Get off my Energy Bus!

Sometimes in life you meet people who you instantly connect with, whether it be for friendship or love. You’ve never met before but you feel comfortable together, you have all kinds of things to talk about and you almost instantly respect each other’s opinions. I met a couple of these people while I was traveling in the Dominican Republic and I’m excited to keep in touch with them on a hopefully regular basis (especially Lee, Ana and Tina).

Other times, you meet people who from the first moment, rub you the wrong way. There’s no right or wrong to these situations, sometimes you just don’t see eye to eye. That doesn’t make them a bad person, nor does it make you a bad person … it just means that you are not meant to be friends. And let’s face it folks, you don’t have to be friends with everyone you meet.

*Disclaimer – These are real, true examples of experiences and feelings that I had while I was in the Dominican Republic. They involve instances where people made me feel uncomfortable and drained. If you do not like what I have to say below that’s ok, that’s your opinion and you are entitled to feel as you wish, just as I am expressing how I felt. I specifically did not name anyone as I don’t wish to start a war. I feel these experiences are worth sharing as they led to very powerful lessons learned for me while I was traveling. If you choose to read with an open mind, you may also discover something about yourself and how you treat people.

I don’t know about you, but I only have a limited number of seats on my Energy Bus and I would rather fill them with people who fill me up, rather than drain me. If you haven’t read the book The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, I suggest you pick it up. It is a very interesting and quick read … even for someone like me who really doesn’t like to read! Ok ok … I stretch the truth just a little … I haven’t quite finished the book yet, but somehow I already feel like it has made a deep, lasting and life changing impact on me. Let me explain why …

After spending three weeks in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and hating the city, I made the decision to continue my Spanish lessons on the north coast, in a smaller, more tourist-based town called Sosua. I knew nothing about Sosua, other than that the school was close to the beach. I really didn’t have much to lose. I knew that I loved learning Spanish, I was not homesick or in any way ready to return home, but I was completely uninspired by the city of Santo Domingo.

At this point, my bus was running on empty. The intense summer heat in the city was immobilizing. I hadn’t slept comfortably for three weeks. I had been sick with traveler’s diarrhea and then a nasty cold both of which had drained my energy. I had finally come to realize that the busyness of three million people in one dirty, hot city was just not for me. It was time to take my bus on the road, push the empty tank to the limits and see if I could find gas on the north coast that would stop my bus from sputtering.

In the afternoon of Sunday, August 5th, 2012, I headed off to the Caribe Tours bus station with another girl from my school and we struggled our way through buying bus tickets to Sosua and then figuring out which of the five or six buses was the correct one for us to take. It didn’t help that I was loaded down with a way-too-heavy full-size suitcase, packed full, plus all of my professional photography gear.

We spent four, relatively uneventful hours on the bus, dozing off, chit chatting and having an interesting conversation with a local girl who wanted to ask us (Canadian and Polish) about the customs of dating in the United States. Do you see the irony in this? I guess she just assumed that all white people have the same dating customs.

We arrived at our destination in Sosua sometime around 7:30pm that night, took a taxi to the school where we would be staying and dropped off our luggage. We met our school coordinator who gave us a warm welcome and then we met up with some of the other students to head out to supper.

As we sat outside at a little Italian restaurant, we all chatted a little about where we were from, how long we were traveling for and some of our likes / dislikes. Having a multi-cultural group, covering Canada, Poland, Germany and Switzerland, the easiest common language to speak was English. Although we were all there to learn Spanish, our speaking levels varied greatly, so it didn’t make for good conversation. Luckily, everyone’s English was very good.

Quickly we all got a feel for everyone’s personalities and with first meetings in any situation I am sure each of us came to our own first impressions by the end of our supper.

I try really hard not to judge people and am always respectful of other’s opinions even if I do not share them. One thing I find particularly difficult though is when someone has strong opinions that they feel are right and they try to force them on you … sometimes without even really realizing they are doing it.

I remember this first night talking about Sosua in general. Each of the four guys who had been there for various amounts of time had very strong opinions on which beach was the best, which restaurants to go to and all of them loved their alcohol. Not in an ‘alcoholic’ kind of way. Just simply in a 25 – 29 year-old guy-on-vacation kind of way.

Pretty much immediately, even though everyone was very nice, I knew that I wasn’t going to ‘fit’ this mould. I was the oldest of the group, female and drinking alcohol is very low on my things to do to have fun list. Besides, I already felt like they were jading my view of Sosua before I had even seen it in the day light!

The bantering started that night, before any of us even knew each other. Because I chose not to have a drink on my first night in Sosua, I was deemed to be ‘boring and no fun’. These comments, I’m sure were made light heartedly and meant no harm, but as I continued to be told that I was ‘lame’ because everyone else was drinking and I was not, my bus started sputtering again. And it was continuous. I felt like I was being bullied. Like somehow magically they thought that if they called me ‘lame’ enough times that I would have a drink. And, even if I did, how did that really make a difference to them?

Maybe I’m the only one in the world like this, but even more so than not loving alcohol, I really don’t love alcohol when I am with people who I am not comfortable with. I guess if I am going to get loaded drunk, I’d rather it be with my closest friends rather than complete strangers. I realize for most people, this may be the opposite, but this is just me. I can’t seem to force myself to drink alcohol just to ‘relax’ and get along better with people who I don’t connect with. I can’t force myself to drink something I don’t like and waste my money on it, just to ‘fit in’. I’m 33 years old, I thought peer pressure was successfully behind me.

Over the next two or three days, I continued to feel out of place. I was constantly reiterating that this trip wasn’t all vacation for me, that I was serious about school, that I had to do some work and that I just don’t like to drink that much. All of which were met with ‘lame, lame, boring, no fun and lame’. “Come on, why don’t you have a drink with us? Don’t be so lame!”

One day a couple of us went to the beach … the ‘best’ beach, so I was told. It was the smaller beach that the boys had come to love during their stay in Sosua and they were anxious to show it to us. The day was cloudy with a little bit of sun. It was hot, but bearable, unlike Santo Domingo. We hung out on the beach, went for a swim and then returned to dry off and relax.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find it relaxing at all. The others seemed to get along quite well, but somehow I just didn’t fit in. I put my towel down and sat on it, about a foot and a half from the others. I clearly remember my friend joking and saying ‘Why are you so far away? Are you anti-social?’. I responded by saying that I just thought I wouldn’t sit on top of her and give a little bit of space. I don’t know, maybe we are different in Canada, but when I sit on a beach, I don’t feel the need for my towel to be touching the one beside me. And, I didn’t really feel like I was that far away. I could still hear and participate in the conversation no problem. Hmmmm … or maybe that was the problem.

The conversation turned quickly to a serious one about life, thoughts on life, thoughts on traveling and the bigger picture of life. I don’t remember all of the details, but it was a conversation that I really just couldn’t make myself open up and get in to fully with people who I had met only a day or two before. I’ll admit that I remember the conversation being interesting, but I also remember the other two playfully arguing back and forth in disagreement of how if someone was doing something ‘so called wrong’ in their life, that you should tell them how to fix it. That it is your duty to give your opinion. After politely disagreeing with this and explaining that it is that person’s life and you can’t change it for them … you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink … I was hit over and over with ‘how can you say that? you are so wrong? I can’t believe you are so close minded.’

