Friday, December 19, 2008

Wrapping it up

We've been gone from the DR for more than 9 months now. Hard to believe it has been that long. I never ended up writing that final post on this blog before leaving the DR. Perhaps it was just too emotional to write that final post. Or perhaps it was like, how do you wrap up 3 years of an incredible life experience with so many amazing memories? It just seemed like an impossible task. Thus I didn't even try. I have felt like I just left the blog hanging though and don't want it to end with that crazy picture of the utility guy with all the wires, although that is just such a CLASSIC DR scenario.

A boatload of pictures and the blog itself captured many of the experiences, although in no way could convey all that happened for us. It certainly was tougher to leave the DR than I think either one of us thought it would be. With today being the first major snowstorm to hit here in Boston, it seems an appropriate time to wrap up this blog, put a bow on it, and send it off into the cool life experience category of our lives.

So on that note, I'll just jot down some of the extraneous things that we are bound to forget, and perhaps some other things we would LIKE to forget but can now probably laugh at or at least no particular order:

  • The motoconcho competition for our biz when you neared the Ocean Dream gate
  • Trips to Playero, to the butcher who went back to motherland and landed in jail, to the new German butcher where if you didn't speak German or Spanish, forget it
  • Hardware stores that have 3 types of screws and not 33. WTF?!!!
  • Finally figuring out we can pay someone like 25 cents to carry those water bottles up 3 floors to our place instead of us!
  • The Thai restaurant with the snake
  • Rata
  • "Aqua caliente, porque?"; "When this place is sold, there will be no running water in the house because the neighbor controls the water supply."
  • "La musica" guy with guitar on Cabarete beach and all the other vendors that never gave up on you
  • The criminals we met and perhaps didn't even know we were meeting - you know the guy who got hauled off by the FBI, that butcher, the owner/rep of land across from FB's........
  • Just where are those mangroves and where does the land really end at the mouth of the river - thank you very much (not), DR surveyors.
  • Measuring and analyzing LB, FB's land, land across from area 51 - lots of wet shoes and ignoring what sorts of creepy crawlies might lay in the terrain
  • Villa #83 at SHR - I'll take one of those please, or better yet how about Michael's oceanfront villa.....someday
  • The front gate guards at Ocean Dream, Henry our gardener
  • Our Kia....oh, the Kia. Not a great statement jeepeta, but it sure was economical and reliable.
  • Family members screwing their relatives on commissions. Nice people, huh?
  • The Cabarete Police station and its holding cell (no we were not in it, THANK GOD)
  • Trying to read surveys made in like 1950
  • That one piece of land without title.....SO frustrating
  • Las Canas - we could have doubled our money there had we bought from Dean on our fateful trip down. Who would have thought that possible out there?
  • Perla Marina - lots of memories but don't forget that tree in Leemans' yard
Las Terrenas and Las Galeras experiences:
  • Unpaved roads in Las Terrenas causing major traffic jams & dust
  • Hauling Jack & co out to the Survivor-like locations of Playa Anse del Norte and La Cana
  • Dario and his machete getting into our car
  • Arriving by boat and stepping foot on to JS's land near Rincon
  • The ride to Las Terrenas through Nagua with all its palm trees but brown ocean and thin slice of beachfront
  • The road over the mountains into Las Terrenas - don't fall over the edge or ruin your car in the potholes
  • Maria and company at Playa Colibri - such nice people...we'll be back someday
The time has come and gone to say goodbye to the DR. We miss you and of course all the friends we made down there. It was quite a ride.......and now it's on to new adventures. Check out my newest blog --

Thursday, January 31, 2008

2 tales of how a business operates

ok, so you have 2 companies: Cable Company USA and Cable Company DR and this is how they vary in their business practices:

let's take the scenario that the cable customer has channels that are scrambled and not coming in properly. here's how it goes for that person:

Step 1. Set Up Appointment
Cable Company USA - customer calls the 1-800-number and speaks to a customer service rep who schedules an appointment for the cable guy to come to house to diagnose and fix on the spot the problem.

Cable Company DR - customer has to physically go to the cable company to tell them the problem because the cable company never picks up the phone. No date is set, nothing, just told that they will come when they can. Good thing we work from home and can have one of us at the house AT ALL TIMES in case the cable guy decides to select our trouble slip as the one to make his house call on that day.

