So the recent return of the rains got me to thinking. Never a good thing! Am I right? It leads to things like blogging!

I was thinking about how rain affects us differently here than where we come from. The different ways it impacts our lives.

The most obvious is, of course, accomplishing laundry. This is on my mind because my roommate’s laundry has now been on the line for three days.

We need, what I call the trifecta, in order to do laundry. This means we need water, power and sunshine. Together. Because the majority of us don’t have a dryer. And water is not always supplied by the water company. And power is not always supplied by the power company. You need to be sure you have all three in sufficient quantity in order to even consider beginning a load of laundry.

So you can begin by checking your cisterna’s water level. If it’s low but clean clothes have become an urgent matter, you check the tinaco and hope there’s sufficient water in there to get you through a load or two.

If the water situation is good you move on to power. Now back in the day when we had scheduled outages you would go on the Edenorte website and look up the schedule for that day, for your sector, and then you added at least an hour to either side of the outage to be safe. Now that we have alleged 24-hour power you just sort of cross your fingers and hope for the best. Because while you might think clothes left in a powerless washer are just getting an extra soak, in this country they will be starting to mildew and get pretty darn funky.

So with faith in an unfaithful power supply, you forge ahead. You check the sky. In all directions. And even if you see abundant sunshine at the moment you know better than to just trust that. This is the tropics and tropical weather is, and this is an understatement, unpredictable. You check a weather forecast. Maybe two. And if you think the odds are in your favour, you pray to whatever god or other being you think has some pull and you start your washer.

You don’t have a dedicated laundry day or time. You are at the whims of so many things. It’s a little bit of luck, a little bit of magic and a whole lot of thankfulness that you bought those extra knickers.

Now on to leaks. Or as we call it here – infiltration.

Our houses are block and cement. Blocks are porous. Cement is porous. Especially in older homes, where who knows what ratio of water to cement they may have used to mix up the batch of cement that covers your blocks. Who am I kidding? Even these days you can’t be sure. Constant rain means constantly wet walls. Walls that eventually wick up and absorb that water like an adult diaper.

And the majority of our roofs are flat and while there are drains and pipes sticking out from the walls to remove the water, we all know, from any floods in our bathrooms, that nothing here is actually ever graded toward the drain. So only once the water reaches a certain depth on your roof does it start to drain. But water will be left in all the low lying areas of your roof. Looking, like a thief, for a place to get in. And all the fixes you try only ever seem temporary in the face of heavy, unending tropical rains.

And then your paint peels inside and outside. And your walls and ceilings start to develop mould. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it until the rains stop. And then you have to have the patience to wait at least a month for everything to truly dry out so you can start all over again with whatever is the latest and greatest new fix – this time hoping it is permanent or at least a lot less temporary than the last.

And finally, there is your social life. Most of our favourite places to eat and drink are outside or open to the air. Very open to the air. This is wonderful on warm tropical nights. We love being under a canopy of stars or trees. We love hearing the ocean as we dine and feeling the sand under our feet as we share cocktails with friends.

Not so much in rainy season. It puts a damper on things, quite literally. But you can’t say you are truly aplatanado until you are willing to sit crammed together under a dripping roof, in rain gear with umbrellas open and a piece of plastic sheeting wall as the only protection between you and the elements, to enjoy your Happy Hour. Or eat your fried fish or plate of the day.

And while this might not paint the romantic image that people want or expect of tropical life, it really, for most of us who choose to live here, is a part of the charm of living here. It unites us. And it means we haven’t got as much time to be too concerned with the things that cause the ‘real world’ such anguish and depression and anger.

Life isn’t always easy here. And as we say ‘Siempre hay algo’ – there’s always something. But those somethings teach us patience. And those somethings bring us back to the important things in life. And those somethings give us a sense of community.

And those somethings mold us into new, and often, more tolerant people.

So let it rain. And if you need me, well, I’ll be mopping up the flood on my floor, and blow-drying my laundry and gathering my rain gear to take to Happy Hour!

 

So yesterday was one of those days. One of those WTF days. One of those days you have to bite your tongue not to ask ‘Why?’ days.

My day yesterday started at about 2:30 am. This was the time that the San Felipe planta decided to ramp up. I think there must be a law that says they have to produce the most noise possible in the middle of the night. Or they are just sadistic so and so’s! I don’t know, but the noise was so loud there was no chance of getting back to sleep. Though I did catch up on my reading!

