Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Hurricane? Not a hurricane, merely a ‘tropical storm’! Any difference? Not a lot really, just that nobody bothered to tell us this one was coming!
With the wonders of modern science we can of course track the satellite pictures of cloud formation and we could have been suspicious on Saturday afternoon when the merest fringes of what appeared to be a massive cloud formation hanging over the central Caribbean started to give us some extremely heavy squalls.
Perhaps we are not the most ardent followers of the Dominican media, but we definitely keep our ears close to the ground in the Boca Chica community and we never heard even a murmur about anything untoward on the way. On the contrary… the locals asked us, because of our satellite picture watch, and unassumingly we said, “Yes it looks like it could be quite wet for a while”.
Saturday night was just a taster. Deluge would have been the very appropriate word. It sounded like somebody pouring buckets of water on the roof, but constantly!
Sunday morning it was still raining heavily and in general looking very dismal indeed. We made the extremely rare decision to close Playa Vista, or rather not open Playa Vista, and unlike nearly every other occasion when that almost unthinkable possibility has been considered, this special Sunday did not get any better as time went on… it actually got worse… a lot worse. The sea rose, and the beach disappeared beneath the waves strangely just like when a hurricane passes by! (please see photos of Hurricane Dean’s effects Aug 19th entry)
Then Sunday night when we got what was so reminiscent of a hurricane that it obviously was more than a coincidence, we began to suspect that something was up. Firstly the electricity supply was cut -always a sure sign of serious difficulties here in Boca Chica- and then the water supply that actually had already beaten a hasty retreat some 24 hours before that, totally failed. Then followed a second night of deluge, but this time accompanied by extremely high winds all night long.
The next morning we had phone calls literally from all around the world, joining the increasing local questioning as to “what happened?” Due to there being no electricity, it was very difficult to verify anything except, thankfully that Playa Vista had escaped with very minimal damage even if some of the in-coming telephone calls talked of the felling of numerous large trees in the neighborhood and major evacuations of people in parts of the Dominican Republic.
Well, now here on Tuesday morning with electricity back in supply we are able to know that it wasn’t a hurricane just a ‘tropical storm called Noel’ that traveled at the paltry speed of 6mph thereby prolonging the agony leaving at least 20 dead and considerably more missing due to swollen rivers and flooding around the country.
Not a hurricane we reiterate, with the voice of the authorities very quietly echoing in the background… just a tropical storm!
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Immediately adjacent to Playa Vista on the west side there is a plot of land almost identical in size to our own. When we first arrived in town many years ago, the plot was occupied by at least three micro-businesses: a fishmonger, a hairdressers and a restaurant-cum-kitchen… not to mention whatever was happening on the beach immediately in front of the property. We can even remember being offered a parcel of this land, by one of the micro-businesses, for the sum of US$50,000!
However, a couple of years went by and then suddenly a mass clearance of these businesses was instigated by ‘the genuine owner’ who had suddenly decided to make his presence felt after many years absence and, by the way, had a hard time getting rid of all the long-time squatters, especially the ones doing whatever they were doing on the beach in front of the property. At this point the true history of genuine ownership of the land began to fall into place, and it became clear that it would have been a very sorry good-bye to $50,000 to anybody foolhardy enough to do a deal with the non-owners of any parts of the land.
The genuine owner turned out to be a certain well known banker-family that had suddenly decided they wanted to sell up and had ordered the property to be cleared and fenced off. This seemingly small maneuver took quite some time mainly because the relevant authorities here, for many different reasons, like wanting their “part of the action” and the usual accompanying bureaucratic crawl had to be negotiated before something as simple as even fencing got put up. A “Se Vende/For Sale” sign finally went up and then simply the vegetation, for better and for worse, just grew and grew around it.
We maintained contact with the banker-family, not through our initial contact, the patriarch of the family – because it seemed, shortly after our first encounter, he had “difficulties” regarding his involvement with the collapse of one of the major banks ‘Banco Nacional de Credito’ – but through his grandson who continually assured us that the family were definitely selling the land but that the principal obstacle to the sale were the many family members party to the ownership and getting a consensus decision on anything was very difficult indeed.
