When we stepped out of the Las Americas International Airport, my dad obtained our rental car- a “Fiat”- and my family drove into the capital, Santo Domingo, to begin our Dominican Republic vacation.
We checked into the Hotel Intercontinental. There was a pool area overlooking the city- so relaxing!
The next morning, we drove through a town about an hour away, called San Pedro de Macoris, around where my father used to live. There were run-down buildings with faded paint and a medical school. I will never forget the first time when out of nowhere, a boy (about 8 years old) flung his arm out in front of our car.
He proceeded to spray water onto our windshield (which was clean), and wiped it off with a grimy rag. Then he came around to the driver’s side and simply looked at us. My father rolled down the window and handed him a couple of dollar bills. The boy’s smile was completely genuine and he scurried over to his friends to show them the money. I cannot count how many times we had our windshield “cleaned” while driving.
Back in Santo Domingo (stuck in traffic), we bought native fruit, “limoncillos”, from a man selling huge bushels of them for one dollar on the street. It was the most delicious fruit I’ve ever eaten.
We also experienced a local grocery store, ate local fast food, bought fruit from stands set up along the dirt paths of small towns outside Santo Domingo, and chattered happily in Spanish with the friendly people everywhere we went.
We saw the historic part of the city, “La Zona Colonial”. There were charming shops in this area where I got my touristy T-Shirts and tour guides with an extensive knowledge of the history of the place. There were beautifully historic buildings and statues, and a cathedral with amazing architecture. I found out that Santo Domingo was the first place that Christopher Columbus landed in when he discovered the Americas.
Throughout this experience, I insisted that we go to the expensive beach resorts my friends talked about and eventually, we spent the last half of our vacation in Punta Cana, a 5-hour drive away.
Our resort in Punta Cana, Ocean Blue, was beautiful. I swam endlessly in the gigantic pools and the ocean, and went kayaking and snorkeling. One night, we made a reservation to dine on the beach alone as a family- a mariachi band came by for entertainment, just for us!
Overall, I spent half my vacation experiencing the Dominican Republic as if I lived there, and I encourage individuals to do the same in any country. Don’t get me wrong- the resort was wonderful, but resorts can be found everywhere. During this trip, I discovered that what makes a vacation valuable is the time spent experiencing the country and what it really has to offer. I was looking forward to paradise, but I am so happy I saw so much more of the country than that. In Santo Domingo, I saw the professional and bustling part of the country. But driving in smaller villages on our way to Punta Cana, I saw the poverty that exists there. It was an eye-opening experience for me and I plan to do community work there in the future.
So, to any future traveler- experience a bit of the culture of countries you visit before you go to the fancy places meant for tourists- you’ll learn a lot and you may even be inspired, the same way that I was.
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