I can never sleep the night before I travel abroad. Double checking my flight status, and checking the pocket of my duffle bag to ensure my passport is there, all consume me to the point of travel insomnia. So much time, organization, and stress goes into setting myself up for a getaway that will allow me to let go, and just be. Vacation after all, is supposed to be a time to kick back and where some might say, forget about the world you’re leaving behind. For me, it’s about becomIng the person you truly are.
His mesmerizing smile gleamed against the red and gold embers of his flawless mocha colored face. Santo Domingo, I see you!
That brings me to my most recent visit to the Dominican Republic. A country many of my friends and family often tease is my second home. Although I travel annually to the friendly Caribbean nation, this year, my friends and I decided to switch it up. We set our sights on the electric and chaotic streets of Santo Domingo. It was a first time visit for all of us so we were excited to explore the mystique of the city and its urban splendor.
I’ve watched a bevy of YouTube vloggers chronicling their time in the vibrant city, but just like anything new I experience, I like to put my own stamp on it and be open to anything amazing happening. After a three and a half flight, and catching myself snoring with my ray bans hanging on the bridge of my nose – I arrived. A brief shuffle through customs and my vacation is officially beginning. I walk towards the exit only to realize my car hasn’t arrived. There is nothing like seeing a driver holding up a sign with your name on it, but my moment of feeling like Jay-Z and Beyoncé was being denied.
I called the hotel to check on the status of my car and confirmed that the driver was on his way. I was a bit irritated by the delay but I was in the Dominican Republic and would not allow this lapse of communication between the hotel and myself to kill the vibe. Besides, the time spent waiting to be picked up allowed me to focus on the beautiful brown people going about their business. It was truly a sight to behold from the airport grounds staff, to the baggage personnel, to security – the Tall, Tan and and Lovely men of Santo Domingo.
When my driver arrived, I opted out of the berating comments I envisioned myself saying to him. It’s difficult to be an American Asshole, when your driver looks like he was chiseled from stone by an artist generous with emphasizing his muscular thighs and backside. His smile gleamed against the red and gold embers of his flawless mocha colored face. Santo Domingo, I see you!
it was thrilling to observe so many men like ourselves, many whom looked like us, be free to enjoy a night with likeminded friends. I was comforted by this and felt at home.
A quick ride to the hotel allowed for a wild experience (literally) through the city. It was quite an introduction to Santo Domingo traffic and to say New York City drivers have nothing on drivers here is an understatement. I saw a former world through old buildings with beautiful architecture, thrown in with modern touches that in some spots, resembled an urban city in the states. People are bustling about going to and from and all the while, I’m imagining who they are, where they’re going, and wondering about the lives they lead. I finally reach the hotel, check in, and wait for my friends to arrive. A quick nap was in order but even with my exhaustion, I still could not sleep. Santo Domingo was calling my name, and I was way too eager to answer!
Our first adventure included a night on the town. I was so excited to see what gay nightlife in Santo Domingo had in store. Although I’ve been to Punta Cana numerous times, I wasn’t aware of any gay scene worth mentioning. Santo Domingo offered something Punta Cana could not, a visible, vibrant pulse of a same gender loving community. Although DR is known be tolerant to LGBTQ tourism, there are elements of conservatism rooted deep within its religious ties to Christianity. That was something I was familiar with being brought up in African-American culture which is often touted as being the most religious of all Americans.
This city, unlike its resort laden neighbor on the West coast felt liberated. It was thrilling to observe so many men like ourselves, many of whom looked like us, be free to enjoy a night with likeminded souls. I was comforted by this and felt at home.
It was the bass, the rhythm, the rich melodies that felt almost ancestral as we rockEd our shoulders from side to side
After hopping in a cab with our driver Freddy, better known as Ready Freddy, we began our descent on the city. Freddy was an unofficial tour guide, and was not only intent on telling us about the historically proud attributes Santo Domingo had to offer, but also a bit of it’s red light attraction, in case you were asking for a friend.
Our first stop of the night was at Fogoo Lounge & Disco in the colonial district. After taking care of Freddy we entered the club. The gentleman collecting the money at the door didn’t know how to calculate the cost of entry into American Dollars so we opted to use pesos instead (I recommend always having a few on hand). We got our wristbands and were ready to get the party started. The club was empty but that would soon change. We noticed immediately the wait staff including the bartender were stunning visions of male beauty. Beautiful hues of brown all wearing nothing but underwear that appeared to be painted on as they hugged every masculine curve, worthy of catching the eye. This was going to be a good night I thought!
