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Posts tagged ‘Costambar’

Las Cucarachas

I woke up this morning to find a giant cockroach dead next to my bed. It put a smile on my face. Especially when I realized it was still in its death throes. Never in my life has the suffering of another of God’s beings caused me such satisfaction.

Now, in general I’m pretty live and let live when it comes to creepy crawlies. But everyone has their limits. And therefore, I cannot extend to the freakishly large roaches indigenous to the tropics. Nor centipedes. Nor egg-sack carrying spiders. Or ticks. Or…ok. Perhaps I’m not quite as ‘live and let live’ as I make myself out to be.

Which is why I called Armando in to fumigate about 32 ½ seconds after I arrived home from Cabrera.

No offense to the beautiful seaside community of Cabrera, with its stunning coast line and close proximity to some of the most amazing beaches on the North Coast

No offense to the beautiful seaside community of Cabrera, with its stunning coast line and close proximity to some of the most amazing beaches on the North Coast

For the record, I had not seen any roaches in the house. It was Cabrera’s fault. Well, not the lovely seaside town, but rather the apartment Andry had arranged for my stay there.

It was nice enough, despite the damp. The problem was, it was already occupied. Although, in true horror-movie fashion, we were blissfully unaware of this fact when we arrived.

In retrospect, the signs were all there from the very beginning. Like the remains of what looked like a prehistoric monster in the bathroom. And the large cane spider who was so curious about our dinner preparations, that he decided to watch the whole thing from a vantage point above the dish drainer. But you know, you take those kinds of things in stride after a couple of years in the Caribbean.

I should mention that I wasn’t feeling myself when we arrived in Cabrera. I thought myself overheated from the drive and overwhelmed by the mildew smell in our accommodations. It wasn’t until I got into the shower – and the cold water was actually painful against my scalding hot skin – that I realized there was more to it.

You'll be happy to know, the worst of my fever was gone by the time May 9th rolled around. We had an amazing anniversary.

You’ll be happy to know, the worst of my fever was gone by the time May 9th rolled around. We had an amazing anniversary.

The 72+ hours that followed were a roller coaster of high fevers and crushing headaches. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Our anniversary was but a couple of days away, and the whole point of me being in Cabrera was to spend some long-overdue time with my husband, whose job has taken him away from home since the beginning of February. Oh, and my biggest client was getting ready to go live on three new websites. So I was working around the clock on top of everything else.

Some time in the middle of that first night, I got up to get some water. In a feverish haze, I rounded the corner into the kitchen/living area and hit the light switch.

There are a few universal truths ingrained in us from a young age. One of them is that when you turn on the light, things that lurk in the dark – creepy crawlies, evil spirits, etc. – are supposed to scatter. Yeah, well not these $*&#^#!

Have you ever wandered into a real locals bar by mistake, and all the heads swivel in your direction? Well imagine that, only with antennas.

Even in my delirium, there was no question who was trespassing on whose domain.

I don’t know how many there were, because I didn’t have it in me to count. (There are some places my brain just refuses to go.) Suffice it to say I was outnumbered. And to get to the refrigerator, I’d have to put myself in the middle of this platoon of king-sized cucarachas. I glanced at my feet and fervently wished I’d gone for Andry’s tactical boots rather than my own flimsy sandals. The odds were definitely not in my favor.

With one last, longing look at the refrigerator, I did what any intelligent woman would do in this situation: I backed slowly out of the room and hightailed it back to bed.

The light? That stayed on.

And once I got home, I wasn’t taking any chances. Let this be a lesson, little cucarachas. This is my domain.

Welcome to my Dominican life!

One more beautiful shot of Cabrera. It really is an amazing place. Cockroaches and all...

One more beautiful shot of Cabrera. It really is an amazing place. Cockroaches and all…

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.

The Mango Queen

Bowl of Mangoes

Mangoes are, without a doubt, one of my favorite things about living in the Dominican Republic. The worst mango here is a zillion times better than the cream of the over-priced, under-ripe crop you’re playing top dollar for back in the states. I mean absolutely no disrespect by this. But seriously, you’re missing out.

Mangoes the size of your head, people! They exist!

Mangoes the size of your head exist, people!

The Dominican Republic is Mango Nirvana. They come in all shapes, sizes and varieties – even some the size of your head! And each has its own subtly different flavor. But they have one thing in common: they are so freaking delicious I could swoon. Swoon, I tell you.

I had my first mango ‘moment’ a little over a year ago, on what would have been my third trip to the DR in less than six months. I watched Andry bite into the top and then peel it by hand with a few deft moves. When he handed it to me, I wasn’t sure what to do. I kept looking for a knife. And barring that, a drop cloth. Because oh my goodness, the juice! I may have politely declined, but it smelled so incredibly good. So I did the only thing I could do – I bit right in. It was…life changing. As if the stars and moon aligned, and angels began to sing.

