Reeking and Freezing In Paradise/Boulder Interlude: An Australian Playlist Swap

Reeking & Freezing In Paradise

The last thing I did on my way to the airport in Florida was mail a big box of stuff back to Colorado. When I had been stuck there dealing with my mother’s accident Florida had been going through an odd cold snap. Luckily I had some extra warm clothes with me. Clothes, I thought, I would not need in Haiti. So I packaged up my laptop, most of the remaining warm clothes, some books and shipped them all back to Colorado.

Big fucking mistake.

I am now freezing my ass off in paradise.

When I get to the surf camp the temperature in the DR drops – an unexpected cold snap. Trouble and cold, it seems, are following me around. It’s rainy and damp and chilly and my warm clothes have been reduced to one pair of warm socks, jeans and a thin sweatshirt. My first night at camp I head off to dinner wearing this, sneakers and about four shirts under the sweatshirt. Incidentally all my warm clothes smell like Haiti. They were in the pack with what I salvaged and even though they had retained the smell I knew I would need them for the flight back.

Welcome to summer camp for adults. Let’s meet everyone in clothes that smell like rot and despair when you’re half dead.

I didn’t know yet about the amorphous dinner time. Elena told me dinner was at 7. Stephane, who shows up to come to dinner with me, says get there at 7.30. When we get there at 7.30 there is almost no one there. Slowly people start to trickle in. Much to my relief pretty much everyone is grubby and layered. The only exception is people who came with no warm clothes at all and had to raid the surf shops and souvenir stands. Apparently there’s not even that many places that sell sweatshirts here so a couple of people are wearing the exact same sweatshirt.

That said there’s about twenty strangers, one very long table, and a lot of benches. And I am tired and unsure about my ability to eat or stay awake. Intimidating.

As people come in everyone greets Stephane, orders a beer, sits down. I’m on orange juice. Most everyone is European, in their twenties and thirties, tan and healthy looking. A lot are here for longer stays – two weeks, three weeks, a month. A few, like Stephane, are on the multi-month plan. Some are here for a kite boarding instructor course which takes about ten weeks. While there are a few surfers and windsurfers almost everyone is here for kite boarding. More on kite boarding, which is insane, later. But the kite boarders need wind to get out on the water and there has been none for days. Now it’s cold and windless.

Like regular camp there’s a lot of talk about the food – speculation as to what we’re going to get, what dishes turn up regularly. Taco night is exciting. Goulash night not so much. I’m keeping quiet, listening to everyone talk. It’s a tight knit group and I am the new kid. Apparently on weekends the table swells with people who just come for a few days but during the week the majority of the people are the long termers.

Everyone is friendly. A couple of people ask and I give the abridged version of the Haiti story, explain that I’m a little sick right now. It’s easier than I thought it would be. The conversation is light and funny. No one really talks about their lives back home. After the intensity of Haiti it’s a relief. Sitting there in my reeking clothes I think I have made a good choice, that this is what I need.

It’s taco night. There is some sort of machismo contest about who can eat the most. I make it through two. Stephane makes it to eight. The win goes to a disarmingly goofy and friendly young British kid who bears a startling resemblance to Kurt Cobain. He makes it through ten.

The two tacos do me in. As everyone else hangs out and drinks and boo-sheets I head back to my room. It’s ass cold but Elena dug up a blanket for me. I fold it double, find my clean towel and throw that on top of it, too. Then I crawl between the sheets and crash out under my pile of improvised bedding.

This is what my life will look like for the next five days or so: I read. I sleep. The cold snap sticks around for a few days and I eat in my reeking clothes with everyone else. Washing anything is impossible – there’s no dryer and it’s wet for clothes to dry on the line. I get moved to a nicer bungalow with a bathroom. This one overlooks the lagoon too. Sometimes Stephane stops by with coconuts and a pocket knife and we sit on my porch and drink the juice straight from the coconuts and smoke cigarettes. Occasionally I walk out to the internet café or to the store for water but mostly I sleep. I live on the periphery of the camp, not really joining in but being friendly and getting my strength back.

And it is good.

Boulder Interlude: I Put You On A Pedestal, They Put You On The Pill

As we get closer and closer to the end of the story – or at least the part about being in Haiti and the DR – I have to interlude more and more. I don’t know what will happen to this blog once I get to the end of the story. Do I let it go and start a new one that’s just domestic stuff? Do I cut the ‘Haiti’ out of the title and keep it? If anyone has suggestions please feel free to email me. I have no frickin’ clue.

