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.