I can never sleep the night before I am to travel abroad. Double checking my flight status, making sure I’ve packed my flyest gear and necessities, and peeking in the pocket of my duffle bag to ensure my passport is there, all consume me to the point of what I’ve dubbed as Travel Insomnia. So much time, organization, and stress goes into setting myself up for a getaway that will allow me to just let go, and just be. Vacation after all, is supposed to be a time to kick back, and where some people say forget about the world you’re leaving behind, I say become the person you truly are at the core.
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 away from 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 for all of us so we were excited to explore the mystique of the city and its entire urban and exotic 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-hour flight, and catching myself snoring off and on with my ray bans barely 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 arranged car is not here. There is nothing like seeing an energetic driver holding up a sign with your name on it, but my moment of feeling like Sean Puffy Combs was being denied.
As I called the hotel to check on the status of my car, I confirmed with the staff member the driver was on his way. I was a bit irritated but I was in the Dominican Republic and was choosing how I was approaching this lapse of communication between the hotel and myself. Besides, this time spent waiting to be picked up allowed me to focus on the nagging observation I unconsciously was not focusing on, which is the beautiful brown people of Santo Domingo. More importantly, from the airport grounds staff, to baggage personnel, to security, I could not help but notice the Tall and Tan and Young and Lovely men from Santo Domingo.
I began to forget the fact that I was waiting for a ride for over an hour, felt myself begin to smirk devilishly as I muttered the words to myself, this should be fun! 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 the likes of Michael Angelo who was very generous with emphasizing his muscular thighs and backside on this human work of art. His mesmerizing 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 an interesting wild experience (literally) through the city. I had a blunt introduction to the traffic and to say New York City drivers have nothing on those here is an understatement. I saw a bit of a former world through old buildings and architecture, thrown in with some modern touches that in some spots, resembled an urban city in the states. People are bustling about going to and from work and all the while, I’m imagining who they are, where they work, and wondering if they’re happy, in love, and what they may be thinking. I 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, and I was way to eager to answer!
Our first night included a night on the town. I was very much 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. Since I’ve been there for an actual gay event, looking for one was not necessary.
Santo Domingo offered something Punta Cana could not, a vibrant pulse of a community that wasn’t reduced to lingering stares, winks, and maybe a head nod of acknowledgment from local Dominican brothers of a particular persuasion who are loyal (and rightfully so) to their resort jobs and doing them extremely well. They were not about to jeopardize their livelihood for a little fun. Although this country can be tolerant to LGBT locals and travelers, there are elements of a conservative nature rooted deep within its religious ties. That was something I was familiar with and could relate to being part of an American culture that has been called the most religious of all Americans.
This city, unlike its resort laden neighbor on the West coast felt liberated. We were visible in another form and 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.
It was the bass, the rhythm, the rich melodies that felt almost ancestral as we all agreed in unison to bop hour heads and rock our shoulders from side to side
After hopping in a cab with our guide / cabbie 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 admitted he did not know how to calculate the cost of entry into American Dollars so we opted to use pesos (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 simply 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 and amplified every attribute worthy of catching the eye, sneakers, and fitted caps. This was going to be a good night I thought!
As we clustered together discussing our next move and before proceeding to the bar, a sexy waiter with the most beautiful smile and pair of green 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 his momma gave him. I would find out later he was gloriously featured multiple times in Lees Studio NYC’s own 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, in addition to an international crowd. 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 grateful. I was grateful that I could be here and that all of our stories were connected and somehow in this very moment, we were all assembled together sharing a fun night with friends. It was magical and I knew I wanted more of Fogoo and more of Santo Domingo.
It is a personal dream of mine to travel the world, particularly the parts where enslaved Africans were imported and left an indelible impact on the country, cuisine, and customs. I want to be able to see other gay men of color in other countries and hear their stories, their triumphs, and struggles. Over the years, I was able to do so in Punta Cana and now Santo Domingo.
I loved the freedom of Santo Domingo as it pertains to 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 and dancing feet of locals who danced the night away with the likes of Ceky Viciny in addition to Drake and Rihanna. I saw our similarities when we all bopped our heads to “Work” and “Klok Con Klok” even when we the Americans, had no clue what was being said. It was the bass, the rhythm, the rich melodies that felt almost ancestral as we all agreed in unison to bop hour heads and rock 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 exited the club (upon closing) and entered the street. It was nothing short of electric the scene that took place outside. People were drunk, 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 in some way that 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 felt as if I was 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 some possible other venues to explore before we left for Punta Cana. We told him of our exploits that evening and he laughed along with us, all wile being so genuine in his advice on how to keep us 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. As if the song was actually playing on the radio, I began to hum, Tall and tan and young and lovely, while visibly smiling and thinking, yes this was a good night!