07 April 2017

No One Told Me About the Sex-Tourism in The DR

My trip to the Dominican Republic last November had been in the planning stages for several years. It was in the Caribbean, they spoke Spanish, and there was that huge baseball connection. What could be better?  

I’d also been paying close attention to all those find-a-home-abroad TV shows. Folks shopping for vacation homes in Punta Cana, Terranas, and Sosúa, gushed about everything the DR had to offer. And although I knew that ex-pat vacation destinations would not be for me, my research indicated that there were plenty of beach areas that would be just as lovely.
     I'd roughly planned for two weeks in the capitol; two weeks in Boca Chica checking out baseball academies and exploring a quaint beach town; and then two more weeks further down the road in Juan Dolio for a more relaxing end to my trip. Somehow, I managed to miss the caveat about sex-tourism in all three of those places.
     On my strolls around the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, I did notice the requisite old foreign geezers with their young local babes. That was nothing new; go to a country where people make very little money and it’s a common phenomenon. My first real hint that prostitution in the DR may operate by a different standard than in other countries I knew, occurred at my hotel in the capitol.
     It was the beginning of November and the big influx of tourists would not arrive for another month. My accommodation was in a large, budget hotel, owned by an ex-pat and his Dominican wife. The owner and staff, many of whom were family, were lovely. At the time, there were only three other solo guests and two, older European couples.
     One afternoon I noticed one of the male guests sitting in the lounge with a young local woman I had never seen before. Prior to this, the man had always been by himself, reading books or checking his email in the common area. I thought nothing of it until two hours later when I saw him and the woman walk out of his room. She left the hotel and he stayed. I never saw her again and the man returned to his solitary pursuits.

     How could a respectable hotel allow hookers in the rooms? I had never seen anything like it in all my travels. In fact, one usually sees big signs stating No one other than paying guests allowed in rooms. It concerned me, but I let it go. Anyway, I’d be heading down the road in a few days.

     I already wrote about my horrible experience in the first hotel I had booked in Boca Chica, which had to do with filth and a shady locale. I stayed a whole five minutes before going to look for somewhere else. And when I found that somewhere else, I thought it was perfect. The lovely owner, a middle-aged European woman, showed me a beautiful, very reasonably priced room, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I headed back to the rat-hole to retrieve my belongings.

     When I returned with my bags, it was hard not to miss the obese 70-year-old German man in speedos sitting at a table with a young Dominican woman. By the next day, it was clear that she was his local girlfriend and living with him at the hotel. I wasn’t overly concerned; these things happen.
     It was during my second day there that I realized something was seriously amiss. Young working girls, accompanied by their handler, were let in through the front, locked gate. They then sat at a table, scrolling through their phone apps, while business was conducted between pimp and hotel customer. The chosen girl would then go up with the man to his room and reappear an hour later.
     It wasn’t like the owner didn’t know about this. She was the one to buzz in the working girls. She was the one who checked their ID’s. She was the one who greeted the pimp like an old friend. And I am sure she was the one getting a kickback from the transactions.
    As it was a small hotel, I could see a good part of the entire property from my room where I generally kept the door open during the day for ventilation. I watched the comings and goings of the men in the hotel. And they were all men. No women; no families. Among them were several other fat, old Germans in Speedos, and a group of three French men who were in Boca Chica on business. The French guys left each morning at 7am and returned 10 or 12 hours later. Two appeared to be in their 50’s and the third in his 30’s. I imagined they might be engineers working on a local project. Well, I thought, at least they aren’t buying hookers.

   The following day, the youngest French man came home with a working girl. In fact, it was a different one every night. One afternoon the man, the girl-of-the-day, and the pimp walked past my room where I was sitting in the doorway. The pimp said hello and I walked inside and left them to exchange money in front of my window.
  At least the older French men were behaving decently; or so I thought. Late one evening, all three returned to the hotel with a girl in tow. The ladies moved right into their respective rooms, there for the long haul.
  Another time, I watched as one of fat German’s in speedos sat at a table, two ladies seated on either side. The women ignored him and kept their eyes glued to their phones. The German kept trying to talk to them, but they would not respond. Granted, he did not speak Spanish and they spoke neither German nor English, but there was no attempt at communication on the women’s part. Several minutes later the owner walked by and the German looked up at her. I don’t know which one to choose, he said, as if deciding on a bottle of wine.
  It was clearly apparent that I was living in a bordello and I needed to get out. Across the street was another budget hotel that I had read about before leaving the States. It had good reviews on TripAdvisor and other sites. I do remember that the reviews had been written by families and couples, and not just men. It was worth a look. Although the rooms were not nearly as spotless and fresh as where I was staying, and they did cost a few dollars more a night, I decided it might be the best answer if I wanted to get away from the constant sex trade going on outside my room.
  After looking at several rooms, I sat down to talk to the manager. I calmly explained that I was staying at the hotel across the way and that I was having trouble accepting the to and fro of the working girls. The manager seemed shocked that prostitutes were allowed to walk into my hotel. He assured me that their gate was always locked and no hookers could come in.