I am sitting on the patio of a bar on Pearl Street in Boulder with Chance and Aimee drinking toxicly strong margaritas and trying to avoid having a conversation with the creepy guy sitting behind me who is desperate to tell me about his ‘intuition’ and what ‘my body is telling him’. I had been refusing to turn around and even look at him, thinking this meant my body was telling him ‘stay the fuck away from me’. Apparently I was dead wrong. Creepy.

And then there are Australians.

I have a theory about Australians: when England created a prison colony there so many years ago they didn’t just send the prisoners, they sent the most charismatic, social prisoners – the ones that might charm themselves out of jail. Big strapping lads with the ability to have a fun conversation with a tree stump. Drop dead gorgeous women who could make a corpse laugh. Australia has created a race of the uber-charismatic. Australians are like American Express cards – they’re everywhere you want to be.

And now the patio has two of them. Both named Paul.

Immediately we go from being a congregation of separate tables to a big circle with the Australians at the center. Then we are in a contest – even creepy guy, who cannot peel his eyes or his intuition off of me – to name ten Scottish bands. Ten Australian bands. Top ten love songs.

Then somehow me and the taller Paul are frantically scribbling playlists on napkins. The shorter Paul promises to send me the ‘Dogs in Space’ soundtrack when he gets back to Melbourne. The top ten songs on our iPod turns into ‘songs you need to buy right now’ and gets into the twelves and thirteens and fifteens. ‘A New England’ by Billy Bragg makes it onto both of our lists and we are out front smoking and singing “I put you on a pedestal, they put you on the pill….”.

Then it’s time to go find cupcakes and Chance and Aimee and I head off down Pearl St, my back pocket stuffed full of scribbled-on napkins.

This is what I gave him:

  1. Exit Wounds – Tim Barry
  2. Going Once Going Twice – Ramona Falls
  3. She’s My Ride Home – Blue October
  4. 4 AM In Texas – 7 Seconds
  5. Shut Up & Listen – The New York Citizens
  6. Can’t Feel A Thing – Lucero
  7. Trying – Dag Nasty
  8. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley or Leonard Cohen version
  9. Zippers and Jeans – Harlan T. Bobo
  10. Into The Open – Heartless Bastards
  11. 156 – Mew
  12. Monkey’s Gone To Heaven – The Pixies
  13. Rainy Night in Soho – The Pogues
  14. Who Are You? – Tom Waites
  15. Pal Norte – Calle 13
  16. Oh! Libertine – Viva La American Death Ray Music
  17. The Night – Morphine

This is what I find on the napkin,  the Australian playlist:

  1. Greetings To The New Brunette – Billy Bragg
  2. I The Kite – Centromatic
  3. Black Angel – Black Cab
  4. Trouble Weighs A Ton – Dan Auerbach
  5. Mansion of Los Feliz – The Eels
  6. Sequestered In Memphis – The Hold Steady
  7. Get To Leave – Howe Gelb
  8. Brand New Angel – Jeff Bridges
  9. Restless – Longhorne Slim
  10. Little Lion Man – Mumford and Son
  11. Chicago – Rogue Wave
  12. Help Yourself – Sad Brad Smith
  13. Where There’s Son – Thrift Store Cowboy
  14. 5 Years Time – Noah and Whale

I don’t get all of it – I’m too cheap. And some of what I do get I’m not crazy about – Jeff Bridges, for instance. But for the most part his playlist is damn good. I’m obsessive about music – when I find a song I like I’ll listen to it over and over again. Noah and the Whale and Black Cab wind up on my repeat list. I love new music – finding a good song to put on repeat is like making a new friend. The napkin is full of shiny, sparkly little treasures.

Since I started this blog I’ve gotten some mail off of it. Not as much as I did off Sarna Dogs, but I do get the odd stranger email. If you’re one of those folks that feels inclined to send me a random email, send me a playlist.

***This entry is for Lindsey – sorry it’s a whole lotta nothin’, an interim one, really. But you told me this distracts you so I sat down today determined to keep tellin’ the story, even the boring bits.  All my good thoughts***

Photo notes – 1) my bungalow at the surf camp. You can’t see the lagoon but the porch overlooks it.  2) Restaraunt with long dinner table at left and bar at right. 3) Australian napkin playlist.

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.

  • Calendar

    • December 2019
      M T W T F S S
      « Jul    
       1
      2345678
      9101112131415
      16171819202122
      23242526272829
      3031  
  • Search