Playa Vista Boca Chica Beach Bar
Monday, January 5, 2004
It wasn’t at Playa Vista and not even in Boca Chica, but not so many miles removed in the Avenida Mella branch of Banco Popular in Santo Domingo that this little piece of irreverence was experienced.
We were in line waiting our turn at the tellers’ counter when a poor disheveled middle- aged woman came shuffling up to the first person in line with her hand outstretched begging for money. She was for sure in the right place for getting money but she was clearly going about it the wrong way especially as she had her back turned to the counter itself. The first guy in the line stepped back a mere half a step to avoid her advances. The woman then turned around and went back more on the regular track by approaching the nearest teller although the technique was unfamiliar because she slumped over the counter as she made her request. Apart from anything else she had of course no bank book or withdrawal slip in her hand and especially as she was crowding in on the poor customer being attended to, the teller waved her back in our direction. At this point we, in self-defense looked around to see where the nearest security guard might be. Strangely, where there are usually several parading around bristling with intimidating weapons in almost every Dominican bank, there were none in this case. At this point somebody shouted out “watchi” which is a commonly used Dominican abbreviation of watchman or more realistically (should it be surrealistically) security guard. The “watchi” was sitting in the middle of the bank on a comfortable rotating chair enjoying a couple of half spins for good measure. Clearly the intrusive woman had passed right by him, because as the cordon of security he had naturally positioned himself between the tellers and the main entrance. Having now acknowledged the watchman’s presence we naturally assumed the matter would be quickly dealt with and calm and order secured.
The persistent woman returned to the line of waiting customers, as directed, and when one customer raised his arms claiming he “didn’t have any money for her” the woman immediately responded to his defenseless raised arm gesture by not only making a lunge for his private parts but triumphantly grabbing the bills in his hand claiming “Oh yes you do!”
She moved on to the next customer begging him for money in the same way. He had learned that raising the arms was an inadequate defense and so stepped well back out of reach. Meanwhile… what on earth had happened to the security guard who was only about 20 feet away spinning his way to the rescue, wasn’t he? Nope. Spinning he still was but not to any rescue. We called over for him to do his job i.e. watch and secure things but he remained steadfast… apart from the spinning that is. The woman carried on down the line to us without the slightest intervention from our spinning watchman or any other member of the bank staff. Enough was enough… so we went right over to the watchman to insist that he do his job. It seemed he thought his job was to carry on swiveling in the chair and direct the customers as to what they should be doing, “just get back in the line and wait your turn” he said. Did he mean for money or a private grabbing? The bucket of patience had now overflowed so we thanked Banco Popular for nothing and left the building. Fifteen minutes later we were graciously received by Scotia Bank which, at least on this occasion, to our great relief, did not sport any groping beggars or spinning watchmen.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
We have had our range of helpers here at Playa Vista since we first opened the bar hatches to the public more than 3 years ago and each of them, of course, carries a story. We can even think of good customers who get so much into the swing of the atmosphere around here that they too lend a helping hand when they can. From time to time they have helped serve behind the bar, bought fruit from the local store for us, raised the fairly heavy hatches of the bar in the morning and then closed them again in the evening. We remember Carlos from Boston for example who had a few minutes to kill before he set off to the airport and so promptly grabbed the broom and swept the entire terrazza area one particularly hot, sunny and therefore sweaty morning. Wouldn’t it be sweet if we could run the whole show like that?
Unfortunately there is always the reality of exchanging labor for money in the more traditional way and we have had a row of bar helpers and playeros (guys attending to customers on the beach) on that basis too, at times presenting difficulties but generally working out to everybody’s satisfaction in the end.
Recently though, we were presented with quite a drama around a lady working in the bar.
To cut what could be a long story short she became very upset when she, totally unfounded of course, “thought” that she was being accused of theft as a result of two small errors that we discovered on a customers tab. Regrettably the lady in question would not let go of this idea and even after repeated attempts to calm her frenzy down and merely explain the simple miscalculation, she just seemed to become totally deaf to simple communication and in inverse relation even more vocally as well as physically agitated. To bring proper calm to bear we thought we would have to call the police but she saved us this task by calling them herself.
Thankfully she did calm down in the presence of the uniforms, and when the incident was explained in depth to the police they even made their try at explaining to her the simple arithmetic error. However she did not let go of her fixed idea, and not for the first time it was explained, that if she really didn’t like helping out in Playa Vista in exchange for the generous amount of money we, via very lucrative special agreements in spite of her lacking basic skills, had offered… she could of course choose to go. At this point she fastened her bag, left the premises and worked no more that day or any day since for that matter… what we take as a sign of her resignation. There are quite a few sad aspects to this story that we will not bother our jolly reader with here, but one is that the error was no more than precisely 40 pesos, approximately one US dollar… quite a “cheap” drama, wouldn’t you say?
Anyway, sunny side up… good old friends of the house are for now joining in giving a helping hand or two which, if possible, makes the atmosphere at Playa Vista even better than before!
Thursday, January 22, 2004
We know that many of you have followed the exciting (nudge nudge) ups and downs of our parasol sagas with keen interest and pleasingly we are now able to give you an even more encouraging update than the last time. It was as long ago as October that we last touched on the subject and we had left the matter on quite an upbeat; in that Budweiser were able to provide within 24 hours of agreement, 3 brand new parasols – unfortunately not 6 as promised – for covering the sunnier parts of our Terrazza. The almost immediate consequence of this action did not come in the form of 3 more parasols from Budweiser but, in true market competitive fashion, 6 from the main beer company here, namely ‘Presidente’, who seemingly were only spurred into action, in spite of promising us a minimum of 12 parasols some 2 years previously, when we raised the Budweiser flag. All well and good, for Presidente that is, but a slight technical difficulty remained: appropriate bases in which to insert said parasols were not so immediately forthcoming, in fact it has taken the currently favored beer company since then until now to find enough for us to put up 4 of their parasols that we had kept, not very market competitively, neatly and tidily wrapped up in plastic in our storeroom all this time waiting for the right bases to show up for the unveiling to take place.
So now as you walk by on the beach and look up at our bar and Terrazza you will see all 6 standing proudly announcing that we do indeed sell, probably the Americas’ finest beer. We are looking forward however to how Budweiser or Coors or Guinness, for that matter, will respond and if they will keep the parasol supply rolling on and on in spite of Presidente’s belated comeback.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
The key story of the week in our town, not to mention every other town in the country, is that of demonstrative inactivity. We began Monday with a national holiday ‘Founders Day’ – in other words the celebration of the founding father of the country Juan Pablo Duarte. We all leapt back into action come Tuesday only to have our normal pattern dampened again on Wednesday and Thursday with two further days of national inactivity celebrated by those who choose to show their dissatisfaction with the current ‘economic situation’- largely read ‘governmental situation’- and withhold their labor in what is termed a ‘general strike’. The particularly worrying aspect is that it does happen around here that some people take the matter further than stating their position and add violence to their demonstrations. In November a forerunning national strike day was called for and held, and by the time burning tires, cars and general garbage had been cleared away there was also a count of eight fatalities in Santo Domingo. Wisely, various authorities have been calling for the need to demonstrate peacefully this time around and it would seem that the calls have helped, although the latest count of only one deceased in Santiago during yesterday’s strike was also accompanied by at least 32 wounded in skirmishes in different parts of the country.
Meanwhile, here in Boca Chica and Playa Vista we have mainly run counter to the national trend and been our usual active selves. Indeed there were comments around the bar yesterday noting how much more effective one could be paying bills and changing money because of a very rare situation: not the slightest sign of people waiting in line at the bank or the electricity company… although there were other inconveniences such as the fact that the water company workers had chosen to support the strike and even our pizza maker decided he would lay down his tools and rest his dough.
We would say that the mood in our immediate vicinity was busier though calm as people seemed to have chosen to sit out the general inactivity at good old Playa Vista.
We cannot help noticing though, that news of the situation here is rippling all the way up to the cold US north, because we had an ABC news camera crew doing interviews and taking footage from our terrazza… so you should be able to hear more of our comments on the subject as well as for once experience some shots in full color of Playa Vista and 50% of the management when they finally edit their program and transmit it sometime in February.
Friday, February 6, 2004
Once upon a time about 4 years ago there was a substantially-sized, well-positioned hotel in Boca Chica, located immediately behind us at Playa Vista, owned by a businessman from Santo Domingo but seemingly without the kind of visitor traffic that such a well situated hotel merited .
From seemingly out of the blue there arrived one day an apparently personable couple of French nationals in company with their English basset hound to run the hotel. They told us on their arrival they had suddenly bailed out of running a hotel on Margarita Island because of an increasingly foreigner-hostile environment in Venezuela.
As time passed, casual observation of the entrance way to the hotel indicated that our French threesome indeed were helping to boost business and they were soon proudly stating in our frequent chats that occupancy rates were regularly above 50%.
That situation seemed to happily continue for months extending into years with the one notable exception that the exceptionally articulate-in-English French manager was increasingly less visible on the beach and around town where previously he had been seen very frequently taking the basset for walks and talking with the locals.
