Living Myths of the Dominican Republic: What Travelers Need to Know

Each country writes its own epic, preserves shrines and creates an image for itself. For some, it comes naturally, for others it doesn't work at all. Having visited the Dominican Republic, the editor of “Around the World” realized the full power of the magical realism of this small big country

—Are you flying to the Dominican Republic? And what's in there?
– Sea, sand, all inclusive …
– And how is this different from Turkey? Besides money and distance?
– Well, I don't know… Snow-white sand, palm trees, coconuts. Heaven on Earth…

From overheard 10 years ago

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed in Him: If you continue in My word,
then you are truly My disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Gospel of John, chapter 8

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

The Dominican Republic is more complicated, more interesting, more dramatic than it seems from afar. This is not “Turkey for the wealthy” and not just a coconut paradise. This is a country of a new, very special mythology, which is being created literally before our eyes. And with sincere faith.

In general, the definition of “paradise” has its own metaphorical truth. On one small island of Haiti, two bright opposites coexist – the Republic of Haiti in the west and the Dominican Republic in the east. If the first is deservedly associated with an abscess on the body of the Earth, with a pitch hell, then the second, it would seem, does not even need to try hard to look like paradise. But she tries.

Holy Mountain

For a quarter of an hour now I have been circling the top of Mount Isabel de Torres in search of my international press group. Tony Fermin, already a middle-aged guide from Puerto Plata, took other journalists somewhere, who, it seems, managed to get infected with the local carelessness in a couple of hours on Dominican soil and a couple of dances with a folklore ensemble. And they left me in a souvenir shop under the dome of the former anti-aircraft pillbox. Merengue sounds are heard from the Teleferico station, dancers are relaxing under the gazebo canopy. Souvenir dealers rest at the entrance to the pillbox. Nobody saw anyone.

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

The paths of the botanical garden scatter in different directions, in which my colleagues roam somewhere under the ferns. At my throwing in this limit of peace, lying at an altitude of 782 meters above sea level, blue below, the owners of the mountain look with bewilderment: why fuss, look for someone – admire the breathtaking panorama, there is Fort San Felipe on the shore of the bay, you see , how does it silver under a ray of the sun? – in the same way it was silver when Columbus entered it in 1502, that's why he called this place “silver port” – Puerto Plata; visit my store, buy a larimar ring; go take a picture with Christ the Redeemer…

The statue, very similar to the one that stands on Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro, but much shorter, is shrouded in light fog. Christ the Redeemer spread his hands over the dome of the pillbox, which, in fact, serves as its foundation.

A strategic facility to protect the city from external enemies was built during the time of the dictator Trujillo, but was abolished as unnecessary: ​​constant cloudiness on the mountain did not contribute to vigilance. And then Christ appeared on top of the dome in 1970, around him – a tropical garden, which later inspired Spielberg to shoot some scenes of Jurassic Park, and the cable car – the only one in the Caribbean.

“He protects us,” a local guy who moonlights as a “photographer” tells me and nods at Christ. “Give me the phone, I’ll take a picture of you with him.” Stand a little to the left, like this. Palm a little higher & nbsp; – here, now you are holding it! And now go a little forward, still … stop! Okay, his hand is on your head. He has blessed you!

My group with Tony comes out of the ferns. All is well.

For it is said

“The Dominicans are very religious, about 90% of the population are Christians,” says Tony in a cracked voice. “We are the only country in the world whose coat of arms depicts an open Bible. And in it there are lines from the Gospel of John: “…And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

1/7The distant past here seems to be recent, the near is stylized as antiquity, and the present is intertwined with the unreal…< p>…In this “the only country in the world” you can often hear the words “most”, “first”, “best”, etc. The use of superlatives does not necessarily mean a desire to exaggerate. This is an innate tendency to monumentality. In most cases, supported by historical truth.

