Sunday was one of our free days to explore Puerto Plata. Our day began with a ride in a cable car up to a popular tourist destination called Isabella de Torres. On the ride up to the top of the mountain, we were astonished to be able to see the major differences in the different parts of the Dominican Republic. There are many cities in the Dominican Republic: Santiago, Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, just to name a few. Puerto Plata is known as the “poor” city and being able to see huts on one side of the mountain of Isabella de Torres and fancy condos and houses on the opposite was such an eye-opener. While on top of the mountain, we were able to take in the scenic views of the entire country at every angle. It was so peaceful and serene at the top, and it made the world stop for a little while and gave each of us a time to reflect on the dramatic changes and experiences we were about to encounter in the week ahead.
After taking time to think, we had time for a little shopping on the same mountain! There was a large hut-type building with many small stores located inside. The vendors were people from the local community of Puerto Plata selling souvenirs of various types. When they saw us, they would run up to us and beg us to shop in their store. Some of them would even grab us by the arm and take us to their store just to make sure we looked. This is how those people made a living. They sold these miscellaneous items to tourists like us hoping to make a little bit of profit for the day. They worked really hard to make a deal with each of us just so we would purchase something.
The next thing on our agenda was shopping in the local community. Our driver and guard for the week, Juan, has a brother who owns a souvenir and craft shop. We chose to go there because it was benefiting a local person. There, we all found gifts to bring back home! While waiting for others to finish their shopping, a few of us were standing outside by the door, and a Haitian woman walked up to us. She started braiding one of our girls’ hair! Before we knew it, the braid was complete; and then the woman started asking for money and tried selling us bracelets. As it turns out, this was her job and how she made her living. This happens quite a bit here in the Dominican Republic when people see tourists walking around.
Reality always finds a way to creep in while on vacation. Our hearts were touched as we witnessed a funeral procession. Some things were done the same as in the United States such as pulling over or stopping for the family as they pass. Other things were a little different. In the United States, the family of the deceased is normally riding in vehicles behind the hearse; here in the Dominican Republic, the family walked behind the hearse. We all found this cultural difference interesting.
Later on, we decided to go to the local “Walmart,” called “La Sirena.” We walked upstairs and had lunch cafeteria- style. There were many options to choose from such as tamales, pasta, seafood, salad, plantains, rice, beans, and much more! You could pick literally anything you wanted and however much you wanted of that particular food. The cashier then weighed the food and charged by the pound. This was very familiar to most of us as we’ve done this back at home many times!
After lunch, we shopped for groceries with plans to make sandwiches for dinner that night. The prices were all in pesos and labels in Spanish, and we had to learn how to convert quickly. Interestingly enough, there was quite a bit labeled in English, which made it a little easier for us!
Once back at our hotel, we made our way down to the local beach of Costambar. We stayed for a few hours to soak up some rays while we could. There were a lot of people and an unbelievable number of stray dogs on the beach. It’s strange to see animals on the beach with no collar or leash and no owner. Here in the Dominican Republic, it’s not strange for stray dogs and cats to roam around on their own. A lot of people can’t afford to care for themselves, much less an animal. Veterinary offices are few and far between since the care for an animal is so expensive and spaying or neutering an animal is costly as well.
I’ve been on this trip to the Dominican Republic three times now, and each time I am surprised by what I witness. It’s saddening because I keep hoping things will have changed or get somewhat better, but some things only get worse. Haitians are being deported now, and the population we are serving is growing slimmer due to that fact. I’m looking forward meeting more children and families and to the many adventures that lay ahead of us this week and the even more eye-opening views we will get as we experience this culture.
Kayla, Junior Nursing and Gerontology student
(Follow the experiences of our students as they have been serving in the Dominican Republic during spring break. Visit the blog at the Barton College School of Nursing.)