As some of you may know, almost two years ago, I got robbed in the Dominican Republic. This is that (rather long) story. [You will probably be thinking to yourself that I was extremely stupid and made some really bad decisions – trust me, I know that. I don’t need you to tell me again. The awful experience was punishment enough, I don’t need your you should(n’t) have…s. Thank you.]
Our story begins with my arrival in Santiago, the Domincan Republic’s second largest city. In my usual fashion, I had not booked a room at or hostel, and I didn’t have a CouchSurfing host lined up either. It was still pretty early on in the day when I arrived, so I figured I would be able to find a place to stay, no problem. I headed to the tourist information point to grab a map and get some recommendations about where to stay, but for some reason they weren’t very informative. I shrugged it off and started walking aimlessly looking for the word hostal or pension displayed boldly on cardboard boards in windows.
After walking for a good half hour in the blazing midday heat with no luck, I finally spotted the welcome sign and went straight to inquire about vacancies. Unfortunately, the place was full (and catered to longer term rentals anyway), but an elderly gentleman who was staying there heard my inquiry and approached me. He was a German guy who had been living in Santiago for the last two years since his retirement, and he offered to show me where the hostels were located. I gladly accepted and followed him, making small talk about my travels and such.
A few minutes later, we arrived at a street and there were indeed signs for 5 or 6 hostels proudly proclaiming vacancies. Leaving Herman (the German) at a chino, the ubiquitous cheap Chinese fast food joint, I went off to check out the hostels and settle myself into one. I was starving by that point, so after quickly doling out the cash for a night’s stay in a private room (it was the only type of room they had) at one of the hostels, I rejoined Herman in the chino.
Herman was apparently a regular there, and as I ate, he was often approached by locals who stopped to say hello. He introduced me to many of his friends who were curious about the new foreigner. One of them was Lenny. Lenny was a a young guy, and his mother worked at the chino, so he often helped out there too. He joined Herman and me as we sat chatting and asked about my plans for the next day. As usual, I had no plans, so he asked if I wanted to visit a scenic river with him and his cousin. I love swimming and besides, Herman said that he and his girlfriend would join us too, so I agreed and we quickly arranged to meet the next morning at 9am at the same chino and go to the river for a picnic in his cousin’s car. Exhausted from the day, I excused myself after that for an early night.
Back in my hostel room, I showered and soon fell fast asleep. At around 2 am, I woke up to go to the bathroom but when I entered the bathroom, to my complete horror and disgust, 7 or 8 large cockroaches were waiting for me. In the shower stall, in the sink, on the wall – they were everywhere! I’m usually okay with cockroaches, but that many all at once creeped me out. I did what I had to do and quickly got out of there, shutting the door firmly to keep the cockroaches inside.
I decided to check my room for cockroaches too, and turned on the light. Good thing I did too, because there was a cockroach in the corner of the room, but worse, there was one on the bed, next to my pillow. Stifling a scream, I grabbed my flip-flop and attacked the cockroach, killing it swiftly. By then, the other cockroach had disappeared, but I decided right then that I couldn’t spend another night in this hostel. I disposed of the cockroach carcass, gave my bed a thorough beating down and hid under the blanket for the rest of the night, with the light on.
I couldn’t sleep much though, so at about 6am, I packed up all my stuff and marched out to the reception to inform them that they had a cockroach problem and that I wasn’t staying another night. It was too early for me to find another hostel, so I decided I would ask Lenny if I could bring my backpack along with me to the river and leave it locked up in the trunk of his cousin’s car, and then find a different hostel when we returned.
At the chino, I had breakfast and waited around for Lenny, his cousin, Herman and his girlfriend to turn up. At about 9am, Lenny appeared, and I explained the cockroach situation to him. He suggested leaving my stuff at the restaurant where his mum worked while we were at the river, but I wasn’t about to leave all my belongings with complete strangers so I said I’d prefer to have it locked in the trunk of his cousin’s car. He assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem, so while he tried to contact Herman and his girlfriend (who had not turned up), I went to get all my stuff out of the hostel.
When I got back to the chino with all my stuff, Lenny told me that he hadn’t been able to reach Herman or his girlfriend. I suggested waiting a little longer for them to show up, and also tried to call Herman and his girlfriend (we’d exchanged numbers the day before), but to no avail. By then, it was past 10am, and Lenny suggested heading to the river without them, instead of wasting the day waiting for them. Annoyed that Herman and his girlfriend had flaked on us, I said fine.
Lenny said that his cousin was waiting a couple of streets away (we were on a pedestrian street), so off we went. As we were walking, Lenny called someone (I presumed his cousin), and said a few things too quick for me to catch. After ending the call, he turned to me and said that his cousin’s car had broken down and his cousin was going to get it fixed and that we should get a taxi to the river instead. Something felt fishy and I started to protest, but Lenny jumped in with assurances that it was completely safe, nothing would happen as long as I was with him because he was local, he was well-known in the area and nobody would try anything, etc. As he was talking, he flagged a random taxi and opened the door, gesturing for me to get in.
Now, I had had some pretty bad experiences before arriving in Santiago, and I was really looking forward to a good day relaxing by the river. Under the pressure of the taxi waiting expectantly for me, traffic piling up behind it, I gave in to Lenny’s persuasion and got into the taxi, backpack and all. Lenny got in as well, gave the driver directions, and off we went. I had a sickening feeling in my stomach that this was a very bad idea, but at that point, it was too late.
—–Stay tuned for Part 2!—–