Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Holiday in Las Terrenas

Chivirico and I went off to Las Terrenas for our four day summer holiday. We left Danilo at home to look after the animals (ha ha). The plan was to go and stay with Dan (American) and Manty (Dominican) who own a guest house and then write about Dan's decision to live in the DR and his daily life here for a magazine.

Las Terrenas is in the north east corner of the DR and is a very long way away, which is what has put me off visiting before. But I also had a long list of preconceptions about the place.

However, it is the only part of the DR that I had not visited and so I was keen to go. We caught a bus firstly to Santiago and were dropped off close to the bus station for Las Terrenas. There are three buses a day - 6 a.m., 11.30 and 3 p.m. We caught the 11.30 and I was pleasantly surprised that although it was a mini bus, it was comfortable, air conditioned and had free wifi.

The journey took around four hours with a stop in San Francisco de Macoris for food and the toilets. As usual on the buses here, everyone shared their food, chatted and sang along to the music. Every so often the bus stopped and picked up a guy selling cheese, or sweets or sunglasses and they made a few sales and hopped off the bus again.

Eventually we reached Sanchez which is on the southern coast of the Samana peninsula and drove over the mountain, with stunning views, into Las Terrenas. It was not what I expected. On first impressions it was like Sosua and Cabarete on the north coast which are both tourist towns, with lots of touristy type shops but if you looked closely there were everyday Dominican shops interspersed such as a cobbler, banks, colmados, hardware stores. I also spotted a french bakery which I made a vow to check out.

Dan and Manty's guesthouse was easy to spot. A massive sign right opposite one of the plazas - Plaza Kanesh in the main street.

Dan was there to meet us, but it was only around a 50 yard walk to the guesthouse which was like being in another world. It is a large piece of land where Dan and Manty live and so do many of Manty's brothers and sisters, in little wooden houses scattered throughout the land.

Dan and Manty live upstairs and downstairs there are three guest rooms each with a bed, outdoor sitting area, kitchen, bathroom and all mod cons including wifi and hot water.

Having been introduced to Manty, Chivirico, Dan and I went off for a 20 minute walk through the town to the beach. I was surprised that there were no people trying to sell us stuff on the street, nor pull us into their shops, and when we reached the beach there were no beach sellers. Somehow the place had a different ambiance than other Dominican resort towns I had been to. It felt more European and more chic. The number of motorbikes and quad bikes was amazing and they were all tearing through the town and along the beach road.

I had no idea there were so many beaches in Las Terrenas, and I had no idea the beaches were so nice and clean and the sea was amazing.

Chivirico was in his element swimming in the ocean with Dan.

Or doing the obligatory covering himself with sand.

And when we got back to the guesthouse Manty was frying fish on the fogon - outdoor cooking stove.

The following day was a repeat of the first. Walking around town, we discovered the French supermarket, full of things I have not seen for years such as rice noodles, Thai spices, mushrooms, amazing cheeses and the biggest wine selection I have ever seen. We went back down to the beach and Chivirico bought himself a snorkel and mask and planned to catch fish. No fish were caught but he still had great fun with Dan in the water.

The following day we set off for Mojitos which is a bar on the beach at Punta Poppy. I had written about Mojitos in various travel books so I was keen to see it for myself.

It is one of the best ways I think to spend a day on the beach with food and drink within easy reach, beach chairs and shade.

Chivirico spent the day in the ocean and I was taking advantage of the wifi and met a lady who had read my book! Helen and her husband and business partner Doug run a real estate company and a building and property services company in Las Terrenas and it was great to chat. She then took Chivirico and me to yet another beach, even more beautiful - las ballenas. On the way there we passed the famous fishermen's village which burned down a few years ago but now has been rebuilt. A lovely row of charming wooden buildings mostly used as bars and restaurants, overlooking the ocean.

We ate with Dan and Manty again that evening, and after dinner, Chivirico cooked his famous coconut biscuits.

All too soon it was time to come home. We caught the bus back to Santiago at 6 a.m. buying fresh pan au chocolat from the French bakery which was open even at that time in the morning. By noon we were back home.

So. Las Terrenas. I thought it was small - it isnt, the populataion is over 40,000. I thought it was full of French people - the only French accent I heard was the baker in the French bakery. I am sure they are there but I didn't see them. I did see and meet a whole range of other nationalities. I didn't see the usual expat drinking at the bar. All the expats I met were working, most with their own businesses. The beaches were much better than I imagined, as were the shops and facilities. I thought it was a long way away from everywhere, but with all of the new roads it is only now two hours from Santo Domingo, and there are five buses a day, and four hours from Santiago with three buses a day.  I thought it would be expensive but it wasnt as bad as I thought. Dan and Manty's guest house is RD$1000 a night which is around US$22 for the room, which was lovely. I had no idea there were so many backpackers in the area, and talking to them they were all travelling round the country and the DR is now a popular place for backpackers with hostels opening up all over the country.