  Just to make absolutely sure we were really on the same page I rephrased the question: “No prostitutes are allowed in the hotel, right?”  He responded that none could walk in off the street, but “if a client wants to bring a woman back to his room, that’s perfectly fine.”
  I then quietly and calmly began to explain that poor young women should not be exploited, that in a few years most would be hooked on drugs, dead, or whatever, and that it was a horrible situation.
  His response? “That’s your opinion.”  My response of “It is not my opinion, it’s a fact,” only got a shoulder shrug. Before leaving I asked about the place one block up that I thought was another hotel. Turns out, that one was an actual brothel.
  Although I had wanted to stay in Boca Chica and visit more baseball academies, I had reached my limit. The next day I headed down to Juan Dolio and booked into the hippie hotel.
  Like the other place I had stayed in Santo Domingo, it had only a few guests. I got a real deal on my little run-down room and kitchenette. It felt like a place I could stay for the remainder of my trip. There were five other similar rooms along the one side of the hotel and only one was occupied by a Canadian man who had been coming to the hotel for nearly twenty years. He would be there for six months and told me what a great place it was and that soon all the other rooms would be filled by returning guests to sit out the European and North American winter.  
  The man was pleasant enough and told me about how this time he had finally met an honest girlfriend. Over the next week I learned that he would arrive every year, find someone to fill his days, and then get a new someone the following season. He would be drunk most days and would often arrive back at the hotel, nearly carrying in his drunken girlfriend. She had three kids and the man provided for the family, buying food and other items. It seemed a little more tolerable to me than the nightly prostitutes, but it was still exploitation.
  I had hoped that at least the little town of Juan Dolio would offer a pleasant retreat. The problem was, it was even smaller than Boca Chica; just a few short blocks of restaurants and hotels, running along the beach. At least I was able to stroll on the beach in the early hours of the day.
  Walking along the shoreline in the morning, it was not hard to imagine what went on in the afternoons and evenings. Scores of workers combed the beach raking up mountains of trash; empty booze bottles, food containers, diapers, and much more. It might have lessened their work load had there been garbage cans anywhere on the beach.
  One morning I stopped by a coffee shop and got into a conversation with the owner, a woman who had spent her teenage years in Los Angeles. She told me that the sex worker situation had not been nearly as bad just a few years back. I mentioned the hotel in Boca Chica, the European owner, and the daily prostitute situation. She agreed that it was a sorry state of affairs, but also said that there was nothing that an owner could do about it. I glanced over at a man with a woman eating breakfast. He was in his early forties, obese, talking non-stop about his life in California, all the money he had, and what he could do for her. She smiled demurely, not understanding much of what he said.
  Although I thought I could stay in Juan Dolio at the hippie hotel for the rest of my trip, I had reached my limit of watching drunken men and their purchased companions. I even tried to find a way to change my flight home, but was unable to do so. Whatever the situation, I needed cash, which meant grabbing a gua gua down to New Juan Dolio – a few kilometers away, where there was a bank.
  When I exited the mini-van, I walked in from the main road and the first thing I noticed was a small supermarket. This had been another problem in Old Juan Dolio; there was only a tiny mini-mart. I went in, bought a few things, and asked about economical hotels in the area. I might as well see if it might be better here.
  Just around the bend, the road ran along a wide boulevard. Several massive hotel/vacation rental condos ran along the beach side and blocked most of the view to the sea. Three blocks farther along the road, and on the other side, was the hotel the supermarket lady had suggested. I walked in.
  It appeared to be quite pleasant and extended from the street all the way back to the street behind it. There were two, narrow, four story buildings in the front, and a beautifully landscaped pool and lounge area. Beyond that lay a line of small cottages. I asked about rooms and rates and was shown to a wonderful room on the third floor. From there, I could even glimpse a small spec of the ocean from between the condos across the way. I negotiated a great price for my final two weeks in the DR.
  I thought my only objection to the hotel was the booming music they played by the pool from early morning until late at night. Since I wasn’t up to lying out by the swimming hole, it only proved to be a hassle when I tried to get internet connection. (once again, there was no internet in the rooms.) It was then that I noticed the lady at the pool bar who looked to be a working girl. But the staff and owner greeted her like she was an old friend, or possibly an employee on a break. Once more, my first impression was correct. The hotel apparently employed its own good-time girl.
  It soon became apparent that prostitution was one of the activities provided by the hotel. Only at the end of my stay did I find out that the main security man at the front entrance was also the purveyor of young ladies.
  I wondered how the foreign men knew about the women for hire. I certainly hadn’t seen any sort of mention in Lonely Planet or elsewhere, and there were no signs up around the hotels. Yet within an hour of any man being at any hotel, I’d see them with a working girl.
  More confusing were the families and church groups that booked into this hotel. They didn’t seem to be bothered that little kids were swimming right next to tourists engaged in a lot of groping with rented women.
  When I got back to California, I re-checked all the travel sites I had read before leaving. I did find some bottom-of-the-page mentions of prostitution, but not much. One review on TripAdvisor for a hotel I had passed stated, “…if you don’t mind a little prostitution, this is good for a family…”   And a recent episode of House Hunters International, featured a couple looking for a condo in Sosúa, which is the sex-tourism capitol of the northern coast. The narrator actually said, “This condo is just steps from the bustling center of Sosúa’s nightlife.”  One quick internet check is all one needs to see what type of nightlife is on offer.