Then quite abruptly… early one morning a few weeks ago quite a number of lucky bargain hunters were seen leaving the hotel with base-bargain purchases of refrigerators and televisions! The lady working on reception had received a phone call from the ‘personable’ couple who now were somewhere in a distant land instructing her to sell items from the hotel rooms and send the proceeds by Western Union to them. Whether the lady on reception did or did not smell a rat at this stage quite a number of electrical appliances were allowed to walk from the hotel before the police in substantial numbers were on hand.
The son of the owner then took charge and informed us that the French threesome had certainly left without notice, leaving behind an unpaid debt to his father of five million pesos and a substantial tax bill… not to mention numerous rooms no longer furnished with TVs or refrigerators and even one without a lavatory pan.
The straight forward English-speaking and New York educated son of the owner now fully in charge of the establishment has inherited an unenviable situation, but assures us he is intent on rebuilding the damage, continuing to offer a good service to visitors to his hotel and re-establish the good relations we ourselves had at one time with the Hotel Europa until those Frenchies withdrew firstly into the background of Boca Chica and then disappeared into the sunset of another country.
If any of you out there step across the threshold of another hotel run by the infamous threesome you should be advised that the police in this country would like to talk to them about a few loose ends!
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Talking of neighbors, or more accurately stated ex-neighbors, we would like to relate a story regarding the neighbor/ex-neighbor on our east side who for quite different reasons, almost never pleasant but always entertaining, focused our attention through the years.
The bombastic and dramatic Italian arrived next door some months after we established our own position on the Boca Chica beach here at Playa Vista and immediately set about upping the commercial operations of the property in all sorts of more or less legal directions: discotheque, gaming machines, Jacuzzi and internet café not to mention his beach bar and restaurant business closely linked to his hotel up the road.
Unfortunately his commercial enthusiasm got the better of him from time to time – as for example when he tried to squeeze us for RD$100,000 simply for the privilege of being his neighbor, meaning having our buildings up to what he saw as his wall though of course for fifty years it had always been a communal wall, and the time he outrageously installed a big air and noise-polluting generator on his second floor right up to our private apartments – and the authorities had on occasion to actively participate in his supremely egoistic planning, whether invited or not, such as the time when the police felt it necessary to remove his out-door speaker system to allow people in the neighborhood to get their full quota of sleep. So exuberant was he at times that officials often had to repeat the message concerning the extreme inconvenience he was causing to others, but in the case with the speakers he seemingly got the point loud and clear although not until the second time around, for he surprisingly never attempted to replace the replacement speakers that were also removed !
One of his more inventive schemes was a giant advertising board about six feet in length with the laconic message ‘PIZZA’ which he placed jutting out at a 90 degree angle from our communal wall blocking off a considerable part of the view from our terrazza. The local council inspected, rightly deemed it totally unacceptable and ordered him to remove it. His creativity was in the anticipation of such a move and after considerable blustering he seemingly gave in but cunningly simply slid the sign back in flush with the wall on its ingenious in-built roller system. Soon after, with the official inspectors well out of sight, he tried his luck and slid the sign out again and again and again sliding the infamous sign in at night and when he scented that the inspectors were due to visit. The changing personnel at the local authority were along the way increasingly less diligent, and this cat and mouse game went on for some considerable time until last year, when an extraordinarily sudden and powerful wind threw its full weight along the beach and utterly and completely destroyed the sign snapping it off flush with the wall and breaking what remained into quite a few unrepairable pieces! What was even stranger was that the inventive man had passed on from this world almost precisely at the same time!
Shocking though this was, not least to his family and his very very few friends, the pleasing sequel to this from our perspective is that the poor fellow’s very friendly and understanding widow now has taken charge and given us a personal promise that no new sign will be repositioned while she remains in charge.
Mother nature sure works in mysterious ways… especially in Boca Chica!
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Here in Boca Chica we are fairly used to quickly changing business operations.
In one fell swoop in the autumn last year the three bar establishments Madhouse, Route 66 and Bar Austria were closed down suddenly all showing of the short and sharp official “CLAUSURADO” sign for days on end.
The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months without any clear answer as to why they weren’t selling their usual fare. The owners tended to just shrug their shoulders when they were asked if and when they would be opening again. The unconstructive shoulder shrugging obviously got the better of them because they started touch-up decorations, then moved onto structural alterations followed by major decorative refurbishment and even name change before they finally all opened up again under their new colors: for Boca Chica connoisseurs they are now known respectively as “Gibi”, “Nicolas” and “Dominican-Suiza Bar”.
Meanwhile last week saw the surprising closure of “Hexenkessel”, a very popular feeding and watering hole located in the centre of the high street. A friend of ours was staying for the week and had set upon this restaurant for his daily breakfast. Round about day four he came back to ask if by any chance there should be an alternative breakfast place, because, as he explained, just as he was asking for the Hexenkessel Menu a large truck pulled up and the workmen onboard began loading all furniture, fixtures and fittings in sight into the truck. As he saw his eggs, bacon and orange juice disappearing off with the truck and nowhere to sit he naturally left, but was just a tad curious to know what was happening with his favorite breakfast place.
He gave us a few more reports later on in the morning and indicated that business seemingly wasn’t over because a large consignment of beer was being delivered. He then later saw the large truck return and start off-loading the furniture, fixtures and fittings. He clearly relaxed his attention thinking that all would be well again for his breakfast the next morning, but… another independent report came in saying that the restaurant had been stripped entirely bare once again.
Well, the Playa Vista spies – alias the Playa Vista regulars – were ‘sent out’ into the Boca Chica environs to find out how such a well run, reasonably–priced, popular restaurant could suddenly be no longer. The days went by, but there weren’t any reliable news reports… not even any shrugged shoulders or owners waiting with paintbrushes to give a touch up to the décor. It would seem that the restaurant will not reopen, in that location under the same ownership anyway. Our most reliable source tells us that the restaurant owner was unhappy about the arrangement with the landlord and decided to up anchor and remove all his belongings after the authorities had, first off, mistakenly removed them believing them to belong to the landlord… who knows for sure?
What is for sure is that this particular disappearance is a loss to Boca Chica although we have now heard that members of the management are trying to see if they can reopen the “Hexenkessel” in another location. We wish them the best of luck!
Thursday, March 4, 2004
Hello folks… due to a sudden urgently required trip back to Europe the blog will be in recess for a couple of weeks. But no worries… we’ll be right back!
Monday, March 22, 2004
Post-visit to still winter-cold Europe, as promised, here we are right back! Europe clearly has a few things going for it but one of them is definitely not freedom from urban terrorism. After passing through Madrid and London you would have to be deaf, blind and stupid not to be aware of the problem lurking ever ominously. Talking of political disputes it is natural in Europe to assume that a problem in a neighboring country is also your problem and hence quite a number of people their asked what the affect of the political upheaval in Haiti was on our Dominican half of the island… Pleasingly the answer to all was and still is “Nothing whatsoever”.
A brief scan around Boca Chica on return reveals for example that the high street is still missing the Hexenkessel, but the three recently renamed bars are in full flow in the middle of a still bustling high-season Boca Chica and of course Playa Vista has soldiered on through the absence with the help of its many friends. Our thanks to them and let it be known that it is good to be back!
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
At this time of the year the day-time temperature is beginning to warm up a little as the sun gets higher in the sky and we move towards the “summer” months. We have noticed the usual end-of-March slackening off in visitor activity on the Boca Chica beach although Easter, known here as Semana Santa, will be on us next week and this usually brings hordes to the beach especially from Santo Domingo. The numbers are so great that the authorities provide temporary parking lots on the edge of town where it is obligatory to leave your car and walk the 10 minutes or so down to the beach because unless you are resident or have a special pass entry by car is not permitted. Not only that but also the beach will be closed at six o’clock promptly every day and anybody still in the water at this time will literally be dragged out onto dry land and sent home packing to prevent people having too good a time.
We will do our very best to make sure we are fully stocked for the occasion, although we don’t like to over count our chickens especially as we have had difficulties from time to time in getting the requisite supplies even from Coca-Cola and President beer and we are not, for a change, talking about umbrellas.
Taking up two recently mentioned themes: a member of the Red Cross team working in beleaguered Haiti was visiting the bar this week and confirmed that although there was very little affect on the Dominican Republic of the troubles next door, the authorities here are aware that if ignored there could be a spill over so they have increased the military presence down towards the Haitian border. Apparently there are numerous check points after passing the border but once through Barahona the road returns to normal.
Talking of a return to normal… there is a rumor that the Hexenkessel will be returning to its previous location in Boca Chica main street exactly as it was, with the reopening planned for May 1st!
Happy Semana Santa!
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Dogs are great… they are after all man’s best friend! Unfortunately at the same time it has to be recognized they, just like their human friends, can be noisy, dirty and even malicious. In many countries dogs are kept as household pets, because the friendship offered clearly outweighs any of those negatives. Many Boca Chica residents have their pets too, but for those of you who live here or who have visited, you will know there are at times hordes of the non-domestic type in town also. It is difficult to know where they come from… almost like asking whence came original man. Anyway they roam freely around, scavenge for food often easily obtained from sympathetic visitors or restaurants, sleep an unbelievable amount of time in the comfortable shade under sun-beds or parasols and generally hang out untroubled by anyone or anything. We have rarely seen any maliciousness from them, in fact their somnolent, humble subservience allows them to live largely in harmony with their human neighbors. A medium-sized black and white mongrel going by the name of “Bandida” had for several years adopted one of our good customers as patron. It was astonishing to see her loyally turn up day after day in October last year in search of her patron completely oblivious of the fact that he had flown up to Canada for the summer. Since his return Bandida and her patron have whiled away the winter quite happily until last week when the local health authorities decided that something should be done about the number of those free-wheeling stray dogs. The action must have been carried out swiftly, without fuss and even under the cover of darkness because we have yet to hear a single report as to how almost the entire feral dog population disappeared from one day to the next.
