1. On Sailing
A few weeks ago on my day off I decided to give sailing another go. I had the official lesson with the GMs (Gracious Members = guests) and then took the boat out with J.C. and, feeling confident in my ability to interpret the wind speed, almost killed us both with a sudden and unplanned turn that brought the bar whipping towards our skulls at top speed. We didn´t have time to duck our heads under the bar, which is the standard turning procedure, but rather had to lean out backwards over the water.
Now, this is an okay thing to do when you´re balancing against the wind and the boat´s weight, but is obviously not so good when all the weight is already on your side and the boat is just waiting for an excuse to tip over. J.C. jumped out before the thing collapsed on us and I tried to do the same, only my foot was caught in the ironically-named "security strap" and I ended up dangling there, uncomfortably straddling the side of the boat in an unattractive spread-eagle, until J.C. pushed the sail back over, turned us around and hoisted me back in. Not one of my finer moments.
Two of the GMs in the group decided it was too risky an activity and defected, despite J.C.'s assurance that he's never seen that happen before and it is almost impossible to make that kind of mistake. (He didn't quite say "only a complete moron can screw it up that badly," but we all understood the message.)
So then on my second run he sent me out alone, which initially seemed like a bad idea. Then I hit my stride and sailed straight out to the orange buoy, which made me feel like hot shit -- until, trying to come back to shore, I was suddenly and inexplicably unable to find any wind and spent about fifteen minutes sitting pretty much still in the water, slowly drifting in the opposite direction from where I needed to go. It was kind of a panicky situation, albeit in a slow-motion, nothing-really-happening way. They eventually sent a couple of guys out to sail me back – which humiliatingly took about forty seconds – and then suggested that I might want to head over and try a tennis lesson, rather than hang around the water sports the rest of the day.
Despite my evident lack of natural sailing ability, I took my wounded pride over to the windsurfing station, thinking that my cat-like agility would make me an instant pro. In my five-person lesson group, I was the only one who was unable to execute a turn. I think I fell off the board a total of eleven times before the salt in my throat became unbearable and I called it quits, to the evident relief of Flavio, the Brazilian windsurfing G.O. who was running out of encouraging words. He gives me an apologetic little smile every time I see him, though I have noticed that he has not suggested I come back and try again. I'm just saying.
2. On Trapezing
After defecting from all things sailing-related, I went back to the circus to take a second shot at the trapeze. This time I was a lot less scared and made a conscious effort not to take out any panicky feelings on the circus team. (The platform is still unreasonably narrow but I didn't mention it, for example.) I trapezed until all the muscles in my shoudlers felt like they'd been put through a meat strainer, then went on the trampoline, which turns out to be the single most aerobic activity I've ever undertaken. (I don't think it's a coincidence that the infirmary is right behind the circus zone; it's just a matter of time before someone thinks the trampoline is just a big kids' toy and then has a heart attack.) I got as far as doing a full sitting turn, which is not easy. Or so Mona assured me. Next time they'll harness me up and I'll learn flips, supposedly the same day I do my first trapeze catch – though I don't feel any real compulsion to make that happen.
3. On Local Fauna
I am fairly terrified of rats, mice coming in closely behind, and frankly I don't like crossing a city raccoon on a bad day, but otherwise I'm okay with most creatures. There are a lot of snakes around here and they don't faze me in the least. Cockroaches are gross but no big deal, frogs and lizards are my favourite things ever – other than the occasional rat around the beach bar when it's raining, I thought I would be free of sissiness during my stay here.
On Wednesday I had a bunch of airport pick-ups and so had a different schedule than usual and I found myself with two free hours in the afternoon. This being unprecedented, I couldn't decide how to best spend the time so I wouldn't regret it afterward, and I ultimately chose to nap. (Which can only ever be the right decision.) Now, get ready because this is a big one.
I was lying on my side and suddenly woke up and opened my eyes. There, on the wall, about 15 cm from my face, was a tarantula. Huge. Hairy. Possibly about to jump on my face. I somehow didn't panic – I am aware that hysteria never helps a stressful situation – and even heard the words "at least it isn't a rat" in my head.
I very slowly got off the bed and tried to ignore my pounding heart long enough to come up with a plan. I decided that I was a strong, capable woman and would simply deal with the situation myself, and so I got my sneaker and spent about six minutes psyching myself up to actually do the deed. When I finally attempted to smoosh the bastard, I was so freaked out that I only hurt its leg and sent it scurrying under my bed, which is a horrifying, horrifying thing to have done.
And still, I remained calm.
