3 weeks in the Caribbean Rum capital- the Dominican Republic!
( June 7th - June 25th (ish....can't find the diary with the dates!!)
G'day, g'day from Mollymook, Oz! Yes, Ben and I are home now and have spent the last 3 weeks trying to catch up with family and friends (in between a serious dose of the flu for both of us....not the best way to experience Summer in Sydney!), and we find ourselves constantly being asked why our world trip blog only made it to Bolivia ( where we were 6 months ago!). The answer to that is WE WERE HAVING TOO MUCH FUN to stop and write our blog!!! Too many new friends to make, adventures to take, cooking classes to wreak havoc in, borders to cross and of course, a wedding to plan online!
So, this is our Dominican Republic blog which was actually written months ago but never published. We will try to update the blog as much as possible over the coming weeks as we would love to have it as a permanent record of our year away.
.............. taking a step back in time to June 2010 in the Dominican.............
“Psst! ‘ello,’ ello! Amigo, over here!”. This was the usual street greeting that Ben and I heard for the 3 weeks we were in the Dominican Republic visiting old friends, making new friends, enjoying the beaches and partying in true Caribbean style-Cuba libres,Pina coladas and dancing the Salsa!
The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean and shares the island with Haiti (It is not in Africa as I initially thought!). It is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and at the time of our visit was coping with the additional pressure of Haitian refugees following the devastating earth quake there earlier in 2010. Despite its poverty it is probably the happiest and loudest country that we have travelled in so far, with a strong sense of community and a contagious vibrancy expressed through dance, church and of course Caribbean parties!
I had lived and worked with an inspirational Aussie Audiologist, Donna Carkeet, on a Deaf project in the DR 5 years earlier for about 4 months. We had met in community Spanish language classes in Sydney a few years earlier and had stayed in touch. She knew that I wanted to volunteer overseas, using my Speech Therapy skills, and after a bit of a rough patch in my life I received an email from her asking me when I was going to get myself organised and come over and help her out with her project. I had my bags packed 2 weeks later!! I spent a wonderful, life-changing 4 months working with her, and since then the DR has always been a special part of my life, and more importantly the friends I left behind there have always been in my thoughts. I had hoped to return to the DR much sooner, however life happens and before I knew it almost 5 years had passed. (The organisation that supports Donna is a registered Australian based NGO called EARS:http://www.earsinc.org. EARS has projects in PNG, Cambodia, Philippines and India, as well as their Dominican Project.)
We stayed for the first week with Donna, in Satellite City, about 45 minutes out of the capital Santo Domingo. The week flew by in a whirlwind of reunions, tears, hugs, and of course greasy, fried Dominican food!
Everyone loved Ben and thought he was “muy guapo” (very handsome!). Ben landed on his feet in this chaotic country, and was immediately part of the gang, just as if he had always been there. He learnt more Spanish in the 3 weeks in the Dominican than in the preceding 5 months of travel, as we spent nights at local friends’ homes who didn’t speak a word of English. I loved that he wasn’t fazed by it at all, and was entertaining everyone with “Waltzing Matilda” on the guitar, and making the kids scream with delight as he challenged them to games of “Hop Scotch”. I can’t think of many other people who would go into such an intense country surrounded by poverty, sitting in homes built in shanty towns, making everyone laugh and speaking “Spanglish” with gestures to communicate!
A definite ice-breaker and language minimal activity was dominoes! This is the national game of the Dominican and people sit out in the street in the evenings playing it very seriously! Ben and I played quite a few games during our time in the Dominican, usually Gris ( my Dominican mum who would invite me home and cook for me, and just generally make sure I was OK while I was living there) and myself would play against Ben and Gri’s husband. I would like to say that the girls were the winning team but that would be stretching the truth a bit too far! Dominoes is much more complicated than we remember from when we were kids! Like Cielo's house, Gri's house was also always full of neighbourhood kids, who would pass by to check out the visiting foreigners!
The other favourite past time in the Dominican is dancing. We really had never seen such natural dancers before. The Dominicans can dance to all types of Latino music with a sensual gusto that leaves us feeling awkward on the dance floor! However, Ben and I gave it our best shot, and Ben handled it very well when Dominican men would come up to him and give him “feedback” on his dance moves. He also handled it very well when the men would ask to dance with me and their hands would wander a little too low for comfort- Latino style!
Not stopping at dancing alone, we all embraced our inner Kareoke Queens and Kings during our festive time in the Dominican! Some evidence of our kareoke efforts;
As well as the reunions, dancing and games during that first week, Ben and I visited the Special School where my friend Cielo works. The school caters for children with special needs, and mainly attracts children from very poor families who could otherwise not afford to give their child an education. The school provides meals and vitamins to the children, as well as a lot of love, and the best academic environment they can. We had a great day “helping out” ( in other words being a distraction and causing chaos!). The kids were so excited to have visitors and we spent the day colouring, singing songs, playing and helping with meal times.