It has had a direct affect on us at Playa Vista: our sleeping time is far less interrupted by what had become increasingly noisier night-time bark-ins. However – Bandida’s patron is visibly unnerved by the loss as is Bandida’s summer stand-in patron… because of course she was playing the field!
Saturday, April 17, 2004
For better or for worse an atypical quiet period has fallen over the Dominican Republic. For those of you who are DR ‘watchers’ you will know that there is an important general election coming along in a month’s time and, in spite of the tremendous fanfare of public rallies and noisy street cavalcades put on by the main political parties, all the public sector offices strangely seem to take it as given that everything should be put on hold or seriously decelerated at the very least. Even stranger that once a new government is elected then there is a further three month hand-over transition period of even less activity before the wheels start rolling again.
For those of you who are DR-economic watchers you will note that a certain quiet has spread to the peso exchange rate too: consistently in the range of 42 to 44 pesos to the US dollar for quite some weeks now – a stability that is very welcome although it remains to be seen if there is a direct link between this and the pending election itself!
Quietness currently also extends to us in Boca Chica as the Easter break is over and people feel a far less urgent need to escape from the cold north. This week we have even noted a number of our regular long-term Playa Vista visitors packing up their belongings before making the return trek to ‘summer it out’ back in those northern latitudes.
So, pop by for a quiet drink… and stir things up a bit!
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
The fragility of the body is unfortunately a fact we all have to live with and an unavoidable part of life… even here in paradise. Clearly the warm air and hot sunshine are helpful to most forms of good living and we savor that greatly as we bask in sunshine close to 365 days a year. However, two stalwart residents of Boca Chica and regularly convivial visitors at our bar are this week battling against nature’s harsh hand. ‘R’ and ‘Captain F’ are the two Boca Chica veterans who many of you will know if you have ever visited the bar in the late afternoon to early evening. ‘R’ is winging his way back to the US of A for a triple by-pass operation and is optimistic that in 4 weeks or so he will be skipping around Boca Chica again. Meanwhile ‘Captain F’, known too as ‘Capitan F’ as he lives on a boat in Andres-Boca Chica harbour, has suffered a hospitalizing stroke. Good friends are trying their best to accommodate him and make way for his return to US territory in San Juan where he would be able to get the very best treatment in the veteran’s hospital.
We naturally wish them both a very speedy recovery!
Friday, April 30, 2004
As you may or may not know the municipality of Boca Chica consists of the town of Boca Chica and the associated and contiguous district of San Andrés, nearly always abbreviated to just ‘Andrés’. To make an easy distinction between the two, one could describe Andrés as the area centered on the sugar refinery with its distinctive red and white chimney about a half mile to the east of main town Boca Chica where most of the tourist traffic is. However, both look across to the Caucedo peninsula a little further to the east where there has been a considerable amount of development activity in the last few years.
From the vantage point of the Playa Vista terraza we have been witness to what portends to be a considerable shot in the arm to the local economy principally from the newly constructed ‘mega port’ which although inaugurated last week with a terrific firework display and presidential blessing, has been receiving ships for the past five months.
The only evidence of man’s engineering over in that direction used to be the arrival and departure of airplanes as they headed to and from the runway of Santo Domingo’s principal international airport located in the middle of the peninsula and by the way no more than a convenient 10 minutes by taxi from our own central location. Over the last three years the skyline has changed quite dramatically but it is at night that the developments are particularly notable, as they are all accompanied by quite spectacular lighting arrangements– the kind of unfailing electric show that would be the envy of quite a number of parts of the country that are often subject to complete and extended blackouts.
Conveniently we overlook the scenery directly from the west and can see the sun sink behind the peninsula… sometimes with its own inimitable display at the same time as the electrical illuminations are set in motion starting at the tip of the peninsula where there is a jetty for the large gleaming white storage tank located immediately alongside. As we scan inland the next major lit-up structure is that of the 300 megawatt electricity generating station which was stated to have been funded by the World Bank to provide economic power to both this country and supply down on to Haiti, although we have yet to hear of a follow up report on whether any energy eventually reaches our beleaguered neighbor. Then begins the mega port itself with a row of five up-to-the-minute technology giant cranes shipped in from China for loading and unloading of container ships tied up at the 600 meter wharf. All in all quite a light-show. Our bar has, over the last couple of years in particular, been visited by a range of seamen, workers, technicians, experts and managers associated with the various construction projects from various countries and we have it on good authority that the mega port development has been rigorously managed and controlled and kept on time and within the tolerances laid down. The port has potential for roll-on-roll-off ships as well as cruise liners, which a lot of people around here hope will also soon choose to dock in Boca Chica with their, for the Boca Chica area in general, equally valuable cargoes.
The night scene will, by the way, be so much more viewable from May 1st because the Playa Vista bar will no longer be throwing customers out just after sunset, but will stay open for the full spectacular entertainment until 10 pm or thereabouts – we just had to satisfy the increasingly vociferous demand to enjoy a nightcap and the million dollar view from the Playa Vista Terraza!
Saturday, May 8, 2004
We have from time to time described the animal life around us here at Playa Vista and we offer a little update. In spite of the major cull on the stray dogs in Boca Chica you will still notice a few parading around town in their own seemingly carefree way. Are they just the tough survivors of the early-April purge or do they come from that same, whereabouts unknown, stockpile of dogs from whence came original dog? Unfortunately, but seemingly quite naturally, some of them have unerringly already learned or relearned the irritating habit of barking raucously at the same time as their predecessors – that is when all civilized residents and visitors are fast asleep.
Our pair of green woodpeckers referred to in the story of Sept 9th last year is still sticking close to the one-way glass although the nature of their antics has changed. It was, you may remember, the female of the pair that initiated the whole mirror-charade whereas the male, with obvious reluctance, finally began to join in. It would seem that the male in particular has gone through a period of serious woodpecker self-analysis over the months, because he has moved on from merely tolerating his partners whims to taking up a seriously aggressive stance against what he clearly sees now only as a threatening invader to his territory. The hefty blows of his specialized beak directly on the glass can be heard resonating now in the early mornings, often at the very break of dawn, and it became so repetitive and drawn out it was obvious he had taken it upon himself to completely remove this irksome adversary – every single morning. How else could a full-powered beak repeatedly launched directly at an image in this way be interpreted! Months of persistence have unfortunately not paid off for the poor bird because his irritating antagonist continues to pop up unfailingly at exactly the same time as him on every single occasion. He has lessened his attacks in recent days which we take as a sign of mild compromise or possibly simple exhaustion, not that he has given up by any means, and we have noticed the female begin to sneak in again in the late afternoon for a check up on her undoubtedly attractive attire. However, there is an odd development: the habit seems to have passed on to a sparrow that last week began every single morning with an onslaught on the one-way glass doors on the second floor.
Let’s see how persistent that little wannabe pecker is compared with pro old-timer ‘Woody’!
Friday, May 14, 2004
You would have to be living up a very tall isolated palm tree here in the Dominican Republic not to be aware of a certain election taking place on Sunday.
The scene is that there are three main contesting political parties: the PRD (white) led by incumbent president Hipólito Mejía, the PLD (purple) led by ex-president Leonel Fernández and the PRSC (red) led by Eduardo Estrella.
We live in an avowedly democratic country although, by way of introducing historical background, it has to be remembered that there are many of the electorate who can still remember the old dictatorial days of the Trujillo regime prior to 1961.
Some years ago when we first arrived in this country, we remember people proudly pronouncing their hope for the future because of a newly elected young president by the name of Leonel Fernández who was clearly seen to be a complete break with the past. The election that had just taken place was their first, everybody said, without major violence – HURRAH!
In 2000 the constitution forbade Leonel running for a second consecutive term as president and the purple party lost, with a new man at the helm, to Hipólito Mejía’s white party who gained a clear victory over the other two parties so close to the required 50% + 1 vote, that the other parties admirably declined to subject the country to extended election posturing and bureaucratic torpor through a second round of voting – and further proof of Dominican democratic progress in that it was the second election without any major associated violence!
Elections here take center stage… television channels are inundated with all kind of political commentary, and party advertising is commonplace for many months well before election day. However, it is extremely noisy motorized street processions with the various party colors being waved in the form of flags and banners – often culminating in mass open-air rallies – which is the most visible way in which the parties gather support around themselves.
As residents but not citizens in this country we are permitted full rights except that of voting, and by this token we offer a few brief observations from the standpoint of non-partisanship.
