Day one, 2020. 1970 is now half a century ago, and I for one must say, time flies when you’re having fun. I usually write a recap of the year that had just passed but since this is the change in decades, I thought it would be worth looking back at the last decade of my life. Take a look and see where I was then and where my path has gone. I’m sure I will not be totally accurate about the timing of events and changes but I’ll do my best.
In February that year, Honey and I spent three weeks at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It was the longest holiday we had ever taken to the Caribbean and that year instead of buying the travel agent offerings, I had built my own using Expedia. We used taxis to get around instead of tour buses, and instead of paying for upgrades, I wrote the hotel and simply asked. I was rewarded with a beach-front suite with an unimpeded view of the ocean. I napped on a hammock in the afternoons and realized just how much I loved the ocean and the warmth of the islands.
This was the year that Honey and I became ‘empty-nesters’ for the first-time (you’ll understand later what I mean), and after our trip, I started searching for properties in the Dominican Republic. Not because I could afford one, but because I was close enough to retirement age that I needed to embrace a dream and realistically chase it. Was escaping winter for an extended period of time even possible? I doubted it considering our financial situation at the time, but it costs nothing to look. It wasn’t long before I realized that even condos were probably not going to happen without some kind of income, so I searched businesses for sale in the DR. Dreams need to adapt, I was learning. It was during one of these property searches that I stumbled across a place on the north shore of the Dominican Republic called Los Gringos.
Looking back, I wonder… What the hell was I thinking?!!! I couldn’t speak the language then!! I still can’t speak the language now!!! I knew nothing of the Dominican Republic. Its laws and legal system, how day to day life really was. What I thought I knew then, was that my meager pension would allow us to live like kings. Really… Really… Really naïve! But dreams have to start somewhere.
In 2010 Canada rocked the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the NFL team, that I have cheered for since the mid ‘80s when they drafted a Canadian running back named Rueben Mayes, finally won the Super Bowl. Tiger Woods was in his personal tail-spin and Phil Michelson won his 3rd Masters. There was still no NHL hockey in the big city and the local CFL team (Canadian football) hadn’t won a championship in twenty years. There are only nine teams in the league! You would think they could have managed to win one in 20 years!!
Honey and I had discussed going to Los Gringos that year but in the end, fear of going off the reserve that far won out, and we found ourselves in the Land of Che. A week in Santa Clara, Cuba in January is all we could reasonably afford, so that is where we tried to escape winter. The problem was that winter followed us and the highest the temperature got was plus 18 and it rained most of the time. Cuba was lovely but Mother Nature destroyed our reprieve and it was an ugly winter after that.
This is the year that I turned 50. That should mean something but truthfully, the day came and went with zero fanfare and I had no problem with that. I’m not a special occasion kind of guy. When I was young, they meant very little, there were no parties or special gifts and the only thing I was guaranteed of, the story of my birth as told by my mother. After I met Honey, there was always cake too. So, reaching this milestone at the time meant very little to me, but I did decide that I needed to do something to mark the occasion. So, I got a tattoo.
Having had a year of adjusting to being ‘empty-nester’s’, and feeling confident that things were stable, Honey and I renovated the ‘master-bath’. I’m calling it that to make it sound grand, but it started as a 4’x8’ main bathroom and ended as an 8’x8’ main bathroom with better finishes. It took three weeks and it is the reason that Honey and I don’t work in the same room at the same time anymore. Just like a kitchen, a bathroom is expensive and the cost meant there would be no travel the next year (or maybe ever), but Honey and I were both happy with the end result.
This changed with a gift. For Christmas 2011, MIL told us she would pay for a trip so we could get away that winter. I started searching in early December for travel the next February. MIL is not rich, so I needed to stretch the dollars as far as I could. Just before the New Year, I contacted a guy named ‘Patrick’ at a place called Los Gringos.
IT Genie moves home January 4th. His life requires a re-boot. The whole thing had started when he had come home over the holidays. Honey and I could see that his life was in disarray and had said to him then, “you can always come home, there will always be room for you here.” Stupid!! Stupid!! Stupid!! but you never stop being a parent.
