I’m currently taking Amtrak through California from San Luis Obispo to Palmdale to visit my old Maryland roommates, Lena and Xavier! I’m loving that cities, beaches, and even street names are in Spanish. It’s good practice for me in an indirect way. I also got to try authentic Mexican food for the first time which was amazing! The picture above was one of my views today! Amtrak is fabulous because I get a power outlet and wifi, so I can get a lot of work done while I travel!
Are you someone that has gotten tripped up by the future tense in Spanish? Here’s an easier way to construct a sentence about something that will be happening, with less memorization!
Instead of learning the future tense conjugations for every verb, just memorize this construction:
ir + a + infinitive
Now you only have to learn how to conjugate ir.
I am going
You (informal) are going
El, ella, usted
He, she, you (formal)
He is going/ She is going/ You (formal) are going
We are going
Ellos, ellas, ustedes
They (mixed group or all males), they (all females), you all (formal)
They are going/ They are going/ You all (formal) are going
Note: Informal you is used with someone you would call by their first name (such as a friend or someone your age). Formal you is used with someone you would address as sir or ma’am (someone older than you, a stranger, someone you owe respect like a supervisor, etc.)
Now, learn a few useful Spanish infinitives (non-conjugated verbs):
Estar- to be (how something is)
Ir- to go
Tener- to have
hacer- to do or to make
Querer- to want
Poder- to be able
Decir- to say or to tell
Now combine the conjugated portion of ir + a + an infinitive from 1-7 (there are more useful infinitives, but this is a good place to start.)
Whenever I am in a Spanish speaking area, I get asked this all the time! Whether it is out to eat at a Mexican restaurant, traveling through California, or in a Spanish speaking country, it never fails. More and more, I am getting asked if I am from Spain, which I will take as a high compliment on my Spanish.
Native speakers seem baffled that I can speak fluently, despite me explaining that I started studying Spanish when I was 12 and then continued through college. I spent 3 months living in Spain, and now I have this business teaching Spanish, despite hardly speaking it for several years between college and starting this business.
It continually surprises me that they are baffled at me speaking Spanish, but it’s definitely something I am proud of and a big part of who I am.
I’d love to hear from you. Has something similar ever happened to you?
Cultural note: Days of the week and months are not capitalized in Spanish unless they begin the sentence. The plural of el lunes is los lunes. The plural of el domingo is los domingos.
Currently, I am writing this post while riding an Amtrak Connector bus from LA to Bakersfield, California with a final destination of Hanford (near Fresno). I flew out to San Diego on Wednesday and will be traveling for the next 5 weeks through several cities in California and Seattle. I love that I can charge my laptop, listen to music, and work while I am in transit. Plus, the ocean views on the Amtrak train were amazing.
It was so fun in San Diego seeing Spanish words everywhere with the city names, street names, and so forth. I was talking to a friend and told him that later I would be going to San Luis Obispo. He said I was saying the name too Spanish. Later, he was amazed that i correctly spelled the name of his street (Marquita). Too funny!
After a week in Santo Domingo, when my travel companion Noel headed back to the US, I decided to head out to the countryside. I had booked my hostel (La Hacienda Hostel Ranch) about 4 hours away from Santo Domingo. You can’t book a bus ticket until a day or two before your trip, as sometimes due to weather bus trips get cancelled. I wasn’t exactly sure when/how I would get back to the airport, or even if the bus would work out to get to Las Galeras. The night before I was planning to leave for Las Galeras, a new friend at the hostel, Norma from Peru, was asking me about my travel plans. She liked my plan so much she decided to join me, even though we had just met.
So, Monday morning, we got a taxi to the bus station and bought a one way ticket to Las Galeras. It was around $7 each. We asked someone for help at the bus station, because there were buses going all over Dominican Republic, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss ours.
Here are some of the memorable events that happened after we caught the bus to Las Galeras:
Meeting a small group of Americans and chatting with them.
Catching a minivan taxi with the Americans (a Mom, her daughter, and the Mom’s female friend), my Peruvian friend, and another girl who was going to the same hostel.