Oh my gosh, I think my bus just broke … hmmm … I wonder if I can even get it moving again.

I was drained. I had nothing left in me. I didn’t feel like talking. I certainly didn’t feel like arguing and I couldn’t even be bothered to listen. I just wanted to start my bus and roll on outta there!

When I started to pack up my towel and get dressed the conversation went a little something like this:

Others: Where are you going?
Me: I’m going to head back to my room now.
Others: Why?
Me: hmmmm. I think I’m done with the beach for today.
Others: Why?
Me: I went swimming and saw the beach, that’s all I needed.
Others: Oh, we aren’t good enough for you?
Me: Ah, no I didn’t say that, I just don’t feel like staying around for longer.
Others: Do you have something better to do?
Me: Well, maybe. I might do a little work, I’m not sure.
Others: Boring! You should stay. You don’t need to work. Come on, really, you have something better to do than hang out with us on the beach? Work is boring.’
Me (this is where I totally lost it and in a calm, but firm and annoyed voice explained): Actually, with all due respect, it is none of your business what I am going to do right now. I don’t feel like staying at the beach any longer, so I’m leaving. I’m not asking you to come with me, to walk me back or to change your plans. I am just going about my day, by myself. Maybe I want some time alone, maybe I’m not feeling well, maybe I want to do some work. Sorry, but I’ve had enough of the beach for today, so I’m taking off and I don’t really feel I need to explain any further.

And with that, my stuff was packed, so I said ‘See you later tonight’ and walked away.

And then, I felt bad. Yup, the little voice inside my head wouldn’t let me leave it alone. I kept asking myself ‘Why were you like that? What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get along? Why can’t you just ignore the comments you don’t like?’

That little rant was so completely out of character for me. I’m much more likely to cry about something rather than spout off about it. I’m very good at hiding my opinions and my feelings about people and biting my tongue. I am usually pretty good at ‘If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.’ But somehow, being pestered about why I was leaving lit a fire at the end of my rope and set me off.

I walked back, the long way, took a shower and then a nap. Maybe I just needed a little down time. Day two in Sosua wasn’t shaping up to be my best day!

It was day three when I really started to listen to myself and get off the negative self talk hamster wheel. I avoided a couple of group activities and took time for myself. Finally, all of the other passengers on my bus had gotten off at their stops, the constant drone of voices all around me had stopped and I could hear myself think.

Do you want to know what I said to myself?

I said ‘I have someone I need to kick off my energy bus!’ And, when I realized it, I immediately posted it on Facebook to declare it to the world. It was such a grand realization and change in my thought process that I wanted to share it with my friends.

And that, was that. At that moment, I let myself off the hook. Oh what a relief. I realized in that moment that I was on vacation / work / studying Spanish and that I wanted to enjoy my trip. There was no way that I should be letting someone else make me feel bad and since I couldn’t change them, I would have to change me!

As quick as you can turn the windshield wipers on to wipe the rain away, I stopped feeling bad that I didn’t want to be friends with everyone that I had met. I stopped wondering what I was doing wrong. I stopped caring if they thought I was lame. I stopped being bothered by the fact that I didn’t want to drink alcohol every night. I stopped beating myself up for being myself and I realized that I’m perfectly fine the way I am … I just needed to lighten the load on my energy bus so that I could perk back up and be me!

Over the next few days I purposely avoided hanging out with people who I felt were draining me and looking for people who I had more in common with. I skipped out on beach time and lunches with fellow students and I went exploring on my own, had a couple of siestas in the afternoon, made friends with a couple of locals and then joined back up with the group for special excursions or suppers.

By the end of my first week, I was glad to be heading to Tubagua Plantation Eco Lodge for a weekend away. I wasn’t really sure if I liked Sosua yet or not because I was still getting settled, but I did love my teacher and learning Spanish. So, I had signed up for an extra week of classes.

Amazingly, when I returned from my weekend in Tubagua, the entire group dynamic had changed. Some students had left, new students had arrived and I was relaxed, rejuvenated and even a little inspired!

Heading in to week two in Sosua, I already felt like I had new adventures in my near future and was looking forward to my renewed energy. Not surprisingly, being more comfortable with the people around me, I had more energy, even felt like having a couple of drinks here and there and couldn’t wait to go dancing in Cabarete on Thursday for Latin night.

Four important things led to my revitalization and to the thorough enjoyment of the remainder of my trip:

1. I took a break. I let my bus cool off and rest.
Literally – I went to a cooler location (Santo Domingo to Sosua). I also made the choice not to fill every single day with activities. Sometimes we can try to pack so much in to our vacation (our day or our life) that we don’t have time to breathe.

2. Everyone got off my bus and I took time to enjoy the peace and quiet.
I took time to myself on the beach and in my room to just let my brain have a break. I consciously chose not to attend all of the school activities and excursions. When I felt sick, I cancelled plans rather than forcing my way through something that I wouldn’t be happy doing. Internet wasn’t working very well and my travel pack had run out on my Canadian cell phone, so I even lost touch with the internet world and my friends for these couple of weeks.

3. I stopped beating myself up with my own thoughts.
When I finally realized what I was saying to myself, I made a conscious effort to stop being negative in my own head which led to a positive outcome!

4. I started letting people back on my bus, but I was careful of how long they could stay if they weren’t a positive influence.
Over the next couple of weeks, students, teachers and locals came and went from my life. Having had all of these realizations in my first week, I was very aware of who I connected with and who I did not. If I felt comfortable with someone, I tried to spend more time with them. If I was uncomfortable, I got out of the situation. Really, I’m half way across the world, trying to enjoy my vacation, why should I stay in any situation that I am uncomfortable with. In fact, that goes for life in general. If something makes you uncomfortable, fix it, or move on! If this meant leaving the group after supper and not going to a bar to drink, I was ok with that. If it meant not going out to supper with the group because we were an hour late leaving and I was starving … I knew that I would be happier for making my own decision rather than just trying to be part of the group.

What I think of myself is much more important that what others think of me. Maybe this will be my new mantra.

Looking back at my seven weeks in the Dominican this summer, all of the biggest lessons I learned stemmed from these situations. So, thank you to all of my new friends who encouraged me and thank you to those who annoyed me and picked on me, because now I know that I am strong enough to move forward. I learned how to refuel my bus and the importance of kicking people off my bus.

Back in Canada now, I think on a regular basis of who I want to have on my Energy Bus and who I do not. It has led me to make some changes in my life and make an effort to stay connected with those who are most important to me, while letting those who are not important in my life drift away. This means calling my friends more often rather than just texting. It means cleaning out my Facebook friends so I’m not bogged down with all of the news from everyone and I can concentrate on the news of those who are important to me. It means planning my days and weekends a little differently so that I can find time to rejuvenate myself and spend time with people whose energy invigorates me. Here’s looking forward to a more balanced and fulfilled life moving forward!