Step 2. Arrival of Repairman at House
Cable Company USA - shows up at the house on the scheduled day within the timeframe that they specify. Note, if customer is not at the house, the cable company leaves a note that they came and to call the service number again to reschedule.

Cable Company DR - cable repair man nevers shows up FOR 7 DAYS. no notes, no calls from service reps, nothing. still no TV and no idea how to motivate the cable company to want to solve our cable problem.

Step 3. - Solving the Problem
Cable Company USA - during the scheduled visit, cable repair man determines that the cable box is broken. he handily goes out to his well stocked van and grabs a new box. he plugs in the box and christens it by either calling in to activate it or doing something remotely from some sort of handheld device. Off he goes on to his next scheduled appointment and we can now know that we will be able to watch the debates, the Superbowl, ESPN, and whatever else our hearts desire.

Cable Company DR - we can't fix the problem yet until the cable man finally makes his appearance at our house.

Step 4. Beg the DR Cable Company to Send a Repairman Over to the House
Cable Company USA - N/A

Cable Company DR - drive over to the cable company to see if they are open. (It's 8:25am). Have no idea when they open because the sign on the door is missing the first number for the opening hour but does have the closing hour as 7pm. impressive closing hour, considering how non-customer service oriented they are. luckily the office gal shows up just then - don't know whether she is early for the 8:30am opening or late for the 8:00am opening. we tell her that the repairman has still not shown up and it's now been a week since we logged the complaint. she calls him on the phone (yes, there is just one repairman) and says he'll be at our house within half an hour. we leave the office, drive the 100 feet down the road to the entrance to our complex, and see him coming in behind us to the complex. up we go into the house together. he does his fiddling with the cable box and remote, then brings in another cable box from his tiny (and i mean tiny) van to test something out, and determines that it is the cable box that is broken. ok, i'm thinking, excellent, he has actually figured out the problem, which is NOT always the case. (in our last apartment, they never figured out why cable did not work in one of the rooms and just never ever came back to the apartment to try to fix it. nice, huh?) i'm also erroneously thinking that he will just leave us with the box that is working. NO, HOW COULD I BE SO FOOLISH? he can't give us that box and has to take our box to get repaired. don't be so smart either in thinking the office has extra boxes. NO, NOT EXTRA BOXES AT THE OFFICE. HUH? now how long do you think it will take to get that box repaired AND get the repairman to bring it to our apartment when we are actually home because remember there are no set appointments and arrival window timeframes. well, who knows because when we ask how long it will take to get the box repaired, he says the famous MANANA! SHIT!

Step 5. It is Now Manana - Go to Cable Office to See if Box is (Miraculously) Fixed
Cable Company USA - N/A because Cable Company USA would have had EXTRA BOXES. (can you imagine having a cable company and having an inventory of ZERO extra cable boxes? what happens when a new customer wants to sign up? sorry, no boxes, please wait......until manana....???!!!!)

Cable Company DR - go to office at 8:40am. cable office gal is in. she is either early for 9am or late for 8:30am opening. who knows. we ask if our cable box has been fixed and can she call the (only) repairman. just at that moment she sees the cable guy in his tiny (and i mean tiny) van pulling up into the office parking lot. up he comes up the stairs, sees us, sighs and puts his head down, and enters office barely looking at us. v asks if the box has been fixed. he mumbles something in spanish and calls over to wherever the box is getting repaired. after hanging up, he says today in an hour possiblemente. POSSIBLEMENTE? possiblemente. off we go home where i have to write this blog entry about the experience to get out my frustration on the whole thing!

