My Dominican daydreams began long before I boarded a plane for Santo Domingo. I dreamed of the crumbling stone Ciudad Colonial and the soft green unfurling of the mountainous countryside, the wood smoke drifting from tin roofs and the sea salt whipped off the break, the cacophony of dusty public bus yards and the bongo-heavy bachata spilling from tinny windowsill radios, the sweet hot oil of fried plantains and the pale malt of a cheap national lager.
My partner, Lois Parshley, and I had less than two weeks, and we wanted to see it all: town and country, highlands and coast, coffee farms and fisheries. And we wanted to prove Lonely Planet wrong. “The DR isn’t an especially great destination for shoestring travelers,” said the travel guide. It went on to highlight the country’s reputation for cheapo all-inclusives, which monopolize long stretches of coastline and offer airport-to-resort shuttle service, Brobdingnagian walls topped with concertina wire (to keep the jungle elements out and you in), meticulously raked white sand, and all the watery liquor your distended stomach can hold. Also: water aerobics, 4 p.m., west pool, BYO floatie. In short, gated fantasylands whose fantasies we wanted no part of.