It’s only Day 2 and I already love the Dominican Republic. Yes, the heat and bugs do get to you, but there are so many more things to love about this country. On Day 2, my study abroad group of 21 students took a mural tour by walking through Los Pepines, a local neighborhood near el Monumento in Santiago. Los Pepines has absolutely been my favorite experience so far, though I guess that’s not saying much since it’s only been 2 days I’m the country. Even so, the experience was amazing. I can tell you that as an avid adventurer, Los Pepines is what dreams are made of. Let’s view this beautiful city through the eyes of a local together.
Amongst the walls and alleyways of the streets are murals depicting the rich culture and history of the Dominican Republic (DR). One of my favorite murals was a picture of colorful ocean sea creatures. There were animals such as turtles, fish, a manatee and a turtle. What I didn’t notice at first was the trash lying on top of the water. It’s amazing how easy it is to miss one small, yet important, detail. This mural reminded me that in order to maintain the natural beauty of this island, we need to be aware of our environmental footprint.
Even before coming to the DR, I was obsessed with the music. Through salsa dancing in Los Angeles, California, I fell in love with salsa, bachata, and merengue music. Luckily for me, merengue is the national music of the DR and salsa and bachata are blasted from car speakers the way that pop and hip hop blast through the streets in the US. Other music genres popular in the DR are reggaetón and dembow, which is sort of like reggaetón but with a deeper and quicker bass.
Halfway through our mural tour, we came across a huge group of middle-aged adults chilling out in the streets with merengue music blasting from someone’s home speaker. I absolutely had to start grooving to the music. One thing I love about the Dominicans here is that they are not afraid to get up and dance whenever and wherever. So when one guy sees me grooving, he grabs my hand and we start social dancing. Ackk—I love how these people totally get me! I partner up some of the other girls in the group to dance with other people in the neighborhood and pretty soon, we have an all out dance fest in the middle of the street. Absolutely. Amazing. I LOVE IT. Apparently, neighborhoods like Los Pepines have these music and dance pow wows every weekend. By this point, I’m totally sold and never want to leave.
Near the end of our mural tour, we pass by a group of kids playing basketball in the streets with a DIY hoop and volleyball. Cue a spontaneous pick-up game: Los Pepines vs Los Extranjeros edition. 3 guys and 1 girl from our group joined the game. Watching the game was not only entertaining, but also heartwarming to see how welcoming and kind the Dominican people were to let us join in on a basketball game. Although Los Extranjeros lost, this spontaneous pick-up game was a true highlight of the day.
The mural tour through Los Pepines was unexpected yet wonderful. I loved every moment of it. For me, it is important to experience a country through the eyes of a local, not just through the eyes of a tourist. Although the tour was still catered to foreigners, I feel that I experienced true Dominican culture that was honest and community-oriented. The Dominican people here are so beautiful, friendly, hospitable, and hard working.
As a 4th generation Chinese American, it’s difficult to feel like I have strong ethnic ties to my original culture because it has been so washed out. But being here in the Dominican Republic, I already strongly resonate with the people, their music, and their food. I honestly foresee myself coming back to the DR at some point of time in my life because I love the culture so much already. Have you ever felt an immediate connection like this before? It’s a beautiful and warming feeling. For wanderers like myself, I hope that you do one day.