Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Old Capital - Santo Domingo

Before we headed off to Santo Domingo (SD from here on in) we had to get back to Casa de Campo where we had made arrangements with the boat yard to haul out Mowzer to clean her up and give her a nice new bottom paint job.

By 10 a.m. she was being hoisted into the air
This one is for our friend Dave who was introduced to Jenga over the last week. See Dave, even Mowzer likes to get in on the act, but she's making this one a bit more difficult to play!
Blocks all in place to balance the boat evenly on her keels.
We picked up our rental Kia at the marina and headed off for the 110 km journey to SD. Thankfully after we got ourselves past the first town of La Romana, we were on a main highway all the way in. La Romana may sound a little romantic, but I can tell you after driving through it last week and again today, it is a hell-hole. It is a downtrodden factory town with dirty dangerous trucks, loads of motoconchos and poverty ridden shacks lining the streets. There might be a nice side to it, but we certainly didn't see it.
However, once clear the drive into SD wove through the countryside and then down to the coast and before we knew it, we were into the old part of the city. With only one detour we found Casa del Sol, our home for the next three nights.
Our room on the second floor with the wrap around balcony, with breakfast served on the rooftop terrace.
SD is the oldest remaining European settlement in the Americas. I stress European since many of the brochures forget this little detail with which I am sure many aboriginal people might have an issue. Nonetheless, it is pretty impressive to walk down the first paved street, see the first hospital, the first palace and the first cathedral in the "new world". Christopher Colon (as Columbus is known in the Spanish world) put his brother Bartholemew in charge of Hispaniola at the end of the 1400s and after a couple of failed attempts on the north shore (including a massacre by the natives) he moved the first permanent settlement to the south coast where SD stands today. The Colonial Zone is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the 16-block area just drips with antiquity, some of it masterfully restored and some of it literally dropping from above. Keeping the tourists safe and hence, their money flowing, is the full time job of the tourist-protection police and I think that other than in the resorts, it is the only place I would feel safe carrying my camera in the daytime. Step outside the zone and you are immediately surrounded by the squalor that is typical DR. The city itself comprises some three million people and we haven't seen the commercial centre which I understand is quite modern with upscale bars and restaurants and good shopping, but this seems to be the nature of the DR: almost unbelievable luxury sitting right next to almost unbelievable poverty. Overlaying it all is what to us as Canadians feels like an oppressive military state with complicated bureaucracy and outcomes completely dependent on the man dishing it out. As you will guess, this is not my favourite country we have visited so far, but is an experience that I have learned from and will tuck away for future reference.
Enough of that, let's begin our tour.
Wandering down Calle Las Damas, the oldest paved street built in 1502.
Fortaleza Ozama is a medieval styled fort originally built in 1503, also used as a residence by Columbus' son and later as a prison up until the 1960s.
I enjoyed the views from the top of the tower. As with other Spanish structures in the Caribbean, it is a mix of stone, brick and coral
The battlements were chock-full of defensive canons. The Spaniards definitely didn't want England or France to get their hands on their new settlement.
So many canon that we were stumbling across them in the grass and the bushes.
The fort overlooks the Ozama River with docks, ferry terminal and a cruiseship dock.
Henry found the local Lion's Club.
This imposing edifice is the Panteon de la Patria, started life in the 1700s as a Jesuit convent and later became the resting place of notable figures from past military events such as the battle for independence from Haiti in 1844.
The fresco on the ceiling was stunningly beautiful.
A military guard is present whenever the Panteon is open.
The architecture was an interesting mix of stone and brick arches, creating almost a warehouse atmosphere.
These ladies worked at the Ministry of Culture offices.
School trips to the Plaza de Espana: these 14 year olds just wanted their picture taken so they could see it. They approved and chatted away with us, although we didn't understand all they told us.
Every art shop needs it's own resident cat.
Some of this is beginning to feel a bit like "Where's Waldo?"
Mid day and time for a break along the pedestrian street that runs for 11 blocks through the heart of the zone.
The mausoleum at Parque Independencia holding the remains of Duarte, Mella & Sanchez: the founders of the Republic following revolution against Haiti in 1844.
Putting the size of this place into perspective.
It was interesting that as we walked around the park we were beckoned over to the mausoleum by this soldier. Not ones to ignore a military directive, we were told to take off our hats and enter the building. He gave us an interesting tour including access to upstairs with views of the three statues. At the end he asked us for a donation but when I asked him if there was a box for said donation he just ushered us out of the building. It is difficult to imagine a soldier standing guard at the memorial in Ottawa providing a personal tour and then asking for a "donation".
The ruins of the first hospital. No tours available here for any price...
We climbed the hill where this sentinel greeted us to her portion of the sidewalk.
You definitely have to choose the right side of the sidewalk up here as you can't just cross the street half-way up.
Columbus' statue reigns over Colon Park and the Primada Cathedral in the background.
Built from 1514-1540 in a gothic style, the Primada Cathedral has 14 distinct chapels built outward in each arch of the two knaves. Each one is distinctly different and houses some pretty impressive pieces of art.
The artist went to great pains to capture the agony of the Doña Misericordia's face.
This 16th century Spanish painting of the Virgin of Anguilla was rescued from a shipwreck near the Virgin Islands and miraculously made it to Hispaniola unscathed.
The western doors of the cathedral are the most ornate in a relatively unadorned structure.
I loved these relief sculptures in the gates to the cloisters.
By this point a cold Presidente was called for which we enjoyed on our hotel roof-top terrace. We have discovered that in the DR, Presidente can be bought "grande" which is a 675ml bottle - perfect for sharing or slaking your own very big, sight-seeing exhausted thirst!

And finally, we enjoyed dinner out at a very nice restaurant overlooking the Alcazar de Colon, built by Columbus' son Diego as his primary residence. We decided that dinner was courtesy of the sale of our old anchor. It felt rather iconic that the two of us sat in the square (front yard) of a 500 year old palace in a capital city and ate a first class meal at a restaurant founded in 1505 for sailors and conquistadors, all as a result of selling a chunk of iron off a sailboat.

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