• close family • small boat • big world •

The Dominican Republic

November 4, 2014

by Nicole Close
At anchor, Luperon, Dominican Republic

Yolas - local homemade wooden fishing boats.
Most are powered by homemade wooden oars.
We are staying in Luperon, in the Dominican Republic for a couple months. We don’t usually stay in the same place for so long, but we are waiting for the hurricane season to end. Luperon harbor is very well protected from the elements, making it a great hurricane hole. We haven’t seen much of the country yet, but the places we have visited are beautiful and amazing. The Dominican Republic is a great place with very nice people, and it was great learning about their country. 

The Dominican Republic occupies the east portion of Hispaniola, sharing the island with Haiti. By area and population, the DR is the second largest Caribbean nation, behind Cuba. It has an area of 18,704 square miles and a population of over 10 million. It has the highest mountain peak and lowest elevation in the Caribbean. It also has the richest plant life. After being in the Bahamas for the past few months, where very little other than cacti and mangroves grow, the DR seems especially lush and green. The temperature varies little from season to season, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Dominicans are known to be very hospitable and gracious, and all of the people we have met so far have proven this to be true. The national language is Spanish. In bigger cities more people speak English, but in Luperon, there are few who do. We are learning Spanish as part of school. When we talk to the locals in Spanish, they are very patient with us.

There are four mountain chains in the DR, taking up over one third of the country. The principal mountain chain is called Cordillera Central. It runs across the middle
of the country, from northern Haiti to near Santo Domingo in the south-east. It has 20 mountains, and its highest point is Pico Duarte at 10,164 feet.

Nestled between the mountains are three fertile valleys, where farmers grow many different crops. Fifty-six percent of the country is used for crops or pasture. Small farmers grow bananas, yuccas, beans, and sweet potatoes. The main export crops are sugar, tobacco, and coffee. There are always very fresh and very yummy fruits and vegetables in the local tiendas. We have tried some exotic things, such as guanaban or tayota, that we never saw in the US. In one of the valleys sits Salt Lake Enriquillo, which is the biggest lake and lowest point in the Caribbean. The DR has the largest single gold mine in the Western Hemisphere.

Gregorio Luperon
Dominicans have a long history of war, occupations, and independence. The Taino people were the first people to inhabit Hispaniola. Christopher Columbus discovered Hispaniola on December 5, 1492. Columbus named the island Hispaniola, which means Little Spain. The Dominican Republic became the site of the first European settlements in the New World. Santo Domingo is the oldest permanently occupied town in the Americas. Spain lost interest in Hispaniola when Mexico and Peru were discovered in the early 1500s. In 1697 Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola, present-day Haiti, to France. By the end of the 18th century, the French side of Hispaniola, known as St. Dominque, was one of the world’s richest colonies. In 1795 France took total control of Hispaniola. However, uprisings in the west led to the creation of Haiti in 1804, which was the world’s first black republic.

In 1814 Spain took back the eastern portion of Hispaniola. The people of the DR gained their independence in 1821. Shortly after that, Haiti invaded and ruled for 22 bloody years. General Gregorio Luperon mustered an army to drive out the Haitians, and succeeded in 1844. For the rest of the 19th century, the DR suffered invasions, take-overs, and occupations by Haiti, Spain, and the US. In 1930, Rafael Trujillo came to power, and ruled the DR as a cruel dictator. His rule was one of the bloodiest in the Americas. It is estimated that 50,000 people died during his rule. Trujillo was only stopped when he was assassinated in 1961.

The Dominican Republic has unique culture: a blend of other cultures from Spanish colonists, African slaves, and Taino natives. The DR is well known for its musical style, the merengue. It is lively, with a fast beat. It is based on musical elements like drums, brass, chorded instruments, and the accordion. We hear it quite a lot when we go into town. Carnival is another important part of Dominican culture. Carnival is the Dominican Republic’s Independence Day. Each city has its own celebration, each a little different from those of other cities. The streets are filled with colorful masks, music, and dancing. The celebrations last all February, with the climax on the 27th.

The Dominican Republic is a great place, with amazingly beautiful countryside. The nicest people I have ever met are here. I love being here, and I will be sad when we leave.