December of 1978, my husband Tom and I headed down to the DR for Christmas vacation. We were both attending Tyler School of art in Philadelphia.The journey to the DR every vacation started with a train ride to New York City. Then a shuttle ride to the airport, finishing with a plane ride from New York that might or might not take you since the airline overbooked by hundreds of people. Riots would break out in the airport with a few arrests every year. The pilgrimage to the homeland brings every Dominican, no matter how far they live, back to the homeland for the holidays. It is like lemmings to the sea.
So, after experiencing the turmoil in the airport and having to camp out at Kennedy airport for almost two days waiting for a plane to take us to the DR, in spite of having had reservations for around 4 months, we decided not to ever do that again. We figured that if we flew from the Miami airport, the ticket was about half the cost. And with the rest of the money we could visit friends and family on the way down. We did this for the rest of the 4 time we were in Philadelphia. And what fun we had!
We would plan our trip so we could visit friends and family all the way from Philadelphia to Miami by way of Hatteras, North Carolina, where Tommy needed to make a pit stop to surf.
On this occasion, we visited Tommy's brother Hudson in Tennessee, his sister Gioia in North Carolina, our friends Vince and Julie in Crystal River, and our dearest friends the Vadas in Miami. It was a great journey to the island. This vacation was very memorable in my mind for many reasons. I was pregnant and didn't realize it. I did lots of things that I never had the courage to do before (had I known I was pregnant I wouldn't have), and the vacation was full of fun and adventure.
We arrived at the island and immediately started planning our agenda. We started by checking out Guibia and Boyas, Embassy beach and Red Beach, the closest beaches to the city of Santo Domingo to surf. A few days later, our friends from Tyler, Bill and Anne, met us to start a journey around the island.
A friend of Tommy’s Dad’s from Trinidad, Clayton, that was visiting, was hanging out with us kids . One conversation led to another and before we knew it we were in an expedition following the Jarabacoa river up to Casavito—one of the most beautiful rain forests in the DR— looking for chrysocolla, beautiful rocks that look like turquoise. My brother Ivan said he had found some in that river. After climbing for about two hours following the river, someone suggested we climbed the side of a mountain to get to our car and not have to hike the whole way back. At the moment it seemed like a great idea. Only a few of us were stupid enough to do it. I was doing just fine until I got about three thirds of the way and looked down. I have always been scared of heights, and I was in an age that I was pushing myself to break barriers. These were the things my husband did being an American and being used to having rescue teams in the US that actually save people that get stuck on the side of a mountain. Being Dominican, I knew that if I got stuck there, well... I was stuck there. We didn’t even have a rope. I panicked and sat there for what seemed an eternity crying and feeling sorry for myself. I don’t know what happened, but, at some point, I got the courage and went up the rest of the mountain. It wasn’t that I did it, but I never looked back and went up pulling on things very fast. Once I got to the top, I did collapse and cried for about 10 minutes. Then it dawned on me that I had just done something that was very foreign from the norm in my life and had pushed the boundaries just a little further Needless to say, I never did that again. We went home and popped a few bottles of Dom Perignon that Papa had been saving for a good occasion. With Buz, just about anything was a good occasion to pop the Dom. Climbing the side of a mountain, hiking with friends, and meeting Papa’s friend, was, indeed a special occasion.
Next, we went to Barahona, the southwest area of the island which close to the Haitian border. We stayed at Bahoruco, a small fishing town built mostly of very humble, but interesting bohíos or Dominican-indian-style huts, built by weaving sticks like a basket to create the hut’s walls, covering the “basket” with adobe over it–a combination of cow manure and mud–and finally, adding a thatched roof, built by weaving palmetto leaves in layers until achieving a water-proof roof. The finishing touch is almost glowing complementary colors that cover most of the huts in the countryside.
We did not stay in the town below, but in a Bohio-style, very large house built on a hill, overlooking the whole town below, with a view to the river on the right, the coast on the south, and beautiful mountains in the other two. A magnificent home, which, although very large and modern, was built following the essence of the huts below: of natural materials found in the area, with the same thatched roofs, a kitchen built of palm wood, which is used throughout the countryside for it’s termite-proof qualities. And open spaces everywhere. The property belonged to Papa’s friends the Schiffino family who graciously offered the hospitality of their beach home for an indefinite period of time. Virginia Schiffino’s family the Diaz, owned a coffee plantation that extended through about 300 acres of land in these magnificent mountains. The majority of the people in the town below, picked coffee for the plantation. The home’s main attraction was a very large pool deck which extended out over the hill, were we sat in the afternoons to drink Presidentes and watch the daily afternoon baseball games in the town below. The players were all men with the exception of three town prostitutes humorously named America, Africa and Asia. The game would be interrupted by an occasional burro or chicken. Once the animal in question was shushed out of the way, the game would resume. We had a lot of fun being the peanut gallery and encouraging our favorite players, the prostitutes, to steal bases, and such. Tommy’s father and sister Gioia and her three year old son, Jace, my mother, my brother Ivan and my sister Jackie, joined us a few days later to partake in the rest of the adventures.
In the morning we would sit in the pool deck to watch the swells coming in before going down to the beach. I didn’t surf, but watched Tom and Ivan surfing from the deck while sipping my morning coffee. The beaches in most of the Barahona shores are not your typical sandy tourist-like beaches. They are mostly made up of large, white river pebbles which, when crashed together by the surf, release a whitish powder which makes the whole entire coast have an extraordinary, very deep, turquoise color which is a site to see.
