A July 2003 trip
to Bayahibe by Jose Kevo
Join me and local sidekicks in a village tropical fantasies are made of. Follow yellow dirt roads, white sandy beaches for experiences you come looking for with authentic island life. Realize when I say, "there's no place like home" in Bayahibe.
Spa of the Caribbean -- Bayahibe's strip of pristine public beach is by far the village's greatest asset; a tempting allure surpassing meager words and photos. But this trip I found another hidden attraction guaranteed to cleanse your mind, body and soul as described in the Beach entry.
Jose's Chimi Truck is my favored recommendation for eating of an evening serving a variety of huge burgers, ham, pork, and other sandwiches for US. You'll find him parked under the street light in the village center across from the colmado. He also opens of a morning serving breakfast as a Budget Dining Option.
Mi Gente -- Regardless of what you may find, it is sharing in the lives of the people; family and friends which keep me coming back for more.
Drinking Water -- Bayahibe and nearby resorts have purified water running through tap faucets and showers. I mistakenly drank half a pitcher and didn't get sick! Still, everyone (including locals) drinks bottled. If you're planning an extended stay, consider purchasing a 5-gallon bottle for RD25 and refundable RD100 deposit, compared to a 12-ounce for RD7.
Electricity - A privatized utility company provides regular electrical service to Bayahibe erasing notorious apagónes/rolling brown-outs which plague most of the country. Usage of fans, air-conditioning and standard American-voltage equipment should be no problem.
Exploring Dominican Republic - All my Dominican Journals have taken place based from Bayahibe. Send a message in my IGOUGO mailbox if you'd like other details.
The Village Center is hub for local transportation where publico vans leave every 30-minutes for La Romana at a cost of RD25. Publicos stop at the Highway 3 intersection for making transfers to Higuey for RD15.
Taxis for Hire are also found in the center, but are steep in price. Using one is unavoidable for going to Altos de Chavon. Motoconchos can be found where the main road forks into town. A ride to nearby Dominicus Beach is RD25.
Using Public Transportation is what I highly recommend for getting around. Driving in DR is very risky and car rentals/insurance very expensive. My Dominican journals all list specific route and cost details.
Water Excursions depart daily from the village for Saona Island, scuba/snorkeling, and other activities/destinations.
La Romana's Airport is only 20-minutes away if you can get one of American Airline's limited flights. Otherwise, Santo Domingo is your next best arrival option.
As part of the barter/trade system the village runs on, the family had secured a deal with the neighbors which operate a cluster of cabañas directly across the street. Doña Dignora, the name of the lady misspelled on the small sign overgrown with vegetation, is a group of various sized cabins located on the right of the side street which runs parallel to Hotel Bayahibe. You can't miss them with their colorful tropical pastel colors.
Based on the family favor and my extended stay, I was given a room for RD250 a night with a double bed that easily could've accommodated two people. Furnishings were rather basic which included a large dresser, fan, screened windows and private bathroom/shower with only warm-to-cold water; great for those midday showers coming back from the beach, but potentially a little chilly late of an evening.
Without the special price, expect to pay upwards of RD450 for a single, but prices seemed to be negotiable; especially the longer you planned on being there. There are also larger cabañas which can accommodate four to six people; also with private bath, which start around RD1,000.
Before leaving, one of our family's tenants moved out which allowed rentals to tourist. Cabañas Oris is the large sign advertising rooms at the compound with basically the same type of accommodations as described above. Again depending on the number of people and length of stay, Mami rents rooms for as little as RD150 a night per person. A breakfast of eggs, buttered breads and coffee is an additional RD50. You can check availability by calling 809/833-0194. Spanish, and limited English and other European languages are spoken.
Before my month stay had ended, tourists were back out in full force filling up any/all housing options in the village. If coming to Bayahibe without any type or reservations, I highly recommend arriving before nightfall. New arrivals in town are often greeted by local shoeshine boys in the center area where publicos unload and escorted for finding a place to stay. When the town is full, the biggest hassle is lugging your baggage through the hot, dusty streets.
