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.