  I wanted so much to love the Dominican Republic. It is beautiful and the people are wonderful. But, at least for me, I was unable to ignore or escape the constant reminder of young women being exploited by foreign men.

10 December 2016

The Cigar Factory

Although purchasing cigars was on my list of things to do in the DR, I found myself running out of time, stuck in a mini-hamlet, and having no idea where to go or what to buy.

Sr, Rodriguez & flying fingers
In my trips to Mexico, it had been easy enough to find cigar vendors and wade through the various sales pitches until I found a seemingly reputable, knowledgeable source. Maybe if I had still been in the capitol,I could have done that in the DR. But I wasn’t. Fortunately for me, I found a fellow traveler who seemed well acquainted with the local product. He would accompany me to San Pedro de Macoris.

Where they make them
The city of San Pedro is known for the large number of MLB players who hail from the area. For me, it was also that elusive city where the big things happened. In Boca Chica and Juan Dolio I would ask about a larger market, you have to go to San Pedro.  What about a post office? In San Pedro.  Is there anywhere I can get a light bulb, only in San Pedro.

Driving into town, I realized that I probably should have hopped on a gua gua, (mini-bus), and made a visit at an earlier date. It was a real city that one could explore. We drove past a beautiful old church and streets lined with old architecture; just the type of place I like to mosey around in. Then again, I wasn’t sure if that was something I should do on my own. Since arriving, locals had made a point of telling me not to walk around any area other than the designated tourist spots. Whether or not that was really the case, for the first time in my life I did very little exploring.

The Doña Dorada Cigar factory has been in business for 101 years., and is still family owned and operated. I believe there is a larger factory elsewhere, but the one in downtown San Pedro was more than enough to give one a very well-informed lesson on how the cigars are made.

Sr. Elpidio Rodríguez, great-grandson of the founder, greeted me at the door and soon returned to making cigars. I tried to keep up with his flying hands as he whipped a stogie into shape, walked it over to a press, put the final wrap on a different cigar, and most likely did ten other things that I couldn’t keep up with. (note the blurred pictures…. I did not move; that was rapid-fire-cigar rolling.) I asked about the individual tobacco leaves and he explained that they must age four years before they can be used. That still does not make sense to me, even though I asked him twice to make sure I had heard him correctly.

It was evident that the cigar making equipment was 101 years old. Wooden work stations, wooden cigar forms and drying racks. The presses were of steel, but appeared equally antique. After watching Sr. Rodriguez work, I wondered how automated cigar rolling could ever compete with what he was doing.

When he had finished off his work, he led me to the room with shelves of cigars, sorted into various sizes. I asked about the differences between sizes. Did they taste differently? He explained that there were only two flavors; strong and suave. The different sizes were a matter of preference. Did I want ones the size of cigarettes, or the Winston Churchill big boys? Considering these were going to large men, I chose the Churchills'.

Suddenly, it was time to go. I could have stayed another hour talking to Sr. Rodriguez, but my ride back to Juan Dolio was ready to go and I know I'd never find my way back to the bus stop.
The final product

I never did get back to explore San Pedro, but it is something I should have done. Maybe next time.

