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