Lechery, Inertia & Living To Fight Another Day: Time To Go Home

It was Sucra that convinced me that it was time to leave.

Sucra is, at most, twenty years old and runs a gift shop on the main street in Cabarete- the only street really. You cannot get anywhere without walking up this street. And Sucra is annoying the shit out of me.  The lechery of Latin America is well documented in my other blog – the constant hissing and being looked at like you´re something to eat. You don´t even notice it after a while. But Sucra takes it to a whole new level. I cannot walk down his side of the street without his long arm blocking the sidewalk.

¨Tattoo girl, you are so beautiful you need a bodyguard. I want to guard that body. I want to be your king and you will be my queen. Why won´t you talk to me? I dream about you. Those tattoos, that body- don´t ignore me. What´s your name? Why don´t you smile, oh my god, your smile.¨

Every now and then this is complemented with a rousing version of ´Beautiful Girl´by Akon.  Or a sad howl when I walk by as quickly as possible, iPod on, not making eye contact. Or I duck the arm.

I have three theories about this

a) He learned all of his English watching MTV dating shows.

b) As this place is full of hookers, he is a boy-hooker.

c) This is how Sucra amuses himself.

Whatever it is, it´s obnoxious and annoying.  And in a place where everyone is behaving poorly it´s hard to stand out. But now I can´t walk  down that side of the street. If I want the cash machine, anything past the first block, I have to cross the street and subject myself to the gauntlet of moto-taxi drivers who hang out on the side of the street. This is where obnoxious hits quantity over quality. There is the inevitable hissing, the comments, and the constant imploring for me to purchase rides or drugs from them.  Usually the police are standing three feet away, lending credence to the theory that the moto-taxis work in concert with the police.

There is no good option here.

I slept the first five days I was here. The place where I´m staying is a surf and kite board camp. It´s a lot like summer camp. Meals are included and everyone eats around one big table. At first this stymied me. I am not a joiner. I did not go to summer camp. I avoid enforced group activities. I almost got thrown out of AmeriCorps for refusing to attend mandatory bonding trips. But this is cheap, clean and easy and I felt like black death. The first few days I emerged from my room long enough to eat when I could and then went back to sleep. Now that I´m feeling better the days carry on with a lazy sameness.

Kiteboarders, something I had never seen before, are insane. They ride little snowboards hooked to these enormous kites that shoot out over the water at ridiculous speeds. When they jump they go ten, fifteen feet in the air and the wind seems to suspend them there forever, dangling in the sky, before they drop back into the water.  It´s fast, dangerous, expensive and difficult to learn. Most of them are European or Canadian and a lot of them travel almost constantly, chasing the wind from place to place.  Cabarete is famous for it´s tradewinds but weird weather has hit and there has only  been two days with enough wind in the past week, maybe four in the last twenty days. On windy days you see the kites, what seems like hundreds of them, in the water and wonder how they don´t tangle.

There are some surfers here, too, a smattering of windsurfers. But mostly kiteboarders, some on long stays. We sit around, we talk  boo-sheet. We complain about the food (which actually is really good, though you do see those tricks where yesterdays steak turns up as today´s beef stroganoff). We talk about wind and water. We talk about who´s coming and going. We have epic conversations about people wearing really inappropriate bathing suits. We don´t talk about our lives back home.

It´s an easy life. Everyone is friendly and funny. I sit with the British girls at dinner and we talk sheet. I pal around constantly with Stephane and Chad, a nurse from Portland. We sit on the porch of Stephane’s bungalow and hack open coconuts to get the juice. We drink endless cups of terrible coffee at the surf beach and chain smoke.  After dinner we sit around and compare customs stories. I show the German couple how to call bats; throwing rocks in the air to make them dive for them. We stand around the parking lot and do that. I wind up telling the Canadian guy how to get bats out of his house.  I make good friends with Kim, an absolutely brilliant British girl who grew up in the Middle East and we swap life stories and man problems

I could stay here forever, really.

But I can’t. As much fun as this is and as much as I’ve come to adore my friends here I can’t really justify hiding out here  and as good as I feel, the kibosh was put on a return to Haiti by a South African who made the brilliant point that I’m already weak from the first bout with whatever. For all the sociality, my one attempt at the ocean ended with me taking a serious beating and concluding that I really am not running at 100%.  And it’s not like the living conditions have gotten any better there since I left.  Port-Au-Prince will be substantially worse than Limbe. “Live to fight another day”, the South African tells me. “Do you really want to go back there and leave on a stretcher? What good does that do anyone?”.

Thus I book  a ticket home. It’s kind of an epic journey. First a bus to Santiago, then a night in the airport and a 3.30 AM flight to Fort Lauderdale. A couple of days there. Then Colorado.

