10 December 2016

The Cigar Factory

Although purchasing cigars was on my list of things to do in the DR, I found myself running out of time, stuck in a mini-hamlet, and having no idea where to go or what to buy.

Sr, Rodriguez & flying fingers
In my trips to Mexico, it had been easy enough to find cigar vendors and wade through the various sales pitches until I found a seemingly reputable, knowledgeable source. Maybe if I had still been in the capitol,I could have done that in the DR. But I wasn’t. Fortunately for me, I found a fellow traveler who seemed well acquainted with the local product. He would accompany me to San Pedro de Macoris.

Where they make them
The city of San Pedro is known for the large number of MLB players who hail from the area. For me, it was also that elusive city where the big things happened. In Boca Chica and Juan Dolio I would ask about a larger market, you have to go to San Pedro.  What about a post office? In San Pedro.  Is there anywhere I can get a light bulb, only in San Pedro.

Driving into town, I realized that I probably should have hopped on a gua gua, (mini-bus), and made a visit at an earlier date. It was a real city that one could explore. We drove past a beautiful old church and streets lined with old architecture; just the type of place I like to mosey around in. Then again, I wasn’t sure if that was something I should do on my own. Since arriving, locals had made a point of telling me not to walk around any area other than the designated tourist spots. Whether or not that was really the case, for the first time in my life I did very little exploring.

The Doña Dorada Cigar factory has been in business for 101 years., and is still family owned and operated. I believe there is a larger factory elsewhere, but the one in downtown San Pedro was more than enough to give one a very well-informed lesson on how the cigars are made.

Sr. Elpidio Rodríguez, great-grandson of the founder, greeted me at the door and soon returned to making cigars. I tried to keep up with his flying hands as he whipped a stogie into shape, walked it over to a press, put the final wrap on a different cigar, and most likely did ten other things that I couldn’t keep up with. (note the blurred pictures…. I did not move; that was rapid-fire-cigar rolling.) I asked about the individual tobacco leaves and he explained that they must age four years before they can be used. That still does not make sense to me, even though I asked him twice to make sure I had heard him correctly.

It was evident that the cigar making equipment was 101 years old. Wooden work stations, wooden cigar forms and drying racks. The presses were of steel, but appeared equally antique. After watching Sr. Rodriguez work, I wondered how automated cigar rolling could ever compete with what he was doing.

When he had finished off his work, he led me to the room with shelves of cigars, sorted into various sizes. I asked about the differences between sizes. Did they taste differently? He explained that there were only two flavors; strong and suave. The different sizes were a matter of preference. Did I want ones the size of cigarettes, or the Winston Churchill big boys? Considering these were going to large men, I chose the Churchills'.

Suddenly, it was time to go. I could have stayed another hour talking to Sr. Rodriguez, but my ride back to Juan Dolio was ready to go and I know I'd never find my way back to the bus stop.
The final product

I never did get back to explore San Pedro, but it is something I should have done. Maybe next time.

30 November 2016

I'm back!!! will post soon

Just got my travel blog back after loosing it the day after I got to the DR. Challenging trip,to say the least. Thank you Mishka at blogger! I'm typing on a tiny phone so this is all for now. Kate

24 October 2016

Once Again on the Road

I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my travel mojo; that innate ability to jump on a plane, fly to a never-before-been-to country, and hit the ground running. The night before I left for The Dominican Republic, I sat on the couch, looked at my over-stuffed suitcase, and seriously questioned just what the heck I was doing. It’s not like I recently won the lottery or sold a thousand books – although I did just have highest sales month ever, so what was I doing flying off to an island in the Caribbean?
By the time the airport shuttle picked me up all my doubts were forgotten. But then there was the journey itself. Even though the total flight time was a mere nine hours, I swear this trip was nearly as bad as flying all the way to South East Asia. The actual time on the plane was nowhere near as horrendous, but the after effects were absolutely worse.
First there was the woman who shared the airport shuttle who, for some reason, thought that drenching herself in patchouli oil was what one did before flying on a jam-packed airplane. As soon as she popped in the van, I through my scarf over my nose and the driver rolled down both windows, which he kept open on the freeway and over the bridge. I survived without getting a migraine, but I wondered what would happen to all her fellow passengers on the flight over to London.
Then there was the security screening. When did it become such a nightmare? Two years ago, they searched and scanned and questioned as much as they do now, but I don’t remember it taking that long. This time, it took about an hour and a half, filing through a never ending loop-d-loop line. Stupidly, I dumped my water at the beginning of the line because a sign told me to. An hour into the wait, I started to fell dehydrated, claustrophobic, dizzy-ish, and wondered if passing out would speed up the process. I honestly don’t know if I will be able to tolerate that again. Maybe check in at 2am and crash out in the waiting room overnight.
The flight from San Francisco to Mexico City, a mere four hours, was especially comfortable because I had three seats all to myself. It was an uneventful flight, and since I had never been to Mexico City, I loved looking down on the millions of sparkling nighttime lights that went on and on and on.
We were about two minutes from touchdown when suddenly the engines roared and the plane shot straight up in the air at quite a steep angle. No one panicked, and I assumed we weren’t being hijacked because that would have happened at altitude. But when the plane finally leveled out, and it felt like we were on our way to Cuba, I questioned my original assumption. The pilot eventually came on and explained that some other plane had been parked in our runway. How close a call that was, or who was in error, I’ll never know, but I did enjoy this new experience.
Once through Mexican customs and back into the waiting lounge for another three hours until my next flight, I realized I needed to eat something more than the soggy croissant with Velveeta I’d been fed on the way down from SFO. It was when I was traipsing through the Mexico City airport, trying to find food that cost less than $15, when it struck me that I was hauling around way too much weight.

