Friday, June 27, 2008

A Day at the Beach

On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to go on a paseo—trip—to Sosua Beach with the other teachers from my school. I received information about this trip Tuesday afternoon, as apparently everyone assumed I already knew about it. My nun told me to get there between 6 and 6:15am the next morning. Like the foolish, foolish gringa that I am, I got there at 6:05am. I think we finally left around 7:30, and arrived at around 11am.

We promptly began bargaining for deck chair rental—the nun refused to pay more than 50 pesos and the first deck chair rental guy refused to rent for less than 60. After about 5 minutes of heated debate, we went further down the beach and found someone who was happy to rent our group chairs for 50 pesos each. During the bargaining process, the nun used the line “We’re not TOURISTS;” repeatedly and disdainfully. I will definitely have to remember that one next time I try to bargain somewhere. Not that anyone will believe me.

Anyway, we settled into our deck chairs, which were awesome. It was the least sandy I’ve ever gotten at the beach. The beach at Sosua was definitely more touristy than Esmeralda and Nagua, the other two Dominican beaches I’ve been to thus far. The whole beach was lined with resorts, and there were tons of little restaurants and souvenir shops right on the sand. Plus, of course, the for-rent deck chairs. But since it was a summer Wednesday, there weren’t too many gringos in sight.

For awhile I lounged on my deck chair and read, which bewildered my co-workers—people here don’t really read for fun. I thought maybe teachers would, but apparently not. Then I went out into the water with some of the teachers. Mostly they were just standing around in the shallow water, but a couple of them broke away to swim out farther. I went, too. I wasn’t really paying attention—I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I was pretty blind—but apparently I went out further than the others. When I came back, everyone freaked out about what a good swimmer I was and how far I went. Now, I would say the last time I spent any length of time swimming was in middle school, before I quit swim lessons. I know how to swim, but I’m definitely not Olympic caliber. But, most Dominicans don’t know how to swim at all. I know, I know, you’d think living on an island, you’d get around to learning at some point…but you’d be wrong.

Then we went back on shore to eat the lunch we’d brought, which turned out to be boiled plantains and chicken. (So for me, just boiled plantains.) I hate to sound like I didn’t appreciate my free lunch, but, well, I didn’t appreciate my free lunch. Luckily, I’d also packed my own saltine crackers and raisins and was pretty well set.

Afterwards, I took a nice nap and went out for another swim. I set off by myself to some freakishly-far off point and was approached by another swimmer, who asked if I spoke Spanish. “More or less,” I said, and he pointed out that I was swimming on top of a coral reef, which, not wearing goggles or glasses, I had utterly failed to notice. Granted, we’re not talking about the Great Barrier Reef or anything, but it was still pretty awesome. The other swimmer lent me his snorkel and I paddled around for a little bit, checking out some small bright-blue fish and some little brown sea urchins. That was about all the reef had to offer, but I was impressed. I gave the guy his snorkel back and he asked me if I knew what an “erisco” was. I did not, so he swam down and came back with one in his hand for me. It turned out to be a sea urchin. I held the one he’d brought up for me. They wouldn’t make the most exciting pet ever, but it was interesting to flip it over and watch its little sucker-mouth go. I set it back down in the reef and me and the swimmer guy (and later, his friend) hung out on the reef and talked for awhile. The reef was tall enough that we could stand on top of it and have our heads above water, although with the tide it was hard to stay standing on such an uneven surface. Just was I was about to head back to shore, a wave knocked me down into the reef and my foot made contact with an erisco. Ouch!

I swum back to shore uneventfully and called the Peace Corps medical office. Or actually, I called some other volunteer, who told me that her number seems to have been listed in place of the Peace Corps medical office’s number somewhere, since she gets this a lot. So next, I called my friend Arianna, reasoning that she’s from Florida, so she’d probably know what to do in case of sea urchin attack. Or, barring that, would probably be able to tell me he actual medical office number. She told me the ends of the quills would work their way out of my foot on their own, and that they weren’t poisonous. (We briefly debated whether there might be poisonous sea urchins here, but decided that if there were, our alarmist training nurse would have told us about them a couple dozen times.) Then she told me to make the stinging stop I could either put vinegar on it or pee on it. At first I was sceptical about the latter advice, but then remembered that our aforementioned alarmist training nurse had advised urine for jellyfish stings so I figured it was legit. Not having access to vinegar, I paid 10 pesos to rent a shower stall and self-medicated my foot. It promptly felt much better. Hooray!

By the time I was finished with that ordeal, we were packing up for the bus trip back home. The next day, all the teachers gossiped about what a good swimmer I am. One of them told me I swam “like an airplane.” I think those usually sink in water, but oh well. It was nice to be the center of attention for some reason other than not speaking Spanish fluently or having pretty hair.

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