Falling in love

Sometimes it’s gradual (poquito a poquito), sometimes it’s instantaneous, but falling in love with a city is one of the things I enjoy most about traveling. Cities are so unique and full of potential that we should take our time, give them chances, explore them patiently… with that said, we only had a weekend in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

We took a bus from Punta Cana, arriving Friday mid-day to what the bus attendant told us was the terminal closest to the Colonial Zone. Yes, we had maps, and we planned, but sometimes you just have to get out of the bus when the bus attendant tells you to.

The Colonial Zone is the historic central neighborhood of Santo Domingo, and the oldest permanent European settlement of the New World. It’s been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, so our expectations were high.  A bit disoriented, and very hungry, we started walking towards Chinatown. Wait: Chinatown? Yes, I was also surprised. The thing is my husband is always thinking of food, and planning accordingly. He had a list of potential Chinese restaurant options and we were determined to make it happen. It’s been months since we’ve had real Asian food, so we were energized with anticipation. The walk wasn’t long (only about 8 minutes), but we were tired. The kids managed to keep up even though there were challenges. The amount of garbage in the streets was discouraging, everything seemed dirty and dilapidated, but the people we encountered were nice which gave us hope. We came to a main road (the road where we should’ve been on to begin with) and then things looked a bit better. We popped into a good-looking restaurant (Asadero Chino) and it was airy and clean. The employees were ready to serve us cold beers and there was a fish tank with happy looking fish. We had found our place. The food was amazing. We could’ve been eating in Chinatown in San Francisco or New York, only that here, we were drinking cold Presidentes.

Asadero Chino, Chinatown, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

After that, we got our bearings. The guys at the restaurant told us the best way to do our trek to the Colonial Zone. On our way there, we stopped at a Walmart-type store called Sirena. They had EVERYTHING at great prices. We’ve been a bit limited in our school supply options in Punta Cana, so I stocked up on pencils, markers, play dough, sharpies, workbooks… If you are in the capital and need to stock up on anything from Tupperware to nail polishes, this is your spot.

From there we walked about 10 minutes to the Colonial Zone. When we arrived, I had a pang of recognition; I’ve felt this way before.  It was a mix of busy Mexican plaza life, with vendors and music, and Puerto Rican Old San Juan vibes, with the beautiful colonial buildings. We sat at the outdoor café in front of our hotel (Hotel Conde de Peñalba) and ordered lemonades, ice tea and beers to take it all in. There we felt some European influences and started reminiscing past plaza experiences… we knew this would be a good weekend.

Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

We went out walking in the late afternoon, after some much needed relaxation time in the room. With every turn, we discovered galleries, restaurants with courtyards, amazing colonial architecture, historical sites and beautiful plazas. It was only Friday night and I felt like I didn’t want to leave. The weekend went on with more of the same. Walking, eating, taking pictures, looking at galleries, watching the kids run around in plazas; I had missed this life so much. It brought me so many memories of my youth in Old San Juan and it also made us remember so many wonderful cities we’ve fell in love with.

Conde de Peñalba, Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo might not be a love at first-site city Like Antigua Guatemala, where you are so impressed when you arrive that you have to catch your breath (is that, a volcano?). But it is worth taking the time to explore.  We only scratched the surface, but we loved what we experienced. I left inspired, feeling blissful and airy, most definitely: in love.

Convento de los Dominicos, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.




On Art and Privilege

I’ve been thinking a lot about having the space to write and do art. I’m not referring to physical space, but life-space.  I wonder about all the people around me, how many of them must be incredibly talented but don’t have the privilege to pursue their art.

Who gets to be an artist, or a writer? Mostly those people that can afford to take the time and get good at what they want to do. Others, burdened by their economic limitations, and life situations don’t get to dream. Of course, there are cases in which people are so incredibly talented or so fiercely driven that they go on to do amazing things in spite of their day-to-day limitations, but in global proportions those are rare.

What would happen if we all had the space?

I also think of women, and how in many societies they tend to be burdened from young ages with expectations that they help around the house and take care of siblings, leaving them little time to aspire. These girls grow without the mental space that one would dedicate to art. Once we have kids, our minds also get cluttered with lists of things to do and anxiety about the future. Some days I feel like I have to bully my way into editing a photo or writing some words.

The thing is, I feel this life-clutter even though I am, in a way, privileged. I have a very supportive husband that shares household responsibilities with me. I have a good career and flexible work opportunities that allow me to build my own schedule. Yes, I still HAVE to work, but I don’t have to go to a well and fetch water. There are so many degrees of privilege… to know that some people don’t have potable running water is sobering. On this I could write on and on… but time is ticking and I have work emails waiting to be answered. Sigh.

I follow many wonderful mothers on Instagram, artists, writers, crafters and I am in constant awe that despite the busyness of motherhood they are creating, because I have days that slip through my hands like water. I am grateful that these women are there, to keep me inspired.

Once I get back from our travels I want to open up a physical space to craft again. It has been years since I did anything serious. Not having my stuff with me makes me crave a good dying batch or some glass bead-making. Maybe I’ll finally take an art class!  Like they say in Puerto Rico: “soñar no cuesta nada” (dreaming is free).