29 October 2016

La Zona Colonial

Fortaleza Ozama
La Zona Colonial, the Colonial Zone, in Santo Domingo, has to be one of the most beautifully restored and maintained historical sites I have ever been to. I enjoy ruins as much as the next person, but when old structures are renovated to give one a true feel of what they once were, without completely discarding the decaying old portions, it is quite special.
Santo Domingo de Guzman, was founded in 1496 by Columbus, making it the oldest European-established city in the New World. Many of the forts and churches and houses continue to this day, despite hurricanes, aging, and constant usage. They really did know how to build back then.
Fortaleza Ozama is the fort built on the Ozama River which flows into the Caribbean not far down the way. The main building sits on a hill overlooking the river, with views down to the sea. As I traipsed up the brick stairs, I had a close look at the walls and could easily tell the old from the renovation. I would never have guessed that the Spanish used what seems to be most of the coral in the Caribbean as building blocks for their edifices. Over time, the material that once covered them has worn off. But rather than re-plastering the entire walls, the restoration workers filled in areas needed to maintain the structure and give it the look of one solid wall.
River entrance to Fort
When I entered into the fort, I was amazed at how cool and refreshing it was. It’s darn hot here, but inside it was lovely, with a gentle breeze. If they built buildings like that today, no one would ever need air conditioning. And I am sure that if the next ice age ever hit The Dominican Republic, there would be no need for heaters.
Today on my morning exploration route, I had decided that it was time I went inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Encarnación, the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Not only did I want to see it, but it was hotter than heck at 9am, and they keep the air con blasting inside.
Regrettably, today they didn’t open until noon so instead I walked around the exterior. And that’s where I came upon the young lady in a photo shoot. I wondered if green was the new wedding white, but when I asked her auntie if I could snap a photo, she explained that it was her niece’s Quinceaner. (15th birthday.)
Further up the road I found the Ruins of San Francisco something-or-other. Here, I generally would do a little research beyond what is in my tourist pamphlet, but I don’t have easy internet access. You’ll just have to do with ruins, old, very cool. One isn’t allowed indoors, but it looks in awfully good shape for being labeled a ruin.
Ruins of San Francisco
Next it was on to the Museo del Amber. Who knew there was amber in The Dominican Republic? When I think of amber, Bulgaria, Russia, and some other countries come to mind. Little did I know that there is a ton of it here and it comes in various hues.
The ground floor - again, in a colonial era building, housed a beautifully set up jewelry shop selling amber pieces as well as those made of larimar. I had never heard of this pastel blue stone before, which can only be found here. I skipped the ornamentation and walked up stairs to the museum. I didn’t have the mindset to really read all the information in the wonderfully curated area, but will go back. There were displays explaining the geological history of amber, where it is found in the world, the various types of amber, and even a small case with Jurassic Park references.
I was alone in the museum when a man who worked there came in and I started to ask questions. It turned out that he was the founder/owner of the museum and had worked with amber for fifty years. We had a lovely conversation about amber and education, and other topics. This is one of the reasons I adore travelling alone. One meets people that one would never meet if in a group. Or perhaps you would meet them, but you would miss out on the personal interaction.
San Francisco Ruins
From there, I went back down to the lower entrance to the fort, just off the river. A sign read Puerta de las Atarazanas. For the life of me I can’t figure out what atrazanas is. I’ll get around to looking it up later. But the tourist policeman explained that the river, at one time, did indeed run right up to this entrance that has now been replaced by a road. He told me that the building directly across the street had been the original customs house.
Everywhere I walked in the zona, there was another plaque or another statue. Just around the corner from the customs house is a statue of Salomé Ureña De Henríquez, (1850-1897), who was a pioneer in woman’s education. I was very pleased to see the statue, but why did they give her such a sad face?
By this time, I was starting to feel a little heat wiped-out. I have a tendency, when I arrive in the tropics, to just keep walking and ignore the feeling. I had been drinking enough water but I could taste the salt on my lips and knew that meant it was time to cool down. I never worry about passing out, but in the past I have ended up with a splitting headache but being stupid and not stopping. Fortunately for me, I was just around the corner from the Plaza de España, with several restaurants in view.
Statue of Salome
You didn’t need to be close to tell this row of restaurants, built in what once was a large house,(I think), were top-dollar places. But all I wanted was an iced coffee and I figured I could afford that.
Looking out on Plaza de Espana
No one was in any of the restaurants, being that it was around 11am and scorching, so I chose one, and walked to an outdoor table by the front entrance. I sat down and realized just how hot I was. Everyone is so nice here. The two waiters not only said there was no problem in ordering only a coffee, but also brought out a fan to cool me down. We talked about where I was from and what their future life plans. Another delightful conversation.
This reminds me of my seemingly confusing national identity. I find it interesting that no one ever thinks I am American when we start talking. They ask if I am French, or Italian, or Swedish, or German, or even Spanish. (not sure how someone made that mistake.) I love that I am mistaken for an International Woman of Intrigue, but don’t know why. No one in California has ever thought I was French.
After coffee, it was time to head back. Today I found a place that serves very reasonably priced meals. I got some chicken and rice and veggies to go, and dragged myself back to the hotel.
I’m now hoping that since it’s Saturday, the baseball World Series is on at a reasonable time today. In California, we always get skunked when it comes to live sports. Case in point, the Rio Olympics. They could have, and should have been broadcast live. I mean who wants to watch a tape-delay of Usain Bolt sprinting down the track? But no, they run it on New York time and we get it three hours later. Baseball, however, is a different story. An 8pm start time in the east is 5pm in California. I always wondered how anyone stayed up until midnight. Now I know. They don’t. Or at least I don’t. The DR is on EST and I really have tried to watch all of any given game, but it just gets too late.