Another attraction in the area is the mountain streams that start just up the hills and end right into these beaches, meeting the sea with their crystal-clear, cool waters. One of these is the San Rafael river. There is a legend that Trujillo, the dictator of the DR for about 32 years, only drank water from this spring. We ventured up the mountain to find the source of the spring and follow the stream all the way down the mountain. One of the most enjoyable hikes of my life. I didn't make it all the way to the top because I was queasy from the pregnancy–although I didn't know that I was pregnant, thought I had Montezuma's revenge, but I got very close to where the waster just rushed out of a crack in a rock and a river started its journey down the mountain.
Waiting for the group to return, I sat by the river listening to the cascading waters. I heard leaves rustling behind me and turned around to see a very large centipede inching it’s way towards me. I got up and moved out of it’s way. No sense messing with one of those. In this area they are known to grow larger than anywhere else in the island. In fact, this area of the DR is known for those qualities whether you are speaking of bugs or fruits and vegetables. We have seen centipedes that were longer than a foot and have photos to prove it.
One of our outings included a trip to Polibito Diaz’ Casa de Tarzan, a house also built of natural materials, overlooking another crystal-clear mountain stream up the mountain from the Schiffino home. The stream was cold and clean. We found a few Larimar pebbles both there and in the Bahoruco beach. We didn't know, yet, that up river was a Larimar mine, the only one found in the world, and that those little stones would become a huge source of income for the DR. I would be back to this house several years later with another group of people, to stay for a few days, unfortunately, by then, it was much more run down. I believe that it doesn't exist anymore. Sadness.
Another occasion, we went up to the Diaz home in their coffee plantation in Polo, one of the most beautiful places I have seen in the DR. It was very high up in the mountains and it was cold! It was December and we had been at the beach. Most people didn’t even have socks. I am always cold so I had a few pairs that gladly shared. We used some of my knee-highs on Jace and, since he was only three, the socks fit him like leggins. We spent the night there, and in the morning the aroma of coffee roasting woke us up to the most wonderful organic breakfast. It was a totally Dominican experience with coffee from the plantation and fresh picked farm eggs and plátanos from the yard.... Heaven! We went for a hike in the mountain with the smell of coffee all around us mixed with the smell of earth and clean living. There is nothing like commuting with nature in that raw, one-on-one, way, and breathing nothing but clean country air which has blown all the way from Africa just to freshen us as we walked.
The next day we visited Pato and Paraíso, two small towns nestled in coves where the mountains come down and meet the sea, resembling the French Riviera. On the way there we found a small tanker that had shipwreck on the coral reefs. We went on board. It had been there only a month and yet, already the sea had decayed it almost beyond recognition. The color of the rust and the seaweed growing on the ship was breath-taking. We didn't realize that the waves were quite large that day and got completely soaked by one that hit the ship and shot water sky high and over us. On the way back up to the road we found beautiful quartz crystals on the side of the cliffs. We took many photos to remember the experience.
A few days later we returned to the city to celebrate Christmas with the family and attend all the festivities. Christmas and New Years in the DR are a big deal. People save all year just for the Christmas and New Years celebration. The unofficial celebration begins around Dec. 15th and ends way after the Three Kings Day in January 6th.
After Christmas and New Year, we headed to the North Coast. We camped in El Canal (presently the site for the Seahorse Ranch) for a week of surfing, snorkeling and hiking around the area. In those days, we could camp in that beach and only see an occasional local fisherman going by on a donkey heading for his favorite fishing spot. We hiked the whole area and found beautiful paths through the countryside looking for wild orchids to bring home to Tommy’s dad who started collecting them after I left him mine when I left for college.
We had the greatest tent and all the camping equipment to stay at the beach for days. Tommy’s dad, Buz, spoiled us rotten and got us all the goodies from the US commissary—huge things of peanut butter and jelly, crackers, bread, drinks, and all sorts of canned pates, tuna, etc...(survival food).
We also went to swim in Sosua and went sight seeing in Puerto Plata, the port and the town, a ride of the cable car up the mountain to the Christ at the top of the Isabel de Torres mountain, and had lunch in our favorite restaurant in those days, unfortunately, I can’t remember the name anymore.
A few days later, my mother, sister and brother and Buz met us at Playa Canal. We had quite a few friends that also met up with us there so we had quite a party going. It was at this time that I realized I was pregnant. My mother had brought some beautiful huge avocados, one of my favorite foods. She filled them with tuna and put some dressing on top. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. However, on that occasion, one whiff made me run down the beach to throw up. I knew something was up. After that, everything made me queasy.
Soon after, we were heading up the East coast of the US to Philadelphia visiting friends and family. We arrived in Philadelphia during a snow storm. It was the most snow we had seen in four years that we had lived there.
I went to the doctor and it was confirmed. I was about 5 weeks pregnant. Yep. I got pregnant on the trip down to the DR... something about a water bed at Tommy's brother's house and something about no toe hold rings a bell.
My wonderful bundle of joy came to this world on September 5th of 1979. Avaryl Jayne Buzbee was born weighing in at 7 pounds and 6 oz. while tropical storm Frederick let down it’s fury on the the DR which had already been ravaged, the previous week, by hurricane David. This is another story. The story of having a baby in the middle of devastation and using cloth diapers and disposable diapers because there wasn't any water to wash them. Yikes. I will be posting that one soon.