Boca Chica Beach Bar – Playa Vista
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
First hand observation soon shows that good old-fashioned beer, even here in the exotic Caribbean, surprisingly is the most popular drink at the Playa Vista. For that matter it is probably so at any bar in any part of the Dominican Republic and it is the ‘Presidente’ brand produced since 1935 by Cerverceria Nacional Dominicana which wins the grand popularity prize. It is a pilsner type beer, comes for the most part in 355 and 650 cc green bottles and is produced at the central brewery just off the Avenida Independencia in Santo Domingo
We actually think it comes closer to the Carlsberg advertising slogan of a few years back ‘probably the world’s finest beer’ than even that fine Danish beer does. We have asked numerous imbibers over the years what they think of it, and almost without exception the response is extremely favorable. It appears to hit a beautiful middle ground seeming to have a little bit of everything that a beer should have without any one of the individual characteristics dominating. Namely: smell, froth, fizz, sweetness, crispy dryness and taste of hops. The alcohol content is a little above average, compared for example with standard North American beers, at 5% per volume but the real trump card is the near ice-cold temperature at which the beer is best served and it goes without saying this contrasts exquisitely with the usual high ambient temperatures that we enjoy in our corner of paradise. The locals often ask evocatively for their beer to be served ‘cenizada’ literally meaning ‘coated in ash’; used perhaps because Dominicans are so unfamiliar with the term ‘frosted’.
Although ‘Presidente’ is exceedingly popular we wouldn’t want you to think that there weren’t alternatives. The same beer company took over the ‘Bohemia’ label in 1983 and is making inroads into the ‘Presidente’ market although it has a long way to go to take over the ‘Presidente’ mantel. Bohemia is a little drier, a little flatter and less sweet but perfectly palatable having even won gold awards in Spain and Italy.
To round up the beer list we also serve Miller, Corona, Budweiser (the Anheuser-Busch variety), Heineken (recently back in supply after a lengthy lay-off) and two fine Belgian beers Leffe and Hoegaarden… all beers that can be found around the world. We trust that will also be true of Presidente in the years to come so that you may have the opportunity to try one for yourselves… that is if you, for some reason or other, can’t make it to the Playa Vista Beach Bar!
Thursday, January 27, 2005
After a quick refreshing cold beer break (check last blog entry) we are on request back to the current state of evolution in Boca Chica.
As you may or may not know a number of businesses, for God only knows what reasons, have been closed recently in the Boca Chica main street (Calle Duarte).
As reported in our blog of 17/1/05 the ‘Cosmos Discotheque’ and ‘Zanzi Bar’ were closed because of internal misunderstandings between the two businesses and the owner of the building… a case completely unconnected to the closure by the authorities/police of several bars last week,
No firm reasons have been given although rumors as usual are aplenty. Some say that everything, for better or for worse, soon will be back to normal… some that it is all part of the new government’s plans to permanently ‘clean up’ Boca Chica… whatever that means. If the ‘permanent clean up’ rumor is true we welcome it, that is if it means a long awaited and frequently promised removal of the all-too-many illegals and criminals roaming, and in some ways ruling, the streets and the beach.
However, Boca Chica is still alive and kicking although somewhat subdued. We can absolutely reassure you that service at Playa Vista continues as before and that there are, as usual, plenty of adventurous activities to go for on the Boca Chica beach and all over this exotic Latin Caribbean country in general.
So… why not make Boca Chica your port of entry and Playa Vista your base camp, as you explore further the Caribbean adventures on offer?
Hasta la Playa Vista!
Sunday, February 13, 2005
We do, where it is possible, like to give credit where credit is due and so due it is to a certain medium-sized casual furniture supplier in Santo Domingo. The company is known as ‘Aire Libre’ and can be found, if with some difficulty, in the heart of the Herrera industrial zone on the western side of Santo Domingo.
It was one of those usual bright warm Dominican ‘winter’ Saturday’s as we journeyed into Santo Domingo with a friend of the Playa Vista family, “Tio”(Uncle) Bob. The story began quite spontaneously as things often do in this tropical idyll: “Where did you get your sun loungers because I need one for my mother-in-law?” Bob asked. “Funny you should mention it,” we said, “we are on the verge of beefing up our own sun lounger collection for all those extra sun worshippers that thankfully keep popping up, and just the other day we got a lead on a place that could offer a very competitive price on our favorite brand… much better than even Ferreteria Americana where we bought our original supply some five years ago.” We actually started the popularity of this particular brand when we discovered the attractive looking reasonably priced ‘Master’ design and in subsequent years noticed the proliferation of this very same design up and down the length of the Boca Chica beach.
Anyway…. back to the mutual mission that we now had going in Bob’s little green Jeep where we checked back to Base Camp Playa Vista for directions to the recently acquired lead on the company in question. This was to be the only hiccup in the entire exercise: finding that particular company in the maze of the industrial zone. They were located on Calle (Street) ‘B’… only B did not have any direct relationship with A or C or any other letter for that matter. After asking a myriad of people, who just confirmed that by getting to A, C or even D wouldn’t necessarily lead us to B, the local firemen came to the rescue finally giving us good clear directions so that we were able to arrive at the front entrance… 30 minutes after closing time! Amiable Dominican spontaneity was in our favor because the staff, fortunately still on the premises, opened up the door, let us in and showed us their wares… and the deal was consummated both for Playa Vista and the needy mother-in-law in one almost seamless exercise. Her particular sun lounger was more urgently needed, so we set off with just this urgent one tightly strapped to the roof of our vehicle with the promise of a call regarding a follow up delivery of 10 more after the weekend.
On Monday the phone rang to ask if we wanted the loungers delivered that day at the very reasonable charge of RD$500. “Sure thing,” we said and a few hours later the delivery man turned up exactly as promised without any difficulty in finding us, sun loungers neatly wrapped up, and offloaded them into our store room ready for use the next day.
So why don’t you pop by and check the new batch out for yourselves while you soak up the sun, lounging in style!
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Knowing of our strange relationships with woodpeckers here at Playa Vista over the years one of the good friends of the house showed us the following piece from his Lonely Planet travel guidebook on the Dominican Republic and Haiti the other day. The word by word piece quoted below opens a somewhat quirky window on a peculiar point of view shared by the original inhabitants of this island – namely the Taino Indians:
Woodpeckers and women
Taino mythology is rich – and often bizarre. According to Taino elders, in the beginning the human race lived in two caves that could not be left on sunny days lest the people be turned into stone by the sun’s rays. Angered by the sun, an Indian named Guaguyona decided to leave the caves, and he convinced all of the women to join him. As days passed, the remainder of the men grew upset that they had no women. They went out to find some on rainy days, but to no avail. Then one day the men came upon several persons who were neither male nor female. The men tried to catch them but the genderless creatures slipped through their grasps like eels. A chief then sent for some people whose hands had turned rough from a disease, and with their roughened hands the diseased people were able to catch the slippery, sexless creatures. The men held the genderless creatures against the ground, bound their hands and feet, and covered their bodies with woodpeckers!. The birds pecked at the place where the woman’s sex organs would be, effectively turning the creatures into women. And this, according to Taino mythology, is how men again came to enjoy the company of women. Conveniently, the sun’s rays stopped turning people into stone from that day forward, and people were able to go about freely during daylight hours.
Bringing the subject right up to date we can resolutely and thankfully confirm that people, gendered or genderless, do indeed continue to go around in daylight hours free from any fear of woodpecker attack or being transformed into stone for that matter. It goes without saying that in this land of almost continuous sunshine it would be perversely restrictive if people felt they could only venture out on rainy days.
Clearly the woodpeckers are equally free to roam around for in spite of our last entry on the subject (November 8th), which even portended the end of our association with Woody, he is very much still out and about. Our inhibiting plastic mesh most certainly ended the incessant rapping at the kitchen window where he had been so active but after lying low he seems to have come back with a vengeance though be it in a different style. For several weeks there was no sign of him until he, totally out of character, quietly appeared again at the other, unmeshed, kitchen window just staring at his own reflection. The further good news is that he now starts his visits later in the mornings and is very much less physical towards the window and therefore less disturbing of the peace. The bad news is that he then flits upstairs where he has found renewed vigor and interest in the frame of the reflective glass door which by way of a new challenge is aluminum. He comes to rest almost in exactly the same place each time; he admires himself in the window as before and now generates a remarkable staccato drilling sound with his heavily aggressive beak on the painted metal frame. As yet the metal has held up but unfortunately his toilet control hasn’t… for after each visit he leaves an acidic pile of waste material immediately beneath his hammering station on the nicely polished wooden floor.
