Puerta Plata

My Time: Puerta Plata, Part 3

We stayed there on our perch for a while, just peeping the scene. We were naturally in awe; as we had never seen anything so bold yet seemingly normal. It was almost as if nothing taboo was taking place here. 

We finally head back to our resort with our "drivers", Marcos and friend. On the way back we stop at a cuchifritos truck on the side of the road. We all get out to see if we want to get any food. Pure authentic Dominican food. We didn't get anything to eat so we just chatted to ourselves while the guys devoured their fried delicacies, sitting in beach chairs on the side of the road at 3am.

We finally return to the resort. We pull up to the back entrance, near the gate we left from. I noticed the same security guard they were chatting up before is still there, still armed with rifle. As Marcos shuts off the engine to the car, the air feels different. Something has changed.

They want money. 

$32 each to be exact. 

So wait a minute. Hold up. Just a second. You mean to tell me the guys weren't just "showing us a good time"? Ha! How naive of me to think such a thing. I realized we had been taken out on the town by some "sanky-pankies", otherwise known as gigolos. I didn't realize this though until AFTER we had returned and I had done some research.

So here we are with 2 stone faced Dominican men and a security guard with an M16. Now, I don't think he was initially there to scare us per se, but it did add effect. We paid up and then ran through the flower canopy/tunnel back towards our rooms. I'm not really sure why we ran, I think one of the girls heard a rustle in the leaves or something.

After that evening we decided we didn't need Marcos for anything; we'd use the resort's tourist and cab services.  

The next day was pretty normal; we went sightseeing and went to a show and dinner at a resort/casino. However, later on that evening our eyes were hungry for more and we decided to take a cab back into the city of Cabarete.

As we made our way to the bar, a guy (black guy from the Bronx) made small talk with us and really gave us an earful. He said that everyone could tell we weren't prostitutes but he wanted to know why we were there and why we chose Puerta Plata. "There's only one thing going on here" is what he told us. 

We settled in at our same perch at the bar facing the street. We saw: 

- A lady walking down the street completely naked, after getting out of a car  

- Various women meeting and leaving with random men

- Young girls (about ages 15-17) approaching men

It was disheartening to see this happening right before my eyes. There were some girls that looked like they enjoyed doing what they were doing and then there were the others. Those who seemed dead behind the eyes. I remember one pretty young brown skin girl in particular who was with a friend. They were waiting around for some guys to decide what they were going to do. She really looked like she didn't want to go. My friend caught her eye and told her she was beautiful. She smiled and said "thank you", in the most sincerest, heartfelt manner. 

I prayed for her and the other girls that evening. 

On the plane ride home we saw so many men returning to the states. Some of them were familiar faces from the strip in Cabarete. One man was putting his wedding ring back on in the seat next to me. 

This was a hard trip for me. I feel when we, as human beings go on vacation we expect to see life through those fictional "rose colored glasses". We don't expect to come in contact with the ills of the world and what I saw in Puerta Plata was very real. Real life and real means of survival. This is what I like to think of as shade in the sun; just because something is beautiful doesn't mean it isn't flawed. 

I hold DR close to my heart. I'd like to go back and visit La Romana or Samana to remind me of the all the beauty and innocence still alive and thriving there on the lovely island of Hispaniola. 

My Time: Puerta Plata, Part 2

Finally, about 20 minutes later we arrive in the city of Cabarete. I breathe a sigh of relief. Cabarete is lit up like South Beach; there are people in the streets and on the sidewalks. Loud music pours out of the many bars, lounges and clubs that line the sidewalks. Our driver, Marcos, takes us to a tiny bar/lounge. 

Marcos seems to know all of the people working there. Him and his friend bring us to a table, pull up some chairs and ask us if we want to order some drinks. I ginger ale'd it because I wasn't too comfortable having a drink just yet. I don't think the rest of my travel buddies ordered alcohol either. The guys had beers.

