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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

Boris and the Baby Spiders: Why I won’t be sleeping again…ever.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight's adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight’s adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

I don’t like spiders. I don’t know many people who do, but I REALLY don’t like them.

However, I’ve made peace with their presence here in the Dominican Republic. As long as they are big enough for me to keep an eye on, aren’t too active in their movements and pull their weight around the house (i.e. do their part to decimate the mosquito population), we can peacefully co-exist.

I consider this position to be incredibly adult given my gut instinct is to shriek like a little girl. And did I mention the spiders I’m referring to are cane spiders. The smallest I’ve seen are the size of my palm. The SMALLEST.

And I’m willing to co-exist with them. Pretty bad ass, right?

Yeah. Not so much, as it turns out.

Earlier this evening, I spotted one of these cane spiders. We’ll call him Boris. Because Boris is a good name for a spider, and for my own sanity, I like to think all spiders are male. I should think the reasoning behind that is self-evident. It’s cute that they call baby spiders ‘spiderlings’ and all, but there is no place in my world for them.

This Boris was a little more active than I would have liked. He also appeared to be holding something. That thought made me uncomfortable, but I wrote it off as poor lighting. Because seriously, who’s ever heard of a spider carrying anything.

I was willing to keep to my peace agreement, but Boris made a fatal mistake. Rather than staying put on the wall, he scurried down to floor level. Which is when Frederica pounced.

She’s my new hero. And yes, she will be getting extra treats.

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack. (Photo Cred: Maui.net)

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack.
(Photo Cred: Maui.net)

After the brief flurry of activity was over, I noticed something on the floor. It was white and the size of a silver dollar only thicker, and sort of lumpy. With horror, I realized that Boris had really been a Bertha.

My first thought was to flush it as soon as I could, but Frederica was one step ahead of me.

I bent to give her a good scratch when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.

I bent down to the wall to take a better look. That’s when I lost my mind.

I don’t know how many baby spiders escaped. And, for my sanity, I can’t even allow my mind to contemplate how many were in that sack. Thank goodness for Frederica. Because what if they’d hatched while I was holding it…

Ok, Melissa. Breathe.

There was NO WAY I was letting those little Boris’ run around…growing to be the size of my hand…procreating…

I used the only thing I had on hand – Deep Woods Off. Much to my relief, it stopped them in their tracks.

And now, I’m going to brew myself a pot of strong Dominican coffee. Because, as I have no idea how many more Baby Boris’ are running around out there, there’s no chance I’ll be sleeping tonight.

Or anytime in the foreseeable future.

Maybe sometime in mid-2017.

The Night Air

IMG_7047It was impossible for me to sleep on the plane. I tried, but despite my exhaustion, I was still too keyed up from the day’s drama. Which had started when we discovered our original flight was delayed and only intensified as we attempted to rebook our travel plans in a way that would allow my four travel companions and I to enjoy our much-needed Caribbean getaway.

We wouldn’t have made it without the intervention of the kindest woman on the planet – who happened to be a rep for a competing airline. With her help, we were booked on a flight that very evening. The only problem was we had to find our own way to JFK.

Nothing a pedal-to-the-metal dash from Syracuse to Queens – through Manhattan during rush hour – couldn’t solve. Well, along with a slew of frantic calls and messages to iron out all of the supporting details. Like how we were going to get to our final destination considering we were flying into a different airport and the best way to avoid the $30-a-day parking fee at JFK.

All that scrambling was worth it to know we weren’t going to have to scrap the entire adventure. Because NOTHING was going to stand between me and a rum-laded cocktail on the beach, damn it.

I don’t think I really started to breath again until we were on the ground in Santiago. We still weren’t yet at our destination – a small seaside town just east of Puerto Plata – but we were in the Dominican Republic at last.

The mindless trudge through the airport – clearing immigration and customs, retrieving our bags – is all a blur. As we waited for our rental car, I slipped out of my sweater and into a pair of sandals, and pushed through the double doors that separated us from tropical paradise.

