April 8, 2003
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
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
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
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.