I love flying over ocean. From that height, it looks unmoving and endless, like a crinkled blue-green sheet of paper. After a red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York and a very full flight from New York to Santiago (the entire plane burst into enthusiastic applause the moment we landed safely), I arrived at Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional del Cibao.
I got through customs fairly quickly, and went to look for Elana, who was to be meeting me there. After doing a few loops around the Arrivals area without spotting her, I found a Centro de Llamadas and gave her cell a call. She answered from her home in Dajabón… a three-hour bus ride away. She’d had the dates wrong and had thought I was arriving tomorrow—whoops! Within 20 minutes, however, in a whirlwind of organization, she had arranged for a reputable taxi driver (her boyfriend’s cousin) to collect me and drop me at a hostel in Santiago.
A few notes from the taxi ride in:
- Even though I’m not a tree expert, the unfamiliarity of the local trees is often the thing that sticks out to me the most, when I arrive in a new place. Here, the trees seem lush and jungle-y, with a plurality of banana trees and palm trees. (I know bananas technically aren’t trees, but “banana plants” sounds awkward to me, so I am going to continue calling them “banana trees”—and just you try and stop me.)
- Throughout the city, there were numerous small groups of people sitting around sidewalk tables, all of them enthusiastically watching two people play dominoes.
- On the way through Santiago, we drove by the Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration), a very unusual-looking, erect structure with an arms-outstretched statue partying atop it.
When I arrived at Hotel Colonial, I galloped headlong into Spanish, discussing and booking a private room (for only about $20 USD). I always enjoy the Spanish for “Are you traveling alone?”: “Andas sola?” — literally, in one meaning of andar, “Do you walk alone?” Then, settled in my wee room, I splatted gratefully down on the bed for a few minutes, enjoying my first moments of solitude since before beginning the trip.
My hostel room was a little dingy and spare, but it seemed clean and had its own bathroom, and I need little more in life. It opened onto a hallway that ended in a pleasant balcony overlooking the street.
After my moment of relaxation, I decided I must make one more foray into the world before allowing myself to hermit in my room. I asked at the hostel desk about where to find a colmado (a small grocery kiosk or store, which can sell everything from fresh vegetables to snacky foods), then determinedly set off into the streets. Navigating these streets was a bit of an adventure, partly due to the prevalence of low-grade street harassment, and partly due to the breakneck, constant-recreational-horn-honking nature of the traffic (and crosswalks seem like mere suggestions, so one must wait for a gap and then dash). I successfully found a small colmado, purchased a mildly suspicious-looking plátano (plantain), and found my way back to the hostel.
Especially coming from a California winter, the temperature here is bask-worthy. It’s mid-80s all day, and only slightly cooler at night. Hey look, I’m in the tropics! The night temperature is balmy and perfect, and I stood quietly on the balcony for a while, watching the street, at peace.
I spent the rest of the evening placidly reading and writing in my room, listening to the Santiago street sounds that wafted in through my noise-permeable wooden blinds: honking horns, sirens, dogs barking, and the laughter and cheers of a group of people seated around a television cart on a nearby street corner.