A Travellerspoint blog

12 Tough Truths about Living in the Dominican Republic

Because there’s always at least a little trouble in paradise

sunny 35 °C

With any place, as stunning and seemingly perfect it may be, there is always a little thing or two that doesn't quite jive. Punta Cana, or more specifically Bavaro (I'm going to omit the accent as my keyboard just can't handle that right now), is no exception. As I am sure you are aware, the perks of living on a tropical island with awe-inspiring beaches and beautiful scenery far outweigh the minor grievances that pop up from time to time (or that are a little more persistent than one would like), but that doesn't mean we can't do a little lighthearted mumble-grumbling. So here they are: the twelve realities that I've discovered so far about the Dominican that kind of harsh my mellow every now and then.

1. Being a gringo/gringa (foreigner) is a great and terrible beauty.

It can be great because, hey, free stuff for the pretty white girls! (Although the words "pretty" and "white" in this context are apparently synonymous, and that description is therefore redundant.) The ladies here can have the town's locals (the male one at least) wrapped around their pinky finger in no time at all if they so choose.

But take for example the incident that I had happen to me today: sitting on the beach in all of my shining white glory, an adorable sun hat on my head to protect my precious scalp from burning, I suddenly had a local Dominicana throw herself onto the ground beside me to pose for a photo snapped by her friend just seconds later, then run away laughing uproariously. A Spanish-speaking friend of mine told me that they were laughing (and not in a nice way) at the gringa and her funny hat. Gracias, chica. Gracias.

That plus the fact that motor concho drivers and other service providers have a tendency to try to take advantage of the naive white folk and up their prices make it so that you've got to be on the lookout at all times.

So then I took a selfie with that girl's group of Dominicans behind me in all my Canadian passive aggression glory.
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2. The Internet is the ficklest friend you've ever had.

It comes. It goes. It gives you limited access and causes you to perch precariously at the edge of your patio-But wait not too close to the edge because the signal only works in one little sweet spot aaaaaaaand it's gone. You can beg, plead, try to reason with your modem, sweet talk it and promise it all of life's riches if only it would just let you post that one little Instagram, but it's all in vain. At the end of the day you just have to cross your fingers and hope that the Internet god is smiling down upon you today.

3. Sometimes you might not get what you expected.

Such as that time when I dropped 80 pesos (a whopping $2.03, thank you very much) on a DVD rip of 22 Jump St from this dude at the side of the road who always has a stand with piles and piles of movies, popped it into the DVD player with a smile on my face and the promise of side-splitting hilarity to ensue... Only to be faced with an entirely different movie called Crook playing on the screen, with rough-looking mafia dudes playing the most intense drinking game I've ever seen (Russian Roulette with the gun pointed at your adversary's hand! If it doesn't shoot, take a shot! Fun for the whole family!) instead of the glorious Channing Tatum getting into shenanigans. My disappointment was only softened by the irony of the pirated movie being called Crook.

The DVD in question. No me gusta.
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4. Sand. Is. Everywhere.

A day may come when the persistence of sand fails... Actually no, that day will not come. No amount of rinsing, wiping, scratching or swatting will remove those sneaky little grains from your skin, shoes, clothes, towel, hair, ear canal, fingernails, what have you... And your apartment will be in a constant state of needing to be swept forevermore. Such is life.

This is what my feet look like all day, every day.
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5. Tropical thunderstorms are the most intense thing you have ever experienced.

We learned this the other day when we were all awoken at first not by the thunder or torrential rain, but by the incessant wailing and shrieking of alarms coming from outside. In my 2am-just-woke-up-what-is-happening state of mind, the first explanation I thought of for the crazy sirens was that it was police or ambulance vehicles, until I concluded that they were far too stationary. My next thought was, It's hurricane season. Is this some sort of evacuation alarm? Does that exist? If so, WHY DID NO ONE PREPARE ME FOR THIS? Then my alarmed brain also decided it would be good to ponder the fact that maybe we even had our own security system that I didn't know about, and someone was in our house. After all, doesn't crime go up during inclement weather? (Disclaimer: I have no idea if that is true. We're still thinking like 2am Krista here.) So I crept out of bed and tried to turn on the light - no power. Everything inside the apartment seemed quiet (in extreme contrast to the craziness going on outside) so I went out to the living room to watch the storm. Keep in mind that sirens are still ear-splittingly loud throughout all of this.

