Back to the Dominican Republic

Hey y’all. I’m headed back to the Dominican Republic (DR, as it is affectionately known), and I am super excited. Hoping for a chance to chill out and recharge a little, which would be awesome. I’m definitely in a place where I want to really process all the crazy changes that I’ve had in my life in the past 6 months, and also think about the future and how I want to proceed. Exciting, but I’m looking forward to having a chance to sort of pause and take a step back. No whirlwind, just chill. I may even bring a written journal…wouldn’t THAT be novel!

Anyway, I am certainly looking forward to taking some beautiful photos (hopefully) and sharing those, but otherwise, probably won’t be sharing too much on here. Mostly just conversing with folks in Spanish and flexing that muscle, and maaaaybe swimming with some dolphins?? One of my bigger goals this trip because I didn’t do that last time (dumb!).

Until next time!

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I cannot believe I’m about to get on a flight back home. I am totally overwhelmed by this trip.

I’m not even sure how to begin processing the experience–I seriously forgot how awesome it is to be fully a part of the Latino time frame. I think that’s the thing I keep coming back to. And I’m not sure if it’s because I am just on vacation, and I totally didn’t check my work email at ALL, but this trip and my time in Mexico, maybe some in Europe, time feels different. You don’t have to do anything. But more than that, I kept thinking yesterday that I will miss being only 80%, at maximum, sure I know what the hell I’m doing.

Yesterday particularly, I just kind of let things unfold and it was scary, insane and beautiful. Heloddys, my host, said we could go visit the Pyramid, which was pretty much the most interesting thing that we discussed doing to me. So we woke up a little late, which was a nice change of pace for me, and he had told me we’d need a 4 wheel drive vehicle, which should’ve been my first clue that what we were doing was a massive adventure, though when I’d asked about he was very nonchalantly like, oh, yeah, it’s super close, easy, we can definitely do that. At least, that’s how I remember it…

Anyway, I thought we were going to pick up the 4 wheel drive vehicle, because I’d understood that we’d be using one that was a friend’s, but instead, we picked up his friend, Jose, who speaks very good English. This was quite helpful. Heloddys was wonderful, but very Dominican, I think, which means I didn’t understand 100% of our conversations because he talks super fast and he, as Natacha says, eats a lot of his “s” endings and middles (for example, instead of “estás,” it sounds like “ehtá,” with the accent on the end so that the “eh” part is hardly heard also).

Anyway, it was nice to have Jose there, also a bit of a crutch. But we started driving, no 4 wheeler in sight, along crazy (to me) mountain roads, again with incredible views. And Jose had his camera, so he was taking video shots of the road and scenery, sometimes from inside the car, sometimes from out the window or on the hood…insane, but kind of awesome. Every once in a while (read: every 20 minutes), we’d stop with a, “Chanoh, un foto,” (this is how Heloddys pronounces my name), and we’d stop, get out, take some photos, then get back in the car. The highways here go through towns quite often, so sometimes this was because something interesting was happening (ie, a pig being slaughtered, to buy strawberries from a vendor on the side of the road), and sometimes it was because the view was just particularly sweet.

I’m not sure why this way of adventuring is so fantastic to me. There’s some kind of feeling of freedom in it. You’re not in a rush, just…doing what feels right in the moment. I also had more photos taken of me than I think ever before in my life. Like. Ever. But also, I’m excited because some of them were fantastic (I don’t have them yet, but will share when I do). It’s also always lovely to listen to music and drive in pretty scenery, with funny/fun/lighthearted people.

So at some point in the drive, Heloddys mentioned that the person we were meeting where we were going was pretty crazy. So…I started to get an idea of what was going on–we picked up his friend so he could shoot stuff for their series they call, “Mi Pais,” which means, “My Country,” that sets awesome driving video of going to a particular interesting place in Dominican Republic to music. Ok, so we picked him up for this, and later, I realized that another friend of theirs was supposed to be there, but hasn’t woken up in time (which explained us stopping by his house; did NOT understand that at the time). And we were on our way to the place where we’d pick up the four wheel drive vehicle, and then we’d go to the pyramid from there. So we get to Constanza, the town where we were picking up the four wheel drive vehicle, and the house of Ricardo, the crazy person who we were meeting. And boy, was this dude crazy. Jose said he’d been waiting his whole life to meet someone like him, and I don’t totally feel the same, but I understand. And here is an example of misogyny here. Ricardo is super jovial and out there. He also has a four wheel drive. And it ended up he would be driving us, and that it was (in addition to the already 2 hour drive we’d done) one or two hours to get to the pyramid, depending on how many times we stopped, which is on top of a mountain. And it was supposedly cold. I had agreed to pay for gas, which was gonna be about $30 US just for this, but I was like, sure. It’s an adventure, right??! I had seriously no idea.

