Monday, July 17, 2006

My First Time

In the late 1980's, I would read all kind of travel books and the like about places I wanted to visit. My uncle (by marriage) was from Honduras. He looked like Desi Arnaz, but had a cocoa brown complexion. Most of my friends were from the Caribbean (Trinidad and Barbados) and I had this thing that I wanted to travel to all the islands. I started reading about the Dominican Republic and Honduras. I don't know what it was, but it was something that drew me here. I started reading books and articles and trying to get someone to come with me. But no one wanted to.

Growing up in Spanish Harlem I don't think I had even heard of anyone Dominican. It was always PR this, or PR that. I even volunteered for the Herman Badillo campaign for mayor in NYC, in 1977. My Puerto Rican "boyfriend," Moncho, was a very proud Boricua and anything that he wanted to do, well ...

Finally, I talk my good friend, Lyle, into coming with me. I went to travel agencies and got brochures, talked to someone who I had met who was Dominican (whose family lived in Sosua). So, in March 1990, Lyle and I made are way here. We stayed at the Hispaniola Hotel, which is the sister hotel to the Hotel Santo Domingo. We got a really good deal of $610 (hotel and airfare) for 7 nights.

Must say that I was not that impressed. The airport was not the modern one you arrive in now. We deplaned on the tarmac and it was hot as hell. The drive in from the airport was not the modern highway it is today. Didn't know what to expect, but I was glad to be here and wanted to see and do everything. It is difficult traveling with someone who has different interests than you. Lyle was a morning person who went to bed early. I was the complete opposite.

Didn't know anything about gay clubs or bars when we arrived. In actuality, didn't even think about it. We did all the touristy things and walked everywhere. The thing that stands out in my mind was all the prostitutes that would hit on us near the hotel and the Malecon.

Then one day as I was leaving the hotel, a man asked to speak with me in broken English. He told me that he could take me to a place to where they had beautiful women, or men (wink, wink). I, of course, was intrigued. He picks us up at the hotel that night and we drive and drive and end up in a very seedy area of town. The club was the Penthouse. It reminded me of some of the seedy places that I knew of in NYC, but BETTER! There were Dominicans of all colors and stripes. Drag queens, hustlers, regular folk. They had a big dick contest and a really nice show.

Didn't talk to anyone, as my Spanish was non-existent. All I knew at the time were curse words. My guide was really nice. I then notice that this guy would come to speak with him every few minutes and it caught my eye. Here Lyle and I were in west bumfuck, Santo Domingo, not knowing the language and I could feel something wasn't right. I edge ever closer to them both and try to hear what was going on. I didn't speak Spanish, but I knew enough to know that something wasn't right. They argue and my guide basically tells the guy to get away from him. By this time I am ready to go.

We get in the car to drive back to the hotel. I ask my guide what the problem was and he tells me that the guy he was talking to was a "stick-up kid" (for lack of a better term). The guy wanted our guide to bring us downstairs where he would he would rob us and split it with our guide. Lyle and I were shocked and didn't know what to expect next. Mind you, we are in a beat-up hoopty driving on pitch-black streets in a foreign country where we don't speak the language. As we pull up to the hotel I can feel all the tension leave us. We were safe!

As we get out we pay the driver and our guide. I ask the guide to wait so that I can go up to my safe to get some more money. I thought, he possibly saved us from something that could've potentially ruined our vacation. I come back down and give him $50, which I thought was a very generous tip. Well, he was NOT impressed. The look on his face said, "I shoulda let them kill you!" I didn't argue, as I was so glad to be alive and in one piece that I gave him another $50. He still was not impressed, but his look changed. I told him that was all the cash I had with me and that was it. During this time the exchange rate was 8 to 1.

The next day we were leaving. I didn't tell him what time, and the hotel made our airport arrangements. When we were leaving at 8am, he was there with a letter he had written me, along with a note of his shoe and pant sizes and several pictures of the sneakers that I could send him. You would think that would've been a warning to me about future trips here, bbbuuuuuttt nnnnnoooooo. LOL!

I did send him some sneakers, as I was grateful that he didn't let the man rob us. I kept in touch with him for a few months, but after a while all the begging for money just got on my nerves. And basically, he was a nice guy, but not my type at all.

The trip was not that great. Not anything bad, but it definitely wasn't the I gotta go back right away feeling either. Lyle was done. His feeling was, you been to one island, you been to them all. For 10 years I tried to get someone else to come with me, but no dice. In the interim, the internet takes off. I moved to 142nd and Riverside, which then was a predominantly Dominican neighborhood.