The first is to say there is a great contrast between the 2000 election and that of this year. This time around there is palpable anxiety whereas in 2000 it seemed to be a simple relatively dispassionate run off as to who would govern the country for the next four years, as no particular group of people seemed to be any worse off and most to some extent or other better off than four years previous. A very quick check on some of the more notable fundaments at this juncture however reveals that in the last four years the peso has lost well over half its value against the dollar which has caused economic upheaval for all… especially the poorest. The country now clearly owes more money abroad than it ever did before and has been having difficulty rearranging its borrowings with the International Monetary Fund for some time now and… eye-grabbingly a president in office could not run for a second term according to the constitution back in 2000! We will steer clear of any comparisons on the emotive but regrettably not unimportant murky subject of corruption, which is claimed by many to play a lamentably large role in Dominican politics, and just keep to the facts.
We conducted a mini-Playa Vista Boca Chica straw poll casually between the hours of darkness last night and lunchtime today on ten people between the ages of 20 and 55, divided equally between male and female and spread across the socio-economic range – admittedly the margin for error statistically probably has no limits – nevertheless.. to our surprise ALL ten said they would vote for Leonel Fernández! Some added that if Leonel did not gain 50% +1 first time around then claims of electoral fraud would have to be made.
Our chief desire and hope is a peaceful outcome of the ongoing round and a clear and worthy winner at the first attempt so that we will be able to again say – HURRAH!
Saturday, May 22, 2004
HURRAH… was indeed the word on Monday last. The streets were full of purple flag-waving supporters of the new president-elect: Leonel Fernández. According to the official figures he easily passed the required 50% achieving a convincing 57.11% of the national vote and carrying a full 26 of the nation’s 29 provinces. Here in municipality number 226 of Boca Chica he also carried the day obtaining a close to national average of 53.56%.
Monday was announced as a public holiday and the people celebrated with equal verve, their relief that the uncertainties were all over and their hopeful expectations for the future. Unfortunately violence, though limited but always looming potentially ruinously, did rear its head in full down in Barahona where a total of 6 people ended up losing their lives for alleged politically motivated reasons. Happily in the rest of the country incidents were reported to be few and far between and none of any note whatsoever in Boca Chica where the jubilation flowed through the streets nearly all day long. People who had seemingly kept their colors hidden took them out of the closet in the upsurge of joy, while those who had supported the white party ditched their old white flags and surprisingly seemed to fully embrace the change to come.
We had the pleasure of visiting an important government institution in Santo Domingo the following day and observed that the atmosphere in general in the city was very upbeat although those employed in the institution itself are phlegmatically resigned to the fact they will have to seek new employment because a change of government in this country means a clearance of nearly all public employees too.
Speaking of presidential change, this week sees the change of the label on the bottle of the exceedingly popular and indisputably good Presidente beer. Cerveceria Nacional Dominicana, the makers of the beer, claim the new label to be fresher, more modern and more stylized which appears to be a fair claim. Not a bad formula for our new president to follow when he is finally, according to the Dominican constitution, sworn in three months from now. He is reportedly by now busy with his plans for a new four year period within which the popular slogan from the election-campaign: ‘Vuelve el Progreso’ (Return to Progress) hopefully will come true sooner rather than later… and we wish him all the best!
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Saved by mother nature’s own drainage system!
- the story from Boca Chica this week.
As you must have noticed the Dominican Republic was in the world’s news headlines again this week and regrettably for the very worst reasons. A tropical depression dumped the kind of water on our island that a Hollywood movie director might have imagined recreating in the shooting of ‘Noah and the Ark’.
The island of Hispaniola is sizeable enough to have quite a diversity of climate: the north typically gets more rain than the south. Here in Boca Chica on the south-coast May has the reputation of being a rainy month, but we know in recent years that it has barely lived up to that tag. This year however, it has rained, even if for just brief intervals most days of the month, but with little undue interruption to operations here… until last weekend that is.
It started raining on Saturday evening and it was still raining on the Sunday evening. In between it was either raining steadily or with a vengeance. The entire country was deluged and in the greater Santo Domingo area 53 cm (about 20 inches) – approximately one third of the annual rainfall – fell in those 24 hours with the devastating effect on the muddy slopes in Jimani and the surrounding area being relayed on TV screens around the world.
We are pleased to report that the damage in Boca Chica was minimal in spite of this downpour thanks entirely to the fact that there are no overland rivers running anywhere near here. The local terrain is pitted with underground caves, underground lakes and underground rivers, which very conveniently carry the water effortlessly and harmlessly down to the sea for us. Within a day everything was largely dried out, the minimal damage repaired and the severe downpour already seems like a distant memory here in our little corner of paradise.
Friday, June 4, 2004
We have certainly moved into high summer in Boca Chica. Bright blue sunny skies are now the order of every day. Just perfect and the ideal time to welcome Boca Chica’s 2nd International Festival of Motorcycles sponsored by Secretaría de Turismo (Ministry of Tourism) and the local Asociación de Comerciantes (Business Association), among others. The Festival welcomes riders and motorcycles from anywhere in the world to parade in and around our town this weekend, and we have already been treated to a cacophony of sound this morning as a large section of the bikers drove along the main street on a range of extremely large and colorful motorbikes including Harley’s, Honda’s and Kawasaki’s. The roar of the bikes was deafening and was accompanied by the wailing of numerous police sirens in escort and the seemingly unavoidable triggering of car alarms caused by the vibrations from the powerfully roaring bikes… quite a spectacle.
This year there are upwards of 150 bikes present with participation from Puerto Rico, Europe and the USA in addition to Dominican enthusiasts.
On Friday they will pass again through Boca Chica in procession to Bayahibe. On Saturday they will be on exhibit from the morning at Boca Chica beach where a number of competitions will be held for participants throughout the day followed by a concert at 4.30 pm and then a prize-awarding ceremony after that.
So if you are into roadsters and you don’t want to wait another year for the 3rd International Festival of Motorcycles, Boca Chica is the place to be this weekend!
Sunday, June 13, 2004
We would like to bring you a short update on Boca Chica’s Playa Vista this week. For those of you who have visited us regularly, occasionally or even just once you will know that we do try to maintain an all round decent standard, whether concerning the service or the facilities. You may also appreciate that at times it can be quite an uphill struggle, as we are battling with a fair range of natural elements, especially the constant salty sea breeze – good for beach-guests but not so good for the maintenance bill – and the occasional buffeting of the wind, not to mention the ever present natural inertia in getting things done in a country where getting things done in a snappy is certainly not the catchphrase followed. As if that wasn’t enough there is of course always the impossible notion of trying to please all our international as well as local visitors all of the time.
Nevertheless… we naturally try to attend to what needs to be done with a verve and a vim and if it doesn’t get done today then there is always the local useful fallback of mañana.
In recent months we have been attending to a general sprucing up of the external décor of Playa Vista and fixing the ravages of the sea corrosion particularly on metallic parts. This amounted, apart from general painting and maintenance, to the need for a completely new Sony stereo system not so long ago as the corrosion had entirely eaten the insides of our not so old Aiwa system away.
Now that the basic maintenance has been completed we are even making plans for a modest upgrade. Yesterday we got off to a flier. We completely thwarted the traditional local inertia in an almost completely frictionless move setting off for, inspecting, ordering, receiving and paying for some brand spanking new bar furniture… all accomplished in a matter of a few short hours.
We shall now embark on the next part of the project which is to improve the televisual aspects of the bar with a real big screen… a move that in it’s own good time just might please all the people all the time even if realism requires that we might ask the impatient customers to wait for a certain mañana!
Thursday, June 17, 2004
We will be delving a little into a very different but equally exciting world this week with a view to maintaining and even perhaps enhancing the positive ambience that we try our best to cultivate and a story that goes to show that we at all times really have the welfare of our guests in mind…really:
“The news came rushing in so hot that it is no longer clear who or what was the original source of the news. It landed smack bang in the middle of a bustling bar on a very sunny afternoon – one of the good long term customers at the bar had won the incredible sum of £235,000 (well over US$400,000 in real money) on a football pool! The effect was truly fantastic. The customer was astounded… it was almost as if he didn’t even known that he had made a bet in the first place and we have no knowing what those seated around him thought, though we were fairly sure it must have passed through everybody’s minds that they were in for a free pizza and drink at the very least. Incredibly even before the excitement of this news had rippled fully around the bar it was announced on television that yet another Playa Vista customer had hit the jackpot in the lottery. He was guaranteed at least $100,000 but excitingly it would probably be far more than that when the final calculations were done. The name of this customer was never mentioned as he was new to the bar, unknown to us all, but by brief description should you come across him he was of medium build, about 55 years old, had very silver spiky hair and an attractive Caribbean tan. The spiky-haired new-comer too was astounded, but did at least seem to be aware of having bought tickets for the lottery that he now had won..
The instantaneous reaction to this extraordinary downpour of money showering on Playa Vista guests was that it would make a very good piece for the blog”… and I was still of that opinion even after I woke up!
Monday, June 28, 2004
It is alluded that there are different ways of getting a driving license in this country, but this week we discovered that the “correct” way requires you to make repeated visits and engage in repeated waiting in different lines at the principal driving test center found on Avenida Tiradentes at the offices of Dirección General de Tránsito Terrestre (Ministry of Road Traffic) in Santo Domingo.
