Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Christmas 2016

Christmas approached once again, and had it not been for the kids, Albert and Chivirico we would probably have treated it as just another day, but they were desperate to write their lists for Santa Claus and put up the tree – so both were done. The tree appeared to have lost many of its baubles, but was fine and amazingly the lights still worked. The fairy had no head so was replaced by a little bear.


The lists for Santa were identical for both and not quite the same as the lists Santa  had from Dany and Alberto some 15 years or so ago, which were: one t-shirt, one pair of tennis shoes, one pencil and Albert wanted peanut butter. These lists were long, brand orientated and expensive: iPad (Aipa), iPhone, tablet, laptop, Jordan and Nike tennis shoes, 5 t-shirts, 5 pairs of trousers, radio controlled car, plane, helicopter, loads  of baseball gear, roller skates, bicycle and buoquitoki (walkie talkie) etc etc. Santa nearly had a heart attack. Luckily I had been busy in the month so we could just manage one thing each – a tablet - made in China.

Albert went to Esperanza to stay with Chivirico for the few days before Christmas giving Danilo a chance to wrap presents.


Danilo had done all of the shopping, including for himself, so I had no idea what I was supposedly giving him! It turned out to be a sweatshirt and he had toothpaste from the dogs and soap from the cats. he brought me two pairs of knickers - one with a Wifi symbol on the front and another with a start button. .I think they would go down a treat in Marks and Spencer (famous British clothing shop with good quality). Given the kids are out of work, he bought presents for everyone to give everyone - I even had a pack of cotton buds from Saya!



The kids arrived along with Alberto and Dany, Ana and grandbaby and Saya the dwendy and some strange man. We always seem to have strange men here for Christmas lunch. Having opened presents, the kids found a note in the bottom of their stockings  (which were full of things like deodorant, soap, an apple, socks) which sent them off on a treasure hunt to find Santa’s gifts.



 The Santa sacks were hidden inside a pile of blocks being used to build the wall. Joy all around when they discovered their tablets.


This was followed by British Christmas turkey lunch – well apart from sprouts and parsnips and cranberry sauce and stuffing and Christmas pudding. Replaced by rice and peas, Russian salad and ordinary salad.


While I was cooking lunch, and Ana making the rice and peas, the men were doing what men do best - nothing.


Then, just before lunch the boys all went out to check on Danilo’s latest money making venture – honey making. He had a little swarm of bees living in a cat carrier (no  idea how) and had built a beehive out of the wardrobe door.


Beeman had been and transferred bees including the Queen to the beehive - please note this involves using yet another of my kitchen knives.


The menfolk went to check the bees while yours truly cooked lunch. Disaster, the bees had gone on holiday. Beeman was called (yes it was Christmas day) and collected in the car, along with his six kids. He announced the queen had left and there were no more bees. End of money making project. Danilo invited him and his kids for lunch (while I silently panicked) but when Danilo said it was English food, they made their apologies and left (phew!).

Chivirico stayed for the whole of the holidays and the three kids – Albert, Chiv and Danilo (the big kid), played together all day long. Danilo asked if they wanted to play pico gallo (pico means a beak and gallo is a cockerel or rooster). They excitedly said yes and rushed outside to see how to play. Danilo demonstrated putting a 6 inch long bread roll in his crotch with a bit sticking out and the roosters fly up and peck it. Peck the pecker. I was laughing too much to take photos and the kids refused to play, even for 100 pesos. But the money went up and eventually Danilo offered 1000 pesos to the winner – whose bread was pecked off first. The temptation was too great, but they decided to go one more, and I was distractedly working  on the computer when I looked up to see Albert and Chivirico taping  a bread roll each to their willies with black electrical tape. They then asked me to go outside and video them playing Pico Gallo. I explained I did not want to be arrested for child abuse, so persuaded them to unstick the bread rolls (harder than sticking them on!) and just put the bread in their hands.


Here they are playing such an exciting game.



Chiv won, but wasn’t allowed to claim the reward as he had played peck the hand not peck the pecker. And here is the video of the boys discussing what they would do and playing the game.


Every day was a new challenge for the boys, ranging from building more chicken houses, to building the wall, to cooking cup cakes, birthday cakes, playing chess, planting avocados, making pancakes and when the end of the holidays came, I was grateful for the return to normality although I missed the constant laughter.

