Wednesday, October 8, 2014

La Isabela

Hooray! Have new camera so normal blog service will be resumed.

Visitors arrived on Sunday. This time it was Tracy, who has been here several times from the USA and she brought my new camera with her. Also Andrea from Canada, who although she is a DR veteran had not been to the Wasp House, and Tracy's Dominican boyfriend, Mario, who I call Sniff as he is allergic to the dogs and sniffs all the time. Danilo calls him his version of Sniff, Eneef.

So Monday morning, bright and early, I rounded everyone up, including Chivirico who was here for the weekend, and off we set for La Isabela. The reason for going there was threefold. Firstly, La Isabela is the place where Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island and as that is such a momentous historical event I really wanted to see it. Secondly, as we did not celebrate Chivirico's 8th birthday at the swimming pool, I wanted to take him to the ocean and eat fish on the beach. And thirdly, I am in the middle of updating the DK Top Ten Guide to the Dominican Republic, so needed information on La Isabela, a place I had not been to.

The plan was to drive directly north to La Isabela, then from there go west to Playa Ensenada for lunch, as  there are tens of little huts right on the beach which cook fabulous fish, then home. As usual, where Dominicans or the Dominican Republic is involved, the best laid plans of mice and men.....

All went well till we had driven through the town of La Isabela. According to the map we had to turn right to reach the National Park on the coast, where the ruins of Columbus' settlement were. Only there was no right turn. So back to the normal Dominican way of asking. Not once, nor twice, but every other Dominican in sight. And as usual they tell you where to go, even if they have no idea, and every one gives you different directions. Eneef and Danilo did the asking, but almost immediately forgot the directions they were given, hence there was lots of turning round and asking someone else.

The road changed from a tarmac road to a dirt track. I pointed out that this could not be the road as coach tours went to the National Park. I was ignored. We then had to drive through a stream, carefully avoiding the cows drinking and women washing clothes, and then back onto the dirt track. Then we reached a river. Not a stream but something akin to the River Thames in London. A real, fast flowing, deep, proper river.


"No way," I said, and Tracy and Andrea agreed with me. Danilo and Eneef tried to persuade us it wasn't that deep and the vertical dirt track on the other side of the river would be easy to drive up even though we had no four wheel drive. They even got a man to wade out into the river so we could see it wasn't that deep, but as the water reached his waist, that was enough for me. We turned round and went to Playa Ensenada for an early lunch.

Playa Ensenada is a mile or so before Punta Rucia. A lovely beach with loads of little huts lining it, each one selling fresh fish and lobster.


You choose which hut you fancy, and then sit down at the tables which belong to your particular hut, lined up along the beach.



Then they bring the fish out on a tray and you pick out which one you want.


The fish is then cooked it over an open fire, the fogon and served with fried plantain chips, tostones, and fried sweet potato, batata.


It was delicious and afterwards we just sat chilling for a while looking at the view while Chivirico romped in the ocean.


So, I asked Tracy and Andrea what they wanted to do next, and they said they wanted to find La Isabela but that this time we would do it the British/Canadian/American way and not let the Dominican contingent ask every other person and lead us to an uncrossable river. So, map in hand, off we set.

We tried a variety of different routes and didn't seem to be making progress, so stopped to ask a Dominican. He said to go straight down this road, we would reach a baseball field, turn right there and we would come to a river. El Castillo, the place where the ruins are, was just the other side of the river. I asked him what the road was like and he said it was fine. I wasn't falling for that one, so asked if it was stone or tarmac.He said it was stone, but fine. I then asked if there was a bridge over the river and he assured me there was. All bases were covered.

Andrea, Tracy and I smirked at each other. We would show these Dominicans how to navigate and get proper directions. We drove down the dirt road - for a very long way, and at last reached the baseball field. Mutual congratulations all round. We turned right, and as we bumped along the road, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. This was the same bloody road that we had taken to the river before. The men started howling with laughter. We reached the same river and I looked to my left. There was a bridge.


It just didn't have a bit in the middle! Note to self. Next time ask if the bridge goes all the way across the river.

However, it looked as if the river was a lot lower than earlier so Danilo decided to have a go driving across.


It worked, so we all climbed aboard and off we went. The dirt track on the other side of the river soon turned into a proper road which said it was heading for Luperon and Puerto Plata - further west on the north coast and the National Park was just off that road.

