Thursday, October 1, 2015

Adios Stuffing and Hola Cranberry

It has been another animal dominated couple of weeks while we still wait for the party to decide who the mayoral candidate will be. There are over 1500 pre-candidates awaiting to hear their fates supposedly based on opinion polls although the names of the companies doing the poll are not being released. Will it all be done fairly? Your guess is as good as mine. Today the party election committee is announcing the name of the person who will be the liaison officer for each of the areas where the candidates have to be selected by poll but no date as to when the actual selection will be.

Anyway, back to the animals. The first is some sad news about Stuffing, or Etuffee as Danilo pronounces it.

Stuffing, the great friend of Monster and husband to Sprout and father of one (other turkey chicks or poults as they are known, died), has gone to turkey heaven. He had been sick for a couple of weeks, not eating so Danilo was force feeding him, but was also depressed. He wouldn't come out of his house so Danilo would take him out and he would go back in at 6 pm on his own as it was getting dark. This particular night it was raining but had stopped and I went to take the dogs out for their nightly pee and poo run. Danilo was at university. Unbeknown to me, Stuffing had not gone to bed and was lurking outside his pen and the dogs went for him. I tried to get them off him, but it was too late and he was dead.

I decided to save the dogs getting into trouble I would put him in his house so that Danilo would just think he had died of his illness, so that is what I did, and then went to bed.

I woke up when Danilo returned and said sad news about Stuffing. He said he knew and he had found the evidence that the dogs had killed him. I said no, I had just spotted him dead in his house and asked what evidence he meant. He wryly said that the fact his head was not attached to his body was a tad of a giveaway. R.I.P Stuffing.

Stuffing has been replaced by a new male whose name is Cranberry. He has only been here a day but seems to be settling in well, and follows Sprout and baby Stuffing around.

He is only about 4 months old so hasn't start puffing up and strutting and gobbling yet but seems like a happy enough chap.

Since Stuffing departed this life, Monster had refused to sleep in the house they shared and has moved in with everyone else into the cellar. I expect it is because he is afraid his head will fall off in the night. The cellar is now getting very crowded at night time as they all jostle for their favourite specs on the stick.

There is now a little more space however as two of the hens, la negra and la india (the black one and the brown one) had been laying eggs in the same plastic container. When they were ready to sit on them it was a tad squashed and when hens sit on their eggs they never leave them.

So Danilo made them a bigger nest and now the lesbianas as they are now known can snuggle up together for the next 21 days until their chicks hatch. That could be interesting as the eggs all have the same father - the one and only rapist. I wonder if they know that or whether it will only become apparent when the chicks are born and they all look alike.

And today, another pair of chickens, with equally inspiring names, la negra 2 and la india 2 who also laid their eggs together and whose father is Monster are now squashed in another plastic container together. Looks like will be busy here in a few weeks time as each pair of hens are sitting on around 15 eggs.

Apart from the feathered animals, we have four puppies left, two of which will be going in a week or so.  They are now 10 weeks old and  are causing total havoc, chewing everything they can and messing up the house. Can you see the state of the floor? That is because they dip their feet in the water bowl, run around in the mud and then run back in the house.

We are thinking of keeping two, this is one called Sweepy (Weespy) who has the most enormous ears which I assume he will grow into one day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Snakes and Fowl

Well we had an interesting experience the other night.

Danilo was doing his washing, as apparently I don't wash clothes like a Dominican woman. It appears I put dirty clothes in with less dirty clothes which you are not supposed to do as it makes all clothes dirty instead of all clean. Also I don't use enough bleach (as would like clothes to stay the same colour) and I use the spin dryer which I thought was to take the water out of the clothes so that they dry quicker but apparently it is not good and ruins them, so you have to take clothes straight out of washer, dripping with water, put on hanger and then hang on barbed wire fence.

Anyway, I digress. It was nearly 8 p.m. Danilo was doing his washing and I was deciding what to make for tea when there was a blood curdling scream from outside in the woods. We have a mahogany wood running the whole length of our land but only a couple of yards from the house. The chickens often go in it and roost in the trees at night, some even fly 20 to 30 feet up in the air to a branch. The dogs go there to play sometimes as well.

