Waking up in Santo Domingo every morning is an experience. I don’t want to say outright that it’s a bad experience, but for someone who has always held quiet, slow mornings dear, it’s a completely new, inescapable experience.
It starts at 6 a.m., when the sun is just up and birds have started their frantic, discordant chirping outside of your window, which is only protected by slats of glass that don’t fully come to a close and therefore, protect you from nothing out there in the world.
Then come the trucks, and all their needless racket: deep booms when tires hit potholes, the merciless hum of engines, and honks so drawn out that they startle and confuse (who has energy to be so aggressive this early?)
Before you have a chance to get out of bed and boil water for some of that fragrant Santo Domingo brand coffee, the city has greeted you properly (according to its own customs) and forced you, kicking and screaming, into the morning.
Now, in case I sound like I’m complaining, I should say that I came to love the sounds of the Dominican Republic. But even then, there were days when it got to be a little much, when I needed to indulge in the comforts of home. At times, I couldn’t help the feeling of wanting to live less like a local and more like a vacationer.
On these days, I would stroll down to the end of the street, toward the Malecon, where the city meets the ocean. There stands the Crowne Plaza. I would waltz in as if I were a guest and immediately feel the blast of A/C, a treat that’s rare in other parts of the city.
The Crowne Plaza feels like so many hotels I’ve visited in the past for business travel. A bit fancy, maybe, but nothing too excessive. Mostly, it reminded me a bit of what I was beginning to miss: order, cleanliness, a somewhat depressing sense that anything can be fixed and made pretty with the right amount of money, no matter where in the neighborhood or where in the world you are.
The lobby is vast and stretches back to a number of special event rooms. Before you get there, you’ll pass a small but respectable bar on your right and a larger lounging area in the back to the left, complete with colorful couches adorned with pillows. Near the center sits the cafe. This is where I would go many days when power outages prevented me from working in my rented Airbnb room.
A frothy espresso was often just the hot, bitter kiss I needed to get started on my work. And when the same ten songs they played on repeat in the lobby were lodged so deeply into my psyche that I began to hum them involuntarily, I would seek another spot to lounge: the pool area.
Most hotels in the US require a room key card swipe to enter any pool or gym area. But not here. You simply take an elevator to the second floor, find the almost hidden hallway leading back to the gym area, and hit a little red button by a glass door. The door opens, and you’re in.
Next thing you know, you’ve entered what feels a bit like an exclusive rooftop club, and you definitely feel a bit guilty about how unfair it is that you can sneak in here and no one even doubts for a second that you’re a tourist and a paying guest.
I can’t tell you how many times I wandered up there to lounge, read, have a Skype date, swim or take photos. I never once even bought a beer from the bar. (I had the misfortune of falling deep into stinginess during my whole trip in the D.R. Why pay $8 for a beer when the bodega down the street lets you carry a beer out for less than $2?)
On the whole, I would say the pool area at the Crowne Plaza is severely underused. Rarely did I see more than a few people in taking a dip, and there was always an abundance of seating, both in the reclining seats under umbrellas and at the bar.
The water is clean and always divinely warm. There’s also the view. From up there, you can see runners, fishermen and snuggling lovers all enjoying the Malecon.
Now that I’ve left the Dominican, I don’t think much about the Crowne Plaza. It provided something I sorely missed when I was there, and allowed me to feel, if for a few minutes, fully my spoiled American self. Now, though, when I think back to my time in the capital, I think about those noisy mornings, about the cheap beers, about walks with friends through the pungent city. That all makes it easy to let go of my brief affair with the Crowne.