A big thanks to:
Author Jon Gordon for his book The Energy Bus
My sister, Anita Hovey of Twirp Communications for letting me borrow the book for so long
Annette Murphy of Keller Williams who gave the book away (to my sister) as a prize at a talk at platform space this Spring. Thank you all for passing along positive energy. I hope it comes full circle for each and every one of you!

Latin Dance Night in Cabarete – The Wife – Part 2

Although part 2 of this story didn’t actually take place in Cabarete, it is the continuation of a plot that started at Latin Dance Night in Cabarete. If you haven’t already, you can read part 1 here and get all of the details before you venture into the remainder of this scandal!

I made it home safely from Cabarete, crawled into my bed, ALONE and sent a quick text message to Francis simply saying thank you and that I had made it home safely. Simple and innocent enough.

A couple of days later, I received two or three text messages from him asking when I would be in Cabarete again, to which I avoided answering because I had no intentions of purposely seeing him again. If I ran into him my next time out dancing, fine, but I certainly wasn’t going looking for him. Only a couple of messages were exchanged, completely friendly and normal … no harm, right?

ha HA! That’s where I was wrong …

Monday morning at 5am, my cell phone rang. I looked and it was Francis calling. I ignored it. I didn’t feel like talking at 5am and was pissed for being woken up. Moments later it rang again. I answered and groggily said ‘hola’. I was greeted with silence and then the whimper of a baby in the background. I said ‘hola’ again, but nothing. I hung up. Did a child accidentally call my number? My niece has called me in the middle of the night without mommy and daddy knowing, why couldn’t it happen in another country!

Moments later, the phone rang again. I answered with ‘Hola’ again, and again no communication except for a baby crying. I asked ‘Can I help you?’ in Spanish, and nothing … At this point I knew something weird was going on, but what could I do? It was just a phone call. I hung up.

Moments later, the phone rang again … I ignored it, silenced my phone and went back to sleep.

I awoke at 8:15am to 12 missed calls and a text message. I checked to see who the message was from and sure enough, it was from Francis’ number. I thought to myself, this should be good … and I wasn’t disappointed!

The message (loosely translated from Spanish) said
“My star. I want to make love with my wife and I have a baby.
You are stupid.”

After two or three nice messages the day before, getting a nasty message was particularly odd. Stupid in Spanish is one of the most offensive insults that you use. I knew immediately that this message was not from Francis, but from his wife (or girlfriend).

Even funnier is that she was calling me in the middle of the night and then calling me stupid. I had zero interest in her man. I danced with him for awhile, had a nice little conversation and he was sweet enough to get me home safely. I’ve got to say, I don’t feel particularly stupid about any of that. Unfortunately I feel sorry for her though as I’m positive he had further intentions with me, should I have given the ok … and unfortunately that makes her the one with the problem not me.

I wrote back short and sweet with:
ha ha ha Good Luck.

I haven’t heard from either of them again … nor will I provoke it.

It makes me sad that this is so common here. Men in the Dominican have a really bad reputation for being aggressive and for being unfaithful. Many of them are skillful con artists, masterful liars and incredibly talented at wooing their way into the hearts of young single women from all around the world. Women are warned about it constantly before traveling to the Dominican. They are told by their friends, their family and the locals wherever they stay that men are like this, but time after time, thousands of women each year fall in love with Dominican men who are cheating on their wives, looking for their green card in another country or who need a rich sugar momma.

Although I truly don’t believe that all Dominican men are bad, it is a country where it is particularly difficult to sift through all of the bad ones to find a good one. That is, if you are looking for love. There’s no way to ever really know because the men are so good at making you feel special.

I’ve met a couple of the con artists and luckily haven’t been caught off guard yet. I’ve also met a couple of true gentleman, so I know they are out there! Girls, if you are looking for your Dominican love of a lifetime, search long and hard, don’t fall to fast or you’ll fall flat on your face!

The Taxi Chronicles – Part 6 – Conquering a mountain by moto

Conquering a mountain by moto

Local transportation is always an adventure and you just simply have to go with the flow. When I made plans to go to Tubagua for the weekend, I had great directions from the owner, Tim, saying that I needed to take a carro publico from Sosua to Gran Parada and then a moto concho to Tubagua – el hotel el Tim en kilometre 19.

I had purposely tried to pack light for the weekend, but that is hard when you are carrying photography gear for work! I had my camera gear in one back pack and my clothes in another, so I thought that maybe it might be better to take a taxi rather than a carro publico and then a moto conch. I got Tanya, the school director to call a taxi that Tim had recommended and thank goodness she did because she had a difficult time communicating with him and she speaks fluent spanish! I wouldn’t have made it past Hola! In the end, we discovered that the taxi was only from Gran Parada to Tubagua, not from Sosua. So, off I headed on my local transportation adventure.

I left Sosua around 4:45pm from my Spanish school, Casa Goethe. I walked about six or eight blocks to the carro publico ‘station’. By station, I mean one area where the carros line up and fill up with people before taking off. It is actually quite organized as the cars are often in a line.

I explained to him, in very slow Spanish, that I needed to go toward Puerto Plata, but get out at Gran Parada. I asked him how much and he told me 50 Pesos. I thought he told me 500 though so I told him that was too much and he dropped it to 45 Pesos. HA HA HA YAY me! I sure drive a hard bargain!

They asked me to put my bags in the trunk. This was scary for me because I was carrying $10 000 in camera equipment! I didn’t really want to let it out of my site, but impossible to keep your bags on your lap inside a carro publico. There just isn’t enough room. It didn’t help that the carro publico was a smaller car than usual which meant that it was nearly impossible to fit the four standard people in the back seat. However, somehow we all squished in on top of each other. I was sitting in the back seat, on the edge of the seat, holding on to the head rest in front of me for support against the bumps and turns. I bravely explained to the driver (in Spanish) that I needed to get out at Gran Parada and tried to explain that I needed to be in the direction to Santiago. He didn’t understand and then he thought I was going TO Santiago … So, I had to re-explain and a couple of the locals in the car kicked in with their Spanish explanations too. The driver said he understood, the little ‘neon’ size car was packed with seven of us and off we went.

By about five minutes into the drive one of my legs was bruised from banging against the back of the arm rest, the other foot was asleep and I was tired of holding on to the head rest of the seat in front of me! Comfortable is not a word to describe this form of transportation.

About ten minutes into the drive, someone got out … unfortunately from the front seat, so no relief for the four of us who were sardined into the back seat. The total drive took about 15 minutes from Sosua to Gran Parada. The other gentleman that I was sitting almost on top of, and who tried to sell me cashews when I got in the car, told me (in Spanish) that he thought I needed to get out. I panicked a little and asked the driver. He had misunderstood and still thought I was heading to Santiago, but now he understood I needed Gran Parada and indeed, we had just passed Gran Parada! He pulled over, let me out and I grabbed my stuff from the trunk. Phew! It was still there!

I headed back down the road about 200 meters to where the moto conchos were all lined up. As soon as I got out of the car a guy on a moto concho was trying to get my attention. I wasn’t giving him the ok until I got closer and could see him and his bike though. As I approached, they both looked acceptable (man and bike), so I gave a nod and he immediately sped off to pick me up on the opposite side of the road.

I explained (in Spanish) that I needed to go to Tubagua and he immediately said ‘El Hotel de Tim?’ Phew! At least he knew where I was headed.

