at least three hours just bobbing around, and swimming up and down the beach. I also made a point of taking off my bathing suit in the ocean and holding it above my head.
We had a picnic lunch at noon, then went back into the ocean until it was time to go around 2:30. Though we kept reapplying sunscreen, Wendy was getting even more burnt. It looked painful.
The rain arrived just as it was time to go. We got back on the tender boats, and were in our cabins by 3pm. We showered and examined our awesome sunburns, then went to go have a snack before it was time to get off the ship again. We went to Bar Casanova and got drinks; I ordered a Cuba Libre and Rodrigo asked, “Would you like a strong one?” Yes, please!
We went to the card room to play canasta, and the crabby lady running SuperQuiz in the next room shushed us for laughing too loudly. We saw that we were nearing the port at Casa de Campo, so we ran downstairs to line up, and were in the first group off the ship.
I’d done some research about the Dominican Republic, and read that Altos de Chavon, the only excursion destination, was basically a fake tourist village. While almost everyone on the ship was going there, we decided to follow the internet’s advice and go into the town of La Romana. We grabbed a cab with another couple, and the driver took us into town.
We talked to the couple about where to go; the map indicated a central square with shops in the area, so we all decided to go there. When we got near there, though, the driver didn’t want to let us out. He was apparently planning to drive us around on an hour-long tour for $5/person, stop at some shops, and then bring us back to the ship. We didn’t like that idea at all. We finally convinced him to let us out, but the couple decided to go along with him. They were intimidated by the scene at the central square: it was most definitely a very poor city.
We got out of the cab and stood on the street, trying to get our bearings. A man approached us immediately and said, “I’m one of the people who helps people get around!” and asked us where we wanted to go. We thanked him and told him we didn’t need help, and set off in the direction the cab had gone. We were clearly the only Americans around.
We had walked two blocks and were waiting at an intersection when a bus pulled up . A man hanging out of the doorway jumped off and said hi. It was the same dude again! He said he had seen that we were headed toward a very bad neighborhood, and wanted to stop us. He told us his name was Johnny, and he could show us the best stores to visit.
We agreed, but very warily. I could tell Stephanie and Wendy wanted nothing to do with him, but I figured that he’d have trouble raping and murdering all three of us before we could fight back. Plus I was sure he was just trying to make some cash, so that was fine. We set off with him in another direction, the two of them hanging back while I walked with him.
I heard Johnny’s entire life story on the way to the tourist shop. He was 34, and had a 14-year-old daughter. He asked right away if I had a husband. We talked a lot about how the Dominican Republic loses all of its good baseball players to the US. He led us carefully down the sidewalk, warning us to watch out for holes, which were actually large enough for people to fall inside. I wanted to go slower and see everything, but at the same time, I was really happy to hurry. La Romana was very different, and intimidating.
He took us to a store, and it had everything we were looking for. (This fact made me trust him a lot more, too.) I was in search of Mama Juana to bring back with me, and Wendy wanted a cigar for her boss. They had Mama Juana in all manner of different bottles and sizes, none of them marked clearly. The shopkeeper came to help us, pouring out a sample of the stuff. It was awesome. He told me that once the bottle was empty, I could just refill it with any kind of rum, and it would last forever. That’s already been proven true!
Also in the shop, we ran into the only other Americans we’d see in La Romana. They were two girls from Kansas, there on a missionary trip. Eesh.
Johnny tried to take us to another shop, but it was already closed by the time we got there. Men were yelling at us from across the street (we called it the ‘gringo alarm’), and he almost got into a fight with a couple guys he passed. We were jumping over holes in the sidewalk, and rushing to follow him.
He told us that La Romana was so poor because the government didn’t want tourists there. They built Casa de Campo and Altos de Chavon for cruise ship passengers, and would do things like shut off the electricity in the city to discourage people from visiting. It was nearing 7pm, and we could tell that the city was shutting down. We asked him if there was a bar where we’d feel welcome, so he led us to La Tinaja. I found it on the map while we sat there, and it was only a couple blocks from the spot where the taxi driver had dropped us off.
Johnny ordered us a couple beers, then told us he had to run and do something, so he’d be back in a bit to take us to get a cab. After he left, we were told they didn’t take credit cards, and couldn’t give change for dollars. We had no local currency (the travel guides swore up and down that American dollars were wanted there, and the cab and shop took both credit cards and cash, so we didn’t think much of it). We told them they could just keep the whole $20, but they got the guy we presumed to be the manager, and he calculated out the exchange rate for our money and gave us pesos in return. We sat there staring at our 510 Dominican pesos, with absolutely no clue how much it was worth, or whether we had enough for a cab back to the ship.
