Latin Dance Night in Cabarete – The Men – Part 1

Yes, this post is topic is as scandlous as you might imagine from the title and part 2 will get even better, so stay tuned! Get ready, because this is really what the Dominican Republic is like for a single, young, blonde woman.

On Thursday night I headed out to Cabarete with the other students for a night of drinking and dancing. Thursday nights at a local bar called Ojo Club is Latin Dance night. Upstairs is Salsa music, downstairs has bachata and merengue. Well, if you’ve been following along with my twitter or Facebook posts, you already know that I am crazy about Latin Dance. Thursday nights are very exciting for me because it is my opportunity to go out and get my Latin groove on!

The group of us arrived at Ojo’s at shortly after 10pm and the bar was empty. Having been there the past week, I knew this was normal and that by 11pm, people would begin to arrive and hit the dance floor. We grabbed a couple of drinks (Santa Libre for me – Rum & Sprite) and sat to chat for awhile until people started to arrive.

At 11pm people started to slowly trickle in. At 11:30, the dance floor was packed. My friend Diana had been at a different bar and when she joined us at Ojo’s, she introduced me to a local (in red pants) who liked to dance. Basically she pawned him off on me. HA HA HA No big deal. I love to dance too and was happy to get out on the dance floor with a local who was a really good dancer. We danced two or three songs and then I took a break because I was too warm and needed water. Red-pants-boy stayed nearby though waiting for me to dance with him again. I remember whispering to Diana that I didn’t want to dance with the same guy all night and next thing I knew, another guy on the dance floor made eye contact and asked me to dance. So, I set my water down and headed back out on the dance floor while Red-pants-boy watched from the side lines.

Now I know that makes it sound horrible, but I just wanted to dance. I’m not looking for a Dominican boyfriend, I just want to dance! I had only danced with Red-pants-boy a couple of times … and completely clean! No dirty dancing, nor did I even know his name! So, it wasn’t like I led the boy on. And here, in the Dominican it is quite normal to dance with all kinds of different people, not always the same one. If you dance with the same one that means you are specifically interested in them. I don’t want any of that non-sense!

This new guy and I danced a few times and then he asked for my phone number which I wouldn’t give to him. He then gave me his business card with his number and explained that he works with the police. Now, in Canada, girls go crazy for police officers … the uniform, their salaries, their authority … but Dominican police officers don’t have quite that same reputation. Here, they are well known to be corrupt, and not very well paid. They do, however wear uniforms, if that’s what you like! I took the guy’s card, danced a couple of times and then paused for a drink before being whisked away by Red-pants-boy … and then, continued to dance with a couple of guys who were friends of students at our school. Then someone else and then someone else …. You get the idea. Once a girl is on the dance floor, if she wants to continue, it isn’t really a problem. You just have to look interested in dancing and not be attached to any one guy in particular. Dominican men generally don’t try and take you from another man, if you are together.

The next guy I remember dancing with was a real cutie. We’ll call him red-hat-boy, not to be confused with Red-pants-boy. A couple of dances with him and then the next person who asked me to dance was a skinny little young boy. Seriously, I doubt he was old enough to be at the bar, but no one really cares. Ok, he might have been 19 or 20, but they are well known for looking young here and he looked about 15. I danced with him twice, but the little bugger wanted to dance a little dirtier than I was willing. Especially when I felt like I could be his mother.

And this is where the scandal begins.

This kid continued to hound me to dance, in Spanish, of course. At first I politely said no. Then he had his arm around my waist and was standing there like we were a couple. I quickly changed positions and gently pushed him away. I thought, making it clear that I was not interested. He continued to try to get me to dance and basically, tried to put his hands all over me. I wasn’t really scared of him being so forward, just simply not at all interested. So, after about the fifth time of saying ‘no’ to dancing, stronger each time, I finally went and danced with Red-hat-boy again. Sadly, he wasn’t that interested in dancing with me and clearly had his eye on another girl. Luckily my heart wasn’t broken because I wasn’t interested either, I just wanted to dance!

Not too long after, those of us who were still at Ojo’s headed over to a neighbouring bar called Ono’s where they play more American style dance music. The little kid continued to follow me around, trying to force me to dance with him and wrapping his arm around me if I came within one meter of him.

My frustration was building as this kid would not go away. I’d say he wouldn’t take the the hint, but there was no hint. I had been flat out honest, in Spanish, that I was not interested.

I decided that I was ready to leave as I was not having fun any more with this kid who wouldn’t go away. On my way out of the bar, a new guy asked me to dance. He caught my attention and I actually stopped to talk to him for a moment to explain that I was actually leaving for the night, heading home. He tried to convince me to stay, but I continued on my way.

Not five minutes later, my friend Sophia had convinced me to stay for a little while longer and back into Ono’s I went. Unfortunately, the kid hadn’t taken the hint and was immediately by my side again. I took a quick look around, found the guy who had asked me to dance and walked over to him to explain that I wasn’t leaving after all. And, out on the dance floor we went.

He was a cute little thing. He looked young, but probably in the 25-28 range, not 15! We danced a few times and then he asked for my name and number. At this point, I’ve gotten good at not giving my number out. I had been asked four times already that night. It is like a game for these guys to see how many numbers they can get, or see which one of them gets the girl in the end because quite often all of the guys are friends. Of course when you say no, they always retort with ‘why’, to which I always explain I’m not looking for a Dominican boyfriend! To which, they usually ignore.

For the next hour, I danced with this guy … Let’s call him Francis and hope he never reads this particular blog post! ha ha ha Although all Dominican guys seem to have intentions of hooking up, I made it very clear, once again that I was not interested in anything at all and certainly not looking for a Dominican boyfriend, nor would I be giving out any kisses. We had lots of fun dancing the night away until the bar closed at 3am.

I went looking for my friend Sophia who swore she wouldn’t leave with out me and she was no where to be found. I called her, but her cell phone wasn’t on or had no minutes. So, Francis walked me out to the main road to get transportation home. We stood and talked for quite awhile while he very respectfully encouraged me not to take a moto concho home at night from Cabarete to Sosua as it was not safe. I was really looking for a carro publico, but there didn’t seem to be any. After 15 or 20 minutes, one came along and stopped. Again, he wouldn’t let me go because it was empty. He said it wasn’t safe for me to get in a carro publico alone this late at night. Really, that was pretty nice of him.

Getting a little antsy to get going, I checked on the price of a taxi. Yikes, $500 Pesos! (over $12 US) That’s pretty pricey for here! So, I waited a little longer. Sweet Francis offered to take a carro publico with me to Sosua and then return to Cabarete. Very sweet, but I immediately saw the intentions behind it and clearly advised him that although I appreciated his kindness, he would not be invited to my room when we arrived and that he would have to return to Cabarete.

He said he didn’t mind at all and that was no problem, that he just wanted me to get home safely. In the end though, I took my chances with a taxi driver and paid a discounted rate of $400 Pesos. I finally gave in and agreed to text Francis when I got home so that he would know I was safe. I knew this was just a ploy to get my phone number, but what harm could him having a phone number do?

…. and the scandal continues… Part 2

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!

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!