You know how there's always that one crash of thunder that is so loud that you feel it shake your core and it makes you stop in your tracks for a moment? Every roll of thunder was like that. The lightning was illuminating the entire courtyard so I could see all the way across the apartment complex with every flash. The crazy sirens coming from every which way ended up being car alarms that were being set off by the thunder! My two roommates came out and we sat together just taking in the extreme display of nature's power for the next half hour or so, until the storm had passed and went out to sea.

With the forecast for this week promising an entire week of thunderstorms, I can tell you that I'm just sooooo excited to go through that again. [/sarcasm]

Here's a 30-second snippet of what it was like. Even if you turn your speakers up to max, it obviously still won't do it justice!
http://youtu.be/FzUKPLKIffA

The next day's continuing rain turned the road down to our apartment into quite the river, too. It was almost a foot deep in some spots!
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6. Your self-control will be tested at all hours of the day, every day.

No amount of insect repellent will save you from the vicious mosquitoes here. They are unlike any other - tiny, nimble, daring, and relentless. All you can do is pray that one day they'll get used to your foreigner blood and not find you delectable anymore, but until that day, you'll be emptying a can of OFF! on a weekly basis. And when the insect repellent fails, you'll spend the next week and a half trying to talk yourself into not scratching the dozens of bug bites basically screaming for your attention. Even right now I'm actually in the process of dying just writing about it.

Just make the pain go awaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy.... :'(
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7. Salsa does not come in bulk.

Can we get a Costco all up in here? Because with three of us girls who basically live on a diet of Tostitos, salsa, and rum and cokes, we literally go through a jar of salsa in 24 hours if the need strikes (which it always does). We thought we'd try to be economical and buy it in bulk, yet any of the grocery stores we tried only sold the little jars. At S-Trip! we get a budget of around $40 a month to put towards our "health, fitness, lifestyle, or well-being." I'm thinking I'll skip the gym and see if having an endless supply of nachos is the kind of "well-being" that they'll accept...

This is what happened literally less than one day after being bought.
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8. There's time, and then there's Dominican Time.

Our boss keeps reminding us that "this isn't Canada anymore!" whenever there is an issue that needs to be resolved. Internet in the apartments not working? It'll be resolved this week, or maybe next week, or perhaps the week after that... Ordered a coffee para llevar (to go) from the little creperie downstairs on your five minute break? Yeah, you'll get that in 20 minutes, hun. Your Dominican friends say they'll be over "soon"? Don't bother waiting up - they're going on their own schedule! While I have yet to come up with an exact equation to determine how many Regular Minutes (RM) go into one Dominican Minute (DM), I've got a sneaking suspicion that DM=[RM(3)]² is the most likely bet. Will update. In the meantime, chips and salsa are a great way to pass the time waiting.

9. Rampant sexism is a daily occurrence.

As a girl, it is impossible to walk anywhere in this city without being catcalled or leered at. Men driving by on motor conchos will literally keep staring at you over their shoulder after they've driven past you, to the point where you hope that they'll crash into a wall and learn their lesson on how to watch the road instead of objectifying women. They'll make kissing noises at you as you walk by, yell out that you're bonita, try to block your way when you're going past them, ask to take your picture, and the list goes on.

On the other hand, though, Ladies Night is an ongoing tradition of literally giving girls free drinks until 11pm on Thursday nights. Still sexist, of course (is there a Men's Night? Clearly not.), but at this point I'll take it as their way of making up for a whole week of being crazy annoying.

10. The humidity will cause you to question your life choices that led up to coming here.

Disclaimer: The heat is wonderful. I am so happy to be here rather than experiencing the Canadian winter.