The National Park is well organised and there is plenty to see including the ruins of Columbus' house and the rest of the houses for the 1,500 men he brought with him.


There is a tree there which is home to owls - the first time I have actually seen them in the wild.


The guide was excellent and full of information. The part the Dominicans enjoyed the best was the cemetery where 49 people were buried, both Spaniards and Taino Indians.


And what is more, there is a real, dead skeleton of a 37 year old Spaniard who died of malaria. Apparently they can tell he was a Spaniard as opposed to an Indian as his hands are crossed across his chest.


We went to the well laid out museum, grabbed some freshly squeezed orange juice, then it was time to head for home. I asked the best way back and unfortunately the good road only went to Luperon, which was totally the wrong direction for us, so there was nothing for it but to go through the river again. Luckily, although it was higher, we still crossed it with no problem.

All in all a great day trip, well worth it, with lots of laughs along the way.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dominican Dentist

My camera has died. I didn't realise though, how it would affect me blogging. I tend to take pictures of events and situations and then write around them, so with no camera there are no pictures and it is much harder to write. Anyway, a new camera will be en route at the end of the month, when more visitors arrive, so I am very excited about that and normal service will resume.

This last week was a trip to the dentist to fix my broken front tooth. I have never been in a dentist's surgery where there was more than one chair and as I lay there making a big fuss as the man cleaned my teeth by hacking away at the plaque, I suddenly realised there was someone lying next to me, another patient. We each had a dentist and a dental nurse, a CD was playing loudly, and they were all singing. Luckily in tune. My dentist advised me that he couldn't fix my tooth until they were all cleaned so I have to go back in a week to continue the process.

On the way home, in the middle of town, the car made a funny noise and Danilo announced that the "banda" was going. I had no idea what that was but it turned out he was right and 20 seconds later the "banda" went and so did the brakes. How he didn't run into the car in front I have no idea. We got out of the car, stuck in the middle of the lane on a busy road, and a motoconcho ran across to us with a piece of metal he had picked up in the road. The banda was the brake pad, and the bit of metal was a bit of the brakes. He drove off to get a brake mechanic and Danilo went with another motoconcho to buy brake pads.

I stood on the pavement, next to the cemetery, patiently waiting. The mechanic arrived in five minutes, Danilo five minutes later. The motoconchos both directed the traffic whilst both front wheel had new brake pads fitted. Cost was US$3 to each motoconcho, US$25 for the brake pads and US$20 for the mechanic. Total time around 40 minutes.

At times like that I marvel at this country and the efficiency and at other times the bureaucracy is just overwhelming.  I am getting everything together for my citizenship application, but I obtained an apostilled version of my birth certificate last November, and now they decide it has to be issued within the last six months. Why on earth do they say that? The details won't change at all - but the rules are the rules.

I am busy at the moment fact checking the DK Top Ten Guide to the Dominican Republic which is something I did 2 years ago. Checking through it it makes me realise I have so many places still to visit, so next on my list will be La Isabela where Columbus first landed as it sounds very interesting. I will wait till I have my new camera though.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Excuses, excuses


Again too much time has gone by since I blogged and my only excuse has been I have been busy. So why, you may ask yourself and how can one be too busy to write a little blog?

Well, a variety of reasons.  Firstly Danilo has decided to run yet again for mayor of where we used to live. Hey ho. Apparently this time it will be different. We will see.


What that means is that he is away back there a lot, which means I have to do everything here on my own as we usually share the household and animal tasks between us.

So a typical day now starts with waking at 3 am when the cocks all crow, then they shut up after 10 minutes so it is back to blissful sleep until they start again at 5 am and keep going for two hours. Add to that noise, the dogs scratching at the door to get in, the cats miaowing to be fed, and it becomes a total waste of time to try and sleep.


So up I get and firstly let the dogs out to pee. Pandora one of the 8 month old puppies is on heat, so she has to be tied up on a long tie thingy at the back and her brother and father out the front, so there is no chance of hanky panky. As the father is a husky and Panda and Pandora half huskies, they don’t bark they howl and given that the boys want nooky they howl and howl and howl on and off all day long. I wish there was a vet here so we could get them fixed.

