Saturday, February 28, 2009

some fotos

Just a few. Mom took way more but I can't get them off her camera for some reason.

The fam at Carnaval.

A super rad Carnaval costume.

Us at Jarabacoa. You can't really see the river behind us, but it's there. AND IT'S PRETTY.

This was the best whale picture any of us got (Dad took it).

a nice, stress-free vacation

That’s why people go to all-inclusive resorts, right? For a nice, stress-free vacation. Well. We set off from our regular old non-inclusive hotel in Samana after a leisurely (because of how long they took to get our coffee, and then how long they took to get the check) breakfast and made it to Puerto Plata with relative ease. Most of the way the road was still fairly pot-holey and rough, but not nearly as bad as the road to Las Terrenas (where a 20-mile trip took over two hours). The real trouble came when we took the turn-off to Playa Dorado, which is a beach just east of Puerto Plata that’s home to over a dozen resorts.

Mom had lost the printed-off email reservation for our resort, but we remembered that it was called Something Village and figured they’d have our name in the system. So we pulled up to the Caribbean Village Resort only to be told that this resort had closed two months ago. He directed us to the Caribbean Occidental Village, which we drove too far past and ended up nearly at the beach and had to get re-directed from another resort’s beachside bar. We roll up at the Occidental Village, where Dad, now a cocky Dominican-style driver, left the car right in front of a “No Parking” sign, only to get sent back out to move the car by a bellhop. (The resorts don’t really count as Dominican.)

Anyway, the Occidental Village was also not our resort, and after some more driving and sweaty back-and-forths between several hotel employees & passersby, we finally arrived at the Puerto Plata Village. There, the receptionist asked for our email confirmation, although he had our names written down and had an envelope all ready for us with our plastic bracelets and room key. He sent us over to the “guest services” desk to open and print our email, but the “guest services” woman insisted that we did not need to print our email confirmation, so she walked back to reception with me and engaged in a glare-off with the receptionist, which she won. So! We got our neon yellow bracelets, the caste mark of the entitled, and were led off to our room. I started to unload the car, wheeling my suitcase in the room, marveling at the air conditioning and double beds, then went back to the car, locking our only room key inside. So I walked back to the reception building, explained my plight, and had to wait awhile for a security guard to come back with me with his master key. (Apparently it would be out of the question for us to simply have two keys. Whatev.)

So, back in our swank room, we changed into swimsuits, consulted our resort map, and headed over to the pool. And to the swim-up bar. Mom and I both had a few yummy fruity drinks while sitting in the pool. Unfortunately, I hardly ever drink, and after 1.5 (kind of strong) sugary pink things, my tummy hurt and I had to go lie down. I am a lame resort-goer.

Then we went to the all-inclusive buffet dinner, and I tried to go to the taco bar and their beans appeared to have giant meat hunks in them. Just to be sure, I asked if they were vegetarian, and a waiter-guy said no, and then I asked what was vegetarian, and he told me “The vegetables.” I said, “Anything else?” and he said “The vegetables over there.” Hell yeah, all-inclusive resort! I can have all the drinks I want, until I get a tummyache, and all the vegetables on two different foodbars! I also have a pretty unlimited supply of guilt about things like how much energy and water my long hot shower took, how many resources are being used to maintain this giant resort when people are living in tin shacks like 10 miles away, and how little money I assume all the resort employees are making. It also really doesn’t help that my poolside reading is No Logo by Naomi Klein, an anti-consumerist (though that is a reductive summary of her more complex argument) tome that fills me with joyful trivia about how the average sweatshop worker in China makes 13 cents an hour.

Ayyy, Dios. But if I can build up my alcohol tolerance and suppress some of my middle-class guilt, I think this will be a good vacation week. It takes a lot of planning, navigating, and translating stress off of me. And I will definitely enjoy the hot water and soft-yet-supportive double mattress that I get all to myself, not to mention the air conditioning.

Monday, February 23, 2009

greetings from samana!

My parents have been in the DR for over a week now, and it’s been a pretty jam-packed time. Sunday we went into La Vega to see Carnaval, which is a Mardi Gras-esque festival celebrated in a lot of Dominican towns every Sunday in February. Each town has a slightly different tradition, but they all involve masks & parades. In La Vega, the tradition is to hit parade-goers with cow bladders. Well—they used to use cow bladders, but these days actual bladders are apparently a little hard to come by & synthetic replacements are used. They still hurt real bad when a passing joven gets a good whack at your ass. Later I hope to post some pictures to show off the Carnaval costumes. They are mostly very colorful devil-ish masks with matching colorful (often sparkly) costumes—they look like they would be very very hot to wear, even in the relatively cool (70s-80s) Dominican winter.

