The Chimera: Puerto Plata

My pirate map of Puerto Plata

Goin’ old-school sketchin’ my directions.

By Jackie Leavitt

There’s a relief from the stinging air that has been running to the back of my throat. The car and motorcycle exhaust that floats through Puerto Plata’s streets clears up as the wind whips it and my hair past my face on la puntilla, a point of the ocean harbor, north of town. I much prefer it here, on the water, than there, in town.

I do not necessarily feel welcomed by the people along the roads, although those I talk to (in my broken Spanish / English / Italian / gesturing) have been helpful. But I also hear hola baby and hissing trailing in my wake as I walk through town, leaving my spine and shoulder blades tight. I have yet to feel ready to relax. Perhaps it’s traveling alone as a blonde woman without speaking the language coherently. In Santo Domingo, tourism is, to a degree, welcomed. In Puerto Plata, the all-inclusive-resort guests are tolerated — staying in a hostel in town, like I am, is an anomaly and puzzles people.

I walk through la puntilla around the old, stone Fortaleza San Felipe and gaze over the swishing blue harbor water, yellowed by the sun. The electric plant in Costambar sits in the background, floating in fog, trying to blend into the clouds forming around Mount Isabel De Torres. It’s as if the shimmering ocean is playing a trick, distracting you from the smoggy machinery behind it. The light tries to blind you to what is there.

But, in its illusion, is it not still beautiful?

I can only imagine what it was like here 100 years ago, before industrialization and tourism polluted the area. I leave the fort and head back to town, with the sun sinking low in the sky.