We ventured out of Boca Chica and off to the capital on Wednesday to help a good friend of Playa Vista get through the Dominican driving license process. We have to be honest and say that he had already been considerably helped along the way by other friends by the time we got involved, but he had hit a small language barrier in the form of the examination on the Highway Code which is presented solely in Spanish. We arrived at about 10 am with a view to immediately taking the 45 minute test but were told that the system, a system that our friend had used on two previous occasions, had changed, and that we should have been present in line at 8 am in order to get one of the 250 allotted numbers. So… we returned on the Friday morning and took our place near the front of the line, #21 to be precise. We then proceeded to the next line which did not move for at least an hour and a half. Finally #21 was called and we leapt towards the door only to be told that a special permission would be needed for the accompanying translator because… the system had changed! One of our German speaking regulars had previously tried to help our friend out with the translation, but the technicality of the questions, and the fact that he was trying to help an English speaking guy – in other words two languages removed from his own native language – had already resulted in two failed exams. Nevertheless… another 20 minute wait and with the sub-director of the institution’s signature on the newly acquired special permit for the translator we were now really on our way.
The test was taken and, thankfully, passed… and then we waited some more in our final line of the day for the permit to be handed out.
In this three hour sojourn in the driving test center we learned quite a bit about this very evidently out-of-synch official driving license process. Firstly you have to line up to pay the tax – at a branch of the national bank Banco Reservas located inside the building – in a line that at the time looked like the most formidable of all the lines. Our friend had, by the way, already astutely worked out that, as a tempting alternative, one could actually bypass this line by paying the tax at ones own convenience at any Banco Reservas branch before arriving at the driving test centre. Next you line up for the eye test and when that is over you have to line up one more time to give a blood sample to determine your blood type!
After that you can pass to the line we were in that day for the Highway Code test. Our friend was under the impression that all was finished, after this his fifth visit, so he was naturally disappointed to learn that he would have to return after 45 days in order to have his actual driving approved and undergo an hour and a half lecture thrown in for good measure even though he is a fully validated Massachusetts driving license holder… now how about that!.
We were told though, by somebody in the Ministry that you can get a letter from your consulate verifying your own country’s license which helps to shorten or even eliminate the line-waiting torture. Having learned this, our American friend need not have been crestfallen about all this unnecessary effort he might have taken, because we were also told, by the same source, that the USA embassy is the only one in this country who is not prepared to offer such helpful letters of verification.
Friday, July 2, 2004
Electricity is a word not far from the lips of anybody these days in this country because of a supply shortage. For those of you born in the economically developed world in the last 50 years it would be difficult perhaps to imagine how this could be.
We in the center of Boca Chica have been blessed over the last 3 years with a rarely faltering supply bearing on the miraculous, but the stories round the bar, in the newspapers and on the television make us realize that our little part of paradise is verging on an oasis.
One of the long-time acquaintances of Playa Vista came with the sad story that the situation where he lives in Santo Domingo was so bad that he went out and bought an inverter with two large batteries as a stand-by source, but the power cuts have been so severe where he lives that it is often the case that he can’t even recharge his inverter. We spoke to another who told us he had 3 hours of supply in 3 days. Believing this to be the worst case scenario I related the story to another capitaleño (a person from Santo Domingo), who in true Monty Python parody fashion claimed: “he’s lucky”!
The outgoing government, the incoming government, the electricity generating companies, the fuel suppliers and even the International Monetary Fund are in daily heated discussions (no air-conditioning you see) about the power-crisis. It is bad enough to identify that the problem is that somebody is owed money, but what is worse is that there is absolutely no agreement as to who precisely is owed the money and certainly not how much. The new president Leonel Fernández has stated that it is one of his chief priorities to sort this problem out and we surely hope for everybody’s benefit that it will be done sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile if your beer runs warm or you are fed up with candle light then for now feel free to join us at Playa Vista where so far we have been spared not all but most of the trauma.
Sunday, July 11, 2004
With reference to garbage-free streets our thoughts strayed off to the famous spotlessly clean streets of Switzerland and Singapore when the local council’s magistrate stated that here in Boca Chica too it is strictly against the law to throw garbage into public thoroughfares. We were very pleased, indeed relieved, to hear this at a meeting held this week in the principal office of the local Boca Chica council.
With this pronouncement as the starting point we felt very hopeful that a garbage disposal problem in our vicinity that has been gnawing at us for all too long could be resolved fairly soon. The problem is a simple one: irresponsibility. Incomprehensibly it is not even the usual adage of “not in my back yard” that applies, for there are four businesses in our immediate vicinity who have been consistently throwing all kinds of garbage into our common street area precisely in their and our own back yard. We are pleased though to be able to report that general garbage collection improved markedly with the introduction of an almost unfailing daily pick up when the council distributed a set of garbage disposal rules as far back as early 2001. However this has merely served to make our very local problem even more pronounced.
After numerous approaches and complaints one of the local council officers took it upon himself to circulate a letter of invitation to the meeting… at least we presume it started out as a circular although we never saw any other copy than that received by our friend in another affected neighboring business, Restaurant Verde Luna. We pounced upon this long-awaited opportunity and breathed new life into the circular by copying it and handing it on. At the appointed hour on Tuesday morning there were four representatives of the affected area, notably all only because of our circular-regenerating effort, and predictably none of the alleged street trashers were present.
Fortunately for us the council officers and the magistrate took the matter, having photographic evidence placed in their hands, seriously and called for representatives from the four alleged street despoilers. Three of the four were found and the magistrate spelt the situation out very clearly: that what they were doing is against the law and that if anybody is seen doing the like again it should be reported directly to him for it is he who has the authority to send the police and apply sanctions. There was talk of fines being applied, also of more punctual garbage collection and even of a public sign being erected for information purposes, but more importantly the meeting broke up in positive mood with more than one of the former miscreants acknowledging how good it would be for even for their own business if the back yard were to be kept just as clean as the front yard.
We were left to ponder just two things: how would a Swiss or Singaporean local council have handled the three year ebb and flow of street garbage and what actually happened to the original circular of meeting invitation?
Monday, July 19, 2004
Here at Playa Vista we try to welcome all our visitors with a pleasant disposition and a smile, and those of you who read our missives regularly will know that even extends to our visitors of the feathered variety (see the archived blogs May 8th or September 9th last year).
So… this week it is with mixed feelings that we report on the complete absence of the normal daily visits of our eccentric mirror battling woodpecker. Mixed because we have become so used to having him around almost like a member of the family, but on the other hand our sleep is no longer punctuated at the crack of dawn because of his frantic and resonant attacks on the kitchen window and window frame. We are left merely to conjecture on the reason for his sudden non-showing in exactly the same way as we sometimes wonder whatever happened to “so and so” who might have become a regular bar visitor and then suddenly disappears into thin air. Our immediate reaction is to fear for our Woody’s well-being, something tragic perhaps has befallen him. Or is it just a casual matter, as with so many of our visitors, he simply packed his bags and flew on. However, our best theory is that he has finally, and quite smartly, thrown in the white towel and given up after trying to out-peck, nay fiercely destroy, his reflective adversary and constant threat to his territory for so long. We think he took the sensible course and finally decided that the stubborn challenger was just too tough!
However we do take this opportunity to make a pleasing report on behalf of Woody’s many cousins. The welcome news is that the trend with regard to bird life at least in our immediate vicinity is very definitely on the up. Waking early in the morning – not any longer because of errant old Woody though – one can now hear quite a cacophony of bird sound which certainly was not the case just a few years ago. This is confirmed by one of our most regular of regulars who, ironically with his one good eye, has been carefully observing all the changes for many years in Boca Chica and he too is surprised at how much the bird population has expanded because some years ago he says the locals used to chase them all away with sling shots.
The familiar sparrow is as common here as in other parts of the world (although the wannabe woodpecker sparrow appearing in the May 8th blog has also given up whatever was his quest in pecking the upstairs windows), frigate birds elegantly glide in the air currents on high, weaver birds flit through on a regular basis and even nested last year next to our washing line. You might see an occasional pelican diving for fish in the lagoon and we have had reports of humming bird sightings. In addition there are numerous types unfamiliar to our European eyes, all adding to the tremendous dawn chorus and this summer, for the first time, we notice a very sizeable flock of martins diving and climbing above the Playa Vista terrazza at supper time to be followed almost in the blink of an eye by bats circling in exactly the same territory under and alongside the trees searching for their daily intake of insects. The only thing missing in the picture is our good old friend Woody! But, who knows… like most of those other flyaway visitors of ours, he might just turn up again some fine day along the way!
