Archive for the ‘Exotic Caribbean’ Category
Friday, May 5, 2006
The last time (February 15th) we were on the subject we more or less took the story of visitors to our island of Hispaniola up to one of those black-historical points in human history: the near extermination of the Taíno Indians which then leaves us to cover just the last 500 years or so.
By a clear margin the most famous of all visitors since that time is Christopher Columbus (whose name by the way in Spanish is not quite so famously known by English speakers to be Cristobal Colon). For such a prestigious visitor you would expect it to have been the all-expenses paid trip that it was but not such an obvious thing back in 1492. He was of course the first white man here and by default the first non-Indian visitor and the first ever person to come with a return trip-ticket. His all-inclusive ticket, along with many of the other paradise-seekers who came at that time, was paid for by the Spanish crown and it was the Spanish themselves who abruptly changed this style of paradise-seeking visitor when they started bringing in slaves from Africa who clearly had no hope of any kind of return ticket and were disgracefully brought in for no other reason than to replace those badly decimated Taíno Indians as laborers.
After that the next identifiable group of arrivals, in any significant numbers, was the French who took advantage of the Spanish being distracted by their insatiable search for greater wealth in other parts of South America. The French concentrated on the north and west of the island thereby explaining the current division between French-speaking Haiti and Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. Interspersed in the early years the English too had their own style of visits with their particular specialty being pirate trips also usually all-inclusive. Most notable of all was that of Sir Francis Drake who just a little along the coast from us very successfully held Santo Domingo to ransom in 1586. By the end of the 19th century both Haiti and the Dominican Republic had established themselves as fully fledged republics even if it came with the usual bubbling turmoil you get between neighbors and visits, at least to this side of the border, both from Haiti and overseas have continued apace in one form or another ever since that time.
For example quite a sprinkling of Chinese can be found here including an up and coming Chinatown in Santo Domingo – as of writing an arch-type entrance way is being constructed, funded by Chinese businesses, at the intersection of Avenida’s Duarte and Mexico to designate the area. The Chinese began arriving from other Caribbean islands together with even greater numbers of other natives seeking regular work and opportunities from the 19th century onwards. Considerable numbers of Americans arrived in the early part of that century to set up plantations as many of the Europeans had done in the previous centuries and then the US army made its first visit in 1903, they certainly must have liked it because they came again in 1916 and stayed for a full eight years. They came again in 1965 but moved on much more quickly this time for they were gone by the following year.
Arabs formed the nucleus of another group of visitors, mainly Lebanese with lesser numbers of Palestinians and Syrians who first started arriving towards the end of the nineteenth century and continued to come and stay through the following century. A visit to one of the principal shopping areas in Santo Domingo, namely Avenida Duarte, reveals names on shop hoardings here and there directly reflecting this, one of the most familiar being the large department store under Lebanese-descended ownership: Plaza Lama.
A peek back to the last century shows that the most notable single groups with, at least, intentions to settle entered the country from the 1930s onwards. Many founded agricultural colonies that unfortunately very often didn’t work out as planned but of these groups there can still be found legacies of their presence here. Among the groups were German Jews (1930s), Japanese (after World War II), and Hungarians and Spaniards (both in the 1950s). Then more Chinese came from Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s actually making them second only to Haitians in numbers settling in the country.
Nowadays we have visitors all the year round of course and from all around the world, the majority of which return home tanned and relaxed, some choose to stay on and become ex-pats like ourselves and perhaps still the largest group who come in search of their own paradise or at least to escape the ravages of that desperately unstable seemingly impossible to govern neighbor of ours Haiti.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
There are a lot of different people who pass through the Playa Vista area in the course of time… one way or another and for one reason or another. An old Caribbean gentleman used to do so on a regular basis. He was tall, with decidedly negro characteristics, a bit of a stooped back, grey hair under his baseball cap and going by the distinctive and unforgettable name “Napoleon”. He was polite and very gentle mannered… and like many in any third world country looking for some kind of an opportunity. We really were not in a position to help, but we would, as we usually try to do with polite gentle mannered people, have a little interchange of conversation and wish him luck on his way.