Finally, after several years of passing, we were alerted recently one morning to the latest, we presume, sea change regarding the land, when we heard rubble being tossed on to the land from what was the D’Nancy beach restaurant next door on the other side. At this point it would be relevant to mention another story within a story, namely that just a few weeks earlier the D’Nancy restaurant caught fire and was entirely gutted! Our own observation of this couldn’t help noticing that ‘strangely’ the same afternoon of the fire, certain ambulant sellers of cooked sea food such as conch and squid had been boiling up their fare on the adjacent vacant lot and the smoke and embers were, in the strong sea breeze, drifting in precisely the direction where the roof of the D’Nancy restaurant caught fire!
However, in order not to digress too far, for now let us return to the rubble tossing! After our experiences over the years in seeing this derelict site in question abused in so many unthinkable ways by whoever was passing, we immediately enquired of the rubble movers what they were doing… only to discover Nancy’s husband, the owner of the burned out D’Nancy restaurant, orchestrating this latest clearance.
Rumors go, and it would seem to be so close to fact, that he and his associates have purchased the infamous land and that they plan to build a hotel complex on the site, although they say there is no hurry and that initially they will be using the land for a parking lot. Observations so far would indicate that hurrying is not actually an option. To clear two trees and the very small concrete structure that existed, took about three weeks and countless man hours of labor, chiefly because chainsaws are not used in these parts where the manly good old fashioned axe approach still rules. After the clearing of the two large trees – as the owner prepared foundation holes for inserting poles and proper fencing – those good old authorities arrived again in the shape of the navy and the tourist police indicating that the alleged new owner did not have permission for such and must remove the protective work already done. The squatters still operating on the public beach in front of the property who ‘of course’ do not have any permission to put out tables, chairs and parasols or sell drinks and food to beach guests and, as if to add insult to injury, ‘of course’ do not pay the obligatory taxes have ‘of course’ never been asked for any of the required permissions at any stage in the proceedings either!
For the impatient reader here comes the conclusion… local squatters can, until at least some logic is introduced not to mention fairness, in spite of repeated governmental promises of a thorough ‘cleanup’, do almost whatever they want on other people’s unused property and on the public beach in front, but as soon as a legal owner pops up and reclaims his land he will have to spend a lot of time and money dealing with the squatters and the authorities who now suddenly, enticed by the sweet smell of easy money, show up in numbers with great expectations of handsome rewards for their ’services’! Unfair? Of course it is… but all part of daily life in this tropical paradise where there are always quite a few snakes around to keep us on our toes!
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Over the years we have unashamedly pointed out the natural tendency for, eh hem, let’s call it… delay here in our corner of paradise. You may remember stories like ‘how long does it take to send a fax?’ and ‘how long does it take to change a light bulb in Boca Chica?’ In the former case most of the day and in the latter over a year, were the answers. In our story this time the finger of mockery shamingly points directly back to ourselves. For the sake of continuity let us ask the same kind of question as before: How long does it take to correctly install a water pump? Well, in this particular case give or take a few months about eight years, actually!
So much time has elapsed that the intricate details of the story test the memory banks considerably, since one of the first technical decisions we ever made all those eight years ago when we were re-constructing and remodeling the hurricane Georges- damaged property that was to become Playa Vista, was to purchase a water pump. Reason being that such a piece of machinery is quite standard here for the purposes of augmenting the domestic water supply.
With the object of the exercise being to pump water from our underground water tank in the event of cessation of supplies from the water company CAASD, or to merely boost the pressure if it should fail, our pump was indeed connected up to the pipe work, but before it was all regulated and automated somebody or some bodies hopped over the wall one night and separated the pump from its tubing and thereby from us by absconding with it! We soon bought a replacement and saw this not only connected, but this time inside its own securer protective locked hut. Unfortunately this idyllic phase lasted not much longer because the electrician had failed to put in any surge protector and the over-zealous electric company sent a powerfully erratic supply of electricity one day which entirely burnt the pump out! We moved on to pump number three but by now our own enthusiasm for this particular project, perhaps understandably, was waning. Pump number three was installed, but the complexity of the pipe work, perhaps in harness with the incompetency of the electrician/plumber, distracted our attention to other more pressing matters at the time. Our recollections lead us to believe that we never actually had the new bigger pump pushing water successfully through our entire system at any time back in those days.