On Monday we went over to Jarabacoa, a beautiful mountain town that’s often used as a jumping-off point for adventure sports like white water rafting (it’s where Reid & I went rafting in December) and canyoning. We decided to skip the sports and just admired the scenery at a nice restaurant right on the river. It was the kind of place that would have been so complicated to visit without a rental car—a carro publico from my town to La Vega, a guagua from LV to Jarabacoa, and then either a long hike or a taxi ride out to the river. With the car, though, it was almost a snap, despite the rough mountain road up to Jarabacoa, the frightening other drivers on the 2-lane road (which usually functioned as a 3-lane road), and the scarcity of street signs in the DR.

We also went to my beginners’ English class that evening, which was entertaining though perhaps not that educational. My students quickly exhausted their English vocabulary & instead just told me things in Spanish. Mom spoke to them slowly and animatedly, but with complex verb formations and vocabulary way beyond my students. Dad was pretty good at saying sentences the kids could get, though they would often be non-sequitirs. (“I have two children” after a long discussion about the weather, for example.)

Tuesday we went into Santiago to meet my friend Karina for lunch and to visit the Centro Leon, which is an art museum and also has a small cigar factory. Mostly Dad took a lot of pictures of the cigar factory and Mom, Karina and I used wireless Internet at the museum café and played cards. Afterwards, we spent a long afternoon shopping at La Sirena (Dominican Wal-Mart), buying such necessities as flip-flops, new plates for my house (which, I believe, already has perfectly functional plastic plates with flowers on them, but Mom insisted on some classier ceramic ones), and boxes of Skim Ice popsicles.

Wednesday morning my parents worked on rearranging my modest furniture collection and cleaning my house, over my vague protests. Then we went into the town of Salcedo to have lunch with my friend Evan and tour the Mirabal sisters’ house. The Mirabal sisters—Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa—are three Dominican heroines, who (particularly Minerva) led an underground movement against the dictator Trujillo and were eventually murdered by his secret police. Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies (“Mariposas--butterflies—were the sisters’ code names in the underground movement) is a fictionalized account of their lives, and it’s wonderfully written and a very compelling story of that era and those women. I highly recommend it to all of you.

I also had a quick youth group meeting that evening, followed by a visit to my host family where Dad quizzed my host dad about Dominican plumbing and electrical systems and Mom mostly described snow to the host parents. Also, we drank juice. Then we set off for a drive south to my friend Keane’s site, an outlying suburb of Santo Domingo. We visited the community radio station where he works and sat in on a show being recorded. Dad in particular enjoyed the DJ’s extended trilled r’s (“Merrrrrrrrrrrrrrrengue!”) Afterwards, we went all the way into the capital and searched out a restaurant that would be open at the late-by-Dominican-standards hour of 10:30pm, eventually finding a pizza place that was almost-but-not-quite closed. Que delicioso.

Thursday and Friday we spent in the capital having a variety of adventures, including lunch and swimming at the Embassy, a brief historical tour of the Zona Colonial (led by me, and with a lot of blank spots and extremely approximate dates involved), extended shopping time for Mom, a visit to the Museum of Dominican Man (with a lot of time spent on their Carnaval exhibit), and a special solo adventure Mom & Dad had while I was at a Peace Corps meeting—they went out to visit a car dealership and then apparently spent 3 hours trying to find a cockfighting ring before giving up.

Saturday morning we had a deluxe breakfast at the fancy, newly-remodeled McDonald’s in Santo Domingo, while I tried to explain to my parents that American fast food places are among the few places to get breakfast at a restaurant in this country, and also that McDonald’s is considered kind of a nice restaurant here. I know, right? But it’s true.

Then we made a brief stop back at my house to pick up and drop off a few things, and also to continue my parent’s project to improve the feng shui of my house. We then hit the road for Samana, a small peninsula in the northeast of the DR, known for its beautiful beaches and for being a key spot in the migration of humpbacked whales. Unfortunately, it’s also known for having really bad roads, which made for a long day of driving. (Well, that, and the extended shopping break we took at La Sirena in San Francisco de Macoris along the way.) But we eventually made it and even found our hotel, which turned out to be across the street from a small town carnival. We went over to investigate and Dad and I rode the Ferris wheel, which was extremely terrifying. We’d watched other people ride it for awhile and noted that everyone seemed to be surviving the experience, and Dad looked behind it to check out the generator, which he deemed sound, so we decided to risk it. But from the ground we’d failed to really understand how FAST the Ferris wheel was actually going; the way down was almost a free-fall. And unlike cheap American Ferris wheels where you get maybe one or two spins around, these guys gave us good value for our peso and we were treated to at least ten frightening revolutions. The whole way around, Dad made helpful comments like, “You see that really corroded beam? Don’t worry, it only controls the spinning mechanism, so if it breaks, we won’t fall, we’ll just spin aimlessly,” and “Wow, see that metal hook? They made that out of concrete rebar, which is basically the worst kind of steel ever.”