From the taxi, we caught motorcycle taxis to the hostel (the Swedish girl who spoke very good English, my Peruvian friend Norma, and myself). The van would not go there because the road is not in very good condition. Literally, where the road ends, then a dirt “road” begins that takes you up to La Hacienda en la loma. I didn’t think a motorcycle taxi would work with my two big shoulder bags. But, he just put one in front of him on the motorcycle, I got on behind, and carried the other on my shoulder. My first time on a motorcycle! When he told me to get closer to him, I didn’t ask questions, because he knew more about riding a motorcycle than I did. It was a good thing I did, because we were about to go up a steep and bumpy hill.
The Hacienda was great. Karin, the owner, keeps two of her horses there in the back yard. She has several rescue dogs and cats. I felt right at home.
Since the three of us were the only ones staying at the hostel, and Li, the Norweigan girl had been there before, she showed us around! We walked to town, through the resort beach, and stopped along the beach at an outdoor restaurant. They grilled up some fish for us, served with coconut bread, rice, and fried plantains. Then we walked to the grocery store, picked up some veggies, eggs, canned tuna, cookies, rum, soda, and a few other items we needed, so that we could cook at the hostel. We spent some time swimming at the beach that afternoon.
That night, we packed up a bag with alcohol and soda and cups and cookies and walked down the “road” to an abandoned house. It had been abandoned for years, but if you walked up to the roof, you can see the stars from there. We lay on the roof, talking (me interpreting between the two of them, as Li didn’t speak much Spanish, and Norma didn’t speak much English) and drinking. The view from the roof was amazing. Since we were all the way out in the country, there was no light pollution to block the stars. We saw several shooting stars. These kind of memories are what life is all about.
The next morning we woke up to torrential rains. It was extremely peaceful to wake up that way. We hung out, talking and made breakfast. We took turns cooking up breakfast. I sliced and sauteed carrots and tomatoes then cooked scrambled eggs. That afternoon we walked to town and got empandas from a street vendor. So good and cheap!
We took horses out with a native guide for an all day excursion to several beaches. We got lunch, bathed, sunbathed, and drank Coco Locos (a fresh coconut with lime juice, ice and rum added). It was gorgeous and the horseback riding excursion was amazing. It’s been a while since I have ridden a horse, and never in such uneven terrain going up and down hills, across beaches, through town, etc. Such a memorable day.
We walked through the woods, shimmied under a barbed wire fence, to take a short cut to El Cabito to have drinks at a restaurant on the water as the sun set. Gorgeous! The owners, a Spanish couple, were sitting at the table next to us and we chatted with them a little. We got to meet their rescued pet sheep (it was a hair sheep, so it looked like a goat) named Tacones. In Spanish, tacones means high heels. We also met their dogs. El Cabito is a restaurant and they also offer lodging. We had a few drinks and shared a piece of chocolate cake.
As the restaurant was closing down and the staff were getting ready to leave, we asked them for a ride on the back of their motorcyles into town, as they had to drive through town to head home. (Everyone drives motorcycles in Las Galeras.) Riding three to a motorcycle, no helmets, racing into town under the open sky, I felt so free.
We went to two different “discotecas” in town, which were bars with an open space in front where people could dance to the music if they wanted. I’ll take getting complimented on my dancing to Latin music by a Latina as a compliment!
At the end of the night, after more beers and dancing, meeting strangers, etc, we needed a ride back to our hostel. It really wasn’t a good idea to do the hour long walk in the dark. One man at one of the clubs offered to give us a ride on his motorcycle, but he couldn’t fit all 3 of us and himself on there. A sweet girl at the club came up to us as we were leaving to make sure that we weren’t walking home in the dark by ourselves. I always say that most people most of the time are nice. Ultimately, the guy that offered a ride on his motorcycle called a friend, and they gave us a ride. But not until Norma bought more beer and food to take back with us. They charged us a little more than we had paid in the past, but at that point in the night, and not having many other options, I really wasn’t in the mood to argue. Besides, it was still around $4 a person, which isn’t a lot.