Rooms at Hotel Bayahibe were still going for RD350 a night; Llaves del Mar is the other in-town hotel option, but there are numerous cabaña complexes along all the side streets leading off the main road. Unfortunately, most still don't have telephones or contact info for making advance reservations.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 26, 2004
Cabanas Dona Dignora
Off The Side Street Next To Hotel Bayahibe
Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Attraction | "Tranquil Cleansing Amidst the BEACH Fiesta Grande"
Whether a quick sunrise jog, an in-depth sunset conversation over Presidente's, or extended mid-day bake on the sugary-white sands, Bayahibe's pristine beach is undoubtedly the greatest asset for luring independent travelers for staying in the village.
I took great pride walking new arrivals in town out to the beach, and listening to their rave reviews over how what they found topped any DR beach they'd been to (private or public) in Boca Chica, the Samana peninsula or along the northern coast. No wonder guidebooks are listing here as one of the Top 10 things to experience while traveling within the country!
Even with year-round warm weather, I was surprised to find such a large increase in beach traffic during the summer months compared to fall/winter. Dominicans from La Romana and the region flock to this haven; especially on weekends, and are more than willing to share their mass party with anyone along the palm-shaded sands.
Sweet smells of something cooking on scattered grills mingle with the salty air; there's also a row of vendor booths along the back stretch hawking foods, drinks, lounge chairs for helping get you further in the mood. But the real pace enhancer will likely come from the strategically placed computer table which accommodates the DJ down-loading local hits; at times seemingly enough to gyrate coconuts down from overhead.
In all my years coming here, who knew there were still undiscovered experiences to be found. Positioned in my favorite spot on the crest of the beach where gentle tides meld you into the sands, I was watching a group of children playing in the warm shallow waters; picking up clumps of sand off the sea floor and rubbing it on each other to great amusement of their sudden whiteness. I paid much closer attention when noticing grown-ups doing the same.
I'm not sure what "spa-like" qualities you'll find, but I highly recommend sitting in the shallow waters; scooping up handfuls of sand finely crushed into a pasty pudding texture. Generously apply it to any/all body parts for a soothing ritual that might not have physical affects of a mud-pack, but I guarantee a mental cleansing like none other and further enhanced by the overall environment.
One potential forewarning: With weekend crowds come overflowing garbage cans and scattered litter; enough to potentially ruin the Eden-like setting. Thankfully, the local coalition is very efficient for having everything restored to natural order by early morning. Please be conscious enough not to contribute to pollution in any way, including cigarette butts.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 26, 2004
Fiesta Grande Beach
A short walk north of the village
Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Attraction | "The Locals' Way to Play"
A 22-oz. Presidente costs RD35, but you'd never drink the entire bottle by yourself! Stacks of plastic cups are distributed with each purchase so you can share your beer before it gets warm. And expect to have your cup refilled by others just as generously. Celebrations continues right up until the colmado closes at 8pm.
Marina Mundo/(Sea World) disco has replaced the Blue Marlin along south of the central area. You can't miss it; the first place in town to sport neon lights! Once inside, you'll also find it's the only place in town with carpeting. The bar opens nightly by 7pm, but don't expect to find much action until later of an evening; especially on Sunday's which for some undetermined reason is the area's marathon night where most don't even come out until after midnight.
Regardless of when you venture inside, expect to find mostly locals and females outnumbered 10-to-1. You'll be welcomed as a tourist staying in the village, as if you're caucasianess won't be enough of a clue, but if you really want to call attention to yourself, wear something white! The entire inside is illuminated with black lights which make the interior walls swim to life with their fluorescent, neon underwater seascape murals.
There's a small dance floor that can get rather crowded, and a bar in back serving more than just local rums; something to help further keep you cool while in one of the town's few air-conditioned places. Mixed drinks, and beers are more expensive than at the colmado. When paying with larger bills, make sure you don't get short-changed. And to most tourist's surprise and disgust, the disco is maintained as a smoke-free environment.