Ostensibly I was looking for our taxi driver. (A necessity since there wasn’t a chance all five of us AND our luggage were going to fit in the modest rental we’d reserved.) But really, I just needed to take a moment to appreciate our journey thus far.

It was 2 a.m. local time, and the fronds on the parking lot palm trees hung limply in the still night air. I inhaled, filling my lungs with the thick, humid air. It tasted both foreign and familiar, bringing me back to the year I lived in South Florida.

My mind was on the drive ahead of us. The hour and a half it would take us to drive through the mountains to Costambar. And the two-weeks of much needed decompression before me. It was a welcome distraction from the career transition I was in.

I had no way of knowing how the trip would change my life in so many ways.IMG_7317

…How inexplicably drawn to this island I’d be.

…How it would become the setting for a whole new life, a chance to live out dreams I never dared admit I had.

…How our change of travel plans – which landed us in Santiago in the middle of the night rather than in the middle of the afternoon in Puerto Plata – would cause me to cross paths with my future husband.

I didn’t give him a secomd glance that night – the quiet, unassuming policeman who rode along with his former partner-turned-taxi driver. But the universe had big things planned.

Sometimes, I stand outside and fill my lungs with the night air. It’s laden with the same tropical overtones here in my new home, but also heavy with salt from the sea.

To me, it’s ripe with promise and tastes of untold stories, unforeseen adventures, true love…

and dreams come true.

Unexpected Detours: A tale of flight delays, tropical escapes and chance encounters

 

The 5 Gringas: Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona y yo.

Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona and yours truly atop Mount Isabel during our 2014 Dominican adventure. I can assure you, a good time was had by all.

At barely 5 a.m. on the morning of January 9, 2014, I found myself staring bleary eyed at the departures board at Syracuse Airport. I was queued up with my four traveling companions – Mumsy, Jules, Kathie and Nona – and what felt like half of Central New York. We were at the tail end of one of last winter’s (then infamous, now long-forgotten) storms, and were well aware that some 12,000 flights had been canceled in the preceding days. The weather had finally cleared, though, and every flight listed was showing on time.

The five of us were bound for the Dominican Republic, and I for one could already taste the rum cocktails we’d be sipping on the beach by early afternoon.

A murmur moved up the line, intruding on my reverie. My friend Kathie, a little ahead of us, caught my eye and gestured to that same departure board I’d been staring at. Somehow, while I’d been daydreaming of sun and sand, the status of our flight had changed from ‘on time’ to ‘delayed’. I groaned, drawing the attention of my mother.

“We’re going to miss our connection,” I told her, leaving her to watch the bags as I wound my way to Kathie’s side.

The next hour was a blur. The airline’s counter person – no doubt eyeing the lengthy line of groggy would-be passengers behind us – insisted that she couldn’t help rebook us. We’d need to go through the group reservation line, she said. (Despite that there were only 5 of us.)

Too bad the first two numbers she gave us to call weren’t in service. The third was actually a chat line. (I kid you not.) And when, on the fourth try, we succeeded in getting the right number – we learned that the group reservation call center didn’t even open until 8 a.m. It wasn’t yet 6.

You can imagine how pleased we were at that.

Kathie made one more trip to the poor, frazzled woman behind the counter and miracle of miracles we ended up with a number that actually worked AND connected us to a human being. After jumping through the usual electronic hoops ,anyway.

For the next 45 minutes, the woman on the other end of the line was my best friend. Time seemed to stand still as she worked through a thousand different possible flight permutations in an effort to get the 5 of us ladies to our tropical destination. We were a model of flexibility, offering to fly out of another airport or fly into another one in the Dominican Republic. (We were headed to Puerto Plata, but we could make Santiago work if need be.)

We asked about other airlines, but she said wanted to exhaust all of their own possibilities first.

As the minutes ticked by, the options grew progressively worse, not better. And it was starting looking as though any cocktails we had in the foreseeable future would be imbibed in the bar of an airport (or airport hotel) rather than on a beach. Because the way she was talking, it would be DAYS before we made it to the DR.