So the misogyny–Ricardo, in his 40s, is one of these guys who is not aware or doesn’t care how his creepy advances come off. I first noticed this when he randomly stopped the car to tell some girls in a community by the side of the road that we wanted to take their picture, because they’re pretty. I know it’s DR, but the way he did it was very…pushy. And I’m not positive they were uncomfortable, but they certainly seemed embarrassed (they were probably 12 or 13). And then, later, he kept wanting me to kiss him, hugging me, and telling me he wanted me to stay with him in his house and marry him, and have his children. Jose seemed pretty aware that I was uncomfortable, and I told him no when he asked if I would kiss him. But still. It was uncomfortable and he definitely was pushing limits. It was obvious that I did not want anything to do with him.

In any event, that was a little undercurrent of the whole trip. But we started out on a normal road, and then that became a crazy dirt road (on which Ricardo was driving probably 30-40mph), and there we literally drove through a river, then up winding, dirt, single-car-width mountain roads that were so bumpy we couldn’t drink the whiskey we had (well, we found a way, but it took forever and Heloddys’ drink at one point completely showered him when we went over a bump). I was honestly scared for my life many multiple times. But I also couldn’t really do anything about it at that point, and I figured if this was how I died, I would actually be okay with that. I wouldn’t prefer it, but it was one of the most insane, hilarious, accidentally delightful experiences I’ve ever had, I think I can safely say. Maybe the most surprising thing for me was how calm I was. I was quite sure there was a relatively high probability that I could die. And yet, I was just calm. We continued the pattern of stopping the car every little bit to take a picture with a vista, a pony, a sign, cabins, etc. Delightful.

We did make it to the top. And there were so many people!! It was a camp site, and then this tiny little pyramid. And there were these massive cauldrons of soups and rice, maybe 200 people just hanging out, all of whom seemed to be quite well-off (I mean, who else spends $30 on gas to risk their life so that they can reach the top of a mountain and see a tiny pyramid??! Rich people). Still, it was cool. We did a photo shoot for a few minutes, ate some if the soup (it’s a Dominican specialty with chicken and veggies), and started heading back down. Again, my life, in the strangely capable-seeming hands of a crazy misogynist. And get us to the ground safely, he did.

Then, we had to get back, and it was already getting dark half way through our drive. I think we drove 10 hours total. Maybe 9. But definitely over 8. To see a pyramid that I was told was 10 minutes away. But, you see, this is how DR is, I think (Mexico also). Things don’t happen the way you plan. Planning is exceptionally futile, unless absolutely necessary (see: getting on a plane on time). But there is something so joyful, fleeting and incredibly savory about living this way, I think. At least to me.

So even after that, Heloddys and I had talked about going out dancing, and he wanted to still go out, I acquiesced because when do I get to go out to a club in La Vega??! Never, that’s when! This is the other thing, related, I suppose. This way of life makes even me, a pretty plan-y person say, fuck it! Let’s go out!! And it’s not that I never feel that way at home, it’s just much rarer, and more dependent on my mood.

So we went out, danced, and went to sleep way too late. Still, I am at the airport, totally on time.

I survived, you guys.

More than that, I thrived. I am thinking a lot about what I want in my life, what is there and what I can create. And maybe nothing changes, because, it’s just a trip. But at the least this was a reminder of how capable I am, and also how how much at least a part of me just adores Latin American/Hispanic culture. And how much more I need to travel.

Much love and greetings, once again, from New York.