By the time I got out of bed my head was aching and rather fuzzy. And the noise wasn’t over yet. When I hit the street for my morning walk with Mia some trick of the air or the terrain created surround sound planta screech. Until we got far enough away we were just enveloped in noise. Oh, and did I mention the toxic bunker fuel smell? No? Well, there was a heavy crude diesel smell all night too.

As the morning progressed the planta subsided somewhat. But then the heavy trucks started roaring up our road in what seemed like an endless stream. Up our rough road, rattling violently along and grinding gears and spewing their own toxic diesel stink and clouds of dust.

You’re getting the picture here, right? Long noisy night. Long noisy morning.

So I finally take my lunch break. Sit down with my sandwich to eat and watch a little Netflix and focus my eyes on something further away than a computer screen. Turn the volume up to compensate for the planta roar and pause my show for the trucks. I’m dealing with it. I think.

And then the helicopters start. Right over my house. One every 5 minutes or so it seems. It’s like being in an episode of M*A*S*H. I expect to hear Radar yelling ‘incoming’ from my yard. I turn the TV off so as not to wear out the pause button.

Okay, so now we’ve got constant planta roar, frequent truck rattle and roar and even more frequent helicopter thith thith thith roar.

Oh and, of course, the occasional loud moto roar.

I try deep breathing. I would try chanting ‘ommm’ but I don’t think I can handle the additional noise.

I go back to my desk and try to get something done. I try to ignore it. I try to get used to it. It can’t get any worse.

Oh, but yes it can.

The planta releases pressure and the noise from the middle of the night suddenly seems like a lullaby. It’s now an ear-piercing, high-pitched, hot poker through the head, god knows how many decibels screaming sound.  

You can’t breathe deep enough to deal with this. It’s hard to even breathe because this noise is just ripping through your body now.

Is it rum o’clock yet?

But there’s an upside. I can’t even hear the rattling and roaring trucks anymore. Or the thith thith thith roaring helicopters. Or the loud roaring motos.  It’s surreal. I can see them drive by or fly over but I can’t hear them. This is what it must feel like to be deaf.

Except for the planta screaming. Please somebody put it out of its misery! Or me out of mine.

And it got me thinking of the things we get used to here. In this case – noise.

I barely even hear the roosters crowing at odd hours anymore. Or the chickens sounding like they are laying an egg – which they probably are. Or the dogs barking. Or even the loud music or evangelical preacher coming up from the barrio. These are just part of my environment now. Just background noise.

And, for the most part, the motos and trucks are the same. I take a deep breath, pause and then go on. It’s just life here.

The planta quietly roaring in the background and spewing plumes of smoke into the air is not ideal, but I tell myself that it means we have power most of the time now.

And I have even come to terms with the helicopters – to a certain extent. Kinda.

We get used to these ambient noises. We adapt. We deal.

There’s a lot we get used to here (I actually spelt that hear at first – Freudian much!) that I don’t think many of us thought would be possible in our former lives.

But eventually the noise subsided and it was finally rum o’clock and all of it disappeared with the laughter and good company of wonderful friends. Listening to the sound of the ocean as our background music.

 

This one may be controversial. It is definitely a departure from what I normally do. I like to keep things light. I like to see the humour in where and how I live.

And that’s kind of what got me into this. You see I posted a picture on Facebook of a goat on the back of a moto without a helmet. And another friend posted a picture of a pig in a basket ‘going to market’ on the back of a moto. And there was blowback for both of us. And that’s fine, because everyone is allowed to feel how they feel about everything. But it got me thinking about different realities and different perceptions and different perceptions of reality.

You see the goat, to me, was a statement on the conditions of life here. A social commentary if you will. That they make a law that says the driver of a moto has to have a helmet on but not the passenger(s). So as long as he is wearing a helmet he can put four wee children on the back and drive like a maniac through the crazy and often dangerous traffic of Puerto Plata and it’s all good. It’s all legal. I now try to take carros or guaguas instead of motos. It’s only marginally safer considering the condition of the vehicles and the lack of driving skills of the driver and it’s actually cheaper, but it’s also a lot less convenient. And I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to make that choice. And I’m fortunate enough that I usually get a ride in a friend’s car to get where I need to go and don’t have to make that choice often. For many a moto is the only choice. So I guess I didn’t really see the goat as an abused animal. My reality is different and my perception of reality is different. And I guess I feel you aren’t going to get a goat to ride behind you on a moto if he doesn’t want to. But I get that other’s see it differently. And so I felt bad.