So, we wonder, is it that our newly re-named “pecker” is in this bizarre way trying to relive the days of yore and re-staking his claim to a bigger piece of the action as the Taino Indians clearly allowed his ancestors to have… or has the crazy little head-banging heavy-metalpecker just brain-damaged himself with his indiscriminate pecking and finally gone totally mad?
Wednesday, March 2, 2005
We claim, and there is plenty of proof-positive, that Playa Vista attracts a very wide spectrum of individuals from around our little planet earth. All kinds of types, from all kinds of backgrounds earning their living in all manner of ways far beyond the rudimentary list of tinker, tailor and candlestick maker, gather in this crazy but entertaining corner of the world.
We hadn’t seen Randall – and for regular Playa Vista visitors we are not referring to the vacationing sunbather extraordinaire farmer from western-Kentucky – for some months, but brightly and breezily he came to the bar one Sunday lunchtime and generously handed us two personally signed copies of a work of fiction he has recently had published.
We are particularly pleased by the association because as he placed the books on the bar top he proclaimed that perhaps as much as 70% of it was written while ruminating here in the heart of Boca Chica relaxing on a Playa Vista sun lounger. For those of you who are general Dominican aficionados you will be interested to know that the content of the story clearly draws extensively on Randall’s more than two years of experiences in this country as well as his own extensive military background.
For your further information the writer’s full name is Randall H. Miller, he teaches and lives in Santo Domingo and the book , independently published by ‘iUniverse’, is titled “The Xpatriot”.
Friday, March 11, 2005
We receive quite a number of e-mails from people responding in some way or other to our Boca Chica/DomRep blog. The norm is to be asked for more information about something to do with the country in general, Santo Domingo in particular or, of course, good old Boca Chica. We did on one occasion, October 8th 2004 to be precise, post a piece of interesting correspondence in its entirety received from Sarah Frey in order to help keep the entertainment rolling. In her letter Sarah took us back to the late 1950s early 60s. It would seem that Fred of Washington DC was in town just after her as he refers to the civil war: of 1965 we presume. A war, by the way, that was relatively easily and quickly ended but not without a little friendly help from neighboring Uncle Sam. Since then the country has been moving ever forward on its increasingly politically democratic and peaceful path.
I came across your blog- love it!
As a child, I lived in Boca Chica during the civil war, on Calle Duarte. Of course, back then Boca Chica was a sleepy little village and not much happened. I remember how people would go the park and watch the novellas (soap operas) on the park’s TV. Anyway, I bet Boca Chica is quite different these days. I will continue checking your blog to see what’s up over there.
Fred- Wash DC
We were wondering if there is anybody out there who can provide even more detail of that immediate post-Trujillo period or perhaps go back still further – amongst you native English speakers we some how doubt it, but we keep on being surprised. And thank you Fred!
Monday, March 28, 2005
In the years we have been in Boca Chica we have seen the same explosion in telephonic communication just as anywhere else in the world. Most eye-catching of all is the now entirely universal use of mobile cellular phones. A short résumé of the cellular options lists four distinct companies offering services. They are, probably in order of customer base, Verizon, Tricom, Orange and Centennial.
A casual ‘Playa Vista survey’ reveals that any important differences among the four options can be summed up rather like this:
The service of each fully covers the largest center of population in the country, namely that of the municipality of Santo Domingo also conveniently encompassing Boca Chica. Orange would appear to be the most economic with Centennial too offering some very competitive deals. However, Verizon, being the longest established, has wider coverage in the country as a whole. People visiting from overseas and already subscribers to Orange’s system can even conveniently arrange to have their phone activate the moment they walk off the airplane in the Dominican Republic with a warm and welcoming “bienvenido to the DR” message. This roaming facility is also an option for visitors with Centennial and Verizon phones but such a convenience is generally considered to be far more expensive than simply activating a completely new account on arrival.
The increase in internet usage is less directly visible but still countable in the sense that there are now quite a number of sites dotted around town where visitors can drop in to maintain their usual contact with the outside world and read the all important DR1 Blogs section. The range of services offered is now far beyond the single dial-up speed through the single national operator Codetel (renamed Verizon last year) that we encountered when we first arrived more than seven years ago. Cable TV companies too, though mainly restricted to Santo Domingo and Santiago, have even joined in offering internet services. Diversification has also come to landlines because the same single national operator was joined by Tricom firstly in 1992 with long distance services and then later on with full telephone services. This and the entrance of other cellular companies to the market were made possible by new government legislation specifically to encourage competition beginning in the 1990s.
So… what has all this cellular talk to do with Playa Vista and Boca Chica you might ask?
The answer is that the motivation to report on the subject as a whole has come as a result of our own need to increase our telecommunications network and install an additional line affording a speedier connection to the WWW. But… more about that patience-trying Caribbean adventure next time. Meanwhile you may or may not like to check in the archives to see how Verizon (in those days Codetel) treated us the last time we had purpose to write about them well over a year ago in the blog posted on August 31, 2003.
So until next time’s speedy delivery… a quick over and out!
Friday, April 8, 2005
So… it was a DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) internet connection with a new line that we wanted… and after a bit of a tour, as you will see if you persevere here, we did in fact get!
A swift piece of research revealed that Boca Chica does have Tricom as a fixed-line option but this particular company does not offer any kind of internet service, so… in spite of the breaking of the Verizon (Codetel) monopoly, here in Boca Chica, we remain wholly at the mercy of Verizon as internet service provider for now. With that fact established we were presented with a number of options to go for on our new venture with the new www connection – known by the dynamism-inspiring name of ‘Flash’ – details available, in line with modern ways, either on the Verizon web page or by calling the Verizon call center.
Unfortunately we did not get off to a very ‘flashy’ start because right from the beginning we were told in no uncertain manner that anybody requesting a new line must have a credit card! That was certainly not the case in the past and a very strange request we thought, particularly in a country where it is a minority of people who possess such a luxury. After two more phone calls and several telephone assistants later it was grudgingly acknowledged that we could after all pass directly on to having a personal evaluation… if a cedula (personal identification) number was provided. The evaluation department called a few days later, when for once we were absent, and on calling Verizon the next day the assistant boldly announced that when the new line applicant is not locatable after a single call… the entire enquiry is dropped! The company’s presumed expertise in communication doesn’t appear to extend to leaving a call back number or even calling again! Blimey, we had to start from scratch and request the evaluation procedure all over again. A number of days later when they called us back, we were ever so fortuitously on the premises and even able to deal with the incoming call on the spot. The evaluator had a standard questionnaire including matters such as personal income and in general wanted information that we immediately deemed to be too private to offer up merely for the installation of a new telephone line, especially as at the same address we of course have a long standing standard account which has always punctually been paid every month for upwards of six years. Thankfully at this point we experienced a kind of miraculous quantum leap when suddenly without further ado the evaluator came completely around and stated that we very soon would be called by somebody for the installation process to commence. Flash was truly beckoning now, because after the promised call and within the promised 1 to 10 days the basic line was efficiently and correctly installed actually by a company sub-contracted to Verizon.
We now thought we were virtually home and dry just needing the DSL internet connection to be linked up according to procedure, because we had of course right at the outset ordered one new line with a side order of DSL. However, the line-installation technician sowed the first seed of doubt concerning a flashy finish, when he stated that the DSL connection was a completely separate matter! It was so separate it hadn’t even been registered that we required the internet service when making that ground-breaking forward jump with the evaluator!
Therefore in reluctant obedience to Verizon’s practices we again had to place our order for the DSL service. Numerous phone calls from our side revealed varying attitudes to this new situation from various Verizon employees. The majority though were of the opinion that, in spite of our repeatedly placed order for the infamous DSL link, it was not possible to request the internet facility until the full processing of the line installation had been completed… which clearly in Verizon’s eyes meant something far more than an up and running line, because each time we contacted the dear old company we were communicating without any trouble whatsoever on this very line. Finally, after innumerable calls on the perfectly working new line, one of the representatives kindly explained that this separation was necessary in order for us to qualify for the special offer of free installation that currently applied. Good one Verizon… clearly, we liked the ‘free’ sound, but the question, “Why the great separation?” still hangs in the air.
Anyway…the requisite number of days passed, the request for DSL service was finally registered and accepted and we were given a code number which allowed us to visit the central office in Santo Domingo where you get the rare opportunity to talk face to face with Verizon staff and pick up your internet modem kit. This little maneuver allows you to carry out the auto-installation for RD$600 (US$20) less than the cost of asking for a real live representative to visit you. The kit was tucked under an arm, returned home and installed in a jiffy. After that happy brief interlude of speedy accomplishments and personal contact we now had to return to the bad old habits of repeated phone calls to try and move us to the end game.