It all went even further down hill when we were handed off yet again, this time to a supervisor. He was most definitely NOT my best friend. In fact, his first suggestion was that we fly to Newark and then wait THREE DAYS for a flight to Puerto Plata. This was the best option, he explained, unless we were willing to drive to Newark in three days time. The latter was certainly more appealing, because no offense to Neward, but spending the first part of our vacation there wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

We asked again about options with other airlines, but all we received were a few vague promises that he’d follow up ‘later’. I could tell, though, by the finality in his voice as he signed off that there would be no further follow up on their end.

If we wanted a better option, it would be up to us to make it happen.

Before making our final exit from our home-away-from-home in the airline terminal, Kathie and I took a walk to the Delta counter.

What happened next was, in my opinion, a sure sign that there is a higher power in the universe. Because not only was there a flight to DR leaving that night, but there was space for us on it.

The catch, because there is always a catch, was that it leaving from JFK, not Syracuse, and landing in Santiago, not Puerto Plata. But we could work with that. Because it was definitely better than three days in Newark. Or waiting three days for the long-anticipated getaway for that matter.

As the incredibly helpful Delta representative worked with our original carrier to sort out the flight arrangements, I started working out the other details. Like changing our rental car reservation, reaching out to the Farrell network to find a home for our vehicle that didn’t involve paying $30 a day in a lot at JFK, etc.

Kathie sprung into action as well, since with our new, radically altered itinerary her friend Elena could no longer meet us. Elena, ever helpful, arranged for a taxi to meet us in Santiago. (Because, let’s face it, there wasn’t a chance that the accumulated luggage of five women was going to fit in one rental car. Oh, and there was the small matter of not being one hundred percent sure of the directions…)

The airport terminal was all but deserted by the time we had it all sorted. We were in a bit of a daze as we reboarded the shuttle to take us back to the airport hotel to retrieve our vehicle.

This is "the beach" we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

This is “the beach” we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

Now that the first – and arguably the biggest – obstacle had been overcome, my adrenaline was kicking in. There were still a host of challenges standing between us and the beach. Like getting a refund on the long-term parking we’d prepaid for at the airport hotel. And re-loading the aforementioned luggage into the car without the help of Jules’ very handy husband Lyndon to oversee the process. Not to mention the four-hour or so drive to JFK; the construction related traffic we’d invariably hit along the way; and coordinating the hand off of our keys to my awesome Uncle Tim.

But failure wasn’t an option. Come hell, high water or further interference from the travel gods, we were getting to that beach.

There was too much adrenaline in my system for me to relax on the plane. In fact, I didn’t start to breathe easy until we received the keys to our rental car in Santiago and the smiling cab driver and the off-duty cop riding shotgun with him started loading our luggage.

It was 2 a.m. at that point. We still had an hour or so drive to reach our final destination  on the North Coast. I might not get to sink my toes into the sand for a few more hours, but I was ok with that. Because my Dominican adventure had begun.

When I woke up the next morning and laid eyes on my surroundings for the first time – the palm trees, tropical foliage, the ocean, just all of it –the trials and tribulations of travel didn’t matter. Because on some level, I think I already knew this was where I was supposed to be.

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

A year has gone by since that hectic day. It feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed in the intervening 12 months. I now wake up every morning to that beautiful tropical vista I fell in love with on that very first day. The customer service agent from Syracuse who helped make our dream of a tropical escape come true has since come down and had her own Dominican adventure, and a wonderful friendship has been formed. Elena is now my friend as well as Kathie’s. Kathie and her husband Mike have added an addition to that beautiful house I stayed in during my first stay (and a couple of subsequent visits, as well). They’ll be arriving in a few days to spend a whole month here. I can’t wait. (And yes, they do still rent it out when they’re not here. You can check them out on Facebook at Oceanfront Rental Dominican Republic.) The cab driver, José, has also become a trusted friend. And that off-duty cop? Well… That’s a story for a different day.

