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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stranded in DR

This was actually my second trip to DR, and by no fault of the country or its people, it was also the second time I found myself filled with anxiety and a strong desire to get out of there as quickly as possible. During my first trip, my brother had fallen victim to an unknown food allergy which left him in a state of semi-paralysis until we finally got him to an emergency clinic to treat the anaphylactic shock. After several frightening hours he slowly began stabilizing and ended up being just fine in the end. Needless to say, negotiating through a medical emergency on survival Spanish was plenty enough stress to make me very happy to be back home and know my brother could clearly articulate what had happened to his own doctor.

Bearing this initial departure in mind, I found it rather disturbing when we arrived at the airport on Monday afternoon only to find out that our flight had been canceled due to weather in Miami (perhaps the bag handler slowly running this finger in a slit-throat motion while saying "American to Miami" should have tipped us off). So it was that the nasty weather system that wreaked such havoc in my home state of Mississippi last Saturday and was now sitting over Miami creating violent thunderstorms and 55mph gusts--understandably, not weather for flying.

The airline clerk provided us with the official version of this disappointing news and dipped her head back down to her terminal to begin determining our options. Catherine and I looked at each other with disappointed eyes which understood the longing for our king size bed on South Beach and dinner plans of stone crab coupled with sauvignon blanc. We took a deep breath and tried to remind ourselves that it is called "Adventure" for a reason.

Our clerk proceeded to inform us that the flight leaving Tuesday from Puerto Plata was sold out, but that there was still room if we wanted to stay two more nights and leave on Wednesday. When inquiring about Santiago, we discovered the same problem. With that our clerk looked up with a smile and said that we could make it to Miami on Tuesday if we wanted to leave from Santo Domingo which had four flights a day. There was just one small detail to figure out--it was a 3.5 hour drive across the country! We quickly weighed our options and decided our only option to make it to Key West on time would be to book the flight departing Santo Domingo the next morning and just figure out a way to get ourselves across the island.

Fortunately our taxi driver had paid more attention to the bag handler's earlier gesture and decided to wait around until we knew what we were doing. After some haggling and pricing out our options with the rental car company, we opted to pay the $30 premium charge to have our taxi driver deliver us to Santo Domingo and find us a hotel near the airport.

The drive across DR was an interesting tour of both the country side and the local inhabitants driving culture. As for the latter, we were both extremely pleased that it appears to be an internationally accepted good idea to get out of the way of things bigger than you (everything else is fair game to test the opposing drivers nerves).

We eventually made it to Santo Domingo around 6:00pm at which point our taxi's rear tire exploded a block from the hotel. We really did feel bad about this but were also very glad it happened when it did--it had been a long day for us, too. Our driver seemed optimistic about getting his tire repaired and returning to Puerto Plata that evening so we bid one another farewell and checked into the hotel he had identified for us.

Hotel Tropicana sits on the Las Americas expressway just outside of downtown Santo Domingo. As we approached the hotel's lobby Catherine asked, "Is this place open?" The lobby had been completely cleared and the floors were covered in mud created by sawing ceramic tiles. Contrary to its appearance, a kind young gentleman appeared at the front counter and greeted us warmly in English. We were provided with a room for the evening as long as we could pay cash which required paying one of the hotel workers $200RD for a ride to the ATM. When we got back from our run to get more cash we found the room to our door open with three guys inside working on our 13" CRT television. While slightly weirded out, we tried to play it cool and told them to take their time. We decided our best recourse would be to hunker down by the pool and procure some Presidente. Service at the pool made us realize that we needed to be cracked out of our "western shells" and start embracing that with each culture comes its own expectations/standards for service.

It was a loud and somewhat awkward evening of voices outside our room (and perhaps a chicken or two) but we managed to catch a few hours of sleep before our early wake up call at 4:30am. As promised, our taxi driver was waiting patiently in the lobby, on time, and ready to deliver us to Santo Domingo International. Luckily we arrived with ample time to fill out our multiple immigration forms (which Catherine has assumed as one of her duties) and made it to our gate on time.

Perhaps "stranded" is a bit strong since we did manage to make it to Miami a day later, albeit a few dollars shorter. All is well though, this morning we awoke well rested after a full night sleep in a big bed and the beautiful Key West sunshine streaming in through our windows. Now it's time for sunshine, great music, and an unhealthy dose of partying!

Stay tuned for an update on burning rubber in the Grand National between Miami and Key West!