Then in early 2000, I receive a mailing from James Saunders about him giving a trip to the Dominican Republic. Oh my God! I called James and wanted to know all the particulars. It was still in the planning stages, but I wanted him to know that I was ready. I sent him a check for the full amount and it was on!

Came back in November 2000 and that was the start of my addiction. I have been in rehab ever since.

21 comments:

Mr. Washington said...

Baby, baby, baby!! The OLD airport...brings back memories. Not pleasant ones either. LOL The only thing cute about it was the valet in the mens room who gave you a once-over while you pissed. (as there was NO divider from the sink and urinal) All I can say about the ride to the resort is...thank GOD for Prieto Tours!

Anthony, how many shared memories...the place to party was indeed spelled P-E-N-T-H-O-U-S-E!!

Boy, were we amazed, and glad, that the exchange rate skyrocketed over the next couple of years.

And all this was before SD became such a mecca for tourists, so the boyz weren't as spoiled then.

Anonymous said...

What a scary story! If that had been my vacation I think I would have had more than a second thought about returning. If there is anything that I have noticed about you Anthony is that you are attracted to the dangerous, macho, use and abuse you type of Dominican male. Maybe that dangerousness of this experience was actually a draw for you? I have noticed that the handsome, meek, friendly types are not what you are attracted to on a regular basis. Why do you think that is? Have you ever wondered why the dangerous abusive types attract you?

the Allen gallery said...

Ok, so now i'm ready for the continuation of chapter one!

I'm sure most readers are thinking back to their first visit to La Dominica. Ahhh.. the things you remember... the things you forget...

We'll see you soon.

Anonymous said...

...oh, memories.....deplaning on the tarmac and walking through all of customs, immigration and retrieving your luggage......none of it was air conditioned.........and then the maze of taxi drivers and that whole bizarre scary scene. I came byself with very little knowledge of the country. I remember as I walked toward the immigration area that a young man handed me a paper cup with coca cola in it and I was so hot and thirsty. Only when I took a big swig did I realize that it was 2/3 Brugal....that saved me. To this day, I always look forward to the free welcoming Cuba Libre at the airport.

Anonymous said...

Anthony...thanks for the interesting rememberances. I wish I had come down to the DR during this period. I didn't make it down here until seven years later...1997! And friends of mine who were here before talk about the old airport and landing on the tarmac and the long hot trek to retrieve your luggage and pass through customs. I have seen the updating of the customs procedure, but I would have liked to experience Santo Domingo before the onslaught. It's changed considerably in the nine plus years I've been coming down. The quality of guys available has changed for the worse.

David Lee said...

What have I gotten myself into? Was the only question I could think of as we walked out of the customs area, as my friend Noble walked out onto the ramp, which was where the car rentals are located today, and he "greeted his public", and he waved at the masses of people standing their looking up at the door and to my surprise, many of them waved backed. My first rememberance is the smell of buring trash along the roadside and surprisingly enough, to this day that smell sends fond memories rushing back into my head. My first visit was in July 1991, it was love at first sight as I met my dear friend of some 15 years now, Jackee from California. I remember the penthouse and all the wonders to behold, that long trek up those steps to the top floor and the music, the mass of people, the shows, the dancing and the fine fine boys. Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end, those were the days...OH yes those were the days!

Simbul said...

This was a great read. Thanks Anthony.

Anonymous said...

There you go Anthony! That is what I am talking about. This entry was great and is the 1st installment to the "Tales of the DR" book series I have been encouraging you to write. Great beginning now get to work and start writing on a regular basis on your first book. Jim from Boston

Anonymous said...

Anthony, thanks this was a captivating read. Memories of yesterday, and for the new visitors the memories of today will be different tomorrow too. The world is changing right before our eyes, so enjoy folks - enjoy. Again, thanks Anthony and David for being there and guiding us on our new adventures in the DR.

Anonymous said...

Anthony - Great memories that I can relate along with you. My first visit was in 1993 and I remember that tarmac. I was ready to turn around and head back to the States but I'm glad I didn't. The new airport was long overdue. (They stopped the rum and coke welcomes and live music - Boo Hoo !) The Penthouse was the only gay club in SD the strip shows were fabulous ! :) Thanks for bringing back those fond memories ! -FH

Anonymous said...

I got my free rum and coke welcome when I was there in April of this year. I am looking for to it on my visit this week. I hope it still exists.

Anonymous said...

