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April 8, 2003
Hispaniola

Hispaniola is the second largest of the Greater Antilles. Two thirds of the land mass comprises the Dominican Republic, the remaining third is Haiti: the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Dominicans range in skin color, averaging somewhere around a shade of cinnamon- not quite African, and not quite Spanish either… though Spanish is their official language. Haitians are the darkest shade of skin tone (the Dominicans say they're "blue"), apparently because at one point the slaves overthrew their French settlers and killed anyone who wasn't black. Thy speak Creole- a funky version of French. They share this land somewhat begrudgingly of each other, and from what we've seen, have no problem voicing their distaste for one another.

The rich landscape around the anchorage and warmth of the passing fisherman had us chomping at the bit to go exploring in the town. We made our way through the anchorage to the dinghy dock and caught sight of many of the boats that were familiar from our travels south or from the SSB weather net we listen to each morning. We tied up and were barraged with a pack of mongrel dogs running amuck on the docks. They greeted us with barks of excitement and eager looks on their faces hoping to be pet or scratched- or maybe given a treat.

Even after traveling throughout the Caribbean and Venezuela, we were still surprised at how truly third world the Dominican Republic really is. We thought we'd seen the most extreme incarnations of this already, but were quick to consider perhaps the DR may take this distinction. Tiny little houses the size of small cabins sit along the sidewalk and are packed together as tightly as any San Francisco neighborhood. Most families leave their doors open, and it feels a little strange to be walking so closely to where they live. They sit in their living rooms listening to the radio, watching TV or, often the foot traffic on the street. Many of them have sun porches or front rooms where you can walk-in and buy a cold drink to enjoy on a patio chair. Small groups of men and women sit in the shade along the street as you step around them to pass. Dogs are everywhere, laying in the gutters where cool mud and rain water run-off is trickling by and affords some relief from the heat. Dirt lots are sprinkled among the homes and businesses, with barbed wire fences to keep horses and chickens in- colorful lines of laundry hang out to dry. Small markets and restaurants are woven into the fabric of the town as well. Many of them have no signs to tell you that they're there, but as you pass the open shutters and peak in, you see bananas hanging from the ceiling and shelves lined with sodas, food staples, vegetables, and the like.

Curt and I went looking to find the Codatel to change our dollars into the local currency of pesos (22 pesos for 1 dollar), and found it without too much trouble as it was one of the few businesses with a sign. Inside, the walls were lined with Dominicans and yachties using the phones, and in one corner a cluster of computers were busy with people checking email. The scene was a refreshing change from Puerto Rico where internet access was nearly impossible and quite expensive. Afterwards, with pesos in hand, we picked an airy looking restaurant with a palm thatched roof for lunch. From our table, we were able to watch the foot traffic on the street and get more a feeling for the people here. Our impressions from the fisherman we'd seen pass our boat still held true: Dominicans are warm and friendly people. We felt good about being here.

April 9, 2003
Riding Through Jurassic Park

On the local morning radio net, we'd heard an announcement that a local fellow was taking some yachties riding through the countryside around Luperon. Curt and I didn't miss a beat before calling to find out the details. Meet at Mario's Ranch at 2pm. It's only a ten minute walk to the outskirts of town.

We followed the directions to Mario's, passing a herd of cattle being led down the street and a large cemetery next to the hospital. Down a dirt road surrounded by fields of corn and emerald green pastures, on the left hand side we saw a small covered patio with our new friend we'd met, Brycie on a boat called Smidgeon, sitting with some other white people. Looked like this must be the place.

Introductions were made as we waited for the horses to be saddled up. There were seven us, including Linda on Sister Wind, that we've seen here and there on our travels from as far back as Montserrat a year ago. It was a pleasure to finally put a face to the name. I was surprised to hear that she remembered Force Five as well and that she and her partner, Dina, had wondered where we'd disappeared to for Hurricane Season (just as we'd wondered about them). We aren't as anonymous as I thought afterall.