Step 6. - Wait for Box to be Fixed and Be Brought to Our Apt (or More Likely Picked Up by Us at the Office)
Cable Company USA - N/A

Cable Company DR - in process

Step 7. (Anticipating a Problem that the Box will Actually Not Be Really Fixed and We Will Have to Repeat Steps 5 & 6)
Cable Company USA - N/A

Cable Company DR - we'll see if this step is needed. i may just have to give up TV if we do!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

all this for under a $1

off to market we went today, including a trip to the famous arugula guy to see if he had arugula. we've heard so much about him from our friend Jenny and then yesterday Haudy reminded us of him too. he's a farmer located close to kite beach on the street to la cienaga , which is basically a barrio that floods everytime it rains because it is built right on top of the lagoon. the arugula guy isn't near the lagoon though. he has a small patch of land on which he grows arugula, lettuce, basil, and a few other extraneous things. by small, i mean the lettuce/arugula area is probably 150 feet by 100 feet. maybe he has more land in the back where he's growing something off trees but that was unclear as our goal was strictly arugula. there's no sign out front or anything denoting it as a farm. it certainly does not look like a farm stand either. next time we go, we'll have to take a picture of him and his land.

so he asks us how much arugula we want. we say, "i don't know, i guess a pound." he starts plucking away and away at the arugula. we're both thinking that's a lot of arugula so he can just stop with what he has in his hand. we ask for a head of lettuce too, and he uses his machete to cut one out of the lettuce patch. back over to his little house we go where his wife is inside watching TV. some guy pokes his head out from a corner within the house and hands him a scale, which the farmer proceeds to hang up from the ceiling of the little covered outside area we are standing under. he says "tres cuartos de una libra" (3/4 of a pound). we say "cuanto es" (how much?) he says treinte pesos (about 90 cents). full of guilt at this unbelievably low price, i pull some coins from my pocket and hand them to him. off we go - both feeling like we just robbed the guy because we think that the produce is worth WAY more than that. i wouldn't have been surprised if he had said 100 pesos. in boston, i think we'd have paid something like $6 for that all.

some things are cheap here, especially when you get away from the tourist areas. still though, how much time does he have to spend tending to that arugula? i feel a bit guilty....!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

showing off the DR

we had lots of guests over Christmas, New Year's and into January - my mom, Veronica's parents, and Vica with her husband, Alexei, mother-in-law, and 18 month old daughter Sasha. i wanted to post a few pictures as there is just too much to say about what we did while they were all here. i will say though that we spent 5 great days in Las Terrenas with our parents, including a trip out to Playa Rincon, which was spectactularly beautiful as always.

here's a couple of shots of the Janssens clan on Playa Bonita:

mother and daughter out on the balcony for Christmas eve:

mother and daughter admiring the turquoise waters and scenery of Playa Rincon:

Rolf selecting our fish to be grilled for lunch at Rincon:

a shot of the view from our balcony in Las Terrenas:

Vica and Alexei enjoying an evening at our place:

Vica and Sasha having fun in the ocean:

next up in terms of visitors are kim and emily. they arrive next weekend. i am sure we will have a blast with them!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

the tight ass cafe (yeah that's really the name)

the sun finally came out today. it feels like an eternity since we had a full day of sunshine. we were eager to spend lots of time outdoors, including going out for lunch, which resulted in us finding a great new lunch spot - the tight ass cafe on kite beach. it's run by an american woman named Calin whom we have recently gotten to know. (we spent thanksgiving at her house with some other friends.) it's set in a little beach shack along with a kite surfing school, kite lounge. the seating is outside at a couple of picnic tables with old sails hung above for some shade. if you feel like being adventurous while you wait for your food, you can jump around on the trampoline built into the ground for practicing kiting jumps. this is just the kind of place to spend a sunny afternoon. we love the tight ass cafe!

the menu is small and cheap but with a great selection - wraps, burgers, tacos, fried plantains, brownies to name a few. we both had a tuna wrap with pineapple salsa. this is fresh tuna, not from a can. very good! it's definitely a spot to bring my mom and friends when they come.

with marabu out of commission due to tropical storm olga and not wanting to endure the torn up road to get to claro, we were searching for a good lunch spot. i know we have found it!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

a year older

today is my birthday but we did some celebrating of it last saturday at Playa Grande with a bunch of friends. we did the lunch thing at tables and chairs set right on the beach. the little beach shack restaurant served us fish (really fresh!), fried chicken, rice, salad etc. it's a great way to celebrate an occassion or just spend an afternoon.

the weather wasn't the best but after some initial rain out came the sunshine. the waves were big so not a heck of a lot of swimming though i did go along with V, Sara, and German. some of the guys went are Will and Greg.

friends brought their kids....and nannies (about 8 kids & 4 nannies)

and some friends even brought their the are ziggy (as in Ziggy Marley because of his dreads) and portia.

once everyone left, it was time to reflect on a nice afternoon.