Danilo is back at University, taking six subjects so only four to go – one more semester after this one and Si Dios Quiere I will be a woman of leisure, and get back to writing book 2.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How (not) to have a heart attack in the DR

I haven’t been to hospital or even to see the doctor since I was shot 10 years ago. I find Dr. Google to work very well, plus being able to buy most meds over the counter, and this method has got me through Zika, Shingles and coughs and colds. I haven’t had smears, mammograms, tests nada. And I am always aware here, following previous experience, that if something goes wrong there is no professional 911 or ER to fix it – well not where I live.

So, on December 30, I was watching the TV at around 8 pm when I had a sharp pain on the left side of my chest. Sort of in the heart area. It went and then returned, and returned again and again and by now was taking my breath away. I took my blood pressure which was very very low, most unlike me as I take pills for high blood pressure and it is normally the upper side of normal. My pulse was also much slower than normal.

Every time I breathed, and even if I didn't breathe, the pain returned and by now I was getting a tad concerned as Google just said if you have chest pains go to the ER lol.

I told Danilo, and he decided to take me to the hospital as if I died and he had done nothing, he said he would be in trouble. Good enough reason to go I thought. There were however, two minor problems with his decision. Firstly he had lent the car to Saya (dwendy Number one) so we had no car and also we have no health insurance. No problem, he calls Saya who rushes back to the house and off we go to the public hospital in Moncion, up the mountain which is free, as all public hospitals are. The kids insisted on coming, Chivirico and Albert as nothing Dominicans support you more in, than medical issues. And as Chivirico said, if I died, he wanted to be there at the end. That made me feel better.

We arrived, and were seen within seconds – no other patients. The nurse apologized but said there was no doctor at the hospital – he had gone in an ambulance with a pregnant patient. She took my blood pressure which was still low and said there was no ECG machine, but she said you might be having a heart attack and she did have a stethoscope if that would help? We thought not and left for the private clinic in Moncion which is the Clinica Morel (isn't that a mushroom?), keeping our fingers crossed it would be cheap and I warned Danilo not to let them make me stay in.

We arrived and it looked like a proper hospital, with curtains, bays, an xray light box – and a man watching baseball on the TV. He ran off and within seconds I was ushered onto a stretcher in one of the curtained off bays and a nurse and doctor arrived. Dominican medics never ask permission they just do – so within seconds a drip was stuck in my arm (very professionally zero pain), I was hooked up to a blood pressure and pulse machine which bleeped I so assumed that was a good sign. The nurse was sticking injections in the drip and when I asked what they were, I was told “medicine”. Hmm I hoped it wasn’t expensive medicine.  I asked again what they were and she said  as I had said I wasn’t allergic to anything so it didn’t matter what they were! This is typical behaviour. The patient is not supposed to ask questions as the Doctor knows best.

The doctor then did an ECG which involved taking my bra off as it had underwire. The doctor is not allowed to do it so asked a family member to come in. Danilo entered the bay and began the struggle with the bra. He had no clue lol. Obviously never practiced as a youth taking bras off the back of chairs with a blindfold on!  He said he had forgotten. Eventually bra was off and ECG was normal. Yay time to leave, but no, we had to call the cardiologist. He was watching baseball upstairs so doctor took him the print out, and he said fine but keep her in for observation. Again normal practice but no way was I spending an expensive night in the clinic, even though the idea of peace and quiet was bliss as I had loads of work to do and in reality I was fine, still in chest pain but I knew it was not heart related and was not about to pop my clogs so I discharged myself, paid US$40 and off we went home in time to see the end of Top Chef.

It turned out I have a cracked rib, which is fine unless I move. This was caused by Danilo and the boys enlisting my assistance to carry out bench presses when they were in our garden gym – and decided to use me as the weight which involved lifting me up in the air, holding me by my chest. Someone – methinks Danilo – obviously grabbed the weight (me) too tightly.

Moral of the story. Don’t allow yourself to be used as weights and the local clinic appears to be very professional which makes feel better for the next trauma in no less than hopefully 10 years.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Adios my fur babies

I know, late again but I have been very busy, and have so much to tell you so I will have to do it over a few blogs.

Having returned from Sosúa it was straight back to work and normal life – translating, writing, cooking, cleaning and daily colmado trips.