IT Genie brings with him a website, with a stupid web address (see your browser). It had no content and was just taking up cyber-space. I suggest that I could post a blog about my trip to Los Gringos and about travel in general. Then he would have some content! I was actually joking, but when he got excited about the idea, I was forced to ‘walk the talk’. Thus began, what you read today.
Many of my early posts are no longer available, since IT Genie at some point didn’t pay the renewal and the website expired. I took it as a sign that maybe it was time to move on, but with some coaxing I ponied-up and reopened the account. I used the same site name. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I had to start fresh, so many articles are now only in my files.
In February, Honey and I fly to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. We are met by Patrick at the airport as arranged, and we agreed to wait for another flight due to land a few hours later. This way Patrick wouldn’t have to make two trips. We’re nice people and we were on holidays, so what did it matter. I drank ‘muy cervasa’, while we waited and by the time Ginger and The Earl arrived, I was well lit. I’m not sure I made the best first impression.
My love for the Playa Magante, and the people, is well documented throughout this site, so I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say, that at the end of our visit, Honey and I had different impressions of the place. Mine was romantic and hers’ was more ‘nightmare bug-gish’.
It was during our stay at Los Gringos, that a family crisis arises and by the time Honey and I arrived home, my nephew ‘Suspended’ had moved into our house. A short time later he was joined by his brother ‘Truant’. Making us a house of five, and with BIL working in the oil fields of Albania, back to being ‘adult-supervision’ to teenagers. We were ‘empty-nesters’ just three months ago!!
By the end of the year, IT Genie gets a solid job, meets a girl and moves out. My basement is populated by teenagers, as both nephews like to be social. We are feeding 5-7 people every night. I still don’t know how we managed to scrape together the funds needed to have a winter holiday, but I’m sure the need to escape the chaos in our house and credit cards, both played a part.
For almost a year we had been alternating months with the teenagers, one month with us, then one month with dad. I was running a shuttle to and from the airport, picking up and delivering BIL to flights. I had dealt with two school authorities, hence my nephews names, and I was back hanging out in arenas!! A holiday was mandatory!
I would have been happy to return to Los Gringos but Honey made it clear that she did not feel the same way about the place as I did. She was open to a condo rental, which broadened my search capabilities and Yah Mon!! Jamaica in February!!
Jamaica was great. I have nothing derogatory to say about the place. You should go there. We rented a condo in Rosehill, outside of Montego Bay. We had a very good time, did some touring and saw some sites. I learned to appreciate rum and other local delicacies, and we spent many hours just chilling and talking on the deck.
Honey and I talked a lot about our future then. Which under the present circumstances, was much cloudier than it had been a year ago. We were mired in debt and shackled by family commitments. The dream had taken a major kicking and any thought of retiring, to any Caribbean island, was very remote. We agreed then, that no matter what, we would always try and get away yearly to escape winter.
I continued to write my blog and in 2013, I had reached a milestone of 100 posts. I had written about mostly nothing, but I had continued to write. Writing was always something I liked, the creative side of me being permitted to be set free. Even though, I had thousands of hits on my website, I truly believe that there are only a handful of people that have read what I have written. I am grateful to them for helping me continue to express myself in words.
One of those people is Uncle Jeremiah, he has been around since the beginning of this blog, and my life. He is my mother’s brother, and he lives at the ‘end of the road’ to the north with Auntie Johnson. They are the family huggers, in my non-hugging family. They came to visit that summer on their way to a big family ‘tah-doo’ in the east. We were invited but one vacation was all we could expect to afford and that one was spoken for. Also, the thought of being on a plane with a heavily-sedated Uncle J, is one of the few things that is NOT on any bucket-list I have ever written. He is not much for flying.