The first of a new series of calls revealed that between 1 and 7 working days the modem line would be opened. Meanwhile a friendly chat with a valued acquaintance, actually close to the very heart of DR1, concluded that all they have to do at the Verizon end is “flick a switch” in order to open up service on the new modem. At Verizon they were regrettably adamantly opposed to “just” flicking that switch, because in spite of receiving a promising call on a new day 3 from a representative in the data-department where a guy told us he would call us right back after checking the line and knowing that all was properly installed at our end… he didn’t! Nobody did! The following day we took the initiative again and called to ask what was happening. Dramatically, the appeasing story of “completion between 1 and 7 working days” now focused exclusively on the 7! As we got very near to day 7 the Verizon representative clearly felt squeezed by the egg timer rapidly running out of descending granules and emphatically announced that by 8 am on day 7 – if we still didn’t have service – we “officially” would be able to phone up and claim that the company had not complied with their promises. At 8.30 am on day 7 the representative – always a different one and thereby amply abetting the discontinuity – made a temporal recalculation and offered that we could call after 3.45 pm because that now would, after the improvised new calculation, be 7 full working days. Lo and behold – by 3.45 the long awaited green lamp on the modem signaling an open line remained just as subdued as it had always done!
The next phone call of ours duly acknowledged that 7 completely and entirely full working days had passed and that we now could have a ‘numero de reclamacion’ (complaints number) to pronounce on any subsequent calls we might wish to make. The memory bells were jangling with this ‘numero de reclamacion’, because we had been precisely in the same place the last time we had the “Verizon blues” as explained in our blog posting of Aug 31, 2003… you could even call it a ‘flash’ back. Nothing could be done on that passing seventh day but the next day, unflinchingly with the empowering complaints number in hand, we called again. “Yes, the connection is still under review,” the representative this time said. “Absolutely at maximum just another two days to complete the job,” the optimistic representative continued… “Only two more processes to go!” Hmm… we thought that switch-flicking was only one process!
As a pleasant surprise we got a phone call from Verizon on the ninth day, a very nice phone call actually, whereby an amiable member of the personnel called to innocently ask what our problem was! Extraordinary, with all the phone calls we had made and all the computer tracking systems in operation she really didn’t know! Well… patiently we told her and she thanked us politely and said she would investigate and hopefully somebody would open the line the following day! Which indeed somebody surprisingly did! So with patience and a little help from a long row of willing but team-wise not very flashing Verizon staff we did get there in the end.
Was it worth all the effort? Unreservedly yes. Our Flash connection works like a dream and has already proven to be indispensable working up to 7 times faster than the old dial-up service at 384 Kbps. The satisfaction is matched only by the new-found contentment of being freed from the tedious habit of calling Verizon on a daily basis for the last month!
Monday, April 18, 2005
Randall, again not the infamous western-Kentucky farmer, but the author of ‘The Xpatriot’ (see March 2, 2005 blog posting), may have helped to reawaken a general reading interest as well as start a welcome trend, because we have been asked quite a few times by some of our regulars if they could have a sneak preview of his book by borrowing from our slowly growing library. His Xpatriot book, by the way, has generated a lot of positive comments… and judging from the commonest one of all: “Yes I enjoyed the read”, it strikes us that the borrowers were doing more than sneak-previewing.
While we are on the subject may we mention that Playa Vista does have a small library of magazines and paperbacks, all but a select few unsigned copies, for customers to borrow. This mini-library can be easily found in the corner of the bar as you enter the door on the left. There is no ticketing system whatsoever… we just ask for people to observe standard rules like return the books when finished in the condition they were borrowed. Naturally if any of you would like to add to the library that would be appreciated by all the thirsty re-aroused readers around here too.
Now back to the welcome trend because Greg – from that other but much larger North American country – is the latest to provide us with a personally signed copy of a publication that he contributed to in a major way. It is titled ‘A Chronicle of Images – Canada/Republica Dominicana 50+’ and contains both photos and text on relations between the two countries over the last 50 years. It is a very well presented compilation with text in Spanish, English and French. Gregg himself was, among other things, responsible for the art direction, design and production. By all means ask at the bar if you would like to view this nicely documented work, as was Gregg’s intention when he handed it over!
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
We are pleased to say that we have a couple of genuine ‘good-guy stories’ in the pipeline for you… the first goes like this:
Massachusetts Man, our good-guy number one, has developed quite an onerous but benevolent habit of carting something like 150lbs of produce down from Boston to donate to the local Boca Chica high school “Elvira de Mendoza“, and this he now does a couple of times a year. In good old entrepreneurial fashion he saw a market opportunity that he has developed over the years… with the single entrepreneurial omission that he doesn’t make any money out of it!
One fine day he noticed a lot of good paper was going to waste around him at his place of work. The match up was that he in his mind’s eye saw this paper being well used in poor old Boca Chica and where better than one of the local schools he thought. He had the brilliant idea that a lot of the notepads and business paper pads, when finished with, could simply be recycled by using the blank obverse sides. So, he made a point of asking all his work colleagues to put these pads and papers aside for him. From this simple beginning he has extended his product range asking all his friends and colleagues for any kinds of paper pads, pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners or anything of that ilk, that they might be able to spare to add to his haul. Not satisfied with that he also visits the local dollar stores just before setting off to see if he can pick up some additional inexpensive bargains to make up the full load. This is of course working very much counter to pure entrepreneurship because this now involves money actually coming out of his own pocket. However, a recent market diversification has him back on track spotting an opportunity for low value products with large potential demand. He came across the chance of 200 free sample tubes of toothpaste with toothbrushes and promptly stuffed them also into one of his carrier bags and brought the whole thing down to Boca Chica. Once in town he phones the school to make an appointment with the principal of the school in order to present his offering. She, as well as all the contented recipients, is quite rightly very thankful and everybody is now more than ever looking forward to welcoming the creative and generous packhorse the next time he can make a run.
So… if you see our Massachusetts Man struggling through either Boston or Santo Domingo International Airports you might like to give him a hand with his baggage knowing that it is all in a good cause. Perhaps others of you out there have some other creative ideas along the lines of Massachusetts Man’s… we would be only too pleased to pass the information on and keep the supply of good intentions running if that were the case.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Every cloud has its silver lining. The cloud, if you should remember reading our blog of 08/04/05, was the frustrating delay we experienced when we finally made our move and asked Verizon to take us into the modern world with a high-speed DSL internet connection. The silver lining is now double layered for we remain not only as pleased as ever with this new service but we are also able to announce laptop friendly WiFi connections anywhere within the Playa Vista territory including the sunbeds on the beach! This service – that finally scatters away the remains of the cloud and lets the sun shine through – is available to all good Playa Vista customers free of charge and is made possible by the kind sponsorship of DR1, via their donation of a wireless broadband router and the installation skills of good old Rob.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
This story also began quite some while ago with our ‘Pennsylvanian knight in shining armour’ observing a woman diligently and happily cleaning the floors of the business next door to the apartment he was using during his stay. He had quietly watched her on each of his sojourns to Boca Chica: She was always punctually at her place of work without complaining and always a smile on her face at 8.30 in the morning. She had an equally smiling young daughter, Gabriela, who in almost the same way as her mother furnished a big smile without a full set of front teeth. Unfortunately the mother’s front teeth had all long since disappeared, but her daughter had lost just the one in recent months due to falling from a motorbike in an accident. Our man from Pennsylvania big-heartedly decided to help out and with the permission of the mother offered to pay for a new tooth to be prepared for Gabriela. The mother was shyly, though gratefully, accepting and the local dentist was consulted. As Gabriela was still growing it was advised a denture with one tooth would be the solution for now and perhaps a more permanent job could be done in the future. Our generous friend was actually in for more than he bargained in the end, because it turned out that Gabriela needed more than just a new tooth – it seemed that she had never visited a dentist and needed 4 cavities filled, repairs to the other front tooth which had been chipped in the accident, full cleaning and then during the treatment an abscess was discovered that needed root canal treatment. Our gallant Pennsylvania Man stayed the whole course visiting with Gabriela for each treatment, paying the full bill on each occasion and confided to us at the Playa Vista bar when the job was finished that he believed it was well worth every penny. The mother was just as delighted and not a little hopeful that if she keeps smiling when our Pennsylvania Man returns next time she might just get the same attractive overhaul!
Gabriela before and after can be seen beautifully below.
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
“If they really have got WiFi at Playa Vista, then it is time to get back to Boca Chica”… said a self-confessed ardent follower of our blog renderings to himself back in New York last week. He promptly bought himself a plane ticket, packed his laptop and hopped on the flight. His NASDAQ trading he finds he can manage just as effectively alongside the azure-blue Caribbean Ocean from within the Playa Vista bar establishment, and although he is away from his familiar New York surroundings he is adamant that his new “office” environment at the bar has a number of redeeming features!
