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Beer and the Dominican Republic’s Great Instiutions

July 17, 2011

This is dedicated to two types of business establishments found here in the Dominican Republic which deserve merit because they make my life easier and more enjoyable. They both also make it a heck of a lot easier to drink beer.

First up is a great concept that helps you to be productive and social and responsible at the same time. Dominicans love these for weekend afternoons. They’re full service detail car washes with a bar and grill attached. So here I can wake up late on Saturday and decide that my car needs a wash. I call some friends who surely have been putting off waxing their SUV and invite them for a beer at my favorite detailer. Everyone hands their keys at the reception booth and says how much cleaning they’re going to need and right there we have lunch, watch a baseball game, throw away an hour or two of perfectly good conversation and before you realize it you’re watching them pull your car around and valet park it on the other side of the lot for when you finish socializing, which was after all the primary purpose of your visit, you just pay for the wash and drive away.

There are variations of this. I go to a decent gym where if I did manage to get my lazy butt out of bed on Saturday to go work out I could have my car washed and vacuumed for less than ten bucks right in the gym’s garage while I work out. I’ve seen this version in the states too but never the Resto-wash. I’m told there’s a few but this is a standard issue institution in the DR and you can find these very easily here.

Now I want to introduce my readers to a Dominican-grown stroke of genius and the next dedication I’m making.

I want to tell you about a ‘colmado’ which is the most efficient, widespread, and dependable institution this country has. A colmado is a type of convenience store. You walk in and order from a counter. They typically have beer, ice, rum, any kind of soda, cigarettes, a limited selection of snacks, milk, laundry detergent…most of the stuff you find at the 7-Eleven.

These are never chain operations, they’re usually small family or individually owned establishment. You can always find one by looking for the ‘Presidente’ beer advertisements over the door and they are everywhere. When I say everywhere I mean that in a high end residential neighborhood you’ll still find these things on every corner. You’ll find them along the road too and they’re never very far from you which is where lies the great victory for the Dominican people.

Imagine you’ve thrown a barbecue Saturday afternoon. You did all your homework and got plenty of beer and ice for everyone but as the afternoon blends into the evening  and no one wants to leave supplies get critically low. Those logistics questions start bugging you: Will I really have to send someone out of my party to get more supplies? How much should I get?? If you happen to be throwing your party in Santo Domingo, San Francisco de Marcoris, San Juan de la Maguana, Santiago de los Caballeros or any other Dominican city, town, or village, you already know that won’t be necessary.

That’s right, colmados deliver. Every colmado has a messenger on a dilapidated scooter-bike on call who will priority-express-urgent-right-the-heck-now deliver the matches, ice, cigarettes, or additional beer that your party needs to continue and they will do it–I’ve timed this many times–in just a few minutes with a smile on their face. You can order anything they have in stock no matter how small or inisignificant you think it might be and there is no delivery charge. Ever. The beer always comes so frosty you’ll never open the fridge to get the warm bruskies that you threw in there at the beginning of the party. I usually just order 12 beers, throw them in a cooler with ice and order a refill when I get low! What’s great is that since most Dominican residences are apartment buildings and each colmado covers only a small geographic part of the city, you can usually just pick up the phone and say what you want and the driver already knows who you are and where to take it.

Imagine if we had this at American college towns! Tallahassee had Mike’s Drive Thru Beer Barn where you could get a keg loaded into your pickup truck but you still had to turn the ignition and drive there after you passed the hat around for contributions.

To the Dominican Institutions of Colmados and full-service car washes repectively: I salute you! Now all you have to do is replicate this spirit of enterprise, customer service, and utter efficiency to the rest of your country’s industries and pretty soon Higuey will be looking like Tokyo.

One last comment since we’re on the subject of beer drinking. I’m so glad I live in a culture that shares Brazillian’s dedication to ice-cold beer. There isn’t a single colmado, bar, or restaurant that will ever allow itself the indecency of serving you a beer that is not so cold that it has a frost coating around it. I know other countries where you’re not always so lucky but the Dominican Republic gets another salute for it’s enviable high standards of low beer temperature. I love Presidente which is a world export Dominican beer and I love it even more when I can see icicles coming off of the bottle.