When the heck was it that I decided that a roll-on carryon was not the way to go, and had opted for a laptop backpack? It’s not like I am getting any younger, and it’s not like my funky knee is getting any better, yet here I was burdened with 15 extra pounds in backpack weight and 5 more in my purse. (Which makes me sound like a real wimp. I can easily carry 20 extra pounds, but parts of my body strongly object.)  Added to that, I had spent the previous two days working in the garden and hauling stuff around. My knee was a wreck.
Trying my best to ignore all that, I grabbed a reasonably priced cheese sandwich at Starbucks and headed over to wait for my plane. As someone who needlessly worries about being at the wrong gate, I checked with knowledgeable personnel several times. On the final check, I was told that no, my flight was not leaving at Gate 58, but at Gate 71, at a completely different wing. I took off for said gate, walking like a 92 year-old, and swearing a blue-streak inside my head every time my right foot hit the ground.
I finally got there and grabbed a seat. And then the lady directly behind me started hacking loudly. Germ-a-phobe that I am, I got up and found another spot. But then the guy across from me appeared to have a fatal disease. He had a washcloth over his mouth and was coughing and sneezing and blowing his nose, sweating profusely, and looked like he should have been hospitalized. This musical chairs game went on several more times before I finally just stood at the entrance to the gate. It appeared that fully one-third of my fellow passengers were not at all well.
By now, I was seriously limping and guess I look old enough that no one questions if I ask to pre-board. (of course, I always go on after the babies and wheelchairs.) Once settled in, I waited for the other passengers to board. I nervously watched as the deathly ill man strode down the aisle and sat in the seat in front of me. Great. Four hours with the bubonic plague within spitting distance. But no one was next to me and the seats behind were empty, so I was able to move back one row….until the sick guy moved into my original seat. I wrapped my scarf around my nose and hoped my generally excellent immune system was up to the task of fighting off airborne bacteria.
I won’t bother mentioning the seven drunken 40-something-year-olds because they finally stopped hooting and hollering and fell asleep.
It was 6am when I got off the plane and headed into the Santo Domingo airport. A few steps inside, and I realized I was really in my beloved tropics. I stood still, closed my eyes, and breathed in that wonderful humid air…even if it was tinged with a bit of jet fuel. Customs was a snap, and then it was outside to get a taxi. A lovely drive into town, with my own personal tour guide.
Back in the good old days, when I had even less money and there was no internet, I’d get a ride into town and start looking for cheap digs. This time, after much research, I booked a place online. It was double what I am usually willing to pay, but I wanted to be in the Colonial Zone and not worry about a thing for a few days. It turned out to be nice enough and the people here are great, but even if I had all the money in the world, two days would be enough. Sometime after taking a shower and trying to get some sleep, (which was not something I had done much of in the previous day or two), I started to once again question what the heck was I doing here.
I went out for a walk in a sleep-deprived, food-deprived state, and immediately saw why everyone loves this country and the colonial zone, which I will write more about at a later date. But I basically felt like crap. I’d gone without sleep and food before and there was only a three hour time difference. What was up? I bought some horrible food at a restaurant, but had a lovely chat with the waiters. I then went back to the hotel and tried to search for other hotels so that I could visit them today.

Oopps….the internet connection does not work in my room. Between sitting on the floor in the outside hall, and checking with hotel names I had jotted down before leaving, and then trying to find them on a teeny-tiny map, I was set to explore come morning.
I woke up today feeling fairly refreshed, ate breakfast, packed up my list and went in search of housing. It turns out my travel mojo hadn’t left me. I not only found a great place, I found a fantastic place! It’s like it fell out of the sky for me. It may have been a 24-hour delay, but I still have it in me to hit the ground at a fast pace. Thank goodness! I was seriously starting to worry.
The Spanish is also starting to kick in. Blabbermouth Kate says hi to everyone she passes and comments on their cute kids; which really doesn’t do much for fluency. However, can’t-tell-left-from-right Kate constantly gets turned around and needs to ask for directions. I’ve talked to dozens of policemen and army guys and waiters, who very kindly and slowly, tell me which way to go. I sometimes get sidetracked, and then just ask another lovely local. Today when I got twisted around, (and for the life of me, I have no idea how I did so because I swear I was on the same street the whole time), I stopped in front of some official building. I said to the young military man, Can you help me? I’m lost again. To which he replied, You were lost, now you’re not!  He might have reserved that comment had he seen me five minutes later asking for directions again. If I just had a map, none of this would be quite so bad.   

The stars are aligning and this is set to be one wonderful adventure!
(Better pictures, with more explanations to come. need to get this up before I loose the connection again)