Before i left Australia, there was a podcast I enjoyed listening to – it was called Preppers Podcast. It was aimed at the American phenomenon called preppers. These are people preparing for the end of the world, or rather, the end of government and the beginning of a chaos that would require them to fend for themselves. The podcast covered all areas of self-sufficiency, from making your own hunting rifle more powerful, to making drinking water from wee. The unifying theme was a hatred of interference from the various government bodies in the USA, and many of these people probably voted for Trump.
I now think I understand why.
The country is a basket case. Particularly it’s overbearing and inefficient beaurocracies.
If you’ve ever been through LAX airport, you will know what I am talking about.
Although as an Australian I have a visa waiver (the ESTA), and I can enter the USA and any of its territories, but it turns out that if I enter on my private yacht, I have to have an old fashioned visa. To get this B1-2 tourist visa I have to sell my first and second children, spend two weeks filling out forms, talk to two thousand un-interested and uninformed officials, and use four different antique websites.
Puerto Rico, east of the Dominican Republic across the Mona Passage, is a USA territory, almost the 51st state. To sail there we would have to get 5 separate B1/2 visas at a cost of USD 1000. After 10 days of trying to get their website working, we decided that we might try the uncertain loophole of catching a commercial flight to San Juan in PR, and asking to get our passports stamped and then returning and jumping on the boat and sail across. This mutated into a brilliant plan whereupon Janine and the Kids would catch a one-way flight, and I would sail the passage solo and meet them in Boqueron, both of us pleasantly rested (me from the kids, and the others avoiding a testing sail). This would require just me to apply for the visa, and worked out a lot cheaper. I thought it would be easier.
Unfortunately the ordeal of applying for and attending the visa fingerprinting and interviews in person in Santo Domingo was not quick or easy. I did three trips to Santo Domingo with a child each time. The buses were fast, cheap and very very cold. Apart from hypothermia the trips were a treat, as Santo Domingo’s old colonial town is very pretty and has a great feel. Finally found some great food that was not fried, saw some museums, got some t-shirts for the boys, and walked a lot. It feels like a town in Italy or Spain. As soon as one was out of the Colonial Zone, it got seedy and run down and third world. There were a couple of shopping plazas that were like air conditioned islands of luxury in a sea of broken cement. They put Sunshine Plaza in Maroochydore to shame, looking more like Dubai or Singapore shopping experiences. I just pressed my face against the cold glass and dreamed of getting a cup of real tea.
On the last drive home alone, I experienced my first negative vibe of the country. Americans had already warned me that the DR was very corrupt, they were very down on the way officials expected a little present at every encounter. (We found exactly the same extortion events in Florida, but they call it tipping there, where even the non-officials expect a whacking 20% present for any interaction – and get nasty if it doesn’t cross their palm). At least here in the Dominican Republic the bribes/tips are more affordable and the officials very smiley.
I got stung three times by traffic policemen while driving the rental car back from the US embassy. They start by pointing out an imaginary defect on the car, then talk rapidly and loudly in Spanish, ignoring my Spanglish attempts, and sounding like they are either going to call a tow truck or gun me down. Then they hand me a piece of paper and hint that the problem is going to cause a lot of paperwork and the fine is normally 5000 peso, but 1000 folded up in the paper and returned will sort it all out. Because I was on a deadline to get to my visa interview I rolled over quickly. The last time on the way home, the cop on the motorbike had a junior colleague with him, so he was even more formal in his bribe taking than usual. The conversation, and my helpless gestures of incomprehension went on for twenty minutes till he signalled he was at an end by saying very loudly, “aha, I give you directions, yes, yes” and waving his arms to the north south east and west while muttering under his breath ” one thousand pesos”. Every time I tried to get into my hip pocket, he became even more animated, signalling me to stop being so obvious, and nervously looking around. At least they have a sense of shame about their requests for tips.