Well done Anthony, the walk down memory lane, very well done, how things change and it was nice then and to me, it is still very nice even today. Change is good , right .. Keep up the good work and write more Anthiny , I just enjoy your details about life and the happenings in beautiful Santo Domingo, thanks. Jim From Houston I have tried to send you an e/mail with out success so please send me a e/mail to my e/mail addrrss, thanks, JIM

jh/fl said...

Memories of my first trip there is quiet different than yours. I only started visiting in October 2004. I came down alone to meet up with my friend Robert. I remember walking out of the customs area speaking only 2 or three words of Spanish and entering the lobby with all those men standing behind the barricades waving. Before I knew it my defense magnesium kicked in and I was Gloria Swanson descending the stairs in Sun Set Bolivar, and yes dear I was truly ready for my close up .I've been 7 or 8 times since then and it seems that each trip is very different than the one before. I had one trip that almost turned into "Suddenly Last Summer".I'm trying hard to get a grip on myself. When people ask me why I go there so often I tell them that I'm going on another Missions trip, and they tell me what a nice man I am to give so freely of my time and money.

Anonymous said...

These comments are all so very interesting from various people,who have experienced the country of S.D. luv them all, keep them rolling guy's . Makes all of us wonder and become excited all over again about our next venture to the super beautiful Santo Domingo and it's gorgerous warm people. Thanks so much for sharing.

Eddie said...

My first time to Santo Domingo was either in 1990 or 91. Can't remember exactly which year. What I do remember is I had a printout from some web site about the gay spots. After checking into my hotel I started walking and trying to find Bar Phoenix. It was around 5:00 in the afternoon, and I thought maybe they would be open for happy hour or something. I found the Bar and the door was opened but the door with the bars was closed and locked. But I could see in and saw an older white man sitting at the bar. It turned out to be Lawrence, the British gentleman who owned Bar Phoenix. He said something to the effect of, "we're not open now Love but you come back after 7." So I went back later and Jeyq was working the door and I immediately knew what I wanted! While having drinks and sitting next to Lawrence on his perch in the corner, he schooled me on how much the boiz cost (300 pesos then!) and to always ask him if I wanted to go with someone, and he would let me know if they were alright. Well, I ended up spending most of the week with Jeyq on my first trip and had a lovely time. Yes, I know Jeyq has quite a reputation, and not all of it is good, but aside from probably padding my bar tab a few times, he's never done anything else bad to me.

But this is all so many years ago, and I've been back 3 to 4 times a year since and have fell in love. But that’s another topic I won’t get into. I do hope to retire there whenever corporate America lets me have my 401(k) without penalty!

Ahhh…memories…I definitely miss Lawrence, and I hope that he is doing well.

Eddie

Eddie said...

I must correct something in my above comment. I said it was 1990 or 91 when I first went to Santo Domingo. Wrong! What was I thinking?! I checked my passport last night and it was February of 2000. I was 10 years off! Seems like the older I get the more the years seem to all melt into one. Seems like just last week I went to the closing of the Paradise Garage. Oh dear...

Eddie

Monaga said...

Wow. I didn't know that this entry would make everyone feel so nostalgiac (sp?). I just didn't have anything else to talk about.

Glad everyone liked it.

Anonymous said...

Just love this journey down this menory lane, I too just went and looked in my pasport to see when I first went down and it was Oct.3rd 2003 and have been 7 times since then and about to be # 8 very soon, smile Each time is better than the last , it seems to me. I think the place just grows into your blood stream, yes I do, smile .Has the Discovery Hotel open it's doors yet??and if so does anyone know what the rates are going to be?Happy to see the new resturant has also open, competetion is always good for the comsumer and visitors. Now if only the rates for air flights would come down a tad, that too would be good.ast I knew it was way over $700.00 plus , close to $800.00 very costly from Houston for darn sure, Kepp up all the good interesting write up's , very nice to read. Thanks Anthony, see u tend to get people thinking and just start them to writing, whicih is just great . take care , JIM FROM HOUSTON

Anonymous said...

The first time I got my passport stamped at Dominican immigration was in 1976. You do the math...
From Puerto Rico,
Rafael

Anonymous said...

Definitely memories. I too went to the penthouse in the early years and was robbed. (chained snatched off my neck while in a packed taxi) but that did not detour me from going back. The DR has eveolved over the years, I don't entertain the bogerones anymore, (thats just my choice) but I love going to the country each and every year, to meet the people of the island and have no intentions of stopping anytime soon.

Thanks for your updates Anthony, they keep me smiling until I can return.

Damien said...

I travel to PR every year.. I'm thinking of traveling to SD this year as a graduation gift to myself. Hopefully I have as much fun as all of you have had.