As we talked, a herd of horses came barreling down the dirt road and careening around the gated entrance to the ranch in a flurry of whooping and a dust cloud. Mario, I thought, must be the mahogany colored man in cowboy boots and black chaps adorned with silver conchos. The boy with him, we later learned, was Arturo. The horses were saddled, and Mario assigned everyone their mount. Curt was put on a young stallion, I was put on the alpha male stallion named Commando. We wouldn't be able to ride near each other with all that dueling testosterone.

Both the landscape and the riding were fantastic. We first walked down a shaded lane that was a tunnel formed from cactus, and the air was filled with the scent of dense, lush vegetation and moisture. Mariposa the ranch dog silently trotted ahead, showing us the way. Butterflies of all colors literally filled the air and bobbled all around us as we passed. The dirt path wound through fields of cattle, yucca, grass, and palms. We passed villages and thatched roof huts. We passed men leading their burros heavily laden with vegetables in straw basket pack saddles. We waved to little children playing in the dirt outside their houses. Two twin girls with nubby little braids crowning their heads were having baths in buckets under a tree in their front yard. The rolling hills were acres and acres of lush green foliage- and I could just imagine a Brontosaurus meandering along.

On the way back, we were able to gallop across the mud flats in the low sitting sun. We walked through several deep creeks, and were splattered in water and mud. The butterflies were everywhere still, and herds of cattle were sleeping with their legs tucked underneath them in the shade while porcelain white herons patiently stood beside them hoping to snap up some of the bugs that litter the cows. It had been a good day. We thanked Mario and his helper Arturo, and muddy and sore, we headed back to town. Brycie had plans, but Linda knows her way around Luperon well. She took us to a spot called Wendy's Barbecue. While yes, you could get barbecue, we also quickly learned you could also hire a girl there if you wanted.

Upon entering Wendy's, we were greeted warmly by two older Dominican women- one carrying a manilla folder tucked under her arm. They fawned over us, serving up ice cold Presidentes immediately, and the woman with the folder took my muddy shoes out of my hand and put them in a plastic bag for me to carry home. They showed us to a table where we watched the sites on the street.

Linda gave us the rundown on prostitution in the DR. Whorehouses abound, but as we saw firsthand, many are quite discreet and it's hard to tell in some cases that's exactly where you are. In other cases, they fall under cover of a "car wash". Upon her first arrival, Linda herself couldn't figure out why there were so many signs for them around the cities, since most people drive "motoconchos" (motor bikes). Someone finally filled her in. Sometimes they actually do wash cars as well, but more often, the sign may read "car wash", but they don't really have the facilities to wash a car. You pull your car into a stall, a door will close behind you- and, well… you can figure out the rest. In many cases, the sign may read car wash, but that's where the facade ends. It may look more like a typical run of the mill meeting place. Here at Wendy's restaurant, scantily clad ladies sat at the bar, or meandered down the streets, sometimes pausing to drink with a gentleman. They only get paid if they leave to go on a "date".

With a long ride to build our hunger, we walked over to Laisa's Chicken Shack, reputed to be the best food in town. We ordered the specialty- fried chicken and yucca- and watched the girls and men walking the streets outside. In fact, the girl who was somewhat acting as our waitress, seemed to be a running a side business as well. Not only from her attire could you tell, but when she showed me to the bathroom, it was behind the restaurant, in a small house with softly lit pink walls and lacy valances hanging from the ceiling. Soft music was playing in the background. I had to wonder if I was in a Dominican "car wash" thinly veiled as a chicken shack (not to be confused with the infamous Chicken Ranch in Las Vegas!).

I was beginning to get the picture. I think the Dominican Republic must offer these services in almost any environment. You wouldn't need to look far if that's what you were hoping for. In hindsight, many other peculiarities I'd seen were coming together. Like a gentleman named Blake we'd met at the yacht club the other day. He looked to be in his sixties, and his companion (in platform heels, Daisy Duke shorts and a tube top) barely looked like a teenager. I asked Linda, and sure enough it was true. The girl had just become his wife, and she had just had her fifteenth birthday. Not only is this not frowned upon, I get the idea that the families prime their daughters for just this sort of arrangement, with aspirations for them to have a better life with a wealthy American. It's definitely a different perspective of the world.

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