Thursday, April 7, 2005

Dominican Republic Trip: Day 8

Rosie and I split up again, me going to the school and her to the clinic. We go now and 7:30 am, riding with Eunice and Jonathan in the SUV with the school principal and his family. We did this Wednesday too. Rosie gets dropped off at the clinic and the school is about a mile farther.

I tutored students until recess and then sat under a tree working on my tatting. A girl came up and wanted to learn, so I taught her and she made one ring in the lace pattern. It’s a little dirtier than the others, but that doesn’t matter to me. It’ll wash out. This tatting is going to have so many memories wrapped up in it from the Dominican Republic. It has grown quite a lot since I started it on the plane. I think I’m going to put it on the blouse I make with my silk from China. It’ll be my multicultural memory shirt.

After recess I didn’t know where Daniel or Tracy were, and it was already 11:15, leaving only 45 minutes for me to wait, so I stayed sitting there doing my tatting. We planned to leave at 12:00 to go on an outing.

At one point during the day, a little girl came by cleaning a chalkboard eraser. She was thinner than the other children and her uniform was dirty. I was eating a granola bar right then and asked her if she would like some, breaking off a bigger-than-half chunk as I asked. She took it, and instead of eating it, placed it carefully in her shirt pocket. I wish I had given her more.

Before she left school, she came up to me and asked if I could go to her house. I regretted to have to answer no, because I would have loved to go, but I thought we would be leaving any minute.

About 12:20, Eunice came up to me and said her dad didn’t have the car yet to come pick us up. My 45-minute wait lengthened into 1 hour and 45 minutes, because we finally ended up leaving about 1:00.

Oh, another little girl sort of befriended me during that time, too. She was playing with two magnets and I took her picture. I showed it to her on the back of the camera and she was so fascinated that she wanted her brother to see, too. She ran and got him, and a whole group of kids came along, all wanting their picture taken. I took several pictures before a teacher came up and got them back in their right classes. I felt bad for distracting them again, but they were sort of irresistible, and I like making myself approachable to them.

Finally the time came for us to go on our outing! The six of us piled into the borrowed, manual-transmission car with the cracked windshield whose engine wouldn’t idle without sputtering and dying. But it was a car!

We drove out of San Juan in roughly a northerly direction, coming ever closer to the mountains which are always a pleasure for me to look at.

Little villages dotted the road all along the way, with the usual collection of small huts painted bright colors, people here and there outside, goats, chickens, pigs, and fruit & vegetable stands.

The color schemes here are really quite fantastic. It’s like a box of crayons. A very popular combination is bright teal with carnation pink trim. Another common thing is to see a row of 3 or 4 houses, all panted a different outlandish color, like teal, grass green, and then yellow, or dark pink next to vivid purple. Nothing is out of place. Royal blue with bright yellow trim, red with green trim or vice versa, purple and yellow, orange and red, the imagination is the limit! I think the only color I haven’t seen is black.

Interestingly enough, the rich people tend to use more subdued colors on their houses, like peach, white, tan, or light pastels instead of dark primary colors.

Oh, and they paint tree trunks too. You go by a purple house and all the tree trunks are painted purple up to the height a person can reach. It’s like, “Ok, we have some leftover paint. What should we do with it? Hmmm, here’s some wood. Oooh, look at the pretty purple tree! This is fun! Let’s do it to all our trees! Come on kids—you want a paintbrush?”

The telephone poles are the same story. In the city, you mostly see white, but in the country, it’s whatever color happened to be available. On almost every telephone pole here in San Juan, the letters “PRD” are painted in blue on top of the white background. This is the name of a political party, the “Party Revolutionary Dominican” (in English) which, I am told, is almost exactly like the PLD (“Party Liberator Dominican”) in platform and issues. Strange. How can you have two indistinguishable political parties?

Anyway, back to our outing. We drove higher and higher until we came to an open space in the mountains and looked down. There below us was a large, beautiful blue lake created by a dam to collect all the rivers and streams in the mountains. The water was a gorgeous color and the mountains were bathed in sunlight. There was a steep stony bank down to the water level, and we had fun climbing down. The water was many feet lower than its usual level due to the drought, and we could see the tree line of where the water used to be. The difference was amazing. Pastor José saw an eagle while we were down at the water. We raced on the way up and Jonathan won, then Rosie, and then me.

From there we went to “Las Cuevas de Suburucu.” We drove down a winding road to get there, took a wrong turn or two, asked directions, and finally made it there. This place was REALLY fun! No guard rails, no fences, no restrictive guards or groundskeepers at all—it was just as if it was on our own property and we were free to explore as we liked.

The first little cave we came to was little more than an overhanging of rock, and it smelled really stinky. We then walked a little further on and climbed up a steep 15 feet or so to encounter a second cave. This one opened in two directions, one of which was a spooky dark hole whose reaches could not be probed with the eye. Rosie ran back to get a powerful little flashlight she had with her, and I dropped down into the hole, mostly excited, but also half-afraid I would step on something nasty. Guided by the brief flashes of light from the pictures I was taking, I edged my way forward into what was a rather large room with a high ceiling. I was still a little hesitant, but about that time, Rosie appeared with the flashlight in the bright opening and let herself down. Switching her light on, she shone it around and the first thing that met our eyes was a large wooden cross standing up marking a grave. In a little side room was another grave & cross, this one of concrete and leaning at a drunken angle.