We are pleased to note that he follows hard on the heels of other very satisfied users from that North American cradle of leading-edge high-tech adoption and they all find the speed and effectiveness we offer on a par with their usual services back home – some more credit points to Verizon!
Why don’t you bring your laptop with you and check out if ‘setting up office’ within the Playa Vista router territory in the perpetual June climate of Boca Chica by any chance should be just your style!
Friday, June 3, 2005
Rumor has it that Plaza Lama – one of the larger department store chains in the Dominican Republic – is not good at handling repairs of electrical goods that fail after purchase. We would like to scotch that particular rumor, based on our recent personal experiences, and state that they are unbelievably and deplorably atrocious at handling repairs …even begging the question as to what is their function if as a repair center they don’t in fact affect repairs?
We purchased a Sony stereo unit for use in the Playa Vista Bar and unfortunately well inside 12 months it very disappointingly and surprisingly broke down. We naturally took the unit back to Plaza Lama’s repair service center where they startlingly and immediately departed from the norm of accepting liability for component failure within the first year, and in a customer not-so-friendly way declared that if we went off and bought six specified transistor components at the other end of Santo Domingo they would “try” repairing the unit. We should have smelt a rat at this point… firstly because of the oddness of us, the customer, being requested to search for the necessary parts ourselves and secondly because of the half-hearted promise that this “might” result in a repair! The time consuming and inconvenient purchase and delivery of the components back to the repair center, followed by a few days of grace for the technician to try his hand, left the unit precisely as it was: not functioning. Plaza Lama then instructed us to take the unit to ‘Curacao Trading Company’ who we later found out were the only genuinely authorized Sony distributors in this country. When reaching the Curacao service desk they informed us that only with a direct internal request from Plaza Lama, which they certainly had not received, could they take on such a situation. So we were left embarrassingly clutching the unit and facing the further time consuming extremely irritating journey back to the Plaza Lama repair center. We deposited the unit back where we started and felt so extraordinarily frustrated and insulted we got in contact with Sony International directly.
Sony in Puerto Rico – the closest Sony office – immediately took hold of the situation and sent two circuit boards with a CD containing circuitry manuals at the request of the Plaza Lama technician. The boards were fitted… and again the time consuming operation yielded absolutely no improvement in the performance of the unit. Amazingly the technician could not be deterred from his track: after the first two completely incorrect diagnoses he boldly made yet another ‘secure’ diagnosis and request to us for yet another part… which again was not available in this country, but valiantly once again couriered by Sony Puerto Rico for the “technician” to fit. By this stage we were not the least surprised to discover that this, his latest and third diagnosis and repair attempt was not the solution either! To the praise of Sony in Puerto Rico it should be said that they never gave up, but just like us gave up believing that Plaza Lama would be capable of ever fixing the unit. They therefore agreed to send us a replacement unit, again by courier service, so that we, in spite of the astonishing incompetence and downright rude treatment from the technical department at Plaza Lama we suffered for an unbelievable seven months, should be able to maintain the high quality of music we have always craved for the Playa Vista Bar.
A very big thanks to Sony in Puerto Rico… we presume that they will consider very carefully who they will appoint to replace Curacao Trading as their representative in this country, as that particular organization has gone into receivership. If there is any justice Plaza Lama will not even figure on their short list!
Monday, July 4, 2005
A short message to let you all know that we are well and truly back in town – the good old familiar town of Boca Chica that is.
The reason for the scarcity of blog uploads from Playa Vista in recent weeks was the now almost traditional yearly break with the routine. It may seem strange to those of you who live elsewhere, but a holiday away from paradise does actually have its attractions. A couple of weeks back in the old continent works wonders for removing the Caribbean cobwebs, letting the mosquito bites work themselves out of the system and reacquainting oneself firstly with long sleeve shirts and then on cool evenings long sleeve sweaters.
Talking of the old continent… Europe was awash with political recriminations – oh all right the French and the British were just carrying right along with their 1000 year-old squabble – but by the end of the stay what had seemed like an issue that could determine the fate of everything from the shape and size of sausages to the outbreak of world war three was dropped like a limp baguette and the focus was suddenly on the G8 summit coming up at Gleneagles and the fortunes (read misfortunes) of British tennis players at Wimbledon.
So as of today we will put away our long sleeved clothing and knuckle down to some good old serious Caribbean pleasure after the luxury of that vacation in breast-beating Europe while at the same time retreating into a world that seemingly has far fewer problems… because on an island where events in the outside world are rarely talked about the cozy presumption is that they don’t exist, right?
Thursday, July 7, 2005
Charlie and Dennis
Charlie welcomed us back from our minor break in the fine routine with this e-mail:
I didn’t realize you guys would take a holiday. I was very concerned about your health when you didn’t post anything on you page for a month. I check it every morning in hopes of news from the Dominican Republic. I love your page.
A faithful fan, Charlie
(- honestly we didn’t make it up!)
Meanwhile Dennis welcomed us in quite a different way. The warmth of his welcome was soon felt in the strength of his powerful winds, accompanied by a number of heavy downpours of rain and then finally a 3-4 inch deposit of sand on the beach before he passed on by, a respectful distance well out in the Caribbean Sea, quite harmlessly for all of us here in the Dominican Republic at least.
We hope for the sake of the good folks along the coasts of Cuba and Florida that daunting hurricane Dennis will not end up nicknamed ‘Dennis The Menace’.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
All is well on the southern front as the outer sinewy reaches of Emily’s rotating package of discomfort, very much like Dennis, simply, though be it ominously, brushed along our coast. We were once again basking in the usual bright sunshine and calm air a mere 24 hours after Emily trundled on by leaving nothing more than the memory of rather beautiful high rolling surf breaking on our ever-so-protective coral reef a few hundred yards out from the Playa Vista terraza where we ourselves and a substantial group of guests enjoyed the majestic play of mother nature’s forces.
This leaves us with the perfect gateway to a pleasant weekend down here on the beach. For those of you not familiar with our backdrop, Boca Chica is THE beach for people from the capital Santo Domingo to enjoy a swim or merely a watery or sandy frolic. At this time of year another major attraction is the possibility of escaping from the usual negatives of living in a large city with its noise, dirt and a far more intense kind of heat… especially in contrast to the balmy breeze almost invariably caressing our little stretch of paradise.
For people-watchers a Sunday is often an unmissable sight with so much natural and peaceful pleasure being had by great numbers of people strewn all along the beach. For those who like it quieter then perhaps Monday is a good day to visit but, biased though we may be, we can clearly recommend you will have fun whichever day you come.
Friday, July 22, 2005
As beer still is the mainstay of our Beach Bar business, and as a lot of this obviously very popular liquid has flowed under many an oral-tract bridge since our piece of January 25th, we thought we would offer a short update on the subject.
We tripped across a website, found under the not so very flattering name of ‘briansbelly.com’, clearly eager to focus attention on all kinds of beery things including picking out the world’s very best tasting beers… and if out of the list of 97 selected specialty beers Presidente pilsner did not come in first, it was certainly rated good enough to be better than all but two of the high caliber contestants by the 260 tasters. Not quite the best in the world but not far off we would still claim!
With exports growing at more than 20% per annum and the company receiving a special export award for their efforts last year handed directly over by the other Presidente in this country ‘Leonel Fernandez’, clearly there is a growing band of non-Dominicans who feel similarly.
We have observed two other beer facts. The first is that Presidente (the company that is) has brought out a “light” version which is proving to be very popular… and the second, that a very large brewing company from Brazil – reputedly the fifth largest in the world – called Ambev has arrived in the Dominican Republic reported by some to want to compete head on with Presidente. Rumor tells us they are making all sorts of attractive promotional offers to try and get into the market. As far as we are concerned they remain rumors, but in the last few weeks we are pleased to report that Presidente (the company that is) has supplied us with far more promotional items such as glasses and chairs for our bar than in the last four years put together with talk even of a whole new batch of umbrellas to pop up fairly soon… regular readers will remember of course how dear to our hearts is this subject. Coincidence or not? Competition is always healthy and we hope soon to be able to let our esteemed Playa Vista customers be the judges as to whom is going to win in the upcoming popularity-election between good old ‘Presidente’ and the new challenger ‘Ambev’.