I went out onto the balcony to see if someone was out there who might have a suggestion, maybe give me a number to call, and I found Bazz from the circus. He's tough, he's from Indonesia, he has seen lots of tropical creepy-crawlies in his lifetime and should know exactly what to do. I called down to him and when I heard the panic in my voice, I realized I was fairly close to having an emotional breakdown. He is exceptionally chivalrous and came running up to help, assuring me the whole time that it was just a small animal, more afraid of me than I was of it, nothing to worry about. He was poking a hanger around to make it come out from under the air conditioner, telling me that there are a bajillion spiders in Indonesia and he might even want to keep this one as a pet – when it suddenly came scurrying out where he could see it.
Now, my friends, you have never heard a man scream like Bazz screamed. He leapt off the bed faster than I've ever seen anybody move and we both stood there against the wall, screaming and doing that icky-shivery body thing you do when you've seen something gross (and, usually, when you're a girl). Luckily, my neighbour J.C. heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. He's Dominican and apparently unafraid of big, fat, hairy tarantulas, and he took my room apart, undid all the bedding and the suitcases and moved all the furniture until he found the beast, killed it – possibly with his shoe but I don't know because I was still doing the squirmy dance with Bazz – and took it out to the garbage.
Nobody knows how it got in, nobody has ever seen one in their room, everyone in my building is now terrified to go to sleep at night. I've been turning on the air conditioning and am willing to take the bronchitis that it brings if it means that no rodent-sized spiders want to hang out in my room. I also have a near heart-attack every time I see something move, whatever or wherever it may be. I do a full and thorough area check before going into the shower, I shake out all my shoes at least twice a day and I avoid any clothing that may brush up against my leg and make me scream in public – my life now revolves around arachnid-management. Good times, good times.
4. On Local Life
My friend Alexandre invited me to spend a day in Bayahibe, a nearby village where he has an apartment.
*Incidentally, "nearby" turned out to be about 3 hours of travel time by the time we switched from crappy bus to crappy bus, and "apartment" turned out to be a little tin shack with a bed, a tv, a clothes rack and a bucket to pee in. (I turned down the Dominican pork he picked up, lest a gastro-intestinal crisis should be magnified by having only a bucket and a smile.)
I was psyched to get away from the surreal world of the Hotel Fun site and see what it's really like in the Dominican Republic – well, it's no Hotel Fun, that's for sure. The Punta Cana area is a series of aluminum huts amid piles of garbage. Every third home has an old woman in a rocking chair with a kerchief on her head and a bunch of naked or underwear-clad children playing in the garbage piles beside the hut. In-between the groups of huts is a series of road-side vendors' kiosks, usually featuring a bunch of bananas, some sugar cane and a couple of slabs of hanging meat with plenty of flies and no refrigeration in sight. (Hence the Hotel Fun advice to never eat meat off-site.) Every once in a while is a gorgeous, gated home with a Mercedes or an SUV. I don't really get that.
The buses are as crammed as they were in Guadeloupe, big vans full of sweaty people yelling in Spanish or Creole. (The locals are just as likely to be Haitian as Dominican.) They also boast the same road safety standards as Guadeloupe, which include angrily passing anyone who's driving under 110 km/h, oncoming traffic be damned, and stopping suddenly and frequently to buy orange slices on the side of the road, whatever swerving and general panic it might cause. One thing they don't do is turn away passengers because the van is full, so I spent more than half of the trip sitting on men's laps. You want to be fondled by strangers on public transit, you just make your way to Bayahibe.
5. On Weather
That day was unfortunately the first of intense rain, which made for a crappy tourism day and an even crappier homecoming: the theatre, the restaurants, the mini club, half the GM rooms – flooded. We're talking biblical amounts of rain here, all day and all night, so that any time not spent dashing from shelter to shelter was spent sweeping, mopping, toweling and bucket-ing the water out of those shelters. For three days. This has never happened before, apparently, and certainly not in March, which made for lots of angry GMs who blamed Hotel Fun for not being God enough to stop the rain. Because it was obviously such a great week for us – thanks for adding to the good atmosphere. Our hands were all red and chapped from wringing out so many towels, people had foot infections from wading through water up to their shins that was full of who-knows-what (I know what: rat pee and tarantulas!) – it was awful.
And now it's over.
Thanks for all your well-wishing – I've already explained about the lack of internet time, but it's not for lack of thinking of you. It looks like I might decide to stay (IF they give me my own room), so you can now feel free to send me lots of fantastic letters and care packages. Especially if you can get your hands on some Milka chocolate.
Seriously. Milka. Get on it.