As I’m sure my friend does about her pig post. But that pig has to get to market. That’s the reality. And a moto is most often the only viable way they have to do it here. And it’s okay for you to be vegetarian and animal rights advocate – that’s your reality, from where you are. I’m big on humane treatment of animals. Their reality is a bit less cut and dry. A lot harsher. That pig is the way they will keep their family fed. A roof over their heads. Clothes on their backs. They can’t afford to feel sorry for that animal. They, literally, can’t afford to find a more humane to transport it.

And yes, I hate seeing those emaciated horses pulling carts down the road. Man, I hate it. But again, it’s their livelihood. It’s what they know. Find them a viable alternative. Or give them a supply of feed and medicine for the horse to keep it healthy. Because, odds are, they probably barely have enough to keep themselves and their family fed and healthy.

And maybe we become inured to it. Maybe we have to. Because on the other side of all the sunshine and beaches and rum and freedom we get to enjoy by living here, well, is the darker side of people living in some pretty extreme poverty. So maybe we do develop a bit of gallows humour. And a bit of a tougher hide. Maybe we do stuff down some things that shock us or break our hearts. Maybe we do the best we can to help and try not to realize that our best might not be good enough. Especially to the real world. And maybe we already feel bad enough about that. Because we know that even if we are struggling to get by, we are still living a more privileged life than so many and we have choices they don’t. The ultimate one being, for most of us – we can leave.

So forgive us if we seem to make light of some of the darker things we experience here. We aren’t horrible people. We are doing what we can and just trying our best to deal with and understand the rest of it.

I have been called a bleeding heart liberal more times than I can even remember. And I’m good with that. Because yes, if it was within my means and power, I would wave my magic wand and make everything beautiful and safe and wonderful. I would make sure every child got to school safely and got a great education. I would make sure every animal was loved and treated humanely. I would make sure every family had a safe and comfortable place to live and lots to eat and access to great medical care. I would make sure everyone was treated with respect for who they are and what they contribute. I would make it a world of rainbows and unicorns. Wouldn’t we all?

But we all live with certain realities. And we all have our perceptions of those realities. And we all do the best we can to help and effect change. And we all learn to cope with what we can’t change or help. Living here has changed my perceptions. And I know for myself that I can’t take it all on. The weight of it would literally crush me, my heart, and my spirit. It almost has at times. And so I sometimes make light of it.

And I can’t honestly say that if it was a choice between the survival of my family, and the comfort of a goat or a pig or a horse, that I wouldn’t do the same. It would be with a heavy, breaking heart but sometimes that’s reality.

And if you are privileged enough to live somewhere or be in a position to have a different reality, a kinder reality and a whole other set of perceptions of life, then just take a moment and try to perceive what it’s like for people living a harsher reality. You can bet they are doing that about your life.

This isn’t meant to be critical of anyone’s feelings about things or perceptions of life and how it should be. Please carry on being those wonderful crusaders and effectors of change. But when you see something that isn’t in line with your perception or your reality or your perception of reality, just pause, and realize it may be in line with the other person’s. And give them the benefit of the doubt.

 

So today our beautiful, normal, sunny, warm weather came back. And believe me, there is rejoicing everywhere. And even better is the fact that we seem to have a long stretch of it ahead of us. 

Now many who are not here, and are in climates much more frigid than we can even imagine anymore, saw a lot of us complaining about how damn cold it was. And we took some pretty good hits for it.

Don’t get us wrong. We know the conditions all of you, who are not with us here in paradise, are suffering. And our complaints are, for the most part, in jest. We know we are lucky. But the fact of the matter is – we were freezing! 

You see, rainy season started with a vengeance in early November and we haven’t seen a lot of sun since then. And this last stretch came with, literally, a wind chill factor. The winds were practically hurricane force and the seas were fierce and the rain never seemed to end. And we shivered.

Now 19˚C or 67˚F may not seem like anything to complain about, but when you live most of the time with temperatures closer to 30˚C or 86˚F with a crazy humidex factor, well, you can see how it might have been a shock to our systems. And we usually end the fall with temperatures and humidity you don’t even want to know about. 

We aren’t equipped for it. Most of our houses are open and airy. And cement and tile. Wonderful in the heat of summer. Not so great when things turn nippy. We can’t close things up and turn on the heat. In fact, if you are lucky enough to have a car with functioning heat you are sorely tempted to spend the night sleeping in it.

And our wardrobes aren’t exactly built for cold temperatures either. Most of us have a few basic pieces of cold weather gear – well, really, cool weather gear. And we won’t lie. Every year when the heat breaks and the temperatures drop and a normal rainy season starts we love to break out the jeans and long-sleeve shirts. And the sweaters or jackets. And the closed toe shoes and socks. And we all make comments to each other about how nice we look. After endless months in shorts and tank tops and flip flops we feel like we are all dressed up for a formal occasion. It’s a novelty.

But a season like this pushes us to our sartorial limits. When you’ve alternated those two long-sleeved shirts all week for weeks and weeks and worn the same sweater over them and the stains on your jeans are starting to show and that one pair of socks now has a hole in the toe – well, it gets old fast.

Then there’s the fact that it’s almost impossible to do laundry. Oh, you can wash your clothes but good luck getting them to dry. We’ve all put on something to go out that’s a wee bit more than just damp. You can imagine how that adds to the chill factor. And we’ve all had to rewash those clothes because they start to mildew from the dampness before they can dry.

But we know it will get sunny and warm again. And we aren’t trapped by snow and ice storms. We don’t have to dig our way out of our houses only to have to dig our car out of a snowbank.

And we can always still go to Happy Hour on the beach. We’ll throw on those same damp clothes and go out. Because very little keeps us from getting together to enjoy a drink or two with friends. 

 

The other day I posted some pictures of the views during my morning walk with Mia and a dear friend, who is no longer living here, commented ‘MY mountain’. I knew what she meant. We all have something about this place that we call ours.

Another good friend calls the rock poking out of the ocean near the Puerto Plata harbour her rock. It’s what she sees when she’s having her coffee on her patio on her first morning back after a lengthy absence. Her rock welcomes her home.

These things we call ours ground us here. If we are away they are touchstones or talismans that pull us back here or maybe just transport us back to the memory of this place. To this home.

For some people it’s a favourite sea grape tree on the beach where they spend lazy days reading and relaxing. Others claim the whole beach. And others even claim the whole ocean. Or even the whole sky. 

But it can be your favourite stool in your favourite watering hole. Or that little Dominican restaurant that serves your favourite plato del dia. That perfect spot on the wall of the Malecon under the trees watching the ocean all day. Or a bench in Parque Central. 

We all claim something as ours.

But in reality, I think these things claim us. Just like this country did.

It starts claiming you when you first arrive. It’s the air full of so many smells. It’s the feel of the humidity wrapping itself around you. It’s the cacophony of noises. It’s the taste of that first frosty Presidente or Bohemia. Or that first icy Cuba Libre. It’s enjoying that Pina Colada made right in the pineapple on a hot sandy beach. That first cup of Santo Domingo coffee watching the sun rise over the ocean. The first bite of a crunchy hot tostone. It’s sitting listening to the ocean rushing in hour after hour endlessly. It’s all this and more.

It’s all these things that make us say things like – I can’t wait until I see my rock again. It’ll all be alright again when I see my mountain. Or I know I’m home when I see my ocean. Can’t wait to taste an ice cold Presidente at my favourite watering hole.

We all claim and are claimed.

And me. Well I love so much about this country. But if I have to pick – I guess I was claimed by Costambar. Warts and all. From my very first day on this island so very many years ago, this felt like home. It said you belong here. This funky, crazy, weird little piece of paradise. And I still feel that way every time I come through that entrance.

 

 

Well the blog got off to a great start and then came to a screeching halt for a few days. And not because of writer’s block. Oh no, quite the opposite. I have several partly written posts as my mind jumped from one idea to the next. But then I started thinking things like would people be interested in this? And maybe I should really be writing about this. And maybe there should be some order to this.

And then I realized what I’ve always known – my mind is pretty random. Thoughts connect in weird and wonderful ways. I’m the queen of non sequiturs. Believe me – it’s quite the ride sometimes. So no more shoulds, woulds or what if’s. Just ramblings in no particular order and for no particular reason.

And so with that in mind, here is today’s random post.

The rains have come back with a vengeance. I, for one, am having November flashbacks. Luckily, we haven’t reached that intensity again. B
ut I started thinking about the flooding and how bad it was and hoping it didn’t happen again.

And staring out the window at the intense rain, I was watching as a torrent of water passed by on the road in front of the house. Down what has now become basically a canyon sized river bed since the first floods. After that getting down our road became an extreme sport. Like watching thos
e shows where monster trucks compete to see who can traverse the roughest terrain. Watching anyone walk down the road was like watching someone failing a drunk test as they weaved their way over and between rocks and crevasses.

One day I looked out to see a cement truck stopped in front of the house. I was elated! I’ve seen other places on our road where these trucks will expel the last of their load before heading back to Puerto Plata. Bring it on! This feeling was short-lived as I watched it sputter out the tiniest bit of watery cement. Like trying to fill in the Grand Canyon with a bucket of cement. Later another truck did dump a bigger load but for some reason it ended up with dozens of big, deep footprints in it effectively making it, well, not very effective. And a great place for standing water and mosquito breeding.

Then a few days later, about the time other Costambar potholes were being filled with dirt to try and alleviate some of the driving difficulty, there was a great deal of crashing and breaking noise on our street.

Turns out some of our larger potholes were being filled with broken ceramic tile. Piles of it. Obviously from someone’s home improvement project.

This made for some tricky driving as they were literal piles. Like little ceramic mountains. Luckily, and this is the only time you will hear me say luckily about this, we get lots of big trucks and equipment on our street. And they crushed them easily.

But for days, honestly, it sounded like a Greek wedding on our street – what with all the breaking ceramic. Every time a vehicle went down our street, crushing tons of porcelain in its wake, you felt that any minute you would hear shouts of ‘Opa!’ and that maybe a Greek wedding party would be joyously dancing a Syrtos down the street.

On the up side – it was virtually impossible for anyone to sneak down our road. Even on foot, you made a hell of a racket. You would have had to zip line down our road for us to not know you were coming.

The vehicles have smashed it to small pieces and compacted it down to acceptable levels over time. In fact, looking at it this morning on our walk, I noticed continued rain and traffic have actually managed to push it down below the (remaining) asphalt.

It should make a nice base if one of those cement trucks has an inclination to dump it dredges.

 

A wise man once told me, when I was tending bar at his establishment, that if, every time I asked the question ‘why’ about life down here I put a peso in a jar, I would end up a very rich woman. Not that I didn’t already know, after so many years living la vida loca, that there often isn’t any discernable logic to life here in the DR – I did. Still, it was a good reminder. And you know – I wish I’d followed his advice.

So, let’s talk about some of these things that often seem so illogical to us expats and tourists. When you first come here it all seems so quirky and charming. You eat it up. Look at me in this strange new world. Not long down the road, it starts to eat you up. No matter how acclimatized or ‘aplatanado’ you think you are, you are going to find yourself asking why a number of times a day.

Why is that moto/car coming the wrong way down this one way street?

Why did he just give me a dirty look when he was going the wrong way?

Why does everybody only drive at night with high beams?

Why is he passing on this hill/curve?

Why does buying two 20oz bags of something end up costing me less than the 32oz bag?

Why is this guy passing me on the right when I’m signaling a right hand turn?

Why did my motoconcho tell me he knew where I wanted to go when clearly he doesn’t and I am now on a Puerto Plata city tour?

Why is the driver of my carro/guagua trying to fit one extra person (or two) into a vehicle where we are already sitting on each other’s laps?

Why doesn’t my mechanic do any work on my car unless I’m standing right there?

Why doesn’t my mechanic actually have any of the tools necessary to work on my car?

Why does it take a minimum of three people for me to purchase a PVC elbow joint at the ferreteria?

Why does my plumber need me to buy him a new can of PVC cement every time he comes to fix the pipes?

Why doesn’t mañana actually mean tomorrow?

Why, if they can give me candies or chiclets as change, can’t I use them to purchase something from them?

Why can’t anybody be on time?