I felt my knees go week as the juice made tracks down my arms.

Not my finest hour. But what can I say? The mangoes here are THAT good.

Not my finest hour. But what can I say? The mangoes here are THAT good.

To know me is to know that I absolutely hate to be sticky. I’ve been a compulsive handwasher most of my life. But for the first time in my life, I didn’t care. I hardly noticed as Andry lead me to the sink. I may have whined when he took the inexpertly cleaned pit out of my sticky hand, but he quickly replaced it with another piece of delicious fruit.

I’m not sure how many I ate standing there at the sink that night. I lost track at 10.

Sure, it took me an hour to floss afterward, but that was a small price to pay for such deliciousness.

I am hardly the only one mango obsessed. This entire country is! Workers pause in the middle of their labors to enjoy one or twenty. Who needs to eat a meal when you have Mother Nature providing. On more than one occasion, Andry has actually stopped the car to pick one up out of the road. (Initially I scoffed at this practice, but now I don’t complain. As long as he shares.)

Yes, that is my husband. (For the record, we did have permission to steal these particular mangoes.)

Yes, that is my husband. (For the record, we did have permission to steal these particular mangoes.)

Mango thievery is an art passed down from one generation to the next. It requires strength, skill and, if you don’t have the owner’s permission, speed and stealth. I’ve seen people climb trees, throw rocks and use poles or sticks all to get their hot little hands on this beautiful fruit.

There is one thief in particular who is unrivaled in tenacity and persistence. That’s the Mango Queen herself: Frederica.

As in, Frederica, our dog.

I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t believe it at first either. But let me tell you, Frederica is obsessed with mangoes.

It started as a bit of a lark on our part. She would come sniffing around when one of us was eating a mango, so we’d toss her a piece of the peel or the pit if it still had some meat on it. But soon I couldn’t even eat a mango in the privacy of my own kitchen without her bouncing back and form between the kitchen window and the back door, eager for her share of the bounty.

If I eat one while I’m out, she goes crazy. I swear she can smell it on me.

Freddy and Armando, the brothers who take care of our property, are kind enough to keep us in mangoes from a tree on one of the other properties they care for. When they realized Frederica was a fan, too, they started feeding her growing addiction by giving her the overripe and damaged fruit. Which, by the way, she would sometimes eat WHOLE.

They find her obsession entertaining. Highly entertaining. But then, they weren’t picking up the you-know-what. (I would like to state for the record that while I can find, err, evidence, of her mango consumption she shows absolutely no ill effects despite the quantity of fruit she consumes.)

The Mango Thief. Doesn't she look guilty?

The Mango Thief. Doesn’t she look guilty?

I was amused, too, until I realized that the quantity of mangoes Frederica was consuming was greater than what the brothers provided. The aforementioned tree was no longer producing, yet there were a growing number of fresh ‘kills’ in the yard on a daily basis.

Seriously, the side yard looks like a mango cemetery.

That’s when rumors of a mango thief reached my ears. You can imagine my shock, horror and, ok, maybe a little pride, when I realized Frederica was to blame.

She has discovered not one, but THREE different ways out of the yard, specifically to feed her mango addiction. As the season winds to an end, she’s going further and further afield to find them.

Thankfully, the whole neighborhood seems to find it entertaining. And I can understand why. I mean, who ever heard of a dog addicted to mangoes?

Now, if only I could train her to share…

Frederica isn't the only one who likes to keep the mangoes for herself. Even my own mother won't share!

Frederica isn’t the only one who likes to keep the mangoes for herself. Even my own mother won’t share!

Counting My Blessings

I took this photo over a year ago off my favorite spot on the beach to hunt sea glass. A year later, and we're living in the house, behind which this was taken.

The Universe moves in mysterious ways: I took this photo over a year ago off my favorite spot on the beach to hunt sea glass. A year later, we’re living in the house, behind which this was taken and I walk this beach every day.

When I sat down to write this morning, I wasn’t feeling all sunshine and happiness. In fact, I was as close to my breaking point as I’ve been in what feels like a long time. (Even though, in reality, it was probably only a week.)

I’m not going to go into the gory details. We all have challenges in our lives and I don’t need to bore you with mine.

Suffice it to say that, as I started pushing my pen across the page, I felt…overwhelmed…by just about everything. But I can’t let it get to me. I’ve come too far in my journey for that.

Shenanigans at our friend Kerri's wedding. Katie - stunning in red - with our friend Maureen on the left and yours truly kicking up her heels...