Danilo yelled that a snake had a chicken and went tearing outside in shorts and flip flops. I was instructed to follow. He ran to the wood and we could hear a chick screaming and saw its mum high up on a branch. I ran to get the machete and Danilo climbed the tree, stopping after a few feet so that I could pass him the machete.

We have a black hen, who had five chicks and she would spend the day in our garden and then take the chicks to roost in the wood at night. She was sitting on a branch making a hell of a racket while next to her, the snake was eating her chick and she was desperately trying to peck the snake to death, with zero success. Danilo got up into the tree, around 15 feet up, and promptly dropped the machete, so I passed him a stick and he proceeded to try and kill the snake with the stick.

Mother hen flew off with her two remaining chicks, I was in charge of shining the torch and the neighbours appeared at the fence to see what was going on. I asked one to come and help and he said no, that he was scared of snakes!

It took a few minutes, and normally we never kill snakes but when they start eating the chickens it has to be done.

The snake was dead and once it dropped to the ground we could see that it was a Hispaniola Boa Constrictor. And not a small one at that.

Apparently where there is one snake there are more, and Danilo assures me he can smell one (??!!) and it smells like a big one, in the area near one of the chicken runs, so we wait for another night. Apparently they feed at night as that is when the hens and chicks are up in the trees.

Meanwhile, the black hen is down to two chicks, and she very sensibly now brings them to sleep in the cellar, which is becoming a tad overcrowded at night.

She also has a couple of roosters as security guards - one on each side of her and chicks. Meanwhile Sprout is also in the cellar with her brood at night and in the day she potters around the garden with them.

However, she has developed a nasty habit of trying to fly into the house. Firstly she flies up closer to one of the windows and then tries to actually fly into the house. Here you can see she has flown up onto the top of the cellar door and then tried to make it in through the window.

I had no idea turkeys could fly but if you have never had a turkey flying around your house, you have no idea the noise they make. They are like bloody helicopters. Here is a video so you can see what a mean.

On the political front, no news which I suppose is no surprise. It appears that the companies who will carry out the research have still not been selected, so we still need to wait and see what will happen.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Dominican Politics Explained - a little

Many of you have written to me asking what is going on in Dominican politics so here we go, I will try and explain as best I can.

We have to start with a little bit of a history lesson but I will start in the 1990’s or we would be here all day. Since that date, politics in the country has basically been dominated by two main parties which are the PLD (Dominican Liberation Party which uses the colour purple)

and the PRD (Dominican Revolutionary Party which is white).

The third largest party is the PRSC (The Reformist Social Christian Party which is red).

If you support the PLD you are known as a pe-eledista, with the PRD a pe-erredista and the PRSC a reformista.

So back in 1996 Leonel Fernandez of the PLD was elected president and at that time the Constitution would not let him run for more than one four year term in office at a time, so in 2000, another PLD chap, Danilo Medina was the PLD candidate to become president.

Leonel Fernandez

Danilo Medina

However, Danilo was beaten by Hipólito Mejía Domínguez of the PRD and Hippo, as he was known, fancied being president for another four years, so naturally he then changed the Constitution to allow him to run again in 2004. However his cunning plan backfired as  he was beaten and Leonel Fernandez came back as president again

Hipolito Mejia

Of course since the Constitution had been changed,to enable presidents to serve two consecutive terms, Leonel could now stand again in 2008 and once again he won, this time against Miguel Vargas Maldonado of the PRD who had beaten Hippo in the primaries.

Miguel Vargas

However, when it came to 2012 Leonel could not stand for a third consecutive term as the Constitution only allowed for two consecutive terms and no more ever, So he changed the Constitution yet again, as you do, back to only one term, but as many single terms as you like, which meant that although he could not stand in 2012, he could run again in 2016.

All clear so far?

So instead of him running in 2012 Danilo Medina came back as Presidential candidate and this time he beat Mejia and became president.

It was not particularly hard to beat Mejia as life under his first and only presidential term was difficult, the country ran out of gas, banks collapsed, there was rampant inflation, and he had a habit of saying totally inappropriate things. For example, he lost a large number of votes saying that women who worked as cleaners and housekeepers stole meat and salami from their employers and took it home with them to feed their husbands.