Monday, August 1, 2005
A seemingly unavoidable part of life here in the Caribbean is described in the single simple word “gripe” – actually pronounced “greepay” in the local vernacular. Etymologically we presume there to be a link with the English word of the exact same spelling, though markedly different pronunciation. However, the English seems to refer more to the mental rather than the physical state of malcontent. Perhaps the best translation would be “influenza”, but the variability can be so extreme that it hardly seems right to describe yourself as having “greepay” when you are writhing in near agony in your bed or in other cases merely suffering a sniffle of the nose. One explanation could be that the latter would fit into the category of mere common cold although this still doesn’t seem to adequately get to the bottom of the subject.
Coming from Western Europe we were of course used to such cold and influenza strikes being associated primarily with the colder weather of winter. As we don’t experience such a thing as winter here, we probably thought we would be liberated from such unpleasantries altogether. But of course that would have been too hasty and just a little too convenient!
On the positive side our experiences and observations indicate that it is rare for vacationing visitors to be struck down with any form of this gripe at any time of the year… however, once you overstay that initial holiday period it would seem that you become increasingly exposed to the families of viruses that of course circulate here just as well as anywhere else.
We do tend to think that we have earned some kind of protection through the years, but Mother Nature surely has her ways to show who’s the boss every now and again. Perhaps the most confounding feature of all is the variability of time in suffering from the gripe which can in our experience range from a few hours to even a few weeks and even more destabilizing it can come calling briefly, disappear almost as briefly and then return in full vengeance a day or too later. It can also appear in its stronger form at the beginning, disappear for a few days, lull you into a sense of false security and then sweep back in for another attack later.
One thing is for sure… in spite of the ‘perpetual June’ climate here on our Caribbean island the gripe is a fact of life. The locals put up with it, the newer residents put up with it and the old hands from time to time also have to take their turn. But… consolation is ever at hand making it a whole lot easier to live with the sporadic visits of the gripe in the form of swaying palm trees, near-constant blue skies and azure-blue sea… with such a panorama you merely have to sit back, take it easy and watch your good old body fend off the unwelcome malingerer while reminding yourself you really are in paradise after all!
Sunday, August 7, 2005
After all running a beach-bar is part of our daily routine so we thought we would elaborate on the drinks theme just a little.
As everybody following our blog entries knows, we have had some quite entertaining experiences with the beer and soft-drink suppliers ‘Presidente’ and ‘Coca Cola’ over the years, but what about ‘the hard stuff’.
As we live slap bang in the middle of the Caribbean, it would be no great surprise to know that we are not only living on an island with a great sugar-growing legacy, but one that has a significant history of rum distilling too. The prime local producers are ‘Brugal’ and ‘Barceló’… both companies having their range of brands mainly differentiated by time allotted for ageing. Ignoring the very luxury end of the market, the best brand from Brugal is aptly named “Extra Viejo” meaning extra old and the top brand from Barceló is “Imperial”. We think the names do adequate justice to these two particular brands, although of course we stock all of the main Brugal and Barceló varieties… and if you think we wouldn’t cater for your own particular ‘extra luxury’ end interests, we can of course dig something out for that too – the universally known Bacardi and a little known highly recommended 15-year-old rum from Guatemala that goes by the name of Zacapa for example.
In spite of our island’s rum producing tradition the Dominican Republic, just like so many other countries of the world, is an ardent importer of the Scotch hard stuff. Our own experience tells us that Dewar’s and Johnnie Walker rank highly in popularity… especially the Black Label variety. However, a much cheaper option is imported Scotch but bottled in this country. By far the most popular brand of this type goes under the very improbable Scottish name of MacAlbert though, without any direct intent, it is the actual name of another well known dark horse in Australia – one that runs round race tracks that is!
We do not limit ourselves strictly to the Scotch type so kindly note that we have on hand the Irish varieties of Bushmills and the ever-popular Baileys not to mention the bourbon strain of whiskies led by Jack Daniels and as a welcome outsider Maker’s Mark – a gift to Playa Vista that was very kindly donated by one of our favorite Kentucky visitor’s who speaks largely of its virtues.
If your favorite tipple of the stronger stuff does not appear in this very brief list by all means pop by and check out if Playa Vista might just have what you are looking for… cheers!
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
As we live virtually on top of the Caribbean Sea it would be no great surprise to learn that there are a variety of ways in which you can entertain yourself with the water element lapping at your door. You can, of course, go swimming or fishing. But how about both with a little stint of ‘fish-sitting’ thrown in.
It was a quiet Sunday morning in the tranquil pond-like water that is our backdoor tropical lagoon and a quick underwater swim was the order of the day.
With water still largely blocking the ears after rising to the surface again, did the young boy standing up to his waist in the water really say: “Can you lend me a candle?” It was needless to say a bright sunny day, so the surprising question seemed a bit far out. “What on earth for?” one could certainly ask with reason, but as the normal attire for frolicking about in the water is a simple pair of trunks it was quite tempting to answer – “No, run right out of them actually”. “Well, in that case” he said, “could you just hold this line then, while I go to the nearest shop and get that candle… I need a float”. The picture as well as the ears were beginning to clear. The boy was fishing and had obviously been quite successful even without a float, in that there were a couple of fish on the end of a line that he was holding.
“All right, why not?” So… he untied the makeshift fishing line from his waist and handed it over. It was an extremely long tennis-shoe lace, with two moderately sized fish hooked to the other end. The fish were not only still alive but quite naturally very eager to get away. The sensation left with was very much like a cross between walking a dog on a leash and baby-sitting
Off he was, and it was time to reflect a little with fish in tow on this sunny Caribbean day. The boy did soon return with his new wax float in hand and re-took charge of the fish. Thankfully, at least for all the dogs and babies of this world, the baby-sitting dog-walking analogy ended then and there because… without question the fish were definitely destined for the pot later that day!
Saturday, September 3, 2005
Horrific though the recent events have been due to Hurricane Katrina in some of the southern US states, we applaud the vibrant American spirit of always keeping the show rolling, and we welcome the imminent start of the new North American football league which seems to be all set to go… barring finding a temporary stadium for the New Orleans Saints so they can play their home games.
So as to maintain our tradition we will be showing this season’s games in the Playa Vista bar as usual via our satellite system and wall-to-wall screen. The opening clash is, as you might know, between ‘The Oakland Raiders’ and last season’s worthy champions ‘The New England Patriots’ on Thursday 8th September with the kick-off time being 9 pm. We will also be following two other traditions: Hot dogs will be available for the hungry patrons and the gamblers can be satiated with the football pool which costs a mere RD$50 per square to have the chance of sharing the pot and winning up to RD$5,000!
We wish all you football fans a good season!
Friday, September 9, 2005
The Playa Vista “company” car is in fact usually driven and maintained by our chief helper Carlos alias ‘Flaco’. However, from time to time we avail ourselves of the “ease” of use to go on the occasional Playa Vista mission to Santo Domingo. We even took the unprecedented step of briefing our men on the Sunday for an early start on the Monday morning, by arranging that Flaco would be here with the car promptly at 9 a.m. together with our main maintenance man and, for the occasion, appointed chauffeur Eduardo.
Sure enough… at a smidgin before 9 a.m. Flaco responded… but not by appearing with his car. He was calling from a car repair shop. He had encountered a small technical problem. At 10 a.m. Eduardo did appear, as it now turned out well in time for any eventual trip to the capital. At about 11 a.m. Flaco and the car appeared. “So we can go now can we, Flaco?” we asked. “Oh yes, no problem… only one little thing”, said Flaco in complete earnest, with the motor still running, “the car doesn’t start once it is turned off!” “What?” we dumbfoundedly responded. “Don’t worry,” he consoled us again. “Really it’s not a problem, you just keep it running and simply drive to a well equipped gas station to get a new battery for about RD$1500 (advice of his mechanic friend in neighboring Andres) and then you’ll be on your way!” “All right then,” we frustratedly responded believing we could soon make up the lost ground.
We all piled into the car, and as preparation is not the strong point in these parts of the world there was actually only just enough gas in the tank to get us up the hill to the nearest filling station. As we pulled up to the first vacant pump, inadvertently Eduardo turned off the engine for the fill up. OOPS! This now meant the car wouldn’t start again, and they of course did not sell batteries at this particular gas station. Nevertheless…life sure is full of surprises, isn’t it? Firstly… Eduardo, who is our only trusted all-round handy-man for a reason, of course knows something about cars too, and he found a pair of pliers and screwdriver that just happened to be lying under the passenger seat and started fiddling around in the engine area with the electrics. After many fiddlings and attempted ignition key turnings still nothing happened, even after the dismantling of the expensive stereo system and electricity-thirsty amplifier that Flaco had installed under the driver’s seat.
Thankfully Eduardo wouldn’t give up, and as we were just over the road from an old pal of his he conveniently borrowed a battery from him to test if this was really the problem. It wasn’t. The engine remained entirely lifeless even after connecting the fresh battery.
Fortunately Eduardo remained anything but lifeless for he continued probing and discovered that by attaching an extra wire between the battery and who knows what strange part of the car, surprise surprise, got the engine to spark into vibrant life! Just as Eduardo put the finishing touches to his handiwork the heavens opened, but of course we were now safely inside the car, electric problem fixed for far less than RD$1500 and now bound for Santo Domingo – ‘only’ 3 hours late – although accompanied by such a tremendous downpour that speed as well as visibility was severely impeded.
Relative to the prolonged and unplanned pit-stop start we noted that the day went fairly smoothly, except that being 3 hours behind schedule did mean we rather ran out of time for a couple of the tasks we had in mind. The result of the general delay was that we were still on our way back home at 7 p.m. with dark descending, and rapidly so as it does in the tropics. Within a few minutes we were almost unable to see the road… seemingly because of some other electrical problems… this time with the headlamps! We suggested that Eduardo get behind a vehicle with lights to ease our way, but before long he pulled over without a word, jumped out of the car and somehow switched on the regular lights from under the hood. Easy! “Funny,” said Eduardo sliding back into the now fully illuminated car “Flaco has spent so much on his stereo system but can’t afford a simple switch to turn on the headlamps… it just would be so much easier from inside the car!”
Well, back in Boca Chica and at Playa Vista the good news for Flaco was that his repair didn’t cost him anything… but, as sure as every rain cloud has a silver lining; every silver lining has a rain cloud. The next morning the good Flaco drove into Playa Vista to report that somebody had broken into his car during the night and, surprise surprise, stolen his expensive stereo system. Well… we imagine now it will probably take a very long time indeed before he ever gets around to putting that light switch on the inside!
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Boca Chica is a very small town and is not a place for shopping for much more than the daily essentials. We are however very conveniently located to take advantage of nearby Santo Domingo for any serious shopping or specialist services. Our overall impression is that you can get pretty much any product or service that you may be used to back in North America or any European country although the choice might be slightly more limited and the price almost invariably carries a premium.
One of our more important tools for getting some of our administrative jobs done here is our ‘Larousse’ Spanish/English – English/Spanish dictionary. After many years of constant use the all essential spine sadly became separated from the main body. A repair in the form of rebinding was called for and, as signaled above, Santo Domingo was easily designated to provide the service.
Santo Domingo’s old colonial zone is a warren of all kinds of buildings containing a myriad of micro businesses as well as residences and offices. You can walk around and peer into many an open door and see exactly the kind of operation they have inside. It didn’t take us long to track down a bookbinder thanks to a recommendation from another mini company huddled in the colonial lair where they print our invoices. The company recommended was ‘Leo Antillas’ and can be found at Calle (Street) Mercedes #305… a mainish and straightish road running parallel to the more well known ‘El Conde’. Fran, the actual bookbinder, beckoned us in to what at first glance seemed to be just a small stationery store. He then beckoned us behind and then behind again and yet further back into the depths of the increasingly narrowing building. We finally seemed to be in Fran’s exclusive bookbinding operations room and we were so far away from natural daylight now that we took a nervous glance around wondering about the dangerous cocktail of piles of paper material and lack of escape route in the case of fire which we actually mentioned. Fran, presumably after so many trouble free years, nonchalantly answered “Oh, I would just have to break down some of the metal security bars covering the windows to get out”. As further discussion of the matter didn’t look as though it would lead anywhere more helpful, we thought it easier to pass immediately on to the subject in hand.
“Now, this Larousse dictionary… would it be possible to rebind it”? “Certainly” he said, pointing into the corner to another Larousse dictionary as if he was familiar with binding this precise book on a daily basis. “How long would it take and how much would it cost?” “At most about three days and RD$150 (about US$5)”, was the surprising answer. He certainly seemed sincere, it was definitely a bookbinding place and if we were prepared to risk our paranoia about our valuable dictionary being trapped in the inner sanctum of the colonial zone while fire rages around then we figured it would be worth trying his services out.
We delivered the book on Tuesday and we were told it would be ready Friday.
It certainly was ready and what a wonderful job the man had done. We were aghast at the splendor of his workmanship at the princely sum of $5 for a book that would cost well over a $100 to replace. Fran had made it look brand spanking new. To be honest the cover was now better than when first purchased. It had a classy glossy royal blue cover embossed with the name of the dictionary in imperial gold! As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Fran had in addition cleaned up the entire area of the edges of the pages which over the years of those countless fingerings and thumbings had turned very close to black in places… brilliant!
At the risk of being accused of massive understatement it could be said that it’s not every day we have an uplifting experience of excellent craftsmanship in combination with decent pricing (like this), but here is the proof that it can still happen even in the Dominican Republic.
Well done that man Fran!
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
We presume that all our readers have their own versions of bureaucratic wonderment, but nonetheless we feel compelled to offer you the mother of all bureaucratic horror-stories from the heart of the Dominican Republic. This particular monster is about a man simply trying to comply as best he can with the law of the land regarding the running of his lil’ ol’ car. That man could be any one of us, so for the purposes of the story we shall call him John Doe.
John needed a favor because his Spanish is not quite up to the level of dealing with Dominican bureaucracy. The goal was short and simple: paying the annual vehicle tax! In other words exchanging RD$1200 (US$43) for a small silver sticker about 2 inches by 3 inches to display on the car windshield… but unfortunately the story, and we make no apologies for this, is neither short nor simple.
Bright one sunny morning we visited the Boca Chica tax office to ask what would be necessary in order to pay the upcoming annual car tax sticker, bearing in mind that John very unfortunately had had his car documents stolen, along incidentally and even more irritatingly, with his passport and credit cards. “Just get an original title document (known here as a ‘Matricula’) after verifying the car ownership at a police department called Plan Piloto then place an advertisement in a national newspaper to the effect that your matricula has been lost … and then the sticker will be yours”, was what the nice lady told us. But in order to accomplish that seemingly simple goal…well, herein lies the whole incredible time-wasting bizarre story.
First port of call was the ‘Listin Diario’ (the largest circulation national newspaper in the DomRep) where we correctly lodged full details of the stolen vehicle title for placement in an advertisement. We returned a few days later to pick up the certified copy of the official advertisement and then on to ‘Plan Piloto’. First off we lined up with the vehicle for it to have its chassis and registration numbers verified against a copy of the title that John, at least, fortunately still had. This done then a payment of RD$52 had to be made at window number 1… but not until the requested copies of certain documents could be provided! The requested copies, though, couldn’t immediately be provided, because the entire area was subject to one of the Dominican Republic’s infamous power cuts. Quite an extensive hunt ensued to find a place that a. had electricity and b. a functioning photocopier. Here we would like to offer a free plug for the very helpful local savings and loan company – ‘Asociación Popular de Ahorros y Préstamos’ who clearly felt sorry for us and at no cost made the relevant copies. “Back to Plan Piloto”, we mutually recited, completely unaware of how common a catchphrase that would become for us.
Well, back at Plan Piloto window 1 gave us some papers to take to window 2 where they refused to accept the freshly copied ID (cedula) of the previous owner of the vehicle. In retrospect things had been sailing along rather too easily, but this was the first dawning that things were not going to continue quite so smoothly. At this point we learned we had to have a copy of a more “modern” ID of the previous owner, because the original title had never been transferred into John’s name. John confessed that he didn’t know the guy and had never even met him but knew, for a not very helpful fact, that he now lived in Spain. Window 2 advised us to go to the immigration office where they would give us a document proving “something” about this largely unknown Spanish guy – who by the way went by the name of Señor Gordo – that would solve the problem. Off we tripped down to immigration where they took approximately RD$1000 for the service of providing the paper… but not until after the weekend was over of course. Well this, at the very least, would require another trip to Santo Domingo. On the following Monday morning, before leaving the immigration office, we noticed that the newly acquired paper specifically and only stated that our yesteryear car-owning Spaniard Señor Gordo, according to immigration records, had neither entered the country nor left since December 1999. With the “fear-of-wasted-journey” syndrome now well established we feared that there must be some mistake and that this would hardly help prove anything to the man waiting at window 2 in Plan Piloto. The man in charge placated us somewhat, if not entirely, by explaining that because Señor Gordo had not been in and out of the country since 1999 his ownership of the vehicle prior to that was proven to be legitimate and thus the legality of a sale to John acceptable. Strike us down with reverse partial logic, but with the comforting knowledge that this was the very document the police required on we journeyed!