Anyway, just a mere eight years later we stepped smartly up to the plate, reactivated our dear eight-year-old new pump and bingo… we now have water at a consistent pressure absolutely any time we want!
Why now, you could reasonably ask? The avid Playa Vista blog readers among you will recall the recent sorry story (June 26th) of pumping machinery theft from the water company on a grand scale in our little community that left not only Playa Vista but the rest of Boca Chica with significant water shortages calling directly on the need for our internal action. So, it really does go to prove the old saying that there is a silver lining in every eight-year-old cloud!
Sunday, August 19, 2007
All we can really say is, “Poor old Jamaica!”
After several weeks of an extraordinary absence of tropical storm activity in the Caribbean Hurricane Dean came barreling by yesterday directly on its way to Jamaica. The center of the storm passed 250 miles to the south, thank goodness, because the storm surge we experienced would indicate that if it had been any closer we would be looking at a disaster area this morning.
The Playa Vista terraza proved yet again what a wonderful vantage point we have for overlooking the Boca Chica beach and Caribbean horizon because we all had a great time yesterday cheering as each successive wave beat against the terrace wall. The sea water went as far as licking the bar top with one particularly high smashing wave and apart form soaking good old “weather-watcher” Richard we were fortunate in avoiding any material damage whatsoever.
Here we present a few timely shots of the occasion!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The Dominican Republic is a major producer of cigars… and for that matter a major exporter too, with numerous brands having attained an excellent international standing. Being so close to Cuba perhaps that is no surprise because the local climate allows for equally abundant tobacco growth. Directly from Boca Chica we are pleased to be able to bring you cigar fans out there a little inside tip on the subject of Dominican cigars: you can now buy genuinely hand-made quality Dominican cigars in Boca Chica and even watch them being made right here in the center of town.
Basilio Pascual is the man behind this new venture when four months ago he moved his two-year old business from nearby Andres to the main Duarte Street in Boca Chica. He arrived bringing his 12 years of experience in the cigar industry to Boca Chica where he can be found at his extremely well stocked “Fabrica de Tobaco” (Cigar Factory) immediately opposite Banco Popular.
He concentrates exclusively on his self-created “Gran Selecto” brand which comes in five principal sizes: Churchill, Torpedo, Toro, Robusto and Corona. To bolster this and offer a complete range he also produces the smaller “Petit” format and the extra special “Premium”. In the two years since its launch Gran Selecto has established itself nationally, in numerous export markets such as Switzerland and France and even as far afield as the Ivory Coast.
The tobacco leaves he uses are treated and classified according to national standards and come from Navarrete in the heart of Dominican tobacco country near Santiago. He claims his creation is a unique fabrication particularly because of the extremely low level of aroma pervasiveness when lit.
The Boca Chica tobacco “factory” is the only place of Gran Selecto production in the country and the entire production process can be observed by merely stepping through the main door. In addition to the work benches, dozens of cigar boxes can be seen piled in different corners of the premises ready for direct sale to the public. The ultimate tip is that instead of buying a full box from Basilio you could, of course, try a “Robusto” for size at the Playa Vista bar and see if the refreshing sea breeze and marine view, together with a traditional hand-made cigar really suit your style!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Undeniably it is small fare in comparison with a number of other travails that have coursed our years on the Boca Chica beach but nonetheless it is quite indicative of some of the exasperations of the local mindset that we have to deal with from time to time.
It goes without saying, of course, that it was yet another beautiful sunny day with the usual south east breeze slightly on the upside of breezy kindly removing the intensity from the summer heat. We had been ensconced in some Playa Vista office routines and emerged in the late afternoon to notice a layer of red dust. Where you may ask? Actually, everywhere, and it could be traced directly to next door from where was emanating a huge billowing cloud of the stuff drifting through Playa Vista settling on each and every available surface in its path.
