Looking out the window of the plane and seeing the turquoise waters of the Caribbean was like meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I could hardly contain my excitement at the thought of finally visiting the Dominican Republic after day-dreaming about it for so long. The first day in Santo Domingo I was all alone until my friends arrived, so I decided to explore while on my own. The place we'd booked to stay was in a non-touristy part of town, and I was a little taken aback at first. The streets smelled like garbage; I soon realized why. There was garbage everywhere, laying in the street and piled up in empty lots. This was not what I had imagined. How could this beautiful island be littered with trash and smell like rotten old fish? My heart sank as the vision I'd had in my dreams began to fade, but I continued on and found a great little restaurant across from the water. Rice and beans sounded pretty safe so I went for it and they were delicious! Who knew rice and beans could taste so good? The beans were soaked in a sauce and served with rice on the side. They practically melted in my mouth, and as I ate and looked out at the iridescent sparkling sea, all the worries slowly faded away.
The next day my friends arrived and we headed straight to the beach at Boca Chica. Sun block and bathing suits on, we couldn’t wait to soak up the sun. I learned a lot about the DR that day! I met a very good-looking local man who spoke only Spanish, but we seemed to communicate pretty well with my Spanglish. He taught me how to dance on the white sand that felt like powdered sugar under my feet, while music played from a beach front restaurant, and told me what his life was like in the DR. We invited him and his friends to meet at us a club later that night, but he explained to me that it wouldn’t be a good idea because he was a dark-skinned Dominican. He explained that the clubs tourists go to are for rich and light-skinned people and they would probably not let him in. I was shocked to hear that. He also went on to tell me how there is a lot of racism on the island, adding that even he looked down on Haitians. They way he explained it to me was the same way many Americans feel about Mexicans. They come into the country to work and some people believe they are just a nuisance. I thought that Santo Domingo would be more progressive than that, considering I saw people of every shade and color at the beach.
Many of the Haitians come to the Dominican Republic for a better life and do what they can to make money. This was evident right here on the beach at Boca Chica: the Haitian women offered me hair braiding, pedicures and manicures all from the comfort of my beach chair. There was also an older Haitian man selling fruit from a cart walking down the quarter-mile long beach in the blazing Dominican sun. I couldn’t help but empathize with them after all Haiti has been through.
I went to the Dominican Republic to discover a bit of paradise, and was fortunate enough to have found it hiking in the mountains, swimming in the beautiful Caribbean sea, dancing in the clubs and relaxing on the beach. But, I also left with a more realistic understanding of what life on the island was really like, good and bad, for many of those who live there.