The rest of my weekend in Santo Domingo was packed with exploring. Saturday morning we woke up early for breakfast and then meeting our guide for tour of the colonial zone, the oldest zone of the capital. During our tour, we heard the word “first” countless times since Santo Domingo is the longest inhabited European settlement, being the first Spanish colony is the Americas thanks to Colombus. Therefore the city has the first cathedral, the first university, and the first fortress of the Americas, among other things. There’s also a debate on the location of Colombus’ bones final resting place, which were initially discovered the Cathedral of Santo Domingo but now are claimed to be the Colombus lighthouse in Santo Domingo, despite Seville saying that Colombus’ bones are in fact there in Spain.
Lunch Saturday was at a hotel restaurant that offered a plato especial (daily special) which was the bandera, a plate comprised of rice and beans, stewed chicken and usually a green salad, though that day we had a macaroni salad instead. I also had fresh fruit juice of granadilla which I had never heard of and still don’t fully understand what fruit it is exactly because all Wikipedia can tell me is that in English it’s called sweet granadilla … not helpful.
Later that afternoon I walked around with some of my classmates, through Santo Domingo’s Chinatown – yes, they have one; no, it’s not as big as the one in NYC – and then we stumbled upon a very cool store called La Alpargateria which was right next to a great Cuban restaurant La Casa Del Mojito. La Alpargateria has an artisan espadrille shoe store in the front and then a larger coffee shop/bar in the back, complete with a decent sized outdoor patio and board games for its patrons! La Casa del Mojito offered a menu of about 10 entrees as well as sandwiches and hot dogs; the entrees included many typical cuban dishes, including ropa vieja which is slowly stewed, shredded beef with spices. I got it with a side of tostones, of course.
Saturday night found us back out for some dancing at Parada 77 and then up early for checkout and our weekend trip’s final stop Sunday morning. We headed east past the lighthouse to El Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos, which is a natural park pretty near the urban center of Santo Domingo that features four natural, fresh-water lakes. Originally, there was only one large underground lake but due to massive erosion and tectonic movement, the roof of the inital cave fell, dividing the one larger space into four individual lakes. It’s called Tres Ojos (three eyes) and not Quatro Ojos (four eyes) because only three of the lakes qualify as being transparent enough to see the bottom. The fourth lake’s water, being deeper and surrounded by more vegetation, is not as clear. However, it’s still beautiful, if not more-so than it’s three sister lakes, and has been used in films like Jurassic Park 3.
Sunday was super humid, so a swim in these cool, crystalline waters would have been amazing. Alas, being a national park, swimming was not allowed to preserve the ecosystem – plus apparently lots of Dominicans drowned there when it used to be open as a swimming hole. Here’s a picture so you understand the temptation I was dealing with: