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.