The day of my departure the sun comes out and the wind kicks up for the first time in over a week, sending the kiteboarders scattering to the beach. I go to the surf beach in the morning, drink more cups of terrible beach coffee, take pictures for some of my friends who are surfing. After lunch I go back, pack up. My pack is so much smaller now. I jettisoned a lot of stuff in Haiti, more here. I say goodbye to a lot of people, trade email addresses, distribute my leftover bug repellant and sunscreen. Kim is headed out to the water and I say a quick goodbye to her, a big hug, a thank you for the mutual girl-talk-therapy-sessions. I sit on Stephane’s porch and have one last cup of coffee. Chad comes over. He’s leaving tomorrow to meet his girlfriend in Santo Domingo. “Of everyone here” he tells me, poking me in the bicep “you are the one I will  miss the most”.

He’s going to the beach so he’ll take me out to the road to get a taxi, carry my bag.  Stephane, with his perpetual cup of coffee and cigarette, walks us out to the gate. I’ve known Stephane since the day I left Haiti. When I was sick and sleeping all the time it was him that would yell outside my window for me to come out for dinner, a cup of coffee, a cigarette. I’ve spent hours a day doing nothing but sitting around – at the beach, on the porch – talking to Stephane.  He has been my best friend here. I hug him goodbye and turn back around and walk out the gate. He yells at me “Yeaaah, see you later, eh, Finn?” in his French accent and I don’t even turn around, I just wave a hand at him and go on walking, tears bubbling up. Chad squeezes my shoulder. When we find a cab he puts my bag in the back and hugs me again, hard. Quiet Chad, who doesn’t say anything forever and then just pops out with these bizarre stories that make me laugh for days after. Who is the only white guy I would ever trust to drive a motorcycle in a third world country. Who I’ve woken up numerous times by standing outside his window yelling that he needs to get his hungover ass out of bed for the surf bus. Who has threatened to kill me numerous times in the past week.  The driver tries to get me to sit in the front but I shove my bag over and sit next to it and cry the ten minute ride to Sosua.

Herein lies the issue with travel: you leave home and you miss those people. Then you meet new people who you have to miss, too. I think of Marcus, Donna, Kathyrn, Pete, Jon Tonti, Linda, Allen – this whole stream of people in my head I just miss.

Right now my bag smells like the living dead – laundry was a big issue the whole trip. In the absence of laundromats everything is hand washed, usually with hand soap. In the absence of dryers, it’s hung out to dry. Which never really happens in humid climates. I haven’t seen clean clothes, a consistently hot shower, green vegetables or a decent cup of coffee in weeks. But I’m already missing this group of people all sitting around in semi-clean damp clothes drinking terrible coffee.

Photo notes: 1) Kites up over Cabarete beach. 2) Simon, my next door neighbor at surf camp, up. Photo stolen from Simon but if he wants to make a big deal over it I have a really funny story about happy hour, cigars and me thinking my next door neighbor was dead because not a peep came out of that room for 36 hours due to epic hangover. It would make a wicked blog entry. Kidding, Simon. Kidding. 3) Stephane, Chad, another surf camper and I walking back to camp, photo stolen from Kim. Stephane is one with face blacked out. Miss you, buddy.

Getting There: Ain’t No Vomit Comets in the DR/You Can’t Hate Elena

The Dominican Republic is just too frickin’ civilized.

In Nicaragua I saw the best bus fight ever. I wasn’t even on that particular bus, I was on a different bus but our driver pulled over to watch. It was Semana Santa, Holy Week – the big vacation time – and all the buses were packed. Apparently a few drunk guys got into a fight on the other chicken bus, the old school buses that are privately owned and operated and usually sketchy but how everyone gets around there. By the time we pulled up cops had waded into the fight bus – which had to be loaded to three times human capacity – with billy clubs and guns on their back and were just chucking people off. Once they got the drunks they beat the shit out of them, shoved them in the back of a police pick-up and got back on the bus to talk to the driver.  The offending drunks, bloodied and bruised, just sat in the back of the police pickup with no handcuffs. The cops there have AK-47’s. No one was going to make a run for it. Probably why there’s very little crime in Nicaragua, too.

It was a hell of a show.

That just ain’t going to happen in the Dominican Republic. I haven’t seen one chicken bus since I left Haiti, just luxury buses. Which is nice in that I don’t have to spend the trip to the surf camp desperately having to pee while someone’s pillowcase full of baby ducks slams into the back of my calves and people take cell phone pictures of my tattoos. It’s bad in that, well, it’s boring.  I always admired the tenacity of Nicaraguan travel. You could take a 1960’s school bus, shoot holes in it, paint “HOLY FUCK, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE” on the side of it in huge letters, plaster the whole thing with St Jude, patron saint of lost causes and people would still spend eighty cents to ride on it. Not that I’ve ever seen one exactly like that but close.

And I’m certainly not going to see one like that in the Dominican Republic. Oh well.