Uncle Jeremiah and I share a bizarre relationship with one another, it is like we share a power with each other. The power is laughter. Not just ha-ha-ha, but the kind of laughter that makes you pee yourself. The kind that makes you feel alive and truly joyful to be such. I know you know what I mean, that you have all had such moments in your life time, and no doubt frequently. You laughed so hard you cried. In fact, I’m sure that I have shared a moment like that with some of you myself. But with Uncle Jeremiah and I, it is every time we are together. I’m talking a lifetime of it!! It’s kind of freakish!! There is only one topic off limits with us and that is flying. His fear is real, and needs to be respected.
In 2013, IT Genie proposed marriage to Company, and late that year they came to us and asked to hold the ceremony in our backyard. Honey and I agreed. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Bull had also met Tattoo and they had moved in together. Tattoo had two children from a previous relationship, whom we would not meet until the next year but behaving like faux grandparents, Honey sent them Christmas presents.
Late the previous year, to my surprise, Honey had said, “Let’s go back to Los Gringos this winter.” We had spent much of the year comparing Jamaica and the Dominican Republic and decided it was time to stop going from beach to beach and pick one to holiday at. Los Gringos was affordable and we had both loved the people and sereneness of the area. It also offered a restaurant and housekeeping, which the condo had not. With Honey, the phrase, “It may be Jamaica but I’m still cooking and cleaning” had carried more weight than “I don’t care what time it is! That moth has to go!!”, so we booked to return to the DR.
That year we headed south for 18 days, we booked 2 weeks at Los Gringos and 4 days at an all-inclusive that we had stayed at before. We hadn’t stayed at an AI for three years and needed to see again what we were missing. Turned out, not too much.
Ginger and The Earl arrived on our second week at Los Gringos. We spent more time with them than on our first visit and I believe that that is when our friendship began. I think, I viewed us as acquaintances prior to that. It is also when Ginger started to read my blog and became one of the loyal few. The Earl is not much for electronic reading, he’s a hands-on paper kind of guy, so he only reads my writings in a pinch.
The biggest news of 2014 was the birth of Elyza in October to BulToo. With her birth, Honey and I went from none to three grandkids, in a heartbeat. No more faux, we were now hardcore grandparents! The first time Honey held Elyza, I knew that life had changed forever and the dream required more adjusting.
My father passed away in the fall, shortly after he was told he was a great-grandfather. I don’t think it had anything to do with news, he had been a smoker for 70 years. He suffered a heart-attack at 83, while having a smoke outside the retirement home. A cowboy to the end, dying with his boots on.
Life took a left in 2015. Of all the year’s in the last decade, this one was the most impactful. The people I met and the events that happened that year have changed me forever.
Five days prior to our return to the DR to start the year, our friend and host at Los Gringos Patrick, is killed in a traffic accident. Los Gringos was a one-person operation and Patrick was that person. I reached out to Ginger and The Earl to confirm the sad news, and while I waited for a reply, started looking for replacement accommodations.
We spent a sad week at Los Gringos at Ginger and The Earl’s invitation and stayed in Cabarete for an additional ten days. I rented a car for the first time and drove Dominican. My blog leads to a knock on the door late one night in Cabarete and a friendship with Rock and Stream. It continues to this day, a fellowship of Los Gringo’s refugees. I left the north shore of the Dominican Republic that year thinking I might never return. The dream of wintering there was pretty much finished with the closing of Los Gringos.
From there the year just picked up speed. In the spring, a stray cat shows up and is adopted. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I preside over a memorial for my father and while I’m away from home, stray cat disappears for three days but returns the day I get back. Mid-summer, stray cat gives birth to five kittens in my closet.
I had dental work done early that summer and had bought myself a perfect smile, for the wedding. The yard work preparation for the wedding is intense. Honey is hard at the gardens and I am trying to manicure a lawn with no help from Mother you-know-who, as July turns hot and dry. Two of our three fish didn’t survive to see the wedding day, the July heat had got to them and the came up floating in the pond.
Late that summer, IT Genie and Company officially amalgamate to form GenCo in my backyard. It had been a year in the making, and I for one couldn’t have been happier to see the actual day come and go. It was cool and rained… go figure right??