I slung my 30 pounds of camera gear on to my pack and my light weight backpack with clothing on my front and awkwardly tried to balance while swinging my leg over the bike. It was going to be a long drive to kilometre 19 on a bad road with backpacks on front and back! Ha! Little did I know that it was going to get worse!

The first part of the road was a little bumpy. My driver skillfully avoided as many of the bumps as he could and I felt fairly safe on the back of the bike. Then the road got a little worse and was a little bumpier. The road is paved but has sections which are only dirt or really bad pot holes. Cars go very slowly through these areas as they cannot avoid the bumps. Moto conchos go a little faster because they can weave easier.

I’m not sure at what kilometre we left flat road and started up the mountain, but I would guess maybe kilometre five. As we started up the mountain, I reached around and held on to the handle behind my bum. I really had no choice as I had 30 lbs of camera gear making me ‘back heavy’ and I couldn’t hold on to the moto concho driver because we were separated by the backpack on my chest. As the incline steepened, as did my fear. Now, I wasn’t really ‘scared’, more just uncomfortable. I seriously was going up a mountain with 30 lbs of stuff pulling me backwards and trying to hold on with one hand behind my bum, my stomach muscles tightened and my thighs probably gripping the guys legs pretty tightly. Let’s not forget the clenched teeth too!

By about kilometre 10 and still going up the mountain I started to wonder if I could clench all of these muscles and hold on for another nine kilometres. I had a hot / cold flash as I thought about the possibility of falling backwards off the bike with no helmet on … and I clenched my legs tighter.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have been afraid at all if I was holding on to the guy in front of me or if I didn’t have the 30 lbs of camera gear on my back. I’m sure the moto concho guy would have loved for me to wrap my arms around him for the 19 kilometre drive, but, alas, it isn’t really appropriate to hold on with a death grip to your taxi driver! So, I refrained.

At some point as we bounced around and dodged pot holes, I asked my driver for his name. Surprisingly I only had to ask twice to understand that it was Miguel. I didn’t understand much else of what he said though. More because of the wind than anything though.

Shortly before arriving at Tubagua, Miguel pulled over and said hello to a woman who came over to the moto concho and hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I had no idea what was going on … why was my moto concho stopping on the side of the road to introduce me to a woman? Was I supposed to get off here? If so, where was the lodge? And, did he really know where he was taking me? He told me I wasn’t getting off there, and after the introduction was done, we continued on, up up up the hill for another couple of kilometres where he pulled over again by a small hut with a group of young guys sitting around.

I tried to get off the bike, but one of my backpack straps had gotten caught during the ride. Luckily one of the guys rushed to my assistance to untangle me. My dismount from the bike was certainly less than graceful with my front and back, back packs! And then, when both feet were on the ground I was stuck with a cord between my legs and it was stuck on the other side of the bike. For a brief moment I was having a flash back to my Galapagos Adventures with the Lifejacket Complications.

The young man quickly freed the cord and I was able to move. I asked ‘Cuanto cuesta’ (how much) and the same young man responded ‘One hundred’ (Pesos that is, not dollars). A moment later he was sitting down talking to his friends (in Spanish) and telling them that I speak English. Being brave, I piped up … ‘And Spanish too’. Well, I guess they were impressed! I then lost my bravery and followed up with ‘poquito’, meaning a little.

They then pointed up the hill and off I started trekking up the dirt road, to where, I still didn’t know. I hadn’t seen a sign for the Lodge and from the bottom of the hill I couldn’t really see anything that resembled a lodge. None the less, up the hill I went with two backpacks. I was happy to be on my own two feet and excited that I had conquered the mountain by moto concho!

Do bananas make you smile?

During my last week of classes in Santo Domingo, I met the founder of a project called Dominino. Dominino is a school in one of the poorest areas of the city, an area called San Luis. I had the opportunity to visit the school with the founder, and have much to write about. First, I would like to share a story from the trip to get to San Luis.

The five of us walked from our school, Casa Goethe, to the super market to get food to take to the children at the school for their afternoon meal. Tabea bought cereal, yogurt and bananas for the 20 small children. We then took a guagua (local bus) to the outskirts of town. The bus ride was incredibly hot, the bus was full with constantly changing people and you had to take special care to make sure all of your valuables were safe at all times, from other passengers on the bus, vendors who came on the bus to sell things and from vendors reaching in through the open windows of the bus to sell things.

We drove through areas of the city that I had not yet seen and you could see the difference in the people, the buildings and the vendors on the streets. The streets were packed with people, many children, many of them alone. There were vendors lining the streets selling fresh fruit, candy, clothing, meat and there were piles of garbage everywhere. It just simply had a dangerous vibe and was not an area I would want to be walking in. As dangerous as the buses are, I was glad to be sitting on one, rather than roaming the surrounding streets.

About 35-45 minutes in to the bus ride, a young boy selling candy got on the bus. He put a candy in each of our laps and expected us to pay. He looked sad, hot and tired, but was doing his best to sell these small candies. When each of us said ‘no gracias’ and returned the candies to him, you could tell he was one again disappointed that he had not sold anything.

As the young boy, about 10 years old, turned around to leave the bus, Tabea asked one of the other girls to take one of the bananas we had bought and give it to the boy. When Christine handed the boy the banana, his eyes lit up immediately and a huge, beautiful child-like smile stretched across his face. He was surprised, and for a moment could do nothing other than smile. He politely murmured ‘gracias’ as he started to open the fresh peel to eagerly reach the fruit inside.

The boy left the bus to return to the streets to blend in to the mass of people and vendors. A moment later, I heard a child’s voice saying ‘Gracias! Gracias rubia!’ I looked out the window behind me and there he was with a beaming smile and a half eaten banana. No words could describe how I felt at that moment knowing that my new friend had just made such an impact on this child.

Tabea went on to explain that she doesn’t like to give the children money because often they are obligated to give the money for their day’s work to their fathers, or uncles. However, if you are able to give a child food, they can eat it and it is something that is only for them. They do not have to give this to their family or their boss. It also may be the only food, or the only nutritious food that they eat that day.

I learned later that many of these street vendors are illegal immigrants from Haiti. They do not have their birth certificates or other documentation that would allow them to work legally in the Dominican Republic, so often the children are sent to work as vendors on the streets. Sometimes the parents also work, or sometimes they ‘run’ the business and wait for the children to bring home the money.

I can’t explain any better than to say that my heart swelled. These are the experiences, the opportunities and the feelings that you never get to have when you travel to a resort for vacation. You never get to see what real local life is like.

For me, this experience was a life lesson. Although I knew that giving money to the children of the streets was not a good idea and would perpetuate the idea that tourists are all rich, I never understood the deeper reason. Now I understand more of the way of life, and having experienced the glowing smile and appreciation of this young boy, it is a lesson I will never forget.

La cucaracha war

In English, a cucaracha is a cockroach. We’ve all heard of them, seen them on tv but how many of us Canadians have seen the real thing? Yes, I am aware that it is possible to have them in Canada, but generally speaking it is not a prevalent issue. Even when you travel to resorts and hotels in the tropics, you very rarely see them, although they are probably there … lurking in the shadows!