Then, and I will not go into the full gory details, but someone/something  poisoned the dogs and over the course of a week, despite our best efforts with rehydration, antibiotics, anti virals, anti poison, three of them died. Grita Mucho and her brother Sweepy and Rin Tin Tin.

Sweepy, the black husky on the left and Rin Tin Tin in the middle

Grita Mucho with her favourtie cat Zebedee


I cannot tell you what sort of a week it was, with one minute hope they were recovering and then despair as one by one they died. Danilo and I spent all week injecting, cleaning up, praying. The puppy, Canguru was in the same condition and was basically unconscious so she was next on the list to depart this world, but by some miracle, one day she got up, walked into the kitchen and demanded food – from that moment on she was on the mend.

Canguru

So now we are left with Lobo, the husky, Canguru his daughter who is now around 6 months old and faithful old Meg.

But something had to be done, so we decided to build a wall between us and the neighbours. Not just any old wall but a 12 foot high wall. This would also mean that the dogs could not see all the roosters in their cages, nor the cows, nor the horse, so they would bark less, the chickens from neighbours would be less likely to fly into our garden where there was a good chance they would meet a sticky end, and we could let the dogs into the front garden with no fear of escape.

Part one was to take down the wooden stick fence and dig footings, fill them with concrete and metal bars.




The actual building of the wall is being done by Danilo, number one dwendy Saya (the block layer), stepson Dany (who says he knows how to lay blocks and you don’t need a spirit level – his is the wobbly bit), and help from Albert and Chivirico.

Dany laying blocks



Chiv and Albert helping


So far we have built the  whole of the back part, now there are just the sides to go. It is not a cheap project as each block is RD$26 which is around 50 pence or 60 cents and you need an awful lot of them plus cement, gravel, sand and metal bars. Still the cat likes her new bed.


All good fun, and I can’t wait for it to be finished, painted and then nice tropical plants in front of it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and North Coast - Final Part

We left Tubagua at 10 am and Charly the taxi driver took us to Puerto Plata bus station, around 25 minutes away. I didn’t think I could subject Michelle to the public shared taxis. From there it was a simple route home on one bus, then another, then another which dropped us off outside my house. The public transport system works so well, with buses combining with each other and the conductors are always great at helping with luggage so traveling with a suitcase is not problem.

It rained all the way home and continued raining until Danilo took Michelle back to the airport on Monday and life returned to normal. Apart from the rain.

The rains have displaced tens of thousands of people and thousands of homes destroyed.



Even the hospital and airport in Puerto Plata were flooded.




There are loads of videos on youtube – here is just one so you can get an idea of the damage.



The situation has been exacerbated by the opening of the Taveras Dam in the middle of the country to save it breaching.


I understand why they had to do it, but even though those living close to rivers were warned the affect has been appalling.

The water has filled the main river in the north of the country, the Yaque del Norte which, together with the rain has caused tens of bridges to collapse or to disappear under the water. They have now closed the main bridge from Santiago to Puerto Plata, for inspection and should they have to close it for longer, the north coast will be more or less cut off as  the other routes from Santiago, over the mountains including the road we took to Tubagua are also closed – one as the bridge is going and the one via Tubagua as the road disappeared, although they are now making a bypass of the big hole!


Thousands of acres of agricultural produce have been destroyed especially the staples of bananas, plantains and rice, but in true Dominican tradition people are just doing the best they can.



And it still carries on raining, although supposedly things will improve by the middle of the week.

The good news is that when we got home, Danilo had bought a rat trap. I had bought some nice cheddar in Sosúa and he put a piece of that in it (don’t ask why not use Dominican cheese) and that did the trick – RIP rat. However, a few days later the television in our bedroom stopped worked and on closer inspection inside, there was a baby rat asleep. No idea how many more of the little sods there are.

So, the end of my annual holiday. Despite the rain it was a lovely break – no work, loads of fabulous food, and meeting friends old and new. Plus speaking English for a week! Now it is back to work and wait for the sun to appear so I can do my washing as am rapidly running out of knickers!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and the North Coast- Part 5


As I said yesterday, the sun came out for a while the following morning so we went off to explore and we were able to see exactly what the cabin was like.

I rarely feel as if I am in the Caribbean for some reason, maybe as the island is so big, but Tubagua and the way it is built using different woods and plants and all hand made, makes you feel like you are back in the time of the Taino Indians.




It was lush and green.