After a week of dancing, playing dominoes and catching up with friends we decided to go for a week long beach break up to the north coast! Donna kindly leant us her car as she was attending a conference in America that week. Ben drove her Rav 4 along the crazy Dominican roads, where road lanes are interpreted as a rough guideline for which side of the road to drive on, stopping at red lights is optional, and experiencing near head-on collisions is a regular driving occurrence. The police will also randomly pull over cars to find a defect (often one that doesn’t exist) so that they can threaten to charge you or alternately you can pay a little bribe to them and they let you go. When we were waved down by the police my heart sank as I wondered how much we would have to pay to be able to continue along. Instead the police officer noted that we were foreigners and said “You are American?”, to which we replied “No, Australian”. (Americans and the American way of life are revered in the Dominican, with most families having an uncle, a cousin, a sister, an in-law living in the USA and sending small amounts of cash back to the family in the Dominican). “Ah, American” he replied, obviously Australia and America mean the same, and then he proceeded to walk out onto the road to personally stop the traffic so that we could merrily go on our way without any further trouble! Very random!
The Dominican was full of random experiences like that. This is just one of many funny, random experiences:
We stopped at the roadside bar for a “roadie”. Ben stayed with the car while I jumped out. While I was ordering I noticed that the woman serving me was incredibly well endowed. She must have noticed that I had noticed, because the next thing she did was jiggle her breasts with a big friendly laugh and cheeky twinkle in her eye, and say to me in Spanish something basically like “ You are small, not like me, I am big and beautiful. You want to see?” and then lifted up her shirt for me to inspect and approve of her breasts, while she gave them a little jiggle at the same time. I had absolutely no idea how to respond or what to do, so I gave a nervous laugh, and heard myself saying “Oh, yes, big!” (WHAT???!!!) and then I retreated to the car as quickly as possible, while trying not to appear unappreciative of the fact that she was sharing with me something she was obviously immensely proud of and found very amusing!! When I got back to the car and told Ben what had happened he couldn’t believe that he had missed it and he wanted to go back to the bar with me. Cheeky bugger! I said no way buddy, she might expect me to join in the sharing experience, and Ben reluctantly drove us off down the highway while I wondered if it had all really happened!!
We arrived to the little beachside town of “Sosua” without any accommodation booked, and were lucky to find a gorgeous European styled villa hotel, with little self-contained villas set around the pool. It was a 5 minute walk down to the public beach and a 2 minute walk to a private beach. We had the best holiday of our lives that week, a "pre-honeymoon" experience!. Ben was in heaven as the World Cup Soccer was on and he spent his days watching the 3 main games at the beach bar, swimming and eating in between each game. I joined him for some of the soccer madness, and then would enjoy my time to myself reading by the pool or swimming in the calm, turquoise blue Caribbean ocean. We went to bed late every night and woke up late every morning (well, Ben woke up at 7am to watch the first soccer game in bed!). Amazingly, we were there at the same time as the World Kite surfing Championships and so were able to watch some of the world’s best kite surfers compete, and even better got to join in at the Opening Ceremony party ,which was a big night on the beach!
We were a bit sneaky during that trip, and used the facilities of 2 different resorts while pretending to be guests. This allowed us to enjoy sunset soaks in a Jacuzzi that was built on a small cliff top overlooking a private beach, as well as use the resort swimming pool and private beach access. We felt like we were living a life of luxury while paying back packer prices!
When the day came for us to leave we discovered that we had accidently left the headlights on overnight, and the car battery was completely dead. Ben got in to try and start the car up, and when it became apparent that nothing was happening he got back out to open the bonnet up. As he closed the door behind him it took a second or 2 for both of us to remember that the car was self-locking. This realisation hit us at the same time as we heard the car go ‘beep-beep’ and lock itself up- with the keys sitting in the ignition! So not only did we have a car with a flat battery we also now had no keys to get into the car! Mads, Donna’s adopted son, sent us up a spare set of keys on the local bus, however we had to wait until the next day to pick them up. Unfortunately this meant that we had to spend another night drinking cocktails at the beach bar as the sun set over the turquoise water!
We spent our final week back in Los Alcarrizos and Satellite City with our lovely host and special friend, Donna, her wonderful son Mads, and our friends there; Sentata and Tuks and their gorgeous little boy Jo (see the cute photo of him below!), Tim and Paola and their cute baby girl, “The boys” Edison and Miguel, Joel and his beautiful wife Ninoska and many more wonderful people. To end a great week Pammy, Timmy’s brother and a friend from my previous Dominican trip, joined us from America and we spent our last 3 nights singing karaoke, and sharing lots of communal dinners and cuba libres while we talked and danced till the early hours of morning.
Mistakenly we thought it would be fun to party our final night away. Unfortunately, too many Caribbean rum and colas and hours worth of bad 80 songs and Abba renditions in home karaoke style left us feeling like we had been hit by a freight train while we struggled through airport security checks, customs and the international flight to Mexico. I am too old to stay awake until 4am and then catch an international flight! Never again. I blame Pammy and ‘Brugal’!!