Carnival in Santo Domingo and Mamajuana

As we descended from the mountain roads into Santo Domingo proper and began searching for our hotel, we began noticing some interesting aspects of city driving that differed from the way people drove up in Luperon and Puerto Plata. While drivers in Santo Domingo are unquestionably more courteous than in the outlying towns, sometimes even going so far as to stop and gesture you to merge in front of them, they still tend to follow the tried and true Dominican tradition of no rules anywhere on the road. This was our first real experience with stoplights, which seem to be, like so many other driving regulations in the Dominican Republic, entirely optional. Cars ignore red lights for at least 7 seconds after they turn, an action apparently fully endorsed by all, as cars waiting at the perpendicular light do not even try to enter the intersection until 10 seconds after their own green light has begun. Stopping at a light that has, heaven forbid, just turned red therefore elicits a minor international crisis as cars peel out around you, honking and cursing, clearly shocked that anyone come to a halt so early in the light’s redness. We nevertheless made it to the Discovery Hotel without major incident, and were shown into our room, complete with air conditioning, wifi, and a shower (also known as “a heaven”). it was, quite frankly, difficult to tear ourselves away from such luxury, but we wanted to see as much of the city as we could. Our hotel was located in the Zona Colonial, which is the convenient tourist district in the old colonial part of town.There is plenty of history here, though, since all the remnants from the colonial days:churches, forts, statues etc. are nearby and either free or incredibly inexpensive to visit. We walked around fro a couple hours before making our way up a hill to this old fort, where we found a most welcome sight.

In the steadily lengthening shadows of this ruin, several band members were scurrying about, erecting a stage while spectators were setting up seats for what was clearly going to be a concert of impressive proportions. Our visit to The Dominican Republic happened to serendipitously  coincide with Carnival, which occurs throughout February across the country. The festival is similar to Junkanoo in the Bahamas, in that it originated as a festival for slaves to “get the wild out of their systems”, but became a national tradition after the abolition of slavery. In the Dominican Republic it carries a special weight, as February 27th is their Independence day, making it a huge culmination for this exciting festival. Unfortunately, we were there too early for the parade, but this concert was one of many around the city that was part of the general festivities and celebrations that occur during February. Naturally, we had to partake, so we went down the street to get a beer and returned in time to watch the band strike up.

This was another night that seemed to build momentum as the night progressed. The seats became wholly extraneous within minutes, as everyone stood up to dance two or three songs in. Everyone was incredibly friendly, and we must have spoken to at least six or seven people who wanted to tell us how excited they were to see gringos there. One of the more amusing juxtapositions that night was watching these three asian women on a raised hill near the stage, as they spent the first hour or so swaying in time to an entirely different beat than the ones being played, and spinning their umbrellas around over their heads. We were, admittedly, perplexed at their presence until we walked up into the same area the next day and found chinatown just a few blocks away from the fort.

After several hours of pure enjoyment, we headed back down the hill to a very late dinner at the first Dominican restaurant we could find. It was here that we continued our tour of international aphrodisiacs that we have no intention of utilizing(as aphrodisiacs, that is) by trying mamajuana, an alcoholic beverage consisting of rum, red wine, honey, tree bark, and herbs, which are mixed together and allowed to sit for a few days before being served in a shot glass. As with the crystalline structure, we have no empirical support for the concoction’s aphrodisiac properties, but neither have we grounds to deny them, and it was, at the very least, not unpleasant to the taste.

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