Throngs of well-wishers are waiting to greet the passengers coming off our plane, which has arrived hours late. It is the middle of the night. The press of people makes us feel like rock stars, but lonely, unclaimed ones. We are not Dominicans returning to their families for the holiday.
It proves impossible to connect with our rental car as arranged. We finally give up and take a taxi to the hotel. By the time we check in, it’s breakfast time. We sleep through the morning. Then the hotel manager, Rafael, makes many calls — over a period of hours — to locate our rental car.
Eventually I am in the driver’s seat of a little Hyundai with a GPS plugged in. (Never mind the SUV I booked months ago.) I gulp and pull into the rush hour traffic. There are motorcycles everywhere, darting in and out, ignoring stoplights. Many motorcycles carry two or three people. Whole families. Some motorcycles carry propane tanks or other bulky items. Horns honk repeatedly. Traffic lanes disappear. Where are we?
We eventually end up in downtown Santiago. We stumble across a Festival of Lights, which is complete with Santa and fairies and Baby Jesus. La Corazon de la Navidad. I breathe deeply and feel at home.
After a second night, we feel more settled. The strong coffee helps.