Creativity can go a long way when advertising services. Here, a wire "car" is used to promote the business of a body shop. Other clever ads can be found throughout town.
Children are always at play in the dusty streets and green fields of Esperanza's outskirts. As visitors are an unusual occurance in this community, many of the local kids wandered up to us to ask questions or to simply say hello. Do not hestitate to involve yourself in the baseball and checker games you come accross, as visitors are welcomed as good company and entertaining competition.
On a day I will not soon forget, a lawyer/translator who represented Haitian immigrants in legal trouble convinced a couple of members from the group to visit a Haitian Baté (refugee camp) in hopes of drawing attention to the abysmal conditions in which these people live. Six of us piled into the back of a little Daihatsu (owned by our translator Angelo) and set off for the Baté. Upon arrival, I would have estimated that between 50 and 100 people existed in the small compound. The lawyer revealed the number actually hovered around 800. I had been shocked by the hit-or-miss (mostly miss) power in Esperanza, which was available only 40% of the day, but here, power was non-existant. Our guide summoned us to a an old tire laying on the ground. A deep hole had been carved out in the center. He lifted out the makeshift well's dirty contents and explained that the people have no clean water and, as a result, many people become very sick. In the center of the compound, a small blue building provided the only sanitary facilities. We walked around the area for some time, trailed by little malnourished girls wearing tattered old dresses or simple undergarments. The average family of six live in crudely constructed shelters made from rusted tin cans or whatever is available. In one of my photographs, I noticed a girl was walking near the side of a home which still showed the faded words of the wall's former use: "Basura Aqui" (trash here). The lawyer explained that most of the men in the compound are employed as rice farmers, working under the relentless heat of the sun in nearby fields. They work from sun up to sun down, making little more than 50 cents a day. My friend Gina asked Angelo to translate her question:
"At what age do the boys begin to work in the fields?"
The lawyer replied "At about age eight."
The misery I witnessed in the Bate left my stomach in knots. A group leader, Mike, shared that we had gone from a place were the people have very little to a place where they have nothing.
This heladoria, located on the same road at Restaurant Don Nelson across the main drag, is a great place for topping off a great dinner or for escaping the sweltering heat of Dominican days. Visitors can choose between more than a dozen flavors, including coffee, mint, chocolate, vanilla, and a variety of fruity concoctions. Prices are fairly inexpensive (US $2-4).
Our group dined many times at Don Nelson, which serves up savory (and safe!) meals at decent prices (US $3-5). Though small and lacking in ambience, it is conveniently located near the town's main drag and offers a quite respite from the commotion of the gas-belching motos outside.
The menu offers a variety of dishes typical to the region, including a tasty rice called chofan, which is usually served with chicken or goat. Other recommended items include the sea bass and the chicken soup.
Gas-belching motorcycles and overloaded Diahatsu trucks dominate the main roads of Esperanza. The "motos" are mostly old Hondas which can sport as many as six or seven passengers piled atop one another. As these vehicles are the only means of long distance transportation for many residents, the day's shopping must also be secured (or at least fit) on the moto as well. Items ranging from propane tanks to birthday cakes and furniture are gripped beneath the arm of a driver while he or she maneuvers between potholes, livestock, and oncoming traffic.
Several traffic lights operate along the main street of Esperanza, though they are most always disregarded by drivers. Instead, the only real purpose of the lights is to indicate whether the town has power during the day. If they go out, the town is powerless, but traffic is unaffected.
The towns and cities of the Dominican Republic pulse with music. Merengue, an upbeat genre with catchy rhythems and blaring brass horns, provides a lively atmosphere to hang out spots in small towns. While traveling through small communities in the Dominican's forested mountains, I observed local life centering near areas where loud music blasted from enormous speakers and pumping whoofers. For a spicy soundtrack to your Dominican experience, discover the tunes of the area's most popular artists:
Julian Oro Duro
La Tormenta Tipica
Juan Luis Guerra
Pack a good hat to protect from the sun, light colored and loose-fitting clothes, and sunglasses!
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Mosquito netting and repellent are essential when traveling in the Tropics. When retiring for sleep, be sure the netting COMPLETELY covers your body! Sunscreen is another must, especially if you plan on partaking in outdoor activities. Apply SPF +30 to all exposed skin throughout the day!
Photo Equipment: When traveling, keep the humidity of the tropics in mind. Lenses steam up quickly, which can be a major nuisance to photographers.
Miscellaneous: For those who plan to travel away from the resorts and luxuries of the coastal towns, prepare for the inconveniences and dangers that exist throughout the interior of the Dominican. While power outages occur frequently throughout the country ("because the government forgets to pay the energy bill" according to one local), resorts and restaurants along the coast typically have generators that activate within nanoseconds of a blackout. This is not so of poorer inland communities however, which may experience hours of darkness at any time in the night. Be sure to carry a flashlight with you at all times during the night, as outages occur unexpectedly and (in my experience) at the most inopportune moments.
The Dominican currency steadily depreciated for the first several year of the new millennium, reaching an exchange rate of nearly 60 DOP to 1 USD in early 2004. Since that time, the Dominican Peso has gained ground on the dollar and at the time of writing (2005) converted at approximately 30 DOP to 1 USD. Currently, the Dominican Peso is exchanged as follows:
24 DOP - 1 Canadian Dollar
2.7 DOP - 1 Mexican Peso
12 DOP - 1 Brazilian Real
36 DOP - 1 Euro Dollar
52 DOP - 1 British Pound
23 DOP - 1 Swiss Franc
3.6 DOP - 1 Chinese Yuan
0.26 DOP - 1 Japanese Yen
11 DOP - 1 East Caribbean Dollar
0. 47 DOP - 1 Jamaican Dollar
0.7 DOP - 1 Haitian Gourde