I am sitting with "una fria" – an ice-cold Presidente beer – taking a rest from a sweaty session of merengue in an open-air restaurant. I am, of course, at the car wash.
That even a car wash is an excuse to enjoy a night out may be all you need to know about the Dominican Republic. Rather than being attached to a gas station, as is the norm in so many – dare I say? – other duller countries, here they come with a bar, restaurant and a dance floor.
Around me, couples are enjoying the evening cool, chatting and dancing to the over-amplified sounds of a CD player, while behind me their cars are being restored to a showroom gleam by a team of rubber-booted workers. Others passionately follow baseball, the national sport, on a flickering TV screen. But many are grinding hips to the sultry sounds of merengue, bringing a heavy layer of sensuality to this usually mundane ritual.
Blasted out on taxi stereos, playing from roadside bars and rising and falling in doppler-effect volume as a party bus goes by, the beat of merengue and bachata, its slower Country-style cousin, has followed me everywhere in the Dominican Republic. The constant soundtrack makes life in this Caribbean tourism paradise seem like one continual party.
“We are brought up on music,” says Jorge, a businessmen at the next table, who is as friendly as every other Dominican I meet. “We hear it in our mother's arms when we are children, and in school we learn by singing together. We are a musical people.
"When we go out with a woman, we dance merengue with them and you know you have the right one when you click on the dance floor. Merengue is in our blood.”
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