I realised as I was walking around that it really is important for those who want to settle here to visit the whole country before making a decision as had I visited Las Terrenas before, I am sure it would have made it to the top of my list as a place I wanted to live.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Not dead and not in jail

I am sorry. I had no idea it had been so long since I blogged apart from a vague nagging voice in my head saying, "You should blog today," and then the letters and the emails started to arrive from blog readers asking me if I was OK.

Yes I am fine, and I promise not to worry you all like that again.

I have no real excuse apart from the fact that I have been horribly busy. I do some work for an American gentleman who runs a business providing copy and blog posts to American lawyers in the main. Normally I work for him doing one blog post a day about cruise ships - man overboard, rapes, murders that sort of thing, and then the last week of the month doing 70 blogs for accident attorneys. This is again such delightful things as people being killed in accidents. All very non cheery stuff, but it keeps the wolf from the door. Anyway, in July he asked me to help write a website for each of the 50 U.S. states on dog bites, which turned me somewhat paranoid thinking my dogs were going to bite me, and then this month same thing again, but on nursing home and elder abuse. Equally distressing and I now know all about dementia when it hits me.

So I really have had my nose to the grindstone and at the same time, Chivirico has been on school holidays so he has had to be entertained - not that that is hard. Here he is watching television with one of the cats, Mariposa.

And after one day, when he was particularly mucky he had his very first English bath. I think he liked it.

The animals are all fine but obviously something is in the air as they are all producing offspring. We had a bit of an issue with Parsnip the turkey as one day she changed sex into a male and started pecking lumps out of Stuffing, so Parsnip had to go and is now living at Chivirico's house. We had no idea she/he was a male until suddenly his thing on his nose grew and he started strutting like a male. Sprout on the other hand continued her love affair with Stuffing and laid 13 eggs. She has been on her nest for 10 days now, and in 18 days baby turkeys should arrive, so they will be ready for Christmas.

The only problem is that she has not made her nest on our land. It is next door in a very overgrown plot so to go and check on her you need a machete to hack down the undergrowth.

She gets off the nest once every five or six days and comes over to say hi, eat a load of corn and have a poo. Then she goes straight back to the nest. Talk about dedication. Imagine sitting on eggs for 28 days and only moving once every five or six days to have a meal and do your business.

The dogs are all fine as are the cats, but when Belinda and Meg were on heat, in true laissez faire Danilo fashion he left the door open, and a few minutes was all it took for Lobo to have his wicked way with Meg. He tried with Belinda but just couldn't reach although his acrobatics were fun to watch. Meg delivered eight healthy pups last night so once again the house is full of squeaking and the next few weeks will be fun.

Following Leida's death I think the campo had enough trauma and sadness, but unfortunately it carries on. Barbara, who lives next to Leida and Sukin the colmado man, has been diagnosed with cancer, plasma myeloma although she doesn't actually know what it is as the family don't want to tell her. I had never heard of this cancer but it really is horrid. The upshot is that she was very anaemic, bone pain and then kidney failure. The treatment is chemo, but the cost is US$4,000 a month which the insurance company won't pay and no way can anyone raise that amount. She has to have it for 8 months. So for the last couple of months she has been having dialysis and comes back to the campo most, but not all, weekends. She has lost an awful amount of weight and the family are just trusting in God that she will recover.

At the same time another neighbour, not even 50 I don't think, has a brain tumour. Apparently it is benign but growing and he has already lost most of the vision in his left eye. It can be safely removed apparently but will be taken out via his nose rather than cutting his head open. He has insurance but the insurance company have said that they won't pay for the via the nose surgery. He needs around US$14,000. Mind you over half of that is the fee to the surgeon and anaesthetist - greedy sods. Anyway it just seems unfair as he pays insurance so is responsible. I have written to the President of the DR to see if he can help - as if not this guy will die and that can't be allowed to happen.

So happy days. In the meantime the DR is in the middle of an immigration nightmare according to foreign press but I won't bore you with my views on that apart from to say I am totally illegal as my British passport is in the UK being renewed which takes three months and my citizenship isn't through yet although it should be soon. Two of the security checks have been done, but we are just waiting for Interpol. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks then I need to be sworn in, get Dominican birth certificate and ID card and yay. I can then vote.