On our last day together, we walked to La Playita. The way to get there meanders down different streets, through no trespassing gates with guards (who told us, it’s ok, go through here to La Playita), and in other confusing ways. We lounged at the beach, got fresh caught and cooked lobster, made new friends, got matching ankle bracelets (thanks Norma!), and swam. We made it back into town to get ice cream just as it was getting dark, so we got a taxi ride. On the ride, I asked my driver if he could pick me up the next morning at 5 to catch the 530 bus into Santo Domingo. It was the only bus in the morning and my flight was at 2 pm. He said the bus leaves at 515, but he could pick me up at 445. We agreed.
I had forgotten my passport to take out cash at the bank for the taxi back. Taxis to and from the airport cost $40 US. I didn’t have enough cash left. The ATM wouldn’t accept my bank card because it wasn’t chipped, so I had to go and wait in line with my passport (which I had forgotten at the hostel) to take out cash. Instead, Li let me borrow money and paypal her. What a great friend!
The next morning, I got up and ready and was waiting for the taxi around 4:40 am. By 4:50, still no show. It was a 1.5 mile walk into town, and I couldn’t afford to miss the bus. So I decided to start walking, and if he showed up, I would just get on. Well, he never showed. Good thing I am a speed walker. There are no lights on the way into town, except along the resort beach area. I walked by the light of my cell phone flashlight, speed walking. I got into town in 25 minutes, carrying my bags on my shoulders, even though they cut into my shoulders, and sweating a lot due to the humidity. So I got to town, and nothing was going on. No bus. No nothing. I didn’t want to just sit in the middle of the road at that time, so I found a restaurant and sat on the outdoor porch. It wasn’t open at 5:15 am, so I didn’t figure it was bothering anyone. I kept watch, but until 5:40 nothing happened. Then a giant bus (think tour bus) drives into town, honking its horn a lot. It turns around right in front of the restaurant where I am sitting. When the doors open, I ask if it is going to Santo Domingo. They say yes, so I get on. Technically, this is a gua gua, the local van style transportation that drives set routines. However, this is an abnormally large gua gua. The gua gua transferred once. Shortly before we arrived at the Santo Domingo airport bus station, a man came around collecting the fee. I think it was a couple dollars worth. Also on the way, a woman riding the gua gua stood up and started praying aloud for all of us, our safety, thanking God for our blessings, etc.
When I got to the airport, I had to dump out my water to go through security. Afterwards, I forgot to buy water and I couldn’t drink the running water in the bathrooms. Doh! I spent the last of my money on 3 empanadas for brunch then napped at the gate waiting for my flight home.
Overall, it was a super fun trip. I will definitely go back to Las Galeras. I loved it.
In November 2015, I spent 11 days in the Dominican Republic. The main reason for going was that flights out of Boston were really cheap, and I knew I would be in the Boston area visiting my friend Jon after assisting with a yoga retreat, so I thought- why not?
My good friend Noel flew out of New Mexico to join me for the first week in Santo Domingo, and I decided to stay an extra couple days by myself. For my solo trip, I looked at all the hostel options all over the country in about the $20 and under a night price range. I found a hostel-ranch out in the countryside, near some beautiful beaches. I knew that was the place for me, so I booked 4 nights, having no idea how I would get from Santo Domingo to Las Galeras, about 4 hour away. The owner rescues horses and offers horseback riding excursions. She also rescues dogs and cats. A ranch in the country? I knew I would be right at home, since I grew up on a farm in the country in Southern MD.
Since the trip was a while back, instead of writing out every experience like a story, I will instead highlight some of my favorite memories. Noel and I basically woke up each day and said “What do we want to do today?” and then we did that. It was amazing.