Another new nightly option is a Pool Hall found on the main street into town just across from the Llaves del Mar hotel. What you'll find are four pool tables, a bar and jukebox, and plenty of local sharks willing to empty your pockets if you're foolish enough to bet them on a game.
Big Sur Cafe, along back of Bayahibe Bay off the walkway to Casa del Mar resort, is the other hotspot for Friday nights when locals and tourists bused in from the regional resorts carry on until sunrise. Don't expect to arrive before midnight, and you'll want to be dressed up to fit within the eclectic crowd. Otherwise, Big Sur is open nightly if you're looking for a place to have all to yourself; there's a menu and full bar offered, with live music on the weekends.
What To Do
Around the Village Center
Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Computer/Internet & PhoneWith the electronic age, all the signs advertising sudden abundance of village internet access still looked out of place. There's now wide availability, but I recommend Bayahibe Tele.Com since they were the only ones with DSL hook-up and rapid, dependable service. They're located in the cluster of buildings just off the bus parking lot and facing the bay. Internet access costs 2-pesos per minute, faxes 10-pesos per page, and phone calls can be made to the U.S. or Canada for 25-pesos per minute; 40 for Europe. They're open from 8:30am to 7pm. All other internet services run through phone lines, were dreadfully slow, and inconsistent with their availabilities for actual useage.
Currency ExchangeHotels, restaurants, the main colmado and even a new banking office across from the police station are now exchanging foreign currencies for Dominican pesos noted by the daily rates posted on signs out front. Even with value of the Euro higher than the dollar, they were being traded equally for local currency.
Especially budget travelers should plan on using these only as a last resort with better rates offered at official agencies when arriving at the airport or in nearby La Romana. The difference may seem insignificant but with continued devaluation of the peso, the small savings significantly added up since actual prices had not risen for anything. Again, I pulled off this month+ adventure for less than US$500 with the exchange rate of RD35 on the dollar.
The main colmado in the village center was also in the initial stages of accepting foreign currencies for purchases with change returned in pesos based on the daily exchange rate; a growing widespread practice around the country which is hoping to switch to the American money system.
The Lottery Office in the center next to where the publico stand is, was also a key place for breaking RD1000 and RD500 bills which are often obsolete with lacking abilities for making change. Where ever you exchange your foreign currency, insist on at least half the amount in smaller bills.
Laundry ServiceThe New Generation Laundry can be found on the unmarked side street which runs parrallel to Hotel Bayahibe. They'll launder and even press any items for less than $1 alleviating need to pack extra. The sign says one-hour service, but things dropped off early morning likely won't be ready until late afternoon. They're open from 8am to 6pm and closed on Sundays. They can also arrange prebooking of trips to Saona Island and other water excursions through Bayahibe Acuatico Tours.
Village life is all but anchored around the colmado/general store where locals and visitors can easily pick up basic staples and daily necessities as well as catch-up on any/everything going on. The main colmado, located in the village center, sells foods, bottled water, beverages and liquors, film, bug repellents, toiletries, batteries and just about anything you'll need. And of a late afternoon, it's the hotspot for activity around the bar with crowds spilling out onto the streets.
Thomacita Colmado is on the corner where the main road t's into the coastal road with a lot of the same goods, but at a slightly higher cost and definitely less atmosphere and popularity.
Both colmados open at 8am, take noon-to-2pm siesta breaks, and then reopen with the central colmado staying open later until 8pm. In a land where time often doesn't matter, these places are very punctual and thorough when it comes to closing time so plan your purchases accordingly. If you find yourself needing something during the mid-day break, hit the side streets and find one of the smaller stores within the residencial areas which don't close.
Scuba/SnorkelingWith seaside access to some of the best waters in the Caribbean, there are three European-expat owned DIVE SHOPS within the village. When trying to help assist travelers with making trip arrangements, I was shocked to find the actual limited availabilities from the long list of dive excursions listed. Some were only offered one day a week; others only if enough people were interested to make the trip. Potential travelers also commented on how various prices didn't seem so reasonable when adding in the additional boat/transportation charge, lunch and other hidden costs per person.