The villa had a bedroom with a mosquito net and plenty of cupboard space – the slats on the windows all closed completely as well.



The living area had a super comfy couch, with plenty of books provided where you could curl up (minus the dog) and spend a lazy afternoon.



The bathroom was rustic, basic but functional with a hot and powerful shower.


And look at how beautiful the roof is.



As night fell and we were above the clouds, you really felt on top of the world,


watching the lights slowly come on down in the valley.



After another superb meal of salad, vegetables, beans and barbecued chicken it was off to bed ready for the trip home the next day.

The following morning, before we left  I was thinking that, having visited the whole country, this really was the perfect place to live. It had “to die for” views, beaches within 20 minutes and Puerto Plata and Sosúa the same distance away with international schools, the international airport, international supermarkets, great restaurants and health care, so I mentioned this to Tim. He suggested I might want to see his next project which is right next to Tubagua on the same piece of land. There he has 10 lots for sale, each of 650 square meters and should you want to purchase one, you don't just get a chunk of land,  Tim will build you a little villa, just like the one we stayed in, so it is move in ready until and if you want to build your very own eco house.


One of the eco-houses Tim has built

It really is the perfect spot. Tim wants to keep it all ecologically friendly, but what an amazing community this will be. Fresh running stream water, no need for air conditioners or even fans, privacy, at one with nature but with friends and company on your doorstep if you need it. The price of the land with your very own little villa is US$40,000, less if you would prefer just to pitch a tent in the short term. If you want to know more just email Tim here. And no, I am not on commission but if I didn't already have my own mountain abode - this is where I would live.

I wish I could have seen more of the area when I was there - gone on a hike to the waterfalls, visited the amber mines, but the weather was against us. That gives me a great reason to return, For those of you who live in the DR and who have not been to Tubagua you simply must go and see more of what the country has to offer. I have lived in a beach/tourist area, and in a town, and now in a mountain campo which is by far my favourite - but Tubagua takes it to a different level.

In the Taino language, the native Indians who lived in the Dominican Republic prior to the arrival of Columbus, “Tubagua” means an abundance of water. Well we certainly had that but there is a sign on the wall of Tubagua, in the main eating/social room saying Mi Bagua es Tu Bagua. Definitely My Home is Your Home is perfect for Tubagua.

Final part tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and the North Coast - Part 4

It was time to leave Sosúa and what a surprise. It was raining. We said goodbye to Casa de Compai and the amazing taps –


including the one in the kitchen which had a green light on it when the water was on,


and the pool we never had a chance to use,


and set off in a very smart taxi, driven by Charly to head to Tubagua Eco Lodge.

We turned right out of Sosúa on the road to Puerto Plata then turned left in Montellano up the so called carretera touristica. The road goes over the mountain to Santiago and has a bad reputation for being in a poor state of repair, but apart from a few areas where there was no tarmac it was fine as far as we had to go, and it didn't take long to arrive at Tubagua in the pouring rain.

Charly helped us with our luggage down to the main living/dining/reception area where we were met by Tim the owner, who is the Canadian Consul for the north coast, and Tania, the American guest services manager. It was cold and wet and the view which Tubagua is famous for was just cloud.


Still we settled down for a long chat with Tim over hot coffee and a bottle of very nice red wine appeared from nowhere an hour later which helped warm us up!

The lodge is Eco with a capital E. Built on top of a mountain with stunning views (so we were told) everything is hand made with local wood. There is a choice of accommodation from what is called the long house with basic 2 bedded rooms and an outdoor washing area


and even an outdoor toilet – well you look at the view while you poo, which Michelle tried out.


There are palapas which are open sided rooms with beds upstairs (via a ladder) and down, and cabins which have their own bathroom.

Given the torrential rain we were pleased to have a cabin.

All of the food we had was basically a fusion of  Dominican and super healthy and we had a fabulous meal of fish in coconut sauce, with an amazing salad, rice, beans, fresh vegetables and avocado, plus a little more red wine, which we ate in the kitchen as it was warm and cozy.

Tubagua really does feel like a home from home, with no standing on ceremony and you can ask for whatever you need and the staff, Tim and Tania will all do their best to help you.

It was then time to go to bed, and suitably kitted out with borrowed raincoats and an umbrella, we ran back to our cabin.

On entering our cabin we discovered we had a guest. A dog, who let him/herself in and refused to leave.


