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Casa Caoba

  
   - darkometer rating:  6 -
  
The ruins of a house near San Cristobal that was once Trujillo's favourite mansion, the one that the dictator of the Dominican Republic not only lived in the most, it was also where he committed the majority of his sexual crimes (i.e. raping virgins). This now abandoned site is hence an especially eerie place to visit.  
More background info: for general background see under history of the Dominican Republic and cf. Castillo del Cerro and Resistance Museum, Santo Domingo
  
The Dominican Republic's ruler of 31 years, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, did not only tick all the prototypical boxes in the character set of a vicious, self-righteous, greedy and ruthlessly brutal Latin American dictator, he added to that a particular flamboyance, expressed for instance in his garishly OTT, pseudo-Napoleonic fantasy uniforms and feathery hats and also in his lavish receptions and balls – as amply depicted in the movie “The Feast of the Goat” ('goat' was one of the many informal nicknames for Trujillo).
  
Moreover, he feasted on girls. He seemed to have had an insatiable appetite for young girls, preferably under-age but “nubile” virgins. And his sexual prowess seems to have known no bounds and no qualms. He often “hand-picked” his girls on his many official visits around the country and had them specially delivered to his bed-room door (by subservient lackeys keen on being in their master's good books in return). This too is a theme in “The Feast of the Goat” – and to a degree also in “The Time of the Butterflies”. 
  
His preferred bedroom for him to commit all that raping, is said to have been the one in this particular mansion near his home town of San Cristobal. Allegedly there was also a special secret chamber through which the girls would have been conducted to the bedroom. When I was there, though, I could not make out any such special side entrance. Maybe it had been altered at a later stage. 
  
In any case, once you know the background, this now rather empty and ramshackle building exudes an especially disturbing atmosphere ... 
  
For years there have been half-hearted proposals for a possible renovation of the ruins and its conversion into a proper historical site or even a hotel, but nothing at all has so far come of it, and my guides were anything but confident that it ever would. It is not unthinkable as such, though, as it has been done elsewhere, namely in the Camp David Ranch ex-Trujillo mansion near Santiago in the Cibao (mountainous inland), which is now a boutique hotel and restaurant (see under Dominican Republic). 
  
  
What there is to see: not all that much – you have to use your imagination a lot. But then it is a particularly sinister site to visit. 
  
Seen from the gate and fence, the edifice looks really just like a sad, hollow, concrete shell. Almost everything else has been stripped away, presumably by vandals – who also left plenty of graffiti. 
  
But get inside and look closely and you can still spot traces of the former splendour this tyrant's mansion must have been characterized by. Much of the interior used to be wood-panelled – in mahogany. And here and there you can still find bits of that. For example on the ceiling of what used to be the grand ballroom upstairs on the first floor. Lining this you can also still see the wooden benches on which guests would have sat and watched the dance floor in the centre. 
  
Original fixtures still in place also include several wooden (but weathered) doors and window frames, vestiges of kitchen fittings and wardrobes, tiled bathrooms with damaged toilets and bathtubs and ceiling stucco, some even featuring bits of old gold plating. 
  
The latter is especially true for two upstairs rooms, one of which we were told by our guides (see under access) used to be the master bedroom – i.e. the place where Trujillo committed so many of his sexual atrocities (see above). It's quite chilling to suddenly stand in what's left of this very room, even though it is otherwise completely bare.
  
There is another floor upstairs but I was told it's not safe, and anyway there wouldn't have been any access (without a ladder at least). There are other not completely safe bits, like the missing bit of railing on the semi-wrap-around verandah. But otherwise, as long as you watched your step, it wasn't too precarious to wander around on the ground floor and first floor. 
  
Looking out from the windows at the rear of the main mansion you can see yet more ruins of presumably various ancillary buildings and the former gardens around them, but these are overgrown and hardly accessible now. Looking into the distance you can make out the skyscrapers of Santo Domingo on the horizon – as well as the smokestacks of its industrial outskirts.
  
Back at ground level a few more noteworthy bits and pieces can be found. One is the curious bottom of what once was a spiral staircase – of which just the first two steps remain to form a curious, functionless quarter circle of stone. We were told that somewhere on the floor tiles near the side of the house, the imprint of an old newspaper (with a date from the period still legible) could be found, but we didn't manage to locate this. 
  
All in all, this is a very peculiar site to visit. There is no commodification, no information or interpretation whatsoever, so without somebody telling you what is what and without knowing the whole background story of the place, you won't get much out of it (unless you are an urban explorer happy with just all the dereliction and abandonedness). So I was glad I was in the company of my guides – see details below. With that kind of background provided, however, it is an incredibly special (if eerie) site to visit.  
 
  
Location: some three miles (5 km) north of the centre of San Cristobal, ca. 20 miles (30) km by road from Santo Domingo (to the west).
  