The Dominican land was not the first place in the Americas that Christopher Columbus set foot on, but became the site of the first permanent European settlement in the New World. It received the name of Santo Domingo – in honor of the patron saint Domenico Columbus, the father of the discoverer. Here, in the future capital of the Dominican Republic, in 1514 the first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere was founded – Santa Maria la Menor, the first palace – Alcazar de Colon (the residence of Diego Columbus, son and successor of Christopher), as well as in 1538, the first university -St. Thomas Aquinas was founded (there are disputes about this).

Disputes can be carried on as much as you like, but the Dominicans will not miss the opportunity to declare their own …

About legendary records

“Our country has the largest number of caves per unit area in the world, there are about five thousand of them,” says Pedro, swaying between the rows of seats on a high-speed catamaran. Pedro takes multilingual tourists through the territory of Los Haitises National Park – between amazing karst cone islands, over which pelicans and frigates soar, along mangroves, to caves. Pedro has a can of beer in one hand, and with the gestures of the other, he helps himself to speak alternately in four languages ​​…

“John Paul II called the Dominican Republic the most Catholic country in the world,” says a guide, standing by the popemobile, which found a permanent parking place at the Columbus Lighthouse after the pope’s visit to the Dominican Republic in 1992. The Pope attended the inauguration of this monument in honor of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. By the way, this is the biggest cross in the world…

— Our rum  is the best in the world, — Casa Brugal employee smiles. — How does it differ from Cuban? We use the same barrel for a maximum of 15-20 years, that is, two or three times. They use and use…

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

— Cuban cigars? — the manager of the VegaFina factory is surprised. — What are these Cuban cigars? Only Dominican!..

– Dominican Republic – a paradise for golfers. Here are the best fields in the world. And more than 25 golf clubs,  – states Luis José, golf instructor at the Hard Rock Hotel&Casino in Punta Cana, by the way, the largest “Hard Rock Hotel” in the world .

Field check

– Eyes on the ball, fix your eyes on the ball! & nbsp; – Luis Jose was unlucky with his student today. Already the third hill of balls. I get about one shot out of five.

-Golf is an exciting and beautiful game – says Louis. -But I love it because it is a fair sport. You really need to train a lot, so that later it will be exciting and beautiful.

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

A couple of hundred training strikes – and here we are leaving with Luis “into the fields”. His mother and father are immigrants from Haiti. Louis was born here in the Dominican Republic. Has been playing golf since the age of 13. He is now 31 and has two children. Louis is happy with life.

— Why do people come here to play golf?

“People have a lot of time on vacation. You can lie on the beach, or you can play golf. I haven't been anywhere but the Dominican Republic, but I think that the fields here are really the best. They say Miami is good, but most of my clients are Americans.

Do the locals have the opportunity to play golf? Or is it a sport for wealthy tourists?

– This is an erroneous opinion. People often think that golf is the sport of the rich, so they don't even try to play it. But in the Dominican Republic you can find fields for 500 dollars, and there are also for 50. Locals are given big discounts everywhere. There are places where you can play for 20 bucks. I play with my friends every weekend. We have a lot of things for life: fields, beaches, mamahuana, and merengue. In our small country there is everything for everyone.

Song time

When you are not hiding in a hotel, but traveling around the country, it does not seem small. There is too much of everything in it: both rich nature with diverse landscapes and climatic zones, and original cities where the romance of Victorian architecture coexists with unexpected megalomania, expressed in monuments.

The distant past here seems to be recent, the near is stylized as antique, and the present is intertwined with the fake. And all this as a whole is perceived as a system. Mythological, but system. Such a marketing system mythology, where each myth has value and sells well, because it is strictly regulated.

“We have to wait for Julio,” says Bobby Jay, who brought us from the north, from Samana, under the walls of Fort Osama. “I have no right to lead an excursion to Santo Domingo. Therefore, we are waiting for Julio. When should you come? Uh-uh… Do you know that we have a special Dominican time here? It's rubbery: it stretches as far as it can stretch.