When you travel to a tropical place it is a given that there are cockroaches around. I’ve seen them in Bermuda and in Cuba, but most of the time, somewhere outside.

The first cockroach I saw in Santo Domingo was when I was walking down a street with my friends after dark one evening. I stopped and got out of it’s way. HA HA HA Didn’t even think to try and step on it! I just avoided it all together. The second time I was with another friend and he stepped on it before I saw it. Not so bad when I don’t’ have to see it or do anything about it.

Well, the third time … let’s just say it was not one of my finest moments …

I had showered and gotten ready for bed, but needed some water before going to sleep. I went to the kitchen, turned on the light and reached for the fridge door when all of a sudden something on the counter moved.

I jumped and drew in my breath. I nearly screamed, but somehow stifled it. And then …. I stared at it, just sitting there on the counter with it’s antenna twitching back and forth. This huge bug was about two inches long and it’s antennas were as long as it’s body. EWWWW!

A few seconds later, I got brave and decided I would try to kill it. I went to my bedroom to get a sneaker as the flip flops on my feet definitely weren’t the right weapon for this war! When I came back, he was still sitting in the same place twitching his antenna. I got about two feet away, reached my arm out and slammed the sneaker on the counter, hoping I had connected, but not looking forward to the mess. To my dismay, when I looked, the little bugger darted across the counter and under the toaster oven to its dark safe haven.

Again, I stood there wondering what the hell to do. I knew he was there … I knew he was just waiting for me to leave and turn out the lights, but could I really just leave him there?

And then …

Another one (slightly smaller) scurried across the counter from a different direction, paused and then darted into the cupboards under the sink. Ay ya ay!

At this point I turned off the kitchen light and retreated to my bedroom to quiver in fear!

But, the story doesn’t stop here. I immediately texted two of my friends back home. The following conversation is real, unedited (except for the omission of a few swear words!)

Shari: I’m freaking out! There are cockroaches in my kitchen. Do I wake my mom and tell her or go to sleep?

Michelle (currently in Edmonton, but lived in Bermuda for many years): LMAO! Kill the cockroaches and go to sleep!

Shari: I couldn’t! I’m a whimp. I tried but one ran too fast when I swatted and the other went in the cupboards. I may never go in cupboards again. Mayday! Save me!

Michelle: It’s only a cucaracha! It won’t hurt ya. Was it a flying one?

Shari: Shut up! They fly? I’m dying! This is soooooo not cool!

Michelle: LOL! We had flying ones in Bermuda. Was it big? Like 1.5 – 2 inches? or just a little German roach?

Pause ….

Michelle: Where did you go?! Did it eat you?

Michelle: LOL Just teasing! They can’t eat you.

Shari: Yes, 2+ inches + antenna just as long. 2 of them that I saw. Do they stay in the kitchen? They don’t like blood like the mosquitos here right?

Michelle: No, they don’t want blood, they just want food and sugar. And sorry, yes, they can fly.

Pause ….

Michelle: What are you doing? Are you battling the cockroach? Hunting it down?

Shari: No! I’m hiding in my room, trying not to cry! Sleeping with the light on. And, phone vibrated my bed and I jumped. Thought it was a heard of cockroaches coming for me! lol

Michelle: LMAO – actually LOLing. Sorry. Just picturing it! They won’t hurt you. Trust me, they just want food and that’s not you.

Shari: Well, thank you, but I’m still not going to warm with them! God knows how many. I can’t even go get water to drink! I’m a mess!

Michelle: Ok, well at least we have now discovered that you will not be running off to live in a tropical country. LOL So that counts as self discovery … look how well you are doing already! 🙂 And, you have a new blog topic!

Shari: Not true. I’d just have to have a huge fridge to keep everything in and air conditioning. Oh yeah … and a man to kill cockroaches!

Michelle: LMAO! There ya go … A walk in restaurant fridge and you could even sleep in there when you are too hot!

Michelle: Now, you need to go to sleep. Have sweet dreams!

I slept with the light on … True story.

Aspiring to be inspired

I’m so uninspired here that it is even difficult for me to get inspired to write a blog post on being uninspired!

For the past two weeks in Santo Domingo, I have had just about zero interest in using my camera. At first I used the excuse that it was too dangerous to be carrying it around. Then I would see lots of tourists carrying around similar cameras and knew that in Zona Colonial I would be fine. Then I convinced myself that it was too heavy and just too much of a pain to carry around. Well, this is true, but I do it all the time at home! Then I started saying to myself … There’s not much to take photos of here, it is all architecture and architecture just isn’t my thing.

After a week of excuses, finally I decided that I would take my camera out one day when I had a friend with me so that I wouldn’t be carrying it around alone. He and I spent the day wandering around Zona Colonial and the Malecon, but it rained a lot and I ended up keeping my camera in my bag just about the entire time. That day I think I took about 7 or 8 pictures total.

I was particularly discouraged because I had felt like I forced myself to take my camera and then it still didn’t work out so I was double annoyed! This meant that I then felt even less like taking my camera out again!

That next week, I began to realize that all of these things were adding up and I started to analyze what was going on. All of a sudden I realized that I obviously needed a break from photo taking … and that you can’t force inspiration … you can’t force yourself to have a passion or to love something. So, if I didn’t feel like taking photos, I’d just have to leave my camera behind, at least for now.

On my second Friday in Santo Domingo, we were having an excursion with the school to the market. I love markets, the colors and the people in them, so I decided it would be a good day to give my camera another chance. Although it was a real pain to cart it around in a backpack because of the heat, I did take some photos at the market that I liked. And, I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the artists at work. I only wish I could have conversed with them better to hear their stories. Maybe near the end of my trip I’ll feel more confidant and I’ll head back to speak with them again.

After having taken photos at the Market though, I was still uninspired. I had taken a few photos, but I was ready to put my camera away again. But, why?

I’ve never been the type of person to snap a million photos of everything. I’m a choosy person. I take pictures that have meaning of some kind and if I don’t feel that it will be a good photo, I don’t bother taking it. I think this stems from the fact that it takes so long to cull and edit photos. I would rather just have photos that I like rather than a whole bunch of random useless photos that I will never use.

I think there are two big parts to my lack of inspiration …

1. I think I really need a break from work. For a long time I’ve realized that I turned my hobby into a business and now it is business and not a hobby. So, to some extent (although it isn’t quite this simplistic), I feel like if I’m not being paid to take photos, that I don’t want to do it. Every time I pick up a camera it is like work for me, so to always be taking photos means I would always be working! It is a shame, but I can’t seem to take photos just for me any more because I cannot separate it from work.
2. I also think that I really just don’t love Santo Domingo. I think back to when I traveled to New Orleans for a photo conference in 2010. From the moment I arrived in the city I felt liberated, free, inspired and alive. I couldn’t wait to take my camera everywhere and document the art and life of the city. Santo Domingo does not give me the warm fuzzies like New Orleans did.