At the now familiar 2nd window they did not even hesitate and accepted the package of documents we handed over including the immigration paper regarding Señor Gordo. However, for them to produce the certification document they would need another few days and at 2 pm on the appointed day it could be picked up if we showed our pink appointment slip. At 1.40 pm on the specified day there were all kinds of people trading their pink slips for the certification document in spite of the wall notice categorically stating that there would be NO exceptions to the 2 pm ruling. There was no sign of our certification. Finally, and conveniently just when the tax office in Boca Chica was closing at about 3 pm, our required document was made available… the good window 2 people had after all needed just a little more time to get the appropriate signature on it in an upstairs office.
The following day at the Boca Chica tax office the “system” was unfortunately inoperative… the entire day that is. Another beautiful mañana beckoned and proudly we presented all the pieces of paper we had assiduously collected to the nice lady, only to be told we didn’t have John’s contract of sale legalized by the relevant government legal office – the Procuradaria. “But it has been legally notarized”, we chirped trying to use persuasive logic. A couple of locals even voiced their approval of this idea… but, “Not good enough.”, the nice lady said “Them’s the rules”. By the way, she NOW added, we would also need a second certification of the vehicle if we wanted to obtain not only an original title document, but have the title document transferred to John’s name. What a good idea that would be we NOW thought.
We were learning, if but slowly, about Dominican bureaucracy though the fear-the-worst syndrome was kicking in, and we somewhat naturally feared that we would have to make a complete re-pass through the now extremely familiar Plan Piloto offices.
Our fears were of course entirely founded: window 2 told us to go back to window 1 and window 2 told us to go back to the man in charge of inspecting the chassis number of the vehicles. We had been up all the ladders and now we were shooting back down the snakes! The man in charge of the chassis numbers wasn’t even there. As we took a patience break the man sauntered back. He gave us a signed card which took us back to window 1 and after another RD$52 (if dear reader you really are following the monster-plot) onto window 2. Now a new little rub which, by the way, we had not at all feared… for this particular extra version of the certification we also needed a copy of the contract of sale legalized, which we were on our way to do anyway, because the nice lady had belatedly told us so, but what we weren’t told, was that we would need it at this point. It would be absolutely imperative in order for us to get our impatient hands on another pink slip! This would be a new adventure, we thought, because we hadn’t yet been to the document legalization office (the Procuradaria). We were right. Before even getting to the entrance way we had people yelling after us telling us we would be refused entry. Why? Because we had sandals on, not short pants as is sometimes frowned upon, not even flip flops… actually perfectly respectable sandals we thought – but they didn’t!
The game of snakes and ladders was turning from the sublime into the ridiculous. We honestly couldn’t face another trip between Boca Chica and Santo Domingo. The only solution was to buy a pair of shoes on the spot. Suffice it to say there are no shoe shops near this particular warren of government offices… but we did of course still have our ever so handy lil’ ol’ car. Buying the shoes, by the way, was ever so relaxing – just handing money over and the job done. Nobody yelled at us, nobody gave us incomplete or misleading information. Comfortingly, the folks in the shop merely accepted the money and said, “Have a nice day!”
With the all important shoes securely tied on feet we went back to the Procuraduria where they also ominously had two windows. Window 1 in this case was a cinch, but window 2 said it would be another 30 minutes wait. We waited actually more than an hour and this gave us time to notice the footwear of some of the women waiting their turn. Quite a number looked remarkably like sandals – quite a lot of bear toes showing all around in fact! One could have felt like making a point on this matter, but we had a mission to complete, even if it was running a couple of weeks behind schedule. So, just as soon as we could make it, we were speeding back to Plan Piloto again and the 2nd window man said “You are too late, we are on another thing right now”. A lot of thoughts went through our minds at that moment – some of them very unpleasant indeed! Perhaps the second window man was able to read a few of them, because with some obvious reluctance he actually finally did accept our new offering and gave us another of those pink slip appointments to come back in four days time.
We were getting very good at all the maneuvers by now, and four days later we sailed in and out again of Plan Piloto with our new second certified document – naturally too late to visit the tax office in Boca Chica, but nonetheless ever so secure that we had done as requested and that the next day all would be resolved…. Now, what about the fear-the-worst syndrome?
Well… the fear-the-worst syndrome, in its own odd way, had turned into the doubting Thomas syndrome! As a build up to the grand finale of this unbelievable saga the tax office system was out of order again for a couple of days… and, as if that wasn’t enough, then the sister of ‘the nice lady’ was out of order. It does make sense, really – she was extremely ill, the sister that is, and the nice lady just had to help by transporting her from one side of the country to the other. Really, we were becoming regular saints of patience. So… several days further on and we smilingly sat down and waited after putting all the collected papers in to the nice lady’s hands. She made a phone call and NOW told us that the rules had changed! We would need an advert placed in a national newspaper for THREE consecutive days – something that the Listin Diario newspaper was not even aware of. In addition she NOW said that all the documentation had to be taken to the collector of taxes office in Santo Domingo where they would issue the new title which would finally give her leave to provide the promised little tax sticker.
Patience, patience, patience! After all we always believed we were within sight of an end, and we did know how to handle the advertisement issue. Or we thought so. It was just that on this second occasion, for some unknown reason, the newspaper misspelt the word “perdida”(lost) in the advert which of course further increased the number of necessary trips to Santo Domingo, but once the newspaper finally accepted their fault, it was all so straight forward. The new title was in John’s name and was rushed back to the nice lady for her propitious handling. Within hours John left the office after a hearty farewell to the nice lady with what he thought was the illusive sticker.
Later that afternoon John was busy in his yard when he surprisingly and suddenly heard the now well known nice lady’s voice sailing over his garden wall. The fear-the-worst syndrome snapped right back in, he told us, his whole body froze and sweat trickled down his forehead. All for no good reason at all… because… the nice lady had actually just come to deliver his sticker personally, as John had walked out of the office with only the receipt for payment leaving the so hard-worked-for and precious sticker behind!
And that is really all there is too it!
All is well that ends well… isn’t it?… or is it?
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Earlier in the summer we talked about the imminent arrival of a new beer from the Brazilian brewer ‘Ambev’ (see 22/07/05 blog) and with quite a fanfare “Brahma” was finally launched. ‘Brahma’ is a pilsner-type beer and comes in a brown bottle with a distinct red and gold label impressively claiming that it has been in production since 1888.
Ambev’s Brahma represents the latest challenge to monopolist Cerverceria Nacional’s, alias León Jimenes, two main brands ‘Presidente’ and ‘Bohemia’ here in the Dominican Republic, and Ambev are evidently here for the long haul, because they have spent a large sum of money already… besides a huge and impressive PR-campaign they have also spent heavily on the building of a large brewery in Hato Nuevo with production capacity of 1 million hectoliters! The name Brahma itself has generated a certain amount of interest with several theories going the rounds of the Playa Vista bar as to its origins and meaning. For the uninitiated Brahma is actually the name of the Indian Hindu god of creation, a link that should be promotionally persuasive of itself, in some people’s books, to give it a try… however a certain learned German-Boca Chica coterie claims that the name derives from the starting letters of Brauhaus Mannheim – a German brewery – which had something to do with the brew’s beginnings way back at the end of the 19th century before it even got to Brazil.
Brahma beer might be the latest fad here, but it is clearly old hat to the Brazilians, for a large group of young thirsty vacationing footballers from the internationally renowned Brazilian teams of ‘Vasco da Gama’ and ‘Flamengo’ jogged up to the Playa Vista bar one day recently and demanded the stuff. Up to as many as 15 of them, over a period of four days, wouldn’t drink anything else and were not the least bit impressed with the local Presidente or Bohemia offerings. The regulars seem to have mixed opinions on the subject. The main commentary is that Brahma is lighter, which clearly satisfies some, for Brahma certainly has ’created’ a following, even if the new brew on the block cannot be said to be dislodging the old incumbent and market dominating Presidente quite yet.
It is still early days, which is clearly the attitude of both rival beer companies, as we remain disappointingly waiting for new promotional encouragement from either of them. While awaiting a promised batch of new parasols from Presidente (see June/July 2003 blog archives) we certainly wouldn’t hesitate in coming forward if Brahma were to ask if we needed anything to further enhance the beach area in front of Playa Vista for all our distinguished guests.
Saturday, November 5, 2005
The majority of overseas visitors to the Dominican Republic are undoubtedly visiting for a well earned break -spot of rest and recuperation- in the form of a traditional Caribbean vacation… though it has to be said, as the country moves on politically and economically, especially in this area close to the very sizeable and significant historical capital city of Santo Domingo there are increasing numbers of visitors arriving for a whole range of different reasons and equally variable lengths of stay.
