I’m going to try and get this done in two parts, because we all have things to do. By the way, thanks for reading – whoever you are. I have almost 1,900 page visits over the course of a month and a half, averaging about 52 a day they tell me by cool picture graphs. For only really marketing it to my friends and family, I am humbled by some of the big numbers that are showing up from time to time. If you’re a random person stopping by on the Internets, I don’t know how you found me but thanks. As long as you keep reading, I’m going to take it as a call to write further.
In what will probably go down as my last trip of the first half of July, the summer interns decided to head to Santiago for the weekend, and from there participate in one of the more popular adventure destinations in the country, the 27 Waterfalls of Damajuagua. Us guys left from the central office at around 5, getting in smoothly to the second-largest city at around 7:30, ready for dinner.
I’m a flexible guy when it comes to food, as long as it’s not literal feces. Unfortunately for me, we were going to Chili’s for dinner. It’s the same place you’re thinking of, the place with the molten hot brownie, tchotkes lining the walls, obnoxious birthday songs, and insanely misleading pictures of the food on their laminated menu with American items and American prices. When in Rome… Anyways, they had happy hour so at least there was Presidente Light for cheap. [Tangent alert!] At first I was confused here as to why whenever I requested a Presidente at a restaurant or colmado (corner store) would have a default of reaching for the Light version when I of course wanted to be a man and avoid the light, crushing the bottle on my forehead whenever I was finished. I’ve since realized that it’s because the light version actually tastes noticeably better than the normal. It’s not that the regular is bad, but the light is a perfect Dominican brew for those hot summer nights [Back to the neon hell kitchen that is Chili’s]. Well, if you’re going to go down the toilet eating bad food, you might as well do it in flames. For appetizers, I had the chips and (pretty tasty) salsa, with a couple buffalo wings. For my entree, I ordered the slider burgers, which were supposed to be spicy. Food came, I ate it, didn’t stop when I was full as is custom, and felt like a p.o.s. when I was finished. This was the first American-sized meal I’ve had since I’ve been down here. It was the second time I’ve even been out to a restaurant, the other being a Haitian restaurant in early June. It’s not that I haven’t tried to eat too much, either. I’ve cooked meals that have included 2 cups of rice, 2 cans of beans, and a pound of meat, and still put that down in less than two meals feeling great. Therefore, I’m further convinced it’s not how much but how the food is prepared and where it comes from. There is mystery involved in restaurant chain food, and I’m almost certain it’s not sugar and spice and everything nice.
As to why Dominicans eat there, I assume it’s for the same reason we did: it’s a novelty, nothing more. That was the most expensive experience for the value that I’ve had here (~800 pesos/$23), and left me hating myself. Yet they come exactly for that reason. It’s expensive, so it’s not going to happen often on their standard of living. When do you do expensive things? Special occasions. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every five damn minutes the staff came out loud enough to stop the potential for a conversation beating a stupid drum and singing a birthday song to someone who acts surprised and embarrassed that their friends would tell on them. Unlike the typical American, they go only on special occasions because it’s prohibitively expensive, and then return to eating delicious homemade food at an economical
and healthy rate for the rest of the year. As for me, I don’t have a reason to go to a Chili’s.
Aside from the food, we had a good time, the Red Sox were on NESN beating up on the pathetic Orioles and had a good discussion on whether fighting belongs in hockey (what am I becoming defending hockey?) and diving in soccer. As my hotel roommate can attest, a battle went down later. I’ll montage that out of the story for the sake of time and decency, though – my sincerest apologies.
After having my first hot shower since I’ve been here (not as great as it sounds actually, especially realizing afterwards that the shower head doubled as its electric heater) and an air-conditioned night’s sleep (as great as it sounds), I had to wake up before 7 for the seventh straight day. No, I’m not complaining, but it is an impressive feat for me, as I generally relish sleeping in. The five guys had our coffee in the hotel, which turned out to be a confusing event. When asking the price, the manager said that it was cuarenta (40 pesos). Okay, so one amigo went up to pay because he was done. Then another in a little bit, but he wouldn’t take his money. Why not? Because our first friend had paid for everything. Wow, what a pal spotting us about 200 pesos for the sake of convenience. Not until the next day would we find out that it was because the coffee was 8 pesos a piece, and 40 pesos was the whole bill.
At 7:45, while eating a guineo (banana, you should know this by now) and waiting for the local guagua to take us to the bus station and eventually to Damajuagua, I got a sudden and intense rush. It may have been the coffee, but it felt better, more controlled, and a different kind of clarity – traveler’s high. It was just a feeling of being separated from the usual rambling through my head – thoughts about ‘getting there’, ‘doing things’, ‘not f*ing up’, ‘keep life going’, ‘enjoy yourself’ – and being completely at peace and at the same time excited at where I was. I was in a non-descript part of town, where the buses start their routes next to a few fruit stands by a major artery, nothing spectacular nor unique to my travels. Yet the scene was so fresh and at the same time so comfortable, like I was be at home without one. The excited part of the feeling dissipated after a little while, but there hasn’t been a time since where I’ve felt uncomfortable or overwhelmed by my immediate surroundings. In fact, that feeling sounds completely alien now – why should I feel uncomfortable being here (read: anywhere) when it’s that easy just getting there? I don’t get uneasy taking a bus, train, boat, or plane, so what should scare me about where they take me? I didn’t do anything extraordinary getting to that point with the fresh guineo, so theoretically there should be no exertion to travel through it. As long as my mind is willing to accept that wherever I am is home to somebody, there’s no place too crazy, even for a gringo.Places can be novel, difficult, and taxing, but so are interactions in day-to-day life. And really, what’s more fun to struggle through – being lost in the middle of a new city in the middle of the rain or dealing with your bosses telling you that there’s a new way of turning in your TPS reports?
Alright, that got a little intense, so let’s break for halftime and I’ll continue on in a bit from waiting in the second bus headed to Puerto Plata.