I guess that is one of the downfalls of having not done a huge amount of research on the city before deciding to study here. I was aware it was 3 million people large and steeped in history, but I didn’t do much research on what it was like to live here. I just assumed that I would find it interesting once I arrived. I mean really, it is a huge city. There has to be something for everyone right? Well, maybe I just have been too lazy in the extreme heat and humidity to go look for it, but regardless, I haven’t found ‘it’ here yet.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change my decision though. I wouldn’t have chosen anywhere else to study. I don’t hate Santo Domingo, I just don’t love it here. I enjoy school. I like the culture and the people, but somehow, I just don’t like this particular city.

So, what am I going to do about it?

I’m going to change things up. The really great thing about this trip and about traveling solo is that I’m doing this all for me. I have no one to please but myself and I can choose to go whenever and however I want. So, do just that, I will!

I decided to look into changing school locations for my last week of classes. I have confirmed that the sister school in Sosua has room for me in class and in a school apartment, so Sunday, August 5th, I will head out on a three and a half hour bus ride to the opposite side of the island, through the mountains to reside in Sosua for a week. I’m very excited for several reasons …

1. It is a much smaller place, so I look forward to a slower pace, less noise and less traffic.
2. It is a beach town and right now, in this incredible heat, I need sand and ocean to cool off and relax.
3. I hear it is absolutely beautiful in Sosua and surrounding areas of Puerto Plata and Cabarete. I’m hoping that nature will rejuvenate me and encourage my passion.
4. There are many more options for excursions in and around Sosua, including the possibility of learning to kite surf. I’ll look into that when I arrive!

I also decided that I will go to La Romana on Friday to get my first glimpse of a different and smaller city. It’ll be a two-hour bus ride each way, but it will be nice to be in the air conditioning and local buses are always an adventure! While I’m there I might have time to visit a beach (I hope), as well as head out for some dancing on the “George Street” of La Romana that they call The Boulevard. I’m hoping to like this city enough to make it my home-base for the last two weeks of my stay in the Dominican as I’ve decided that I don’t want to stay in Santo Domingo.

I will return to Santo Domingo Saturday afternoon in preparation for the concerts and dancing of the Merengue festival taking place in the city on Saturday and Sunday. Sadly, I won’t get to enjoy the festival on Sunday as I will be heading off to Sosua, but I suspect after dancing the night away on Friday and Saturday my hips will likely be too sore to function for Sunday dancing anyway!

So, from uninspired to aspiring to be inspired … off I go in search of something more!

Cat calls

Canadian women are warned about traveling to the Dominican Republic because of the aggressive nature of the men here. More so than any other place I have traveled, this is true. However, when people say ‘aggressive’, I think of strong, forceful and dangerous. This may all be true, but at this point I have not encountered that kind of aggression.

Further than this, if you are a woman who has only ever traveled to a Dominican Resort, you haven’t even begun to see what people are talking about and you probably think they are crazy. Or, if you’ve always traveled with your husband, a boyfriend or a male friend … you may also not have seen this phenomenon of cat calling males!

You know when you walk through a local market and vendors are all calling out to you, talking to you, almost demanding you stop to buy from them and then somehow, because we are all so nice, they convince us to buy something from them? A constant barrage of words from a language you don’t understand intertwined with broken English words can be totally overwhelming if you aren’t expecting it or don’t know how to deal with it.

On the streets of Santo Domingo (and throughout the Dominican) if you are a lady walking alone or in a group of women you will encounter a constant barrage of comments in a variety of languages. It is particularly funny when they say it in Spanish, you don’t respond, then they repeat something in English, then German, then whatever other language they may know bits and pieces of. I guess they think somehow that we don’t understand them, when in fact, we are just ignoring them!

I’ve categorized the men here lovingly into five different categories:

Speak no evil
Attention Grabbers
Genuine Gentlemen
Down right dirty

Despite the stereotype that all Dominican men are persistent in their attention grabbing antics, there are actually lots of men here who don’t do that. Sometimes you get overwhelmed with all of the men that are calling out constantly to you, but when you stop to look around, there are men everywhere who could care less that you are a single white female walking down the street. I’m guessing that these are likely the guys that a white woman SHOULD want to meet because they are likely respectful and well educated. Unfortunately, they are the ones that are less prevelant and harder to strike up a conversation with.

Speak no Evil
The next type of Dominican man is the one who only sees you and doesn’t speak to you. Some of them take a quick glance and if you catch their eye, they are shy and look away. Others take a moment to check you out from head to toe. They have no shame in looking you up and down, head to toe AND they want you to know that they are doing it, they don’t for a second try to hide it. These same men often walk past you and then deliberately turn and check you out again over their shoulder, often offering up a quick playful smile, just begging you to smile back or give them the ok to say hello.

Attention Grabbers
The attention grabbers are the ones that you really have to practice ignoring. They are everywhere. They may look you up and down as well as hollering loudly at you. I am genuine in saying that this happens to me no last than 30 times a day. And, it comes from every direction … behind you, beside you, in front of you, across the street, from the buses passing by. If there are men there, you are almost guaranteed to hear something from them.

The most popular calls I’ve heard are:
Rubia – Blondie
Mami – Mommy, but this word is often used affectionately between couples or friends. It is similar to saying ‘dear’ or ‘sweetie’. Men call women Mami and Women call men Papi. Men here particularly love it when you call them Papi, which you have to be careful of!
Bella – beautiful, or beautiful woman

Often these calls are proceeded by a ‘pst’ or almost a hiss to get your attention. So, it is ‘pst pst pst … rubia!’ ‘Rubia! Rubia, rubia!’

After a little while you get used to ignoring these comments because they are thrown at you constantly, but it is really hard to ignore the hiss that some guys use. I don’t think they really understand how horribly demeaning it is to hiss at a North American woman. It feels so ugly, rude and kind of like being scorned like you would discipline a puppy who is chewing on your shoes.

I’ll be the first to say that these cat-calls are not because I’m drop dead gorgeous! All white, north American women will get these calls. It is simply because I am white and blonde. Oh yes and it helps that I’m curvy. It is a huge cultural difference between North America and Latin America. Latin American men love their chubby ladies. They think it is soft, feminine and beautiful where as North American men tend to be more attracted to skinnier or more fit women. Latin American men go wild for a woman with big hips and an ample toushie! Here, I am affectionately called gordita (a beautiful chubby woman). At home, being called chubby would be horribly offensive! Here, because it is tied together with beautiful, it is a wonderful compliment.

Genuine Gentleman
Amongst all of these other types of men, there are also some genuine gentlemen. Every once in awhile someone will stop me on the street and simply call me beautiful, or bella, but in a really nice, kind way … not by hissing or yelling at me. Most of the time, they just say it and continue walking with a smile. They seem to be just offering up a compliment and not looking for any particular kind of attention or return on their investment … just simply an act of kindness.

One day while I was sitting on a bench in one of the parks in Zona Colonial, an old man came up and stood in front of me. He simply wanted to tell me I looked like Marilyn Munroe. He wasn’t looking for money. He didn’t stay around to chat. He didn’t look at me like a piece of meat. He just simply stopped to give me a compliment. Now, I’m pretty sure I don’t look like Marilyn Munroe, but none-the-less, it was a lovely moment! Even funnier is that I was sitting with one of my Dominican friends at the time. Usually if you are with a Dominican guy, the cat-calls are less prevalent.