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

At the walls of the fort, a song flows. This is the ice cream man singing. Everyone sings here. Much more than dancing. Today the cashier sang like this at the entrance to the Three Eyes cave complex, and yesterday at the hotel restaurant on Cayo Levantado – the legendary Bacardi Island – the waitress with the Russian name Tatiana sang, inviting everyone to pull up in chorus: “Mui bien!” On the bus today from Samana, a rainbow of colorful colonial houses, Bobby Jay sang gospel songs, saying:

“Samaná is home to many descendants of African Americans who emigrated by the thousands from the United States after 1824. Therefore, a special English-speaking subculture has developed. If in the rest of the Dominican Republic mostly Catholics, then in Samana Methodists. Families go to church on Sundays and sing gospels. Now… When the saints go marching i-i-i-in…

Julio appears accompanied by a buxom wife with a beach bag and slippers. We all walk around the colonial city of Santo Domingo together. Julio speaks some Spanish. Bobby Jay translates into English and adds a lot of his own. Julio's wife smiles and hums. Through the crowd of people walking and dining tables in street cafes, we enter the square in front of the Cathedral, and here, at the monument to Columbus, the singing of professionals falls upon us. With dancing.

The Cornerstone

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

Seemingly total relaxation and carelessness are in fact also strictly regulated. The Dominican Republic has a very strong National Police. Locals, of course, say that their police are the coolest in the world and the most differentiated: there is a department for almost every area of ​​life. And apart from the tourist police, quite friendly towards guests. So the whole “booth” is in good hands.

Each type of police has its own uniform. Uniforms are taken seriously. Because there must be order. For example, motorcycle taxi drivers sitting at bus stops are wearing orange vests, ice cream workers are wearing yellow ones. In the center of Santo Domingo here and there, the eye catches people in pink T-shirts. They are members of the Souvenirs Association. Each wears a badge around their neck with a photo, name, area that the seller can serve, and the type of merchandise. If you are not a member of the association, then you have no right to trade anything.

Ezekiel Reyes' badge says “Columbus Square” and “Handicrafts.” True, I met him half a kilometer from his place of registry – in Plaza España, but with a box of artisanal decorations made of larimar.

– Do you know this stone? Our national symbol. Look what an amazing color! Like sea water, which is pierced by the rays of the sun to the very sand. This stone was discovered by jeweler Miguel Mendez in 1974. He also came up with a name for it, combining part of the name of his daughter Larisa with the sea – mar.

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

… A history that is not even 50 years old (a remake!), managed to become a national myth. Sounds like an old fairy tale, but the fact is real. Such are the games of the Dominican time, entries in the book of myths, open to the whole world on the right page.

I was once again amazed at this amazing ability of the Dominicans to write their legendary history in the village of Altos de Chavon artists.

Stranger than paradise

An architectural marvel in the style of a 16th-century Mediterranean village is located near the resort of La Romana. Paved paths lead to the center of the village. Along them picturesquely bend walls made of coral stone and limestone. Between the fruit trees – artfully aged houses.

All built in the late 1970s by the American industrialist Charles Bluedorn as part of the large resort complex of Casa de Campo. The millionaire has invested a lot in the development of tourism in the Dominican Republic. Paving the way to Casa de Campo, he blew up the rock. There were so many stones that Bluedorn came up with the idea to build this very village out of them, adding another page to the Dominican book of myths and legends.

Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

In Altos de Chavon there is a real school of design – a branch of the New York Parsons School of Design, a real museum of archeology and real beauty around: going out to the observation deck near the church of St. Stanislaus, from a hill above the bend of the Chavon River you see a picture no worse than in Saxon Switzerland.

But everything else is somehow not quite real, including the “Greek” amphitheater for 5000 seats, in which real stars performed – from Frank Sinatra to Shakira. There is a slight feeling of deceit and discomfort here, although everything is created for comfort and with love. Too sweet. And strange.