Having said that, although Fernandez had impressed in his early terms with major economic growth and a better presence on the international stage, his 2008-2012 term was marred with a perception of major corruption and the poor becoming poorer.

No one expected great things of Medina who appeared to be a quiet and introspective man. But everyone was surprised as he gave 4% of the GDP to education for the first time and transformed the system to allow everyone to go to school from 9-4 rather than just mornings or afternoons. New schools were built around the country, teachers’ training was improved and their salaries rose dramatically. Nursery schools were built around the country as well as a continued programme of road improvements. He began to make surprise visits into the countryside every Sunday, visiting small farmers and providing them with low interest loans to improve production. Unemployment fell and tourism grew and his popularity ratings went through the roof.

Meanwhile Miguel Vargas and Hipolito Mejia didn’t like each other much and they and their supporters were always fighting, sometimes even physically, so in 2014, Hippo and a whole group of his followers split away from the PRD and formed a new party called the PRM – the Modern Revolutionary Party. It is also the white party.

So now we have the PLD, PRD, and the PRM plus a host of other little parties, the largest of the others being the PRSC.

Now the deal was, because under the latest version of the Constitution you could only have a single term as president at any one time, that Leonel Fernandez would come back yet again as PLD presidential candidate for 2016 in place of  Danilo Medina.  But there were two problems. Firstly the polls all said that Leonel might not win, and the presidential candidate of the new PRM party, Luis Abinader (who beat Hipolito Mejia in their presidential candidate primaries) may beat him and the second was the amazing popularity of current president Danilo Medina.

Luis Abinader

The country was clamouring for Danilo Medina to be the PLD presidential candidate again even though the Constitution forbade it. So we went through a while not knowing what would happen but eventually the Political Committee of the PLD had a vote and voted for the Constitution to be changed and Danilo to run again. Leonel was a tad naffed off to put in mildly as that was never the plan.

In order for the Constitution to be changed, there had to be a two thirds vote in favour in Congress and there were PLD members who supported Danilo, but not enough for two thirds. He not only would need the votes of those who supported Leonel but also votes from other parties. Now if he managed to change the Constitution then it was pretty clear he would then be voted in as President again so he was unlikely to be supported by the PRM who thought they had a shot against Leonel with Abinader.

So what happened? Well Leonel persuaded his followers to vote in favour but secured a deal to say that all his followers who held office, whether Senator or Deputy would be the PLD candidate for the 2016 elections and no one from the party could stand against them. But that would still not result in enough votes to change the Constitution so a deal was struck with Miguel Vargas and the PRD and they agreed to support Danilo and vote for constitutional change which would put a spoke in the wheel of the PRM and effectively dash the hopes of Abinader.  However, part of their deal was that where existing positions of Deputy, Senator and Mayor were held by PRD people, the PLD would not field a candidate against them.

So in our case. The case of Guayacanes. My Danilo, as opposed to the president, had been working for a year and was top of the polls, but the existing mayor, John Hazim, was PRD so it looked like Danilo would not be able to stand as there could only be one candidate from the PLD/PRD alliance.

John Hazim Current Mayor of Guayacanes

However, the party then said they would carry out opinion polls and if the potential candidates had much more chance of winning than Hazim, the existing PRD person in post, then the candidate would be the one with the highest chance of winning. So instead of there being a democratic vote among all party members and primaries to choose the candidates,  there will be a sample taking part in an opinion poll. Now they have done a few polls and apparently they were not done properly so they are about to do yet another one. In all of the previous ones my Danilo was well in the lead. But who knows - we wait to see what happens.

This is my Danilo's campaign poster. It says "Now yes, Danilo Mayor, Let no one decide for you." Little did he know when that was done a year ago that what would happen is that someone would decide for the electorate!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tracy's Visit

Another month flies by and this month has been busy as usual. The highlight of the month was the visit of my American friend Tracy and her Dominican boyfriend Mario. Everything was organized as much as it can be here, but as usual everything went wrong.

