Travis and I took off at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning for a little 3-day weekend. We did our best to pack very light (and did it successfully!), planned just a little, and took off expecting a chill weekend. Instead, we were constantly surprised, shocked and stimulated by amazing, ridiculous and hysterical things. This posting contains just the notables of our three-day weekend:
6:20 a.m. (ish) we board a very full bus. I barely squeeze myself into a small uncomfortable space, sitting on the edge of some board. Travis finds nowhere to sit, so stands, hunched over because of his height, stuck with the backpack on his back.
6:50 a.m. (ish) our speedy-fast guagua comes to an abrupt stop. There is a traffic jam, which we find out several minutes later is due to an accident involving a bus and a very large half-dead cow. With hundreds of dilapidated buses stopped & running, the exhaust fumes overwhelm us. Our bus driver and cobrador (guy who collected our money) disappear to investigate the accident on foot. Eventually the driver returns and begins a game of inching forward, which becomes a bumping fight with another bus, ending in tons of screaming (the exciting part about this is that I can understand angry, screaming Spanish now!)
We arrive in Sabana de la Mar to meet up with volunteers and enjoy cold beer and fish at a local restaurant, swapping stories and planning an afternoon of activities.
An amazing boat tour of Los Haitises National Park ensues. The mangroves are overwhelmingly cool, the Taino pictographs in the caves amazing, and the rain just a drizzle. Our motor breaks. About 15 minutes later we can breathe again and get in safely.
The evening is spent drinking, playing games, swapping the kind of stories that can only develop in Peace Corps and nail painting (my friend Robyn has learned to paint “Dominican nails”).
Trav & I leave Sabana early to head to Miches. While I nap on the small guagua, Trav encounters some small towns and a few memory-makers:
-the 40km ride takes almost 2 hours, thanks to the bad road and the fact that the driver seemed to know everyone along the route, and so made many stops to chitchat about… the weather(?).
-men exercising their roosters for a cock fight. This includes being bent over, shoving the rooster from hand-to-hand, making it fast on its feet & spinning it in circles
-a murdered man on the side of the road, with a crowd of about 40 chattering about it. No a cop in site, but a freshly-dead body displayed for all to see.
We take another bus and then a long motorcycle ride to a beach that came highly recommended by volunteers. The beach is called Playa Esmeralda and it’s a deserted beach in a little cove. Our beach experience, though beautiful, was severely tainted by swarming, terrible no-see-ums (little teeny-tiny bugs that chew you to pieces and don’t respond to repellent). The only respite was the water, which though amazing, was chilly due to the rain clouds and drizzles. So, we swam, swatted, then packed up to head out. One problem: no transport. My friends had told us that it’s easy to get a bola (free ride) out, so we began the muddy walk in the mosquitoey wilderness, hoping to get picked up. An hour later, with blistered feet due to walking in sandy wet sandals, we got our bola and arrived back to Miches for a tranquilo evening of cooking & cribbage with our friend Kevin.
After a solid night’s sleep (at last!), we made our way towards home. The rain stayed with us, an off & on drizzle that resulted in our ride from Miches to El Seibo, which is quite hilly and green, to take place almost entirely in a cloud. We couldn’t enjoy the view of the hills, so held tight, praying the driver knew the windy pot-holed roads well. (he did and the mist was beautiful). We arrived into Higuey (the closest city to Veron) in order to experience the celebrations of the Dia de Altagracia. There’s a virgin statue in their impressive basilica that has some special powers on the 21st of January. For that reason, people migrate there from all over the country to wait in line to touch the virgin, leave her offerings, pray and light a candle. We’re talking Catholicism on steroids here people. Thousands and thousands of people came, including many whom were sick, deformed or injured, searching for either a miracle from the virgin or a handout from someone making promises to the virgin. We elbowed through the crowds dressed in their best, some fervently praying, other begging for handouts, a few camped out on the sidewalks for the night, and many just gawking like us. We felt comfortable taking pictures because so many other Dominicans were.
After the basilica, we strolled the streets which were filled with vendors peddling everything imaginable—empanadas, early-season mangoes, bras, shots of liquor, baseball caps, and some kind of salad-shooter type device (I’m not kidding!). We filled our bellies with fried street food, bought 8 mangoes, and made our way home for a normal evening of muchachos stopping by to say hi.