Pandora on the right and Panda the left

At night Panda is shut in the dog house with his dad and Pandora upstairs. She used to be shut in downstairs but Panda managed to jump out of the dog house onto the balcony, open the patio doors and get in. When Danilo returned after I had had a sleepless night when Panda kept escaping and howling on the balcony, he said he would fix it. I expected him to nail more wood on top to make the railing higher. What a surprise it didn't  quite happen like that and instead I got a Danilo special Dominican solution. It works anyway although there is now a lack of chairs to sit on.


So back to the morning routine and once the dogs are sorted, then it is time for the puppies. Meg had 9 pups which are all 5 weeks old now.


Again they make lots of noise, want lots of food and take up more time.

Once pups and dogs and cats are sorted, it is time to sort the chickens. They are spread around in four different homes, and each coop needs cleaning, and corn and water giving.

Then it is time to get down to work. As I mentioned, I lost my main job, but I have managed to find a job writing articles for an American. This pays one cent a word. The more I write the more I earn and everyday he sends me a list of things to do and they are all on a deadline so it is literally nose to the grindstone and takes around 10 hours a day, seven days a week.  I have to write in American English as well.  It is hard work and allows little time for anything else but it does keep the wolf from the door.

In addition, DRsisterhood is going well, so I have investigations and work to do for the site members as well as chatting to them on a daily basis. I am helping someone find a house here, providing information on the labour laws to another, helping another sort a Dominican birth certificate, another get their Dominican identity card and lots more.

As well as all that, the housework has to be done, daily sweeping, mopping, cooking, washing up before crawling into bed by 8 pm, ready to do it all again the next day.

I know it is a bit of a long winded excuse for not blogging – but it’s the truth!


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Visitors been and gone

So the house was almost clean and there was one day to go until the visitors arrived.It was mid afternoon and  I was busy working, in my scruffy work clothes and hadn't given a thought as to what to have for dinner that night. Suddenly the dogs started barking and there was a big white minivan taxi at the gate. My brain started whirring, who was it and then they appeared. The visitors, a day early, to surprise me. Don't you just hate it when people do that?  I thought I had the day wrong at first until they yelled surprise! A chicken had to be taken out of the freezer to defrost, Chivirico rushed upstairs to shower and change, and I frantically tried to get my days work finished.

They arrived laden with goodies, such as clothes, chocolate, a new hammock, basmati rice, and even real American steak which we barbecued. It was absolutely gorgeous.


The first outing was to the local river together with a picnic.


It is a beautiful quiet spot, as long as you go during the week as it is invaded at weekends. We had it to ourselves for a while, but even mid week a massive group of beer and rum drinking Dominicans arrived and all piled into the river fully clothed - as they do. Chivirico adored it of course.


The highlight of the week was to go to a concert featuring three top Dominican bands. Although I have seen many smaller bands since I have been here, I have never been to a proper concert. The first issue with them is the time. They start late, and I mean really late. We didn't leave the house until 11 pm, just as I was ready for bed. The first artist was a typical merengue group - El Prodigio and he came on at about midnight.



I was expecting it to be loud but not that loud. Your whole body vibrated from the inside out with the base as if your heart was about to explode. A most peculiar feeling but I had to get used to it as it went on for hours. It didn't help as we were close to the stage which meant a great view, but also meant we were only a few feet from the speakers. El Prodigio was good and played for about an hour or so and then there was a short break and on came Fernando Villalona who is apparently also very famous and also merengue. I was told he was also very rich so I don't understand why he couldn't afford decent clothes.


Finally, the one I had been waiting for, Zacarias Ferreira, whose music I love. He came on stage at 3.30 in the morning. The trouble was, it was so late that people started to leave and by the time he finished at gone 5 am, there were only a few people left and the atmosphere, which had been amazing, was non existent.



We arrived home as dawn was breaking and the bloody cocks were crowing. It has been so long since I have been up all night not sure I would do it again. The post concert tiredness took a few days to go away and the visitors had to spend the rest of their stay having afternoon snoozes. Lightweights.

Other excursions happened during the week such as trips to local towns, and Chivirico had to go back to the fire station of course.


They left last Tuesday and life has quickly returned to normal. The visitors calendar is now empty until October, but the fridge is still stocked with chocolate which is well hidden behind a packet of frozen sprouts.