More explorations to come



28 October 2016

The Mostly Joys and Partial Frustrations of Life on the Road


It’s the best feeling in the world to be warm 24 hours a day. The humidity means beautiful skin and curls in my hair. And the joints just don’t hurt in this climate. The Dominican Republic is everything I had dreamed of. And mostly it has been wonderful.
Before I left California, I dug out my old flip-phone, (still my favorite device), and sat down at the computer to try and figure out a way to unlock it so that I could use it in the DR. It took a while, but all the information is available online. Just to test that I really had unblocked it, I slipped in a SIM card from my Vietnam phone. I’d done it!
Jardin Botanico
Once here, it would be a simple matter of purchasing a SIM card and I’d be set. The ladies at the hotel directed me to the mobile provider Orange, whose store is just around the corner. Once my details were noted and paper signed, the very pleasant service rep inserted the SIM and turned on the phone, where it said the card was invalid. So much for my hacking abilities. No problem, he told me, just go down the block where there is a tiny shop that can fix it. So phone in hand, I walked over.
In less you have been overseas, it’s hard to explain all the tiny businesses that are set up in tiny alcoves at the front of houses. Maybe the area was once part of a garage. Or a broom closet, because that’s about the size of some of them. This particular shop had one guy sitting behind a small counter, with a few items hanging from nails on the wall. Before leaving Orange, I had the sales rep write out exactly what needed to be done. This was no time to test the Spanish skills. The fix-it guy read the message, looked at my phone, and said he couldn’t unblock it, but the guy down the street could.
The Spaniards used a whole lot of coral in construction
The next shop was larger, (although still an alcove), that extended back into the building. The owner had properly printed signs regarding warranties, services, etc. Judging from those waiting to get phones fixed, it looked like this would defiantly be the man to unblock my phone. He took my phone, read the note of what was needed, told me it would take a few minutes and cost about $7. And he did just that. I asked if he had used a code like I had found on the internet, but apparently that really won’t do it on American locked phones. He had to plug something in and do something else. And when the phone reverted to blocked status the next day, I simply went back and it is now fixed for good. I couldn’t quite understand what had happened, but it will stay unlocked now.
I do love the entrepreneurial spirit one finds in countries like the Dominican Republic. Have a skill, set up a small shop, and build your business.
Regrettably, there are always the pitfalls of travel. Usually they are only minor annoyances and I generally roll with them. But finding that my travel blog of 11 years has suddenly been deleted is not one of them.
I have gone from a complete feeling of devastation, to frustration, to anger, to just dealing with it in any way I can.
My travel stories are what I do every day. Since starting Kate McVaugh’s Rambles when I arrived in Vietnam in 2005, I cannot imagine being abroad and not writing. It makes me happy to write. Maybe it makes other people happy to read. Told that my blog no longer exists was almost the end of the world.
Zona Colonial
I have no idea why it happened, as I was able to post one article on 24 Oct. 24 hours later, the blog was gone. I have tried all the recovery options from Google, and all I get is a “We can’t verify you are you, so fill out the following form.” Alluded to form, that they keep sending me to, is not available.  
Honestly, Kate McVaugh’s two blogs are linked, my photo is the same on both, they are both linked to my Amazon Books page and Goodreads. They have the same recovery email. They have the same cell phone recovery contact, but my US phone is inoperative here. What more proof do they want? Actually, I think all their responses are automated as I have listed all the above in 5 different recovery attempts and get the same, generated reply.
The only thing to do is post these on my author’s blog. Then, when I get back to the San Francisco area, I’m jumping in the car, driving an hour and a half straight down to Mountain View, and banging on Google’s front door.
As upset as I have been, I do realize that Kate McVaugh’s Rambles are not lost. Nothing’s lost forever out there in cyber-land. But I hate that there are lots of people who will be typing in Kate's Rambles and coming up with “there is no such blog”.
Japanese Garden at the Botanical Gardens
But onwards and upwards to the next bit of frustration I will have to endure to post this on my author’s site; difficult internet connection. Both in the hotel I was in the first two days, and the one I am in now, it is hard to get connected and then stay connected. It seems that if I am not sitting within 1 or 2 feet of the modem, I can’t connect. Again, I don’t get it. Everyone’s smart phones work within a huge area. And someone else was on his laptop with no problem. I really do think it’s because that my laptop is still trying to learn Spanish – I can’t come up with another reason.

So today I am staying in and trying to sort out blog writing and internet connecting. I’ll explore somewhere else new tomorrow.   





27 October 2016

BLOGGER World, Please Help!

I have no idea what happened, but my travel essay blog, katerambles.BlogSpot.com, was deleted a few days ago and I can't get it back.

I have had this blog for over 10 years and used to sign in with my Hotmail account. Stupidly, (it seems), I thought I had set it up to sign in with my other blogs on my gmail/google acct.
I got one post off on the 24th of Oct, and 24 hours later, my blog was deleted.

I keep emailing Google, and keep getting back no reply - or reply forms that lead nowhere. I have asked that they email me, since I do not have mobile ph service here in the Dominican Republic.

Does anyone have suggestion? Although I'm sure my blog is not of importance to anyone else, it is my life. I'm serious.
thanks you for any suggestions.