Shenanigans at our friend Kerri’s wedding. Katie – stunning in red – with our friend Maureen on the left and yours truly kicking up her heels…

Even if I was feeling inclined to wallow, I can’t. Because my friend Katie arrives in a few short hours. That alone makes today a GREAT day. The next week is going to be filled with belly laughs, high adventure and, per her decree, plenty of ‘frolicking’. I’m excited to introduce her to my life, the love of my life and this beautiful country and culture that I’ve adopted as my own. I’ll be doing both her and I a disservice if I don’t throw off this funk. So I hereby promise not to let anything put a damper on the next seven days.

I know exactly what I need: to change my perspective. Instead of dwelling on those negative thoughts – itemizing what I don’t have and what I haven’t yet achieved or accomplished – I need to count my blessings. Celebrate what I DO have. Because those blessings are numerous and bountiful. Too numerous to even count, really.

Here I sit, under the gnarled branches of a massive sea grape tree, not twenty yards from the Atlantic Ocean, listening to the symphony of the waves crashing on the reef and on the shore like an old school round. As I watch, the harbor pilot guides a giant cargo ship through the narrow channel into the Puerto Plata harbor with practiced ease.

It’s going to be hot today, already close to 90 at 9 a.m. But from where I sit, there is such a beautiful breeze that it feels fresh and cool. There’s a dog at my feet that adores me so much that she’s curled up here even though she has a whole yard to play in. I can already taste the perfectly ripe flesh of the avocados that Freddy has promised to bring me this afternoon.

Home sweet (borrowed) home.

Home sweet (borrowed) home.

Freddy, in case you’re wondering, is basically my new best friend. Partially because he keeps me in mangoes and bananas and whatever other fruit happens to be in season, but also because he and his brother take care of this oceanfront property where the love of my life and I are lucky enough to be housesitting.  It is home for us in a way no other house has been for me, other than the 150-year old farmhouse where I grew up. I know it will only be temporary, as the owner has it up for sale, but we will enjoy it as long as we can. The fact that we’re here at all, makes me have to pinch myself. Because I dreamed about living here the first time I walked by – on my first trip here to the Dominican Republic last January.

Funny, isn’t it, how the Universe has a way of granting wishes we don’t even realize we’ve made.

I am blessed to be able to do what I love – CREATE! When I allow myself the luxury, anyway. Even here – far from the trappings of my former corporate existence – I find myself being stingy with my inner artist. I convince myself I have other obligations that must come first. But do they really? And I am forever finding excuses why I can’t sit down and write or create when that’s exactly what every fiber of my being is straining to do.

The why behind this is complex, but I’m working on it. Well, working on working it out and getting past its arbitrary barrier, anyway.

Fear is a big part of it. Fear of taking that first blind step off the cliff – even though the Universe has already made it abundantly clear it’s here to help me fly. I just have to take that first step.

There is also fear of failure. For some reason, it feels safer to let a dream be just that – a dream that we never really try for. Because in pursuing it, we take a risk. That risk is seeing a cherished dream crash and burn. So, rather than risk that failure, we never try. Of course, following this course of action (or, more precisely, inaction) we sabotage any chance of success.

If we can get past the fear, there’s still doubt to contend with. For me, that leads to second-guessing the Universe. Not quite able to believe my good fortune in being here and living this life, I question whether I deserve it. No matter how much positive reinforcement I receive!

But I’m working through all of that. Really, I am. I have started to listen closely for the messages the Universe sends, and then I do my best to follow its instructions. They always lead me in the right direction. The challenge is in both hearing through the other noise out there, and being willing to accept the good that comes my way. I work hard, too, to keep up my end of the bargain. For every step I take in the right direction, the Universe rewards me ten-fold.

So, yes. I could sit here and wallow in self-doubt, self-depreciation, self-pity and fear. But I won’t. Because I BELIEVE – in myself AND the Universe. I choose to embrace the positive. When I do, positive things happen. The Universe is generous like that.

Even now, when I’m experiencing a crisis of personal faith, I will keep positive. I’ll listen for the Universe to guide me, but at the same time keep putting one foot in front of the other. The Universe likes momentum.

I’ll fill one more page, line by line and word by word. I’ll reach out to one more contact. Never forgetting, always appreciating, the blessings I have already been shown. And always ready to receive whatever good the universe decides to send my way.

Because I BELIEVE…

…in myself.

…in this path that I’m on.

…in the power of the Unverse to help me dream big.

…in the ability of the Universe to make wishes – whispered in my dreams and carried away on the night breeze – come true.

Yes, I BELIEVE.

As I type these last words, rain drops have started to fall. For some, that may not be a good sign. But here, where it has been close to three months since we’ve had rain, every single drop is a blessing.

For me, it’s yet another sign that the Universe is listening.

Maybe I should have told Katie to pack an umbrella…

Mother Nature's Blessings: A gift from my friend Julie Gates.

Mother Nature’s Blessings: Photo credit to my friend Julie Gates.

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.

 

My Paradise: Costambar, Dominican Republic

IMG_0802

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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