Based on hearsay and my own perceptions (not experience), Casa Daniel is the better of the three choices if for no other reason than courteous reception and local reputation. In addition to their Dive business, they also have guesthouse rooms for their patrons to additionally book. A full list of prices, dives and services offered can be found at their website. They've a pair of smaller shops clearly marked in town along the coastal road and bay while their main facility and guesthouse is a brief walk south of town beyond the baseball field.
Water ExcursionsBayahibe is departure point for the country's most popular Day Trip to Saona Island , which I highly recommend, as well as Catalina Island, deep-sea fishing, and other water excursions. Independent travelers staying within the village will likely get confused with the onslaught of advertisements for these various trips as well as get taken to the cleaners if using the colorfully painted information kiosk situated next to the parking lot where buses unload for the day. Specific details can be found in the Saona Island link above for maximizing your experiences while greatly minimizing your costs.
Doctor & Medical AssistanceThe Local Clinic still sees their fair share of travelers in need of minor medical assistance where they're charged minimal fees. The new doctor on the premises only speaks Spanish. Also, there's a new private clinic on one of the unmarked side streets off the main road. It's open three days a week, and patients are seen by appointment. Fees are said to be quite expensive.
Wandering the Unmarked StreetsAs you pass along the main road into town, you'll notice numerous side streets with signs advertising cabañas, restaurants and bars, beauty shops, smaller colmados and other key services for guests staying within the village. Most of these are operated out of family compounds, and because of their obscurity, tend to come and go. Once initially settled, travelers need not limit themselves to the obvious. This is especially critical when arriving and village accommodations appear full. I discovered several new places when helping travelers find places to stay. Unfortunately, reservations are next to impossible with the limited contact info. Local shoeshine boys are more than willing to help for a few pesos.
Car/Moped rentalsJust left of where the main road t's into the coastal road is a new office advertising day-trip excursions as well as car and moped rentals. Trouble was, it never appeared to be consistantly open. Currently it is the only place in town offering transportation rentals, but I again caution potential drivers on the extreme risks and costs and encourage to leave the driving to someone else!
Personal Local AssistanceUnfortunately with the local economy crashing, government and private funding was drastically cut and the Bayahibe Continuing Education School was forced to close. I thank readers/travelers who did help support the local youth by hiring them as guides and escorts. The offer still stands for anyone that would like me to help arrange such services independently, or for an authentic Dominican home-cooked meal.
A girl's worth is determined by the level of celebration the family throws for the quinceañera, an event usually bigger than any eventual wedding. From the day a daughter is born, families begin planning and saving towards this ritual, and often still go in debt to insure their daughter is perceived as worthy.
Obviously, experiencing one of these events is nothing you could actually plan for while on vacation, but I was fortunate enough to be in town when one of Bayahibe's founding and most prominent families was in the midst of staging what I was told would be one of the village's premier extravaganzas.
As one of the families from the block, my immediate invitation upon arrival came as a guest of honor to be joined by a host of the stepfather's relatives flying in from Italy. The week leading up to the grand event was a madness of rehearsals and activities including enough food preparations to feed the entire village which had been invited.
On the evening of the celebration, the 15-year-old along with six of her closest friends and their dates, transformed from care-free teenagers into a regal court of local royalty wearing their white formal ball gowns and black suits/ties. Gathering on the block for pre-ceremony pictures, I couldn't help but notice them standing on the dirt road amid the contrasting near-poverty which still served as a background reminder.
Once photos were finished, they were loaded into decorated dune buggies and paraded through the village before making their way across the back of the bay area to the expansive Big Sur open-air nightclub which had been privately rented out for the night. A hush fell across the crowd as the court unloaded and made their way up the walkway with a pomp and circumstance like none other. Each couple was announced before the grand entrance all had been waiting for - the quinceañera princess straight out of the best told Dominican fairytale!