Having said I can vote, who knows what is going on with the elections and Danilo standing for mayor. Again it would take ages to explain so will try and do that in the next post which I promise you won't have to wait for so long.

I will leave you with a picture of our yellow flame tree which we planted when we came to the house. This year is the first time it has flowered. Usually they are red and we planted both, but the first ones to flower were yellow.

And look at them now.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sad week in the campo

Last week was a sad week, as Leida, my neighbour, passed away.

I blogged about her and her husband and their diabetes a couple of months ago. She had a stroke about three weeks ago and was taken into hospital. As is usual here, when they realised they could do nothing they sent her home so that, as I was told, "God could decide". She never regained consciousness and family and friends looked after her and fed her through a feeding tube in her nose. Her children arrived from New York and a few days later she died.

Funerals are arranged so quickly. She died at three in the afternoon and by four o'clock she was washed, dressed, made up and in her coffin, As is usual here, the coffin is left open on the dining room table and placed on large blocks of ice. The house filled up and everyone stayed up all night. There must have been around 100 people in the house and garden with cups of coffee to keep everyone awake. In the morning the hearse arrived and we drove very slowly to the church, some cars, motorcycles and many people walking.

The church was the local catholic church and it was full to bursting. For some reason whenever I am in church here I always remember that I am in the Caribbean. The fans were all on overhead, under the corrugated zinc roof, and they make that squeaking sound that overhead fans often do. The windows had wooden slats in them so there are stripes of sunlight throughout. Her coffin was in the middle of the church and the breeze from the fans was blowing the white silk frill, as well as her hair. The service was about an hour long and the priest invited everyone to go and visit the coffin to say their last goodbyes, and, again as is the custom, all the smart phones came out as people took their last photo of her. Many non Dominicans say to me how awful it is that people see the dead and take photographs, but if you explain to a Dominican how we deal with death, they are appalled at the fact that the family do not usually wash the body and even more appalled that the dead are kept in a deep freeze for a while before burial. If you mention cremation, hands get thrown up in the air in horror.

We then had to have another slow journey to the cemetery which was around a mile away down a dusty narrow steep track, surrounded by sugar cane fields. By now it was noon, and very very hot. The coffin was unloaded and she was viewed for the last time. I was surprised that no one was smashing the coffin to bits with axes and machetes, which is what usually happens to nice coffins so that no one steals it. The reason soon became clear as the coffin was placed in a breeze block box which had been built above ground, plywood was placed on the top and then two men mixed up cement on the ground next to the coffin and shovelled it in on top. No way could anyone steal that coffin.

We had to wait in the boiling heat with no shade until the job was completed, which took around an hour then home for a late lunch. Tomorrow is the ninth day when once again her house will be full as everyone says their last goodbye. The television will go back into the living room, and the shrine to her will be taken down. Then life gets back to normal.

Onto more cheerful matters. Monster. The latest is that he has a new job. He is the watchyman for the turkeys.

They all sleep together under the balcony at night, and he spends all day with them in the garden.

Mr Rapist stays on the other side of the garden with his harem, and if the neighbours' chickens want to come in, Mr Monster lets them in, but only if he can have a quickie first.

It is really cute and he seems to have got over the loss of Mrs Monster.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The latest money making wheeze

Danilo went to pick Chivirico up to spend the weekend and he was late coming home. The reason was that Chivirico's grandfather had a present for us. According to Danilo this will make us very rich when it gets to Christmas time. Yes, we are now in the turkey breeding businesses.

Let me introduce you to Stuffing (male) and the two females, Sprout and Parsnip or as Danilo calls them Etuffin, Esprow and Parnees.

They are most peculiar birds. Stuffing keeps puffing himself up and doing a funny little walk and sticking his tail in the air and he keeps changing his face. One minute it is blue and white and then this thing on his nose, which is usually a white stub about an inch long, turns red and dangles down about six inches.

Apparently it is called a snood and serves no useful purpose but is there to attract the female as is his red wrinkly neck which is called the wattle. In Spanish the word for the snood is moco which also means snot! They both fill with blood and turn red when he is aroused which in Stuffing's case is every five minutes it seems. He was obviously only slightly attracted to me when I took this picture as his snood didn't get very big and he only turned pink and not red.

They were loose in the garden but we had only had them a couple of days when night began to fall and Parsnip decided to roost on the fence round the dog house. It took Lobo seconds to knock her off her perch and set on her. I managed to get him off and although she had a hole either side of her chest she made a miraculous recovery so they now are living under the balcony until such time as Danilo fences off part of the dog house so that Lobo can't get to them.