To get to Cabarete, where the surf camp is, you have to take a bus to Sosua and then from there a cab to Cabarete. A nice luxury bus that sets me back a whopping $2. Unlike the one into Haiti, this one doesn’t even have to be watered every few miles. It’s clean with big cushy seats and pretty empty. Stephane and I choose rows across from each other and I put on my iPod and look out the window. I hadn’t realized how well off this country is or how much agriculture it has. The Dominican Republic has done well with everything. The fields were clean, neat and well tended. The cities were pretty and relatively free of litter. This is the third world? Really?

Stephane is the ideal travelling partner. He knocks on the door to my room to get me up to make the bus, gets us a cab to the station, makes sure there’ll be a room for me once we get to the camp. I’m still sick enough to be in various states of out-of-it-ness and when we get to Sosua he haggles with the cab driver.

Sosua is enough of a shit hole that it makes me feel a little less like a candy ass. The streets are lined with cheap hotels and bars. There’s some bakeries and pharmacies that look nice but there also seems to be a big hooker issue. As a result, there’s a big old-gross-expats-who-love-young-hookers issue and you see them wandering around the crumbling sidewalks, the women lurching towards the crappy hotels on enormous heels with paunchy seventy year old European guys glued to their side. Nice.

We throw our stuff in the cab and escape without even walking around. Stephane has been through here before and I am exhausted and have no desire to play explorer in Hooker Central. The cab goes down a long, straight road and I can see glimpses of the Caribbean through the palm trees that line the road. Then we are pulling into Cabarete. It’s all centered along one long strip that borders the beach. There are modern buildings and condo complexes and souvenir stands and shops and realty offices. This is usually not the kind of place I can afford to be. Stephane has the driver drop us at the grocery store and I stock up on water, a few snacks and a cheap bottle of wine. The wine is an optimistic purchase – no drinking until I am off the antibiotics and substantially better. But you can’t pass up a $3 Chilean Cabernet.

From the store we walk the quarter mile down the road, past a guarded gate. The guard greets Stephane by name. They missed him. A couple of moto-taxi drivers hang out around the gate, hoping to catch people coming out but we’re headed in the wrong direction. From there it’s another quarter mile down a dirt road and then another wall and then the surf camp.

The first two things I notice are that everything is painted bright colors and that I really, really want to hate the girl who greets us in the office. She is gorgeous, Russian, wearing adorable clothes and speaks flawless English. I am a woman, we are like this – you either want to be her or hate her. Meet Elena. Who is, unfortunately, as cool and nice as she is perfect and thus completely un-hateable. I will find out talking to her later that she speaks something like seven languages and manages to keep the surf camp from turning into a total zoo, a Herculean task.

Basically the place is comprised of a bunch of little bungalows on a lagoon. All the bungalows have little porches with benches. There’s one big luxury apartment above the laundry area. Then there’s a big villa where Ali, the owner, lives. There’s a couple of multi room apartments there as well. There’s also a covered open air kitchen/bar/dining room where the meals are served. It has one big table that, I’m told, everyone eats around. Visions of junior high school who-sits-with-who dance through my head but I shove them back. This is fine. We are all grown ups. I am not a fat girl with a lisp anymore. These are my people. This will be fine.

Most of the bungalows are connected. Pretty much all of them have private baths but for the first night I’m given the one connected to the office that doesn’t. There’s a  bathroom about ten feet outside the door. There’s a dock that goes out into the lagoon and a few paddle boards to use.

I’ll move you tomorrow, Elena promises, to one with a bathroom. The room has a ceiling fan, a sink, a nice bed, and a mosquito net. My porch overlooks the lagoon. It’s perfect. Stephane has one of the more luxurious bungalows – it’s the room he’s stayed in since he got there months ago and he gets it back immediately. Elena listens to our respective Haiti misadventures with sympathy and points me towards the book exchange in the office, tells me she hopes I feel better.

You cannot hate Elena. She is awesome and sincere. Damn her.

The whole place is beautiful. Obviously budget but beautiful.

Dinner is at 7-ish, breakfast is at 8-ish and lunch, if you want it, is at the beach house down the street. I just pay for two meals a day. I’m barely eating one now as it is and I’m too cheap to pay for optimism. The surf bus leaves at 8.30 and at 2 PM but I’m too tired to even contemplate that.

What 7-ish really means is that everyone shows up at the restaurant at around 7.30 and orders a beer and boo-sheets until 8 PM when they finally drop the food, at which point everyone sucks it down and keeps drinking but I won’t learn that until later. For right now I take my book, my summer-camp trepidation, my gallon of water and antibiotics and tromp off to my room to crash until dinner.

Tonight I have to learn to be a little social again. For right now I nap.

Welcome home.

**A note on title – vomit comet – another term for chicken buses. Also called chicken-and-goat-express.**

Photo notes:  boosted photo of what will probably eventually move to Central America to become chicken bus. Inside of luxury bus. Office at Ali’s Surf Camp as seen from right inside gate.