Speaking of the genuine gentleman, I have gotten to know a couple so far. And, it just seems to be a different way of life, a different outlook on women and an appreciation for beauty. Men here are full of sweetness for their ladies and have a ton of pet names for the special women in their lives, whether that be as a friend or as a girlfriend. Some of my favorites are:

Mi estrella – my star
Mi Corazon – my heart
Preciosa – precious
Dulcura – sweetness
Princesa – princess
Mami – Mommy

These gentlemen also do things such as watch out for you when you are crossing the crazy traffic packed streets. They open doors for you, pay for you when you are out and genuinely make sure that you feel special, 100% of the time. Now, maybe I’m too trusting, but I like to believe that they are truly genuine in their efforts not just to impress and not just trying to get me in bed. (sorry mom!!!)

Down right Dirty (beware of vulgarity below!)
On a lesser scale than all of the types of men above, there are some men on the streets who are just down right dirty both in their appearance and what comes out of their mouths.

One night as I walked with my first two roommates to Sirena (a store kind of equivalent to our Wal-mart), we got the regular attention that has come to be normal. I’m not sure if I get more attention as a single white girl or if we draw more attention when there are three of us. No matter what, there is always attention showered on the white girls here, good or bad.

On the way home from the store, after dark, around 8pm, we passed by a man who was particularly dirty and vocal. Unfortunately he also called out to us in English so it was very clear what he said.

Loudly, as we walked by he exclaimed ‘I want some p***y. Give me some p***y.’

Why any man would choose to exclaim this loudly at three girls walking by is beyond me. I guess he just wanted to get a reaction from us. Mine was simply ‘Good luck with that’, as the three of us continued down the street a little more quickly than normal.

Further, with things I don’t understand … I don’t understand how Dominican women put up with all of the above! The men here often are calling out to white women or checking them out while they walk along the street holding hands with their girlfriend or wife. Are the girls just used to it?

And, when a guy calls out from a bus or a car, is he trying to draw attention to you or to himself? It isn’t like they expect you to chase after the bus / car and declare your love for them just because they called you beautiful …. Do they?

My local friends tell me the best thing to do with all of the compliments is just to ignore them. There’s no way you could respond to them all anyway or you’d be busy with that all day long! So, for the most part I ignore the comments and just keep on walking like I have no idea the I am the only white person on the street amongst 100 locals who are all various shades of black.

Yesterday on my way home from the Super Mercado one of the bus workers hollered out ‘Ayayay Mami’. I usually ignore the calls, but this one caught my attention, probably because of ‘ayayay’ instead of ‘pst’. I looked up and a young guy winked, nodded and smiled as the bus rushed past. I shook my head and laughed. Regardless of their intentions, who can really complain about getting compliments all day long? If nothing else, the comments make me smile … sometimes I try to hide it inside, but every once in awhile a smile creeps across my face as I think about the fact that some random guy just found me attractive enough to holler at me.

My teacher at school explained to me one day that no one can ever really be depressed here because it if a life of compliments. If you think you are having a bad hair day, you just step outside your house and some random stranger is there to tell you that you are beautiful, or that your hair looks nice. If you are having a bad day, you just walk down the street and the men here will remind you with their looks and their words that you are worth looking at. It is an interesting concept for sure … tonnes of regular compliments have a positive effect on mental health. Maybe it’s true that Dominican is just a happier place to be!

Bumper Car Thoughts

How to make a Decision – Part 4

Oh I can feel the energy! Loud music, the smell of cotton candy and popcorn, children laughing, adults acting like children and the hum of electric bumper cars …

I excitedly choose a little red car in the middle of the bumper car pack, wait for the horn and then I start off slowly with a childish giggle thinking I can sneak past my friend before she bumps me. I test the gas peddle and my car does a little jerky-hop forward.


Ok, don’t get too excited, they don’t really move that fast, but I’ve managed to slip past my friend without her making contact. Now is my time to spin around and make my move!

Then with a jerk, my head is tossed to the left as a stranger blindsides me from the right and I hear him chuckle with excitement for his clever hit.

As I refocus my vision, I remember to step on the gas before I become stuck in the middle and forever battered by a constant stream of bumper cars waiting to attack my faithful little red car from every angle. Are those thoughts (er .. I mean … um … cars) ever going to have room to move again, or are they forever stuck in this grid-lock, surrounded by strangers waiting to attack … and then chuckle nonchalantly  about it?

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness …. I’m going away to study Spanish! EEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!

Wait a second … where is it that I’m going? oh right, I don’t know yet!

When I initially started thinking about learning Spanish in 2009, I had wanted to return to Nicaragua. I spent very little time there, but I felt such a big connection to the places that I visited.

But wait, then I traveled to Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands in February 2012 … and I decided that I wanted to go back to the Galapagos (in August 2012) to study. My best friend was invited to a wedding in Ecuador and I’d be able to visit with her before heading over to the islands. Then, while I there I could do some volunteer work, take lots of photos and see more of the islands that I had a chance to in my first five day visit.

But wait again! The Galapagos Islands are so far away and crazy expensive to get to! Not to mention that it is expensive to live there. And, well, it is a very small area. Will I get bored there for an extended period of time?

Maybe I should study Spanish in Quito, Ecuador? I knew a couple who had just studied for four weeks there before joining in on my Peru Through the Lens Photo Tour. They had loved it and both studies and living in Ecuador are dirt cheap. Oh wait … I didn’t feel safe in Quito, it was high altitude and well, it really just wasn’t my favourite place. So, cheap or not, that’s not really where I want to be!

Hmmmmmm …. there are so many Spanish speaking countries and I really would love to see them all. How am I ever going to decide? I can’t research them all, that would take too long!

What about the Dominican Republic? I had just returned from a beautiful week in Punta Cana where I was photographing a destination wedding. I had a couple of great local experiences, but felt like I didn’t really see much of the country because I was mainly on the resort. Let’s think about this option.

When I really began to contemplate the option of returning to the Dominican Republic to study, it just seemed to fit. It was cheaper to get flights to the Dominican than all the way to the Galapagos Islands. It was relatively safe for tourists, beautiful, sunny, beaches, Spanish culture, dancing, good food …. sounds good so far!

I revved up that little red bumper car engine and was poised to stomp on the gas and force my way out of the grid lock, but then hesitation …

I dug a little deeper in my thoughts … Although I had made the decision to go study Spanish for myself, I couldn’t totally ignore the part of me that found it easier to justify this ‘vacation’ if it had some business benefits.

Learning Spanish is something that I wanted to do because I was interested, but it was an extra bonus that it would also help me when I’m doing Photo Tours in South America. Were there other benefits to be found from the possibility of studying in the Dominican Republic? Why, yes, yes there are! The reason that I was in the Dominican Republic to begin with was to photograph a destination wedding. At our resort alone there were 3-4 weddings per day, seven days a week. Multiply that by however many resorts there are in Punta Cana … well, that means there’s something crazy like 150+ weddings PER WEEK just in this one area. Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could capitalize on this. Maybe I could arrange to photograph some weddings while I am in Dominican Republic learning Spanish, if that’s where I decide to go.

hmmmm … or maybe not.

