It’s easy to get spoiled sailing around in the Eastern Caribbean by the friendliness of the people, the relative ease of entry and exit formalities, and the sense that you’re in a modern and developed part of the world. After leaving BVI and arriving in Dominican Republic, already we’re missing much of what we loved about the eastern islands.
We’ve said before that it’s easier to get a true feel for a place if you get out of the marinas and resort areas and dive into the real cities, but here in Domincan Republic that wasn’t necessary. While clearing in and getting our boat searched by the customs agents, we were already being asked overtly for bribes. It tells you a lot about a place when corruption is so tolerated that bribes can be openly requested by immigration officials – you can count on the following in such a place: bad roads, animals on the streets, readily available brothels, large quantities of drug pharmacies, dirt and pollution. In the developing world these things often seem to be bundled together in a single tidy package.
The following morning we took a necessary drive from Samana in the north, where the boat is parked, to the capital city Santo Domingo in the south, which feels a bit like driving to Tijuana, Mexico (chaotic, crowded, terrible drivers, no signage, etc). A police officer standing on the roadside, noticing two white tourists driving by, pulled us over and told us we were driving “bad” – no description of a legal violation, just “bad” for some reason not made clear. He said this was a “big problem” and we’d need to go with him to the police station because the penalties and fines are very big. Then he delivers the classic line we knew was coming: “follow me to the police station – is that what you want to do?” We’ve seen this game before countless times thanks to our time in Eastern Europe, so we know exactly what’s going on here: we’re being robbed, and the easiest way forward is to accept it.
On checkout from the marina we faced the same customs agents from a few days prior, this time doing a rather pathetic drug search before giving us our dispatch authorization, and clearly not in a friendly mood, possibly because we declined their bribe offer on entry. (I say “pathetic” because you could easily smuggle a few thousand kilos in or out and they probably wouldn’t even notice it sitting atop the kitchen table.) Our dispatch papers are very important to us – without them our entry into Turks and Caicos (our next stop) will be a bureaucratic nightmare. The customs agents know this well, so they find it a worthwhile time to insist on a little “bonus” for their valued services just before handing over our documents. Robbed again.
In our first 9 months since this journey began, we can count at least 10 times we’ve been robbed. Except for our bike getting stolen in Greece, every time we’ve been robbed has been by a uniformed government official, normally wearing some sort of camouflage outfit or with a gun on the hip. You get used to it after a while because you realize it happens everywhere if its not kept in check by a higher authority, and that is one of the bigger differences between the developing world and the developed world (we’re talking about the obviousness of the corruption, not the existence of it). Our cynicism has ripened slowly through experience and we think helps us navigate the real world – our expectations, we feel, are accurately calibrated.
None of this is a complaint at all – diversity is what makes the world interesting, and these things. In truth we find the developing world actually has much more to offer in terms of interesting and exciting experiences, so we’re happy we’re just beginning the transition on this voyage.