30 November 2016

I'm back!!! will post soon

Just got my travel blog back after loosing it the day after I got to the DR. Challenging trip,to say the least. Thank you Mishka at blogger! I'm typing on a tiny phone so this is all for now. Kate

24 October 2016

Once Again on the Road

I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my travel mojo; that innate ability to jump on a plane, fly to a never-before-been-to country, and hit the ground running. The night before I left for The Dominican Republic, I sat on the couch, looked at my over-stuffed suitcase, and seriously questioned just what the heck I was doing. It’s not like I recently won the lottery or sold a thousand books – although I did just have highest sales month ever, so what was I doing flying off to an island in the Caribbean?
By the time the airport shuttle picked me up all my doubts were forgotten. But then there was the journey itself. Even though the total flight time was a mere nine hours, I swear this trip was nearly as bad as flying all the way to South East Asia. The actual time on the plane was nowhere near as horrendous, but the after effects were absolutely worse.
First there was the woman who shared the airport shuttle who, for some reason, thought that drenching herself in patchouli oil was what one did before flying on a jam-packed airplane. As soon as she popped in the van, I through my scarf over my nose and the driver rolled down both windows, which he kept open on the freeway and over the bridge. I survived without getting a migraine, but I wondered what would happen to all her fellow passengers on the flight over to London.
Then there was the security screening. When did it become such a nightmare? Two years ago, they searched and scanned and questioned as much as they do now, but I don’t remember it taking that long. This time, it took about an hour and a half, filing through a never ending loop-d-loop line. Stupidly, I dumped my water at the beginning of the line because a sign told me to. An hour into the wait, I started to fell dehydrated, claustrophobic, dizzy-ish, and wondered if passing out would speed up the process. I honestly don’t know if I will be able to tolerate that again. Maybe check in at 2am and crash out in the waiting room overnight.
The flight from San Francisco to Mexico City, a mere four hours, was especially comfortable because I had three seats all to myself. It was an uneventful flight, and since I had never been to Mexico City, I loved looking down on the millions of sparkling nighttime lights that went on and on and on.
We were about two minutes from touchdown when suddenly the engines roared and the plane shot straight up in the air at quite a steep angle. No one panicked, and I assumed we weren’t being hijacked because that would have happened at altitude. But when the plane finally leveled out, and it felt like we were on our way to Cuba, I questioned my original assumption. The pilot eventually came on and explained that some other plane had been parked in our runway. How close a call that was, or who was in error, I’ll never know, but I did enjoy this new experience.
Once through Mexican customs and back into the waiting lounge for another three hours until my next flight, I realized I needed to eat something more than the soggy croissant with Velveeta I’d been fed on the way down from SFO. It was when I was traipsing through the Mexico City airport, trying to find food that cost less than $15, when it struck me that I was hauling around way too much weight.

When the heck was it that I decided that a roll-on carryon was not the way to go, and had opted for a laptop backpack? It’s not like I am getting any younger, and it’s not like my funky knee is getting any better, yet here I was burdened with 15 extra pounds in backpack weight and 5 more in my purse. (Which makes me sound like a real wimp. I can easily carry 20 extra pounds, but parts of my body strongly object.)  Added to that, I had spent the previous two days working in the garden and hauling stuff around. My knee was a wreck.
Trying my best to ignore all that, I grabbed a reasonably priced cheese sandwich at Starbucks and headed over to wait for my plane. As someone who needlessly worries about being at the wrong gate, I checked with knowledgeable personnel several times. On the final check, I was told that no, my flight was not leaving at Gate 58, but at Gate 71, at a completely different wing. I took off for said gate, walking like a 92 year-old, and swearing a blue-streak inside my head every time my right foot hit the ground.
I finally got there and grabbed a seat. And then the lady directly behind me started hacking loudly. Germ-a-phobe that I am, I got up and found another spot. But then the guy across from me appeared to have a fatal disease. He had a washcloth over his mouth and was coughing and sneezing and blowing his nose, sweating profusely, and looked like he should have been hospitalized. This musical chairs game went on several more times before I finally just stood at the entrance to the gate. It appeared that fully one-third of my fellow passengers were not at all well.
By now, I was seriously limping and guess I look old enough that no one questions if I ask to pre-board. (of course, I always go on after the babies and wheelchairs.) Once settled in, I waited for the other passengers to board. I nervously watched as the deathly ill man strode down the aisle and sat in the seat in front of me. Great. Four hours with the bubonic plague within spitting distance. But no one was next to me and the seats behind were empty, so I was able to move back one row….until the sick guy moved into my original seat. I wrapped my scarf around my nose and hoped my generally excellent immune system was up to the task of fighting off airborne bacteria.
I won’t bother mentioning the seven drunken 40-something-year-olds because they finally stopped hooting and hollering and fell asleep.
It was 6am when I got off the plane and headed into the Santo Domingo airport. A few steps inside, and I realized I was really in my beloved tropics. I stood still, closed my eyes, and breathed in that wonderful humid air…even if it was tinged with a bit of jet fuel. Customs was a snap, and then it was outside to get a taxi. A lovely drive into town, with my own personal tour guide.
Back in the good old days, when I had even less money and there was no internet, I’d get a ride into town and start looking for cheap digs. This time, after much research, I booked a place online. It was double what I am usually willing to pay, but I wanted to be in the Colonial Zone and not worry about a thing for a few days. It turned out to be nice enough and the people here are great, but even if I had all the money in the world, two days would be enough. Sometime after taking a shower and trying to get some sleep, (which was not something I had done much of in the previous day or two), I started to once again question what the heck was I doing here.
I went out for a walk in a sleep-deprived, food-deprived state, and immediately saw why everyone loves this country and the colonial zone, which I will write more about at a later date. But I basically felt like crap. I’d gone without sleep and food before and there was only a three hour time difference. What was up? I bought some horrible food at a restaurant, but had a lovely chat with the waiters. I then went back to the hotel and tried to search for other hotels so that I could visit them today.

