Under the blue skies of Quisqueya
V. Demenina, K. Sapozhnikov
Tiwy.com, december 2004
(page 3 of 3)
Tourists in Quisqueya have the least problems. The Dominicans treat them with reverence. We used to witness more than once as the policeman stopped the traffic because of the only tourist who planned to cross the street. A lot of tourists are taken to the resort areas by direct flights from the USA. Punta Cana, La Romana, Puero Plata, Sosua and Bayahibe are the most “promoted” places of rest. The nature here is so beautiful that even seem unreal: blue of the sea, whiteness of coral sand, picturesque palm woods. The most widely used words in local names are “paradise” and “heavenly”. “Paradise coast”, “Sunny heavens” “Heavenly solitude” and so on till infinity. Many hotels work as per the principle “all included” and this is especially attractive for enthusiasts of carefree rest, tropical tan, exotic cuisine and “unlimited” drinks that include all alcohol assortment, starting from local beer “President” to the “black label”. Some celebrities, like say Spanish singer Julio Iglesias permanently live in these heavenly places. The Venezuelan billionaire Gustavo Cisneros also prefers seclusion in his Dominican villa “La Romana” to noisy bustle of Miami. The only threat which may be faced by unconcerned lucky bargees residing at the heavenly shores are the storms that annually make their deadly way across the Caribbean expanses. And this is as in a roulette game: which route will be chosen by the storm, who will be “touched” this time, which islands will suffer from blind rage of “Katrina”, “Charlie” or “Ivan”? Here is the confirmation to the axiom: there is always a fly at hand for the ointment, absolute paradise does not exist on the Earth.
The guides to Russian tourists in Santo Domingo are fellow countrymen, who landed at the Caribbean shores in the “post-soviet epoch” by the desire to change places and different everyday mess. The most popular among the Russian language guests of Quisqueya is 35 year old Jorge. In search of happiness he travelled all over Europe and then decided to “have a look” at the Latin American and Caribbean countries. He dropped his “anchor of life” in the Dominican republic where he liked everything – starting with climate and festive nature to well-disposed attitude of authorities towards foreigners. According to his own words he successfully married a daughter of former chief of the presidential security, now is completing construction of a three-storied villa and earns good money, by servicing “profitable” guests from Russia, Ukraine and former Soviet republics.
We met Jorge (that was how introduced himself) at the entrance to the Royal house. He was obviously bored and when he heard native speech he revived. It is worth mentioning that we warned Jorge at once that we don't need the services of a guide, but he “professionally” turned a deaf ear to it. So the three of us went around the museum halls and then along El Conde avenue and nearby streets packed with souvenir shops. The most expensive “souvenirs” are amber items. In the republic they mine their own of rather a good quality amber, which is not yielding to “sunny stone” from Kaliningrad region.
Another lure for amateurs of jewelry wonders is larimar, a local semi-precious stone of a tender color spectrum – from blue as skies of Quisqueya to transparent aquamarine. Local geologists discovered it comparatively not long ago – in 1974, and handicraftsman-jewelers found commercial use to it: make brooches, bracelets, pendants and dozens of other effective articles framed in silver and gold. Our attempts to avoid visits of these shops with this luxury were ignored by Jorge and it testified to his personal interest: getting of commission fees. In those days when cruise ships from the United States and Europe moor at the Ozama river, there a lot of wealthy tourists in the capital and the guides get good commission fees for every large purchase.
During the “larimar-amber tour” Jorge persistently advertised different variants of active “VIP” rest in the Dominicana, first of all trips to Saona and Catalina islands. But he “in between times” presented us a programme in the Russian language “VIP adventures” in the territorial waters of Quisqueya, the extract of which is given below:
“The first of the proposed trips is made on reliable 200 horse power motor boats, serviced by Italian technicians. Insurance and security is totally guaranteed. Life jackets are clean. Cocktails and soft drinks are served on the way there and back. During these trips you will get acquainted with life of exotic birds, tropical fish, iguanas and dolphins, visits of ecological parks and mangroves as well as fishermen villages, where one can contact (not dangerous) indigenes. Intermediate rest is at the private beach (clean towels are provided). Lunch is in the Italian style (drinks are included). For separate payment the dish of freshly caught lobster (langouste). The customer has the right to choose and personally take part in cooking the arthropoda (it is as per the text, - authors' note)”.
