In 1987 I arrived in Santo Domingo to work on the re-opening of the new Jaragua Hotel, Resort and European Spa.
I was in charge of a kitchen crew of approx. 35-40, and 7 F&B outlets throughout the Resort. On my arrival I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, so the first thing was to take Spanish lessons. My teacher was some guy that had no idea as of how to teach someone Spanish! We just had conversations and when he tried to talk to me about the grammar I started snoring !
I figured if I could learn perfect French & English in reading, writing and speaking by just working It should be possible doing the same with Spanish!
So with just the very basic knowledge of Spanish I started up the operations of the Hotel, by hiring 3 Sous Chefs, one Dominican that spoke English & Spanish , a Swiss that spoke French , German & English and another Swiss that spoke Spanish & German this way I was able to communicate for the first few months and get things organized, it was like having 30-40 Spanish teachers because with all the balony that came out of my mouth in Spanish everyone of them always corrected me, that is how I spoke pretty damn good Spanish within the first 2 years.
Things we toke for granted
After my promotion to Director of Food & Beverages I really had to get my stuff together as far as Spanish as I had to hold weekly meetings with the different F&B departments plus sitting in on the GM meetings. But there again most of my supervisors spoke some English and so I was able to communicate and get my meeting points across.
Living in Dominican Republic was a great experience for me and my family, when we arrived there in 1987 the hotel was in a raw state being build from the ground up, so we had to stay in an apartment building close to the site. We came to appreciate some of the living standards we had in South Florida such as a light switch and a hot shower, or cold for that matter, because 4-8 hours a day the light switches didn’t react, there was no power. One morning getting ready to go to work my wife was in the shower all soaped up when suddenly the water stopped running! I had to go downstairs in the yard there was a pump where I had to hand pump water into a bucket in order to rinse her down
standing in the shower all soapy!
The next experience was a Hurricane, we where so afraid the roof would blow off this apartment building since we were so close to the ocean front.
On another day, together with my wife & our son Alexander, (4 years old at the time) we decided to go for a walk along the Malecon; while walking down one of the side streets towards the Malecon Alex fell into pothole and broke his arm. We had to hurry getting him up because as he was sitting there crying huge rats just scrambled away all around us jumping into the sewer holes along the street.
On another occasion we toke a cab to go somewhere in town for a meeting, we flagged down a taxi along the street behind the hotel and jumped into the backseat, after the car toke off we saw there was a huge hole under our feet! Part of the bottom of the car was missing! We looked at each other and started cracking up, seeing the road flashing by under our feet! We figured it was probably meant for customers to just push themselves by putting their feet through the hole and peddle along in the event there is no gasoline!
The Spa Incident
As we were living in the hotel the hotel grounds were Alex’s backyard, he spent lots of time by the pool where they toke good care of him. One summer his cousin came for vacation during school break, the two of them had a great time roaming around the property. The Spa building was adjacent to the hotel with a flat roof top which had several large glass skylights on top, I was sitting in may office one day when the Spa Director called me telling me my son and his cousin were on top of the Spa roof peeking through the skylight into the ladies section of the Spa! Early Anatomy lessons for 7 year olds!
Red Ceramic Stick-shift
After the completion of the hotel construction and it’s four signature restaurants came time for inspection of each unit in order to see if everything was installed and working properly; each restaurant had a salamander grill mounted over the stove, each with a red ceramic ball at the end of the handle with which you move the grill up or down, well two of the grills didn’t have the red balls attached! I searched everywhere, in the shipping crates, the Storeroom on the trucks… but no ceramic balls anywhere!
So one day we toke a taxi into town, it was a mixed combination between a Volkswagen-Oldsmobile and Toyota, it was a bit of all of them! And It happened to be a stick shift car, and suddenly I realized when the guy was shifting gears, the red ceramic ball on the stick shift handle! Now I knew where the broiler red ceramic balls went!
The next day we went across the street to Manolo’s restaurant for a drink, it was a hot and humid day, while we were sitting there suddenly a guy fell off the corrugated roof next to the restaurant right on to the spiky wrought iron fence in front of us, I just saw him hitting the spikes with his lower body facing down. That just totally freaked me out and I fell unconscious, a doctor happened to be sitting at the table next to us he rushed over with some smelling salt and brought me back.
When I woke up I just saw a few guys picking the guy off the fence and dumping him into a taxi (don’t remember if it was the one with no bottom..lol) taking him to the hospital.
These are just some of the funny highlights I remember during my 4 1/2 years living there, we really did have a fantastic time, good friends and still have fond memories from that time. Dominicans are kind, generous and loyal people, we haven’t been back since 1992 but from what I hear the Island went through some great, positive changes, and I am sure the potholes were taken care of by now!
We shall be back one of these days to visit!