Danilo was away playing politics on the south coast and was due back on the Wednesday or Thursday to help me clean the house and to buy the food. He had the bank card. Tracy and Mario were due to arrive by bus on the Friday. However, the political situation changed and Danilo had to stay longer - another week longer so I had to do the cleaning and I had no access to money as he had the card! As if that was not enough, Tropical Storm Erika decided to arrive on the Friday and the track had it first hitting the south coast, where Tracy and Mario were getting the bus from, and then making a north west turn and coming straight for me.

I tried to prepare as much as I could by buying candles and rum, as the electricity always goes out in a storm, and as usual the Dominicans looked at me as if I was crazy - storm, what storm? I must admit to being a tad smug knowing that at least I was prepared.

Tracy and Mario made it to Santo Domingo where it was windy and rainy as Erika got closer, and then managed to make it to my house. Erika at the last minute decided not to turn north west and carried on west. So nothing happened at all. Once again the Dominicans were right when it came to the weather.

The next day we had to go and get food, and a friend who lives here put money in my English account from her English account and I transferred money from my Dominican account to hers so that I could use my English card to get money. As I have still not managed to fix the car, we had to go on the bus. Well, if there was space. Three buses went passed full and eventually, after waiting an hour we managed to get on one. Into town, first job was to get money. I tried three cash machines and none worked so we decided to go to Banco Popular where I knew the machine took my card. The bank had disappeared. Gone, Vamooshed. Apparently it had moved to the outskirts of town, so I had to take a motoconcho there, by which time my British bank had cancelled the card as it had been tried in so many machines. A call to card services in India later, all sorted and at last I had some cash.

As Chivirico's birthday was on September 8, Tracy made him a cake, had brought him presents and Chivirico, my stepson Alberto, his wife Ana and grandbaby came over the next day for lunch.

Chiv loved his fishing presents.

The granddaughter can now feed herself.

And Tracy put those candles which you can't blow out on the cake. Poor Chivirico, he blew so many times but made it in the end.

And off they went. Amazing here that the motorcycle law is that the driver must wear a helmet. But no law as to how many people on a bike, nor that anyone else should wear a helmet.And they have an hours ride like that.

The pups are getting bigger. We still have six, one or two are being picked up next weekend, two go at the end of the month as the new owner is away and I am toying with the idea of keeping these two - Grita mucho as she screams a lot,

 and Sweepy, or Weespy as Danilo calls him.

The head says no more dogs, but the heart says "oh they are so cute". Mind you the cats will be happy to see them go as they lay in wait for them in the cats' Dominican cat flap.

Tracy found it hard to sleep in in the mornings what with the cockerels crowing, loads of chicks chirping, the turkey gobbling and the neighbour's bull mooing. She was also fascinated by Stuffing the turkey strutting his stuff.

This next month should be interesting as within a few days we should find out if Danilo will be the candidate for mayor for Guayacanes. Yes, off we go again. He decided to stand again around a year ago and we thought the primaries to choose the candidate for each party would be in February. Then March, then April and so it goes on and here we are in September. It would take a while to explain what is going on, but I promise I will do so in the next few days.

Thanks to Tracy for all of the pictures in this blog.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Holiday in Las Terrenas

Chivirico and I went off to Las Terrenas for our four day summer holiday. We left Danilo at home to look after the animals (ha ha). The plan was to go and stay with Dan (American) and Manty (Dominican) who own a guest house and then write about Dan's decision to live in the DR and his daily life here for a magazine.

Las Terrenas is in the north east corner of the DR and is a very long way away, which is what has put me off visiting before. But I also had a long list of preconceptions about the place.

However, it is the only part of the DR that I had not visited and so I was keen to go. We caught a bus firstly to Santiago and were dropped off close to the bus station for Las Terrenas. There are three buses a day - 6 a.m., 11.30 and 3 p.m. We caught the 11.30 and I was pleasantly surprised that although it was a mini bus, it was comfortable, air conditioned and had free wifi.

The journey took around four hours with a stop in San Francisco de Macoris for food and the toilets. As usual on the buses here, everyone shared their food, chatted and sang along to the music. Every so often the bus stopped and picked up a guy selling cheese, or sweets or sunglasses and they made a few sales and hopped off the bus again.

