Originally published on July 24, 2013 on Drew’s blog.
“How would you like to be part of a tale of love?”
This is what I was planning to say if anyone opened the door at the beautiful St. Charles Avenue mansion Drew and I walked by on June 27. We had spent the past few days talking about “hypothetically” going to the Dominican Republic for two months to live on the beach and work and be together, and today was our decision deadline.
It had been an afternoon of tears and pleading: him pleading with me to go, me pleading with him to understand that I couldn’t go. We were exhausted, and were walking to Fresh Market to get sushi. I told Drew we should stay in New Orleans together. He looked up at the beautiful house and said, “I’d stay if we could live there.” I climbed the stairs and rang the bell. While we waited for someone to answer, we pondered what I could possibly say to them.
A tale of love. It didn’t work out that way. No one answered the door. We knew we weren’t staying in our sweet New Orleans together. We ate our sushi. We cried some more. But late that night I gave in. All my anxiety about running away together, about being with Drew, about not going to my familiar and comfortable New York with my old friends and old habits—it was all outweighed by the horrible sinking sadness I felt at the thought of Drew getting on his bike and me getting on a plane and that being the end of our adventure.
So here we are. I think we argued constantly for the last week before we left. We fought about money and time and whether we wanted air conditioning in our house and what it meant to be together. By the time we got on our 6AM flight out of New Orleans on July 4th, I hoped there was nothing left to argue about. When we got upgraded to business class from Atlanta to Santo Domingo, things started looking up.
We landed in Santo Domingo with plenty of time to get to the bus to Las Terrenas, a town in the northeast that a friend had told us had “a few things going on.” We were there before dark and checked into the third hotel we saw. We walked around, shouting over the constant roar of motorbikes in the street. We had a good but expensive dinner in town and a cheap but terrible night of sleep in our hot, buggy hotel. In the morning we got on a guagua to Las Galeras, two hours further out on the peninsula and rumored to be quieter than Terrenas.
It’s definitely quieter. There’s a street and a few beaches and a few places to eat, most of which we can’t afford. There are three dive shops and lots of guys offering rides on their motorcycle taxis. We looked at a half a dozen hotels before we found the best one in town, Hotel La Playita, which has a swimming pool and a sweet Spanish manager named Argentina.
On Saturday we started looking for somewhere to live. By the end of the day, we’d seen eleven houses, including one where the bathroom was IN the bedroom and another which was fully furnished—including some dude’s clothes hanging in the closet. We saw a beautiful guesthouse behind a French lady’s villa, but she wanted more than double what we wanted to pay. “It’s the low season,” we reminded her. “I don’t care,” she retorted. “I’m not a business person. I live here.” We left.
We liked a two-story house near the beach. It was in a resort that was closed for the summer while the Canadian owner was away; she had left the resort and her dog, Leika, in the hands of 24-year-old Ruth, who sat in the empty restaurant all day in case someone came to look at a room. We skyped with the owner and negotiated her down to $650 for the month—a little more than we wanted to pay, but worth it, we thought, for the privacy, two rooms, and proximity to the beach.
Bad choice. The wifi didn’t work, the lightbulbs were all burnt out, and the couch was so filthy that Drew resolutely refused to sit on it. The next afternoon, we were back on skype with Ms. Canada, trying to get our money back (which we did. Most of it.) That night, we hustled back to La Playita and Argentina, and that’s where we live, at least for now.
Our first full week was full of adventures, misadventures, some highs and some lows. We figured out how to get water: preferably NOT from a guy called Wino who drives around in a pickup truck with “Supermercado Numero Uno” painted on the side. Apparently he came into our hotel one time and stole a cellphone from an Italian guest. We also discovered how to get money at the ATM: the limit per transaction is 2,000 pesos (about $50), but one can make five withdrawals in rapid succession with no fee. We tried to take Spanish classes from a terrible teacher named Armando, who gave us a textbook with his face on the cover and spent way too long teaching us the names of genitals in Spanish.
Within a 10 minute walk from home there is one beautiful beach, where we swam, drank a coconut, and met some cool Israeli travelers; and one less beautiful beach, where we stumbled around in seaweed and quickly gave up. A longer walk along a muddy horse trail covered in rotten mangoes deposited us at the most startlingly beautiful (and empty) beach we’ve ever seen, Playa Colorado.
There were some Peace Corps volunteers at our hotel the night we arrived, and they told us there’s another volunteer here in town, a girl named Gaby. We’ve asked half a dozen people who she is, and even been to her house, but still no luck in meeting her. We have, however, met a handful of other local characters.
Alejandro and Raisa run a small eatery on our street; they never seem to have what we want, but someone always runs across the street or across town to get it for us. Alejandro always has an offer for us: a cheap house, a cheap motorbike, and, most recently, the pleasure of his company on our trip to the waterfall in Limon. “I want to hang out with him,” Drew says, “but I’m afraid somehow the situation is going to end with him handing us a bill.”
“Jessica’s mom” is a Haitian woman who runs a fruit stand with a sign that says “God bless this business.” We don’t know her name, but the first day we met her she was in a store yelling “JESSICA!!” I kept turning around until I realized the toddler with her was also named Jessica. I told her that was my name, too, and now whenever she sees me she yells, “HOLA, JESSICA!”
Pucho sold us some rusted bikes with busted gears. We took them the long way to a town called Tacones, and weren’t too excited to ride them after that. Tomeo is a bald and rotund Spanish man, jovial but world-weary, who I think has the potential to be BFFs with Drew, as soon as they can get their communication squared away. Other characters in our Dominican version of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood include Adrian, a high energy five-year-old who pops up all over town; Martina, an Italian woman who speaks not a lick of Spanish but doesn’t let that stop her from yammering away crazily; and some guy who has graduated from offering us “motoconcho” (taxi) rides to trying, every time we see him, to convince Drew that he actually needs to BUY his motorbike.
We’re well fed, although the options are limited. Our favorite restaurant doesn’t have a name, but we call it “Darny Mart,” after the guy who works there who is so nice and sometimes makes eggplant to mix up the daily monotony of rice and beans and chicken and tostones. When Darny’s not around, the woman who works there eyes us with such hate that it makes the hot sauce turn cold. We stay away on those days, escaping to Manuel’s “panaderia” closer to our house, where there is something resembling pizza and, occasionally, chicken on a grill outside. There are a lot of places serving fish, which is not surprising since we’re five steps from the ocean. What is surprising is that a seafood dinner is usually twice the price of a chicken dinner.
We improvise with what we can get from the “supermercado” or other stores in town. Drew cooked up some spicy eggplant with tomatoes one night. Another day, I went to Samana (about an hour away) for some collard greens and broccoli. In the morning, we eat eggs, or cereal with fruit.
Despite the stress of trying to live and work in what is basically a glorified hotel room, we laugh constantly. This town is hilarious and ridiculous and sad and awesome. We have it pretty good: for $385 a month, our apartment includes a pool, (almost) daily maid service, laundry, all the coffee we can drink. We also have Argentina and her husband, Jose, watching out for us when we lock ourselves out of our room or need a vegetable peeler or suddenly have an inch of water all over the bathroom floor.
We still don’t know what the hell we’re going to do in 6 weeks, when we fly back to New Orleans and Drew turns 32 and our paths diverge once again. But for now, we’re breathing clean air and looking at the stars and swimming in the ocean and being grateful about a million times a day that we’re able to live our dreams and be on this crazy adventure.