Selected Memories from Santo Domingo with Noel:
Sitting down on the plane to DR, when the woman sitting next to me asks me in Spanish “Do you believe in God” and when I say yes, she grabs my hands and starts praying with me in Spanish as the plane takes off. Praying for our safety, the safety of the crew and pilots, etc. Later she asks me if I have children, and I say no, but that I have three dogs and show her pictures and a picture of Andrew and I. I tell her that I have never been to DR before and I am nervous because our flight arrives at 4 am and my phone won’t work there, I wasn’t able to change dollars for Dominican pesos at the Boston airport (they didn’t have any), and I have to get a safe taxi (unregistered taxis can be unsafe and a scam) to the place where I am staying and when I get there call the hostess. I didn’t know how much to expect to pay for a taxi, how much to tip (if any- different countries have different rules on tipping), how to get a hold of the hostess, etc. I knew once I got to the airbnb I would be fine, but I just wasn’t sure how things would work out. She was so sweet, and met up with me after customs, talked to an airport employee to get a legitimate taxi, talked to the driver and explained my situation, and sure enough everything worked out. He called my hostess on his phone when we arrived, waited on the street with me and my luggage for the hostess to come and unlock the front gate, and came back to take me to the airport the next morning for the same rate. My airbnb hostess and I have talked a lot before and since. She’s great.
Going through customs and immigration in the airport speaking Spanish, and not knowing that they did not speak English! Also, so glad I bought my required tourist card online so I did not have to spend any extra time exiting the airport.
Note to travelers: most places in DR do not have screens in the windows, air conditioning, drinkable water, and you can not flush toilet paper (throw it in the bin next to the toilet, that’s why it is perfumed).
Sign on our toilet at the hostel
Being so relieved to see Noel when she arrived at the airport the next day, and catching our pre-booked taxi service to our hostel. Thank you Noel, for researching a safe hostel. Island Life Backpacker’s Hostel was an amazing find in the historical area of Santo Domingo, and appears to be the only legit hostel there. The staff were all great, and most spoke English. We happened to book the only room with air conditioning, which was amazing as we both prefer to sleep in colder temperatures. There was a small pool, hammocks, and you could get dinner and drinks at the hostel for pretty cheap. Dinner was about $7 and the menu changed every night. Some nights it included soda, beer, or a shot. I think the room was about $15-$20 per person per night, which was a great deal for a private room with safe and private bathroom. We also had outdoor kitchen access and cooked up some eggs for breakfast every morning.
Fresh squeezed tropical fruit juice or smoothies? Yes, please!!!!!
Lounging in the pool and/or hammocks when we just wanted to hang out in the afternoons. Pretty sure we were the only customers that whole week until Friday. The hostel was quiet and we enjoyed getting to know the 3 dogs that lived there, the staff, and hanging out. Plus, when the weather was bad (pouring) we just got on our laptops or talked while hammocking!
Hostel pool and hammock
Outdoor hostel kitchen
Getting lost in Santo Domingo trying to find the old Fort, asking for directions, and exploring the fort by climbing all around in it (that’s allowed in DR). From the highest tower of the fort, we saw a giant statue over by the ocean. So then we decided to find it and we did! We explored that area, then saw a beach nearby so we went down to the beach. It wasn’t super duper clean or touristy, but hey, a beach is a beach. There was a guy using a rock for kettlebell swings, some other guys with a giant water jug full of sand or something playing in the water with the jug in a way that looked like exercise. Noel sat on the sand and I sat at the water’s edge, enjoying the water washing over my legs. Another guy came over to the beach, took off all his clothes except his underwear and put the clothes down next to Noel. Never said a word to either of us.
Exploring Santo Domingo by foot
Recognizing street dogs and their territories as you pass them regularly walking to the hostel.
Noel and a new friend in the plaza
Checking out the family owned and operated rum factory and sampling several varieties of rum! Cheers! We also toured the ChocoMuseo and got to see and sample chocolate in all the stages of creation! We also got to sample several varieties of rum there, also free!
Checking out the first Cathedral in the Americas. Huge and beautiful. Reminded me of the cathedrals in Spain. In fact, Santo Domingo reminded me a lot of Spain, between the religious influence, Spanish language, and other aspects of the city. Outside, they let women borrow scarves to cover their shoulders if they are exposed, before entering the church. Most museums and things like the cathedral were about $1 USD or less per person to enter, which was a fun and cheap way to see the city by foot, while also taking in it’s culture. No need to hire a tour guide, audio guide, or trolley.
Having trouble starting the gas stove burner to cook our eggs. Doh! Also, the fact that there was a plastic closure on the side of the fridge because one of the hostel dogs was smart enough to open the swinging kitchen doors (think saloon doors but smaller) and open the fridge.