But… here on the south coast of our island there is surprisingly very little active and therefore credible information available on the region almost in any language, let alone English, for any eager-to-learn guests as to where to visit, what to see and what to do while here. Well… apart from visiting www.DR1.com, www.dr1.com/blogs/playavista, www.PlayaVistaBocaChica.Net and personally coming to talk to us over a drink in BaseCamp & InfoCenter Playa Vista you can now download from the internet your very own reference material. The stylish material currently comes in the form of a 12-page magazine and will be updated on a regular basis by Santo Domingo resident, regular Playa Vista visitor and co-conceiver of the web site cum-magazine, Greg McMillan who featured in a previous blog (April 18th 2005) due to his contribution to a photo-manual on the history of relations between Canada and the Dominican Republic. The press launch for this new initiative was held at the Casa de Teatro – itself well worth a visit – in the very center of the scenic colonial part of the city, where all subscribers and interested parties were invited for the initiation ceremony. Gregg even had a well written speech ready in Spanish to wish the newly launched concept well on its way. Unfortunately Gregg had been plagued by one of the dreaded variants of “greepay” (see blog Aug 1st 2005) for a nagging number of days thwarting his best intentions. In spite of – or maybe because of – the viral attack to his throat and the ensuing absence of the anticipated speech at the venue Gregg instead wrote down the internet contact details for us to hand on to all our valued ‘bloggers’: www.santodomingohot.com.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
The phone rang! It was the operator from Verizon, the main phone company here, asking if we would accept a collect call from ‘Minga’. “Not really,” we said “don’t know anybody by that name”. The operator called again. “Is there a Peter there?” Well, we couldn’t hide from the fact that there was, but it didn’t change the fact that nobody at Playa Vista knew anybody called Minga so we certainly wouldn’t accept a collect charge call from anybody by such a name. Once again the phone rang, only this time it was Minga in person. “Hello,” she said, “are you Peter?” “Yes” “Do you know me?” “No.” “Well you do know my mother – Santana from Barahona (a coastal town to the west of Santo Domingo) – don’t you?” “No, I don’t think so”. “Are you German?” Again: “No”. “What color is your hair?” The whole inquisitorial affair was conducted in halting but nonetheless clearly enunciated English. “Can I ask you where you are calling from?” “From Po.. land”. To our ears the accent could easily have been Polish and to non-Polish experts like us the name ‘Minga’ certainly sounded more Polish than Dominican… notwithstanding the mother from Barahona bit of course. Anyway back to Minga, “I am looking for a German Peter who is the father of my daughter”. “Sorry to disappoint you, but wherever he might be he is definitely not here, so we can’t really help you… though we could ask around to see if there is anybody in Boca Chica that might meet your description… by all means give us your number”.
After a brief sortie around town there was some information here and there, but not very helpful… because a particular German Peter was apparently in town some years ago and, even involved with a certain Minga, but the Peter in question had left Boca Chica a long time ago, at which the track went quite cold. We tried calling the given number putting in the national code for Poland -actually 48 for those of you who might want to call Poland one day- but there was no response whatsoever. The investigative second part of our job revealed, surprise surprise, that the first three digits Minga had given us pertained to PORTLAND Maine in the US of A! A…ha! We tried the number without the 48 and got through to Minga straight away. In passing we couldn’t help wondering if people from that part of the world are commonly aware that a slightly lazy pronunciation of the name of their town could easily lead to a huge geographic misunderstanding.
We told Minga about our not very helpful findings, and she now explained that her 7-year-old daughter wanted to see her father, not unreasonable in itself we thought, although chancing on InfoCenter Playa Vista in a case like this certainly seemed to be a very indirect way of keeping in touch with direct relatives. Minga was now divorced from the father of her other child and apparently trying to catch up rapidly with the past. She was of course disappointed that we were not able to find out more, but politely thanked us for our help and invited us, anytime we wanted, to come and spend time with her and her two children. We definitely got the sensation that perhaps Minga would be prepared to give up on the past, if the future should have something rosier to offer!
Maybe we will take up her very open-ended invite next time we are in Poland… excuse us Portland!
Thursday, December 1, 2005
There is a very sweet little four-year-old girl who visits us regularly and delights in her time at the beach while here with her North American father… an old friend of ours. The following story ends in triumph, but that was very far from certain when our friend embarked on legal action concerning the child’s Dominican mother.
The story as told to us by that triumphant father goes like this:
“The child’s Mom virtually stole the child a few weeks back, taking her for a weekend and then not coming back at all. I put on my tough-guy hat and tracked her down in a poor neighborhood a few days later. My daughter had been missing school and her other activities, as the Mom had decided that she would no longer be living with me. Without big expectations and even without a lawyer – everyone always tells me I have no hope of getting legal custody because I am a single foreigner, without residency, without a wife etc etc – I took the Mom to court.
I detailed, in Spanish, everything that had happened, put forward a few witnesses and guess what: I won custody! The Mom was given visitation rights and the judge told me that if she ever broke any of them, to let her, the judge (that is), know right away. First visitation weekend, the mother broke the rules totally, and I got her right back in court again. More strict visitation conditions were imposed. All of this is a minor miracle here, but shows what can now be accomplished after all the years where it was a sure thing that a Dominican mother would get the custody no matter the circumstances … there actually is progress in courts, they are finally coming around to looking at what is best for the kids.”
For us at Playa Vista who through the years have heard it all and seen it all it is not a minor miracle… it’s a humongous miracle that gives hope for the future of the good crazy old Dominican Republic.
Well done that man!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
An inverter is something commonly found in homes and businesses in the Dominican Republic, but we had actually never even heard of such a thing before arriving in this country and rolling up our sleeves to the task of establishing Playa Vista. For the uninitiated an “inverter” is a piece of electrical equipment used in conjunction with car-type storage batteries as a source of power back up. We have mentioned in the past that although the country as a whole suffers great difficulties with its electrical supply, we are generally blessed in Boca Chica usually suffering only sporadic interruptions. However, even that necessitates a back up and we have an inverter – actually two – with quite a raft of the obligatory batteries connected up.
Our smaller 400 watt inverter, used as a back up to our computers, had for some reason or other failed and with unfortunate predictability sat in a nearby Andres workshop entirely unattended for several weeks with the usual and oft-repeated promise that it would be fixed mañana… we even misguidedly thought the down payment we made for services to be rendered would speed things along! Exasperation finally got the better of us and we transferred the inverter to a recommended repair shop in Santo Domingo. This repair man, Ricardo by name, took the task seriously and within a few days called with the good news that our unit was ready and waiting pick up. Ricardo’s workshop actually looks like a real workshop for inverters if you can imagine what that would be like. He only deals in inverters and has his own hand-made testing board with huge early-last-century-type bulbs to show the result of his handiwork when testing the unit by switching between main supply and inverter which he enthusiastically demonstrates.
A matter of very few days went by after getting our newly fixed computer-inverter back into service when our principal inverter also decided to join the non-conformity club. Swiftly, side-stepping Andres this time, we plunked the next inverter immediately on Ricardo’s worktop imploring him to give the job priority as it was of such central importance to our operations here. He duly obliged again. He immediately assessed the situation, gave us a prognosis and set to work to try and repair the circuit board where the problem was. If this were not possible, he said, it would have to be a new circuit board which would not be easy to get and naturally incur more costs. To our surprise and delight he fixed the board within 36 hours and even more importantly kept us informed by telephone all the time.
There could very well be something in the saying ‘problems always come in threes’, because problem number three obediently arrived within a few more days – admittedly during a period of storms and rare considerable irregularity of power supply – and the inverter failed to work again. Oh no… was our professional repair man not as professional as we were beginning to label him… we thought? We rushed the inverter back to his work bench and he immediately set to analysis mode. Again precise communication over his analysis – it was a damaged relay. He could fix the relay but there would be no knowing if that would last two weeks or two years so a brand new relay would really be the order of the day to achieve complete satisfaction. At the point of this conversation it was already inconveniently late on in the afternoon and he had no idea how long it would take him to find the appropriate relay. By the time our “company” car (see Sept 9th blog) arrived home from the trip, Ricardo called to say he had located the relay and it would be fitted by the following morning ready for our pick up. On this occasion mañana surprisingly meant mañana, because the next day Ricardo showed us the newly fitted relay – quite a sizeable chunk of electronics – much bigger than normal and therefore more durable he explained… but unfortunately costing more than the regular and original relay at RD$500. “So how much do we owe you all together?“ “Just the RD$500 because” he acknowledged, “I have only recently repaired the unit and should perhaps have given the entire inverter a more thorough overhaul at that time”. Now there are quite a lot of repairmen who would argue quite a different line… not just in Andres but all over the planet!
Thanks Ricardo, you have got a new steady customer in Playa Vista!
… By the way our man can be found at #42 Avenida 30 de Marzo