– In this church of St. Stanislaus, Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, – says Johnny Santana Jimenez, our guide to beauty. Johnny himself is from Higuey, where another real miracle is located.

National Shrines

The Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in Higuey is one of the most original looking temples in the world. And the most visited in the Caribbean. It was also built recently – from 1954 to 1971. In photographs, the basilica may seem ugly.

When you see it in reality, the impression is ambiguous: concrete arches stretched upwards, symbolizing the figure of the Virgin Mary with her hands folded in prayer, a strange blue decoration of the facade and an entrance in the form of an open mouth. But when it absorbs you, you are amazed at the amazing balance of the interior space: harmonious sublime forms, stained-glass windows, frescoes.

Thousands of pilgrims come here to worship Our Lady of Altagracia, whose image was brought to Higuey by members of the Columbus expedition in the early 1500s. So she became the protector and spiritual mother of the Dominicans.

Christopher Columbus himself did not become either a protector or a spiritual father. But he also found a holy place on Dominican soil. For more than two centuries, the remains of the admiral were kept in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. And in 1795, after the conquest of the island by the French, the ashes moved to Havana. A hundred years later, he ended up in Andalusia, where he is still kept in the Seville Cathedral. But this is according to the Spanish version. The Dominicans have their own truth…

In 1877, a box with bones was found in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo with the inscription: “Outstanding Husband Christopher Columbus”. The Dominican authorities announced that the wrong remains were transferred to Havana, while the correct ones remained in Santo Domingo. In 1992, the ashes of the discoverer were placed in the mausoleum of Columbus Lighthouse, erected on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.

This monumental building in the form of a recumbent cross reaches 211 meters in length and a height of 36.5 meters. There are 157 spotlights installed along the perimeter. When they turn on, a luminous cross is projected into the night sky, which is visible even from Puerto Rico, and power outages occur in the surrounding areas. In this regard, the lighthouse is lit infrequently. But they are on fire. Because they believe that the Dominican remains are real. They don't want to do DNA testing. And why something to prove to the Spaniards? The Dominican Republic has been independent of them for a long time.

God bless

In a shop in the Puerto Plata market, which sells “the best male enhancement product in the world” mamajuana, masks, plates and magnets, there is a poster with a picture of Jesus and a prayer:

“Lord Jesus Christ!

Bless this establishment with your power, fill its owner with justice and wisdom, may everything that is sold here serve to the glory of GOD and to the well-being of employees and customers. I entrust to your blessed hands the success and prosperity of this institution, for, as you multiplied the fish and bread and fed your people with them, make it so that incomes multiply for the prosperity of those who depend on them. Lord, bless and protect this establishment from envy, selfishness, and evil influence, and may we see it prosperous and abundant.”


Living myths of the Dominican Republic: what travelers need to know

Dominican Republic

Area48,671 km² (128th in the world )
Population10,400,000 people (87th)
Population density 214 inhabitants/km²

ATTRACTIONSLos Haitises National Park, colonial city of Santo Domingo, village artists Altos de Chavon, Mount Isabel de Torres in Puerto Plata.
TRADITIONAL DISHESsancocho (thick meat soup with potatoes and bananas), wasakaka (avocado sauce with spices), mangu (mashed bananas).
TRADITIONAL DRINKS rum, honey on all kinds of roots and herbs).
SOUVENIRSjewelry with larimar and blue amber, cigars, coffee, cocoa.

DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Santo Domingo ~ 9370 km (from 12 hours in flight excluding transfers)
TIME behind Moscow by 7 hours
VISARussians do not need
CURRENCY Dominican peso (100 DOP ~ 1.8 USD in 2022)

The editors would like to thank Finnair for their help in preparing the material. It is convenient to fly to the Dominican Republic with regular Finnair flights via Helsinki

Material published in the magazine “Around the World” No. 10, October 2019

Stella Morotskaya


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