Some years passed by and apart from bumping into Napoleon once on the bus we hadn’t seen or heard of the man for a long time until the other day.
Napoleon walked into Playa Vista with a more determined stride than we ever recall and greeted us very amicably. He was his usual friendly self and asked after us and how things were going. “How is business?” he asked. “Not too bad, but of course we can always use more customers even though it now is the middle of the higher season”, we replied. “Okay, I have a couple of friends who have apartments over in Andres and they can help you bring in a lot more customers.” “My two friends come from Puerto Principe by the way!” All right we thought. No harm in talking. Perhaps his friends have some lodgers who want to spend some time at a nice place right on the beach away from their apartments occasionally.
There are a lot of promises made and a lot of promises often not completed around these parts but the next morning, a Sunday incidentally, bright and early Napoleon was here with his two friends. They were two brothers, well dressed, polite, Spanish speaking but genuinely Haitian from the main city in that country, Puerto Principe, and they did have a SINGLE apartment in Andres where they personally were living. Well…out of courtesy we explained our set up silently wondering what kind of business proposition they could possibly have. “So, what do you want us to do for you then,” the younger brother a bit surprisingly said. “Well… if you can bring in substantially more customers then fair enough and you would be entitled to some kind of a commission, naturally,” we said.
There was quite a bit of eye shifting at this point and a slight clearing of the throat before the younger brother announced that their work fell into the category of “mystic”. Mystic? We honestly thought that perhaps it was some kind of show they put on, and we explained that we were not really big enough for a performance of that nature. The older brother then, after some more eye shifting, explained that it was “spiritual” – the way they planned to bring customers in that is. The penny then finally dropped: Puerto Principe, Haiti, Mystic, Spiritual…, my goodness, VOODOO!… we were staring straight in the face of the little known business arm of the world famous voodoo tradition.
The eye-shifting was now on our side of the table as we backtracked on our willingness to discuss promotional ideas with this particular “technique” in mind anyway. We then wished Napoleon and his friends the very best of the day and good luck with their many clients they said they had waiting for them in Andres. As they understandably, due to our lack of enthusiasm for their voodoo specialty, walked disappointedly out of Playa Vista the power supply abruptly failed!
Now, as we all know that power failure isn’t exactly uncommon in these parts we were left merely to wonder if it was just the usual problems that cut the electricity off at that moment… or could it be that voodoo trickery has been behind the last 40 years of electricity distribution problems in the Dominican Republic?
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The discriminating historians amongst you never commented on our blog of 19th February 2005 when we referred to the Taíno Indians as being the original inhabitants of Hispaniola… only actually true if, as most people do, you take the origin as to when Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492. The ingenuity of archeologists and of our modern ways of accessing information help to reveal, that our currently very visitor-friendly island has actually been popular with guests for upwards of 4000 years!
The very first batch is supposed to have arrived about 2600 BC! Unlike today they came exclusively from locations equally sunny and warm, thereby provoking the obvious question, “What on earth were they trying to get away from back home?” Anyway… the route’s starting point seemingly was eastern Venezuela and followed a sequence of natural with-current island-hopping bringing the true original inhabitants, the ‘Arawak’ Indians, to these shores. The trip was so popular that it was repeated and again we are at a curious loss as to know what could have possibly instigated it. The second migratory wave of other Arawak-related Indians referred to as ‘Saldoids’ occurred a couple of centuries before the time of Christ. These particular Indians, according to those curious archeologists, have left quite a trace of their sophisticated culture through remnants of their ceramic creations.
It is debatable as to where exactly the third group of visitors arrived from. Either, it is believed, along the same tried and trusted route using the equatorial currents or in successive steps up from the Peruvian-Andes. In similar fashion to the other two groups they absorbed, or eliminated, the previous migratory group and were known as the Taíno Indians. They held sway on the island for something like a thousand years and, in spite of their having eliminated the Arawak Indians, called themselves ‘Taíno’ which somewhat perversely is said to mean “friendly people” in their own language. Of course this was no different from the Spanish of the 15th and 16th centuries who probably also regarded themselves as quite friendly in spite of their similar eliminatory tendencies, as they presided over the decline of a Taíno population estimated at 400,000 dwindling down to under 3,000 in less than the first 30 years after their arrival. It was though generally recognized, even by the Spanish of the time, that the Taíno’s general passivity contributed to their rapid demise. Either the ‘friendly people’ got slack in their 1000 years of untroubled living here or perhaps those Arawak Indians were just too much of a push over right from the outset… who knows!
