Traveling with a 5 month old infant in the Dominican Republic, I find that a baby opens a lot of cultural doors.
After flying in from Maine, we arrived in Santiago, tired but happy and immediately took a bus to Sosua where we rented out a studio room for a month. We are now looking a month on the beach of the Dominican Republic with our baby, Petra.
It wasn’t too long before I discovered for myself one of the best things about traveling with a baby, how much easier it is to make friends.
I am not a super outgoing person. I don’t think I’m unfriendly, but I am no social butterfly. When I traveled by myself, I learned how to put myself out there and start conversations with interesting looking strangers, but must admit that I was also just as likely to sit back and enjoy the scenery by myself. Since traveling with Wade, I’ve become even more lazy about making friends, allowing him to initiate friendships and just tagging along. I generally like meeting people and find it easy to start conversations but I had just become a little ambivalent about moving into a friendship beyond that.
Petra is never ambivalent. Even as a little baby, she liked meeting people. She smiles when they talk to her and gets excited when they play with her. And people like babies — especially Dominicans. They come up to you and start talking to your baby instead of dismissing you as another white tourist. Multiple people, both men and women, would come up to me and Petra, taking her in their arms, smile, talk baby talk to her, and then have a little chat with me.
One such person was a woman who owned a little clothing stop a couple houses down from where we were staying in Sosua. She began talking to Petra every time we walked past on our way to the store or the beach. Then after a couple days, she started bringing her baby to the store with her. Her baby was a couple months younger than Petra, and Petra was enthralled with her. She loved looking at another baby’s face, touching her hand, and stealing her toys. Her mom and I would switch babies for a little bit, playing with another little personality. Petra and I started going there everyday to sit in front of the store, breastfeed, play with the babies, and comment on the people that walked by.
The other benefit of traveling in foreign countries with a baby is that even if you don’t speak the language, you can still just sit together and watch the baby with the people you meet. I have to admit my Spanish was a little rusty when we arrived in the Dominican Republic, and Carribean Spanish tends to be spoken fast and, seemingly, with fewer syllables. But even if I couldn’t follow some of the conversation, I could add some phrases while we commented on what our babies were doing.
Sosua is mainly a town of prostitutes and old French Canadian men. I didn’t think the chances of me meeting someone I had something in common with there were too great. But traveling with a baby gives you an instant foot in the door to making friends, and I made many friends throughout my stay in the Dominican Republic . . . many thanks to having a curious little baby as a travel partner.