On our way west to Santo Domingo, we stop and watch a few innings of a youth baseball practice. Baseball is next to religion in the D.R., and many Dominicans, including Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramírez, and Sammy Sosa have played professionally in the United States. The kids look at us quizzically until I say they’re the next Sammy Sosas, then they put on a show that makes me believe it.
While driving in the rural Dominican Republic, we encountered bad roads and scary driving; now, as we approach Santo Domingo, the roads have improved, but the driving, well, put it this way: The only traffic law we can discern is, Don’t hit anyone or anything; otherwise, it’s a bit of a free-for-all. And yet, in our entire time driving here we don’t see one accident. Somehow, it works. Kat, a MINI Cooper driver at home, steers la Niña like she was born here.
Arriving in the capital, we’re delighted to find a decidedly European city rich with history. We park near the 12-block Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; nearby, residents enjoy the restaurants, shops, and sites alongside tourists.
We start at the Parque Colón, where a statue of Christopher Columbus points skyward in front of the Gothic Catedral de Santa María la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the New World. Calle las Damas, the first paved street in the New World, leads us to the Alcázar de Colón, the palace of Columbus’ son Diego, who governed here. At the Torre del Homenaje, we imagine soldiers watching from the tower for English buccaneers; and in the national pantheon of Independence Park we pay respects to the Dominican heroes, such as Duarte, who are entombed here.
Famished, Kat and I find a sidewalk table along Las Atarazanas, a row of 16th-century warehouses that now house cafes and shops. In the distance, we can make out the modern Columbus Lighthouse, a glass structure built in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first landing. Its light can be seen from Puerto Rico, and the explorer’s remains finally rest here, after having been moved many times throughout the centuries.
At night, Santo Domingo lights up with merengue clubs and bars, but we get back in the car, navigating the city streets until we find Highway 1 north to Puerto Plata, the Silver Port.