But hey, we survived.

Sunday morning we got up early to go on our whale watching trip, which was probably my favorite part of the trip. (If anyone is ever in the DR in the winter, I really recommend Victoria Marine tours, FYI.) The tour company was started by a marine biologist, Kim Beddall, who came out on the boat with us and taught us Whale Facts on the way out. (DID YOU KNOW: When whales migrate south they don’t eat for like five months because there is no food they can eat in southern waters. They just live off their blubber and the females lose 10 tons of weight. Then they go up north and eat a ton of fish a day. WHALES.) We’d been warned that the ocean would be pretty rough, and it was, but we had a good-sized boat and everyone took Dramamine beforehand so it was okay. Fun, actually—kind of like a Dominican Ferris wheel. Soon after we got out to the marine mammal sanctuary zone someone spotted a whale spout, and we saw a mother & newborn calf! Kim said the calf was 2 or 3 weeks old and it was pretty rare to get to see one so young. They hung out by our boat for a while and we got to see the baby rolling around on top of its mom, playing and slapping the water with its baby whale tail. It was ADORABLE. Mom got a few good pictures, which I’ll post later.

Afterwards, we got lunch at the slowest Chinese restaurant ever. Mom and Dad actually fell asleep at the table while waiting for food. (The Dramanine may also have had something to do with this.) Then we decided to take a “quick beach trip,” although we didn’t leave until around 3:30pm because of our slow lunch. Then we had to spend a long time finding gas (we found 2 gas stations easily, but they were both out of gas—not that unusual in the DR—and finding a 3rd with gas took longer), then awhile getting lost, then we got stuck behind a town’s Carnaval procession, and anyway we didn’t even get anywhere near the beach until 6pm. But we passed a cockfighting ring on the way to the beach, so mom and dad stopped to watch a cockfight while I waited in the car. Because, gross. (Apparently they didn’t fight to the death here, so I maybe could have watched it. But I saw Mom’s pictures and that was enough.)

Now we’re waiting to have breakfast before heading off to Puerto Plata for our all-inclusive resort week. I’m pretty excited about the beds with box springs, the hot showers, the food… also the beach should be nice, I guess ;)

Friday, February 13, 2009

the violence is purely hypothetical

Well, it’s been awhile since I last blogged. I thought about writing a blog entry a couple times in the last few weeks, but it would have been something like “Dear Diary, Wahhh Peace Corps sucks, I hate the DR :( :( :(” so I decided to just hold off. Plus it was raining for a week straight, so obviously I can’t be expected to blog when it rains.

Anyway, so I don’t really want to go into it but the last few weeks have been a little rough around here. But the sun came out, and my Peace Corps boss visited my site to help straighten things out, and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about life.

I’m also feeling better after a long phone conversation with my friend Justin, in which we complained about our project partners and then pondered the age-old question, “Who would win in a fight, our project partners or Edward Cullen [a vampire from the Twilight series]?” Obviously we decided on Edward Cullen, and then spent probably longer than necessary envisioning the throwdown that would (hypothetically) ensue.

Plus my friend Tim volunteered to come to my site and break some kneecaps if necessary. (Again, it won’t be, and I do not wish to advocate violence as a solution to problems, but sometimes it is nice to envision, is all.)

Also, my landlord stopped by and it turns out that I am not being evicted from my house, as I was previously led to believe, for whatever (malicious) reason, by my project partner. Avoiding homelessness is always enough to put a smile on my face.

If things weren’t already looking up enough, tomorrow my parents are coming to visit! Not only will it be great to see them, of course, but they are also bringing me suitcases full of American food! I told my Doña I was excited about the American food they were bringing, and she said, “What kind of food do Americans eat? Not beans and rice?” I tried to explain that yeah we eat beans and rice sometimes, but we also eat other things. I mean, now that I cook for myself I’ve expanded my diet as much as possible, but I’m still facing grocery stores whose target audiences pretty much only eat beans and rice. (Okay, okay, they also eat meat and plantains.)

We’re planning to spend a few days around my site, visiting and whatot, and taking daytrips to La Vega and Santiago. February is the month of Carnaval (not a typo, that is the Spanish spelling of “Carnival”) and every Sunday there are huge parades and stuff in most cities, and of course my mom would never miss a parade. We’re also planning to go up north on a whale watching trip, which I am super excited about because I’ve never seen a whale! (This is kind of a minority status among most of the PCVs I’ve talked to, and they are kind of blasé about whale sightings, but I am not! I am excited to have one! Whales whales whales! Whales!) Also, we’re going to do a few days at an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Plata. My parents think it is hilarious that I am most excited about the prospect of hot water; I think it is hilarious that they are most excited about the free drinks. I mean, there are plenty of drinks in my site, but the only hot water comes off my stove.