Dominican Republic: Friendly faces

WAS it only last month I was saying the Caribbean has little to offer once you get past the rum bar and white sand beaches; that it’s hard to distinguish one island from the next?

The Dominican Republic has gone straight into my list of favourite places – and that’s without going anywhere near its famous beaches. Whitewater rafting in the mountains, horse-riding to a waterfall, dancing merengue until late at a carwash (!), visiting historic colonial buildings or a fascinating tour of the world’s largest cigar factory – it’s been an interesting week.

Even better, it’s the week of carnival and fun is in the air. The scanty costumes of Rio are in short supply but ornate devil masks hide identities and encourage good-spirited misbehaviour.

But back to that carwash. It’s literally a car wash and one or two massive SUVs are actually being washed. However, there is a bar attached, which sells food as well as drinks, and has a mega TV screen showing basketball and baseball – with which the island has had a long term love affair.

It also has a dance floor, to which couples gravitate as a song off the distorted sound system grabs them. A bit of salsa, a bit of bachata but mostly it’s merengue that gets the hips moving. It’s hard to imagine anything more remote from the Sunday morning ritual of car washing in the suburbs of Britain. I wonder if there are some franchise opportunities? Maybe not.

That evening, the things turn even seamier in a local club where a bachata/reggaeton amalgam takes over the dance floor.

Next day, energy is rebuilt with some local food and drink. ‘El sancocho’ is a hearty soup of meat, potato, plantain, veg and rice. ‘La Bandera Dominicana’ (the Dominican Flag) is a tricolour of white rice, kidney beans and meat. Roadsides stalls sell addictive chicharrones (pork rinds).

Also instantly addictive is Morir Soñando (Die Dreaming), a blend of orange juice, ice and condensed milk. And that’s before we get into the local coffee, rum and ‘Presidente’ beer.

To think some people may be wasting their time away lying on beaches.

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