Red-Hot Resources

"Luck is not chance, it’s toil; fortune’s expensive smile is earned.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Santo Domingo -- First Impressions

just thought I’d write a quick note to give you my first impressions of Santo Domingo.

We flew in through cloud cover (it’s raining ever-so-lightly now). The clouds broke briefly to show a mountainous country as far as the eye could see – if I didn’t know I was on an island, I wouldn’t have believed it. Then the clouds closed back in on us again and we endured a bumpy flight in to the airport. I don’t mind flying in the mountains, but not when the pilot can’t see.

I worried for naught; we landed safely. After jumping through the usual immigration hoops, I found the car and driver to take me to my hotel. At the exit from the airport, a guard stood lazy watch with a rifle. His rife was on its side so I could see that he didn’t have a clip in it. I think that qualifies as a military presence, but of the friendly, laid-back variety.

My driver spoke no English, which was a shame. He seemed to be in a race, so I didn’t try my fractured Spanglish on him, for fear of distracting him at a critical moment. Of the two semesters of Spanish I took in college, the thing that sticks with me the most is that I actually made my teacher break down and cry because I just did not master the language fast enough. It’s not that way with all languages – I was pretty good with Latin in high school. But Latin had all sorts of colorful history to talk about, whereas with Spanish, we mainly talked about going to the library, ordering omelets, and isn’t Julia wearing a pretty dress.

Anyway, since the driver and I couldn’t speak to each other, we listened to Dominican radio as we bumped across the dry countryside. The first song was something like, “I’m wearing a Speedo, I drive a Camino,” or words to that effect. The countryside is parched. They seem to be suffering the same drought we have in Florida, but they don’t have sprinklers to keep things green. So, everything is dry and dusty.

Santo Domingo dates from the Spanish colonial period, and it’s had a wild and wooly history, including military coups in decades past and a recession in the past five years. So perhaps it’s not surprising that along with brand-new construction and modern hotels and casinos, I also saw hovels, large buildings that looked like they were abandoned halfway through construction, and some structures that must have been de-bugged with grenades (take that, cucaracha!)

With a wild history, security remains a concern. I saw beautiful old iron grates on windows and balconies curved every which way – even into the shape of hearts. But there’s no disguising their function, which is to keep people out. I saw wall with barbed wire, spikes, razor wire, you name it. I get the feeling I don’t want to walk around alone at night.

Some of the colonial buildings are nice, others are half-rubble. See the photo I've included here for an example. That's what you call a "fixer-upper."

One spot I wanted to stop and visit (but couldn’t because I could not communicate with my driver) was what appeared to be an abandoned Spanish colonial villa, surrounded by drought-brown jungle encroaching on all sides. We passed piles of rubble, some of them smoking. Why would you set fire to rubble? That makes no sense.

But these are first impressions. All I’ve seen is the road from the airport. It just looks like this place could use a serious infusion of gringo money. The casinos are probably a good start.

Another good start is free enterprise zones, like the one that the mine I’m going to visit is in. Once you take off the usual taxes and so on, the cost of business can get pretty cheap, which means more jobs for everybody. And did I mention that this particular company I’m visiting has a 20-year tax holiday? Sweet!

Well, I want to get out and walk around before I meet up with some very smart people at 7 pm for an “informal dinner.” What does that mean? I have no idea. I’m wearing a shirt and pants, I hope that’s informal enough.

Tomorrow, I'm climbing aboard a helicopter and flying to the mine site. I'll keep you posted.

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