Wednesday night, approximately midnight, Santo Domingo. Crowded customs lines and visitors cards, jet lag and airport chaos. The customs official stamps my passport and I enter the crowded arrivals area, thinking, please, someone, be here to pick me up. And of course, there’s Reid, waiting excitedly with a fresh empanada in hand, her glorious blonde hair standing out conspicuously in the crowd.
Within seconds it’s like no time has passed, only we have better stories to tell, and they begin there in the taxi as we speed past the Caribbean coastline towards the city. Some of the wildest stories we’ve ever begun to tell, laughter and so many happy memories of the old days, growing up in Alaska, ever since we met and instantly disliked each other when we were 12. And now here we are, eight years later, gushing about our lives in a taxi in the Dominican Republic. I devour my empanada as Reid begins to turn the past 6 months into pure comedy, starting at the beginning, recounting the craziness that is life as a American in Santo Domingo. And then it’s my turn, and the part of me that’s still in Antarctica makes ambitious attempts to describe, to convey, to somehow suggest with words the incredible magnitude of what I have witnessed. Then the hotel has no more rooms, so Reid sneaks me into her host family’s house and we squeeze into her tiny bed, giggling hysterically and sharing story after story, until fatigue sets in.
“We lead good lives,” sighs Reid, a final sentence before sleep takes over.
Such began my time in the Dominican Republic, a place that has proved to be full of constant surprises and good times. I had been expecting to kind of hang out in the background while Reid lived her busy scholastic life, but with classes only 3 days a week, we began my trip at full force with a trip to Jarabacoa, a small town in the mountains, to go whitewater rafting. We were joined by Olive, her best friend and adventure companion, on a long bus ride into the countryside, and arrived Jarabacoa by nightfall.
Then began the search for a reliable place to stay – being pretty much the ultimate gringa trio, it was difficult to hold a conversation without constant interruptions from basically every male we passed, offering their suggestions on where we should go and excessive compliments, catcalls and pick-up lines. Finally, we cautiously accepted a passerby’s offer to let us stay in his hotel for extra cheap, on the logic that it was featured in the Lonely Planet guidebook for the Dominican Republic and Haiti (which is undoubtedly the most strangely written guidebook I’ve ever seen… I don’t know if the author had a very good time). In any case, it was interesting. I do not believe there was a single other person staying in this hotel, but there seemed to be a large group of noisy locals living there permanently. Completely dark entryway, empty reception, linoleum everything, no exterior windows (but interestingly, interior ones.) Cockroaches in the closet, but thankfully not visible on the floor or anything. And it worked out great!
We stayed there for two nights and had one of the most entertaining whitewater rafting experiences of my life to date. The local guides were crazy, jumping out of the rafts at random to leap into the river from clifftops, pushing each other into the river and generally goofing off, which made for a hilarious ride down the river, featuring some very real rapids and forceful collisons with large boulders among the entertainment. The rest of the trip was spent wandering and hanging out in Jarabacoa, until Reid and I took the bus back to town on Saturday. We´ve been here ever since.
The Dominican Republic is an interesting place – one that seems almost more reminiscent of Africa than Latin America, although everything is in Spanish. This is a place where Wonderbread seems a mandatory part of every meal, where cheap transportation is instantly summoned by simply pointing the direction in which you wish to travel, and sandwiches are the most popular food in the country. Signs warning against cholera symptoms are posted about in both Spanish and Creole, and random political parades stop traffic for an election two years away. This is a place where the party never stops, where drive-through bars exist, where the police are the last people you´d ever want to call for help. Everyone can dance, the music is constant and loud, and Sunday night concerts draw gigantic crowds of locals, dancing the night away at the base of an ancient ruin. In short, it could not be more different than Antarctica.
Tomorrow night we´re going to see Calle 13, apparently a hugely famous Puerto Rican band, before I start the long trek home the next day. This has been quite the varied trip, I must say. By Saturday night I´ll be back in the frozen North, where I hear it´s been below zero (fahrenheit) for almost a week. By some stroke of luck, I´ve managed to line up my old job as a children´s ski coach again, so as soon as I get home I´ll be hitting the trails almost immediately. Until then, dear readers. The Antarctica saga is coming soon.