The Real DR

I was rescued from the horrible resort crazyness by my friend’s friend. We went to another smaller beach for lunch, with this view:

Then we drove through incredible, breath-taking views on both sides–tropical mountains–seriously. I could not believe how incredible it was to drive through. Just miles of palm trees, falling and rising mountains.

We stopped to get some chicharon, which is cooked/fried pork:

Playing Guitar
Super delicious!

We arrived in La Vega, and it was already night; we went to a house party at a friend of his place, a group of musicians he made a video for and their friends. It was so perfect, like, exactly what I would’ve planned if I could have. Everyone was very nice, they made some ribs and wings, as well as corn on the grill. I got to chat with several different people, and even played some guitar!!

I very much enjoyed myself. Got to chat a little about my work, and speaking Spanish, etc. Buena gente (good people).

Today, we’re going to the pyramid–built by the dictator Trujillo about 50 years ago. So. Off I go!! More adventures–but better ones :-D. It also appears I may be able to get some music from this trip, which is…brilliant.

The Resort

Have you ever taken a cruise? I bet if you really like drinking, it’s a great experience. But as anyone who’s ever tried to get me to go out knows, I’m not a huge fan in general, but only socially with people I really like and trust. Needless to say, that’s not the case here.

The resort I’m staying at has the feeling I think a cruise would have. It is beautiful. That’s for sure. But it’s also creepy, probably way more so because I was just in the real world yesterday morning. The difference is just striking. And though I feel “safe” in this world, it feels so intentional, not in a good way.

I did get myself a really fantastic massage yesterday, and the beach was beautiful for a few minutes. I suppose if I were here with a bunch of friends, it would be fun to have this contained environment that you know is relatively safe and unlimited alcoholic beverages. I can see that. But it’s totally not what I’m into right now.

Additionally, when I checked in yesterday, they couldn’t guarantee me a room tonight or tomorrow. So, I got in touch with Natacha’s friend, who is on his way to pick me up to go visit La Vega! So I get to see it after all. This has been quite the eventful trip. My body hurts so much! I’ve been way more active than I usually am….or maybe just lately. But that’s been kind of awesome actually.

So, unexpectedly kind of an awesome trip. It’s certainly got me out of the day-to-day grind of things. I’ve recharged a little. But it also makes me want to travel more! Well-timed, since I have Europe to look forward to.


Happy Shannon

A Day of Gauges

I don’t really know where to start. Last night, I had dinner with a fellow American, and North Easterner at that, who was staying at my hostel also. He was doing some exploration to open his own hostel, and we had a lovely dinner and conversation. It was certainly kind of nice to have someone who knows some about where I’m from, so to speak.

Today, I woke up and, as planned, visited the 27 Charcos. Now this was adventure. I left from my hostel, got on a mororconcha (though I thought I’d be able to take a GuaGua (which is the Dominican bus), it didn’t appear to be the case. So I took the motorcancha to the GuaGua station (or one of them), and he dropped me off and I immediately was able to get on a GuaGua going where I needed to go. No problem. I got off at a seriously seemingly random point on the highway and had to walk probably a mile on a dirt road into the entrance of the 27 Charcos. There was a dude on a motorcycle near the top though, and he very nicely brought me down the dirt path hill.

So I get there and there are tons of guides, just standing around. And I went to the desk, decided to do the 12 waterfalls (adventurous, but not the most). I had a guide, and otherwise, it was just me. Just me and Pablo. I had gotten a ziplock bag particularly so that I could bring my phone, because it is my camera, and also because hell if I’m gonna go somewhere alone with absolutely no way of communicating.

So Pablo and I hiked for about 30-40 minutes, up this slippery, insane road, so much mud and going up and up and up. He kept way ahead of me…I don’t know if it was to make me go faster or what, but it was quick. After that, it was all water. And what incredible water it was!! I didn’t jump, because I am not quite that badass. But regardless. I slid down like 4 really scary cascades that were also really awesome. My guide was awesome–taking pictures, not being creepy, etc. There were also some other groups. It was beautiful and I’m so glad I made time for that adventure.

