Thursday, September 18, 2008

my life as a tour guide

Hola! Long-ish time, no blog—but then, my blog’s biggest reader (aka Mom) has been with me the last week, so I trust that my updates haven’t been too missed. She and my grandfather flew into the capital last Tuesday and we’ve been on a fast-paced tour of the DR for the last week. The first few days were spent in the capital. We hit up the Botanical Gardens, which was a big hit with my gardening relatives. Then we did a mini tour of the Zona Colonial, where we bargained souvenir dominos and I gave a shoddy tour of historic buildings (“This is where Diego Colon lived, he was Christopher Columbus’s son, I’m pretty sure… maybe brother… umm… that’s a palm tree…”). We also went to the Hard Rock Café, a wonderfully kitschy establishment that happens to be slightly out of my Peace Corps price range. Pretty much every other meal involved some PCV-favored restaurant, with the end result that neither of my guests ate any Dominican cuisine until 3 days later, back in my site. Secondary result: I probably gained back about half the weight I’ve lost since I got in country. Yum!

Upon returning to my site, we spent the afternoon unpacking the FOUR suitcases of treasures my mom and grandpa bought me (their own personal items were limited to carry-ons). So many wonderful things: Tasty Bite instant Indian food, dark chocolate (thanks, Aunt Harriet!), battery-powered fans, Dr. Bronner’s soap, a new Nalgene bottle (my last having been tragically forgotten on a guagua last month), books from practically every This American Life correspondent, and, best of all, a shiny new MacBook, on which I am currently typing this. Ohhh it is such a lovely new computer and now I can watch DVDs in my house and download podcasts at the Peace Corps office and write up blog entries whenever the hell I want! Hooray! (Thanks again, Opa!!)

The next morning, we set off on a day trip to Santiago. We ended up eating lunch at Pollos Victorina (the Dominican version of KFC), since I wasn’t familiar enough with downtown Santiago to find a more delicious place promptly. Then we went to the Centro Leon, an art museum/cigar factory. Mom had really wanted to see a cigar factory, so we spent most of our time there. We got a tour from a very knowledgeable English-speaking guide (thus saving me from awkward attempts at translating phrases like “The tobacco is grown in Connecticut and aged for eight years”) and my mom and grandpa bought some nice cigars (supposedly—none of us smoke so we didn’t really know what we were looking for) for gifts. This particular factory—La Aurora—has been operating in the DR since 1903. Again, I can’t vouch for the cigars, but their employees are very nice.

We also went to La Sirena (the Dominican version of Wal-Mart), where my relatives stocked up on Brugal rum for gifts and assorted housewares for me. They found it objectionable that I had been living without things like bathroom mirrors and cutting boards…you know how Americans are ;)

We spent the weekend in my site, where mom and grandpa were assistants in my English class. My students particularly admired mom’s enthusiasm for charades. I also took them to meet the nuns, who gave us oatmeal & orange juice (it’s a Dominican thing, it tastes kind of like a creamsicle but not really) and enjoyed my mom’s broken but whole-hearted attempts at Spanish speaking. The family also liked the Sunday church service, somewhat to their surprise. (“Good singing, and the priest seemed like a really good speaker even though I didn’t understand 99% of what he was saying.” What more can you ask for?)

On Monday we returned to the capital and did some laundry and some eating. My grandpa and mom went to bed early, since we had to leave at 4am to get my grandfather to the airport on time. I foolishly stayed out until 1:30am with some Peace Corps friends, but one of them is leaving the country soon and I wanted to see her. (And, of course, make sure that she saw High School Musical before getting back to the US.) Thus, Tuesday found me a bit sleepy, but it also found mom and I on a 4-hour bus ride to Puerto Plata, so I got in a good nap. Upon arrival to PP, we checked into our hotel, turned on the AC, and collapsed onto our beds. Well, we stayed awake long enough to watch Over the Hedge (in English!) on TV.

This morning we set off on an ill-fated excursion for breakfast at a nearby guidebook-recommended place, which turned out to have closed down due to the death of its former owner. We found a substitute breakfast place which fueled us for a morning of shopping, the majority of which was spent at a large larimar and amber jewelry store. It was an interesting place, since it had a jewelry factory on site. Thus, when my mom found a ring she liked that was too small, they simply took it back and expanded it at no additional cost. When I wanted a small pair of earrings and my mom wanted a small pair of earrings as a gift, they took a large pair of earrings (with two dangling jewels per ear) and divided it into two pairs of earrings (at the same price as the one original pair of earrings). Very nice.

I also used my improved Spanish to shoo away souvenir salesmen with a disdainful “No soy turista, yo vivo en La Vega. Dejame en paz.” (I’m not a tourist, I live in La Vega. Leave me alone.) It sounds harsh, but anything nicer gets you a stalker for a block or so.

After lunch at a delicious place catering to expats (they had lemon meringue pie!!), we took a look at the local beach, which my mom thought was gorgeous. I, however, have become kind of a beach snob after six months in this country and was not that impressed. (“Needs more palm trees… and the sand could be whiter.”) Still, it’s a pretty beach…. I guess. (I will post pictures of this later and you will likely all hate me for my attitude re: this beach.)

Then we came back for a well-earned nap, from which we are just now rousing ourselves. Soon we will set out for dinner, and, perhaps, a movie at the local theatre. Such a decadent life I’m leading these two weeks of visitors!


Devon said...

HEY, I read it too! Also, I've been saving weeks and weeks worth of Entertainment Weeklys to send to you, but now most of the news is I hope you still want them.

Mary in France said...

I missed you! I'm glad you're updating again.

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