Google maps locators: 
  
Casa Caoba: [18.4391, -70.1317]
  
Where the access track branches off the road, and location of the house where to ask for the key to the gate: [18.43661, -70.12677
  
  
Access and costs: secluded and not easy to get to; no entrance fee, but guiding will cost a fee.   
  
Details: Casa Caoba is well off the usual tourist trails and in a secluded location that requires either a guide or precise knowledge of how to find it. The ex-mansion sits on a hill accessed by a winding, rough dirt track that branches off the Carretera de Medina that leads out of San Cristobal northwards, ca. 0.6 miles (0.9 km) after it branches off Calle Principal la toma. 
  
If you want to try getting there independently, then you may have to ask for directions in the village. Or get a motorcycle taxi from San Cristobal with a driver who knows where it is. There is no signposting or any other indication of the mansion's location. Also, if you go there on your own, you will have to ask for the key to the gate on the fence that surrounds the Casa Caoba ruins. 
  
There is said to be a gap in the fence that you could just squeeze through, but when I was there I couldn't spot any gaps wide enough for an adult to fit through. So you may have to ask for the key – not at the Casa Caoba itself, but at the house directly adjacent to where the access track branches off the main road. 
  
They will also provide a guide of sorts, but just a Spanish-speaking local, who can give you an informal tour. That guide would expect a tip of ca. 100RD$. I have no idea how much information would be relayed on such a local guide's tour, though.
  
When I went there, it was as part of a longer, all-day excursion from Santo Domingo with a guide and car with driver (see under access details there) which also included various other sites (e.g. Castillo de Cerro). It was also here that we met up with our guide for the Pomier Caves, where we would go after this. So I was actually with more than one guide, both of them knowledgeable and English-speaking. But of course this came with a price … 
  
I presume, however, that at least those with a halfway sufficient command of Spanish would probably prefer to do it the much more affordable independent way. 
  
There are no official opening times, you have to take your chances with finding the guide with the key … or try and slip in through a gap or climb over the fence (if you can) and explore on your own. 
  
  
Time required: between 20 and 45 minutes or so, depending on how comprehensively you want to explore (and how much you want to photograph). 
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: Casa Caoba is in several ways the “opposite” of the other former Trujillo mansion in San Cristobal, the Castillo de Cerro. In contrast to the former, the latter isn't abandoned, nor is it in ruins, but instead is rather well preserved. Here you can still see all the interior design and even some of the furniture in their intact original state. However, Trujillo never actually used this mansion to live in – because apparently he “didn't like it”. So while it has more to see, it lacks the sinister authenticity of a genuine dictator's abode that the Casa Coaba exudes so oppressively. The Castillo de Cerro is these days occupied by a Penitentiary School, i.e. a training centre for future prison guards – which in turn adds an extra darkish angle to a visit there …
  
Further up the road north from Casa Caoba you will get to the turn-off to the Pomier Caves, which thus also make a very good combination – provided that spelunking, in part accompanied by thousands of bats, and searching out some ancient Taino petroglyphs and cave paintings are of interest to you.
  
Otherwise, it's back to the capital Santo Domingo
  
See also under Dominican Republic in general. 
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: nothing at all – unless you count the Pomier Caves (see above) as more of a non-dark than a dark attraction. The closest proper mainstream tourist sights are found in Santo Domingo, the big and bustling capital city of the Dominican Republic.
  
  
 
  • Casa Caoba 01 - fenceCasa Caoba 01 - fence
  • Casa Caoba 02 - ruinCasa Caoba 02 - ruin
  • Casa Caoba 03 - on the upper levelCasa Caoba 03 - on the upper level
  • Casa Caoba 04 - what used to be the mahogany-clad ballroomCasa Caoba 04 - what used to be the mahogany-clad ballroom
  • Casa Caoba 05 - verandahCasa Caoba 05 - verandah
  • Casa Caoba 06 - looking downCasa Caoba 06 - looking down
  • Casa Caoba 07 - ex-kitchenCasa Caoba 07 - ex-kitchen
  • Casa Caoba 08 - vandalized bathroomCasa Caoba 08 - vandalized bathroom
  • Casa Caoba 09 - bedroomCasa Caoba 09 - bedroom
  • Casa Caoba 10 - looking outCasa Caoba 10 - looking out
  • Casa Caoba 11 - crumbling celingCasa Caoba 11 - crumbling celing
  • Casa Caoba 12 - more ruins in the back yardCasa Caoba 12 - more ruins in the back yard
  • Casa Caoba 13 - Santo Domingo in the distanceCasa Caoba 13 - Santo Domingo in the distance
  • Casa Caoba 14 - access roadCasa Caoba 14 - access road
  • Casa Caoba 15 - house from where to get the key for the padlock on the fenceCasa Caoba 15 - house from where to get the key for the padlock on the fence
  
  
 

  

  

  

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