Decisions had to be made, and quickly. Johnny was coming back at some point, and we felt we’d be better off taking the opportunity to escape without him. Since we had no idea about the cost of a cab, we decided we’d walk. The travel guide said it was only about a mile from the port to town, and I had paid careful attention to the way we’d come in the cab. We knew which way to go, had a good map, and were determined to get out of the DR alive, with our 510 pesos or without.
It was quite dark by the time we’d crossed the bridge over the river where our ship was docked. We stood there and looked at it, because it was very nearby. We just needed to figure out exactly which streets to take to get there. We walked past the baseball fields and headed toward the road the taxi had turned from to get to La Romana. The sidewalk disappeared and turned into a little dirt trail worn in the grass alongside the road, which was crowded, and cars honked at us constantly. By the time we were crossing a train trestle on a narrow piece of concrete, with a train rumbling by beneath us, we were all at wit’s end. The constant honking and lack of a place to walk was freaking us out a lot. But we could see the road from there, so we kept going.
A man pulled up alongside us on a motorcycle, and started yelling. We indicated that we didn’t speak Spanish. Honestly, I’m capable of understanding quite a bit of Spanish, but I couldn’t pick out a single word in his Dominican accent. Finally, he communicated to us that we should turn around, and take the path near the baseball fields. We’d crossed a sidewalk in that area a while back, and noticed some people walking there, so we’d wondered about it already. We headed back on the narrow trail, crossing the train trestle again.
When we got to that path, the guy on the motorcycle was waiting. He pointed down the road past the baseball fields, in the direction of our ship. We thanked him and headed that way. It led through a run-down neighborhood with barely any lights on, but there were people sitting out on their porches watching us pass. It felt extremely hostile, and we just kept walking as fast as we could toward the port, which we could now easily see. The only problem was that there was also a large fence at the end of the road, and in front of the fence, a bunch of guys sitting on motorbikes. We didn’t have any other good ideas, though, so we just kept walking.
We got to the end of the road near the motorcycles, and there was obviously no gate in the tall fence. There was a baseball field to the right, between us and the ship. One of the guys approached, and we asked him if he knew how to get to the ship. We couldn’t understand him, either, but he started leading us through the baseball diamond. We followed, sinking into the muddy clay, because it had rained that afternoon. He finally led us up to a hole in the fence, and pointed us through it. We could not have been happier.
We rushed our gringo asses back to the ship as fast as we could go. We went to the cabin and cleaned the clay off our shoes, then examined the spoils from our adventure. We had Dominican coffee, Mama Juana, a questionably-Cuban cigar, and 510 pesos, which did in fact equal about $14 American, a fact I discovered after we returned. It would probably have been enough for a cab.
We had dinner out on the back deck, then walked around the upper decks looking at where we’d been in La Romana. We could see the stars clearly. We found a bar on deck 9 and decided to try something different for once, so we hung out there for a while. There were some super-douchey guys, and girls sharing a non-alcoholic drink with two straws. Brad and Jamie came up to tell us they were in search of a certain kind of beer, and they’d heard this bar might have it. They were denied.
Later that night, Wendy lit the boat on fire.
casanova making flaming blowjobs
We went down to Bar Casanova. On the stage nearby, they seemed to be doing some kind of dirty Spanish dancing. Rodrigo asked if he could make up drinks for me, and of course I said yes. He also told us to go have dinner in the fancy restaurant on top of the ship, and gave us the number of his friend who worked there and would treat us very well.
The bartenders were goofy as hell. Rodrigo, Casanova, and Alfred were dancing and playing bull and matador behind the bar. Alfred asked Stephanie if she came here often, because he was convinced he knew her. Casanova gave us shots of Sambuca, and floated 151 on top to light them (Wendy watched me cringe, because Sambuca burns just fine on its own). He then offered to make us a flaming blowjob, and we all died a little inside at the idea of cute little Casanova even saying the word “blowjob”.
He made them in tall, narrow shotglasses, floated 151 on top with a spoon, lit them, and handed us straws. The first time around, we blew them out and drank. He said no, we were supposed to drink them from the bottom with a straw! This seemed dangerous, but he was the bartender. He made us another round.
Wendy forgot the most important rule of blowjobs: suck, don’t blow. The 151 shot out of her drink and onto the bar. I put out the fire, while Casanova just stood there giggling and telling her she needed to suck instead. I’m pretty sure the entire staff was drunk, too.
from wendy’s travel journal
We went back to our room to find our customs forms waiting for us. Wendy started filling hers out, which seemed like a terrible idea. We played American Gladiators again, and I put on my poncho, which upset Stephanie because apparently she thought I was going to suffocate on it like a kid in a plastic bag. Finally, we all managed to shower and go to bed.