A quick visual inspection revealed the very obvious reason: a considerable re-modeling job is underway at the ex-Terraza Cesar restaurant seemingly starting with a wall-to-wall terra cotta tile floor. As we peered over the wall we saw the floorlayer bent over his cutting machine that was spewing out more unwanted clouds of dust as he prepared another tile to be fitted in his mosaic floor creation. The usual panoply of indignant thoughts rushed to mind such as, how could they be so thoughtless? why didn’t they take protective measures or at the least alert us? etc., etc. But the dust already lay clinging to all those receptive surfaces. We appealed to them at least to know if they had finished and then we could begin the now necessary clean up. We started hauling all our white tables and chairs down to the sea to give them a good soaking. While doing this the next door work brigade claimed they had indeed finished. Good we thought and put all hands to work cleaning off most of the offending dirt as we closed for the evening.
Unfortunately, the next morning revealed that the “finished” of the previous day was merely the finish of that day because the electric tile cutter could be heard whirring into action and the same swirling clouds of fine red dust could be seen wafting over the wall again. Immediately we ran next door to remonstrate. “It is the wind you know, that is doing it,” claimed the floorlayer with all too predictable entirely-missing-the-point defensiveness. Feeling almost embarrassed for this high level of complete non-comprehension we put our negative frustration to one side and constructively asked if they could at least move as far up wind within their own property then it would definitely reduce the dust spreading to our side. All right then they agreed, after some internal, but obviously reluctant, consultation. The amount of dust certainly diminished but almost immediately on cajoling them into this damage-limiting idea the wind chose to step up a gear and we were almost back to square one. We ran again next door to remonstrate further with the guy who appeared to be the paymaster this time rather than just the tile cutter and almost in unified accord they all nodded in agreement to our next suggestion, “Erect some boarding right next to the machine to trap the dust,” we implored. We actually saw them skip off energetically to pull some boarding from the remodeling rubble for this precise purpose.
All then went strangely quiet for about half an hour. Quite abruptly thereafter, the man who we thought was the chief tile cutter stuck his head round the corner of the dust laden wall and yelled, “Heh, everything is all right now we have a real professional Italian on the job you won’t be bothered at all by dust from now on… not at all.” He was virtually ecstatic in his proclamation. We heard the cutting machine whir into action again and sure enough we couldn’t see a speck of dust, not anywhere. The original tile cutter, who seemed to be quite happy to have made himself redundant, was, after some 24 hours of pervasive red dust denial, now proven to be entirely correct!
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Our planet’s surface, as we are all taught, is made up predominantly of water which goes for our bodies too, of course. The planet idea is naturally quite a generalization because people, for example from the Kalahari Desert might see it differently, as would those from anywhere suffering from any kind of drought. However one of the many advantages of living in paradise is the readily available supply of water. Under normal conditions it rains here just about the right amount and with the right frequency (and by the way, very often conveniently at night) to make everything grow about the right amount, leaving plenty for we humans in store for when we need it.
The company responsible for the storage and getting the water to we humans in Boca Chica and Santo Domingo generally is the public utility CAASD (for the Spanish students among you that stands for Corporacion de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de Santo Domingo) . Here in Boca Chica it would seem they do a reasonable job. Clean-looking water flows through our pipes the vast majority of the time. There are the odd days when, we hear, for repair work on the system they shut the water off. The additional inconvenience when they do this is that there is no such thing as an announcement. Just an abrupt cessation of supply and no knowing how many hours it will remain that way.
Some months ago after a spate of interruptions to service we enquired what was going on and we were told that they were working on increasing the pressure and sure enough when they had finished there was a notable and very welcome improvement.
Lamentably in this country, of one step forward any number or size of step backwards, these last few days has seen a complete reversal of this improvement. The reason, unfortunately, is embedded in an all-too-common psyche here that says “help yourself to anything that you fancy even if it is nailed down”. Thieves have absconded with pumping equipment and cabling from the Boca Chica pumping stations to the tune of 6 million pesos! According to the CAASD official we spoke to this means that Boca Chica is currently being supplied to about 40% of capacity and at the time of writing here at Playa Vista 48 hours and counting without even a drop squeezing itself through the normally reliable pipes. Rumors talk of several days more. Well, at least it gives people around the Playa Vista bar something to grumble about in paradise!
Saturday, June 9, 2007
In this bountiful land of natural expression ‘Honey’ – Playa Vista’s pet cat of now more than a year’s standing and presumably known to those of you who read our blogs of July 11th 2006 and March 1st 2007 – very soon picked up on the most natural Caribbean habit of all and was frequently courted by old ‘Big Head’ – an itinerant, very noisy, largely-tabby cat with a notably much bigger head than that of Honey herself who has rather petite features. The courting must definitely have become very intense at some point because Honey became with kitten!