Eventually we reached Sanchez which is on the southern coast of the Samana peninsula and drove over the mountain, with stunning views, into Las Terrenas. It was not what I expected. On first impressions it was like Sosua and Cabarete on the north coast which are both tourist towns, with lots of touristy type shops but if you looked closely there were everyday Dominican shops interspersed such as a cobbler, banks, colmados, hardware stores. I also spotted a french bakery which I made a vow to check out.

Dan and Manty's guesthouse was easy to spot. A massive sign right opposite one of the plazas - Plaza Kanesh in the main street.

Dan was there to meet us, but it was only around a 50 yard walk to the guesthouse which was like being in another world. It is a large piece of land where Dan and Manty live and so do many of Manty's brothers and sisters, in little wooden houses scattered throughout the land.

Dan and Manty live upstairs and downstairs there are three guest rooms each with a bed, outdoor sitting area, kitchen, bathroom and all mod cons including wifi and hot water.

Having been introduced to Manty, Chivirico, Dan and I went off for a 20 minute walk through the town to the beach. I was surprised that there were no people trying to sell us stuff on the street, nor pull us into their shops, and when we reached the beach there were no beach sellers. Somehow the place had a different ambiance than other Dominican resort towns I had been to. It felt more European and more chic. The number of motorbikes and quad bikes was amazing and they were all tearing through the town and along the beach road.

I had no idea there were so many beaches in Las Terrenas, and I had no idea the beaches were so nice and clean and the sea was amazing.

Chivirico was in his element swimming in the ocean with Dan.

Or doing the obligatory covering himself with sand.

And when we got back to the guesthouse Manty was frying fish on the fogon - outdoor cooking stove.

The following day was a repeat of the first. Walking around town, we discovered the French supermarket, full of things I have not seen for years such as rice noodles, Thai spices, mushrooms, amazing cheeses and the biggest wine selection I have ever seen. We went back down to the beach and Chivirico bought himself a snorkel and mask and planned to catch fish. No fish were caught but he still had great fun with Dan in the water.

The following day we set off for Mojitos which is a bar on the beach at Punta Poppy. I had written about Mojitos in various travel books so I was keen to see it for myself.

It is one of the best ways I think to spend a day on the beach with food and drink within easy reach, beach chairs and shade.

Chivirico spent the day in the ocean and I was taking advantage of the wifi and met a lady who had read my book! Helen and her husband and business partner Doug run a real estate company and a building and property services company in Las Terrenas and it was great to chat. She then took Chivirico and me to yet another beach, even more beautiful - las ballenas. On the way there we passed the famous fishermen's village which burned down a few years ago but now has been rebuilt. A lovely row of charming wooden buildings mostly used as bars and restaurants, overlooking the ocean.

We ate with Dan and Manty again that evening, and after dinner, Chivirico cooked his famous coconut biscuits.

All too soon it was time to come home. We caught the bus back to Santiago at 6 a.m. buying fresh pan au chocolat from the French bakery which was open even at that time in the morning. By noon we were back home.

So. Las Terrenas. I thought it was small - it isnt, the populataion is over 40,000. I thought it was full of French people - the only French accent I heard was the baker in the French bakery. I am sure they are there but I didn't see them. I did see and meet a whole range of other nationalities. I didn't see the usual expat drinking at the bar. All the expats I met were working, most with their own businesses. The beaches were much better than I imagined, as were the shops and facilities. I thought it was a long way away from everywhere, but with all of the new roads it is only now two hours from Santo Domingo, and there are five buses a day, and four hours from Santiago with three buses a day.  I thought it would be expensive but it wasnt as bad as I thought. Dan and Manty's guest house is RD$1000 a night which is around US$22 for the room, which was lovely. I had no idea there were so many backpackers in the area, and talking to them they were all travelling round the country and the DR is now a popular place for backpackers with hostels opening up all over the country.

I realised as I was walking around that it really is important for those who want to settle here to visit the whole country before making a decision as had I visited Las Terrenas before, I am sure it would have made it to the top of my list as a place I wanted to live.