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 ;)

1 comment:

speedo said...

hahahahaha this is funny