If they were intelligent, which I understand turkeys are not, they would be able to take themselves off to bed but when they were loose Danilo had to pick them up and put them on their perches in the cellar and given that I won't do that they will have to be put back under the balcony when he isn't here.

There is no sign of any eggs yet, so the breeding hasn't started but apparently they are not sexually mature until 7 months old and these are only three months old. Goodness only knows how big they will get.

On the Monster front there is sad news. Mrs Monster passed away yesterday. When chickens have sex the male stands on top of the female (bet you didn't know that) and with Mr Monster having such big feet he had actually made holes in her and we couldn't see them under the feathers. They became infected and she died. Mr Monster is inconsolable and stands looking at the wall on the top step and crying.

I have no idea what we will do about finding him another mate as all the other chickens we have are small and could not cope with him. She did leave her eggs behind and so another chicken is sitting on them. Some memento of her will remain.

On a brighter note when Chivirico was here we made pizza. We have to do it all from scratch so first it was making the dough which rose beautifully.

 Then we made the tomato sauce

Following that Chivirico rolls out the dough (and just noticed Danilo raiding the fridge in the background).

Finally to put the toppings on and each person has their own selection with no peppers or onions for Chivirico.

The finished article and it was delicious.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The doctors come to the campo

As I mentioned in my last post, Diane, her husband and their team of a nurse, doctors, and a physical therapist came last Sunday to hold a clinic on the Monday. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what would happen, in that they would just dole out pills for parasites and vitamins to the local folk. I could not have been more wrong.

The first inkling I had about the incredible commitment of the group was their arrival time. Diane had told me they would leave their last clinic after lunch. As it was around four hours from here, I expected them by six o'clock. Chivirico was beside himself with excitement and set the oven timer for six so that he could see how much time was left. I baked bread and made up the beds, and Danilo mopped the house and cooked a massive san cocho.

Six came and went as did seven, eight, nine and ten. They had left later than expected and eventually arrived past midnight in a mini van loaded to the gunnels with equipment and medicines and a car packed with people. I just stood there with my mouth open looking at all the stuff. We ate the san cocho, getting to bed shortly before 2 a.m. They must have been exhausted.

The next day it was up by seven, then breakfast and the group went to see my neighbours first before we all left and went to the local village hall to set up for the morning. One of the neighbours is very ill and as well as talking to her they said a prayer with her and she came up to me as they moved onto the next house and said what a beautiful prayer it was and explained how she was now covered with goose bumps.

Diane had said that they would leave just after lunch to get back to the capital but when we arrived at the hall it was already filling up.

All of the medicines and equipment was unloaded, I had never expected so much stuff. Diane was in charge of the pharmacy.

Which was in a room obviously used for storing a different type of medicine.

I had simply never seen so much medicine and it was all amazingly organised with pills put into packets for each patient with the name of the medicine, what it should be taken for and how many to take a day.

The system was explained that each person would firstly go and see the nurse where their blood pressure was taken, blood sugar was tested for the diabetics as well, their current meds listed and then they went to see one of the three doctors, who carried out a full examination.

The doctors would prescribe any additional meds, and then they went to the pharmacy to pick up everything they needed, saving themselves thousands of pesos for the next month or so. Everyone was also given vitamins and anti parasite meds.Those who needed to, were also seen by a physical therapist. One person had her ears syringed to get rid of the wax, so she could hear again.

You may have spotted Chivirico, who accompanied one of the doctors. He was also working hard.

By noon when it was supposed to be all over, the hall was still full as people were arriving all of the time. The team agreed to go for lunch and return at two. I left after lunch to do some work, writing the DR1 news, and they carried on until four. And then carried on even more, going on home visits to those too sick to attend the clinic. They arrived back here at seven at night, packed up, and set off on the long drive back to Santo Domingo.

What can I say? I have never seen such a professional, committed and hard working group of people in my life. They have made a tremendous difference to this small campo and I am sure they do the same to all of the areas they go to throughout the country. All of their work is entirely funded by donations to the website here and Diane said in some areas the local folk will give them food to take home with them.

Drs. Francisco and Diane came to the DR to study medicine in 1995 and according to the website, "As their studies came to an end, their hearts were softened by the Lord’s call to stay and serve the least of these with their lives".  All I can say is that He chose very very wisely.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Sanky goes to jail

I was really upset with Mrs Monster so I had a word with Danilo and he agreed to send the sanky to jail for wife stealing.  El Violador is now jailed under the balcony. He has plenty of space and has two of his women for company. One has a couple of chicks and the other sitting on eggs so they aren't that interested in him and he spends the day looking longingly out at the rest of his flock and Mrs Monster.