Oopps….the internet connection does not work in my room. Between sitting on the floor in the outside hall, and checking with hotel names I had jotted down before leaving, and then trying to find them on a teeny-tiny map, I was set to explore come morning.
I woke up today feeling fairly refreshed, ate breakfast, packed up my list and went in search of housing. It turns out my travel mojo hadn’t left me. I not only found a great place, I found a fantastic place! It’s like it fell out of the sky for me. It may have been a 24-hour delay, but I still have it in me to hit the ground at a fast pace. Thank goodness! I was seriously starting to worry.
The Spanish is also starting to kick in. Blabbermouth Kate says hi to everyone she passes and comments on their cute kids; which really doesn’t do much for fluency. However, can’t-tell-left-from-right Kate constantly gets turned around and needs to ask for directions. I’ve talked to dozens of policemen and army guys and waiters, who very kindly and slowly, tell me which way to go. I sometimes get sidetracked, and then just ask another lovely local. Today when I got twisted around, (and for the life of me, I have no idea how I did so because I swear I was on the same street the whole time), I stopped in front of some official building. I said to the young military man, Can you help me? I’m lost again. To which he replied, You were lost, now you’re not!  He might have reserved that comment had he seen me five minutes later asking for directions again. If I just had a map, none of this would be quite so bad.   

The stars are aligning and this is set to be one wonderful adventure!
(Better pictures, with more explanations to come. need to get this up before I loose the connection again)

15 July 2014

Casa del Puente

View of Casa del Puente from the bridge
On the banks of the Rio Cuale, in the middle of Old Town Puerto Vallarta, sits the most wonderful little hotel.

Casa del Puente is not a typical hotel, but rather three spacious, fully equipped apartments. Recently, I was fortunate enough to stay there in the one bedroom apartment.

Living area - 1 bedroom apt
Upon arrival, my host Maria ushered me in to what I thought was the hotel reception area, only to find out it was actually my apartment. It is massive. The large living area is boarded on one side by a bank of windows looking out over the Rio Cuale. Built in seating areas, bedecked with colorful cushions, encircle the main room. Mexican furniture and decorative pieces adorn the entire area. The open kitchen on the left has everything you need to prepare a meal. How lovely it is to cut up fresh tropical fruit while gazing out at the trees along the river and the hills beyond.
River view

Reading partner by the window
The only problem I had with such a wonderful space, is that I could never decide where I should stretch out to read. I usually ended up on the built-in bench that ran along the windows, which enabled me to check on the wildlife.

Three steps up from the living area is the bedroom and bathroom. I went to sleep every night listening to the sounds of the rushing river, and every day sat in a chair by the window watching the iguanas in the trees and the egrets standing on rocks in the river.

New apt upstairs
There is a two bedroom apartment on the left, nestled in foliage and tranquility. Upstairs is the newest edition; a beautifully appointed apartment. As with the others, there are outside areas with chairs and tables. The view to the mountains is even better up top.

The location couldn’t be more perfect; everything is within walking distance - shops, restaurants, the beach, and bus stops.

