La Concepción de la Vega, more commonly referred to as “LA VEGA”, just 30km southeast of Santiago, started out as one of Columbus’s gold-mining towns, only to be levelled in a sixteenth-century earthquake and rebuilt as a farming community. Aside from the ruins of this old settlement, known as La Vega Vieja – well outside town – there’s little in today’s noisy, concrete city to hold your attention. However, La Vega’s Carnival celebrations in February are generally acknowledged to be among the most boisterous and authentic in the country. A twenty-block promenade is set up between the two main parks, along which parade platoons of demons in impressively horrific masks, the making of which is something of a local specialized craft. Many city-dwellers who spend their days as hotel clerks, bankers or auto mechanics use much of their free time perfecting mask making; in addition to papier-mâché, they often use materials like bull horns, bone and sharpened dogs’ teeth. There’s the usual stack of blaring loudspeakers and food and liquor vendors to animate and feed the crowds, which average up to seventy thousand each afternoon – many of them watching from rooftops. If you’d like to purchase a mask, try Robert’s Restaurant and Car Wash, on the Carretera La Vega; if they’re out of stock, they can direct you to the individual artists; expect to pay at least RD$1000, depending on how elaborate the design is.Read More
The piñon trees that line the winding rural roads just west of Bonao and about 40km south of La Vega – as well as many other roads across the country – are thought by many to have magical properties; local brujos use their wood for staffs with which to heal the sick. This belief stems in part from a strange physical characteristic: around the time of Good Friday the piñon leaves and bark turn red, which locals claim is in emulation of the Crucifixion. The trees do have some remarkable regenerative properties, too; stick one of the branches in the ground and allow it to take root – within a year the branch becomes another full-grown tree.