I landed in Santiago – the Dominican Republic’s second largest city – on Friday afternoon. The airport tells you everything you need to know about the country. The lush palm trees that line the runway remind you that you have arrived in paradise. While the backwards bureaucratic policy that requires every foreigner to pay $10 just to enter, remind you that you are in a developing nation.
I met Rich (by best friend from college) and Luis (Rich’s father) in the parking lot and as soon as we had pulled out on to the Dominican highway, I had an ice cold Presidente in my hand. We spent our first night at Rich’s families house in Santiago. The following day we were up early to trek into the mountains that surround the city. A large portion of the Dominican population are from el campo – the countryside. These mountain people live without electricity or running water.
Fortunately we had a large Toyota SUV, for the one hour drive up into the mountains required us to scale dirt and mud roads that had all but washed away in the recent rains. When we arrived at Rich’s uncles cabin I was overcome by the tranquility of the outdoors. Not since my trips to Ireland as a child had I been to such a peaceful place. I hiked down to the stream that runs behind the cabin and meditated from half an hour while Rich and Luis snacked on fresh Chicharon – fried pork skin.
That afternoon we were back in the city. I was exhausted from all the travel, but it
was Dominican independence day so there was no time for rest. We went to Vega – the home of the last true Dominican independence festivals. The event is a demonic one. A street festival that is reminiscent of Mardis Gras with one major addition. Soon after the start of the festivities crews representing the different neighborhoods from around the entire country flood the streets, dressed in identical demon/dragon costumes and armed with cowhide balloons. Their object – to wallop everyone who is not dressed for the occasion. Naturally they target young men. Unfortunately for me, young, gringo men seemed to be their favorite targets.
I wanted to get hit. It was part of the cultural experience. So when the
first sting of cowskin cracked against by backside I jumped in the air, howling in pain and delight. He got me good I thought and turned around to shake the hand of my attacker. Having had the experience we headed for the car, which is when they got me again. The second smack was unlike anything I have ever felt. It was certainly the the hardest I have ever been hit on the ass. I didn’t see him coming and afterwards I didn’t seem him go. It was as if a ghost had snuck up on me and disappeared. Whoever he was he sent me jumping six feet in the air, butt bruised and thrill gone.