In the fall I must return to my childhood home in the east once again. My mother took ill and Honey and I went back one last time to say goodbye. She died in November.
Honey and I stayed home this year. The extra costs associated with the previous year had taken its tool and the coffers were bare. This is also the year that IT Genie didn’t pay the bill on his website and I got kicked off the internet. I stopped publishing and took some time off from writing. It was only with the encouragement of a few friends that I was convinced to pay-up and start again. This is the site that currently exists. Many posts from the first years are gone from the internet, or at least difficult to find. Uncle Jeremiah always reminds me that the internet is forever.
In the spring, Ginger contacted me and informed me that she and The Earl had reached an agreement with an interested party and there was a new tenant at The Playa. The place had had a make-over and the Playa de los Pirates was open for business. She and The Earl visited twice that year as is the norm, and Ginger sent me a running commentary while they were there. She even sent pictures!
Some of the changes were good, like the inside of the cabanas, but to me the tenant had desecrated the one thing that made the place special, the beach. He had made the place look like a theme park; I could never see myself going back there.
But never say never, because during their visit that fall, Ginger sends a message with an invitation to join them at Playa de los Piratas that coming February, as their guests. Then before Honey and I could reply to the invitation, we receive a message from Rock and Stream asking if there was a chance we were in the DR in February. They were planning to return and were hoping we could get together again. Hmmmm… let’s see… free accommodations… people that actually want to see us… seemed like a no brainer. We started planning our trip to the Playa de los Piratas.
In 2017 GenCo expanded and my fourth grandchild is born, Parker. In the summer BulToo and the three grandkids came to visit and delivered the news that they were expecting at the end of the year. That would be number five.
For Christmas that year Honey gives the cherished gift of my countdown-calendar. It hangs above my desk to remind me that time for a permanent change draws ever closer.
Day one, 2017. Sebastian enters the family and five is official. I have a long talk with Bull about birth control. He assures me that they are done at four kids. Four!! Can you imagine??? I couldn’t handle two!!
A two-week vacation on a Caribbean beach with some close friends turning into the Siege at Los Gringos, was something I never saw coming. The first shots had been fired by the second day after we arrived. Lines were drawn and the restaurant and cabanas turned into encampments. Honey and I technically had nothing to do with it, but we were knee deep in it.
Business at Los Gringos had been slow, but was at least starting to improve before Patrick’s death. The Pirate had sailed the ship to ground, and in just over a year the business had sunk. He needed out, and The Earl and Ginger were more than happy to oblige but shutting the place down again would be disastrous. A plan was devised and by the time we left the DR, I had become involved in a small-business triad. The deal is verbal, which makes it precarious and conveyed in three languages. Two are supposed to be English, but sometimes you could hardly tell. Ultimately, there are outs on all sides.
I spent the remainder of the year developing an online presence for the Playa Paraiso en Magante, or The Playa. I signed agreements with booking agents and made The Playa credit card friendly. Once I was finished, I sat back and waited for the masses to beat down the door. Okay, that didn’t happen. At least not to start with. I checked all the different sites that The Playa was listed on every day and nothing… nada… zip… zero… zilch! It took three months before someone made a reservation! And then they cancelled!!
It isn’t until summer that Honey and I go on a road trip and visit our newest grandchild. This cannot be said enough times, I’m not from a family of huggers.
This is also the year that DeeDee, eldest daughter of Ginger and The Earl get married and I send a stuffed bear as a present. Thompson went to a wedding and then he went on a Caribbean holiday… twice. Eventually Thompson went on safari to Africa where he was kidnapped by baboons. At least that’s the story The Earl gave me.
The year wound up with Mother Nature, whom I have no love lost with, sending not one but two hurricanes at The Playa. Irma and Maria slammed into the Dominican Republic that fall. When the fronds had settled, The Playa escaped with just minor damage. I’m still not sure if I should take it as a warning or not.
