Thursday, April 19, 2012

View from Another

My little brother--the well-established favorite of three siblings--Sam, wrote this after his short stint with us on the island. Gem of a human. The panoramic shot at the end of his post was taken by him up a mountain in a little place called Pajones (translation: frizzies), just outside the city. Enjoy.

"My arrival in Santiago De Los Caballeros was greeted with applause and a few tears of joy. This fanfare had little (nothing) to do with me; the celebration was because we safely landed after encountering scream-inducing-turbulence over the mountains while on decent into the country. The moment the fasten seat belt sign turned off someone from the back row bolted for the front, but they didn't get far because most people had the same idea. The terror of the flight must have made many passengers feel closer to each other, like family, because the personal space normally afforded to strangers was non-existent while everyone crushed into the aisle waiting for the plane to empty.

The crowding experience was replicated on the concho ride from the airport. A concho is like a shared taxi with a set route, picking up and dropping off as many people as will fit in the five seat sedan. Though five passengers is what the car is designed for it's probably better to describe its seating capacity in terms of cabin volume divided by the average volume of a human. The drivers prefer to attempt to reach this theoretical maximum, cramming passengers on top of existing passengers. This process only stops when people decide that it's better to wait for the next concho rather than suffer the indignity of sitting on a grown man's lap who is himself sitting on a grown man's lap. The drivers continue to attempt finding that one prospective passenger who would be happy with such a situation by honking at every pedestrian.

Our first outing was to the capitol, we took a bus. The first stop there was, lunch, followed closely by the zoo. The zoo was neat but in an awful part of town. As far as I know the DR doesn't have any exclusive fauna (except tiny mosquitoes who can carry twelve times their body weight in human blood and phase in and out of the visible spectrum when they're chased with a swatter). All the classic animals were there, lions, tigers, and flamingos... Next stop was a wedding of some friends that I didn't know. I apparently committed a faux pas at the wedding when during the ceremony I didn't kill the baby tarantula crawling up the back of someone's chair. I'm pretty sure that one isn't in any travel books.

Our next outing was to the north coast, to the city of Puerto Plata. The weather was lovely on the coast, excuse me, beach, it was more than just a coast. The first stop was our "hike" which entailed bravely riding a gondola to the top of a mountain, walking through the gift shop, down some steps, then back to the gondola for the grueling ride down. It was one of the better hikes I've ever been on. The second stop, lunch. As we were walking down the street my sister says "do you want to eat at a restaurante or a comedor?". It's been years since my third first term of first year Spanish, but I was pretty sure that I remembered a restaurante was some sort of place with food and the directions to it usually just involved two right turns and a left on something called "calle B". The real difference apparently lies in the pricing, restaurantes have outrageous tax and comedors do not. Well, that was the difference anyone was willing to explain to me. I decided on the comedor. After a few steps, with just enough delay to seem as if it were unrelated to the previous conversation, my sister causally says "Oh, remind me to get you your anti-parasite medication when we get home". Lovely. It was, the food was great and cheap. The parasite content is yet unknown. There will be no updates.

The next day Josh and I made our way to the campo. The countryside. We greeted the concho's honking with a wave rather than a wagging finger. There were already two people in the front passenger seat and two large men in the back. Josh went in first and I sat half on his lap holding myself up with a head out the window and a hand on the roof. Sitting on someone during the hottest day I've seen here was decidedly unpleasant. Traffic is, fairly put, crazy here. Lanes are a suggestion, turn signals indicate an electrical problem, and a honk is required to let people know one intends to continue going forward. I pulled my head in. My collision imminent alarm was saturated with false positives very early. Luckily, I didn't ignore it completely. Watching the city fly by, I looked forward just in time to retract my elbow as our driver sideswiped another concho at twenty miles an hour. The other concho lost a side mirror and I kept my arm. It didn't seem like a rare event. We then caught a guagua out of the city and up the hill into the campo. The drive up the sometimes-gravel-sometimes-potholes-with-asphalt-ridges road was rather like an uphill luge/slalom, except it was hot. The view from the farm we stopped at was amazing and the people were wonderful. The foundation there ( is doing some great things for the local community. Josh taught a class to some local kids about the proper structure of paragraphs. I had no idea what he was saying, but it was rather engaging. He's an awesome teacher. Me, not so much. I tried to talk to them about becoming an engineer and just ended up showing them that I have a medical grade magnet implanted in my hand (my sixth sense), which I think freaked a lot of them out (do screams in Spanish mean the same thing in English?). Josh and I went back home, this would be my last local adventure within this greater adventure.

Josh and Becky's house is very nice. I felt instantly at home there. I haven't really had a chance to spend much time with my sister and her family since she's had a family. As it turns out Becky is not only an excellent sister, but also an excellent mother. And host, she made all kinds of delicious food, assumed to be parasite free. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. I hope that I get to do so more often in the future. We were quite busy but in a relaxed way for the majority of my visit. The Dominican Republic is an interesting place. Meeting times are given as minus three standard deviations in a Gaussian distribution of arrival times with a standard deviation of 30 minutes (2.1% chance they'll show up within 30 minutes of when they said they would). Coffee is delicious and has many options, buy one to get one thimble of half coffee, half sugar, buy two to get two thimbles of half sugar half coffee, etc. There is such beauty alongside such desperate poverty. But I think I realize why my sister is there, there is so much potential for improvement. Life is short, why not be where your work will cause the greatest amount of good?"
--Sam House

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