Going to Parque Nacional Tres Ojos (a park with four giant underground clear lakes) during the day on a week day, and thinking surely there won’t be many tourists here today. In fact, there were several large groups of kids on school field trips there, running all over the place! At the park, you can walk right down and touch the water, no barriers for safety. That would never happen in the US! You can also take a “water taxi” across one of the lakes for less than a dollar to see the fourth lake. The water taxi is made of plastic barrels. Also, one of the park rangers thought I was a Spaniard after talking to me for a bit, which I will take as a high compliment on my Spanish.
Parque Nacional Tres Ojos- the lakes were much larger but I stood off to the side due to the crowds of children
Tres Ojos “boat”
Going to a travel agency to book tickets for a next day trip to Isla Saona, upon recommendation of one of the hostel workers (seriously, recommendations from locals is the way to go!). Upon arriving at the travel agency and bouncing between several different desks (really, is that the most efficient way to do it?) and getting our tickets, we asked if we could wait inside for the storm to subside. They said sure. We probably waited on their couches for about 20 or 30 minutes while the rain poured down on the glass roof above us, and no one paid us any mind, except to ask if we wanted something to drink!
Heading out to Isla Saona on a speed boat, rushing through the crystal clear waters. We stopped for a bit at the “swimming pool” where our guides took pictures of us for purchase later (we didn’t purchase), found star fish, and served up unlimited Cuba Libres (Coca-cola and rum).
Spending a few hours at Isla Saona, hanging out in hammocks, resting on the beach, and eating at the buffet. We stopped at a few resorts to pick up tourists on the way out to the island, so we chatted with some of the tourists during lunch. We met a nice Canadian couple, who said we were very brave to stay in a hostel in the city and walk around the city alone (honestly, it is safe). Walking the water line and seeing the other parts of the island that were empty of tourists. Drinking coconut water fresh out of a coconut.
Isla Saona, Flex Friday edition
Riding back from the island on a catamaran. We worked our way out onto the netting which was just above the water. (That would never be allowed in the US!). What an amazing ride back, relaxing on the netting and watching the water rush under us. Music was playing and people were dancing the whole way back. It started pouring and it was cold rain so we all got under the roof of the boat, and had a giant wet bathing suit dance party of strangers.
On the catamaran
That night I was pretty wiped so I was going to go to bed early. I preferred to shower in the outdoor shower because I felt like the water to air temperature difference was closer, as there is only one temperature water there, and it is lukewarm. I went to shower and saw two people sitting in one of the common areas. They invited me to go out for a drink with them. I said, let me shower and think about it. I sat down with them and chatted. Turns out the guy was from Turkey but had been working in Alaska over the summer. The girl was on vacation from Peru. We decided to go out to a bar for a drink. Then I saw some other strangers at the hostel, and I invited them all out to join us. All in all, there were probably about 10 of us mostly strangers from all over going out- Peru, Columbia, US (2), Turkey, Israel (2), Britain, and Ireland. We picked up two other people walking around town, and they showed us a good bar. We chatted, drank, and danced. Met some locals, too. Half the group only spoke Spanish, half only English, and there were only two of us that spoke both well, so we interpreted between the two subgroups. Meeting strangers and becoming friends is what hostelling is all about!
At the bar with new friends
Went to the musuem of modern art. Tried to understand all the captions in Spanish. Wanted to get lunch after that. I wanted to try a pica-pollo which is like a fast food Dominican/Chinese restaurant. I asked the person staffing the desk at the museum where we could find a pica-pollo, as the museum was not in the down town area and there was no restaurant obvious nearby. He directed me to an older man dressed in a suit that was hanging around the entrance of the museum. I am still not sure why that man was hanging around there. I thought maybe he was a taxi driver, but that is not the case. Anyway, Noel and I followed him a few streets over, through a police complex where he told them we were simply crossing to get to the pica-pollo, and to the pica-pollo. We got a ton of food for around $3-4 USD. I asked the staff for their recommendation and they said the fried chicken tenders and fried plantains (yum!). The gentleman was friendly and chatted with us about our trip. Tourism is the main industry in Dominican Republic, so most people are friendly and want you to come back again. He walked us back to the museum and we asked him where we could catch a taxi to the botanical garden. He called one for us and waited with us outside the museum to make sure it arrived. Right before it picked us up, he asked me for my phone number. Darn, I knew there had to be an angle!
