Milepost 2-2-13 Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt like they were an old friend? Did you visit a new place and immediately feel that you were home? That’s what happened when Kaye and I arrived at The Cove in the Dominican Republic last winter. We were renting a VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) apartment on the beach on the Samana Peninsula at the east end of the island of Hispanola, and as soon as we started to meet the locals, we knew we had come home – at least for the winter.
Coco was the first to welcome us as our taxi driver dropped us at the front door of our home. He was the manager of the complex and immediately started taking care of us, first with a tour of the house and a how-to-start-the-air-conditioner demonstration. The next morning came more info as he delivered a 5-gallon water bottle and told us how to hire the local women to come in and cook a full meal of chicken or fish and rice and salad. And a whole lot more. Coco smiled a lot and his default reply to every question was, “No problema!” He told us where we could buy provisions and cold Coke at the nearby colmado (general store) only a five-minute walk from the house.
When we arrived at the colmado we were welcomed with quick smiles as we brushed the cobwebs off our Spanish and dove into the indigenous mode, ordering flour and sugar and milk and eggs… and banana chips. Processed foods simply weren’t available. Behind the counter grandma reached for this and that as we pointed at the stuff we wanted, and the grandkids scrambled to help. We discovered later that the tourists who stayed at The Cove rarely shopped at the local store and in fact, didn’t cook for themselves much, choosing to eat out more often than not. So, seeing our willingness to engage the local culture and support the neighborhood economy, we made ourselves popular very quickly.
We saw even more surprise and pleasure on the faces of the neighbors when we showed up at the bus stop to board the guagua for a trip to the nearest town. The guaguas are beat-up vans and small pickups with benches built in the back for passengers. They come by every half hour and charge about 70 cents for a ride to town. They were often crowded, but people would quickly scoot over to make room for the Americanos every time. It seems that the foreigners rarely ever ride the guaguas because they all have rental cars. Except for us. We like to get as close to the culture as we can. Believe me, in a guagua, the culture is very close!
The camera was the next thing that promoted our welcome with the neighbors. The Dominicans love to have their pictures taken. I rarely shoot a photo of a stranger without first making some introductory small talk, but these folks were eager to smile and pose for the camera. Sometimes, when I was standing near someone, they would get my attention, point at the camera and then at themselves, and smile real big. Man, this is easy! Even teenage guys would pose when they saw the camera without the slightest hint that there was anything uncool about it.
One day I grabbed the camera and headed out for a walk through the neighborhood of El Frances near our house. The first guy I met on the street motioned me toward the path around behind the colmado where we took a shortcut through the baseball field and ended up standing in front of his house. Next he took me to the school which was in session, disappeared inside and came back out with the principal so I could take her picture. From there I continued on down the street where kids were running around naked while their moms hung up laundry in the yard. Some guys invited me into their kitchen to share some freshly fried fish – right out of the pan. I love these people!
I tell you, at the end of our stay as we said farewell to these great neighbors, it was like parting with family members.
I love the Dominican Republic. It’s a beautiful land with splendid beaches and forests of coconut palms. But the biggest draw to this gorgeous tropical paradise is its beautiful people with their unpretentious grace and easy smiles.
On my next visit to The Cove at El Frances I’m hoping to stay longer if I can possibly do it. It’s like home after all.
See my gallery of 250 photos of the land and the people of the Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic, at my online gallery and photo store here.