Coming back was quite the adventure all on its own. I walked back up the dirt road and then was basically supposed to “hail” the GuaGua, like a cab. So…I just stood there. And the first one passed me by (it came within 5 minutes), but the second one, maybe 2 minutes later, picked me up. No problem. I got back to Puerto Plata, and the owner of the hostel had suggested that I perhaps go to the cable car (teleférico) and see stuff from there. So I asked the motorconcha to take me there; no problem. I got there, and proceeded to be gouged for money. It was $10 American for a ticket to the top, which was fine, but this dude pretty easily convinced me that he would be a guide and wanted to charge me $12.50 for that shit. I think not. But I didn’t even realize I didn’t need a guide at all, so I ended up saying I’d pay him about $10 (but in pesos), including the price(I understood) of a motorconcha home. So we went up, whatever, and I was super tired, so I didn’t intend on staying long, probably only walked around for 30 minutes. I really was just ready to go somewhere I could just relax. And I am ready to leave, exhausted and aching at this point, and really sick of getting taken advantage of, and the effing motorconcha has to go to 3 places before he actually understands where I meant that he should drop me off. Gah. So then I’m getting off, expecting that the asshat guide already paid him, and of course, he hadn’t. And all I had was 113 pesos, in addition to some American money. I give him the 13 pesos thinking I’m being nice and it’s a tip, and the dude gets super pissed. He says the guide didn’t pay him, and I’m like, look, that was our deal, I’m sorry. Here’s 100 pesos. And he is STILL MAD. He expects me to pay him 300 pesos, and starts trying to make me feel bad by talking about his children and wife. I’m like, you have got to be effing kidding me. YOU couldn’t figure out where I was talking about, that shit is not on me, besides, this is literally all I have right now. So I’m like take it or don’t. And then realized I had one American dollar, so I gave him that and he seemed happier, drove away.

It was so frustrating!! I was seriously so effing pissed.

Anyway, I made it back, got more money, and band aids for a sore spot from the walking in rivers and trying to keep my shoes on (side note–did not realize you could purchase individual band aids….but you can in Puerto Plata!). I asked the hostel lady, Francia, who seriously I think has been the biggest god-send of the trip, and reminds me a lot of Amparo, my Mexican host mother, who was so lovely, to call me a cab, which was just $200 pesos to Playa Dorada, where I’d found an all-inclusive hotel (means food is included) for about $100 a night, deciding to treat myself a little. So I got here, hoping to stay 3 nights, and without a reservation, and they have one, and said I can ask about the following two nights tomorrow, but for now they can’t guarantee. So…not sure what I’ll be doing from here. Hopefully they’ll have something tomorrow…otherwise I’ll investigate more later. I guess this is living on the edge??

It is super weird to go from taking the GuaGua, then the motorconcha, to being in this resort. Kind of insane. I feel like I found the white people. Anyway, my phone isn’t working, and I’m all about getting some spa time in today before I am no longer in this all-inclusive situation. I’ll be able to eat dinner on the premises here, and at least go to the beach tomorrow. Hasta luego, Internet!

Aventura Valiente

I rode a horse!! See, proof!
20130117-155739.jpgSo, days got switched, since early this morning I received an email back from the woman at Lorilar Ranch, which is a Canadian-owned, New Yorker operated ranch with half and full day tours. Lots of fun–we did about a 2 hour ride with a little break for a drink and to encourage us to purchase something from a tourist trap store in quite literally the middle of the jungle. I met some lovely Brits who were about my age (the woman is in a PhD program about…Spanish translation?), and we basically just rode through this peasant neighborhood, in a jungle. It was lovely but so much poverty. Like, farm land and just…huts, basically. I mean, often made out of cement. But it was pretty much how communities in Mexico are. Not terribly surprising, but so…of the earth. I rode a motorcocha, which is basically a motorcycle taxi to get there, which cost me about $2.50, and was actually quite fun. My driver was the most talkative almost anyone has been with me, and very nice.

The Brits were great–Katie and Mark, and we talked a little politics, and it was nice to converse with people who as I say, don’t seem me as some strange anomaly. They were only doing a half day ride, so that’s all I was able to do, which actually is quite fine. So this afternoon, I went to the beach close to my hostel.

I understand now why no one knows were I’m staying (like, no one has heard of that part of town). I don’t know why I expected from this beach, because I figured it wouldn’t be as nice as the beaches to the South in La Playa Dorada, but I did NOT expect mounds of trash, which is exactly what I found.

