In search of Cipangu and a western route to Asia for the Spanish crown, Espanola was among the first strange islands where Christopher Columbus made landfall in 1492. Many Europeans believed at the time that Eden itself laid in the far eastern reaches of the Earth, and to get there one could sail west. Columbus was in search of paradise. And after having seen myself the clear blue waters of this island and watching and hearing the breeze blow in from the Caribbean Sea through the coconut palms, I cant help but think that Columbus must have believed when he reached these islands that he’d found it.
My experience in DR was not one rich in culture, or with really any local cuisine, music, art or experiences. That’s right, in my first venture outside of the borders of the USA I was cloistered in the bubble of an all inclusive resort. The perfect and ingenious answer to the tourist desire of sipping margaritas and eating Japanese food in the Caribbean tropics without having to worry about icky things like poverty, crime and the weird customs of the local people who were no doubt taking care of our turn down service. I’m not trying to be dramatic or on some moral high horse here…. I mean there’s a time and a place for simply kicking it in a beautiful place with all of the comforts of the west…. But let’s just call it for what it is here.
As a young boy on my first international trip, I imagine I must have arrived at this tropical paradise with some of the same questions as the good Admiral did: “Where the hell am I??”, “Why can’t we have this kind of weather back home?”, and “Are those local savages not wearing CLOTHES?!” (Except in my day the savages were Caucasian women from New Zealand and the U.K.) I definitely got your typical tourist experience in Punta Cana: Mai tais, pina coladas, fake Cuban cigars and plenty of beach time: a veritable yet inoffensive introduction to what life outside the USA’s borders can be like.
Reflecting back on my trip, I can’t say that I know how Dominicans live, what they eat, or what their culture is like at all. What I did learn: ordering a double doesn’t mean one drink for you and a friend, a White Russian is a poor choice for 100 degree weather, and if a guy sells you a box of Cuban cigars on the beach for 3 dollars, they probably aren’t the real ones. A shame that I know this place has so much more to offer, but since it was my first trip and I was being squired about by my parents…I’ll give myself a pass on this one for not seeing it. And God bless my crazy parents for taking 6 high school boys on a trip like this. Luckily no one ended up in a Dominican jail.
So back to the US I went. In just a few short months, I’d be overseas again, but this time across the big pond.