Who knows if any of that would have happened if our travel plans hadn’t been turned inside out that day. Sometimes it’s the unexpected detours that makes all the difference. That one point in time sets off a chain reaction, putting us in unexpected places, meeting unexpected people and it can make all the difference in the world.

It certainly has made all the difference in mine.

 

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad: A Modern Air Travel Adventure

I would have a preferred a strict "No Bag Left Behind" policy, but I suppose two out of three ain't bad...

I would have a preferred a strict “No Bag Left Behind” policy, but I suppose two out of three ain’t bad…

“You can only check two bags,” the man in front of me said for the second time. Seeing my expression – and no doubt both questioning my grasp of the English language AND grateful for the counter that stood between us at this point – the airline representative repeated himself yet again. “You can only check two bags. There’s a strict embargo going into Santiago.” Perhaps I would have been better able to process this information if I hadn’t just slid all three of my to-be-checked bags to this man. The three bags I’d spent a week packing and repacking. The three bags containing everything I thought I’d need during the 3+ months of my extended stay in the Dominican Republic. The three bags which, incidentally, I’d had no trouble checking in online the second I was able to do so 23 hours 59 1/2 minutes prior to departure. I couldn’t do anything but stare. First at the man in front of me – whom I’m sure really is a very nice man and I feel horrible about the things I was thinking toward him – and then at those three beautiful bags. Because I want you to think, just for a minute, what it’s like to pack for a trip of that length. Three and a half months in another country, one with a climate completely different from your own. A country where not all of the comforts of home are readily available. And where it is nearly impossible to ship anything without considerable expense and red tape. As you can probably imagine, a great deal of angst went into that process. It seemed never ending. And it wasn’t until I zipped up the final bag that morning that I felt a sense of calm. I was even a little proud of myself, because I felt like I’d struck the perfect balance: prepared, but not ridiculously over-packed. And now this man was essentially sending me back to the drawing board with only the narrowest of windows. I could have wept right there but, frankly, I knew I couldn’t spare the time. The cut-off was quickly approaching. Would it have been different if we hadn’t hit unexpected construction on the way to the airport? Maybe. But even with more time, the task wouldn’t have been any easier. My mind was already working, trying to calculate what was in each of the (very full) bags. What did I absolutely need? What could I live without? Because I wasn’t going to waste time arguing. The important thing was ME getting on the plane, after all. And I couldn’t risk running afoul of the air-travel gods any more than I already had. “I need 2 minutes,” I announced, reaching around to pull 2 of my 3 bags to the side. (Which sounds easier than it was. Keep in mind these were two rolling duffle bags stuffed to the gills.) I unzipped both, picked the one that held the most essential items and, as quickly as I could, removed as many non-essential items as I could. A half seconds later, they were replaced with the most important things from the other bag. Or what, at that split second, I thought were the most important things. Only, of course, I wasn’t half as calm and collected about it as I’m making it sound. I was nothing short of a hot mess. Time crunch or no, I was still distinctly aware of the fact that I was the floor show for the other passengers in line. As a result, that three-month supply of feminine hygiene products I had the foresight to pack didn’t make the cut. (A decision I may very well come to regret.) What felt like 30 seconds later, heart pounding and palms sweaty, it was time to zip up the overstuffed case. In my post-adrenaline haze, I had no idea what made it in and what didn’t. And I was too shell-shocked to care. Thankfully my mother, who had so graciously offered to drive me to the airport in the first place, had insisted on coming in with me. So she was there to take possession of the poor lonely suitcase I had to leave behind.

Post-adrenaline rush

Santiago-bound at last!