At the botanical garden, we entered just as it started pouring. We finally tracked down a bathroom, after asking around. We hung out under a covered area outside waiting for the rain to subside. Eventually it mostly disappeared, so we ventured out into the garden. Little did we know that all the Dominicans and tourists took a trolley system through the gardens- boring! We walked around. Several kittens ran towards us meowing. At the pond, all the turtles swam over and we counted a lot (maybe around 15-20). They must not be used to seeing people besides the caretakers (ie feeders!). So cute! We took refuge under a giant palm tree, literally hugging it’s trunk as there was a flash heavy rain. We got lost a few times trying to find the exit. Finally, when we left, we asked the person staffing the ticket booth to call us a taxi (you can do that and it’s not rude or too much in DR). The taxi came and I negotiated the price down to something more reasonable. Just because we look like tourists doesn’t mean we are stupid, and also, I speak Spanish so I can do that!
We stumbled upon Museum of Royal Houses and after walking through, decided to sit on a bench in the park nearby in the shade and chat for a bit. While doing that, a heavy rainstorm came. All 3 or 4 people that were in the park made a mad dash for the nearest roof outcropping, which happened to be a bank. All of us stood under the roof, trying to get dry, and trying to call the poor soaked stray dog that lived in the park to join us (he didn’t). We chatted a little. (Do you see a rain theme here?)
Another time, we saw this artesanal ice cream shop and decided to check it out. Turns out it was gelato with tropical flavor options. I had coconut and it was amazing. After we purchased our gelato, there was a giant rain storm and we got stuck under an umbrella in front of the shop (there was hardly standing room in the shop) with a man and his guitar. He talked to us, and then flashed us a bunch of money, and said we should go out for drinks and dancing, all 3 of us, his treat. Right now. We politely turned him down and then it was pretty awkward standing under the umbrella waiting for the rain to pass….
Going to the corner market to buy eggs, soap (for some reason several places I went in DR did not have soap or tp in the bathroom), and cookies (asked them what was the best kind of cookies…Chokis are like chips ahoy crunchy). Bought a giant bottle of drinkable water. The corner stores will deliver, also, and so they get ready to carry the water bottle to our hostel down the street, until I tell them in Spanish that I lift weights and I got this. Sure enough, I had no trouble carrying it to our hostel, up the stairs, and into our room, where we kept it next to the shower to pour into our water bottles daily in the shower. The look on their faces, though. “She lifts weights.”
Also, we went back to the corner market to get more eggs and cookies, and I decided to get some cheese for some extra protein and fat. Good thing I only got a couple slices, because it was totally fake cheese. I’m not even sure if it had any dairy in it. Yuck!
When my sunglasses broke and I wanted to get another pair from the tourist shop, there was no change to be found at any of the local businesses, so I followed the guy from the shop to the bank to get change for my 300 peso sunglasses (like $6 USD). Apparently most businesses only have change on Mondays. Also, it is not uncommon for a restaurant to close down if they run out of chicken, or its too rainy, or just any reason.
Meeting fellow Colorado-ans at the hostel that were travelling to Cuba. Meeting other travellers from all over doing all different things, and hearing some of their stories. Sharing some beers together on the outdoor couches under the roof as rain poured down around us. Sharing Spanish knowledge with other travellers.
Cheers, sharing beers
Since pretty much everything is closed on Sundays, walking 45 minutes along the ocean side highway to a traditional Dominican restaurant, upon the recommendation of the Dominican hostel cook, with our new friend from Arizona. Chowing down on plantains, pork rinds, beef, passion fruit juice, and tres leches cake. So good. Amazing waterfront view while dining. Getting cat called pretty much the entire way back. Seriously, doesn’t that ever get old? I sure get tired of it immediately.
Restaurant view with our hostel friend Carol
Buying several giant bars of super cheap soap to bring back to the US.
That’s most of our adventures from Santo Domingo! Next week I will write about my trip out to the hostel-ranch in the countryside at Las Galeras.