Keep Adventuring.


A Big Small Town

July 14, 2011

Santo Domingo is not organized. It is not noted for its excellent management of traffic flow nor it’s exceptional energy distribution systems. But what I love about Santo Domingo is that when I go out at night I don’t have to worry. I love that nothing is too far away and yet you feel like you’re in a real city. I love that I know all of the nicest bars and that I have my watering holes around town where the waiters know me and I can ask for the usual. Sometimes I don’t even need to ask. I love that I know these streets so well and that there’s no shady underbelly which I’m honestly scared of here.

Theres an extension of this to the whole country. I love that no destination in this country is more than five hours away by good to mediocre but rarely falling apart-quality roads. I love that the country is easy to get to know. I love that I dominate the language and I feel at home in it. This is a beautiful country and I’m having a good time learning about it.



July 13, 2011

Everwhere you’ve ever called home, if even for a second there has been someone who you’ve shared good times with, someone you’ve confided in, someone you wish you could take with you. Something that happens in life is that friends come and go. It is impossible to keep up with each of them. It happens faster and faster the more you move around.

It is impossible to keep everyone in your life. I dug back to the oldest photos I could find on hand. There were more that I wanted to use in old dusty files somewhere deep in the bowels of my old room in my parents house but this was what I had right now. I sought out pictures from every place I’ve lived in. I tried to pick out at least some of those faces and I’m dedicating this post to anyone who’s ever moved along in life and especially to all of those people that have marked my path. Some are people who I worked with for many months sharing a life away from home even outside of business hours, others are people I’ve shared a single drink with or who joined me for a moment on a beat of my journey somewhere unknown. To the best of my abilitiy I have kept up with these people but I always end up wishing there were more opportunities, more time. This is by means not an exhaustive compilation. Even I couldn’t find enough pictures of some of you.

Enjoy and keep adventuring:


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Getting lost in the rain

July 12, 2011

I found this picture after taking a wrong turn. It was all Travelling Tonito’s fault. We were visiting a medieval city outside of Lisbon. Sintra it was called and though my friends insisted it was a shame that we didn’t have a bright sunny day to see it I was completely mesmerized by the gentle mist that hovered over the town. We made a late afternoon visit to ‘Palacio da Pena’, what I would call a medieval castle and your average european a ‘nuisance that we have everywhere’ situated on a hill overlooking Sintra. It made quite the spooky impression in the fog and I was quite thankful for the consistent motif. Often you arrive at a historical site and the bright midday sun and line of tourists suck the mistique out of the place but this was delightfully spooky. We dealt with the wetness well as we approached the castle and had fun taking pictures around it (though not always permitted).

It got even more beautiful as we headed back to the car in the direction we thought would take us there. The mist in the thick green forest was something I’d never experienced and it added a sauna-like halo around everything and did spectacular wonders with the light.

Here are some more views of foggy Sintra just to convince you that one person’s bad weather can be another person’s eye-gasm.

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November 17, 2010

Taste, my dear is like one’s arms. Each has his or her own and some poor bastards have none at all.


Keep adventuring.

Welcome to the Caribbean

October 21, 2010

Before I get to my point I’d like to bring back this blog with a short introduction to dust off the cobwebs. I at least hope that many of you came to enjoy my first few posts and wonder why I stopped. I’m not going to answer that question now, but I would like to share what’s happened since.

My world has changed much since I took a break from traveling to get some real work done. I was afraid for a short time that I was becoming boring, that my life would now settle into some mundane pattern of work and sleep. It had for a while. I had lost myself again for a bit. I was too heavily involved with my job and I forgot to enjoy life and all of the things I’d learned of myself on my seven month hop around Asia.

To catch you up I was offered a job which I accepted and started last January to work in a country I never thought I’d enjoy living in. I took it because I thought I needed to get my life on track. Like I needed to develop some kind of path to a greater ambition. I set my sights on something that would be mine. It was a professional goal closely related to something I’d learned in my travels. Sorry to build up such a mystery but it’s too premature still. I also took the job because it was close enough to home that I thought I could maintain all of the personal relationships, such as with my family, that I’d been losing touch with.