Balcony view
In Casa del Puente you know you are in Mexico and feel like you are staying with friends. I look forward to my next visit to Puerto Vallarta and the beautiful little Hotel on the Bridge.

Contact Maria:
Upstairs apt deck
Phone: 011 52 (322) 22-20749
From the US, Call: (415) 513-5313
Toll Free: (888) 666-9540
Email: casadelpuente@yahoo.com

14 July 2014

After Thoughts

 I'm back home.They say there is a heat wave today. I'm not hot.......  It's very hard to believe that a few days ago I was really in Puerto Vallarta. Why is it that when you are in one country, the other seems to not really exist? I've always found this to be one of the oddest feelings when going from one place to another. 

A few more pictures of that land that right now seems like a distant memory:

There are three pelicans resting in these trees.

 I don't usually take pictures of food, but this little cafe was such an unexpected, delicious find, that I couldn't resist. 
Mi Cafe Deli, Francisco Madero #505, Old Town, PV
 I realized I had not been posting pictures of the streets or the sea. Maybe it's  because posted so many of them four years ago, and my brain was telling me I didn't need to put up any more. 

I can always look at another photo of the beach. 

This garrobo lizard climbed up to this resting spot below my window for three days in a row. He always looked a little wary, whereas the iguanas didn't pay much attention to me. 

10 July 2014

Time to Leave

It’s hard to believe that it is already my last night here. My body has just reached the I’m on vacation setting, and now it’s over. My Spanish needs another week to get into top form – I understand almost everything, but the responding part is a little on the slow side. I find myself halting mid-sentence a little too often for my liking. Not that anyone in Mexico ever cares if I trip over words or blurt something out in a completely different language. The first few days I was here, I found myself mentally constructing a sentence I would need starting with “I”. I ran through eu, toi, ani, before I finally got to yo. The brain is a funny thing; it searches for a different language and grabs whatever is available, be it Portuguese, Vietnamese, or Hebrew. I am sure words in all those languages have entered into my conversations here.

I was hoping to get a lot of writing done seeing as how I have a book and a novella in the works, but that didn’t happen. However, I know I will be returning to California with a relaxed mind and body, ready to jump on those projects.

I didn’t take all the beach walks that are my norm, or get back to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, or go see how Elizabeth Taylor’s house is doing after I heard it had been renovated. And that’s ok. I did walk a lot, said hello to shopkeepers I had met four years ago, and even ran into a cat I had met last time I was here. (He lives in one of those shops.)

A highlight of this trip was getting two adjustments by the best chiropractor I have ever known. Dr. Lenny Sugerman is so much more than just a chiro. He is thorough and gentle, and takes as much time as needed to evaluate, and then work on your body. It’s depressing to know that I have not been able to find someone even close to his ability in my area. It’s not like I can fly to Puerto Vallarta every month or so for an adjustment.

Another fantastic outcome of my short visit was all those close encounters with the iguanas. One was right on the outside ledge of my window the other day. As I mentioned previously, their eyes are so human that I just know they can understand me. And when I try to talk to them, I swear they can understand me – that is until I realize I am most likely scaring the crap out of the poor guys, and I back away.

Right now I’m trying to get my body to memorize what it feels like to feel warm like a lizard in hopes that I might be able to recreate the feeling when I get back into the cold fog that awaits me tomorrow night.

09 July 2014

A Walk on the Beach

I've been in Puerto Vallarta for over a week and only have a few days left, yet today was the first day I went for a walk on the beach. My general routine when living in close proximity to the ocean, is to take an early morning walk every single day. It hasn't worked out that way until today.

Strolling along the sand, gazing up at the sea birds, and watching the sun rise has to be the best tonic for anything at ails a body. It’s a combination of the rhythm of the waves along the shore, the smell of salty sea air, and the ability to forget that civilization even exists. One with nature.  

I love watching the pelicans swoop in for a fresh fish breakfast. They seem to stay in groups and hover around wherever there are schools of fish, or fisherman with bait. There are also these large, black birds that take head-first dives into the water to scoop up a meal. It is thrilling to watch.

A few old guys were out fishing with nets and rods. I’d guess they were of retirement age, but am fairly sure that fishing had been their livelihood. One doesn’t learn how to repair a fishing net, or throw one out onto the sea, if it is just a hobby.

