The honeymoon is almost over, but I've attempted to get a bit more organized in my observations and musings about being in the Dominican Republic. I found my last couple posts on the subject kind of haphazard and scattered, and wanted to do better this time. So I've grouped some of my thoughts by subject, which is at least some kind of organization. I'm presently fighting motion sickness, and have been for about two hours, so we'll see how well I do.
I've described some of the differences in cars and highways already, such as timers on the traffic lights, the trash everywhere along the highway, and animated walk/don't walk signs. There's a lot more that differs, though. For instance, there aren't all that many driving signs (like speed limit signs, curve warnings, or intersection notices). In fact, I don't think I've seen a single stop sign. The traffic is left to guide itself, and apparently the people are friendly enough to simply let others into traffic at intervals.
One would think this would involve more frustration and horn use... and the latter is accurate, but not the former. The drivers who've taken us from place to place frequently use the horn, but rather than an angry HOOOONK that one finds so often in the United States, it's almost exclusively a short "beep." Basically, a "hey I'm here" or "heads up." This is particularly true around the mopeds, since those riding them have the tendency to weave in and out of traffic, and are much squishier and perhaps less able to see the impending doom of an oncoming bus.
Gas is expensive here, and in liters rather than gallons. I've been squinting at the signs, and trying without success to take pictures of the prices. I finally looked it up: gas is about $3.50/gallon in the Dominican Republic, which maybe explains why it's been mainly buses with lots of people ferrying us around, rather than smaller, personal vehicles.
Two less usual-to-the-US forms of transit thrive here. Mopeds, which are a cross between motorcycles and motorized scooters, are a very common sight. I haven't seen any sidecars, but there are plenty of people riding two-per-moped. And in addition to mopeds, there are hitchhikers. Actual hitchhikers, thumb gesture and all. Hitchhiking used to be more of a thing in the United States, some 40 years ago and before, but it faded out... I think because of safety concerns, or something. I wonder if that speaks to the US being a much more fearful place than other parts of the world.
I don't envy the mopeds, or any other open-air vehicle, though. All the roads we've driven on, mainly highways and roads near the resorts, have been paved. But on the airplane flight in, I looked down across the country and saw dirt roads in abundance. Long, thin, and hopefully well cared for, but they were too far away to tell for sure. My experiences with dirt roads were bumpy, pothole-y, and unpleasant experiences. Combine that with the truly excessive amount of rain we've had, and they're likely more like mud roads...
Even the paved roads near the resorts have been flooded in places, sometimes so badly we couldn't leave the resort. It's rained for more than half the day, each day for the last week. It adds up to a lot of rain, and this close to sea level, it sticks around. Impromptu lakes form, across walkways, roads, and the garden area in the resort. It's more than a little inconvenient, but between the tropical storm (thankfully hundreds of miles away) and climate change, there isn't much to be done.
A little different here than in the US. For one, I don't think I've seen a single type of plant I'm familiar with. That includes the carefully planted palm trees. The oaks, maples, beeches, and willows I'm familiar with simply don't grow here. Instead, there's everything from trees that look like they're made of ferns to great broad-leafed giants to shrubs choked with sprawling climbing vines. The palms, I would guess, are mainly cultivated, since I tend to only see them around resort and public areas. But the jungle plants are very densely packed, such that I sincerely doubt I'd be able to walk through them at all. Mostly everything is green, but it's broken up by bits of brown. No fall colors here, in an area that rarely, if ever, sees temperatures below 70F.
That's just this particular area of the Dominican Republic, though. The terrain in the country varies, from this tropical jungle and beach area to tall forested hills (maybe mountains, but I bet my uncle and aunt in Colorado would laugh at that description). I believe the map I saw also included hotter lowlands, almost desert-like in climate.
The first animals Chris and I had close encounters with were actually horses. Two tall, scruffy-looking brown horses were right next to the road, ignoring the traffic to crop at the wild grasses and plants. The driver of our ride to the resort slowed down to a crawl, so we got a good look at them, but they barely paid us any attention. I have yet to see any roadkill here, but if I thought deer roadkill was bad, I can't imagine how smashed up a car would be after hitting a full grown horse. Horses, thankfully, are also much smarter than deer. So it's probably not an issue often.
In addition to the horses, wild or tame, we also spotted cows. But not American black-and-white Holsteins. There were brown and tan, just as big as Holsteins, I think, but long-eared. Their ears reminded me of goat ears, honestly, but even longer and floppier. They look, needless to say, pretty ridiculous.
Other encounters with wildlife include the tiniest little tree frogs, none larger than my pinkie finger, but so loud that a dozen of them could keep any light sleeper awake indefinitely. They peep all night, incessantly, unless startled by another of the inhabitants of the resort: stray cats.
There are at least two stray cats here. They're loud things, shying away from being petted but definitely demanding food and attention. You can hear them from an entire building away, making meows that are part yowl and part siren. The frogs don't mind that so much, but any angry yowls or screeching silences them for 15 seconds or so.
Just like I don't recognize the trees here, I also don't recognize the birds. There are some similarities, such as some type of ring-necked dove. Very similar to the pigeons in the cities, but not the same species. There are some odd-looking geese and ducks. There's a seagull-like species that peeps rather than screeching like the seagulls I recognize. And there's a crow-like species that, while much smaller, certainly fills the "dratted scavenger" niche here. Impressively loud, black birds of a size more appropriate for a robin than the crows I'm familiar with. They're thinner, though, and sound like someone crossed rusty hinges with the loudest peeping sound I've ever heard. I've watched a few sneak food off deserted tables at the open air restaurants here, but somehow they don't get as fat and stupid as the pigeons and seagulls in the US.
Finally, and most clearly to me right now, I got to hold a stingray. We were out on a "swim with the sharks and stingrays" excursion. I'll describe the excursion more in a later section, but I was initially assuming I'd just get to pet the ray, as I have at some aquariums. At those aquariums, the rays swim as they please across a shallow tank, and you can pet their backs, but are severely cautioned against touching their undersides.
Well, here they just sort of handed me the (destung) stingray, which was bigger than a serving plate, and showed me where to put my hands under it so as not to hurt it. Stingrays are very soft, almost rubbery, but not slimy. I have no idea how they trained it to not be bothered by the uncertainly grasping hands of tourists, but it was very quiet and still as I held it in the water. I did what I always do in uncertain situations, which is to freeze unless something is going horribly wrong. I was so shocked that I was allowed to hold the ray, I didn't even mind that they were hurrying me along and taking my picture to sell to us later. I can't imagine I smiled very well, I was kind of busy being shocked about the live stingray in my arms.
The motion sickness is winning. I've got more to say, about food, the various outings, and possibly the culture here, but it's going to have to wait for another entry. Perhaps tomorrow, since it seems a shame to have it wait 'til Friday.