Thursday, July 29, 2004
A good and trusted friend of Playa Vista came to us with a very discomforting personal story recently. For a living he teaches in an inner city New York high school, by all accounts not the easiest job in the world and clearly a man deserving of his summer vacation in the warmth free from all the stress and strain of responsibility that he usually bears. Well… he is such a good and trustable friend that another New Yorker, but Boca Chica resident, asked if he would look after his dog for a couple of weeks while he sorted a few personal matters out in the Big Apple. No problem said the trusted friend in a telephone conversation before he arrived. The day after his arrival and his supposed holiday began he was thus in charge of a young and extremely healthy male dog in his hotel. Unfortunately, not long passed before said dog got entangled in a very serious encounter with two other long-term resident dogs ostensibly due to his desire to satisfy a natural instinct with the female and the other male being somewhat reluctant to allow this kind of hanky panky in his territory. Anyway… the virile dog was held fore and aft by the two other dogs and our valiant teacher friend called for water – thinking that a nice big bucket of the cold type might quell their dispute. Unfortunately the hotel maid came running with merely a cup, but full nonetheless, that had zero effect on the snarling dogs even when she offered to refill it. By this time the dogs were getting into a serious frenzy and our vacationing teacher now had to prove his valor and came rushing with a large broom. He succeeded by finally separating all the dogs after a considerable struggle only to find that his charge was quite badly mauled down one leg. With blood dripping from the wound he then arranged and paid for a vet to visit and apply the necessary treatment including administering antibiotics.
This in itself was a very sensitive point because our teacher knew only too well the sad story of what happened to wounded lover boy’s doggie predecessor to whom the owner was very attached. On one ordinary Boca Chica day a vet visited and injected the dog merely as a precaution against an illness picked up by one of the other resident dogs… and within 48 hours the poor dog very sadly died of a seizure.
Nevertheless… under the supervision of our good teacher the battered dog spent a couple of days recovering under the bed, but having got through several responsibility hurdles our teacher friend was now very apprehensive about letting the dog out of his sight let alone out of the his hotel room. Meanwhile he had to feed, walk and clean the dog as usual. Our baby-sitting teacher was really on the job and was last explaining his concern to us that he still hadn’t had the owner confirm his return as planned after 2 weeks which would leave our teacher a full week to finally get down to some more traditional Boca Chica relaxation after his hard day’s night working like a dog!
Friday, August 6, 2004
The island of Hispaniola, on which we live, is about three times bigger than the state of Massachusetts, and we on the Dominican Republic side share it with Haiti… another independent republic. Roughly one third of the land mass is Haitian and two thirds Dominican. Squeezing the recent historical story of the island into a single sentence it can be said that the two countries finally went their own ways in 1844 when the Spanish-speaking Dominican side fought for and gained independence from their Haitian neighbors, who incidentally had gained their own independence from France a little further back in 1804.
In Haiti they use two languages namely French and Creole. Although far more widely spoken Creole was only finally made official as recently as 1987. We hear quite a lot of it in and around Boca Chica because there are many who come to settle here from the extremely impoverished Haitian side to improve their lot on this “better” side of the border.
On our side the official language is exclusively Spanish and although it differs from the land of Don Quixote, it is arguable that in general no more than the difference between British and American English.
So Spanish it exclusively is – apart from recent small incoming gatherings such as our own little Playa Vista enclave with our own strange, dare we say entertaining, mix of international English accents – or so we thought, until we talked to a bar guest from San Pedro de Macorís the other day. San Pedro is a sizeable city in itself half an hour to the east of Boca Chica and famed for its quality baseball players notably the super Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. Our visitor told us of a genuine English speaking enclave in that city. He told us of the Cocolo Community where descendants of sugar plantation laborers brought in from the British Antilles still speak English. Apparently from the turn of the 20th century and even as recently as the 1940s people were brought in from St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, and other English-speaking Caribbean islands. It is said that the Spanish language is making steady inroads in the USA – well, with the growing Playa Vista enclave, the Cocolo Community and the new President Fernández’s plans for more English teaching in the schools to keep up with the internet explosion, we are quite sure that the reverse is the case here in the Latin DomRep!
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Last time around we referred to some of the events behind the Dominican Republic’s independence. In order to fill out the history plot a little more we have to point out that the first hiccup to the country’s independence arrived in 1861 when Spain, clearly not being able to break with an old habit, decided on re-annexing the country. Power swayed to and fro between the Spanish rulers and the supporters of independence for four years before full independence was restored and it is the anniversary of this restoration which is celebrated each year on August 16th as ‘Restoration Day’. It is a national celebration and a national holiday usually bringing a great number of people out on to the streets even in the form of carnivals. This year’s ‘Restoration Day’ on Monday will be a particularly auspicious day, for it is also the day when Leonel Fernández begins his four year term of office as the new president carrying many hopes for a return to the steady progress that we witnessed up until 2000 in his previous term.
After a very brief flirt with the outermost effects of hurricane Charley earlier in the week the weather is currently at its very best with almost constant sunshine and light winds drifting along the beach every day. A festive hopeful mood of renewal is in the air and we expect there to be a very big crowd at Playa Vista celebrating in happy good-humored fashion on our “double whammy” Restoration Day!
Sunday, August 22, 2004
The Playa Vista Bar, we presume among others in the country, is awash with upbeat news this weekend. Visitors from our big city neighbor, Santo Domingo, are making it clear that just one week into the new administration of Leonel Fernández the recent bane of their lives, that of failing electricity supply, has drastically changed. Even in Boca Chica we have noticed an improvement. Over the last few years we Boca Chicans have for several reasons generally been in a good position, but even we had begun to notice an increase in power cuts through the last few weeks of the previous administration… so much so that people were beginning to prepare for the worst and buy more batteries for their inverters or even small generators to tide them through the increasing frequency of power outs. One wry old regular at the bar is now complaining that he hasn’t been able to test his newly acquired inverter because we haven’t had a power cut of longer than five minutes or so since the day he installed it earlier this week!
This morning we can look over to the Caleta peninsula and see a Trinidadian tanker tied up alongside offloading its cargo of fuel for the first time in an unknown number of months thereby guaranteeing a further injection of generating capacity to the national grid.
We have seen the peso strengthen against the dollar all through the week. In the exchange bureaus in Boca Chica the rate began last week above 40 pesos to the dollar and currently stands at 37 boding well for keeping a lid on consumer prices.
Apart from the speculation of what President Fernández may have in store, it was seen very positively by our bar commentators that he has already taken active measures to reduce the number of public paid employees including quite a few generals and by all accounts a load of central bank staff thereby helping to ease part of the state’s excessive expenditure.
As the debate came near to an end a second wry regular asked, “If the new guy can make such a big change in such a short space of time what on earth was his predecessor doing?”
A genuine answer to this would throw the debate wide open again but meanwhile most of us are happy to see the new administration well out of the starting blocks.
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
If you haven’t visited Boca Chica you might not know that we probably have the world’s finest natural swimming pool right in our own backyard. If you have visited our reef-protected lagoon pool, then you will surely have noticed a couple of small green islands to the west towards the Andrés end of the Boca Chica bay. If by any chance you should be motivated to venture into checking out the two deserted islands the lagoon itself is shallow enough at almost all points to allow you to wade out to the islands, or you can take the even more leisurely route and hire one of the small pedal boats and without much effort reach the nearer of the two islands in a few minutes minutes.
As both islands are covered in lush green vegetation it is certainly not apparent from the shore that the origin and composition of the islands are quite different.
La Matica, the smaller of the two, is the first that you come to from the Boca Chica side. It is about 200 yards in length and was used as a zoo park for a number of years. The 1950s was a turning point for La Matica, because a hurricane swept the zoo park away never to be re-established, and in the same decade dredging of the existing underwater channel into the Boca Chica-Andrés port area resulted in the formation of the other island named at the time La Piedra (The Stone) which is significantly bigger than La Matica at some 700 yards in length. La Matica is covered in long-term evolving vegetation including different kinds of mangrove, aspen and sea grape whereas the vegetation of La Piedra derives from what man, wind, waves and birds have brought in over the last fifty years with the most notable result being a substantial area of Australian pine giving the island its now more familiar name of Los Pinos.
Plans were laid down quite some years ago for a walkway to be built from the shore to a point midway between the islands and develop the ensuing environment for visitors to fish, bathe and swim. These plans have been resting in some bureaucratic draw for a good many years now and so these largely undisturbed islands continue as the roosting location for a number of species of birds such as herons and white-crowned pigeons which can be seen heading off to their night time perches as they fly by the Playa Vista terraza at dusk.
Monday, September 6, 2004
The flavor of our current Caribbean season has to be hurricanes. The sea-breeze caressed pleasantly warm weather we experience allows us to enjoy a completely open-air style of life and pretty much for a full 365 days a year. This closeness of living to nature means we have to accept the reverse side of the ‘almost perfect weather coin’ too from time to time and around here the flipside does pop up in the form of the occasional tropical storm or hurricane.
We note that the subject is currently figuring prominently in the world’s media headlines because this year is setting storming new records around the globe. This week news from Florida’s latest pounding (the second in August) was echoed by extreme typhoon activity in Japan too.
Here on our island we feel that we have been ducking and diving over the last two weeks as Charley slid by to the south before thumping into Cuba and then Florida, tropical storm Earl thankfully ran out of steam just to the south of us and then most recently category 4 Frances just skirted by to the north. So big was Frances that we experienced quite strong winds and unusually warm air even down here in Boca Chica on the south coast. However, lucky though we have been so far we cannot ignore that Ivan “El Terrible” at the time of writing appears to have us right in his sites, almost as if the last three storms were tracer shells (powerful ones at that) and now the big cannon has our exact coordinates. We naturally hope that fate will intervene in our favor again, but if you see this blog space go quiet for a while it could be because we have our hands full with other matters.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Hurricanes come and thankfully they go… and even more thankfully sometimes they go without ever coming. We left you last time seemingly looking down the barrel of a gun called Ivan. It looked like there was no escape, but remarkably we managed to slip free yet again and this time in large part thanks to another hurricane. While Ivan was advancing into the southern Caribbean, Frances was still active over continental America. This created a ridge of pressure over the Caribbean which forced Ivan to take a more southerly route than has been seen in many many years affecting islands such as Curacao and Aruba and even parts of Venezuela that have never seen such phenomenon before.