As my crew and I clustered together while approaching the bar, a sexy waiter with the most beautiful smile and emerald eyes, greeted us and from what I could tell, was asking me a question. It was in Spanish and right in that moment I regretted not keeping up with my Duolingo app Spanish practices. I didn’t understand a word he said but I smiled and pointed to the bar. He walked us over and of course we followed admiring from behind what momma abundantly gave him. I would find out later he was gloriously featured multiple times in Lees Studio NYC’s own and Ernest Montgomery’s coffee table book “Hermoso” (thank me later).
The drinks were flowing, the hookah was on the table in the VIP section and I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful of a sight it was to see so many gay men, some local, some from other parts of DR, and even international an crowd enjoying the scene. Despite the fact of being in another country with different laws, culture, and language barriers, I felt that sense of home again and it made me feel grateful. I was grateful that all of our stories were connected and allowed all of us to be here sharing a fun night with friends. It was magical and I knew I wanted more of Fogoo and more of Santo Domingo.
It’s always been a personal dream of mine to travel to countries where enslaved Africans were imported ultimately leaving an indelible impact on its culture, cuisine, and customs. I also want to see other gay men of color outside of the United States and hear their stories, their triumphs, and struggles.
I loved the freedom of Santo Domingo that I witnessed by its same gender loving brethren. As I automatically seek similarities in new people I meet in other countries, my time is SD proved to be no different. The Dominican people are a proud people and rightfully so. The pride in their culture was evident among the smiling faces of locals who danced the night away with the likes of Ceky Viciny, Drake, and Rihanna. I saw what connected us when we all bopped our heads to “Work” and “Klok Con Klok”. When the Americans had no clue what was being said from many of the reggaeton songs, It was the bass, rhythm, and the rich melodies which felt almost ancestral as we rocked our shoulders from side to side in what I like to the call, the universal dance sign of that’s my sh*t!
I relished in the fact that I could be so far away from home, yet still felt as if I was there, safe, sound, and among my people.
One of the things that stood out to me the most was the friendly and accommodating nature of the staff, and the amount of locals who approached us asking where we were from, and where we were headed to next. We exchanged contact information with some, and agreed to connect with others at some point during our trip. This night however was coming to an end. Although I wanted more, my body was rudely letting me know I’ve been up for 24 hours and needed to shut it down. Santo Domingo, it’s sexiness, magic, and wonder would be here tomorrow. This was night one and we still had time to fully get to know the city after some much-needed rest.
We shut the club down and filtered out into the street. It was nothing short of electric the scene that took place outside. People were pumped up, and the chatter all seemed to exhibit positive and fun vibes in the deep, unique, Caribbean Spanish I love hearing. It all reminded me of my nights at the Bachelor’s Mill in Washington, DC. Back in the day, I would love to gather with my friends after it closed and look at all the possibilities, or wait until my friends got a hookup, whichever came first. This was before dating apps at a time where you had to actually make a human connection. I’m still deciding if that was better or not. I was amused that in a crowded street in Santo Domingo filled with beautiful and energetic men, that it was DC that came to mind. It all goes back to those similar connections I seek and feelings of home that in some way, kept showing up the entire night. In this part of my journey becoming more comfortable as an openly gay black man, I relished in the fact that I could be so far away from home, yet still feel as if I were in familiar territory safe and sound among my people.
You would think that after being sleep deprived that the ride back to the hotel would be a quiet one. It wasn’t. Freddy, who was still waiting for us after the club, drove us back while taking us through side streets to show us other venues to explore before we left for Punta Cana. We told him of our exploits that evening and he laughed along with us, in addition to giving advice on how to be safe while visiting his beloved city. As the conversation died down, I looked out the window upon the streets of Santo Domingo and for some reason, Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s “The girl from Impanema” came into my head. Although the song, which references a city in Brazil, has nothing to do with DR, it’s slow, melodic, and sophisticated tone seemed warranted. I let it drift in my head as fatigue began to set in and I began to hum, Tall and tan and young and lovely, all while smiling and thinking to myself, this was a good night!