As for me, it took the entire first leg of my trip for my nerves to quiet. But now, a few days later, I’m settling in to my home-away-from-home in my tropical paradise. And I can’t for the life of me remember what was so important in that other bag. Because, let’s be realistic: this is hardly the worst airline horror story I’ve ever heard. Heck, it’s not even MY worst airline horror story. And it’s not like I’m never going to see the contents of that bag again. All that truly matters is that I’m in this beautiful place, following a lifelong passion and living a life that still feels a bit like a dream. And if I bit of worry or angst starts to creep in, well…I have the rustle of the wind in the avocado trees, the crowing of the neighborhood roosters, a view of both the ocean and the mountains, and the gentle clatter of the keys on my keyboard to remind me just how lucky I am. Besides, this is supposed to be an adventure, right? It wouldn’t be fun if it was too easy.

Sunrise over the avocado trees on my first morning. #100DaysInParadise

Sunrise over the avocado trees on my first morning. #100DaysInParadise

My Paradise: Costambar, Dominican Republic

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I’m going to write.

That was the excuse I gave people when they asked me why I was going back to the Dominican Republic for a month.

It wasn’t a lie, per se. I did plan to write. Maybe even paint a little. But the trip was about more than that.

The 5 Gringas: Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona y yo.

The 5 Gringas: Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona y yo.

It’s not often that I’ve felt a true connection to a place, but that was what happened when I spent two weeks in Costambar – a small, gated community just west of Puerto Plata on the Dominican Republic’s North Coast. The trip was a much-needed getaway for my travel companions and I. (One of those travel companions was my friend Kathie, who offered up her house in Costambar for the trip.)

Almost as soon as I arrived, I knew I had to come back. I didn’t just want to come back; I needed to. I had healing to do, and decisions to make, and I felt like I could do that here.

But I couldn’t really explain that to people, for to do so would be to admit how claustrophobic I was feeling. How stifled I was by my usual surroundings, how overwhelmed by the opinions of those around me, all of whom knew just what I should do next. How much I needed some time to just BE. To refill the well inside me that had run dangerously low while I was trying to be everything for everyone. (Forgetting in the process that I had to take care of me, too.)

And I needed time to remember who I am as a person, and as a writer. Because one thing I’ve realized these last few months is that somewhere, somehow I’d gotten so far off track I wasn’t sure I could find my way back.

The view that won me over. (Taken that first morning.)

The view that won me over. (Taken that first morning.)

Until, that is, I came to Costambar. I knew this place was special from my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean glimmering in the early morning sun. We’d arrived in the wee hours of the morning, but neither the late hour of our arrival or the 24 hours of travel hell we’d endured to get to our destination, were enough to keep me from waking at first light to get my look at paradise.

Now, some people may think paradise is a 5-star resort, but not me. Oh, I can appreciate the finer points of life as much as the next girl. But a developer’s idea of perfection is not my definition of paradise.

Don’t get me wrong, Costambar does meet the classic definition of paradise. It has palm trees, lush tropical foliage, sandy beaches, a seemingly endless string of sunny days and crystal clear skies, and an ocean that contains more hues of blue and green than I’ve ever imagined. There are amazing restaurants, cabana bars on the beach and some of the best rum in the world. But it’s more than that.

It’s the rhythm, the idiosyncrasies, the character (…and the characters!) that speak to me along with the sounds of the wind in the palms and the dull roar of the surf on the reefs. It’s the rooster that crows every morning (and sometimes all night). The motoconchos whizzing by. The horses and chickens on the golf course. The pomegranate, fig and banana trees I can see from my windows, all heavy with fruit. The flowering trees I can’t yet name. The seductive beat of the bachata, merengue and salsa – dances I can’t hope to master with my gringa hips.

I came here quite by accident, or so I thought. I was looking for a vacation spot, and Kathie offered up her place. It was that simple.

But as soon as I saw the ocean on that first morning, I knew it was no accident. I was meant to come here. And only a few days in, when I could feel my heart starting to beat in time with this place, I knew I would come back. The only question was how soon and for how long.

And here I am. Three weeks into a four-week stay in (my) paradise. Already plotting my return.

And, yes, I’m writing. Every day. Painting a bit, too. I’ve only just scratched the surface, but there is so much more there. I can feel it. Already the threads are there, I just have to tug slightly and they start weaving all on their own.

It’s just the rhythm of this place. It has seeped into my bones.

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