Hello and welcome to my new blog. The purpose? It has a couple… one is telling the story of how I came to live in the Dominican Republic and what it is like living here and the other is my new project – the renovation of a colonial property in the Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo. It is an exciting project for me for my new business venture. I plan on documenting it all from start to finish – processes, plans, emotions and all. There has already been twists and turns and a lot of stress but it is all part of the experience.
Before I go into greater detail on the project itself I thought it would be best to give a bit of background on myself and what it is like to live in the Dominican Republic from my perspective. Ok, so who am I? My name is Chris, I left the United Kingdom back in May 2009 on a backpacking trip around the world and I have to say it seems like a lifetime ago… I worked at the University of Bath first of all as a Bars Manager then I moved into marketing there and graduated in 2008 with a BA (hons) in Business Management. So how did I end up in the Dominican Republic? Well if you want to know the full story of my backpacking trip you can read my previous blog: www.chrislinehamstravels.travellerspoint.com
I had always wanted to see more of the world and experience different cultures from around the age of 20 but actually taking the step and leaving is easier said than done, hence taking me until 2009 to actually leave the United Kingdom. It was 2008 when I actually stopped and asked myself are you going to be one of these people that just say they are going to do something or are you actually going to do it. Things always came up to put a spanner in the works; money (obviously), University, friends… but the two things that were stopping me were:
1: Laziness – Its always ‘tomorrow’ especially when it comes to saving and you want the latest Iphone or laptop.
2: Fear – Now this is not fear of the unknown or the dangers you may encounter. This is fear of change. To actually step out of your comfort zone quit your job and just leave is tough, the modern day life locks you into staying put – there’s phone contracts, mortgages, loan payments to name a few. Its normal to feel like this; steady job and income, home, luxuries – it is hard to give up. But once it is was done I got this strange feeling… freedom.
In my head I had planned a route that would take about two and half years – so not a cheap trip. It did take a lot of sacrifices and 7 day weeks – I think I only had something like 6 days off in 6 months, but eventually I set my date to go… May 2009. So after backpacking around 25 countries – 3 and a half years later I am sitting here in Santo Domingo married to my gorgeous wife Katherine documenting my next adventure.
I get asked a lot of the time what it is like to live here. Obviously I love it so it will be a biased opinion, but I will still give it… Until I decided to move here permanently I had visited the country around 5 times probably staying a total of 4 months. I was staying with Katherine’s family in Santo Domingo near the Malecon. The first time I came it was a bit of a culture shock as it was the start of my travels but you get used to it very quickly.
Santo Domingo is a very busy city, with a population of around 3 million it can get very hectic but that said there is so much to do. It is a city that is a mix of new and old cultures. There are so many different things to experience – not all touristy. Public transport for example is an experience on its own there are buses however public cars are better for short distances… now a public car, they say a picture describes a thousand words – so here you go:
Now my first ride was an experience, they carry 6 people plus the driver, that’s 4 in the back and two in the passenger seat usually in a very old, beat up Toyota. Colmados also an experience, Colmados are basically a small corner shop but they are a hub of life. Dominican men will sit outside with a Presidente and play Dominos until the early hours of the morning. Colmados have motos out delivering constantly, the best thing is they will deliver anything, if you want one beer, they will deliver it. To me this was a total novelty at first…” I can get a single beer delivered to my house???”
Liquor stores are another staple of Dominican life. Now due to the weather being hot all year around people drink outside of the liquor stores. You buy a bottle of local rum between a few of your friends ask for some cups with ice and there you go, a very cheap and enjoyable night out.
Now I am not saying I immerse myself totally in the local life – my Spanish is terrible but is slowly getting better and I will be taking Spanish lessons soon, I don’t live in a Barrio and I do enjoy the luxuries like having a car but I could not be happier here.
It’s not always an easy life over here, it can be difficult and very frustrating at times. Corruption is always present and there is no getting away from it, I cannot tell you how many times I get pulled over driving because I am a ‘gringo’ – no other reason other than they want money – which they don’t get from me. I can see where it comes from though, what do the government expect when you pay the police the minimum wage which is not enough to live on, especially in the city? Where do you think they are going to top up their earnings from?
Traffic and driving is a major problem in the capital – there are so many cars on the streets that it can take hours to get across the city in rush hour. They have just built a metro which is aimed to take some of the pressure off the roads but I haven’t seen that working yet. Now when it comes to driving all I can say it is crazy, but you get used to it, cars are all over the place, coming from every direction but strangely enough it kind of works.
The main questions I get asked from friends about living here are:
Is it dangerous?
Now this one is usually the first to come up. As people will have seen a holiday program whilst sitting at home and heard a horror story about someone being shot, robbed or conned. My answer… It’s about as dangerous as where you are sitting right now. Crimes happen all over the world and it’s all about being sensible and having common sense. Will you get robbed if you are wearing your gold Rolex and have your DSLR camera hanging around your neck whilst walking through a poor neighbourhood? Maybe – maybe not– but ask yourself the same question about your country? Ok there might be higher levels of petty theft and muggings but being sensible can help lower that risk.
I have been to some poor countries on my travels around the world and I have never been robbed or had any real problems. Ok, a lot of it was probably down to luck but I like to think its down to common sense. Why carry more cash than you need? Just be aware of your surroundings.
It must be really cheap to live there…
In one word… No. Island life is not cheap at all, especially if you want luxury items as in a car, flatscreen TV, etc. Everything has to be imported and the customs charges here are huge. Gas is about $6.20 a gallon at present, a litre of Presidente (local beer) is just under $3 and an average mobile phone tariff is about $25 a month. Ok you might be saying to yourself that doesn’t sound that bad from where you come from but to put this in to perspective the minimum wage over here is less than $7000 DOP – about $180 US dollars a month.
That said it is possible to live cheap over here – buy rice, plantains, sugarcane, rum and anything else they manufacture here then its pretty cheap. My favorite thing to do is go down to a park in the Zona Colonial with a bottle of rum and a few friends – A night out for about $5 – I cannot complain.
You must be on the beach everyday…
Living in Santo Domingo? unfortunately not. Santo Domingo has one public beach that reopened a few months back however it is not very clean and I definitely would not recommend swimming there due to the pollution in the water. The closest beaches to the Capital is Boca Chica and Juan Dolio which are about 40 minutes away from the city.
Boca Chica is hectic with more of a local crowd and Juan Dolio has a much more quiet and relaxed vibe. The country is not that big so some amazing beaches such as Bahia de las Aguilas, Bavaro, Bayahibe, La Romana, Cabarete and Samana are not to far away.
At the end of the day who said living in paradise was easy? But all joking aside I would recommend a visit to the Dominican Republic to anyone. My family came out at Christmas for my wedding in Juan Dolio and they had nothing but good things to say. Dominicans are really happy people and this country has so much to offer. People usually head to the beach areas but if you want to see a bit of culture I would definitely recommend Santo Domingo whilst in the Dominican Republic.