I came to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, which was close enough to my Miami base of operations to still visit my family and friends, at least monthly. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this small island nation it shares a small landmass called Hispaniola with the crumbling chaos that we call Haiti. Colonized by the Spanish and overrun for a short period by their unruly neighbors to the west, the Dominican Republic is now a work in progress with energy shortages and cheap imported used cars from the USA. My first impression of the Dominican people was characterized by their highest form of culture: vehement denial of their African and native ‘Taino’ roots. Indeed the Dominican variety of the Spanish lexicon has more adjectives for shades of skin color than the Inuits in Alaska have for snow. These  vary from ‘Medio Blanco’ or sort of white, to ‘Cafe Oscuro’ -dark coffee. This impression, however was slowly replaced with a welcome regard for their positive laid-back attitude and their downplay of minor bureaucratic details of life, like time. While these things continue to challenge me at work, acceptance of them make it much easier to dance along. What’s certain is if you fly too straight here, you can never hope to keep up with the Merengue.

It would have been a rough change from the break in Miami, but the previous years dragged me through a never-ending transition of cultural situations that left me numb to any sort of culture shock. I went right to work in a construction project in an administrative department referred to as general services. I worked late and often and though this job had me rotating around much of the Dominican capital city inspecting the various construction sites I took few opportunities to engross myself in the culture outside of work. My job, in case you’re wondering why I drove around town so much, was to ensure that the security guards I was charged with coordinating were awake, armed, and uniformed. I quickly discovered that in the case of the Dominican security guard, you  can surely never find any guard exhibiting all three of these conditions at the same time. It was an interesting job that gave me the chance to interact with locals of every walk of life, from successful small business owners to sly construction workers. What I liked from the start was that Dominicans don’t hold back. The people I met with easily opened their life stories to me and were quick to make friends. I got reacquainted with my dormant ability to speak Spanish and even let it acquire the local sing-song tone and affinity for talking in metaphors. I began to differentiate between Spanish accents from other countries, a skill I have long desired to have. Overall this has been an unexpected cultural awakening for me.

Around May I was invited to change positions at work. I was needed in the main office, a reality one step removed from the construction life. My shoes would stay shiny and I’d report to the ninth floor of a glimmering office building in the nice part of town with a breathtaking view of the Caribbean sea in the distance. My job title changed too. I surprised myself that I was moving back to a position in the finance department, an environment I once hurried to run the other way from. I had full weekends off now, with the exception of the closing of the month ritual which took ten days and prohibited me from taking on any task not work related during that period.

I had a chance to travel more outside the country too, visiting long desired places like New York, and San Francisco, and discovering unexpected adventures in Guatemala which I would not soon forget.

I bought a car and started escaping to the countryside whenever I could. One day there-and-backs were sprinkled in whenever possible and though usually against this I decided to open up to the experience of visiting some of the stylish beach resorts that peppered the stunning dominican coastline. On my visits around the country I had the chance to look upon the lush green tropical mountains that engulf the center of the island. This is a naturally amazing place and I was frequently reminded of those fantastic islands in Thailand which made me fall in love with beaches all over again. I visited swanky foreign fun-filled Cabarete and watched the kite surfers play. I visited the gorgeous Samana bay and looked upon dreamlike cliffside views. I visited the sand dunes of Salinas near Bani and the well presented resort-land of Punta Cana and it’s snow white beaches. I still plan to visit the interior mountain-towns of Jarabacoa and Constanza this year where I hear paragliding and white-water rafting are for grabs

Over the next few posts I intend to show a little bit of this land through some of the pictures I’ve taken and I hope you’ll even be motivated to have a visit soon as I love getting guests and spoiling them with places to visit.