In November, the United States holds its presidential election. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Honey and I head to The Playa in February, it is now the official annual holiday time. This works with The Earl’s schedule best. February is sandwiched between ‘the hunt’ and ‘the drilling’. I think both make use of the ‘noddymobile’! Yes, I know it’s the same language but sometimes I wonder!!
The reservations for The Playa started to materialize in earnest after hurricane season, we weren’t full by any stretch of the imagination, but it was encouraging. When we arrived, Honey and I were pleased to see that the restaurant business had increased. Meaning 3 diners during the weekdays and ten each day of the weekend. The restaurant was never going to be one of those packed every day kind of places, but it needed to hold its own to stay open.
My belief has always been that the money to finance The Playa business was in the cabanas and not the restaurant. This is contrary to what has been done by every person that set up shop there in the past. Restaurant first and cabanas later… maybe. My involvement in this operation changed that because a) I can’t cook and b) I live in Canada. My interest is focused on the cabanas and getting bums in the beds and not what the ‘catch of the day’ is. I don’t grocery shop or arrange for the ‘coconut guy’ to come and tend to the palms, Wendy does that. I have a singular focus! I am the cabana boy!!
“Secluded Caribbean Beach Oasis”, that is the tagline I used on our website and The Playa looked exactly like that. The faux Pirate decorations, for the most part, were gone. The beauty of the beach and ocean were exposed for all to see and it looked like the place I had fallen in love with once again. It may not be profitable but now it had a chance.
Reid, grandchild six is born. Enough already! My children have become rabbits!! Even stray cat only had five kittens!!! For Christmas, I’m giving them both vasectomy vouchers!
Late in the fall, IT Genie comes down with a mystery illness that puts him in the hospital for three weeks. He is put on blood thinners because he has blood clots in organs and it all becomes very scary for awhile. The ultimate cause was some bizarre strain of mononucleosis. At least that’s what the doctor’s said. He recovered and all is now well.
The end of the year is taken up by DIY home reno. There is a timeline I’m told; the kitchen renovation will be done by Christmas. If it had been close, I wouldn’t be mentioning it… but it wasn’t close. We still had Christmas wrapped plywood counter-tops, as the year ended.
By the time we arrive at The Playa, Honey is ready for some serious down-time. Once again I have duct-taped two 36” flat-screen televisions together and put them on the plane as luggage. Then carted them, along with an extra lap-top, through Dominican customs. Two years in a row and no one has batted an eye at my silver duct-taped luggage. Now I’m back to just sweating because of the heat.
Rock and Stream finally make it to the ‘cabanas on the sand’, after five years. They joined Honey, Ginger, The Earl and I at The Playa for a week. I didn’t really write much about it because it involved far too many “you had to be there moments”, and frankly they aren’t that funny unless you were. Suffice it to say that “beaches, boats and astrophysics” will always have special meaning for the six of us.
Business at The Playa was booming, by “Secluded Beach” standards. The restaurant had a steady stream of customers throughout the days we were there, and as a whole the business was back on solid ground. The Triad was happy.
The snow has melted by the time it is “fait de complait” and the kitchen is done. To her credit, Honey has done a spectacular job, not just designing but building the room. She’s not much for time-tables, but she is a master craftsperson. She has a meticulous eye and attention to detail that I lack. I am envious.
The rest of the year has been composed of work, family, work, family, work, more work, family, snowstorm of the century, work and family. The one truly stand-out thing was that in late November, Honey’s football team, the team I mentioned way, way, back at the beginning, the team that had not won a championship in twenty years, in a 9-team league… won the championship. There was much rejoicing in the neighbourhood!
This Christmas, the family meal was prepared on quartz counter-tops in a kitchen that was now big enough for people to help. They didn’t. I guess there are some things even time can’t change.
In the last decade, I have gone from ‘empty-nester’ to Grumpa of six, and from perennial tourist to small-business triad. I’m starting this new decade employed, but know full well I will not finish it that way. The house I call home today, will not be my address when 2030 arrives. Friends and family that are here today, may well be gone by then and I will experience both joy and sadness. You do not need a crystal-ball to foresee certain events, time will move forward and so will my life.