Joy and I love to travel, explore, and find new places and people wherever we go. Visiting the DR was no exception, so we rented a local car to tour the country and left early one morning. Highway signs in the DR leave a bit to be desired, at least from our point of view, and I took a few wrong turns along the way. Most wrong turns were easily remedied by stopping and asking the way. In those moments I was thankful my basic Spanish language skills were intact as it was rare to find anyone in the countryside who spoke much, if any English.
We did quite well until we reached Santiago, a busy city of around a million people. My maps were not very detailed, and the highway wound directly through the heart of the city. Of course, there are many ways you could go, but we noticed small signs pointing to Santo Domingo, our destination for the week, so we thought we were in pretty good shape. We were zooming along an elevated, divided boulevard in the far left lane, when off the right as we passed an exit we spied a tiny sign, about the size of a postage stamp, pointing to the exit that said “StoDo”. Oops!
There were no more exits, and the highway dumped us right into the heart of Santiago on a ten-lane, divided, city street. Remember how everybody drives here, and you can picture my panic. Well, right in the middle of the city I rolled down my window and asked a street vendor, one of those guys screaming at you to buy his goodies, “Do I turn right here to Santo Domingo?” Immediately his demeanor changed, and he became the most helpful person you could imagine. He told me I needed to take a left, not a right, at “his” intersection, and since we were in the center of our five lanes, he stopped all the traffic to our left and guided me to the left-turn lane, waving us on our way with a smile, then back to selling flags and balloons. Still uneasy, I stopped another time or two until I was confident we were back on track for the big city on the south coast of the DR.
We stopped for lunch at a highway road stop, where for around $7.00 we both had a huge lunch of chicken, rice, veggies and drinks. More than we could eat, but we still needed ice cream to top it all off! Van Sant’s guide tells you to never miss a chance to sample the Dominican Republic’s ice cream, because they love that treat and have some of the best ice cream in the world.
After lunch, I dug out maps I’d printed off the internet that had good detail of Santo Domingo’s streets. It appeared that our entry into StoDo, a city of 3 million, would be much simpler, and it was. We came in on JFK Highway 3, exited at the proper street, and never missed a beat, right to our hotel, a Bed and Breakfast hotel in the heart of the historic district..
In typical Latin fashion, the Hotel Dona Elvira, a walled, gated enclave with a central courtyard and 15 guest rooms on three floors off the common area, is entered right off the street.
Dona Elvira was built circa 1550 in the oldest city in the Americas, and it is presently owned by a Belgian – American couple, Marc and Elvira, who renovated the structure as a hotel in 2004. Marc was a Belgian diplomat posted to the United States for some 14 years until he and his family moved to the Dominican Republic to pursue a dream of creating beautiful, relaxing “old-world” style B&B’s. This hotel is all of that, and we thoroughly enjoyed our three day stay here.