I started writing this blog four years ago, February 2012. As I start to rebuild a foundation to this site I thought it was only fitting that I re-post something I wrote back then about a place that would, unbeknownst to me, become a big part of my life. A place I am sad to say no longer exists… Los Gringos
I’m starting to lose track of what day it is and I’ve given up caring about the time of day. It’s either dark or light out. I have no where I need to be and definitely no time I need to be there at. Of course, I have with me at all times when I travel the official keeper of all such relevant statistics, my wife Honey.
If I suggest that we do something, she asks when and where, stores this information, then at regular intervals reminds me that we have upcoming plans. These reminders are given with just the right amount of subtlety to make sure I don’t feel I’m being nagged. “Were you planning to shave before we leave?” 1 hour, “What are you planning to wear?” 30 minutes, “What time did you want to be there?” 10 minutes, “Are we still going?” times up.
Last night we were invited by our host, Patrick, to join him and all the staff for the last night of Carnivale in nearby Rio San Juan. I only packed one pair of long pants and one shirt with both buttons and sleeves, which I promptly donned for the festival. Since my tan is only moderate, not that it would have mattered, I can say that I might have stood out in the crowd. In fact, this morning my wife told me I looked like a “Plantation” owner, dressed in that shirt. I don’t think she was being flattering. It would have been nice if she has said something before we left.
In her defence though, had we been going to one of the nightly shows at a resort, I would have blended right in. That was not the case amongst the local population of Rio San Juan. Of course once she realized that this was the situation, she had the common courtesy to refrain from telling me until it was all over. That way she did not spoil my fun by making me feel self-conscious. She’s the best.
Carnivale, I am told, takes place once a year and is a cross between a local fair and a nationwide talent search. The Carnivale is like a travelling fair. It starts just north of Santo Domingo in a town that I can’t remember the name of, and then moves week to week throughout the country. At each town it stays for four days, where the locals compete in a talent contest (on stage) and a float contest (in the streets). Daily parades take place and from this a float is chosen to represent the community. This float and the talent winner then join the Carnivale as it makes it way to the next town. The whole thing ends after a few months with all the floats and talent taking part in a Mardi Gras type celebration in the capital, Santo Domingo.
Sunday, being the last night, the majority of events were over, so we really only caught the wind up party. There were people mingling around in costumes and masks were still for sale, The last of the talent contestants were performing on a large stage that was erected on the water in the middle of a lagoon which created a natural amphitheatre.
There were sixteen of us, and we met at a cantina at the entrance to the event, which covered three streets. Patrick, in his role as supreme commander of our spaceship, sent out two scouts to find us some sort of seating. The opinion was that this would prove to be an impossible task. We all had a cold bevy and waited. Sure enough fifteen minutes later one of our scouting party returned to announce success and our party made their way to “Frank’s Bar” where four tables seating sixteen were being held for us.
The music blasted from the doors and patios of every cantina we passed. Throngs of people moved about the streets. The women were dressed to the “nines” in short dresses and tight fitting jeans and the men in their best jeans and T-shirts, with me, the “Plantation” owner strolling amidst them. For the most part we parked ourselves at Frank’s, which was directly across from the floating stage. There was dancing, drinking and pizza.
Oh Man, can these people dance!! I know we’re all built the same, but if I tried to move my hips that way, you had better have 911 on speed dial. The women who work at Los Gringos are no exception and so are the men. I am too old to feel inferior, but you twenty somethings that come to this island had better be ready to eat some serious humble pie. Salsa dancing cannot be faked. Which means I’m smart enough not to try, even what would be considered a waltz (aka sloooow dancing) is in triple time and requires that same damn hip movement.
Honey and I spent some of the time wandering the streets and taking in some of the local flavour. We checked out the street vendors, who for the first time ever, were not hassling me to buy anything. After all, this was a festival for them not for the tourists. We watched some of the talent contest and generally took in the local culture. These are some of the things I learned;
1) Every person, be them male or female, look young in the Dominican Republic. Only through close examination can you tell who the mother is, and who the teenage daughter is.
2) Hip Hop (aka Rap) appears to be very popular here. Many of the talent contestants preformed this style of music with an entourage of break dancers. I don’t particularly care for this style of music and dance in English and it seems in don’t like it in Spanish either. Especially when I know how well they can Rumba and Salsa and how spectacular that can be to watch, someone flailing around on the floor like they’ve just been shot doesn’t do it for me.
3) Hot Dogs on a stick is the most popular fast food at this kind of event. There must have been twenty vendors with barbeques, cooking hot dogs that when cooked they skewered with a stick and sold this way. There are no buns involved and the condiments are applied right to the dog. The favourite garnish for this delicacy is mayonnaise. Although I’m sure it exists, I have yet to see mustard anywhere.
4) The more beer I drink, the more my wife rolls her eyes and shakes her head. This isn’t something I just learned but thought it was worth noting.
5) Even though Hip Hop has made its way to the island, the fashion of wearing your pants so the crotch is at your knees has not. I personally hope it never does. Every time I see someone dressed this way I have an uncontrollable urge to yell “Hey! Pull up your damn pants!” I have no desire to know what colour their underwear is. And the only crack I should ever be exposed to should belong to the plumber.
My wife and I, in the past, have gone off the resorts occasionally to see some of the nearby sights and try to experience some of the local culture. But since we cannot disguise the fact that we are tourists, we are treated as such. The vendors bombard us with low end wares, at high end prices and since I have no clue to the true value of these goods, I have over paid for everything. I own too many things that turn my skin green. Sunday night though was something different. Not only were we travelling in a group that was a majority of locals, we were treated to an event that was put on for the Dominican people and not for their visitors. For once, I got to be a fly on the wall and see the people actually entertaining themselves instead of us Gringo tourists. And they seem to have fun, maybe that’s why they all appear to age so slowly, embracing life for what it is, not for what it might be.