It seems fitting that one of the last items on the calendar before our return to the US is an entry in our guestbook. In the two years we have been here, we have averaged just under a visitor per month, give or take. Our final guests came all the way from the northwest corner of the US, Ray Ray's home turf. They were not prepared for the humidity or the driving and both sent them home with a great New Year's adventure story.
We went with the old stand-by play: reserve a spot in Cabarete and set up shop for a few days of beaches, restaurants, and a slower pace. Immediately the trip hit a snag when a rental car agency did not have enough supply to meet holiday demand. This is not uncommon. Despite well-known names like Hertz, Avis, etc., the fine print for a reservation abroad - particularly in what is considered a developing country - includes a caveat about third-party ownership and operation of its franchise. As such, the parent company cannot guarantee a car will be available. Also, if there is no car available, figure it out.
Which is exactly what we had to do. We called up a local resource, a friend who has been our go-to airport taxi shuttle for two years, and asked him to reach out to his network. His friend has a fledgling (in every sense of the word) rental business, navigating horrendous city traffic into a part of town I had never visited, and some very-tough-to-understand local Spanish, our friends had their chariot for the holiday.
One of the most amazing aspects of the current Dominican Republic is how quickly new business, restaurants, and ideas are incorporated into the landscape. The route north, one we have taken many times, has only recently added a sit-down BBQ restaurant to a gas station mini-mart. The owners spent time in the States - Texas, I believe, which makes sense - and brought the idea back with them. We only recently learned of it and decided to visit. It was delicious. And packed. If it continues to succeed, look for more BBQ spots popping up. Yet one more example of two cultures progressing faster than might have been achieved through a more forceful agenda.
With that bit of soft power success behind us, we made our way to the north for lazy days at Playa Grande, Playa Caleton, and a few other tucked away beaches that have become local favorites for us and that we will be sad to leave next month. Our guests were happy to arrive, their nerves slightly on end after a road trip in a place where driving sometimes feels like a video game. Roads are often no more than one lane in each direction. Passing (or "overtaking," depending on the country/island) is aggressive. Being alert becomes as second-nature as breathing because you never know what will come racing around a corner or if someone is foolishly passing at the crest of a hill. Unfortunately, in an overly-macho-sized-ego-driven country, traffic fatalities are common - and completely avoidable. That is not to say you don't adapt. Sitting behind a 45-year-old truck, over-loaded with stuff, lumbering down the road at 20 miles per hour, you learn how to patiently wait for the right moment to rev the engine and pass as quickly as you can. Wider roads with more lanes would obviate the need for such driving theatrics, but you can only work with what you have, not what you want.
But all wall of that was safely in the rear view mirror as we, after unpacking, shifted into neutral and absorbed the calming sound of crashing waves, a beautiful sunset, and a decent supply of cold beverages. The days unfolded slowly as we inched toward flipping of the calendar from one year to the next. We marked the holiday on the beaches of Cabarete, roaming from one bar or restaurant to another. Each of Cabarete's establishment was blaring music and packed with a party faithful eagerly awaiting a midnight fireworks extravaganza that would bring the evening to a nice, respectable level.
The rest, as they say, is history. Not a very glamorous or outlandish one. New Year's Day itself was slow going, as were the few days that followed until our friends returned, slightly begrudgingly, to their colder environs. For us, it was a nice final tour of an area of the country we've become quite fond of. All that is left for us to do is manage packing out of what has been our home these last two years, take advantage of a cruise, and transition back to the States. We'll do our best to keep you posted. Until then, Happy New Year!