Formalities which followed were quite intriguing as the couples executed their polished dance skills with a waltz, a traditional bachata and merengue number, and the quinceañera's choice with only her date - something straight off the U.S. Top 40 chart. The crowds were easily a dozen deep hemming in the perimeters of the open-air pavillion which served as the ultimate Caribbean ball room.
What I saw deeply touched me; not only watching the ceremony but looking around at the awe-struck crowd. Whether the oldest of grandmothers present, little girls, or 13/14-year-olds watching with great anticipation for their upcoming quinceañera, I couldn't help but sense the females bonded with pride and perhaps shrouded with envy.
It was very unlikely within the village any of the older females had had a celebration this elaborate . . . nor would any of the younger ones anytime soon. I thought of all the quinceañeras I'd attended in small, cramped NYC apartments for transported Dominicanas -- a very poor second without this natural homeland environment; no matter how much cash had been shelled out.
Eventually, a "coming out" presentation was made by the parents, and to say all hell broke loose after that is perhaps the understatement from my entire trip! The music automatically went up several decibels and spontaneous celebration began erupting across the scattered sand courtyard further lit-up from the chance tropical full moon.
Beers and rums started flowing; ladies began distributing appetizer plates followed by heaping helpings of the traditional stewed goat and boiled plantains, desserts, candies and other party favors. Little did I know, things were just getting started.
As the night wore on, the celebration continued as one might expect with feasting, drinking and dancing; some cooling their frenzies by making the short walk to strip down for a dip in the tranquil Caribbean shimmering under the moon beams.
What I wasn't expecting were the number of people that kept coming up to introduce themselves to me as a guest of honor; residents of the small village which had heard of me, but yet I still hadn't met after all these years of coming here. The invitations to stop by for a visit or dinner were more than I could ever fulfill - as if upstaging the quinceañera princess, but the extended warmth and hospitality only solidified why I consider Bayahibe my second home, and why I'll always keep coming back.
Around 1am, the crowds began thinning with most making their way back to the village center and Mundo Marina disco that was just heating up as usual on the marathon Sunday night into Monday morning tradition. It was one of those magical nights one wishes could have lasted forever; I called it quits around 4:30am.
The following mid-morning, I was sitting on the front porch of the house savoring my first strong cup of Dominican coffee generously laced with sugar. And here she came, the quinceañera princess. She'd traded the white ball gown and tiara for a pair of shorts and T-shirt; pumping the beat-up bicycle while navigating around the potholes in the broken-down dirt street. Just the typical 15-year-old teenager without a care in the world.
I thought back to the night before and how during the evening, my mind kept trailing back to the saying, "It takes an entire village to raise a child", something we often hear but that I had never seen put into action before. Regardless of what the future may hold, how fortunate for these children and people to be so truly blessed as they journey through life together.
It was such a trip in '97 when meetings fell through with the consulate in Santo Domingo leaving me three extra days to either rebook my flight or stay. I spontaneously decided to visit this village in a part of the country I was unfamiliar with which guidebooks described as what travelers had in mind when looking for the ultimate tropical destination.
I'll never forget that first ride into town as the banged-up publico bounced over potholes sending clouds of dust through the van's open windows. The backwoods appearance and blatant poverty were startling and my usual sense of explorative adventure was cringing. There still were no hotels in town; efforts were underway digging trenches for bringing basic utilities to the village.
I sought immediate retreat in the small, darkened cabaña happy I'd only paid for one night. Eventually I found courage to move beyond peering out the window, and begin exploring this "paradise" called Bayahibe. Quickly skirting through town, the whole orientation took less than 15 minutes.
The village was all but deserted; the few locals milling about keeping to their business. I didn't even feel comfortable to stop for a beer based on potential vulnerability. The only thought running through my head was, "What have you gotten yourself into this time?" Thankfully, that was all about to change.
