ryan pirog, photography
ryan pirog, photography

Dominican 2012

 

This trip started as they usually do… Beautiful hotel, impeccable rooms and awesome food… We did the usually trip down the beach, walking past countless resorts, ending up at the shopping shacks on the water that we visit every year to buy cigars and beach cover-ups… When dealing with beach venders everything is cheapy cheapy and these are always the best prices around… And like usual the local vendors are more than happy to pose for a picture… The highlight of our shopping visit was the incredibly cute puppy that called one of the booths home… He has his little spot under one of the displays, and would dart out every once n awhile to start gnawing on some wood or a cardboard box, or the occasional shoe… That place is full of postcard moments. It’s what you picture when thinking of a Caribbean island… Other than the shopping and landscapes there isn’t much else to shoot around the resorts, so I tried some sunrise pictures. Due to the angle of our hotel I didn’t have a good view, but out walking one morning I saw a used syringe lying in the sand amongst other storm surge garbage on the un-development beach next to the resort (ours was the last resort on the beach, with several miles of jungle till the next town) … I spent the rest of the trip looking for old syringes hidden in garbage on the beach… Ya I’m a nerd, but I figured me taking the calculated risk of picking these things up and at least putting them in an old oil can, would be better than having some unsuspecting kid step on them… Plus it was fun…

 

We decided to take the “Dominican Experience” tour since other than the beach & airport; you never saw much else of City… The tour picks you up at the hotel at 8am in a giant 6 wheel drive Hummer on steroids, and takes you first through some local towns on the way to a school… This was my first "Dominican" experience outside of the domestication of resort life… Driving past these little towns and shanty houses I got to see what average life was like for a Dominican. Our driver was wanting some coffee, so we stopped by a road side “Starbucks” aka a little girl running cups from a window where here mom made it… We passed a woman selling fresh juice on the street, and open air butchers who’d mark today's fresh cuts by placing the animals still bleeding head on the ground by the street... Pulling from the paved road down the dirt road to the school I saw two children, no more than 10 or 12 yrs old waiting for us at the intersection with flowers… The guide told us not to throw them money or take the flowers, as this only supports them and is yet another deterrent from going to school (which isn’t mandatory there)… The boy peeled off early, but the little girl kept up with the truck for a few hundred yards, all the while running on rocks and pebbles with no shoes… We pulled up to the school during morning snack time and were taken inside to see what the average school day looks like for kids… To my amazement they were all sitting there in uniforms (which are mandatory) drinking their juice boxes, even with tourists snapping pictures and giving them hugs… I imagined an American classroom if some visitors showed up, and realized how drastically different “Our” kids are, and not in a good way… Outside sat the unruly pre teen boys who weren’t in class or going to school, no different than any attention loving kids anywhere else in the worlds as you can see… The “Count Your Blessings Moment” was when the tour guide told us that the federally funded teachers make only $210 a month. Looking down at my camera I realized that his year’s salary of $2520 (before tax) would only barely cover the cost of the lens I was shooting these with ($2400), puts life into perspective…

 

 

We left the school and traveled further into the countryside along a dirt road flooded out at times by the daily sunrise showers and surround by sugarcane fields… We passed another school which we were told was for slightly richer families as the kids came running out the front door to wave to us as we passed... Never have I seen a local population so happy to wave to tourists, they were very welcoming, it almost seemed fake… We continued on and got deeper into the fields… The guide explained that Haitian migrant workers come during the harvest to take down the fields of cane. He also explained why this is all done by hand “Because one machine can do the job of 10 workers, but this way it gives jobs to the people and keeps the money in the economy”, a nice way of saying machines are expensive and break down, but Haitian labor is cheap and stable… They get $10 for one ton (2000 lbs) of sugarcane, about a days work, and often times bring the whole extended family to work the fields (women & children included)… He pointed out a women sitting on a donkey in the shade. She’s the personal “vending machine” of sorts for the laborers, she carries food and drinks with her and sells them when needed… Until you’re there you don’t realize the difference between a Haitian migrant and the Dominicans. The Haitians are much darker, similar to Africans, as many of them come from slave blood lines, and are viewed as laborers, similar to how we look at illegal Mexican workers in the US. The Dominicans have a lighter skin color being from Spanish decent, very similar to “African Americans” in the US and have a higher social standing because of it… We made our way through some more Haitian shanty towns before catching the paved road to Higuey, which is a fairly large city… We spent an hour or so in Higuey, stopping at the countries largest church “Basilica De Higuey” and winding our way through local streets, before heading back into the country up the mountains to our next stop…

