It’s quite normal in a tropical country to want to escape the heat, although given the ongoing cool wet in the UK, not everyone here would understand that notion. Yesterday, while dashing through yet another torrential downpour, I thought longingly of the arcaded streets of Latin America – giving rain protection and shade. All over their colonies, from Mexico to Peru, Cuba to Hispaniola, conquistadores ducked and dived the elements, whether rain or shine, in style. Perhaps the UK should sit up a bit and think of building arcades, as in this pic in Baracoa, Cuba? British colonies like Singapore had porticoed shophouses after all, courtesy of Raffles.
Santo Domingo, the buzzy capital of the Dominican Republic, has a long history of keeping cool thanks to those same Spanish founders. Before Columbus rolled up, in 1492, the indigenous Tainos lived in simple thatched huts – shady maybe, but without much light or protection from tropical deluges. The Spanish, past masters of living with climatic extremes (try the bitterly cold meseta of Castile on a winter’s day, then wait a few months to sample sizzling Cordoba in July), built not only for shelter and status, but also for temperatures. I’ve always admired the Cordobesa system of moving to the top floor in winter, to capture the sun in an open-sided loggia, then back down to the cool ground floor and patio during the scorching summer heat. Logical and no fuss. On top of that their walls were a metre or so thick – great for insulation, as in this 16th century mansion below – though in this case the building was the first powerhouse of the Spanish Americas, so rather special.
In Andalucia of course patios are legion, while every Mexican monastery I’ve ever been to has galleried cloisters on two floors, all the better to pace through spiritual conundrums without getting hot and bothered. In Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial, not only do they have these, as you can see in the upper gallery of the 500-year old Hotel Frances (above) but also roof terraces. Now these are definitely worth searching out, as shade has become part of the offering, as here at the intriguingly designed Hotel Atarazana and, on the southern edge of the city, the Coco Boutique Hotel. From both you get a glimpse of water, so an uplifting sense of the Caribbean beyond.
A lovely colonial hotel with a rooftop is the El Beaterio – but no pic, sorry. Of course there’s also plentiful tropical vegetation for keeping cool, as in vertical gardens, although in Santo Domingo it’s purely random. I love it. A grapevine here, a banana palm there and a shrouded house everywhere. Both these places below were snapped in the colonial zone.
Finally, what better place to read the morning paper than comfortably seated in a well ventilated government patio, before the boss arrives – rain or shine.