Mount Bromo: A Fortunate Change of Plans

October 20, 2009

Java, Indonesia – July 2009

With my trip to the Philippines already booked my time on the island of Java was running short. I needed to see Java quickly (a mistake) if I was going to have any time to spend in Bali. After a day of grueling discomfort from getting sick in Jakarta I took the train to Yogyakarta (/Jogjakarta/)—an unexpectedly luxurious, if slow, means of conveyance in Indonesia—12 excruciating hours of my stomach doing back flips. The first day in Yogya I was hiding from the sun and trying to keep my bowels together. The second day I felt better and began exploring. The third day I’d found a whole new side to the town that I didn’t expect and wanted to stay more. I stretched my stay further and took culinary tour of the city. I read my guidebook to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything out. I booked a sunset visit to the Hindu temple ruins of Prambanan and the next morning, a sunrise visit to the Buddhist temple of Borobudur. I thought I’d be getting a pretty good idea of Java with this plan.

I still hadn’t been to see any volcanoes and how can you leave Java without visiting the foot of one of these great spectacles of geology for which the island is so famous? I read an entry about Merapi (‘fire mountain’ in Bahasa Indonesia), the most active volcano in Java with, apparently an excellent night view. It was perfect, a mere 30 minutes from Jogja, I could go see it and spend the night and be on my way to Bali the next day! The plan was set.

Feeling satisfied, I went to have a quiet beer and listen to the live jazz music in Via Via, the charming restaurant that I had found a bed across the street from. I would have just one beer as the next day I had to rise at the unholy hour of 5am to visit Borobudur.

A fellow traveler at the café was just coming from Bali and East Java and telling me all of the wonderful things I was headed for. She told me Merapi wasn’t that big of a deal and that you can’t really see it very well. Then she told me about Mount Bromo. She told me about the smoke billowing out of the open mouth. She mentioned the amazing view from the top of the crater and the beautiful sunrise to be seen from the viewpoint reached only by Four Wheel Drive transport. My jaw dropped. I spent that evening, not sleeping as I would soon discover I should have done but plotting this most welcome of detours.

Getting to the Mountain

My sunrise tour of Borobudur ended just after 9am and I hurried to the bus station. The driver would not take me to the station but instead dropped me off at a random place on a main street of Yogyakarta insisting, as I struggled to understand, that there would be a city bus to take me there in a few moments. It worked out and soon I was scrambling around the Yogya bus station trying to find the next bus to Probbolingo, the nearest town to Bromo. The guidebook said the fare would be no more than 80,000 Rupiah (about $8 US) and I was determined not to get ripped off. I was directed to a particular area of the bus station where private tour companies were all bickering desperately for my business and quoting more than double what I expected to pay. None of the busses left before noon. It was an eight hour ride and I could not afford to get stuck in Probolinggo overnight. This was a touch and go mission I had to get to the mountain today!

I found the ‘other’ busses on the opposite end of the station. These were the busses quoted in the guidebook. The ones used by the locals. I soon discovered why those busses are priced so low. Those tiny bench seats, the equatorial heat melting my skin with not so much as a fan to blow it off. The vendors pouring in to push their various snacks, beverages, and children’s toys at all of the frequent stops. Every so often at a traffic light a man with a guitar or a tambourine or any instrument at all would hop on and play his music, then demand payment from everyone on the bus. I would show them my headphones and they would pout and storm off to the next passenger. People got on, people got off. I hugged by backpack and tried to sleep but the squeaking suspension of the prehistoric vehicle was unable to cope with the Swiss-cheese roads of eastern Java, and I would bump my head on the window wishing I had slept that night.

The eight hour travel time became a numbing 12 hours and the man at the guesthouse I had booked from my prepaid local cellular phone was telling me there was only one option for me to get there tonight. He arranged for a driver to meet me there and take me the remaining 40 minutes up into the mountains. I arrived exhausted, unable to think or move. It suddenly occurred to me that it was cold. Much colder than I could have anticipated. “Oh right,” I thought. “I’m up in the mountains.” I was completely unprepared for this. Southeast Asia is seldom cold and I wasn’t even carrying a sweater.

The man I’d been talking to showed me directly to my room. I was happy that they were so nice to me and let me do the check-in later. Shivering, I crawled into bed and piled the blankets on. I slept in.

I did not do a sunrise tour as planned that morning. Instead I did two separate visits to Mount Bromo. I did one on the following afternoon after I finally woke up and another the following sunrise.

All the time spent, the backache the stress, the cold all amounted to amazing views and interesting new friends. Click the pictures below to find out more: