A Dominican Beach Town
In The Dominican Republic
|by Elizabeth Roebling
|At 6 in the
morning, I take my steaming cup of strong Dominican café con
leche out to the porch and survey the sea. I have another hour and
half before the local commuter traffic, on scooters, quads, pick-ups and
buses, starts the parade on the paved beach road in front of the house.
It is a wonderful quiet time, as I watch the sea.
appreciation for it is only matched by my daily amazement at the number
of times that the mosquitos have bitten me during the night. They are a
different sort than in the States, quietier, more laid back, dancing the
bachante rather than dive bombing and singing rather sweetly. It is hard
to begrudge them a few drops of blood.
|For the past
three months, the sea has been boiling, rolling and crashing over the reef,
changing color from deep blue to putty-colored green with the churned up
only had about a week of fair skies. It is, I am assured by everyone,
highly abnormal. An aftermath, perhaps of the giant wave that devoured
so many on the other side of the world. We are quite close to a deep sea
cavern near Puerto Rico which scientists pinpoint as a perfect
location for another Tsunami.
live on the hill behind town have promised to alert me if they see packs
of beach dogs running for safety. The rains have made the streets muddy
as only half of them are paved. Everyone is a bit cranky, especially the
tourists who are only here for a week or two. Even the locals who keep
the guests at the neighboring resort happily playing volleyball and bocce,
oiled and massaged, seem a bit depressed.
There is not
much to do here without the beach. One can shop at the few stores selling
high end jewelry and expensive pareos from Indonesia or dine at one of
the thirty restaurants offering the finest in Continental cuisine, albeit
at Contenental prices.
|Or, if the
hotel is high end, flip through the 24 cable channels, Spanish primarily,
with four in English, one French, one Italian, one German, testing
out how well those audio-lingual courses that you took actually work. It
is particularly amusing to watch movies with famous US stars, speaking
the dialogue in other voices.
How odd and
interesting it was to hear Eddie Murphy and Tom Hanks in Spanish, with
completely different voices. But it is the more than 7 miles of coconut
palm lined, amber sand beaches that have drawn most of us here.
The town of
Las Terrenas on the Samana Peninsula, the northeastern thumb of
the Dominican Republic, was only a small fishing village twenty years ago.
An influx of foreign ex-pats, mostly French, have produced a boom in the
real estate market, with the construction of lovely concrete houses and
population has grown from 3,000 to 20,000 and the “foreign” population
is now estimated around 5,000, predominantly French. But there is
a large Italian complement and many Germans as well, assuring a good supply
of garlic and cabbage. English is hardly ever heard. Many of the Europeans
are here for the entire winter.
There are fourteen
real estate agents in town. Astonishing considering that all purchases
must be made completely in cash. Prices have tripled in the last three
years and it is hard to find anything for less than $100,000.
both dining and real estate have not adjusted to the fallen dollar,
which was at 50 pesos last year but this year is hovering around 28. I
was very lucky to find a beautifully furnished apartment at a long-term
rental rate of $400. sI can walk to town along the beach. Electricity
here is about twice what it costs in the States, five times what it costs
in Europe. My luxurious full sized refridgerator with freezer is quicky
identified as a luxury, along with my electric hot-water heater. I have
taken to unplugging the heater during the days but the convenience of the
freezer, guardian of half of every cooked meal, is a great boon.
a respectably large nation, not just an island I could circumnavigate
in three hours. I wanted a proximity to the States so that my friends,
primarily from the East Coast, could afford to visit. And access to the
Internet available at a cybercafe. I wanted a place where Americans would
be welcomed, something that is getting progressively harder to find.
Republic may be one of the few places on earth where they still actually
like us. Baseball has, after all been very, very good to them. Remittances
sent home by Dominicans in the US are the second largest source
of revenues, after the tourist boom. Phone rates from here to the US are
the same as a local call, allowing me ample time to visit with my friends.
Most of them, shivering through a bleak winter, were hardly sympathetic
to my complaints about the rain and storms. Or that I had to scour the
town for a sweatshirt to wear for riding on the back of the local transports,
the motor scooters known as “conchos” that prowl the streets.
I wanted warmth, with year round tempertures that stayed in the 70’s and
80’s. If I never see snow or ice again, I will be content. It will be perhaps
a bit brutal here in July and August but certainly no worse than Washington,
DC or NYC, as there is always a breeze from the sea. I wanted a friendly
sea, in a place that had not been completely paved over and filled with
high rises. Yet I did want a bit of tourist destination, with an influx
of new energy and a rotating supply of books left behind in the hotels.
I wanted a
town rather than a resort strip of all inclusive resort hotels. I had,
by Third World standards, a healthy secure retirement income of around
$3000 a month which allowed me a large range of choices in Latin America
but increasingly fewer options in the West Indies. The blockade of Cuba
put it out of the running for a while. I had already lived with the
residual racism in the British territories and found it distasteful. Plus,
I really wanted to live in “foreign” – i.e., non- English speaking
environment. It would take me perhaps years to understand what they were
saying. I was unlikely to be bored.
was made when I discovered a French community as my French, after years
of study, rivals my English and far exceeds my Spanish. The French, I knew,
would have made the place picturesque and would have seen to a good supply
in the DR is astonishing by any standards. In the high mountain valley
to the west, near Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Caribbean, farmers
produce a sumptuous array of produce, citrus and tropical fruits, caulifower,
lettuce, green beans and fresh tarragon along with the local assortment
of strange and to me, still mysterious root vegetables. The prices for
the imports are high. Peanut butter runs around $8 a jar. But the local
fishermen ply the beachfront with buckets full of large fresh caught shrimp,
mussels, and Dorado. Rice and beans, in a variety of different sauces,
along with a small portion of chicken and a salad, the plate known as “The
Dominican Flag”, is available for lunch at around $4.00 at the local restuarants.
One cannot, however, drink the local tap water and the “touristas’ are
not an uncommon ailment, although it does seem that Taino Indians are a
little less vengeful than Montezuma.
Las Terrenas, the French have added their bakery, producing baguettes,
croissants, and napoleans. The butcher has his own farm, raising the
beef, lamb, and chickens sold in his pristine white-tiled shop or the deluxe
import-filled supermarket. Camembert and peanut butter, a full variety
of imported wines and local beer, line the shelves along with the yougurt,
butter and liverwurst that comes to us from Sosua, down the coast to the
the “foreigner” are quite young, in their thirties and forties. There
is a healthy population both of European and mixed European-Dominican
children. It is quite common here to see an older “white” man with his
beautiful Dominican girlfriend or wife, usually 20 years or more his junior,
often with a full new family of multi-lingual children. Ads in the paper
regularly ask for hotel staff who can speak four languages. Unless they
own the place, foreigners are unlikely to make more than Dominican salaries,
around $100 a week which is hard to live on. Many, however, have savings
in dollar based certificates of deposits which yield an astonishing 25%.
are only 6 "United Staters" living here. The bulk of the English
speaking ex-pats have settled to the west, near Puerto Plata. Yet the Samana
Penisula is the most spectacularly beautiful area of the DR. Las Terrenas
offers a touch of a continental lifestyle along with a frontier edge.
So I am certain that more of you will arrive. Won't you?
Roebling is a native of New York City who recently moved to the Dominican
Republic after 14 years in Asheville, NC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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