As a beachside community, Tucacas hinted of the Dominican lifestyle I've became accustomed to when it comes to all but laziness with how locals lead simple, everyday lives while still often working very hard...even if it's at doing nothing! People here took to the streets and the many cervecerias; basic gathering places which dotted about every other corner anchored around beers, music and conversation.
I was more than ready to revel towards another potential lost cause but was somewhat puzzled when returning that first Saturday afternoon and finding most places had closed by 5pm. As evening wore on, basically everything along Avenida Libertador had called it a day by 10pm. leaving a quiet, abandoned affect on what initially appeared to be a Latin encounter of the sloppiest kind. Surely these people weren't that conservative?
Scouting El Restaurante Funchal on a tip from my posada owner, I was mid-conversation with Jose; the one-man show for front of the house, when he began an excited summonsing of his co-worker from the kitchen. Unknowingly, he'd spotted the Dominican flag insignia on my baseball cap and I was about to get an unexpected surprise.
With his big toothy smile, Amerando appeared from the back; a Dominican living in Venezuela for the last 14 years. There was that immediate connection that only further strengthened when I returned for dinner later that night. He insisted I come back the following evening if I wanted a night on the town to find the real Tucacas. So Sunday night into Monday morning was the preferred marathon night here, too?
When in Tucacas, Do As...
After spending all day roasting on the cays, I welcomed the elongated shower and nap before planning to return for dinner by 8:30pm. This would give me time to eat and relax before Amerando expected to be finished by 10pm. You'd think by now I would have figured out their indecipherable concept of time. I'd lost count by the time they actually closed up just after midnight.
Amerando wanted to pass by about the only place still open along Libertador; a cerveceria doubling as a bodega-type convenient store attracting an assortment of local characters. The elevated curb was perfect for a front-row sidewalk seat to mingle with locals hanging around, riding up on bikes, scooters or horses, and those racing by on the avenue. Everything was fine until one of the stumblers insisted I buy a round of beers for everyone. Amerando scolded him for treating his guest this way and with a vamenos, we headed towards the highway.
Crossing over, we continued about a block beyond where you'd turn left for Amigos del Mar posada and entered the Mar Azul club; a blue-painted building that had already attracted a crowd out front in the streets. We hadn't even gotten the bartender's attention when Jose unexpectedly appeared out of no where with the first round.
The club turned out to be typically Venezuelan with a large front area crammed with plastic tables and chairs where patrons have quick access to the bar. There's always a middle section with large bathrooms, and then a back room with a huge dance floor and stereo system that could wake the dead. We bellied up to the bar best we could; more like "chinned up" since the cinder-block structure covered in blue tiles was built abnormally high leaving one to feel like a little kid in need of a booster seat...and I was the tall one!
Returning from the troughroom, I could no longer ignore the back with its flashing light show and pulsing Merengue. I'd been in Venezuela 5 days pelted by environment and ever-playing music and had yet to dance. The over-tanned gringo turned some heads when walking in and I likely surprised even myself when asking the first available chica to dance. Everything was so in the moment; Amerando eventually standing off to the side and just laughing in proving my sincerity of claiming to be Dominican trapped in a white man's world. He eventually joined in with the same affluence there was no denying the locals were somewhat lacking.
Conversations had resumed with Jose over a cool-off round when a rather heated argument broke out at opposite end of the bar. Apparently, a couple of banty rooster types didn't appreciate their "officially cut-off" status. We went back to talking until the first longneck bottle got cracked on the bar, the second upside someone's head, and all hell broke loose. Combat entertainment was just unfolding when Jose grabbed my arm rushing me out into the streets.
We were laughing about the mishap we'd just dodged; Amerando kidding stir of my presence had set the whole thing off. Just a few paces down and across the street was another bar. I knew it was still too early for calling it a night.
Three a Gee Across the Border
If the mellow yellow facade of Social Club Deportiva la Marina wasn't enough to catch your attention, you knew something was different the minute you stepped through the door. The brightly lit interior revealed more than just a few scattered tables and chairs. The faces had changed and the music was cumbia signaling this was a Colombian bar.
There were some brief introductions, minus the goat tied off to the side, and the camaraderie continued as we were joined off and on by regulars always insisting they buy the next round; a max $2 when our numbers grew to eight. There was no dancehall in the room behind the bathrooms; just quiet laid-back conversation out front and an assortment of decks of cards and other table games.
Preparing to buy more beers, the subtle hints lost some of their discretions that hadn't been understandable earlier. Colombian...bar...bathroom...and the lightbulb clicked on shedding (or potentially adding) mental clarity to the haze. Apparently the old lady had more than just snacks and beers behind the counter, and a Studio 54-type trip to the bathroom was waiting for about what you'd tip the towel attendant back in NYC.
People continued coming in and out almost as frequently as did the chickens. Eventually Jose bowed out to sneak-off to wife and kids. His spot in the wicked card game resembling Hearts and Spaids was filled by Hector; a young Bolivian that turned out to be quite the comedian--even without trying. We'd definitely hit our stride; this odd assortment of Latinos, and all was well except for the speckled hen that kept pecking at my bare feet... I guess to dense to realize my beachflop blister was not a corn!
Obviously, a camera would likely have spoiled the authenticity of the entire evening but nights like this are what I consider travel bonuses; experiences never forgotten regardless of absent photo reminders. There's also no denying none of this would have likely happened if I hadn't chance-met these new friends at the restaurant.
Either bar is easily found on Avenida Libertador across the opposite side of the highway but I probably wouldn't have ventured that far into the residencial area at night alone. I'd have to say the Colombian bar appeared to be a lot more laid-back and would be more suitable for travelers wandering in off the street.
What was left of my new entourage certainly represented well the Hispanic obsession with Sunday nights into Monday mornings being marathon night. The skies were lighting up beyond the open front door and eventually Amerando reminded me he had to work at 10am. We finished out the last hand over our last beer before extending our farewells to the 15 or so still milling about.
The pesky chicken was waiting outside in the street; Amerando laughing at my request to catch the damn thing and fix it up for my breakfast! The streets had already came to life with locals rushing off to work and I've still no idea what time it was. We paused at the intersection for my posada and Amerando asked, "Somos Dominicanos" - We are Dominicans? "Claro que si!" And with a hug and a handshake, we called it a day.
* This encounter was what I like to make my travel experiences about in finding a way to meet the local people and share in their everyday lives beyond the tourist realms. Not only was I in good company, there was no reason to feel unsafe and threatened even in this country currently on the verge of Civil War. I'd finally been able to embrace the full element; letting my guard down which set a precedent that would end up proving rather costly within less than 48 hours...