Here in Boca Chica we waited and watched from the Playa Vista Terazza as Ivan whirled by several hundred miles to the south. At about 10 pm on Wednesday the sea rose to start flicking the terazza wall, and for 24 hours we watched the grand spectacle of extremely large rolling waves breaking onto the reef sending spray dozens of feet into the air and surf surging well inside our paradisal lagoon even as far as the steps leading up to the terazza itself ultimately licking the topmost step. In contrast to the roaring sea the air remained extremely placid, and a light cloud cover brought merely a sprinkling of rain on just one occasion throughout the entire time it took Ivan to swirl by. Mercifully the sum of our damage was no more than one broken plastic table leg which was crashed into by a couple of logs that floated by during the marine melee.
Some of the worst Ivan affected islands in the Caribbean this time around have previously claimed to be hurricane-free in their efforts to attract visitors… perhaps the Dominican Republic should now take the slogan up instead!
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
This year for some strange reason or reasons still unknown to the meteorological boffins those tropical storms sometimes alias hurricanes just keep on happening.
Poor old Haiti has been hit hard, its decidedly poor infrastructure always contributing further to its misery. To the east and north of the Dominican Republic too the heavy rainfall caused considerable flooding chaos. We in Boca Chica have to be thankful yet again, for we managed to escape any dangerous affects from the passing of Jeanne which brewed itself briefly into a low category hurricane as it touched our island’s most easterly coast. As it passed to the north and downgraded to a tropical storm, we saw no rising of the sea level this time, but we did endure three days of cloud, a fair bit of rain and one shortish period in the middle of the night last Wednesday of very gusty winds. Again no damage here in Boca Chica, but due to the rise in river levels and currents to our east, in particular the rivers Higuamo and Soco emptying into the sea in the area near San Pedro, we have been inundated with driftwood being forced onto and over the Boca Chica coral reef. The local council has helped in a big way employing a very large John Deere payloader and trucks to cart away the mountains of flotsam and jetsam that continued to wash up on the beach. With the beach neatly cleared of debris and the peak storm season hopefully running out of steam after this year’s unusual extravaganza Playa Vista is gratefully, after a very minor interruption to service, back to its regular sunny ‘business as usual’ disposition!
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
For the first time, sparing no expense, we present photographic evidence of the cheeky chappie.
You may remember back in July, 19th to be precise, we reported on the sudden disappearance of our feathered twosome conjecturing at the time as to how and why their departure could be quite so abrupt when they had been so attentive at the one-way kitchen window for so long.
Our prime theory of Woody simply abandoning the futile stalemate of a fight with his own reflection out of sheer frustration was clearly wrong for he is back fitter than ever manically beating at the window from the early morning again. He has even crafted a new technique where he is hovering, scrabbling at the window with his left foot at the same time as bludgeoning the glass with his powerful beak. It would seem that like the majority of our holidaying visitors he just took a vacation in order to recharge his batteries!
(You may, or may not, like to consult May 8th and Sept 9th last year for further references to the ongoing story)
Friday, October 8, 2004
We are pleased to report that from time to time we get some very interesting responses to our little internet pieces regarding life here at Playa Vista Boca Chica and the Dominican Republic in general, and we thought that our readers out there in the big world should be let in on this one from Sarah Daily Frey:
I was looking up information on the D.R. the internet, clicked onto your Blog and started reading. Came across your description of the little islands and it brought back memories.
I feel like I’m a Dominican at heart although I only lived there from the time I was 7( 1955) until Jan. 1, 1962 when my parents sent me to the U.S. for high school. I attended Carol Morgan school and spent wonderful days at Boca Chica. The Island you wrote about that had a zoo was in operation during that time, although it had suffered the loss of some of the animals during a previous hurricane and had been quite battered. It was a great place for adventurous, imaginative kids like me, with all kinds of animals for those brave enough to venture close.
My memories of Boca Chica, Juan Dolio, Santo Domingo and the rest of the island are wonderful. Although my parents were missionaries, I felt like we lived in a resort paradise (except for the fear of the Trujillo dictatorship), with electricity available all the time, clean water and all the comforts anyone could dream of. I even remember when the first supermarket (with air conditioning and freezers) opened in Santo Domingo, started by a retired U.S. air force pilot. We thought we really lived in heaven!
Never thought I’d be old enough to play “I remember when,” especially to someone I don’t even know, but they were good times for me and I thank you for helping to jog my memories.
Sarah Daily Frey
Thursday, October 14, 2004
The extraordinary hurricane activity of September seems a long time ago now. The only visible evidence that something untoward happened is the still debris-strewn reef which is either waiting for the local council to get their launch out there with a cleaning team or for a very high tide to release the stranded material mostly consisting of bark-denuded tree branches.
As is usual for this time of year beach visitors mid-week are none too plentiful but the weather gives us it’s best with a recent sequence of stunning sunsets that as always can be viewed ideally from the Playa Vista terraza.
Bar talk frequently refers to the new government still getting its feet under the table. Much is reported nationally on a daily basis regarding changes. The peso appears to have reached a stability midway between the value that the previous government inherited four years ago and its lowest point to the end of their administration currently, for better or worse depending on your viewpoint, about 32 pesos to the dollar. Lack of electricity continues to present difficulties in many parts of the country but happily in Boca Chica we are spared almost all inconveniences. Long may that continue and hopefully spread further afield too. The more underlying changes will almost certainly need more time to bear fruit.
Meanwhile… as tourism is one of the cornerstones of economic development in the Dominican Republic in general, and therefore needy of government attention, we remain very hopeful that planning and support of international standard tourism will be further spurred on in our small corner of the country in a way good old Boca Chica deserves!
Friday, October 22, 2004
The year 1918 is remembered in Europe as the year that ended World War 1 – the war to end all wars it was said. Unfortunately though we well know the human race doesn’t like to give up on its favorite pastime as easily as that. The briefest of conversations with any of our many visitors from the Bay State of Massachusetts soon makes you aware that 1918 is remembered by them as the last time their beloved Boston Red Sox (and yes they really do wear red socks although, perversely, the Chicago White Sox wear black socks) won the ‘World Series Baseball Championship’ – rather an exaggeration, our European visitors are quick to point out, in that only teams from the USA and Canada actually participate!
Anyway, on a nightly basis this week in the Playa Vista bar a mixed crew have watched with fascination as new baseball records have been set at the same time as belief in this year’s Red Sox team mounts.
To fully appreciate the atmosphere it has to be understood that baseball is fanatically followed in the Dominican Republic with extra local spice provided by Boston fielding as many as four Dominicans in their starting line-up on Monday night. So, with locals rubbing shoulder to shoulder with our numerous Boston regulars it made for a tremendously exciting night on Monday as Boston’s despair at going down 3 to 0 in the decisive seven-game series the previous night against their arch-rivals the New York Yankees was turned into genuine reignited hope in a 6-hour marathon game that saw the winning hit being made by one of those famous sons of the Dominican Republic, David ‘Gran Papi’ Ortiz.
The series was now 3-2 but the Red Sox were faced with a trip to the Yankees stadium and the still unlikely possibility of winning the last two games to book a place in the final. Two more nights of intense action-filled games and Boston’s belief is now truly palpable. They are the first team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a play-off series and have dramatically elbowed aside the 26-time World Champion Yankees to advance to the final of a potentially equally nerve-wracking series against St. Louis Cardinals beginning on Saturday night. Next week we will know if they have finally been able to bury the ghost of 86 years of striving and you should be able to hear the shouts of celebration from the numerous and very vocal Boston supporters in the Playa Vista bar starting with the opener of the new seven-game series on Saturday even if you are some distance away and separated by a soundproof wall or two!
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Our regular visitors and those with good memories of our blog entries (see Aug. 31st last year) will know that over the years we have been assailed by more than our fair share of technical breakdowns here at Playa Vista and that each time a piece of equipment chooses not to work, the diagnosis frustratingly and almost invariably touches partly or wholly on the problem of the corrosive salt-sea air around us. Our latest tribulation involved a second breakdown of one of our two Philips TVs. The immediate irony was that it chose to pack up functioning on the very day we finally installed our newly acquired digital projector to provide a giant screen in the bar area. For specification aficionados our screen measures an impressive 10 feet by 10 feet and right now we surely must be able to claim it to be the biggest in Boca Chica!
Anyway, as we clapped our hands in delight at the introduction of our movie-style new screen we had to groan with dismay as our supporting conventional bar TV completely gave up the ghost. We whisked it into a specialist Philips repair center in Santo Domingo where they had successfully repaired it after its first breakdown about a year ago together with its identical twin which by another coincidence had ceased to function in the very same week.
