There were so many things we enjoyed about the Dominican. I had arranged through a website I found online to take private Spanish lessons. I couldn’t help but remember how The Lonely Planet had said The Dominican Republic had the worst drivers in the world. They didn’t list them among the most dangerous; they singled them out to be the very worst on the planet. And I never got used to seeing kids riding on the back of parents’ scooters rarely with a helmet. So I was pleased that I was able to find a tutor who would come to our villa three times a week. After Nairoby introduced herself, we immediately conversed in Spanish. She asked what topics I might like to concentrate on given our limited time together. I wanted practical Spanish so we focused on food, shopping, travel and general conversation. She was lovely. Each Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for three weeks we sat at our dining room table or on our terrace next to the pool and she helped me grow my Spanish skills. I told her I didn’t want at this point to study verb tenses but rather concentrate on general vocabulary. So while it’s not pretty I can generally get my point across and usually understand the response, often after asking the person “una vez mas” (one more time).
Although it wasn’t within walking distance we found a grocery store nearby our villa. We were amazed at the selection they offered. While there are many tourists on the north coast this grocery was also frequented by locals. There were many American brand names and we thought the prices were reasonable particularly because we were living on an island. There were some surprises also: I had never seen clear vanilla. And right next to the homemade bread we found loaves of Dave’s Killer Bread, one of our favorites we had discovered during visits to Seattle.
The checkers and the baggers were extremely friendly. I was really surprised when our bagger, who was helping us carry the groceries to the car, went directly to our car without my mentioning which one it was. “I remember,” he said in perfect English. And nearly everywhere we went we saw fruit being sold from the backs of trucks. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.
We even found a dollar store in Cabarete. The woman, who turned out to be the owner, immediately began speaking in English to us. Turns out she is a Canadian who moved to the island several years ago. It was great to be able to find small things like a wine bottle opener which we didn’t have at the house. I also found two birthday cards for good friends back in the States. Little did I know then that there was no postal service. Hmmm…why do they sell cards when there is no way to mail them? I asked Nairoby and she responded that when locals want to send something to someone they just deliver it to them in person. Interesting!
While we had purchased a wine opener, we didn’t look for measuring cups. I was surprised when there were no measuring utensils at all in our villa that was otherwise well-stocked. The water isn’t potable so the guys who managed the villa would routinely ask if we needed another jug of water each day. We also bought bottled water from the grocery. (The large water jug was room temperature.) One of the bottles I had purchased was 16 ounces so that became my measuring device. I could make rice by using the bottle and guessing at proportions. I got pretty good at estimating ¼ cup, ½ cup and a cup. Eggs, again like in Europe, are not refrigerated. That still takes some getting used to. We hard boiled some for egg salad and were amazed both by the bright orange color of the yolks and also by the size. When we peeled some you could even see the yolk come through. Very different, but they were very tasty.
There are no libraries in the area where we were, but we were delighted to find individual “bibliotheques” in restaurants and even bars. Some books in Spanish and others in English.
The three men who took care of the villa were delightful. Tita came each morning checked the pool and vacuumed it. Jujuan came everyday to check out our water and ask if there was anything we needed. And Osvaldo was the main guy in charge. Their English was pretty much limited to “Good morning,” and “See you Monday,” But we always managed to communicate. From time to time they brought us fresh coconuts with the top chopped off so we could drink the milk. Other times, they brought us plantains and fresh cherries.
When Jujuan brought us a bunch of key limes. I decided I needed to make a key lime pie. I found condensed milk in the supermarket, and graham crackers for the crust. Again, it took a bit of figuring to calculate amounts but after Bob found a way to crush the graham crackers into crumbs I went back to my handy water bottle to guess the amounts. It turned out really yummy! (Note that Bob is using a rum bottle for his rolling pin!) The owner of our villa was Russian and we learned that our complex was owned by Russians. Evidently there is a large Russian influx on the coast. I’m not sure what the draw is although I’m sure the weather must be part of it. I don’t generally think of individual Russians as folks looking for investment property but then again what do I know?
When we first arrived at the villa we were surprised by the cats. We are not cat fans but they were cute. Then they began to yowl! And fight! We looked over the edge of the hill next to the pool! Oh my! There was a group of 8 or 9. They seemed to be everywhere! At night we’d hear them cry and they were loud. In the outdoor restaurants, near the pool, in the parks, throughout the complex it was cats! Cats! And more cats! The morning we were to fly back to DC we were up early (or was it late)? Robinson was to pick us up at 5:30 and take us to the airport. We got up about 4:30 and as I opened the bedroom door to the kitchen/living room I saw a flash of white. I quickly slammed the door and cried out to Bob, “There’s an animal in the house!” As Bob, armed with broom in hand, walked to the front door in an attempt to give the animal a way out, I looked at a loaf of bread on the counter that had been eaten open. As Bob walked through the living room, he glanced at the slider and realized that not only had we not locked the door before going to bed the previous night but that we had left the screen door wide open. We were lucky we didn’t have a dozen cats in the house. At this point I decided I was definitely ready to leave!
Robinson arrived right on time for our trip to the airport. Delta had sent me a chance to upgrade to business class for a nominal fee. Having never done this we wanted to try it once. Boy, are we spoiled. A 6 am flight is definitely improved by a mimosa served before even leaving the ground. And cloth napkins?
After leaving the Dominican, we first landed in DC where we spent 2 days catching up with our youngest son, Patrick, and then went out to Rockville to spend another two days with our son, Stephen and his family. And then on to Rome where we’d meet up with our daughter. How lucky we are! We missed seeing our oldest son’s family but traveling to Michigan in the middle of February with snow, ice and wind chills far below zero…well, it just didn’t seem like the time to go there.
Adios Dominican Republic! Ciao Italia!