Meanwhile the rest of his women are in the garden together with Monster and Mrs Monster. I thought maybe Mrs Monster would not be interested in him. Not a chance. Once the sanky was in jail she was straight back to canoodling with him and they are romping around together in the bougainvillea.

And when night fell I wondered what would happen. Would she go back to the cellar where she was with El Violador, even though he was in jail, or would she return to her husband in the dog crate?

So all is well again in chicken land, and, as the Dominicans say, Monster is as happy as a worm (as they live in earth and eat earth so are always happy as never hungry).

Moving on to matters even more important.

When I was in the capital recently, speaking at the Santo Domingo International Women's Club I met several really interesting ladies. One of these was Diane, who is a doctor and I was talking about the health issues here in the campo where I live. Now I consider myself reasonably informed when it comes to medical matters. I was a Queen's Guide and can tie a triangular bandage with a reef knot at the back for a broken arm. I was a diving instructor so I know that you pee on jellyfish stings and I can do CPR. And of course I have watched ER. But that is about it, so when all of these campo people are asking me for help with their diabetes and other illnesses I am stumped. Diane and her husband have a foundation called Corazon del Siervo:  Serving with the heart in English. She chatted to me about how to help with diabetes with some amazing ideas which are simple and which the local people can do. She also promised to come and do a medical mission here.

She contacted me last week and this Sunday, she and her husband plus four more medical professionals will come here to carry out the mission on Monday. Chivirico will be on hand to help of course as being a doctor is on his list of preferred occupations when he grows up along with fireman and President of the country.

There is only one tiny snag.

I thought there would be around 20 people interested, but word got around and we now have well over 100 coming to see them, and they have all put in requests for the medicines they need. I don't think there is one person in the whole campo who is not taking pills for something. It is going to end up being very expensive so if anyone would like to donate by clicking on their website here  it would be much appreciated.

I will report back as to how the day goes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A sad tale of infidelity in the Dominican Republic

You remember Mr and Mrs Monster, the chickens who now live free in the back garden?

Well, things were becoming a little difficult. Firstly the two of them took up residence on the steps leading down from the house. If the door was open they just walked in, much to the annoyance of the dogs. They also blocked the Dominican cat flap (hole in wall) so the cats couldn't get in or out. They asked for food constantly - celery or lettuce or bread, and if you didn't give it to them and shut the door so they could not get in, they just pecked at the door, which is glass and I was sure they would break it.

Secondly the neighbour's beautiful and big cockerel together with his tribe of seven hens were constantly in the back garden, and Monster was terrified of him and kept running off into the woods.

Plus there was another issue. Chivirico was here for Easter week, and we couldn't find Mrs Monster anywhere. Eventually he found here sitting down in the land next door, and look what she was sitting on.

There were 13 eggs. Not quite the chocolate ones for Easter Sunday but it was lovely to see them there.

So we were concerned about the eggs and it was decided to put Mr and Mrs Monster under the balcony which is all fenced in, and very large. We moved the eggs and their nest in there too. They were not happy at all to be in there. In the meantime, Danilo moved another cockerel and his harem of three hens into the back garden so that they could be free and also apparently this cockerel would stand up to the neighbour's cockerel to stop him coming into the garden.

His name is El Violador, the rapist, as he bonks anything with feathers.

There was no sign of the neighbour's cockerel again and Danilo was congratulating himself, until I discovered that on the day that El Violador had been set free, the neighbours had cooked their cockerel for lunch.

As Monster and Mrs Monster were obviously not happy under the balcony, we let them out again. El Violador was not impressed and Monster did a runner every time he saw him too close. He was terrified of him. At night, Monster and his wife went off to bed in a very large dog crate and the Rapist and his harem went to sleep in the cellar.

All was calm. In the day Mrs Monster was within a foot of her husband or sitting on her eggs while he kept watch. As the sun went down everyone went to their respective beds. Until last night. Mrs Monster left Monster and has moved in with El Violador in the cellar.  Monster slept alone in his crate and she slept with her new man just a few yards away. Danilo says that she has gone with the stronger rooster even though she is pregnant with Monsters chicks - well she has the eggs.

I feel heartbroken for Monster. He stands alone at one side of the garden, watching her strutting around with her new man.

He has taken up his position behind the barbecue which is around 60 yards away from his now ex wife.

And watches over his children waiting for them to hatch.

I cannot believe she has done this. They have been together for two years, spent all day every day together, slept together every night,  13 babies on the way, and she has run off with another rooster right under his nose.