The big question was when would the kittens be due? One of the especially interested Playa Vista guests ‘googled’ the subject and shouted from the computer in the corner of the bar, “Gestation period: 63 days!” Thinking that he had cracked the puzzle he continued with, “So when does that make it due?” Although we have a very personal relationship with Honey she never tells intimate details about what she really gets up to in the dark of the night though… so of course we would have needed more than a Google search to give the right answer. Honey’s good natured affinity with human beings leads her to physically follow us around quite a lot of the time… when she is not cat-napping that is. Anyway, one obviously pregnant day some time later she not only followed us round but kept up a constant low key ‘miaaaooooing’. Though we were unfamiliar with pregnancy routines of cats, or any other animal for that matter, this alerted us to the fact that change was imminent.
We prepared a cardboard box and some bedding for the coming night thinking that almost for certain kittens would flow between then and dawn. The next morning the still very pregnant Honey jumped out of her still empty box and walked slowly in some obvious discomfort towards the furthest corner of the Playa Vista enclave and hid herself behind one of our old, currently redundant, Coca-Cola umbrellas. There she languished a short while and then very forlornly, with her normally nearly always whisking-of-the-air bushy tail now very sadly and moistly drooping to the ground, trooped back to the kitchen. Within a very short time, whilst we were going about our morning Playa Vista chores, we felt some tentative licking at the ankles that drew our attention to what was going on, ever so quietly on the floor below. Honey had given birth – in her usual quiet non-fussy way she had delivered three bundled black packages straight on to the kitchen floor.
There are a number of unfortunates popping their heads into the story at this point and the first is that one of the kittens was very obviously stillborn. Honey sat and watched the other two tiny kittens stretching and kicking for a while then even started back to her previous habit of following us around again. Maybe she was one of those very rare mothers who disown their own children? Oh no, not a bit of it! In her natural relaxed Caribbean way she was just pacing herself… and extremely well we would say, from our non-expert point of view of course. Within a couple of hours she had both kittens and herself spick and span and the two new arrivals were being well and truly mothered as if Honey had been doing it all her life.
Regrettably the second and third of the mentioned unfortunates were merely waiting round a very short corner because the more eager and larger of the two newcomers suddenly stopped breathing and gave up his eerily Big Head look-a-like little body, followed just a few hours later when the smaller of the two suddenly went the same inexplicable way. Poor Honey… she was naturally extremely distraught, displayed in large part by her sticking to us even more closely than before. However, being the robust survivor she is, just a couple of days later she had apparently recovered both her composure and her trade-mark tail-whisking that leads us to presume that good old Mother Nature’s cycle soon will take its course again… not least because of the return of the howling of Big Head and his rivals (currently at the forefront is Mr. Somewhat-Shy-Largely-Black) which can now be heard again reaching through the warm Caribbean nights very close by!
Thursday, May 31, 2007
It is true to say that Boca Chica’s commercial activities took rather a beating just over two years ago when, in one short period and for different dubious reasons, the mainstays of night time watering holes, in the Duarte main street, were closed. Those of you who are regular Boca Chica visitors will probably recall their names at the time: “Cosmos Disco”, “Zanzi Bar”, “Madhouse”, “Route 66″, “La Criolla” and “Bar Austria”.
The good news for night-life lovers is that each of these establishments is well and truly up and running again, though be it, nearly all under different names and the greater part under different management. The only exception to that rule is La Criolla which carries on under its original name, now from time to time also offering live music performances, under precisely the same management. The newly revamped Cosmos Disco and Zanzi Bar are now under the common roof of Ambaradan – Disco Bar, whereas Madhouse re-opened its shutters as Liquer Store. Route 66, including the distinctive Route 66 gas pump, disappeared and currently goes by the name of Piano Plaza Discoteca Germandia. Apart from La Criolla arguably the one that has maintained closest form with its past is Bar Austria which has merely transferred half its name across the Alps; now named Dominican-Suiza Bar.