Ambling along the coastal road, I saw a tall young man coming towards me wearing a Major League baseball jersey and loaded down with bat, glove and basic equipment. He was the first person that even bothered making eye contact, and I must confess my initial reaction was what he was going to ask for. Smiles were traded as were eventual greetings. As our paces slowed, he asked in broken speech if I spoke English. What ensued was a mangled conversation using both languages, but there needed no interpreting this kid's warmth and sincerity that finally put me at ease.
Junior invited me back to his house in what I thought was to prove legitimacy of our discussion -- he was one of those infamous Dominican baseball players! Who would've thought venturing out into the middle of nowhere would have hooked me up with a Major Leaguer? Well, almost.
As he proudly showed me the tattered photo album, it became obvious he'd just finished his first season with one of MLB's Dominican Minor League training camps, and his insistence I take my pick of one of the limited momentos was unknowingly the first gesture towards a mutual adoption within our hearts stronger and more binding than any legal court document.
It was during those first few hours in Bayahibe that something was taking place even I was unaware of. The house became a titter of frenzy as family members and neighbors passed through with what I later found was checking out the American they thought was another baseball scout. Mami served coffee and then insisted I stay for dinner. When returning the following morning to again thank them before I left, there was insistence I not only stay in Bayahibe, but that I do so with the family. Like I said, who knew?
It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from or what you're about -- nothing can permeate to the core of one's heart and spirit quicker than the warmth of genuine hospitality; especially when coming from total strangers. As the ever-skeptical American, I left after my three-day stay glad to have made this excursion, but also prepared to resume life in general.
Several weeks passed and winter was settling in making the harsh streets of Spanish Harlem even colder. With my boys gone for the weekend, I found myself restless and, on a whim, decided to see what was up in Bayahibe. I'll never forget Mami answering the phone and yelling for everyone to come running amid her giddy cordialities.
Once I'd spoken with most the family members and neighbors, Junior and I settled into an extended conversation that had me running to the bodega for another phone card. He was anxious to share all the English he'd been practicing as well as feed my hungering curiosity to anything that had (or hadn't) been happening in the village.
Over time, phone calls became more frequent as did my longing to fulfill the question which overshadowed every conversation, "Cuándo volverás / When will you return?" Within a few "long" months, I was back for a four-day weekend; then again for a week, and so the story goes right up until my five-week stay this last summer.
I've since traded ghetto for the Missouri Ozark's, but I can't deny my heart and mind have stayed in Bayahibe where I'm continually soothed and fed in ways that undoubtedly make me a better person. I was first welcomed into a family by a young man who happened to be the hometown hero and which eventually led to being taken in by an entire village.
There's something to be said about their simple life and perceived poverty compared to the selfish, materialistic standards we live by in the States. Never have I known people who had so little but yet were willing to give someone everything from the wealth of their hearts...even if/when it means they may do without. But even with inspiring levels of generosity, it's their depths of poise and grace surviving daily struggles which have heartened me most.
Even when from a distance, enduring their hardships has repeatedly given purpose to look beyond and share in causes far greater than myself. Through the village's total devastation from Hurricane George in '98, the loss of a brother, major illnesses, periods without sufficient funds for food/basic necessities, and other crises that would break most people, I've been embraced by another world that has blessed me with a double standard in life; the new one constantly challenging the other I currently settle for.
It's through sharing these asperities I've been able to redefine what's really important in life and to confirm the old adage, "what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger"; whether I'm here or there. And without all the materialistic props to get in the way, it only authenticates their formula for happiness -- to value each other . . . as family, friends and neighbors, cause they're the only thing that matters. Easier done than said if/when that's all you've got!
Each time I return to Bayahibe, it truly is a homecoming almost as if being in the States is like some kind of business trip or vacation from hell that has taken me away for too long again. Once initial greetings have taken place and I survey over changes and growth while cuddling the newest members in the ever-expanding families, life resumes as usual and I slide right into my role as an equal part.
Dysfunctional at times? Well when isn't it -- something I've humorously compared to my reoccurring role on the small village's novella/soap opera! And if there's ever any doubt on where I actually stand, there's always Mami to remind me with her incessant scolding . . . never excluding me from anything kindred.