What something is worth is a very strange concept. This part of the beach is quite rocky, so perhaps it never would’ve been worth anything. But look at this panorama!!
That is incredible, right?! And for there to just be trash there, everywhere, like the area is worthless, is so weird to me. Even if you want to use it for yourself, wouldn’t you want it to be clean?? Maybe it’s cultural and I just don’t understand, but it’s so weird that just a few blocks away, there are these (allegedly, I’ll report back) pristine resorts and beaches, filled with lots if rich people paying so much money to relax and hang out in “paradise,” and just down the road, there’s a pile of trash on the beach. Maybe I should be used to that, because New York is very similar in terms of its tension between haves and have nots, but it seems more upsetting in a place that looks like what we think of as paradise.

Then, again, there is more a sense of community here, which I think has to do with the poverty too. People have to rely on each other more. I saw a woman on a motorcocha holding not one, but two little children. I almost had a heart attack. But since then, I’ve seen a bunch more people with kids. Strange, but I guess it’s just normal here.

Anyway, more later. I have a plan for tomorrow, and going to get food with another person who checked into the hostel today. But wanted to update you all so you know I’m alive ;-).


Puerto Plata & Plan Formation

I don’t have much time, because I’m trying to wake up super early and get to the 27 Chargos (that did not happen today). But I want to briefly share plans for tomorrow. This blog is ending up serving several purposes: 1) help me remember what I do 2) help update people an assure them of my safety 3) hopefully enjoyable to review/look at photos.

I spoke with both my parents today (god bless Skype and wifi), and everyone, them included, seems more concerned about my safety than I’ve ever seen any of my friends and family. I will save a post on my thoughts about safety for a later date, but I fully intend to write something about the insanity and purposeless of worry about “safety,” and what an illusive and imaginary thing it is, really at all times–a part of privilege that was busted by the Newtown shooting. Much of what I want to say is touched on in this post, including, particularly,

Adam Lanza killed 26 people; he destroyed the lives of many, but he also put in jeopardy the dreams and fallacies that led many to the suburbs. He put the allure and meaning of whiteness in jeopardy….
The “it’s suppose to happen” in inner-city communities reframe is not surprising. Places like Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown exist because of the fear-industrial complex. The white middle-class flocked from cities into the suburbs and rural communities partially due to fear of black and Latino youth, integrated schools, and urban crime. The continuously deployed the narrative of “it’s not suppose to happen in Newtown” and their neighborhoods mirroring “American family’s dream” embodies this entrenched belief. The efforts to imagine Holmes and Lanza as good kids turned evil, to scour the earth for reasons and potential solutions, works to preserve the illusion of safety, the allure of white suburbia, and the power of whiteness.

Again, to be re-visited. Regardless, I plan on going to 27 Chargos tomorrow. Alone. I am going to try adventuring on a GuaGua, which is the local bus. It should be a dollar (!), and then something for the tour of the waterfalls. But this is all assuming that I can get a plastic bag so that I will be able to bring my phone/camera. Because let’s be real. I’m going nowhere without my precious.

The following day, I’m planning on doing a full day horseback riding trip (chaperoned) through the Isabel de Torres National park. They have full day rides, so that eats my day Friday, and then it’ll be the weekend! I think I’ll stay where I am one more night, since it’s super cheap, and then I’ll head to Playa Dorada to experience beaches and resort-style living. There are some all-inclusive places that are in the $100 range which I gulp at, but it includes food and activities, and is right basically on the beach, which is allegedly beautiful. Then I’ll head back to Santiago for my last night.

I could’ve benefited from some planning, but what the heck? It’s certainly been more interesting this way. A few photos of the ride here, for your perusal.


And finally, my hostel:


Another day, another dollar, right?

I went to sleep pretty early last night after finally getting in touch with my friend, Natacha. She knows people here (grew up some nearby), so she was able to track someone down that I will hopefully be able to meet up with so I am not all on my own. Yay! So I got a nice night’s rest, and am planing on heading to the playa today (beach, for those English speakers). Hopefully to the falls to tomorrow. And THIS is what I love about traveling on my own–I get to change plans and it isn’t a big deal! No one is upset.

