Back Home in California
Buenos tardes from Santo Domingo,
Here in the Dominican Republic the now familiar sounds of spoken Spanish provide welcome reassurance that faulty efforts to communicate will be tolerated. For the past couple weeks Anglophobic Francophones have made it clear only perfectly managed French would be acceptable! But in Santo Domingo, capital of Republica Dominica foreigners struggling with Spanish are more likely a source of amusement than irritation for the locals. Learning (pigeon) Spanish through immersion this past year has had unexpected benefits. Street and city names back home are often Spanish words and my newly acquired imperfect command of the language is adding a new dimension to enjoying our Southern California Spanish heritage. La Puente (a city) is the bridge; Dos Pueblos (a school) is two villages; Canon Perdido (a street) is lost canon, etc.
Occupying the eastern half of Hispaniola island, the Dominican Republic is a first world country. It is a nation with a colorful history and excellent tourist infrastructure. French speaking Haiti on the western half of the island, by contrast is an economic basket case. The border between the two nations is clearly visible from the air as this NASA photo shows. The Dominican forest abruptly ends at the border with Haiti. Impoverished Haitians have ravaged the land in their desperate search for anything that will burn. That deforestation has had devastating effects on the country's economy. I can't help but compare the situation here with the history of Easter Island.
The $77 Hotel Mercure where I spent six nights is located on the main pedestrian mall in the old part of the city called the Zona Colonial. One of the better hotels in the district, its sidewalk cafe is a popular venue for locals who come for coffee and long talks. Three old guys occupied the same table every morning during my stay. To the south of the island is the Caribbean Sea; to the north the Atlantic Ocean. I've always wondered why some large bodies of salt water are called seas and others oceans. Now I know. Do you?
These last many weeks on the road have not been as stimulating or enjoyable as those during the earlier months. The truth is I have been getting tired and bored more quickly, craving longer naps back in the comfort of my upscale hotel rooms, less interested in shopping for bargain accommodations, etc. It is possible a lackadaisical attitude toward my borderline diabetic condition could be partially responsible for the low energy. The Glipizide tablets have always come to the rescue whenever the symptoms became aggravating, but my supply is low and replenishing it without a prescription has become problematic. Throughout most of Latin America "prescription" drugs, when available, are sold like candy in drugstores. Once I reached Suriname things changed and a prescription became essential.
My backlog of messages from well wishers has grown obscenely. Considering how much I enjoy hearing from friends and family while on the road that is exceedingly thoughtless in my personal view of the world. But, finding an available Internet terminal with decent response time, considering the priority of waiting "postcard" drafts, and attending to the necessities of living on the road often produce prolonged periods of lethargy where nothing gets done. Attributing these realities to advancing age is a sure way to create a self fulfilling prophecy! Keeping on going is clearly a personal choice in my view. Too much rest, like not enough rest is an inevitable prescription for a shorter life! So, I'll keep on going.
One of my slightly older friends in noting my upcoming 72th birthday addressed me as a senile citizen. Senile Citizen...hmm; I love it! "Senior" is so prosaic... senior engineer, senior officer, senior class , Fred Bellomy Senior (my father), etc. etc. Obviously questioning my sanity he noted he has become wise enough to stay home more. Now that I am myself approaching that level of wisdom, I have begun to think my next forays into the wilderness need to be shorter; say a month or two with long respites back in a cozy First World nest for reflection and the recording of epilogues.
Cuba is officially off limits to Americans, so it has been with some trepidation that I have approached the possibility of a surreptitious visit to the outlaw island. To my surprise, every American here who has traveled to Cuba confirms they have experienced "no problem!" No U.S. passport confiscation by immigration officials on returning home; no visits by polite FBI agents, etc. I spoke to at least eight or ten Americans, some of whom have made multiple trips. "Will I need to carry lots of dollars for everything?" I asked one respondent.
"Not at all. The hotels have some way of running the credit card charges through a 'legal' third country... like Canada." my many informants assured me. CubaTravelUSA.com provides practical advice about the realities of Cuban travel for Americans. Buoyed with all this new information I am now studying the transportation options. There are inexpensive flights ($100-$200) everyday from here, but I hesitate. Do I really want to add yet one more chapter to my already bulky record of this odyssey? Do I even have enough energy left to do it? If the fog every lifts enough to make a decision, I'll let you know!
Fred L Bellomy
PS: Conversations with several of my Christian friends lead me to believe many will agree with a recent Time Magazine Essay entitled: My Problem with Christianism by Andrew Sullivan. The opening sentence reads: "Are you a Christian who doesn't feel represented by the religious right? I know the feeling." Sullivan accurately reflects my own concerns over recent injections of fundamentalist religious ideologies into the body politic. Take a look at the essay and see what you think.
PPS: Al Gore's campaign to raise awareness of the dangers global warming presents, mentioned in my postcard from Suriname, now includes a film coming soon to a theater near you. Be sure to see An Inconvenient Truth. F
PPPS: In considering where in the world my next trip might start, this list of possibilities popped up. It is amazing how many places yet beckon, even though I count at least 115 visited during prior trips. F