My room is more than enough. It’s in the back of a patio behind a gorgeous apartment with hundreds of books (!), exotic furniture – well is it exotic if I’m in the exotic country?- on the top floor of a four-story apartment complex. My room has stone flooring, a vaulted ceiling with a mini-skylight, and a little view of the Bella Artes Museo. The coolest part is the patio itself. There’s a bit of a latticed roof to it, which has two types of grapes growing. I heard from my host’s mother (more on that in a second) that they are the same types of grapes grown to make Spanish wine. They aren’t quite ripe yet, a little bit sour (agria), but when they get there Lilly (my host) apparently makes some juice. There’s A/C in the room, but at night it’s fine with just the fan going. The biggest adventure with this apartment is going to be with the torrential downpours that I have already experienced, because I have to go through it just to get from the main area to my room, but there’s nothing a towel doesn’t solve so I’m not worried about it. Also, for those worried about my safety (mom, dad….that’s it), there’s a ton of security around. Apparently a world-renowned blood testing facility is next door, a laboratory is two floors below me, the aforementioned museum has guys in camoflauge and machine guns around it (and Picasso in it), and there are a couple other medical facilities with 24 hour security. By the way, most security carries a shotgun around on the streets in this city, which is a little unnerving but awesome at the same time. Even at the PriceSmart (Costco with a different color scheme) there’s a guy patrolling with a shotty at the hip.
This place is crazy. There’s nothing less crazy than another so I’m going to type as they come to mind.
Carros Públicos are little sedans (think old-school Honda Civics or small Toyotas) that run routes a couple miles long along arterial roads. What these drivers do is go along and wherever people are stopped pick them up, with the goal of fitting six (6!) passengers, sometimes not leaving until the car is full. The method is two in the front seat (excluding the driver) and four in the back seat. You get in where there’s room but if you’re the third guy in the backseat you sit up some. Think [xxXx]. They cost 25 pesos, so roughly USD$.60, and you take them until you need to get off. They are so much fun and I think some of my favorite interactions are going to happen there. These cars are running on some magic because there are always problems with the transmission, no gauges work, funny noises come from everywhere and they look pieced together like a Mr. Potato Head as built by a schizophrenic.
GuaGuas are minibuses (think hippie VW buses + Mr. Potato Head reference) with bench seating facing every which way and generally no side door. These work in a very similar fashion to carros públicos with the routes, but they have both a driver and a vendedor, who calls out to anyone walking on the street trying to give them a lift. These guys are generally kids, no older than 15, and hang out the gap where there generally is a door. The cost is also $.25.
At night, the GuaGuas are generally the safer bet, but so is much of the city as long as you’re not alone. So far I’ve checked out the Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone for the ignorami), Chinatown, El Duarte, some awesome sandwich places, and around the Gazcue district, which is where I live.
Speaking of El Duarte, it’s a jam-packed street market that lasts for a few miles with an intense concentration of hustlers and peddlers. There are stores every ten feet selling mock items of every brand imaginable, from Lacoste to Hollister to Nike to Samsonite to Rolex to IZOD. If I need any clothing item, I’m going there – and I will need running shoes soon. There are street vendors selling watch pieces, hair extensions, bras, shoeshine, everything. It’s pickpocket central, but I’ll be careful when I go back, don’t you fret your pretty little face.
Reading: Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
Listening: Fire on the Bayou, The Meters
Dominicanismo: Sanky Panky – A male prostitute, big buffed guy on the beach hitting on American women