The second variant of “VIP rest” a-la-Dominicana - is of theatrical nature and is proposed under the brand of “Pirate's sailboat”. Externally it is a copy of a 17th century Spanish galleon,but in fact it is a vessel with two 360 horse power engines accommodating 90 passengers. Not frightful pirates during the cruise entertain tourists - the so called “animation”, and then on the shore they cook food including steaks, fried fish, shrimps, salads and a vide choice of drinks. Langousts, naturally, are as per the special order. You have several hours for beach entertainment, which you can spend by scuba diving or taking pictures.
We promised to Jorge to use one of the variants of “VIP rest” during our next visit of the Dominican republic and said good bye by presenting him another book of adventures of investigator Kamenskaia “for remembrance”. According to Jorge, thanks to visiting Russians gifts, he made quite a good collection of native detectives – “starting from Akunin to Ustinova”. It was detectives, as serious books our fellow tourists take for trips very rarely...
All good things pass very quickly. Hardly you have time to look around, feel yourself at home, get used to local life when it is already time to “raise sails”. We were going to the airport with a feeling that for the past week we could have seen and learned much more. Our driver,”veteran of the steering wheel” having learned that we were from Russia, got cheerful and entertained us all the way with his “memoirs”. It turns out that Ovidio Ramirez started to work as a taxi driver even at the time of dictatorship, “when everybody was at the beck and call”. Just try and not report to the police that you drove Russians, - and you may consider that you are already in prison, they would definitely learn about your “sin”, denunciation was the basic form of “political activity”.
After Trujillo has gone, Ramirez “recognised” only two politicians - Joaquin Balager (that is the person!) and Leonel Fernandez, who during the initial period of rule made a lot of good for common people. For example, don Ovidio got his taxi practically for a trifling sum. The President wanted to establish a model tourist service and he made it. Family life of Ramirez is completely OK. He has lived with his wife almost for half a century and thinks, that he has all the right to be proud that nearby her there is still the same man, with whom she decided to make a family. They have five children: two of them somehow make both ends meet, and three of them live in the United States and earn well. Thanks to America don Ovidio greatly improved his own business. Once he was driving a gringo-passenger and he turned out to have some relations to shooting the film “The Godfather” in Quisqueya. They chatted, shared their views for life, exchanged phones “just in case” and the next morning Ramirez got an invitation to take par in the second part of the film in bit part of a driver and even with words! Not too long a phrase, but still! For the received actor's fee Ramirez bought a small house and a piece of land where his wife grows flowers and fruit for sale.
Our driver not only narrated but also interviewed us. Maybe he has already heard it more than once from other clients but, interrupting each other, we shared our impressions of Quisqueya, mentioned "Columbus Lighthouse", cave "Los Tres Ojos" with mirror-calm lakes, Museum of the Dominican family and a cosy atmosphere of “Russian-Ukrainian restaurant “Kiev” which gradually teaches the Dominicans to amenities of pancakes, dumplings and raviolis.
Just at the approach of the airport don Ovidio, with a cunning smile, wondered, what was our opinion of the Dominican banner. Our burst of laughter made him understand that his question “with a catch” did not take us unawares. Of course, he was not asking about the national banner, but about "bandera dominicana", national dish No.1. Its ingredients are rice, beans, meat with sauce, salad and fried bananas. This is the main dish of a Dominican table, really very tasty, nourishing, without exaggerated culinary claims - in brief – peoples meal. During the trips across Quisqueya "bandera dominicana" kept our strength in optimum working conditions.
That is why, for more than two hours before our departure, having found a small restaurant in the airport, we decided to salute the “Dominican banner” once more. Who knows, when we are lucky again to come under the blue skies of Quisqueya...