But oh my God, the humidity. We're talking 30 °C, but feels like 45° with the 80-100% humidity in the air. That's right - 100% humidity somehow exists, and it's defined as: "A reading of 100 percent relative humidity means that the air is totally saturated with water vapor and cannot hold any more, creating the possibility of rain." I've felt humidity in Canada, and it's rough. But it doesn't even compare to the feeling of being able to swim through the air here!

The positive: needing moisturizer is a thing of the past! My chronic dry skin has been cured!

The negative: looking like a frizzy-haired ball of sweat at any given moment, no matter how much powder and product you use, is a fact of life.

11. Electricity is expeeeensive.

With temperatures soaring and the aforementioned humidity plaguing you with every breath, nothing feels better than blasting your AC upon getting home. But hold your horses, rodeo. While a quick Google search shows that the price of electricity per kilowatt hour in Ontario is currently sitting at 7.5, 11.2, and 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour for off-peak, mid-peak and peak hours respectively, one kilowatt hour costs us 14.8 Dominican pesos - that converts to roughly 38 cents. And that's not peak hours - that's all the time. S-Trip! had to curb the electricity usage of its staff apartments because bills were crazy high, and even now with a limit of 11 000 pesos (~$280) for our apartment, we have to be super careful with our usage or else it'll be coming out of our paycheck. That means that the beloved air conditioners (there's one in every room that is remote-controlled! How fun is that?!) must remain silent for most of the day, and only get turned on for an hour or so before bed.

At least there's a pool and a beautiful beach that we can go to in order to cool down! But waking up in a pool of sweat each morning is getting a bit old.

12. The sunburn struggle is real.

SPF 50, all day erry day (and yes, I reapplied). And yet...

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The picture actually does make it look a little more red than it actually is, but aloe is currently my BFFL for the next week or so. Alas, this is what happens when you fall asleep on the beach for 2 hours at 8am after a crazy night of dancing...

¡Es todo por ahora! That's all for now!

¡Hasta la vista (...baby)!

Posted by krista.shatford 06:33 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

One week in the tropics: Punta Cana Living

How exactly did I end up in paradise anyway?

sunny 30 °C

It’s been almost a week now since I touched down in the hot and humid República Dominicana, and what a week it has been!

For those of you who aren’t sure why I suddenly jetted off to live in the Caribbean, I’ll briefly explain what’s going on. Several months ago, I applied on a whim for the Work Abroad Program through a student travel company called S-Trip! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name), thinking little to nothing of it. It seemed like a cool experience and I thought, “Why not? I have no idea what to do with my life anyways.” Very much à la recently-graduated-student-who-would-do-anything-to-not-have-to-live-with-my-parents-again (I love you, Mom and Dad).

Then I got a very unexpected call saying they wanted to interview me. Wow. I still didn’t want to get my hopes up, since it seemed a little too good to be true. One awesome interview and one excruciating month of waiting later, I got the second magic phone call offering me a position in their customer support office in Punta Cana for a minimum of six months.

SOLD.

So here I am. S-Trip! has been phenomenal so far. They are responsible for organizing a huge number of student trips (hence the name S-Trip!... Who knew?) with some 45 thousand students travelling with them a year. My job? Be the person who answers the phone when they call the Help Desk. Taking payments, modifying files, dealing with indecisive high schoolers who don’t read their emails properly, and fending off irate parents is what lies in the bright future to come! While the job itself may be a little less than star-studded, I’m actually looking forward to getting out of the training phase and getting on the phones with the customers and passengers.

But why Punta Cana? I had the same question. Why send a group of Canadians and Americans down to the Dominican to work in an office answering questions for Canadian and American students? Well, because that is fun. S-Trip! is all about creating an awesome experience for students, and they want to extend that to their staff as well. The office is laid back, friendly, chill (and chilly, with the AC running at top speed to fend off the 30+ temperatures and 80% humidity outside), and sports a group of young and energetic twenty-somethings making up the majority of the staff. The work environment is designed to be work hard, play hard, and I have definitely gotten that impression in these first few days.

(Fun fact: I’m not actually living in Punta Cana proper. Technically I’m living just outside of it in a place called Bávaro, which has more to do and is just steps away from the beach!)

