Love at first sight Photo Essay: Ljubljana, Slovenia

In September 2014 I went on a spectacular tall ship sailing with Starclippers. We were scheduled for six ports of call and I was least excited about Slovenia as I knew nothing about it and knew no one who had been there.

I decided that I would do the day tour to the capital of Ljubljana without really knowing anything about it. It’s actually one of my favourite things about traveling solo … you can do as much or as little research as you wish. I had done very little (none actually) on Slovenia. I like doing zero research because then I have zero expectations. Now, it doesn’t always work out for the best, as sometimes research can be a good thing, but this time, it was perfect.

After a couple of hours by coach from the seaside town of Porec, in land to Ljubljana, our group hopped out and started walking toward city centre. It was a crisp, sunny autumn day. The sun was shining, everyone was a little chilly but the fresh air made me feel alive.

I can’t quite pin-point it, but every once in awhile I fall in love with a city and this one was love at first site.

Immediately I noticed the beauty of the old buildings – a mix of various periods of famous architecture. I’m not a history buff so knowing the difference between Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque architectures is not my strong point, but whatever the mix is that presents itself in Ljubljana is undisputedly beautiful.

Take a look for yourself from the Ljubljana Castle to the city’s dragon bridge, the detail, history and strength show through.

The streets were old, steeped in history but wide and open interchanging with newer style architecture. A large section of the main core is pedestrian only and the streets were impeccably clean.

I had 2 – 3 hours on a group tour to learn about this lovely city, along with taking in a local lunch of sausages, wine and potatoes. The quick overview didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. It did, however give me the yearning to go back, not just to Ljubljana, but to Slovenia in general.

Check out some of my favourite pictures below.

If you are interested in a Slovenian adventure, drop me a message. I’d be happy to set you up with an interesting small group tour, a tall ship sailing that has a Slovenian stop or help you with your own custom itinerary!

stucker@MeritTravel.com

Bidet Blunders

You’ve all done it … you’ve all said to yourself ‘hmmm I wonder what this button / switch does’ and then you’ve tested it … right? (please agree with me even if you won’t say it out loud, at least agree inside your own head). Whether it was a light switch, a button on the oven, a button on your computer … you’ve done it, right?

Well … I did that today … with the bidet …

Very common in a lot of countries, including here in Argentina, but very rare in countries such as Canada. Not that they don’t exist, they just aren’t commonplace. I’ve seen bidets all throughout Europe, occasionally in Asia and almost everywhere in Buenos Aires, including in my current apartment.

Let me clarify the extent of my advanced knowledge of a bidet.
It is used to wash your bum with spraying water. That’s all. I knew nothing else.

I’ve always been a bit curious, but I’ve never pressed that button, flipped that switch or turned that knob.

….. until today.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too graphic as I actually was just inspecting the bidet, not using it for it’s intended purpose.

There are three handles. I turned the left one and water slowly leaked out into the bowl.
I turned it off.

I turned the right one and water slowly leaked out into the bowl.
I turned it off and thought ‘maybe this is more like a urinal than a bidet. Maybe the water just cleans the bowl out.’

But wait … I had one more knob to turn. The left and right handles were both turned off, no water was running. I leaned over and turned the centre knob …

Guess what happened?

I jumped out of the way as water shot straight up with such force that it hit the ceiling. (no joke). I giggled and hurried to turn it off without getting sprayed directly in my face by the firehose-strength stream of water.

And then I thought, I don’t think I could ever let water with that force spray directly at my bum (or other areas)

Um yeah, I just said that! Just keeping it real here!

After surviving the bidet encounter without impaling my eye, I decided that maybe I need more information. How could a bidet actually be so popular? Really, do people use these? I’ve done and seen a lot of things in my travels and somehow using a squatter seems less complicated than navigating a bidet. Maybe I’m just more comfortable in the simplicity of nature than the luxury of a middle class apartment.

Having no actual knowledge of what the bidet is meant for, further than ‘cleaning your bum’, I checked good old Wikipedia after my experimentation. It’s always better to try first and inform yourself later, right?