Monday, December 03, 2007

more passport pages, please

we just got back from a quick overnight trip down to to Santo Domingo. we had to go to the American Embassy so that i could get more pages added to my passport. believe it or not, i am nearly out of the pages that immigration officials can stamp upon entry into a foreign country. that's what happens after going on a big 3 month backpacking trip in '01, taking many business trips to London while working for Orange, and entering and exiting the DR many times over the past 2.5 years.

well, the american embassy was a disappointment. i guess i had this romantic notion of an embassy and instead found myself in a building that felt more like a bad ER waiting room. panel ceilings, linoleum floors, glass enclosed rooms, and signs about getting a reward for turning in terrorists were the sights, and of course the more than 150 people (Dominicans) waiting in the visa line at 7am to get into the building and be granted the right to make the trip of their dreams. luckily i did not have to wait in that line, as there was a separate line for us American citizens. still, i was there at 7am because they only process the passport stuff mondays and wednesday mornings 7:30am-9:30am. you wanna be there early just in case

there were 3 things i found quite astonishing during my 2 trips to the embassy today (i had to go early in the morning and then return at 3pm to pick up my passport with add'l pages). first was the lack of English speakers both outside and inside the building. this was accompanied by a complete LACK of signage for what to do, where to stand, which of the 28 "windows" to go to once you were inside the building, where to sit, what would happen when some people had ticket numbers and others (like me) did not. lastly the bathroom was unbelievably terrible - toilets filled with urine and reeking due to the relative heat in the place. not quite what i would expect that we would want to present to our citizens and those looking to get to the US. i guess the Santo Domingo embassy is not the highest of priorities for Condoleeza Rice.

anyway, i got my pages and we bolted out of town. we've been back an hour now. the drive is just so exhausting. first you have to contend with the zany capitol traffic. we're talking cars squeezing into any free space such that there really are no lanes. this means instead of 5 lanes, you have 8 lanes of traffic all bottlenecked at lights. trucks are belching out smoke and passing on the right. cars looking like they will fall apart at any minute are cutting you off while motorcycles weave in and out of the whole mayhem too.

once you make it out of the capitol and onto the highway, then it's on to motos coming straight at you in the "shoulder" of the highway or pedestrians walking along the side that you have to avoid as the souped up rally car maniacs go flying past you. there's always the occassional car in the fast lane that is going about 20mph while you are coming up behind them at 65mph along with the nut in back of you who will now pass you on the right. throw in the occassional lane drop due to "men working" that comes without any warning around a bend, and you can see how this is not a country for which cruise control was created.

once you get through the 1.5 hour highway stretch, it's on to the mountain road from Moca to Cabarete. a beautiful windy road with chicken trucks, over-anxious Cabarete taxi drivers, slow pokes, and people, usually like a 5 year, walking or playing on the edge of the road is the name of the game here. it was getting dark by the time we hit the mountain road so we were anxious to get through that as quickly as possible, but you gotta be careful not to go too fast around the hairpin turns.

once you arrive home, the first thing you want to do is take a shower. i like windows versus AC but that means that you feel like you are wearing the road and all its smog by the end of the trip. i'm not sure there is another activity where you get as dirty without really doing anything.

so that's the drive, one i can't say i would love doing very often. give me Las Terrenas anyday over a trip to Santo Domingo!

oh, speaking of the capitol, we should say that we did enjoy our time in the Zona Colonial. highlights included a few coffees and lunch at the Conde restauarant where we sat at the outdoor tables overlooking the park and the whole world going by. drinks and dinner at the segafredo place. some empanadas from the authentic reposteria. sitting in the park on Padre Billini, just relaxing and looking at the 15th century building in front of us. last but not least, by far the most memorable aspect of the trip was stumbling upon a small bar blasting merengue and lots of locals dancing away with their hips swaying just right to the beat. these were older folks who really knew how to dance and clearly had gone out specifically to dance that night. the music was fantastic, though very loud! that was just the kind of place that you hope to find in the Zona Colonial as it is such an authentic Dominican experience.

ok, i am done for the day! veronica took lots of photos so maybe she'll add one or some later to this post. buenas noches!