Sitting in the sand on the shore, warm sun and blue skies above, you might never know that last night another tropical thunderstorm rolled through the city. It was wonderful! Maybe if you were outside and dodging lightning bolts it would be a different story. But being inside looking out through a bank of windows at the wind bending the palm trees and the sound of torrential rain, is simply magnificent. It’s also nice knowing that the storm will pass through quickly, the skies will dry up, and in morning it will be sunny again.

Still trying to make use of every last minute I have here, the day is already planned. In a few hours I’ll head down to the beach café to watch Argentina x Holland in the World Cup semi-final. After yesterday’s disastrous game between Brazil and Germany, I’m hoping this will be more of an exciting, close match.

I would always have come back down to Puerto Vallarta, but I especially did so at this time to watch the World Cup in a Latin country where I thought it would be great fun. It’s not 

as big of an event as I thought it would be. A few days I wanted to simply watch the games on the TV here, but they were not broadcast. As far as I can figure out, the World Cup is not shown on basic, Mexican TV stations. A step up to cable gives you CNN, (and not CNN International), and periodic news stations from New York, but no World Cup. A step up from that – (maybe satellite?) and you get Sky Sports, which has the World Cup contract. This is very strange. Granted, this is the first that the World Cup has been shown extensively in the US – even broadcasting games on regular networks.
But  even in 1982, pre-cable/satellite, I was able to watch the games on a Spanish language network, even if it was a little fuzzy.  I’ve never heard of another country that did not broadcast the Cup on stations that were available to everyone. All is well, though – I have gotten my fill of games both watching in the US and here. I’m already planning where I’ll be for the 2018 World Cup.


04 July 2014

The Sun Came Out and The Iguanas Came Down

Yesterday afternoon I saw blue skies for the first time since landing in Puerto Vallarta five days ago. For someone who lives by/and for the laws of the sun, it was certainly a welcome sight.

The first, tiniest speck of sunlight in the early morning sky is why I get out of bed. My brain functions best in bright sunlight and my body only works to its fullest when it’s hot.  I have often wondered if I might be part lizard. Perhaps that is why I so adore iguanas and their relatives.

Puerto Vallarta is filled with beautiful iguanas that don’t seem to be bothered by the traffic below or the houses next door to their trees. One only needs to look up in the trees that run along the Rio Cuale, right in the center of town, to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures.  If I search hard enough, (they are good at camouflage), I can usually see at least one in the tree outside my window. The best time to see them is when they slowly make their way down the tree to head for the river and get a drink of water.

I've seen yellow iguanas and green iguanas and a few bright green lizards of a different variety. I think one of them may have been about 5 feet long from head to tail. Although I have seen many, my camera does not have very much of a zoom on it and the photographs I took only are good if I enlarge them on my computer. What I needed was a close encounter with an iguana.

My friend is at the very top of the tree.
I remembered from the last time I was here that the trees next to one of the small bridges crossing the Rio Cuale had been a good place to spot the critters. I walked along the small street running along the river and was about to go up the steps to the bridge when I noticed a woman looking up in the trees. I followed her line of vision and saw a big iguana on the move. And then I saw another.

Quickly, I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures. They were still too far up in the tree, but they were moving around, not just sunning themselves.   Then I noticed the biggest guy was on the move down the tree, right in front of me. What a stroke of luck! He was going for a drink of water just when I got there.

I talked to him all the way down and told him what a beautiful iguana he was. The good thing about iguana wildlife photography is that they move very slowly - it gives one time to focus and reposition to get the best angle. When my buddy got about eye level with me he stopped, turned his head, and stared at me. I like to think he was saying hello.

I then went up to the bridge and found another one at the very top of a tree, drinking in the sun. They, like me, were very thankful for the clear blue skies. I took more pictures, but he really was too far away.

It wasn't until I got home and looked at the photos I had taken, that I realized that iguanas have people eyes. It was quite a shock. I now do know that I am part lizard – the proof is in the eyes.

01 July 2014

USA x Belgium

I actually made it to a Latin American country to watch the World Cup. Even though the plan for the past four years had been to go to Brazil, Mexico was not a bad alternative.

With the USA x Belgium match starting at 3:00 PM Puerto Vallarta time, I set out early enough to give myself time to cruise the Malecon in search of an exciting venue to view the game.

It wasn’t long before I noticed that there did not seem to be much in the way of crazy soccer fans on the streets or in the bars I passed. I assumed that since Mexico was now out of it all, the interest in the mundial might have lessened. But I did expect to see American fans, even though it is low tourist season here.