 

Where the pavement ended the treachery began… Climbing those muddy peaks in anything less than the tank like truck we were in would be suicide, yet locals were doing it on mopeds, needing the occasional push up a steep incline or through knee deep mud of course… On those hills is where the Banana, Grapefruit,Oranges, Coffee & Chocolate is grown, and believe me you’ve never tasted more natural organic fruit than that… We made our way through some ravines flooding the road, and had to K turn around some pretty tight corners, but eventually we made the final push up the last hill to the co-op of farmers who inhabited and planted these hills… We got off the truck to walk around amongst their houses and sample some of their fresh fruit, coffee, chocolate, mamajuana and got a lesson on what these farmers are doing… Historically companies would take the farmers crop, let’s say oranges, and buy them for $10 per 100, then turn and sell them to the resorts for 1000-2000% markup… Well the farmers wised up and came together, relying on tours like this for the majority of their sales, but fetched a much better price for their goods, how’s that for standing up to big business!… Apparently also inhabiting these hills and fields are very large snakes and spiders (both of which I hate)… As a side show act one local carried around a Tarantula and a neck full of snakes for photo ops, lucky for me I have a big lens which lets me stand far away, did I mention I hate snakes and spiders... Leaving the plantation and back on the road, the countryside continued by on our way to a local ranch for some lunch and horseback riding (for everyone else since I’m deathly allergic)… After lunch we continued on, winding through the cournyside going past farms and palm tree fields, and honest to god passing one house a little kid ran naked out the front door to wave to us. We stopped at a public beach on a dirt road, away from anything that resembled civilization (other than the beach vendors)… When we got there a light rain was just finishing and the most picturesque rainbow formed over the bluff… We continued on from the beach as it was starting to get late and our tour was winding down… We stopped by a local liquor store to give everyone a chance to pick up some of the best “Dominican Rum” on the island, since I’m not a big drinker I really didn’t’ care… What caught my eye though was the “Local Drunk” as described by the tour bartender… This guy was like something out of a movie, swollen alcoholic nose, glazed over blood shot eyes and open shirt with a shower cap… He was sitting when we arrived but began to walk around on the road side, at one point bursting out into laughter as he looked at a broken TV lying on the ground as a stray dog walked through the frame, and then pointing to the sky for a bit… We continued on and just as we approached the road to the hotel a flock of Egrets soared down, literally feet off the pavement, flying along with the truck, bobbing and dodging oncoming traffic, freaking the hell out of a moped rider out in the process…

 

Dominican 06' - 11'

 

The Dominican Republic is turning into a yearly tradition… We started going about 6 years ago over new years to the all-inclusives, which is the only way to vacation, if you’ve never been… Making the occasional shopping trip to the beach vendors who are literally on the water... The landscapes are breathtaking, with sunrises like you couldn’t imagine… It’s when I started getting bored shooting the ocean and trees that I saw the amazing variety of people to shoot, the locals especially, who don’t mind posing for portraits… But it’s the locals who are being local that I look for, not the posed portraits… One of my favorites was taken out the window of a taxi on the way to a cigar factory… I saw three motorbike taxi guys sitting on a street corner in the shade of a sign… Seeing a good picture almost out of habit I pointed my lens out the window without looking in the view finder, turned the ring to the focal length I thought would work and snapped 4 frames as we went by… As we drove on I looked at my screen and was relieved when I saw it was framed and in focus… Another favorite is of the tattooed blonde… She was a tourist from another hotel standing on the beach. With the tattoos and bikini color, walking up to her I knew I needed to get a shot of her… Since you can’t get a natural picture walking up and sticking a camera in someone’s face, I discreetly zoomed all the way out and held my camera nonchalantly at my side as I passed her, holding the shutter as I did…