A Week With Three Gringos: Dominican Adventures
A creative spirit can be infectious.
I think that’s part of the reason I find myself writing early in the morning during my vacation in the Dominican Republic. Since my arrival on Friday night (after a 6 hour delay in Miami thanks to the solid work of American Airlines) I’ve seen constant examples of the friendliness of the Dominican people as they simultaneously try to take as much money from you as you’re willing to give. On one hand, they’re trying to rip you off, but on the other, as Jay-Z said, “You can’t knock the hustle.”
There was “Dominican Rob,” the street “hype guy” for a seafood restaurant on Sosua Beach, who boasted about his restaurant having the “freshest fish on the beach,” while also trying to sell us hookers whose bodily shape he could personally vouch for and assure us that people claim he sounds like he’s from Washington Heights despite the fact that’s he’s never left the DR: “It’s just from listening to you people.”
There was Rueben, who rented us beach chairs in Sosua, while claiming that “esto es mi tierra,” and he could get us anything we wanted if we just asked. Which may have rubbed off on the younger generation, like the kids who jumped in front of our car during a red light to unnecessarily clean our windshield for spare change or the barely teenage boy who followed us as we searched for the bus back to Cabarete, asking for “un poco de plata” despite having done nothing but walk behind us, yelling, “My friend.”
And there was our first teacher, Juan, who orchestrated our moped taxi ride up the coast to Encuentro Beach while also trying to sell us all types of drugs and recommending the best restaurants in town to eat. If there was an app version of Juan, it would break iTunes records in the US: transportation, drugs, and restaurant recommendations in one swipe.
He also returned to where he dropped us off to take us back to Cabarete without telling us that wasn’t included in the price he quoted and that the price wasn’t per bike, as he mentioned before, but per person. All while claiming when he said the fare amount and we said okay it constituted a business deal and couldn’t be changed. Since then he’s been coming up to us on the street every day to try and take some more money off the American tourists. Not that I can blame him. Plus, it’s nice to know that I still have enough Spanish skills to talk my way out of drug deals in the Spanish-speaking world.
Yet, for all the hustle and scheming, everybody here seems intent on making sure the time spent is fun, both for themselves and everybody else involved. They have constant smiles, pay friendly compliments to my Spanish that has suddenly become only present tense (Sorry, Ms. Blythe), and provide a slew of recommendations if you only ask.
People like Pablo, the driver who picked us up from the airport and has become our go to transportation for any trip too long for a moped taxi or too complicated for the bus. Whether it’s waiting out the delay at the airport, suggesting the best places to eat, or praising the wonders of Bachata, there’s always a smile under his graying mustache and a friendly lilt in his voice.
The beauty of the spirit is in keeping with the beauty of the island. From our time in Sosua:
To our afternoon in Encuentro:
To the beautiful mess of buildings and shops that seem to all also claim to be a bank. Everything on this island seems to want to be everything. Which is the thing that makes you want to do everything as well.
From little things, like eating whole fried fish (which is outside the box for me – I can’t help staring at their deep fried eyes) or renting a car and driving it an hour and a half to a collection of beautiful waterfalls or hopping into a local bus that doesn’t actually have assigned stops and is really a 15 passenger van that they somehow squeeze 23-plus people into. The smiles and upbeat assurances push you to say, “Screw it” and try.
The spirit of ingenuity can lead to some really cool experiences. Like my moped taxi ride. Sharing the road with all other forms of traffic, my driver, Juan (who was partners with the other Juan, though now I’m not really sure if I should believe the coincidence) was cautiously adorned in a helmet while I simply grabbed him around his robust waist and tried not to wind up in a Dominican hospital. While also making sure not to accidentally touch my calf to the chrome exhaust pipe on the outside of the bike, which I learned the hard way.
All safety concerns aside, the ride was beautiful and placed us in Encuentro, the surfer’s haven of Cabarete (video: IMG_0713)
Plus, if you’ve never had the pleasure of grabbing a large Dominican man around the waist, while your thighs lock in around his hips as you whisper Spanish into his ear, then you haven’t lived. Halfway through the journey, when I found out that there were handles I could grab behind me, I let Juan go from my clutches and held on behind me. But, the gentleman that he is, he never once told me; he was going to let me hold on as long as I wanted to.
Which is probably something I could also say for this country. As Pablo glanced down at the bubbling burn on my calf, he simple laughed. “Es una marca muy comun,” he assured me, promising me that it would be “una recuerda de la Republica Dominicana.
At this rate, I’m sure it won’t be the only one.