The Dominican Republic brings in more visitors –over 5 million– than any other nation in the Caribbean, but the motorized streets of the Azua, “The City of the Sun,” don’t reflect the tourism industry the country is known for.
Azua, the capital of a province of the same name, lies three hours west of Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, where scatterings of tourists land at Las Américas International Airport. They’re usually on their way to resorts, on the northern or eastern ends of the country.
However, Santo Domingo attracts its own visitors, says 23-year-old Wendy Melo. Melo lives in Azua but travels to the capital to study clinical psychology at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD).
“They’re very kind and friendly,” Melo said of foreign tourists. Her statements were translated from Spanish.
Few international travelers, save for volunteer or mission groups, are found along the more arid southern coast. Much of the route between Santo Domingo and Azua is wedged between mountain ranges and the Caribbean sea.
Melo says Azua lacks the opportunities found in Santo Domingo and that many students from other parts of the country travel to the capital. At UASD, she says, there are students from nearly every province.
“In regards to education, Azua only has the one university as opposed to Santo Domingo which has many private and public universities like UASD that allows students with few resources to study there,” Melo said.
Melo says UASD helps students with some of the costs of materials.
Homes in Azua often extend beyond property lines. Neighbors walk back and forth to borrow items, sometimes sending their children a few doors down to ask for ice.
Music plays at every hour of the day. It surges through the air from private homes, cars navigating bumps and potholes and from scores of colmados on street corners. A colmado is a social cornerstore; children with single-digit ages often leap over the oversized step elevating the store from the sidewalk to buy candy.
The rocky and sometimes dusty terrain provides many staple foods like beans, potatoes, guandules, a grain resembling peas when shelled, and yuca, a starchy root that can be transformed easily across the day’s meals. These items, along with other fruits and vegetables and common packaged foods, are in abundance at colmados and produce stands propped up around main roads.
“Plátano Power,” a phrase related to the success of many Dominicans in major league baseball, alludes to a prolific member of the nation’s cuisine. Plantains grow in fields where the city starts to disperse and are sold in bulk in varying states of green.
Plantains can take a sweet or savory path to the dinner plate and plátanos maduros, mature plantains, are often used in a similar fashion as yuca or potatoes.
Generations of motorcycles provide a soundtrack before, during and after mealtimes to the turning streets of pastel-colored houses. Many residents cannot afford cars, so “las motos” often accommodate two or even three passengers. The streets are filled with purpose and destination, if only that of stopping on a few corners to greet friends.
When the electricity is periodically shut off in Azua, as in the rest of the country, echoes of “se fue la luz,” which means “the lights went out,” bounce throughout homes in both interrogative and declarative tones.
During the day, however, the only immediate indicator of this practice is the silencing of humming fans, since windows are left open to let in the wind and the sun.
Georgia Geen, Staff Writer