Do I really want to be working or is this trip just about figuring me out? Well, maybe I could compromise and shoot one or two weddings to cover the costs of my trip. That’s not too much of a sacrifice! Oh no, there’s a hitch in that too … if I want to go this summer, that is slow season for weddings in Dominican. Not to mention that it is the nicest time of year in Nova Scotia and my main market for destination weddings would be couples from Nova Scotia. Geeze, I sure am glad I’m thinking about all of this!

Maybe the answer is that I don’t photograph any weddings while I am there, but I do some research to see if I can work with some of the resorts. And, regardless of when I do destination weddings, at least the Dominican has a high market for it. If I were to go to the Galapagos Islands, the number of destination weddings would be much fewer.

Did I just make a decision? Nah, I couldn’t have. But wait … maybe I did? What about all of the other countries that I could study in? Belize, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras … and the list goes on … It’s a big world out there, how do I choose just one location?

Look at that green bumper car … the driver is a maniac! He’s relentless! He has no shame, no compassion and takes a good hit on anyone he can, even if they aren’t moving. That’s not very sportsman like is it? Wait, he’s aiming straight for me on my one open side, as I’m grid-locked in everywhere else. I’m not going to let him beat my while I’m down! I’ll show him … GAS!!!

After several days of debating with myself and giving myself justification from a business standpoint I said ‘Enough is enough! Just pick a place and go with it!’. So, I did just that. Based on my previous experience in Dominican, the cost of getting there, the distance and the opportunities to expand my business there, I decided to just go for it.

With the wind dancing in my hair, a childish grin on my face and lots of driving practice, I starred back that the guy in the blue bumper car, I braced myself, put the peddle to the metal and hit him so hard, straight on, that it took his breath away.

Wait a second … it took my breath away too … all of a sudden I’m free of grid-lock. I gasped for air and then realized that there is plenty of it there to enjoy, I just needed to break free, attack head on and keep moving forward.


The Spider Incident

Feb 25, 2012

After supper, Kristie and I headed on our trek to the outhouse, in the dark … brushed our teeth, in the dark and then came back to get ready for bed.

As I was cleaning off my bed, I moved my camera bag and something scurried away. (I just shivered thinking about it). Ah! I jumped back and gasped realizing at seeing it a second time that it was a large spider.

I’m not a fan of spiders to begin with, but something about finding a big one on your bed in another country is even scarier. Kristie, also happens to be scared of spiders, so we were a great team!

We got the flashlight out and looked around the floor, no luck. I continued very slowly clearing all of my belongings off my bed … one at a time. I checked and dumped each one of them out and set them aside. Then, on to my camera bag. I talked myself through it … ‘Ok, I’m going to pick up my bag and move it to the floor.’ … ‘Then I’m going to slowly take off each of the blankets on the bed and check every single one.’

So, I did. I moved my camera bag and EWWWWWW! There it was again … scurried away and I couldn’t see where it went. Now there was nothing left on my bed though except for blankets.

I have a muddy dirty shoe in one hand, a pounding heart and a spider in my bed!

I got brave enough to shake the corner of the blanket with my shoe. Are you kidding me? I certainly wasn’t going to use my hand.

Poof! There’s our spider again, this time running across the floor. Eight legs carry them pretty fast!

I reached for my dirty sneaker, aimed and SMACK!
Oh wait, that wasn’t just a smack I heard … a loud ripping noise too. What was that?

Yup, sure enough, when I bent over to smack the spider with my shoe I completely lost the ass of my pajama pants! I would be mortified if the pants had been tight and I split them because I was bursting out of them, but that was not the case! These pjs were baggy flannel pants. They were no where near too tight. I guess they must have just been worn out because they ripped about 12 inches.

I double and triple checked to make sure that the spider was clearly dead. Sorry to all of you animal lovers out there, but there will be no live spiders in my room (that I am aware of)!

Now that the spider is officially dead and I have air conditioning for my ass … we were able to laugh about it all. Really? I split my pants while killing a spider? It still makes me laugh.

Next I had to take off each of five blankets on my bed and shake them off. Success! No spiders that I’m aware of in my bed, or in my room. Yes, I am sitting on my bed while writing this … not quite sure how I’m going to survive lights out though!

Send me strength!

Floreana Island – Dolphins

Feb 15, 2012

After leaving the penguins behind, I stayed on the upper deck with Raul. I figured since the seas had gotten rougher that I would have a better chance at not being sick if I was in the fresh air, looking forward.

After awhile, deck hand Richard came up and sat with us as well. I attempted conversation with the two of them, but it wasn’t the greatest as neither of them spoke English and my Spanish is still only in single words, not sentences. Of course, I was able to ask their names, as well as show them pictures from my trip so far on my Lumix Waterproof camera. Richard knew Armando (my snorkeling with the sea lions guy). We were able to chat briefly about a few things and they taught me a few new Spanish words.

Richard on the boat
Richard on the boat

After about an hour, Raul all of a sudden said ‘Dolphins!’. Richard immediately grabbed my hand to get me to come with him. He took me down the steep ladder off the top of the boat and directly to the very front tip of the boat where he told me to sit with my feet over the edge. All of this through hand motions and Spanish.

The next thing I knew there were three dolphins racing with the boat, DIRECTLY beneath my feet. My feet were about 2-3 feet from the water and the dolphins were less than a foot under the water. When Raul would slow the boat down, the dolphins would slow down … if he sped up as fast as he could go, the dolphins sped up right along with us.

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands
Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands
Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands
Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

Besides the two or three that were swimming directly under the boat, there were half a dozen more doing tricks, jumping and doing displays in the water.

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands
Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

The next thing I knew, one of the dolphins came up for air, spraying me and completely covering me. Richard was lying down on the other side of the boat on his stomach and was getting sprayed in the face too. I’m sure he’s seen a display of dolphins like this a million times, but I think he enjoyed it a little extra that day because I was so excited.

Up until this point I think I was strickly in awe of the beauty. Once I was covered in dolphin spray I shed one little tear. I was overwhelmed with the beauty around me. Overwhelmed and thankful for having this opportunity. And, believe it or not, I was glad that my camera was broken so that I didn’t have the urge to take it out and photograph this. Dolphins are very hard to photograph as they move so quickly and I would have wasted precious time trying to capture them instead of taking in the whole amazing scene.

It was an absolutely beautiful moment meant just for me … no work, no worries, just pure beautiful enjoyment. It was at this time that I knew I was in love with the Galapagos Islands that no question, I would be returning.

We must have stayed and ‘played’ with the dolphins for about 30 minutes and I enjoyed every single second. I don’t believe I’ve been this happy in a long long time. It is such a wonderful feeling to be in the open sea air and be so close to nature. Dolphins are so curious and playful. I really just wanted to jump in with them, but I didn’t think Captain Raul would let me do that! Although looking back, maybe I should have asked!

I honestly can’t explain my feelings of that day other than feeling beauty rush through my body and a healthy energy rush through my veins. I feel like that one day simply changed my way of thinking. Somehow, weirdly and ‘hippy-like’ I felt connected to nature. It was a moment when I could feel all of my stress just leave my body and I felt completely rejuvenated.