I’ll keep updating, but that’s the plan for now.

Also, as I said, I was planning on counting the number of times I was asked something regarding a romantic partner, but every time I walk on the street, I lose count. Just this morning, one guy is just like, “what would you say if I asked you to marry me?” I laughed at him. But seriously. The cajones on some of these dudes! I understand that I stick out like a sore thumb, but you don’t have to be creepy about it!

Santiago Touring

Looks like some days are gonna feel like a million. I forgot that this is what is so incredible about travel, especially by yourself. You feel like everything is new, everything is some strange thing that you’ve never seen, heard, smelled before. And I guess that how people see me, too, at least in Santiago. I feel like everyone is staring at me when I’m walking down the street, like, “what the hell are YOU doing here?!”

I have the same question.

After my little nap, I got a map and started exploring, figuring the cathedral would be a safe place to start. I had a few errands that I definitely needed to take care of (yet another re-discovered joy of travel–setting teeny little goals to achieve)–primarily getting some bottled water, cash, bug spray and sunscreen. I’m in the tropics, after all. So I ventured out after reviewing my bank statement, which seemed to imply that I had some cash to pull out. Well, wouldn’t you know that the ONE month out landlord takes the rent out, and that I paid all the rent and haven’t yet been reimbursed from my roommates (which isn’t a knock on them, just life), I’m in DR. By myself. And it ends up appearing that I have about $16 in the account that’s accessible to me. I had some American dollars, which are accepted here it seems for the most part (especially for touristy things), but that was not going to get me very far. I didn’t panic. Because these things happen, and what are you gonna do? Figure it out. But as I was contemplating this, I walked down toward the cathedral and through one of the park areas. I decided I needed to head back to my hotel to figure out what I was going to do in terms of money, and this guy approaches me and says, “you’re American, right?” This is already what has been sort of frustrating being here–I just scream American on vacation. Maybe I should have tried to be less obvious, more “Dominicanized” (haha), but I didn’t. And I guess there aren’t a lot of Americans in Santiago. I initially was pretty hesitant to interact with this guy, but he was actually quite nice, and very professional and polite–he wanted to show me around, and provide some touring information. For a fee, of course, which would honestly not have been a problem if I’d not been already so afraid I was close to being destitute in a foreign country by myself.

Anyway, he actually walked me all around the city for about 2 hours, which was great exercise and really interesting. We saw some gorgeous stuff. The cathedral was first:


And he told me some small snippets of history, and most importantly, he spoke very clearly. We went to a museum with costumes from the Carnival that happens at the end of February. Here’s one of the great costumes (did you know Oscar de la Renta was Dominican?? I did not):


Next, we saw a river (Yaque del Norte), with a cool Golden Gate look-alike bridge:


And a fortress:


Next was San Cristobal Square, with the Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria ships, and some cool paintings (whatever the complicated history):


And here are the ships themselves:


Finally was a view of the city from a statue on a hill:


And here’s the statue:


All in all, I feel like and extremely fortuitous and wonderful first day. I got lots of Spanish practice, which it seems this trip is good for, if nothing else. And I’m excited to have some fun and interesting things to share with the Wide Internet World. Plus some time to relax.

Tomorrow’s adventure is to go to the 27 Charcos, which is 27 waterfalls. I’m debating holding off on this until Thursday, and just heading directly to Puerto Plata tomorrow, and chilling on the beach in an area where people won’t look at me like I am a green Martian. I like being in a non-touristy area, but I am not a fan of the gawking. Noooot appreciated, and particularly upsetting to me because I’m alone.

Regardless, I did make it to the store, got my water, bug spray and sunscreen, so I am ready for the beach! I also called my bank and confirmed that I have overdraft money available, which I have to pay a small fee to borrow until transfers come through, but saves my butt. Not having enough money in the correct bank account? Turns out, that’s a first world problem. So far, rules on this trip: it’s never to early to be nice & be gracious and relatively generous (I don’t want to feel used, but I also recognize the position I’m in, relative to other people).

My other goal of this trip is to ride a horse. Kind of lame, I know, but I want to! I have to figure out what my plan is for the rest of the trip, so if you have any ideas, please feel free to shoot me am email!

Much love,