Once I reached the end of the rows of restaurants and bars along the Malecon, and not finding anything that looked even close to a hopping-mad football fest, I decided to head back to a bar I’d passed earlier. Murphy’s Irish Pub; they had to be watching the game there. Looking up from below at the second story establishment, I didn’t see too many folks inside, but thought I saw a TV with what looked to be a game. I checked my watch – the game had already started – so headed up the narrow staircase to find what awaited me.

The game was indeed playing on several large and small screens. Right at the front, just inside the balcony, sat a group of six young American women, eyes glued to the TV set. Wow – has the world changed! I felt so proud that a group of gals would come out to watch a football match. I said hello and grabbed a table behind them.

Murphy’s was by no means packed, but there was a decent enough crowd comprised of families and small groups of men. I ordered a glass of tonic water and tuned my brain into the game along with my compatriots.

Having watched all the previous matches in the company of myself, I truly enjoyed being able to whoop out loud along with the rest of the patrons – or in some cases, let out a loud ooooohhhh! It really is much more fun to be part of a crowd when watching a sporting event.

We all know how the game ended, but I must say that those last few minutes were a joy to watch, with the entire pub cheering on Team USA.

I do feel a bit disappointed in the less-than-crazy World Cup atmosphere that I’ve found here. I was thinking back to several World Cups ago when I was living in Kuala Lumpur. It was the best time ever! Maybe it was because the games were on in the late afternoon and evening, and all the bars and restaurants were packed for every game. And it’s not like Malaysia was even in the World Cup. For the final, my friends and I had to book a table in a make-shift, outdoor club, right next to the Twin Towers. It was total sports fan nirvana.

World Cup apparent-lack-of-enthusiasm aside, it’s still fantastic to be in Puerto Vallarta, drinking in the heat, breathing in the humidity, and spending by days in happiness.

30 June 2014

Back in Puerto Vallarta

It’s been way too long, but I have finally made it back outside the confines of California and right into the heat of the tropics. Within minutes of arriving, I felt a huge rush of joy. I suppose it’s the combination of the climate - hot and muggy; the people – Mexican; and the grand adventure of it all.
Since the minute I stepped off the plane and asked the guy at the gate who won the Mexico/Netherlands match, it’s been a non-stop adventure of little bits of happiness, one after another. My Spanish is good enough to engage anyone in a conversation and believe me, I talk to everyone. Sometimes I stop and marvel at how this once, painfully shy little girl, turned into such a conversationalist. I chatted with the taxi driver who hopes to do a chef’s course. I talked to the gentleman selling crafts, the proceeds of which will go to help various charitable organizations. There were conversations with the folks at the produce market to make sure the tropical fruits I was buying were ready to eat. And the man on the park bench, five month old kitten at his side, who told me the kitty belonged to no one and I was welcome to take it home.  

I should back up and say that hearing the results of the World Cup match, in which Mexico lost, is not on the list of things to be happy about. One of the main reasons I am here is because I couldn’t bear watching another World Cup in the US. Having said that, I must say that I am thrilled to see the excitement that is ringing around Team USA and the World Cup 2014 in general. However, it’s never quite as crazy and wonderful as it is in the rest of the world. Now that Mexico is out of the running, I don’t know how the rest of the Cup will be commemorated, but I will find out.
It’s been four years since I was last in Puerto Vallarta and I’m interested to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. I easily found the produce market, the grilled chicken market, and the fresh tortilla factory. Sadly, the local, family owned Rizo supermarket is no longer around. There are plenty of mini-marts nearby where I can get yogurt and juice, and fresh fruits and vegetables are just up the street, but I really wish Rizo were there.

I had heard that the Malecon, the walkway along the beautiful Bay of Banderas, had been partly closed to traffic. That sounded like a fantastic idea, and today I was up early to take a walk along its length in the grey, morning light. I have no idea why, but it just felt wrong. All along the Malecon there are beautiful brass sculptures. I especially love the alien-creature looking ones. I have no idea why the lack of street, that is now a walkway, should change the feel of the artwork. Perhaps it is because there had been a one or two foot drop down to the street from the Malecon, and now it is all filled in. I felt like the sculptures couldn’t breathe.  Maybe it was the lack of sunshine. Maybe I just have to get used to it. Maybe I’ll figure out why it doesn’t look right.

Right now I am listening to birds chirp in the trees outside my windows. The geckos in my room are quiet for the moment, but they’ve been talking to me since I arrived.  I’ve seen white herons and iguanas, and a squirrel that has a monkey tail.  I’m keeping my eye out for parrots.
The smell of all those delicious fresh fruits – guava, passion fruit, pineapple and others, are beckoning me to dig in. Life is definitely good!