Why doesn’t my motoconcho driver ever have any change?

Why when I ask for a hamburger do I always get a cheeseburger?

Why did the bag boy just pack my loaf of bread under my bag of dog food?

Why did the cashier just throw my carefully chosen tomatoes down the counter like they are bowling balls?

Well you get the picture. It goes on endlessly. Really it does.

The good news is that once you realize you will never truly know the answer to the question why in the Dominican Republic, well, life gets easier. You’ll still ask. You’ll probably never stop asking. But then you’ll just shake your head, have a private laugh and say what we all say – Only in the Dominican Republic! And when you go to Happy Hour you’ll have a heck of a story to tell!

Now pardon me while I go put a peso or two in a jar.

 

Admit it. How many of you came here thinking I made a typo? How many even noticed it might be?

Well I didn’t. Remember I said I was going to write about bizarre things I find on my morning dog walks? This is going to be one of those posts.

I have a strange and compelling urge to take pictures of all the lost shoes I see while I’m out and about. 

(How many of you realized I’m Canadian and translated it to ‘oot and aboot’ and laughed to yourselves? And for the record – I don’t say it that way. I also don’t snore!)

But I digress.

See, I understand the shoes that wash up on the beach. They’ve come down the rivers from barrios and the campo. Or have fallen off passing boats. These I can understand. Or you are having a fun afternoon on the beach and leave a shoe behind because, you know – rum! Also, relatable.

But so many are in weird places. On the side of the road. In the middle of the road. Halfway under a gate. In a field. At the base of a tree. In a ditch at the side of the road.

Are people losing a shoe and walking on with one bare foot? Have they mysteriously lost a shoe, like a sock in the dryer, and then abandon the other wherever the whim strikes them?

And some are in pairs. Who ditches a perfectly good pair of shoes? Did it have something to do with rum?

I’ve even found a snorkeling fin. Okay, not technically a shoe, but how does a snorkeling fin end up in a field in Costambar?

Okay, the Crocs I can understand. You’re walking along and look down and suddenly realize ‘Oh my god, I’m wearing Crocs!’ and you toss the offending things as far away as you can – in opposite directions so no other poor fool thinks it’s a good idea to wear them – and you walk away barefoot knowing you have regained at least some of your dignity.

Flip flops. Lots of flip flops. So many flip flops. Really, if you can’t keep your flip flops on your feet you need to consider tie up shoes. Or maybe slip-ons. Or, hell, even Crocs!

Now kids’ shoes, well, kids lose shoes. They blow a bootie like their feet have ejector buttons. It used to break my heart to see them until I remembered how many shoes my brother threw out the car window or hid under the porch. Kid hated wearing shoes.

One day I will do a photo album of all the shoes I have photographed. I’ll title it Lost Soles. You’ll love it.

Till the next time – try to keep your shoes on your feet people! Or don’t – my obsession must be satisfied.

Oh and before you start in on me about the Crocs – I know a lot of people who wear them. I still talk to them. When no one is watching!

 

So when I said I would do a blog, well, it seemed like such a great idea at the time. I’m trying to remember if maybe rum was involved. Because when it came time to produce I was very much like “What the heck was I thinking? What will I write about? Who will read it?”

In a nutshell, I froze. 

But then I thought, I could write about my latest J-C car adventure. Where I ended up on an early morning tour of Javillar because all the cars were full and one car took a few of us down into the barrio to try and find an empty car since they were all in Javillar picking up school kids who didn’t want to take motos to school on a rainy day. And the way that a road made for maybe two cars to pass can seem to make way for at least four cars to get through is the same principal in the Dominican Republic as a car made for five passengers can always take at least eight .

Or I could write about the smell of roasting pigs on Christmas morning and how that’s when I, now, really feel like it’s Christmas.

Or, maybe, I could write about the bizarre and random things I find on the street when I’m walking my dog in the morning. 

Really, when I thought about it, I realized how much material the mere fact of living here will pretty much throw in my face. Daily. Even hourly. The stuff that makes you laugh. The stuff that makes you groan. The stuff that makes you scream. And the stuff that makes you so very glad this is where you live.

And I imagine that is what this blog will be about. Things that strike a note with those who live or visit here and will, probably, astound those who don’t.

So, welcome to my blog. Together we will see where this journey takes us.