We didn't stay at this location long. We left, and walked to the next location. As we were walking down the streets (crowded with loud and drunken party goers), I remember seeing a police pick-up truck filled with cops sitting in the open cargo area. The cops were dressed in camouflage gear and armed with assault rifles. "Interesting", I remember thinking; this was different. I had seen cops with rifles in Jamaica, but to see them in a military-style pick-up as if ready for war was a little unsettling to say the least. 

We walk a few blocks down and settle in at this open-air bar/lounge. Marcos and his friend (again) find us a table in what looks to be a makeshift VIP area in the back. Similar to the last place, they ask if we want drinks. By this time we felt a little more comfortable in our surroundings. We order our drinks from the bar and go back to our fake VIP section. My friends are laughing and dancing, though I noticed Marcos and his sidekick are now trying to see which of the girls they can hook up with. "Wrong crowd," I remember thinking and laughing to myself. 

Mind you, we haven't paid for any of our drinks. Keep that tidbit in mind.

So the night continues on and I start to notice a few things. I saw a young woman walk up to a man and rub his back, whisper in his ear. He shakes his head "no". I see another woman leaned in close and talking with her hand on another man's lap. 

I see what's going on here and I bring it to my friends attention. Once my eyes were open, it was literally all around us. Women (old and young) were selling themselves. 

We moved from our "VIP" area up to the front, closer to the street. The seats by the area that overlooked the street had a clear view of the club across the road. "Club 59 Classic" was the name of it. There were women of all types in scantily clad clothing approaching random men passing by or entering the club. One woman, resembling a 2000-esque J-Lo walked up to a guy a kissed him full on the mouth. 

I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing.

To be continued!

My Time: Puerta Plata, Part 1

I'm not really sure how to begin with this one. I traveled to Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic in June 2008 with different expectations than what I was met with. One rule of travel is to never have those I've learned. We considered the DR because it would be an inexpensive trip to the Caribbean for some fun, sun and sand. 

Nowadays usually whenever I book a trip I do some extensive research online, via TripAdvisor, word of mouth and so forth. My friend (old college roommate I traveled to Negril with) put some options together and we selected a resort from the list. She invited 3 of her friends and a nice little travel group developed. The DR would be our first trip together. 

We spent 4 days/5 nights on the beautiful isle of Hispaniola. We visited the caves, a local beach and a nature preserve where we sampled fresh passion fruit, bananas and guava. We also got to see snakes, crocodiles and other wild creatures in their natural habitat. I drank pina coladas out of a pineapple and let Coco the Parrot sit on my shoulder. Real touristy stuff. 

That was in the daytime.

Let me back up. When we first arrived to the Viva Tangerine Wyndham Resort we were warmly greeted with cool face towels (oxymoronic yet representative of our entire stay, keep reading). Our rooms weren't ready yet so we headed to the beach to dip our toes in the water in the meantime. No more than 2 minutes had passed before we were approached by 2 men who had been chilling beneath a palm tree. One of the men showed us a shabby laminated brochure of the tours he could take us on. We asked about prices and found they were cheaper than what the resort was offering. We told him we'd think about it but wouldn't make a decision yet. One of my friends asked him about the nightlife there in Sosua/Cabarete. He said he could show us around the town that evening.

We agreed. He said he would meet us behind the resort at 9. 

9 o'clock comes around and we're all dressed up in our "going out" clothes. We head to the back of the resort, walking (running, rather) through this shadowy canopy of flowers and ivy. We reach a small parking lot and see the 2 men chatting near the exit with a security guard (that happens to be armed with an M16 rifle. Okay).  The men greet us in a heavy Spanish accent and away we go.

End scene.

So, here I am again in a car with 2 strange men going God knows where. But there's safety in numbers, right? The roads are eerily dark and there doesn't seem to be any civilization around us. We turn onto an even smaller dirt road. There are 4 of us squeezed together in the backseat of a small Toyota. Just like in Nassau, I begin sizing these men up.

To be continued!