It is of course a relief to know that today you don’t have to muster any sizeable group together, nor furnish yourself with the latest weaponry or even paddle great distances in a canoe to get here. You can just hop on a plane even on your ownsome, and within a few relatively trouble free hours you can be enjoying something of that accommodating welcome once upon a time probably afforded by those ancestral Indians!
See you soon then!
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
We spend day after beautiful day looking out over the azure blue of the Caribbean Sea, and as another year draws to a close we thought we would present the Caribbean Sea’s view of us and at the same time offer a peek for those of you out there who have never visited these parts. Oh and by the way a VERY PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR to all of you. Why not make it one of those exotic New Year resolutions and drop by to check up on the Caribbean azureousness, the Latin-flavoured Dominican Republic and last but not least your Base Camp and InfoCenter PLAYA VISTA Boca Chica of course!
Sunday, July 17, 2005
All is well on the southern front as the outer sinewy reaches of Emily’s rotating package of discomfort, very much like Dennis, simply, though be it ominously, brushed along our coast. We were once again basking in the usual bright sunshine and calm air a mere 24 hours after Emily trundled on by leaving nothing more than the memory of rather beautiful high rolling surf breaking on our ever-so-protective coral reef a few hundred yards out from the Playa Vista terraza where we ourselves and a substantial group of guests enjoyed the majestic play of mother nature’s forces.
This leaves us with the perfect gateway to a pleasant weekend down here on the beach. For those of you not familiar with our backdrop, Boca Chica is THE beach for people from the capital Santo Domingo to enjoy a swim or merely a watery or sandy frolic. At this time of year another major attraction is the possibility of escaping from the usual negatives of living in a large city with its noise, dirt and a far more intense kind of heat… especially in contrast to the balmy breeze almost invariably caressing our little stretch of paradise.
For people-watchers a Sunday is often an unmissable sight with so much natural and peaceful pleasure being had by great numbers of people strewn all along the beach. For those who like it quieter then perhaps Monday is a good day to visit but, biased though we may be, we can clearly recommend you will have fun whichever day you come.
Monday, July 4, 2005
A short message to let you all know that we are well and truly back in town – the good old familiar town of Boca Chica that is.
The reason for the scarcity of blog uploads from Playa Vista in recent weeks was the now almost traditional yearly break with the routine. It may seem strange to those of you who live elsewhere, but a holiday away from paradise does actually have its attractions. A couple of weeks back in the old continent works wonders for removing the Caribbean cobwebs, letting the mosquito bites work themselves out of the system and reacquainting oneself firstly with long sleeve shirts and then on cool evenings long sleeve sweaters.
Talking of the old continent… Europe was awash with political recriminations – oh all right the French and the British were just carrying right along with their 1000 year-old squabble – but by the end of the stay what had seemed like an issue that could determine the fate of everything from the shape and size of sausages to the outbreak of world war three was dropped like a limp baguette and the focus was suddenly on the G8 summit coming up at Gleneagles and the fortunes (read misfortunes) of British tennis players at Wimbledon.
So, as of today, we will put away our long sleeved clothing and knuckle down to some good old serious Caribbean pleasure after the luxury of that vacation in breast-beating Europe while at the same time retreating into a world that seemingly has far fewer problems… because on an island where events in the outside world are rarely talked about the cozy presumption is that they don’t exist, right?
Wednesday, March 2, 2005
We claim, and there is plenty of proof-positive, that Playa Vista attracts a very wide spectrum of individuals from around our little planet earth. All kinds of types, from all kinds of backgrounds earning their living in all manner of ways far beyond the rudimentary list of tinker, tailor and candlestick maker, gather in this crazy but entertaining corner of the world.
