Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Una Playa Bonita … y Una Presidente Por Favor!
On our first day at the resort near Santo Domingo, I kept laughing to myself thinking, “we are the ideal resort guests … because we will love EVERYTHING!” Did we throw a fit that our shower didn’t have any water for an hour or so? Nope. Were we annoyed that one of the restaurants was closed one night? Nope. We loved everything. The fancy lobby, the ocean view from our rooms (even though we had to crane our necks to the right a bit), the endless buffet, the waiters who came around and refilled our café con leche all morning, the free (I mean already paid for) cocktails … and the forks. Seriously, we were all just pretty excited to have total access to any kind of silverware we wanted at any moment of the day or night. At LCS our forks and spoons have the irritating habit of disappearing, so we end up eating spaghetti with spoons, and drinking soup with a quarter cup measuring cup. Needless to say, the endless supply of forks was pretty great. But mostly what we loved was the total relaxation of it. We didn’t have to do anything except enjoy the picturesque beach and the beautiful, friendly people. I’ve never done the “all inclusive” thing before, and I don’t think I would want to do it for a whole week, but for three days it was perfect.
After the resort we took the bus north to the Samana Peninsula, to a place called Playa Bonita. And yes, it was. There we stayed at a small hotel on a dirt road across the street from a very different, but equally beautiful beach. This one had rougher waves, but even softer sand. And there was no loud music, or people selling things, or free drinks … just the beach. We walked an hour into the little town nearby, bought sandwiches from an Italian grocery store, and rode on the backs of motorcycles back at night. We went on a horseback riding trip through mountain trails to a place called “cascada limon” where we jumped off a 30 foot ledge into the waterfall’s pool below. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ridden a horse in my life, and I’m SURE I’ve never been on a galloping horse. It was terrifying / awesome … but mostly awesome.
Then we scored a reasonably cheap taxi ride back to Santo Domingo (avoiding a two and half hour bus ride all together) and arrived in the capital at about noon on Friday. We stayed at a little hotel run by a German man in the zona colonial, and for the next three days I just kept thinking about Europe. There are cafes with outdoor seating, and people just sit there smoking for hours. There are motorcycles everywhere. Little kids chase pigeons in plazas in front of 500 year old churches. Only it was better than Europe because seriously, Dominicans are way more beautiful than Europeans, and it was a whole lot cheaper. We spent the days walking a lot, enjoying the freedom of being in a city. I drank lots of coffee drinks in outdoor cafes, and struck up conversations with anyone wearing a Red Sox of Yankees cap, which was lots of people.
Santo Domingo was lovely for the mix of uniquely Dominican things and the comforts of home. I went to Easter Mass at a tiny church with about 40 people in it, and instead of the Handel Alleluia and brass quintet (my usual Easter routine) there was a lady with a tambourine and about five nuns singing with her. A good reminder that, as much as I love the music, it’s not all about the music. Then for Easter dinner we did the only thing any self respecting Americans who have been in Haiti for 8 months would do … we went to McDonalds. I think a few of the boys almost cried with joy. I haven’t had a quarter pounder with cheese in years, but wow, that was tasty. Our last night, we planned to go watch the Red Sox and Yankees at a sports bar with a big screen TV, but instead stumbled upon a neighborhood dance party. We spent the evening with a few hundred people dancing Merengue and Bachata in the street while a live band and some old dudes (who could really sing) kept the crowd moving for hours. Instead of bar food we ate deep fried street food, but of course still enjoyed more than our share of the DR’s finest brew, Presidente. And much to my delight, there was a TV outside that was showing the Sox and Yankees, so all night long, I had lots of opportunities to trash talk in Spanish. How exactly do you say “Yankees suck!” in Spanish? Never quite nailed that one down. It was a perfect end to our ten day break.
The whole thing reminded me how much I love to travel. On this trip I spoke more Italian than I have in ten years (who knew there were so many Italians settling in the DR?) and I got to freak out lots of Haitians who did NOT expect the whitest person they’d ever seen to speak Spanish let alone Kreyol. I loved haggling with cab drivers, and negotiating very, VERY badly with an art dealer. Whatever. I don’t care if I overpaid. I love this painting and I feel pretty good about putting my money into the local economy. I love setting out for dinner with the plan to eat at a place recommended in a guide book only to find something way better on the way. It’s just all so fun. Can someone figure out how I can do that for a living?
Now we’re back to Haiti and LCS is up and running without missing a beat. Today, April 6, was the first official school day in Port au Prince since January 12th. The government encouraged the schools which are able to open, and there were kids in uniform all over town. We had 318 kids this morning, closer and closer to our pre-earthquake number. Today one of my absolute favorite kids was back to school for the first time. Rose Celine is about 17, and is one of the sweetest, smiley-est kids I’ve ever known. In the hours after the earthquake, hers was one of the terrified faces that drove home for me how serious this whole thing was. Gone was her smile – and the tears on her face and fear in her eyes is an image I’ll never forget. Then the next day she was gone, and I’ve wondered how she is for almost three months now. So I was so happy today to see her there in my first period Spanish class, looking a little overwhelmed but smiling nonetheless. Vacation was wonderful, but Rose Celine is back to school, so I better be here too!