Michelle and I both love dogs, and were grateful for the extra security although having said that I felt as safe at Tubagua as I do at my house, and given the torrential rain it seemed fair to let the dog have a cozy night with us.



We called the dog Sanky as it was spending the night with two foreign women, and true to form in the morning it followed us to breakfast expecting some goodies.I should point out for those who don't like or want dogs in their rooms (like husband Danilo - but chickens are OK) the dogs are an optional extra and are kept away during meal times and not normally allowed in the rooms unless requested. For those who want a pet friendly hotel - this is definitely the place and no issues about bringing pets and the dogs were very well behaved. For me it was a special treat to be allowed a dog in the living area next to the bedroom.

The sun was out and at last we saw the famous Tubagua view and OMG what a view, from Playa Alicia in Sosúa to the east


to Pico Isabel del Torres above Puerto Plata in the west, and in front of both, the Atlantic Ocean. It really was stupendous.


The main eating and relaxing area is perfectly set up to enjoy the view and you could literally sit here all day long although there are also plenty of other areas throughout Tubagua where you can curl up and enjoy a book or just while away the hours. There are books and magazines everywhere and it is a place for feeling totally at home, at one with nature and the environment and total relaxation - even in the rain.



Breakfast was fabulous, fresh coffee, yogurt, fresh fruit, granola, eggs any way, potatoes, bacon or sausages, toast and a variety of jams and all cooked to order. If you need coffee as soon as you open your eyes in the morning - no problem just yell out of the window and a flask of steaming coffee will be delivered to your room.

We checked emails, with the excellent WiFi, gave Sanky the odd bit of bacon and sausage as payment for services rendered (as a watchdog!) and set off to explore before it started raining again….which it did.

Part 5 tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and the North Coast – Part 3

We woke up to the sound of heavy heavy rain but were cheered up following a roasting hot, super powerful shower. I could have stayed in that shower for ever!

We had arranged to meet two American expat friends for breakfast who I hadn’t seen for ages, so I called one to check if she was getting a taxi to the restaurant and if so, could she pick us up, as we had no umbrellas, nor rain wear. Not only did she pick us up she brought the all important plastic carrier bags for us to wear to ensure getting slightly less damp.

Off we went to breakfast in Bologna, arriving at the same time as the other person joining us.


By then the streets of downtown Sosua were totally flooded, although it was worse in the next city along, Puerto Plata, and Facebook was being inundated with pictures and videos of the damage.




The rain showed no sign of stopping so we chatted for hours until it was around 11 am chomping our way through bacon, eggs, toast, fresh juice and lurpak butter (a real treat).


Then we went our separate ways. One of the ladies, Ro, stayed with us and we got a lift through meter high water to a money changer and then a cab to Playero the supermarket where we decided to buy stuff for lunch and retreat to the safety and comfort of the apartment.



While in Playero I bought a few of the things I can’t get here and crave: Sriracha hot sauce for Danilo which he calls Red Dragon sauce and puts on everything,  Basmati rice, Arborio rice for paella, mushrooms of course, cheese, and nice bread and ham for lunch. We also got two large black bin liners as better rain wear as they had run out of umbrellas.

Returning to the apartment, Ro was as amazed as we had been about the quality and we all settled down to check emails for a while. The WiFi was super fast and lunch was delicious.

Ro left and we contacted the person we had arranged to meet for dinner, another American lady, and when there was a brief lull in the rain we walked to her apartment in the centre of town, it only took 5 minutes or so, but even though it wasn’t raining the pavements were 6 inches deep with water.

We spent an hour or two chatting over a bottle of red wine and then went out for dinner to El Conde restaurant, run by a fellow Brit, well from Northern Ireland so close enough!




Fabulous conversation, fabulous atmosphere, fabulous food (steak of course) fabulous service and another bottle of red wine later, it was still chucking it down and time to walk to the taxi stand. The owner of the restaurant actually walked us to the taxi stand with an umbrella which I thought was beyond the call of duty and much appreciated and we made it home in one, only semi soggy, piece.

I made the calls to arrange for the taxi to come and pick us up the next morning for the next part of the holiday – Tubagua Eco Lodge, which is in the hills between Sosúa and Puerto Plata, and we settled down to watch the American election results on each of the 3 flat screen TVs followed by bed and sleep.

Part 4 tomorrow.