We gleefully picked up the “fixed” TV, returned it to Boca Chica and plugged it in. A fully functioning full-color screen appeared but once the audio and video jacks were connected up to integrate it into our extended cable and satellite TV system we were confronted with a very disillusioning dull hissing sound. We cursed under our breath… thanks, you no good amateur technician, for fixing the screen and completely ruining the stereo input and outlet facility! What kind of professional wouldn’t check that all features worked fully before returning it to the poor unsuspecting customer?
The momentary gloom was followed by a swift enlightening spark of ingenuity from Eduardo, our chief maintenance man, who suggested that the internal video and audio leads may simply have been mistakenly reversed by the technician. We hunted around for the very special Philips tool, inexplicably necessary, for releasing the TV cover and then loudly cheered Eduardo as his theory was proven entirely correct. However, it was only by the grace of having our handy man handy and him having the inspiration to imagine how the service center technician could have ended up doing what he did that we avoided journeying all the way back to the service center and having a full blown argument as to the injustice of the treatment we had been given.
We quickly turned the victory into a rout because the inspiration overflowed now and focused on that previously mentioned second TV that had not had a properly functioning stereo sound since it underwent “repair” those 12 months ago. Bingo; on removing its cover we found the identical spaded wire connectors inserted in the identical wrong sequence!
The very same service center had made the very same error 12 months apart and so we now bathe in the full luxury of two fully functioning Philips stereo TVs: not to forget the 10 feet by 10 feet giant screen now afforded by our Hewlett Packard projector! Extraordinary how true consistency can help you out of a mess, isn’t it?
Monday, November 8, 2004
We believe it is finally the end of an era and we imagine also the last of our reports on our freaky friend Woody Windowpecker and his continuous furious attacks on his own reflection which he obviously took for a dangerous stranger challenging his territory. Fear not woody-fans, we presume he is in reasonably good physical health somewhere, although his mental health could be a matter of concern. Simply put we had to take measures to preserve our own sanity and regain some peace and quiet especially in the dawn hours when Woody was particularly active in battering our kitchen window with that unyielding beak of his.
As observers of the crazy pecker’s “peculiar” antics as you will know by now we are, (see the ongoing saga in the archives July 19th, Sept. 29th also May 8th and Sept 9th last year) we have put forward a number of theories to try and explain his odd behavior. Our final theory is that he quite simply has gone partially or completely insane. He just does not seem to have learned anything in all these months… zero progress. It could be that now even his wife has left him in frustration.
Tracing the story back to the beginning we reported that it was his dear wife who first visited our reflective kitchen window seemingly to admire herself, for she never pecked the window at all, merely posed and occasionally pawed at it – quite harmless one would think. Woody went from being largely uninterested at the beginning to being completely obsessed with his own image. We even have a sneaking suspicion that in those weeks he was absent he was actually undergoing addiction rehabilitation… nudge, nudge! We watched him closely on the day of his return when again it was his wife who seemed to be coaxing him back to the window almost as if to test that he had truly broken the habit. The first couple of days it seemed that the rehab had worked for he was quite withdrawn, but very soon after that he was right back to fully fledged attacks for maniacal extended periods of time starting very early every morning. His wife has been conspicuous in her absence ever since making us think that she perhaps has even disowned her irreconcilable addict partner… or is she off looking for a better rehab center for him? Anyway… we candidly could not tolerate the noise any more and put up a plastic screen to cover the window. Our first few days after that action have been blissfully quiet at least with regard to window tapping. Perhaps the new situation will even do the service of helping him to kick the habit by denying his supply. Apprehensively though, we do recognize there are plenty of other windows he could get used to if he should remain inconsolable. We shall let the story lie there unless of course you should be irritatingly woken early one morning by the same reverberant tapping sound from crazy old Woody. We will gladly pass on any news about Woody’s whereabouts, he is after all a good old friend of the family – if just a little nutty!
Friday, November 19, 2004
In the coldest periods of damp winters in those far away British Isles when the wind shifts direction from the usual south-west the refrain begins, “When the north wind doth blow, we shall have snow…”. Though we are not suggesting we really expect Caribbean snow, we do have a Dominican Republic equivalent, namely a shift in the usual prevailing south-east wind direction here in Boca Chica to the north, though it has to be stressed that it is very much more wafting than really blowing.
It has been stated since Columbus’ time that the weather here in the Domincan Republic is like perpetual June back in the old continent, and we can certainly verify this to be the case. The only interruption to this are occasional hurricanes which this year, you may recall, were reported to be unusually active during September but now thankfully long gone. Though hurricanes bring high winds and heavy rainfall be reassured that those perpetual June temperatures remain constant. So it is by way of a slight variation from the norm that this week the temperatures, with the change of wind direction as mentioned above, are reported as actually dipping. There is of course no need for alarm, because the reported below freezing temperature of -4ºC was recorded at a height of over 2,500 meters in the central mountains of the country! Those pleasant daytime June temperatures carry right on permeating our little paradise. The only notable difference is that night time temperatures currently make air conditioners and fans redundant. The advice would be to certainly not cancel your air ticket to these parts merely shut the bedroom window in the ‘chilly Caribbean winter night’!
Friday, November 26, 2004
Just like any good ship trying to sail a steady course we do try to keep up a regular schedule of maintenance here at Playa Vista… and where possible introduce improvements too, when resources permit.
Lying directly in the path of salty sea breezes, as we do, the affect on our buildings, fixtures and fittings can easily be imagined although the all year round summer temperatures at least means we do not have also to contend with the even more invasive ravages of freezing and thawing.
Quite besides the regular maintenance we recently had to attend to another repair job – twice! We have a row of seven 4” by 4” white wooden posts supporting the second floor landing and the roof of the apartments to the rear of Playa Vista. Immediately adjacent all manner of visitors frequently park their cars within the security of the property. For something like five years there had never been any difficulties until one bright Sunday morning a regular customer who had previously parked there on numerous occasions claimed he couldn’t see the post nearest to the entrance gateway as he reversed directly into it splitting and seriously dislodging it. Eduardo, our regular handyman, was able to put the damage right and we breathed a sigh of relief as the overall structure was re-supported as it should be. Or so we thought… something like a week later another visitor also in broad daylight reversed so forcefully into the brand new and freshly painted post that it not only split in two but was completely displaced from its roof supporting function.
We have seen many visitors drive in and out including in reverse, in the dark of night and in all kinds of weather and states of mind without any problem whatsoever. But two regular visitors in bright sunshine without having had a single drop of the hard stuff didn’t notice the same bright white post just a few days apart…. Far-fetched! So, “regular maintenance” suddenly seems to have taken on a new meaning around here… and by the way: Who said that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place?
Tuesday, December 7, 2004
“The law is the law” is a common catchphrase in the well known Hollywood formula of Wild West movies when, for instance, the Sheriff and his helpers try to clean up a booming frontier town.
In theory the claim is hard to dispute, but we were reminded abruptly this week – when a customer on the beach appeared dramatically on the Playa Vista terraza in handcuffs under police escort for allegedly having committed a crime some three days earlier – that the practice of the law can end up quite some distance from the letter of the law. Our usually amiable customer was certainly not cited his rights, no written order for his arrest was ever produced and the explanation as to what was going on was very minimal at best and highly confusing at worst.
The difference between practice and theory here in the Dominican Republic generates the worrying impression that you are guilty until proven innocent when, for example, you are suddenly handcuffed like the mentioned customer or thrown in a prison with multitudes of others, with little or no explanation (see blog story Nov. 24, 2003 in archive).
When you look into the seemingly topsy-turvy situation though, apparently the prescribed law does presume innocence, and the Dominican Constitution does establish that no person may be jailed without a motivated order from a competent judicial authority unless the person is caught red-handed in an act of violating the law.
Further examination reveals that the authorities here are aware of the great gap between theory and practice and that a clarification and tightening up of existing law is necessary which is why a new code of criminal procedure is due to be implemented in the new year with certain principles coming into immediate effect.
This all bodes well for the future, but meanwhile all this was of little help to our handcuffed friend who, as time went by that certain afternoon, became increasingly aware that he was dealing with something other than simple neglect of his rights, because – surprise surprise – there was increasing talk of a substantial sum of money changing hands in exchange for his immediate release. His dawning realization of what was actually going on was confirmed when he found it impossible to access the required funds from a number of tried sources including his bank and the “police” contingent finally, suddenly and disappointedly, left taking their empty handcuffs with them while wistfully mumbling amongst themselves something about coming back the next day… which, for what it’s worth, they didn’t.
We wish the authorities well in trying to bring about a narrowing of the gap between theory and practice with their new criminal code and with the loudly extolled anti-corruption project espoused at the end of last weekend by President Fernández who is claiming the project would be a model for countries in the region.
Our recently beleaguered customer will no doubt sleep easier, wiser from his real learning experience and knowing that the 7th Cavalry are massing over the hill in the form of serious new governmental initiatives.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
“A picture speaks a thousand words” – goes the saying. So here we give you a couple of very wordy sunset views from the Playa Vista terraza taken by a good friend and member of the Playa Vista “family” on his recent escape from the cold Canadian north.
Hasta La Playa Vista and a very Happy and prosperous New Year to you all!