January 24, 2014: Rum Oxen & Stormy Skies

Today was my final full day in the Dominican Republic—such a strange thought! Elana and I agreed both that it feels like I’ve been here for months, and that it feels like all of those “months” passed by in the blink of an eye. We woke a little early so that we’d have time to pack and go out for breakfast before our hotel checkout time. The main street was all clean and puddle-lined; last night’s rainstorm had continued well into morning, unlike most of the rain I’ve seen here. We ate at a little café, where the breakfast plato del día included perfectly ripe papaya and delicious café con leche.

When we had previously had breakfast at the café adjoining our hotel, two days ago, the proprietress had told us that she’d been working on a gluten-free brownie recipe. On the way back from today’s breakfast, we popped by, and she had indeed created black-bean brownies! She gave us one for free, since she recognized us; it was so mild and perfectly-textured that we bought several more for the road.

Our plan for the day was to bus to Santiago before dark; we had left everything else open-ended so that we could explore a bit more before leaving the coast. Once we checked out of our hotel and loaded ourselves up with bags, we began our pleasant, aimless stroll along Cabarete’s main street by stopping for a fresh natural juice from a fruit stand, thus conveniently adding a new fruit to our list: jugo de granadilla, or juice made from the fruit of Passiflora quadrangularis, a type of passionflower with huge fruit. The granadilla juice was thick but refreshing, and tasted like pear-watermelon juice. The bottom of the cup was full of seeds and granadilla goop by the time we finished, but it was well worth the straw-vs.-seed navigation efforts.

The longer I’ve been here, the more confused my language has gotten. I speak English about 95% of the time with Elana, and I speak Spanish with the vast majority of other people I talk to here. I reached a new level of linguistic chaos today: we walked by a man who addressed us first in Spanish, and we responded in Spanish. He then said something like “Have a good day!” in English, and I caught myself responding in English but with overdone Spanish pronunciation: “You too!” (pronounced like “jyu tu”). What the—? There’s absolutely no logic to me speaking English with a Spanish-inflected accent, brain! Very entertaining.

We also ducked into a few shops: Elana found a gorgeous and affordable hammock to bring home to her trees in Dajabón, and I haggled successfully for a small pendant made of the ocean-blue Dominican stone larimar. We stopped for lunch at a comedor, where we had some fine Dominican chiva picante (spicy goat meat). Then, we climbed into a carro to Sosua, and in Sosua, made the now-familiar switch to a carro towards Puerto Plata.

At the edge of Puerto Plata, we took another fun detour, this time to the Brugal Rum Factory. Brugal is the largest rum manufacturer in the Caribbean, and their bottling plant offers free tours and rum samples. Our tour guide deftly gave the tour both to us and to a few French-speaking tourists concurrently: first, he’d explain something in Spanish for Elana and me, then repeat it in French for them, then flit back to us.

Our tour started outside the factory, where they had some antique distilling equipment arranged around, alongside some fake oxen. The guide explained each element of this display (minus the oxen), then led us up some stairs and into the factory itself.

Historical rum-makin'.
Historical rum-makin’.

Inside the factory, we stood on a walkway a story above the factory floor. The bottling machinery, laid out beneath us, was reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if modernized somewhat. Conveyer belts and tubes snaked all around each other in silvery lines and curves, and the central assembly line stayed in perpetual motion. A flat of empty bottles would be placed, like so many bowling pins, at the beginning of a conveyer belt; they would find their way to a central section where they were filled with rum (in today’s case, the Añejo rum), spun about, and topped with caps that whizzed down through a curved tube.

The guide pointed out and explained each aspect of this process. As we walked along the platform, Elana and I noticed more and more of the factory workers’ heads turning toward us. A few waved, but most of them just stared openly, eventually to the degree that we could see several pairs of eyes trained on us in any direction we chose to look. The guide took that moment to explain that zero women worked in the factory (at least on the factory floor), joking about how distracting it would be for the men, and adding that it was very dangerous work, besides. It was very interesting how overtly this bias was stated, in contrast to the way things are talked about in the United States.

After the tour concluded, we were led to the gift shop, which housed hundreds of bottles of all their rum varieties, arranged beautifully, plus miscellaneous Brugal paraphernalia. We perched by the “bar” and had a few free samples of their basic rums, specifically their Carta Dorada (golden low-tier) and Extra Viejo (golden premium) rums—neither of which I would sip straight, but which were perfectly serviceable.

A veritable gallery of rum.
A veritable gallery of rum.

From Brugal, we walked to the corner and caught a small guagua (van) to get to the center of Puerto Plata. There, we jumped onto a larger, comfier guagua headed to Santiago, and with that, we were on our final leg of the journey. I was at a really engaging part in the book I was reading, and a few times I pulled it from my bag, and even opened it once or twice… but before I’d read a paragraph, I would get distracted by talking to Elana or by gazing out the window and drinking in a bit more jungle scenery. I’ve had full access to these things (Elana conversation and jungle scenery) for almost two weeks now, and I knew I would miss them enough that even my longing for my book paled in comparison. The sky was split-grey and handsomely stormy, and the distant mountains were padded with blue mist.

We decided to stay at the Hotel Colonial, the basic-and-inexpensive place I’d stayed on my first night in the country. At first, they put us in a basement room that smelled of lemony pee, had a ceiling fan that quaked frighteningly in its mounting when used, and which was out of reach of the hotel WiFi… so we decided to spring for a 2nd floor room with A/C (just a few dollars more), which was a billion times more pleasant.

We walked to a local supermarket, then returned to the hostel for dinner. Earlier, we had learned that, janky as the place is, it has its own kitchen, which sells dinner some nights. Since it had no real menu, we could more or less customize a Dominican meal to our exact preferences. I had a tasty chuleta (tender pork chop, in a mild sauce with bell peppers and onions), along with passionfruit juice, the standard rice and beans, and the most fresh and perfect tostones (fried plantain slices) I had ever tasted.

We spent the rest of the night quietly: writing, reading, Internetting, talking. We had a few sips of Crema de Oro, a semi-traditional Dominican ponche crema liqueur that tastes just like over-sweetened eggnog. It was a fittingly placid and contented final night for a magnificent and adventurous trip.

5 thoughts on “January 24, 2014: Rum Oxen & Stormy Skies

  1. Don’t tell me that this is your final posting??? WWWwwaaaaaa! Your linguistic story reminds me of my grandmother, who, with my mother, was traveling in France. Mother spoke French, having lived with a French family for a year, but Granny did not –and Mother tells of hearing her speak to the French in broken English. Wuv, G.

    1. Don’t worry! There will be one more post that includes my final morning there and my travels home, and then a final round-up post with links to my full photo collection, etc. Very cute about your mother and grandmother and their linguistic exploits! Wuv.

  2. How sad that this trip is winding down. I want to go on your next trip wif you, okay? I love this: “jyu tu.” Our brains are silly things.

    1. Very nice! I hope you have a wonderful time there. Glad you found these blogs; do let me know if there are any travel opinions I can toss in your direction. :)

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