We hadn’t seen Randall – and for regular Playa Vista visitors we are not referring to the vacationing sunbather extraordinaire farmer from western-Kentucky – for some months, but brightly and breezily he came to the bar one Sunday lunchtime and generously handed us two personally signed copies of a work of fiction he has recently had published.
We are particularly pleased by the association because as he placed the books on the bar top he proclaimed that perhaps as much as 70% of it was written while ruminating here in the heart of Boca Chica relaxing on a Playa Vista sun lounger. For those of you who are general Dominican aficionados you will be interested to know that the content of the story clearly draws extensively on Randall’s more than two years of experiences in this country as well as his own extensive military background.
For your further information the writer’s full name is Randall H. Miller, he teaches and lives in Santo Domingo and the book, independently published by ‘iUniverse’, is titled “The Xpatriot”.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Knowing of our strange relationships with woodpeckers here at Playa Vista over the years one of the good friends of the house showed us the following piece from his Lonely Planet travel guidebook on the Dominican Republic and Haiti the other day. The word by word piece quoted below opens a somewhat quirky window on a peculiar point of view shared by the original inhabitants of this island – namely the Taino Indians:
Woodpeckers and women
Taino mythology is rich – and often bizarre. According to Taino elders, in the beginning the human race lived in two caves that could not be left on sunny days lest the people be turned into stone by the sun’s rays. Angered by the sun, an Indian named Guaguyona decided to leave the caves, and he convinced all of the women to join him. As days passed, the remainder of the men grew upset that they had no women. They went out to find some on rainy days, but to no avail. Then one day the men came upon several persons who were neither male nor female. The men tried to catch them but the genderless creatures slipped through their grasps like eels. A chief then sent for some people whose hands had turned rough from a disease, and with their roughened hands the diseased people were able to catch the slippery, sexless creatures. The men held the genderless creatures against the ground, bound their hands and feet, and covered their bodies with woodpeckers!. The birds pecked at the place where the woman’s sex organs would be, effectively turning the creatures into women. And this, according to Taino mythology, is how men again came to enjoy the company of women. Conveniently, the sun’s rays stopped turning people into stone from that day forward, and people were able to go about freely during daylight hours.
Bringing the subject right up to date we can resolutely and thankfully confirm that people, gendered or genderless, do indeed continue to go around in daylight hours free from any fear of woodpecker attack or being transformed into stone for that matter. It goes without saying that in this land of almost continuous sunshine it would be perversely restrictive if people felt they could only venture out on rainy days.
Clearly the woodpeckers are equally free to roam around for in spite of our last entry on the subject (November 8th), which even portended the end of our association with Woody, he is very much still out and about. Our inhibiting plastic mesh most certainly ended the incessant rapping at the kitchen window where he had been so active but after lying low he seems to have come back with a vengeance though be it in a different style. For several weeks there was no sign of him until he, totally out of character, quietly appeared again at the other, unmeshed, kitchen window just staring at his own reflection. The further good news is that he now starts his visits later in the mornings and is very much less physical towards the window and therefore less disturbing of the peace. The bad news is that he then flits upstairs where he has found renewed vigor and interest in the frame of the reflective glass door which by way of a new challenge is aluminum. He comes to rest almost in exactly the same place each time; he admires himself in the window as before and now generates a remarkable staccato drilling sound with his heavily aggressive beak on the painted metal frame. As yet the metal has held up but unfortunately his toilet control hasn’t… for after each visit he leaves an acidic pile of waste material immediately beneath his hammering station on the nicely polished wooden floor.
So, we wonder, is it that our newly re-named “pecker” is in this bizarre way trying to relive the days of yore and re-staking his claim to a bigger piece of the action as the Taino Indians clearly allowed his ancestors to have… or has the crazy little head-banging heavy-metalpecker just brain-damaged himself with his indiscriminate pecking and finally gone totally mad?
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 Dominican 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’!
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?
Meanwhile seven years later:
Unfortunately salt air wear and tear is one of the things you learn to live with when you have a business right next to the Caribbean Sea but such hardship is softened by some of the exotic redeeming features the same Caribbean scene affords.