My next surprise happened when we landed at the airport in Puerto Plata. As soon as the wheels touched down on the runway, the entire plane erupted into spontaneous applause, as if a safe landing was not the usual outcome.
Then, during the cab ride to the resort, I got to experience the unique local highway system firsthand. The roads appeared to be your average two lane highway, but in reality, they functioned as three lanes; one lane for each direction plus an imaginary center passing lane for vehicles traveling in either direction to use at their own risk. This made for one of the most exhilarating cab rides of my life.
When I finally arrived at the property, I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of this piece of land nestled in the gently sloping hills overlooking a gorgeous bay filled with the bluest water I had ever seen. I quickly settled in and got right to work setting up the DJ booth and arranging the activities schedule for the soft opening. Since most of the employees spoke very little English and my Spanish pretty much consisted of the phrase “dos cervasa, por favor” I quickly gravitated to hanging out with the head chef, Chris. He was Canadian and had originally come to the DR on vacation, but while there, he met a beautiful Dominican girl, fell in love, got married and moved to start his new life on Isla de la Hispaniola.
One afternoon, Chris invited me to go along with him and some of the other staff that evening to a local “discoteca” in the nearby town of Cabrea. When it was time to go, we all loaded up in the bed of a large dump truck and headed down the road. We arrived at a rundown roadside shack that looked more like a fruit stand than a night club. Inside, I witnessed one of the most inventive uses of Christmas tree lighting to illuminate a dance floor I had ever seen, but what they lacked in lighting, they more than made up for with two of the largest P.A. speakers I had ever heard. They were blasting out salsa and meringue with a little bit of reggae on the side. We all sat down at a table and I used all the Spanish I could muster to order a Rhum & Coca Cola. What the waitress brought me was one glass, a bucket of ice, two glass bottles of coke and a fifth of rum. I felt as if I had just ordered a whiskey at some saloon in one of those old western movies.
As we sat around the table, I quickly came to the realization that I was the only one that didn’t speak Spanish and therefore I was pretty much being left out of the conversation. I turned to Chris and asked him if he would do me a favor. I said, “Every time someone says something funny, you tap me and I will laugh as if I know what’s going on.” The first couple of times it was so unexpected that the whole group fell apart with their own laughter, but after a while, Chris started tapping me whenever there was a lull in the conversation just to get the party started again. It may sound funny, but in a weird way it did make me feel as if I was actually a part of the conversation.
The truth is that the months I spent in the DR really changed my perspective on the world. What I learned is that the Dominicans are a warm and welcoming people and how to merengue like nobody’s business, but I have to tell you dude that after being away from home for a while there is nothing quite as comforting as the warm glow from the lights of a 24 hour Walmart.