We are still waiting for rain, Tropical Storm Bertha which was supposed to hit us the night of the concert, didn't arrive and as I type this she is battering the UK instead. It was amazing to take my daily look at the hurricane warning websites and see this:



It makes a change to see hurricanes going from west to east rather than vice versa!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The heat goes on

Another three weeks disappeared in a flash.

We are in the middle of a heatwave which has been going on for 2 months now, with only a couple of days of rain which is strange as we are supposed to be in the rainy season. During the day temperatures are in the 90s even here in the mountains and apart from the heat we have no water.

The whole country is experiencing the drought and we normally get water delivered every 2 weeks by pipeline but now they are delivering none at all so we have to buy it from the water truck. This is not cheap. It costs RD$1600 which is around US$40 for enough water to last a couple of weeks and that is without watering the garden or washing the cars.


I have no idea where the water trucks get the water from or if they have to pay for it. One thing is for sure and that is that someone somewhere is getting rich from the drought. We buy water to drink and that costs RD$30 for a five gallon bottle and we use two a week. In some parts of the country, where they can't afford a whole truck load and they have no access to a river, they buy the drinking water to use to shower and wash dishes. Now the price of drinking water is also going up - in some instances up to RD$100 for a bottle. A three fold increase.

However a two edged sword might solve the water problem. This has been a very quiet hurricane season but there is a potential one on the horizon to be named Bertha if she develops. Just in time for two visitors i have arriving on Wednesday for a week.


We have spent the last week cleaning house and garden in preparation for the arrival of 2 of the sisters from DRsisterhood. All of the local men are beside themselves with excitement and sprucing themselves up hoping to get lucky! One even sent round yuca, mangoes and avocados hoping it would improve his chances.


I will report back after they have left. All sorts of things are planned like going to a concert, day out at the river, sitting in a park eating empanadas and they will be bring loads of US and Canadian food with them including the all important Cadbury chocolate so I can't wait! Chivirico is beside himself with excitement and has been collecting eggs each day and baking.

Watch this space - even the dogs are watching and waiting!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Storms, cows and chicks

Goodness where does the time go? I had no idea it has been 3 weeks since I last blogged. Well as usual nothing stays calm for long here.

The first problem has been that it looks like I will be losing my biggest freelance job which is our main source of income so it has been time to look for something to fill the considerable gap. There is no social security here so if you don't have money coming in there is no back up. The DRsisterhood site is providing some income and I am enjoying helping people out on there and in addition I have registered with several freelance job sites and managed to pick up writing the odd article and brochure here and there which has been interesting. I am now like those actors who say they can ride a horse to get the part - I say I can write about anything!

Obviously to be able to work as a freelance writer you need to have internet and electricity. Last week there was a massive storm. It started at three in the afternoon and this is what it looked like outside.


I ran around the house unplugging everything, as you do before a storm, and then it started. Torrential rain and massive claps of thunder with lightning all over the place. The electricity went off - they usually turn it off in a storm in case trees bring a line down and someone gets fried. One bang shook the whole house and I wondered if we had been hit. In between mopping the water which seems to come in through every window I was desperately trying to get an article finished for a deadline using a usb stick for internet and the lap top battery. I made it just as the battery died.

The electricity didn't come back until it was dark and I only knew it was back as the shout rang out around the campo "Llego la luz!". It had arrived everywhere but not in my house. A neighbour came to help me investigate and he discovered the main switch was set to 'off' which I thought was odd. The switch is in the basement where a couple of hens, a cockerel and 24 chicks are currently living, so I thought maybe the hens had pecked it to 'off'. He switched it back to 'on' and hey presto there was light.

Until I went upstairs, which was in pitch darkness and I couldn't find the light switch. Further investigation revealed that I couldn't find the switch as it wasn't there any more. It had been blown off the wall, as had all of the light switches and all of the plug sockets. The internet was fried and there had been a fire where the transformer for the modem was. Which I had been blissfully unaware of. The water pump didn't work and nor did the hot water nor the internet - probably as the transformer was now a melted blob on the wall.