Back in America, my own family doesn't ask anymore since perhaps they can't understand any more than I over this random occurrence. My boys know they've a new brother in Junior; my parents have sought an active supportive role in my extended family, and there's no more convincing people in the village I'll eventually be back. Rather, the question has shifted to, "Te quedaras esta vez / Will you stay this time?" That has yet to be answered beyond "someday"; even if it's for the palm-shaded spot I've already been given in the family plot of the village cemetery along the tranquil Caribbean coast.
As to what relevance any of this may have for the concept of travel, how many times in our global jaunts have we missed opportunities to make initial eye contact which may have led to a warm smile, a trip enhancing local experience . . . or even something far greater or unfathomable? I plead guilty to numerous charges, but am thankful for the day my life changed forever when stopping along a dirt road in a town I'd already written off.
In Bayahibe, I've learned that "all-inclusive" extends beyond nearby resorts to a compound of cinder block houses along a pothole-filled street and throughout an entire village; a bed, meals and access to all the daily activities one can muster; the good and bad, the receptions and experiences that come only with family and home.
By now, increased presence of light and music had beckoned me from whatever state of passed out I was indulging, but mental haze was all too familiar straining to focus on shadow images dancing across the ceiling. What were they up to out there? I stumbled out of bed to look through the window before truth of the matter slowly began to register in living color.
I wasn't at the lake cabin for a weekend bash with a bunch of high school buddies. Someone had left an SUV parked and running out front of the cabaña, with haunting sounds of Dire Straits all but seducing me out beyond the screens. Years later . . . Bayahibe, Dominican Republic; 10:50pm on a Friday night.
Strangely enough, the paradoxal experience was somewhat defining for this entire trip. What I saw and eventually found that night had become my reality, and all senses of life as I knew it were the fleeting dreams. The more things change, the more they stay the same. If only that were always true.
Rumble in the Emerald VillageWalking around is always somewhat of a mouth-watering experience, thanks to an abundance of papayas, mangos, bananas and "forbidden fruits" ripening on vines everywhere. I'm reminded of the jungle I've tried recreating inside my home, knowing the inferior crop will never be kissed by the Caribbean sun, nor that other flourishing tropicals will grow tall enough outside to provide shade as found here.
Images of paradise would never be complete without swaying palms, but for all the lush vegetation which actualizes the landscape, there's another prospering element seen and also heard; thriving as the village lifeline in form of "the grapevine"!
Even with frequent calls between visits, there's still always so much to catch up on factually beyond the gossip. Usually within a day of arriving, everyone knows I've returned; making my first run to the colmado only speeds up the process. There's nothing like coming back to a place where everybody knows your name and is genuinely anxious to share in your presence. Yet something seemed different this time with eagerness that went beyond usual warm receptions, anticipated hospitality.
I tried to play it off as my own perceptions, but the apparent feelings of change were more than just time and progress. Something unexplainable had taken place that I finally figured out within the first few days; something I never would've even considered or expected. IgoUgo had happened!
With emergence of Internet access in Bayahibe, what started as a prideful announcement from family had mushroomed into a modern-day electronic nightmare that altered simple pleasures from just being here. People may not be able to read/understand English, but they sure understood the web's global expanse, and someone half-way around the world or in the village next door seeing their picture!
People here still have too much class to question my actions or motives, but subtle, hopeful hints of perceived fame weren't just imagination. My earned reputation as an avid shutterbug had everyone posing for pictures. Invitations to stay in others' cabañas or stop by for a meal were suddenly tainted questioning hospitality I'd came to know vs. potential free advertisement they'd maybe came to hope for. The grapevine did little to help restore the foregoing either.
Over time, I've became more than just an outsider or tourist frequently returning. Respect has been earned the way I've embraced my local family and helped them out, undoubtedly with whispered envy. But emergence of Internet access and this very website all but thrust me into a spotlight of epic proportion with legendary knowledge, power, and greater perceived wealth since there was now confirmation I'd gotten around to more than just DR a couple of times a year.