S-Trip! also provides apartments for us in a residence complex called Apartementos Olas de Bávaro. First of all, let’s address the most pressing issue: the size of my bed. I was the lucky lottery winner of the draw for the king-sized bed in the master bedroom of our three-bedroom apartment. When I starfish, I can’t touch both sides of the bed. So far, the excessive amount of space I have has been used exclusively for storing items that I am too lazy to actually put away, but please feel free to come visit, as you could probably live in my room without me noticing due to the amount of space I have in my room. The walk-in closet and crazy on-suite bathroom are bigger than my rooms in Ottawa and Grenoble combined, I believe.

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The pool just outside of our apartment is a definite plus, as it’s perfect for a refreshing swim to escape the heat and humidity that wreaks absolute havoc on your hair and sweat glands.

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Cold showers are also the norm – we actually have our water heater turned off entirely in order to save on energy costs. That is taking some getting used to, but the idea of taking a hot shower is also entirely repulsive. I had never quite experienced the exact sensation of transforming into a puddle until my arrival here. As our boss Trevor likes to tell us, the best way to get by down here is to “drink lots and move slowly.” I think he was talking about water, but apparently this rule applies to other beverages too, if you catch my drift.

Slight downsides to our apartment situation include the lack of internet in my bedroom (how on Earth am I supposed to wake up and fall asleep without the comforting clicks of social media monitoring?!), which has since extended to the rest of our apartment as the Wi-Fi comes and goes as it pleases. I have learned more Spanish from constantly seeing the “No se establició conexión a Internet” message that pops up on my browser than I have from any other medium so far. My lack of Spanish is definitely a fault that I’m trying to resolve, as there is nothing more annoying than being absolutely incapable of comprehending the most basic of statements from the locals. I’m really going to work on building up my knowledge though, and luckily we have some staff on board who are really proficient in Spanish, and even a couple Dominicans who are willing to help me out!

Furthermore, cockroaches are a thing. I’ve definitely spotted one or two of the little devils, although now that I type that, I am definitely rethinking the use of the word “little.” They are massive mo-fos. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, are so tiny that for the entire first day here I mistook them for harmless little fruit flies buzzing around my legs. No need to shoo those little itty bitty flies away from my unprotected ankles, right? WRONG. By the time I realized that these miniature mosquitoes were feasting on my poor, naively exposed extremities, it was too late. The bite count is definitely nearing 30 at this point, and yet I somehow have no access to bug spray or itch relief cream. Hashtag first-world-in-the-third-world-problems.

The beauty of this place definitely renders any complaints that I have void, though. The beach, which I experienced briefly on my first night in Bàvaro and then again the next day in all of its sunny glory, is to die for. White sand and towering palm trees line the crystal waters for as far as you can see in either direction.

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Check this out: It is is literally a flying boat.
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Seeing as I am what I like to call “a shining beacon of intense whiteness,” (refer to Appendix A) I attract a considerable amount of attention from the locals, who see the pale foreigners as a definite target for honking, cat calling and ogling. So far things have been just fine and my luminescence has not landed me in any shifty situations, so there’s no need to worry for those of you back home (*cough* Mother, *cough*), but it definitely is something to get used to. For those ladies who were with me in France, the leery Frenchmen don’t even compare to this level. On the five minute walk to work, the group of us four white girls got honked at literally 10 times or more, and everyone stares at you as they drive (recklessly) by on their miniature motorcycles, called motor conchos.

Appendix A: The shining beacon of intense whiteness
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Motor conchos are great, actually. They act as a taxi service and aren’t too expensive at all, plus the ride is a total thrill. On this little motorcycle we could fit two passengers, and I barely even felt like my life was flashing before my eyes!

Anyways, it’s definitely been an interesting experience so far. I’m really looking forward to exploring the area more and getting accustomed with the lifestyle down here! With some awesome excursions planned for us by S-Trip! coming up, I’ll be sure to have some more updates for you guys.

¡Muchas gracias! ¡Hasta luego!

Posted by krista.shatford 11:52 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

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