To cut a very long story short, the internet aerial on the roof had been hit by lightning and taken out everything electrical upstairs. Luckily as I had unplugged everything, we just need to fix the electrics and buy a new transformer, internet receiver at the top of the aerial, plugs and light bulbs. The internet is now fixed, but took a while as the internet man has had his phone cut off. He has now told me to add him to Eskippy. I had no idea what he was wittering on about until he wrote it down for me - Skype. I explained how it was pronounced and that Eskippy was actually a kangaroo, but he told me I was wrong as there was an 'e' at the end and you couldn't just ignore it. And he had never heard of Eskippy being a kangaroo. Eskippy it was and Eskippy it stays.

Anyway, the water is now fixed too and the electrician is coming tomorrow for the rest. As well as fixing everything he will earth the house which should help next time. Assuming he knows what he is doing which is far from certain.

I thought that would be it on the bad luck front, but yesterday afternoon, one of the pups started barking and I looked up, and there chomping on my parsley in the garden was an enormous brown cow. All of his friends and relations were just behind him. It took about an hour to get them all out of the garden and one of my neighbours said I had to get money off the owner of the cows. The law of the campo is taken very seriously and the cow owner would have to pay for the damage. The next thing I knew, the local mayor turned up. He must be around 90 years old and carried out a full inspection of the garden, then pronounced that he would tell the owner to pay RD$5,000 pesos for the damage. Danilo felt uncomfortable about this, so it was agreed that the owner would instead receive a final warning, but the next time his cows invaded us he would have to pay.

And finally, something to warm the cockles of my heart, even with all this chaos and stress going on there is always something to make you smile. I mentioned the two hens and 24 chicks and the cockerel in the basement. Each hen has 12 chicks but one of the mothers is a nasty piece of work and attacks the other chicks, so she has been moved out. I went to check on her chicks to see if the other hen was looking after them. I didn't realise before, that after chicks are born they all sleep under their mums to keep warm, so I was hoping there was enough room for all of them under the one mother down there.

It was not the case. Dad had stepped up to the challenge and he was looking after all of the chickens!


They were all over him, including on his back. Life in paradise.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The gift of the old

This has been a sad week. I have a friend in Canada, married to a Dominican and they have a beautiful little girl. My friend’s mother died of cancer this week and whilst I was obviously very sad for her loss, I was thinking about what a shame it is that her daughter will grow up without her grandmother.
When I was a child I adored my grandmother – my mother’s mother. I continued to adore her all her life until she died, aged 99, in 2006 the day before Danilo and I had our marriage blessed in church in the UK.


She used to let me win card games and board games so that I wouldn't be upset if I lost and I think about that now as I play card games with Chivirico. I don't have to let him win though, as he beats me anyway.

I used to call her every week, however when I was shot I tried to call her, but as my voice was no longer strong she couldn't hear me. No one wanted to tell her I had been shot and so I think she probably wondered why I was no longer calling her. At least I saw her the day before she died and she recognized me and knew I was there with her.


Danilo’s sons also spent fabulous holidays with their grandfather when he was alive, up in the mountains above Barahona. (Not sure they will thank me for this picture!)


Behind me lives an old man, Feluche, with his son and daughter and their family. Feluche is 83 and his brother, who was in his 90's died last week. Feluche’s daughter was telling me that he is now the last surviving child out of 18 of them and was feeling depressed and very aware of his own mortality and refusing to eat.
I went to see him and asked him to do me a favour. Chivirico is with us for the summer holidays and I asked Feluche to teach him all about the country ways.  I can teach him maths and how to read and write but I cannot teach him all the things which Feluche knows. The medicinal properties of all the different plants here. How to look after and ride a horse. How to milk cows and goats. How to grow Dominican vegetables. To tell him about what it was like when he was growing up all those years ago.

The older generation has so much information, knowledge and wisdom to pass on, and often grandchildren do not take advantage of them. The relationship a grandchild has with his or her grandparents can be something very special.


Every morning now, Chivirico rushes round to Feluche for his daily lesson. And Feluche is eating again.

On another note. Back to the chickens again. The ugly ones with no feathers on their necks are turning into monsters. Ugly monsters at that. Chivirico took one to be weighed on the scales at the local colmado and he was nine and a half pounds!


We have had another 15 chicks born as well. What with hens and chickens, cats and dogs there is a definite animal take over bid happening in this house.


Still, the floor is quite comfortable.