Hi,

Make no mistake about it, once you leave this little village everything takes a full day.

Go to the bank in Samana or for a Spanish lesson and by the time you stop for lunch the day is gone. Or go to Las Terrenas for lumber, or paint or groceries at the Supermercado Lindo and you’ve made the commitment of a full day.

As a consequence, you make a reasonable effort to combine missions: go to Samana AND to El Limon; go to the pharmacia AND the ferreteria, the bank AND the lumber yard.

Come to think of it, a trip to the lumber yard pretty much requires a trip to the bank first.

So you carpool, you check with neighbors to see if they need anything on the planned route, you schedule multiple stops wherever practical and you pick up hitch-hikers. (My rule of thumb is to pick up only a single man, and women only in groups of 2 or more, for reasons that I trust are obvious.)

Take this past Monday as an example.

The original and well-conceived plan was to pick Denise up at the airport in the afternoon, accomplishing little missions in several towns along the way to El Catey.

Meanwhile, HER plan was to arrive at El Catey on the flight from San Juan at 3:10 PM, having begun her own all-day odyssey at National Airport in Washington, DC at 6:00 AM..

I’ve mentioned El Catey previously and in very favorable terms. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’m unconsciously encouraging you all to come visit (“Look, it’s only a short hop from Puerto Rico and then you’re in Paradise. Here, have a cheese burger.”).

This International Airport is only an hour and three quarters from home and now makes it possible to get here from the US in one day. Heather has proven that this can be done, although duplicating her feat is still a bit iffy.

I’d planned to begin my Monday by restoring a measure of pre-construction tranquility to our home and then, all efficient-like, hit the baker and the bank in Samana, check in with Ramon on the way out of town and exchange dollars for pesos; take in a spot of lunch in El Limon, and proceed on to the Supermercado Lindo, the greengrocer, and the Sherwin-Williams dealer in Las Terrenas before a timely meeting with Denise’s flight from San Juan.

In theory and with no hitches this should be possible in the time I’d allotted.

Life in “the Other Washington” has taught me to prepare for bumps when implementing plans, especially those dependent upon the actions of others. In just a few months in La Republica Dominicana I’ve learned not to be surprised when presented with bumps that are very different from those that we’d anticipated, planned for, and even looked forward to. Good thing.

On Monday I carried a little American currency to do business with Ramon, even in the event that the Banco Popular was unavailable. All else, except meeting the flight, was optional. Good thing, too.

After confirming the flight (“yes, the airplane from San Juan will fly today”), I set out. At the first stop the baker had no goods, no flour; no propane: “maybe tomorrow.”

The bank had a line that was impressive, nearly equal to the standard set by the Tacoma Park branch of the Bank of America. In the interest of keeping to the schedule, I relegated banking to a project for another day.

Ramon is a different story. This guy seems to live behind that counter. He’s always open, always seems happy to see his customers, and is always very efficient. He’s generally receptive to a little negotiation regarding the rate as well. (The sinking dollar, by the way, means a larger wad of pesos in the exchange. This fact is eclipsed, however, by rising prices on staples. This works a real hardship on people who earn their living within the confines of the Dominican economy.)

I had a quite simple and very good lunch in El Limon and a so-so shoe shine comprised of a little soapy water and a wealth of good intention. The kid was both diligent and energetic but the shoes are probably beyond the restorative powers of even Kiwi polish, let alone a little dilute detergent.

(If you can take another aside, I want to know: where’s that kid in my neighborhood at home? He was everywhere when I was a kid. Most of us, I think, WERE that kid–and the other kids in the neighborhood were the competition. And we learned to compete successfully. Isn’t that how it was for you? But I do digress…)

Anyway, it’s nice that I had a good lunch, because that was about when things began to unravel in earnest.

I’d forgotten about the mid-day shut-down at the grocery and arrived to the shutter irrevocably rolling down with no prospect of rolling back up before 3:00 PM. I had better luck with the paint store, which was both open and had what I wanted. The vegetable stall was an unqualified success, including the best corn on the cob we’ve had in several years.

I made it on to the airport, now arriving an hour early. According to the arrival/departure monitor the flight was on-time, or delayed, or either on-time at different times or delayed to different times, depending on which arrival/departure monitor one looked at, and when one looked at it. Sort of dynamic scheduling, although I’m not at all clear what forces were controlling the information. If I were the sort to take such things personally I’d be inclined to say they were demonic.

Eventually, the flight landed 15 minutes in advance of the most recently advertised arrival time. But, no Denise disembarked..

After the plane was emptied and then serviced and loaded and then departed the gate someone returned to the customer service desk to take a passenger’s report of missing luggage and mine of the missing wife (“Donde’ esta mi espousa, por favor?”)

Santo Domingo, as it turns out.

Delays at JFK had caused her to miss the San Juan connection to El Catey. Since the next flight from Puerto Rico to El Catey is not until Friday, American Airlines flew her to Sto. Dom., taxied her to a hotel for dinner and a good night’s sleep, and then taxied her 5 hours to Las Galeras the following day! That’s pretty good shoe polishing, in any industry.

By the time I realized that all of this was in play and returned home it was nightfall. For the day: I’d picked up a couple of quarts of paint, a few vegetables, a tank of diesel, and a little information about Denise’s whereabouts..

She arrived no worse for the experience at around noon the following day, having made the trip on the not-yet-completed new autopista from Santo Domingo.

Like I say, everything takes a day, some things take a little longer.

Locating her luggage, for instance.

Bill
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Here’s a look at El Catey. Flights from the US through Puerto Rico were a short-lived phenomenon.

A typical street scene in Las Terrenas. Actually, I don’t know how I managed to get a shot without 15 vehicles belching smoke and 50 or 60 pedestrians blithely inhaling it.

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