Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
After arriving in the Dominican Republic, it was probably a mistake getting dropped off in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo with a 40 pound backpack and no map of the area.
While I was waiting to board my flight I met a gentleman in his late 40's/early 50's from Chicago. At first blush you might buy into his reason for travel into the DR (business), but I could tell by his remarks that he was in town principally for debauchery. After some conversation he offered to have his taxi drop me in town before he proceeded to his hotel, which I took him up on.
I probably spent three hours walking around the area looking at the sights, for a map, and a place to sleep; with the latter two never panning out. For a tourist trap, you'd figure there would be at least the little freebie maps hanging around, but that wasn't the case. I finally got around to finding a limited one of the surrounding area form an expensive hotel, but it did little more than point out landmarks (the Dominicans are crazy about Christopher Columbus by the way).
Hotels in the Colonial Zone ranged from laughable ($100+/night) to modest ($20/night)—out of the price range I was looking for. As the shadows started to get longer, I decided to pick a direction and start walking to see what else I could find.
The 9th was a holiday for the Dominicans, and many businesses were closed. Oddly, I heard the day off was in observance of Martin Luther King Jr.
As I walked through what most folks from the States would consider sketchy/dirty parts of town, I kept a sharp eye out and an open mind, absorbing the local life (unassociated with tourists/tourism). I imagine I would have been hard pressed to find another gringo even remotely close to these streets—tourists stay to where they are comfortable.
As I'm passing open air markets, stinky chicken butcher shops (where you choose your own live chicken), and middle school aged kids playing baseball with a simple stick as a bat, I stumbled across a game of dominoes. I stopped for a moment, wondering if it'd be impolite to get a photo of the game, when I was invited to pull up a seat and be the fourth player. I hesitated at first, it was getting late and I didn't know how to play, but after standing there and watching them play for about five minutes I had the simple rules of the game down, and decided to pull up a chair.
We sat there and played for 15–20 minutes, smiling and laughing at each other and the game, before I broached the question of a cheap place to stay (in Spanish). Thankfully, the night prior, I had worked with Marcos on creating a sheet full of words and phrases that would help me communicate a few basic questions and statements.
They understood my question, and after some brief discussion of price the older gentleman I was playing with instructed one of the other players (Aneuris) around my age to lead me to a place about 40 yards down the street.
I would have never found this… I'm not sure what to call it. It's clearly not a hostel, but not what you would consider a motel either—is there something lower than a motel? Well, whatever this place is, from the outside I would have probably walked straight past it, not necessarily because of its character, rather the only indicator of a business operating inside is a nameless phone number outside that may or may not belong to the establishment. Otherwise, it looks like all the other three/four story concrete buildings around here.
Even though the staff spoke no English, and my Spanish was limited, I ended up securing a simple room for the cost of a lunch back in the States—about $6. It's in these places though (where I can't put my own padlock on the door) that I'm glad I brought a Pacsafe enclosure for my backpack.
Later, I returned to the place where the domino game was and thanked Aneuris again. He introduced me to one of this good friends (Francisco) who had a suggestion for a place to eat when I told them I was hungry.
Francisco lead me to an affordable Chinese joint, where I offered to pick up his meal. His English was decent enough, and we sat and chatted while we ate.
I spent the rest of the evening sitting and speaking Spanglish (writing down new words to boost my vocab) and passing a small rum bottle around with Francisco, Aneuris, and Sesilio (Aneuris' stepbrother). It was a good day.