And then I found this fun video for your viewing pleasure. Don’t worry, it doesn’t show any private bits.

I’m still a little confused on how it saves toilet paper though … do you drip dry? Or do you just pull up your pants and have a wet seat for awhile? Seems the system is still a little flawed.

Halifax plane ‘incident’ thoughts and reflections.

FACT: Early on March 29th, 2015 there was an airplane ‘incident’ at the Halifax airport.
FACT: It was an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Halifax.
FACT: There was a snow storm at the time.
FACT: Everyone survived.

Almost everything else is currently unconfirmed.

There are a lot of questions out there. Speculation. Guessing. Varying Reports. Accusations and accolades.

Why is this important to me?

I am a survivor of a plane crash. Not an ‘incident’, not a hard landing, not a mis-hap. I survived a plane crash in December 1997 in Fredericton, NB.

Details on the crash from Wikipedia: Air Canada Flight 646 Crash in Fredericton, NB.

Excerpt from MacLean’s Canadian Encyclopedia.

Full story here.

It took emergency crews about 20 minutes to reach the crash site – about one kilometre from the terminal – a response time that Transport Canada says was reasonable given the snow, fog and darkness. But for the passengers – some of whom began to walk towards the terminal before the rescue team arrived while others huddled in the woods – it seemed like an eternity. Kitchen recalls that there was a smell of jet fuel, prompting fears the plane might explode. She could also hear cries from inside the plane, where at least six people remained pinned under seats and debris.

 

It took until 2:30 a.m. to free the last of the passengers. In all, 35 people were treated for injuries ranging from broken limbs to cuts and bruises. At week’s end, nine remained in hospital. Meanwhile, Air Canada offered all passengers $5,000 for their “trauma and stress” – a move some lawyers saw as an attempt to ward off lawsuits.

 

As traumatic as the experience had been, for most of the survivors last week was also a time to count blessings. Said Kitchen: “At this point, you have to move forward.”

Maclean’s

December 29, 1997

I have a different take on all Halifax’s March 29th incident than *most* of the general public and over 17 years of healing from the life changing experience to give me perspective from a lot of different angles.

What I can tell you is this …

It is a scary, unimaginable situation where you have no control over anything and no idea what is happening. And, it is happening fast … in the blink of an eye, in the flash of a light … Adrenaline kicks in and then shortly after, you go into shock. Some people get overwhelmed and cry, some people are eerily calm, protecting themselves by not talking and some go into ‘help others’ mode.

My immediate reaction when the plane stopped was to get out as fast as possible. I bolted for the nearest exit, waited while someone opened the door and I was the second or third person off the plane. I didn’t stop to look around, to think about anyone else, I just got out of dodge. Once outside of the plane with my heart pumping, my knees shaking and my teeth chattering, I wondered if the plane would explode. Would another plane coming in for landing do the same thing?

Surprising, even to myself, after we crashed in Fredericton. I went into ‘help others’  mode. Trees had torn through the side of the plane, pinning people in their seats. I exited the aircraft, slid down the wing and stood outside in the freezing winter weather for awhile … in shock.

Then, not really thinking clearly, I decided to return back into the aircraft to see if there was anything I could do to help. I was oddly calm, but functioning almost in an out of body experience kind of way. When I saw the few people who were injured and pinned in the plane, moaning and crying in pain, I left my scarf / hat / mittens to help keep someone warm and then exited as there was a nurse there and she told me I really couldn’t help.

I remember my crash it like it was yesterday. I remember it even more vividly because of the crash at the Halifax airport March 29th that had many similarities to the crash that I had been in. A week later when I’m actually posting this blog … all of it is still heavy in my head and heart. And, less than two weeks from now I’ll be back on a plane headed to Argentina. Anxiety will start a couple of days before and this is 17 years after my crash.

As I look back to 17 years ago, I know now that returning to the aircraft was a ridiculous idea but when you are in shock your reasoning functions don’t really work so well.