However, a quick review of our main street indicates that in addition to these mainstays Boca Chica night life has rarely been served by quite so many bars at the same time. New to the territory since that low point a couple of years ago is American Bar located inside the Hotel Europa, Colmado Belli found directly opposite Liquer Store and Comedor Alleman which is a drinking establishment in the very premises of that former server of sweet-toothed puddings, namely the Nestle ice-cream parlor. Don’t worry though; if you have a craving for ice-cream, and are not up to running after the mobile ice-cream vendor wandering around town, the Dominican produced “Bon” franchise serves ice-cream further along the street and its branding definitely undersells itself for it is considerably better than its name states; quite “Excellent” in fact.
Discotheques seem to be experiencing a similar upward trend to the Bars, even if some of them are on somewhat less certain ground! At that low point back in early 2005 there were only two discotheques to be counted in central Boca Chica; that of the ever present Hamaca Hotel and one in the Hotel Burbuja. At point of writing we can actually count four plus one waiting in the pending tray. The three solid operators are those at the ex-Route 66, the ex-Cosmos and the Hamaca. In addition to that we hear that the Burbuja now under the name of El Greco is waiting the granting of permits to re-open as both a hotel and a discotheque. That just leaves the currently named Disco Terraza on the beach, which in ironic contrast to the ex-Burbuja seems to be less interested in annoying little things like permits, that might be something to do with a whole row of law-defying predecessors being abruptly closed down who had to learn the hard way that an open-air discotheque is not actually permittable according to Dominican law! Anyway, we hope you can make it soon to try or re-try the assortment offered and don’t forget that Playa Vista and the Playa Vista Beach area is the perfect place to relax the next day if at any point you should overdo things in the bars and discotheques the night before!
Sunday, May 13, 2007
We try to allow a certain latitude culturally for our guests when we can, and we were pleased to be able to accommodate that specific claim again the other day. British cuisine may be famous for all the wrong reasons, but it is certainly not so well known that British people can be very partial to an after meal dessert or “pudding” as is commonly used in the vernacular of that country.
Well, we had a visitor from those sweet-toothed isles on the beach enjoying the sun, sea and sand in front of Playa Vista and as he ever so politely requested -if in anyway an ice-cream might be possible to follow his chicken and French fries and if it were to be possible then preferably just vanilla and certainly not chocolate- we naturally wanted to oblige. Just to hedge our bets, we mumbled that he should know that this really isn’t a dessert-eating culture even though we were fairly confident we would be able to get some kind of ice-cream on a stick from next door. A few strides later in our neighbor’s direction and we were met with shrugged shoulders, “No, we don’t sell ice-cream anymore, sorry”. All right then we thought, off to the Nestle ice-cream parlor in the main street not so very far away because after all the customer was ever so polite!
We turned the corner only to find a rather quaint tricycle with a very, actually rather cute, mini-generator attached, selling soft ice-cream on a mobile basis. Might have been perfect but there were people waiting to be served and we could have with almost certainty bet, the full value of the sole 500 pesos note we had, that he would not have change. So we thought we would carry on to the sure-fired cert at Nestle! Hmmm, 150 yards later it was obvious that the Nestle parlor, though still having the same facade, had been converted into something else that frankly did not sell anything sweet-toothed at all let alone ice-cream anymore. We had no idea that our warning to our sweet-toothed guest was to be so apt, it was proving to be quite a desert for desserts. With the never-say-die attitude to the fore we thought we would just whip back to Playa Vista pick up some change and go stand in line for the mobile ice-cream seller.
Yes, we said mobile… when we got there he had gone. We don’t give up that easy though and following a few appropriate questions, like: “Where the hell has the ice cream seller gone?” Helpful fingers pointed in the direction he had motored. Now things began to roll the way we all wanted. We caught up with him easily and he was waiting without any line of people as if just for us! The seller only had vanilla, not a hint of chocolate in sight and the price was even right too at less than a dollar for a scoop on a cone.
Just one little hurdle to be surmounted. We discovered that the bright Caribbean sunshine might be one of the reasons that ice-cream is not so popular here as other colder parts of the world but, if you look about yourself sharply and run, the melting can be contained.
As we offered the hard-won “pudding” to our guest his cultural make-up instinctively prompted an, “Excellent. Thank you very much.” With our self-same mechanisms at work we responded, “It was a pleasure, no trouble at all”.