Carefree suddenly took on a whole new level of self-consciousness that I'd never bothered bringing with me before. Obvious embedded "Americanisms" felt to be furling larger than the stars and stripes. To discuss such things with those I am closest too was a mute issue. They may contribute to the grapevine but have learned to pay it no mind when it starts encroaching too close to home. Whatever the truth, they're accepted and sheltered regardless.
If I only had . . .The mid-afternoon sun was sliding towards the sea gradually erasing cool shade under the double front porches. Wrinkles were undoubtedly creasing into freshly pressed shirts collecting in the pile I was too lethargic to hang up. Melted onto the ledge, Junior and I traded silent glances before resuming what had occupied our time.
I was thinking back to the day he came home with a couple of friends and became angered for the way I'd embarrassed him. In trying to relieve some of Mami's workload, I was ironing his clothes for the evening; something a man would or should never do! And now, years later, after the first baseman's Major League dreams came crashing down from health matters, there he stood ironing clothes as part-owner of the village laundromat.
Perpetual readjustment to Bayahibe is a familiar yet unknown means of transformation. It usually takes about a week to get the anticipated being there out of the way, to have nonstop doing-something subside for unwinding, and to be reminded what really keeps me coming back.
Playfully weaving around potholes, Reynaldo sent me into a juggling act with backpack, camera, mini-cooler, and cold beer I'd popped before killing the motorcycle engine in front of the house. My afternoon at Dominicus Beach had lazily came and gone while Junior was still standing where I'd left him hours before. The industrial-size pressing machine had broken down with no replacement expected any time soon regardless how much cash I could potentially shell out. Everything had to be ironed by standard household model.
Junior began detailing the list of people which passed looking for me as well as plans for further occupying my time. He didn't say it, but I felt guilt of neglect towards the only reason I have for being here. Within those moments, shift of priorities from playing-to-staying swept over me.
Brains, Courage and endless HeartOver the next weeks, again best-made plans were traded for spending endless hours on the porch, still puzzling at how time all but creeps by, but measures of days evaporate quicker than afternoon showers on a hot tin roof. But I also couldn't deny differences between previous visits, where doing so was just how the day evolved compared to doing so thanks to obligations of the family business.
I was again reminded how unfair life can seem for people who work so hard, but yet struggle to survive. Pitching in was the least I could do handling customers, washloads and the never-ending ironing -- something my hands ached from after only a couple of hours...little alone all day! Perhaps a heck of a way to squander vacation time, but to share in the smallest of mundane occurences is one thing; to be a willing participant contributing to a much greater cause quite the other.
From the time coffee is served in the morning, the all-day parade of people ensues and Dominican hospitality invites everyone to linger whether for brief greetings or extended gossip sessions amid never ceasing household chores. For such a small village, it still amazes me there can be such a buzz of activity; never overwhelming but only reinforcing the strongest bonds of community.
By workday's end, "Quittin' Time" always came with anticipation. I'd faithfully turn down Junior's offer to join him at the nightly church service; he'd excusably laugh off my preferred choice of revelry at the colmado scene. Of evenings when we didn't reunite, stories were saved for the following day's porch banter...often retold as various participants passed by.
The Wizard of Caribbean OzOver the years, I've sent or left so many possessions there's not much need for packing towards arrival or the always dreaded departure. And then, the longest walk I ever make in Bayahibe is from the house to the center for my ride to the airport. I've learned to do it alone...never looking back.
Now, living only 30 minutes from the Kansas border, processing the entire dream-like experience is always an extended surreal undertaking; how I can appear out of nowhere into this foreign but magical environment, be welcomed in as one of them, provide a needed boost to what or whomever, and then be whisked away, back to where I came from. It doesn't take special powers or knowledge foreseeing I'll basically find everything and everyone right where I left them when returning. Then again, I have became the Wizard of Bayahibe.