As you may have gathered, the latest direction I've taken my quixotic quest for writing validation is in trying to get some travel writing published. In my search for places that might accept something, I determined that the Los Angeles Times travel section seemed to beat out almost anywhere else, offering $200 - $750 for 1300 word travel features. The only catch you have to carefully adhere to their strict, rambling, and surprisingly catty-ly written story guidelines. Among other things, it must be written in past tense, it must have a "nut graf" in the first four paragraphs, and, eliminating most of my travels: the travel can't have been subsidized in any way and must be within the last two years. My last self funded trip to Africa was sadly more than two years ago. I feel like they miiight just mean not subsidized by a hotel or travel agency but their guide is written in such a caustically biting manner I'm definitely afraid to ask.
When I first read their guide, after I recovered from a short term spell of PTSD and went about the rest of my day, the high amount of loot they offered did leave my brain churning ideas in the background. My trip to see Cristina hadn't been subsidized, but it seemed short and other than the romance less exciting than other travel ... but then I realized packing four days with everything the island has to offer is really all one can ask of a travel feature and the romance might make a good background plot. I braced myself, read their
diatribe guidelines again, and decided to give it a shot.
Another problem though is that while I am usually proud of the pohtos of my trip, on this one I didn't even take my DSLR and most of the pictures I took with my phone were of Cristina, because I was a bit preoccupied with her beauty over the islands ;) I figure worst case scenario, their rant does mention "hand-out" photos, which I think means it may be acceptable to get promotional pictures officially distributed by the DR ministry of tourism or individual tour operators, with the appropriate permissions, and use them to pad out the "strong visual component" required to not be spit at by their staff.
The piece I wrote feels more "we did this and then we did this" than I'd quite like but it was rather difficult to do otherwise within the defined constraints.
Anyway, here's what I've got, at 1304 words:
It seemed like a good idea at the time. As a certified hopeless romantic I had the bright idea that “the one” could be anywhere, and set my tinder location to various places. I became very practiced at filtering out improperly motivated women from less developed countries, learned Icelanders have the most remarkable first names, and finally found myself building a genuine mutual attraction with a gorgeous doctor in Venezuela. Venezuela! She can't come here, Americans are strongly advised not to go there. We settled on the Dominican Republic as conveniently in-between, as one does on first dates.
Day 1: Arrived a bit bedraggled after an 11 hour trip, at the small yet grandly named Las Américas International Airport in the Dominican Republic. The line through passport control was barely moving. Bring a book. As time dragged on interminably, I finished the book I was reading, appropriately “For the Term of His Natural Life,” which is about how long it felt like it took. I was understandably anxious: Cristina may or may not be waiting for me just outside arrivals, but I couldn't get any phone signal to communicate with her.
Finally, after two hours, I emerged from passport control to be joyfully pounced upon by a beautiful senorita exclaiming a stream of Spanish. Fear #1 of meeting someone from online dismissed: with implausibly large chocolate eyes and a glowing smile, she was even prettier than the pictures.
The Dominican Republic is the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola – the western half is Haiti. In traveling to the DR we had considered popular tourist destination Punta Cana at the far eastern tip but ultimately chose a point (“Juan Dolio”) midway up the coast between the capital (Santo Domingo) and the eastern end, as being most equidistant to things we wanted to do. I had found many beautiful accommodation options in Santo Domingo reminiscent of classic latin styles of a bygone era, but that perhaps didn't hold the same novelty for Cristina. She preferred a more modern beach-front resort style. I conceded to her wisdom, and I think we made a good choice. We booked a room at the weirdly named but well reviewed “Emotions by Hodelpo” resort.
The hotel favored a modernist style, bold blocky square tables and neon signs, but was very well appointed. Live flamingos stood serenely in an artificial pond by the hotel restaurant. Tourists lounged around the central pool drinking inclusive tropical drinks. Our room featured not a single faulty light, dripping faucet, noisy air-con or other such sub-par feature one fears when traveling to obscure places in the Caribbean.
