Saturday, May 10, 2008

A day at the beach

Dear Jimmy-

We always said that if we knew that we only had a short time to live, we would go to the beach more often. So I took you with me in spirit yesterday when I went to beach – now that we have received news that your remaining time with us may be even less than a year ( news which seems to be upsetting me more than you, bless your loving heart!).

Although Santo Domingo is right on the Caribbean, it is a city of three million. It is also built on the mouth of a river. From the roof of my apartment building, I can see the line of brown that goes out for miles from the shore line so I am never tempted to take off my shoes and even walk onto one of the little sandy patches that dot the shoreline by the sea walk. Besides that, the waves come in here with a mighty force here, sending plumes of spray high into the sky and creating a great hiss and roar when the water sucks back. The force of it all scares me and I admire the young local boys who often strip down and just go out in it in the heat of these hot days.

The first real beach is about thirty minutes east of the City. I went with a new Dominican friend, a DomYorker, who has adopted me into her extended family. It took us, as it takes any family anywhere going to the beach, an extra hour or so to reach our destination since we had to make all the required stops for gas and ice and cold soda.

Gas is $6 a gallon here so our friend, who is driving some sort of early 90’s vintage, has converted her engine to propane, which is subsidized here. The propane is only $2 a gallon. There is a big propane tank in the trunk. It seems really dangerous to me, especially given the way Dominicans drive, which is as if they took lessons only at those arcade games which have deer and Mac trucks coming out of every intersection to hit you. Yet I have not heard of any major accidents with the tanks exploding.

This propane subsidy has saved the forests of the DR since it was first introduced forty years ago to get people to give up charcoal food cooking but now it causing pollution as there are more and more cars on the road lots of them the big gas guzzling SUVs, called jeepetas. Of course, it is a great mystery where all the money is coming from since this is supposed to be a really poor country- certainly they keep saying that when they ask for help from the UN or the international NGOs-- but there are lots of people with lots of money here -- they just don't want to share it. Like most of the rich throughout the world, alas.

For the first time in my adult life, I do not own a car.

Cars cost twice what they cost in the US and exceed the price of a small house which would certainly be a better investment. So for me, even taking a ride in a private car is a great treat.

I appreciate the tour through the back streets of the middle class neighborhoods on the East side of the river. There is a construction boom here with more and more high rise tower condos being built, featuring a particular US feature, written in English – called “walking closets”.

We went to the little town of Andreas, tucked in behind a breakwater on a little shallow cove, where my friend has cousins. (Dominicans have cousins everywhere: it is an island, there are only 8 million people, family ties are very important). Andreas is strictly a Dominican town, with no tourist development, no hotels, perhaps because the wealthy of Santo Domingo have dredged a channel for their small yacht club and keep a small portion for themselves – and some of their more wealthy friends from the Bahamas.

The little beach is filled with tables and chairs, all built in the same style: the tables surrounding the upright pole for the palm covered cone-shaped roof, the chairs a rough copy of the Adironack chairs. The tables costs $6 for the day to rent, but includes the use of bathroom and shower across the street at the little bar and is the main source of outside income for the town so we do not object

As we are 500 miles south of Florida here and the tropical sun is hot
and brutal, the shade is welcome.We were early and it was Friday so we were able to get the first table by the water, giving us an unobstructed view of the water.

So sit back now, nestled into the shade and look right out onto that color—that pure Caribbean blue, that tropical blue, that peculiar refraction that the sea gets here around its waist band. Maybe it is the temperature? I don’t know but it is a miracle that I have only seen here. There is something magical about the color. It feels like you can just dive right into the sky.

The water is warm now, since it is May, probably close to 83 degrees or so, but here in San Andreas, there are a series of underground streams which come out from under a length of rock ledge on the shore and you can feel the currents of cold water as you go through the water.

The beach is a horseshoe and there are two small islands in front,connected by a rock breakwater, the one on the left is a complete mangrove, with its illusion of land. The other is the results of the dredging for the channel and has a full range of local trees. Beyond the breakwater the waves are crashing but here inside it is like a bathtub. There is comfort in knowing that there are along with waves, the breakwater keeps out any sharks, and probably even jelly fish.

It is low tide, although the tides are small here in the south, but it does take a bit of a walk to get out to water that is shoulder deep. The visibility is so clear that it is easy to see your feet and the bottom of the sea, which is completely clear except of patches of sea grass. The water is highly salty so it is easy to just keep floating. There is a constant off shore breeze so the entire experience is close to perfect.

The only reason to leave the water is cut the fear that the sun block is giving out and that the wrinkled skin on the fingers will become permanent.

There is a small launch with a canopy which is patrolling the water. My friends’ cousins have joined us so I treat the family to a short ride around the bay. It is well into the afternoon now and as we go about the bay we can see that the water is clear throughout. As we approach the mangrove island, I can see that the white spots on the tops of the trees are egrets, or perhaps herons, I am not sure, but they are large and beautiful.

The sun is sinking and the town is coming out to the beach as we get packed up to leave. At the table next to us, an extended family has brought ballons and beer and driven up their truck for the music and started to dance to the merengue and bachata that all the people of all ages here listen and dance to.

The vendors have come out, selling the ever present fried pork called :chicarones, and the fried bread, called “johnie cake” which is cooked in the same oil as the pork and fish and so tastes almost like food rather than the grease sandwich that it is!

So we indulged! And then finally, tired, sandy,filled up with the beauty of the sea, we pack up back into the car and head home, the sand sticking between our toes.

I loved having you with me.

Hugs and love, as always,

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