We walked over the cave until we saw that there were no tunnels or passages leading anywhere else. When Rosie shone her light on the ceiling, bats started fluttering around, and I happened to catch one in a picture, perfectly in focus, with wings fully extended. THAT was a triumph!

We went to the end of another little crack and then that was all in this cave. A little further on, we came to the third. This one was the largest and had natural lighting, so the flashlight was not necessary here. It was the kind of place that you walk in, look around, and just say “WOW.” There were some stalactites and stalagmites here, a big main room, and shelves here and there around the edge of the wall that you could climb up to and get to little side rooms and hollows in the rock.

One of the first things I noticed here was a disconnected tree. A trunk was growing outside the cave with its wood embedded in part of the upper rock about 15 feet up. Somebody had cut a piece out of the trunk so that the top part was no longer connected to the bottom part. However, it still stood up straight, because the rock was holding it at the top. It was a very strange sight! I took a couple pictures of it.

One of the other pictures I took in the caves looks like the profile of an old testament Patriarch, with a heavy brow, piercing eye, well-cut nose, grave mouth, and long beard. I didn’t see that in the rock, but when we looked at the pictures, Rosie exclaimed, “That’s a face!” and so it was.

We left the caves and went down to an electric plant on the river that comes from the dam. There was a fence around the place with a sign that said, “NO PASE” (do not enter). When we saw that, Eunice and Jonathan started saying, “You can’t go in. The sign says so. The sign says ‘no pase,’ Papi. Turn around.” However, Mr. Encarnación continued right on in through the gate, saying, “I am from this country. I know what I can do and not do.”

Two men walked up to the car, one looking like a boss and the other in a uniform, carrying a big gun. Mr. Encarnación greeted them in a friendly manner and they appeared to relax. We all got out of the car and they started showing us around the place. While Mr. Encarnación was looking at all the technical stuff, us girls caught sight of a goat and two adorable little kids bounding along the rocks on the other side of the river. Then the men went inside and we went over to see a hen who was just bursting with new little chicks underneath her. I walked up with the camera until she got up and all the peeping little babies spread out around her. I took a couple of pictures, and, seeing that they were all remarkably unafraid, Rosie began coaxing them toward her by “pecking” with her finger on the ground and throwing little pieces of gravel just in front of them. They all waddled closer and closer until—POOF—one was snatched up in Rosie’s hand! Oh, it was such an adorable, teensy-weensy little peep-peep! We caressed and petted it and let it run back to its mother.

Then we went over to look at the river again, this time in a different place, farther away from the car. We saw more baby goats (cabras) and looked down into the river and into the tunnel that came from the dam.

Behind us, Jonathan noticed a steep bank of earth about 20-25 feet high that was all covered in concrete and started climbing it. I said, “Look! A Cabra!” Yo soy una cabra también!” and Rosie and I ran over to join him. I set my camera down and started scrambling up. It was actually quite difficult, because some of it was almost straight up, and being in sandals didn’t help, but there was always a good rough surface to grip, and just at the most difficult part, when I didn’t think I could go up or down, lo and behold, there was an iron handle in just the perfect spot! I held onto it with both hands and kicked both legs in the air for the benefit of those watching me, and then continued on to the top. I then came back down in a slightly different place.

Mr. Encarnación had finished looking around and watched this whole “goat” escapade with Tati and Eunice, who stayed safely on the ground the whole time. He’s such a good sport to let us do fun things like that! We were playing the whole thing up, bleating like goats and everything. However, about the time we were coming down, the uniformed gunman started walking back over our way, looking tense and rather worried about all the liberties we were taking. By the time he got over to us, we were done anyway, so we cheerful told him goodbye, thanked him, and left.

As we drove through the gate, Mr. Encarnación said, “Jonatán, no te olvides que yo soy el jefe. Yo so de este país. Puedo hacer lo que quiero.” (“Jonathan, don’t forget that I am the boss. I am from this country. I can do what I want.”) I responded, “Y yo creo que cuando se pasa donde dice ‘no pase,’ hay mucho divertísimo allí.” (“And I think that when you go through where it says no entry, you find a lot of fun there.”) Everyone laughed and Mr. Encarnación said, “Este fue el problema de Eva,” (“That was Eve’s problem.”) which sent me into peals of uncontrollable laughter. It was one of those good-for-the-soul, contagious, belly laughs, combined with the thrill of “I just said a whole sentence in Spanish!” that made Rosie pester me for what the joke was. I explained it to her when I got control of myself and then started laughing all over again, setting everybody else in the car to laughing at me.

From there we went home, had a good dinner, and went to bed.

Keep Reading: Dominican Republic Trip: Day 9
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First Post: Dominican Republic Trip: Day 1

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