The hotel featured different entertainment features every day of the week and we happened to stumble upon the official beach party when we went down to the beach. To the west, palm lined beaches stretched out of sight into the gloaming, while just out to sea billowing clouds were painted by a glorious pink-and-gold sunset. The official program involved silly games, a conga line, and a lot of dancing. This still being just a few hours in to our “first date,” I was very anxious my terrible dancing would be the death knell heralding three days of awkwardness, but when the official party broke up and we were left alone on the beach, I found myself looking into her luminous eyes beside a crackling bonfire, the waves gently crashing beside us and mars burning brightly among immeasurable stars high above, and I knew it was going to be alright.
Day 2: First thing in the morning, oily hotel staff tried to rope us into the classic time-share presentation trap, which required a curt refusal in order to escape, but we were then able to book the activities we wanted. Their guy had lots of water-sports on offer but we had already decided we wanted to go to old town Santo Domingo this day and Isla Soana the next, so we booked those activities.
It was about an hour drive west along the coast to Santo Domingo. On the outskirts of town one passes a massive stylized lighthouse that is a memorial erected to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival. Santo Domingo is the oldest European-settled town in the Americas, founded by Christopher Columbus' brother Bart in 1496. We didn't stop at the monument, even though it's apparently partially a museum, but proceeded directly to the Zona Colonial – old town, and got out of the car beside a statue of Columbus which incorporated a lithe native woman inexplicably reaching up to him on his pedestal. Old town was full of grand old spanish colonial architecture and quietly regal shop fronts with dignified ivy and balconies fit for melodrama. A certificated tourguide approached us, and proved to be very knowledgable and helpful as he gave us a tour of the historic buildings. The tour ended at a shop (of course) that sold various Dominican specialties. There's a precious stone called larimar that's the color of the shallows of the Caribbean sea and is only found in the Dominican Republic. A bit more milky than turquoise and almost translucent, it makes pretty jewelry, especially when paired with the amber that is also in a strange abundance on the island. Eyeing Cristina and I, the salesperson coyly added a tale about the stone having magical properties to ensure eternal love. The tour guide then caught me a bit aback by brazenly offering me “mamajuana,” which turned out to be not what you are thinking but a local liquor made from rum, red wine, and honey, steeped with bark and herbs. The native Taino people had made a tea from the ingredients minus the wine, and the European colonists had had the innovation to make it alcoholic. I dutifully sipped it but its hard to enjoy something with a salesperson grinning at you so indulgently, and it wasn't until I bought a bottle at the outbound duty free and tried it at home days later that I realized I really kind of liked it. It's a bit reminiscent of jagermeister, but more vanilla, and doesn't need to be at near freezing temperatures to be palatable.
After the city, we visited the three linked cenotes of Tres Ojos on the outskirts of town. One can descend deep into the beautiful cavernous holes in the ground and then take a boat through the cave linking two of them, as drips plink plink from the rocky ceiling above and echo across the still dark waters. The third cenote is only accessible from the grotto you emerge from, just above water level, and is beautiful, the crystal clear water full of fish, lush greenery overhanging from the top high above.
Day 3: About thirty of us tourists were ferried by smaller boats from the sandy beach to a large catamaran riding at anchor just offshore, the small crew passing out rum-and-cokes as we seated ourselves. About four similar catamarans also loaded up, anchors were lifted and our small fleet was off! The sails were hoisted, Dominican and latin music blasting and the rum flowing. The sun was warm and bright, the salt spray refreshing, people danced on deck. At Isla Soana we found the absolutely classic tropical island paradise – thickly forested with palms, endless white sand beaches, and, other than the rustic beach cabanas, no sign of mundane human infrastructure. We spent the day frolicking in the idyllic glassy waters. Even the provided barbecue chicken lunch was something to write home about. By the time we were sailing homeward there was no doubt to me why this is “#1 of 546 things to do in the Dominican Republic.”
Day 4: On the morning of the 4th day we sadly had to go to the airport to depart, my only regret being having only booked four days. The magical properties of larimar have held true, and Cristina and I will definitely plan our next trip for longer!
Changelog: I've dispersed the nest of four "features" that occur in close proximity to eachother
I'll change Cristina's name before I submit it, even though I'm usually reluctant to change names but call me paranoid but it seems like it could cause trouble back home for her if government or criminal elements know she has an American boyfriend. I'm learning towards "Isabella" as a nice latin name that doesn't belong to anyone we know.