As I heard passengers fresh off the tarmac from the Halifax incident speaking to the media about their experience I cringe, as I know that they too, are likely in shock and not thinking clearly. They don’t even realize it at the time as their bodies are still functioning on adrenaline. Time frames of events are thrown off, five minutes feels like an hour and then media begins launching question after question at you looking for answers that you simply can’t provide.

I get it, I know that media needs to cover these events. I know that everyone (including myself) wants to know what happened. But, the truth is that very few facts are known and there is so much speculation at this point. And, just in case you don’t realize this, just because someone was on the plane, it does not mean they know the facts!

Did it crash? Was it a hard-landing? Was it pilot error? Air-control error? Did the pilots save everyone with their skills or endanger them with a poor decision to land? Why did it take so long for people to be rescued?

This list of questions goes on.

For example, I saw today that someone was calling the pilots heroes for landing the plane and everyone getting off safely with only minor injuries.

I am thankful from the bottom of my heart that everyone is safe. I feel the overwhelming emotions even now that I felt nearly 20 years ago. I have shared this horrific experience with them, on a different date.

With my crash, it was actually deemed to be pilot error that caused the crash (involuntarily), but it took the Transportation Safety Board nearly a year to do a full report on this.

For those saying the pilots are heroes … maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.
And, for those criticizing the decision to land … well, it is an easy criticism to make as an on-looker, but no one knows all the details. Sure it was a snow storm and bad conditions, but were they acceptable conditions to land? Had other planes landed? Was someone on board ill and they needed to land? Were they running out of fuel? Maybe not, maybe it was just a bad decision … but we simply don’t know, so … why don’t we just hang tight, let the investigators do their job rather than guessing? Why is it that so many people who are on the outside have to stick their noses into everything, start pointing fingers and name-calling?

Initially with my crash, media stated that we ‘slid off the runway’. Nice, gentle wording suggesting that we had touched down and maybe hit some ice, which led us off the runway.

What actually happened is we lost power BEFORE touching down, a wing clipped the ground and we went careening through a field with small hills off to the side of the runway, leaving behind a trail of fuselage and becoming airborne once or twice from the speed of the plane and the size of the hills.

I don’t know this so much because I remember it; I only remember fearing for my life. I remember the initial violent jolt when I (and everyone knew) that something was wrong. Was that the wing breaking off? Was it us hitting the ground? It happened in a split second and we had no warning, so there was no way that I could have been paying attention to exactly what caused it. I didn’t know that the wing hit the ground and broke off until I saw it in the media, but even then it wasn’t determined in what ordered the parts had been ripped from the plane.

I remember holding on for my life and wondering if it was ever going to end and would I live through it? I remember the up and down motion and the violent beating we took while being thrown around like rag dolls, all while buckled in place.

I can only tell you my own personal experience which is different for each individual. Everyone has a different perspective literally and figuratively. A different perspective based on their personality, but also different based on where they were seated on the plane and what they could see.

Keep in mind, that the crash I was in was different than the one in Halifax, but there are an incredible number of similarities. My plane had fewer people, but more severe injuries. Both planes clipped a wing at some point. Both were landing in questionable weather

I would just like to say that it is a horrible, unimaginable experience. Although I understand it is the media’s job to report on this big news event, when you read all of the information out there remember that passengers were in shock, scared and overwhelmed. They may or may not remember events correctly and they could only see out tiny windows … In my experience in 1997 it was a crash, not a hard landing … there was much more damage and people were seriously injured, however no one was killed. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is also eventually deemed a ‘crash’, however it is not for me to decide and it may not be determined for a year!

I am pleading with people to lay off the negativity, name calling and telling everyone what a horrible job they did.

Why weren’t people brought in from the cold sooner?

Well … I hate to tell you, but the incident wasn’t planned. Unless pilots advised in advance that they were in trouble (which would only have been moments before), then all staff assumed they were on track to land as per normal. You can’t plan to rescue people that you don’t know need rescuing! You can have rules in place for if it happens but it still takes time to put it all into action.

So think about it; plane crashes, staff have to determine where exactly the plane is, put the call out to first responders and get them to that location … I’m positive this happens very quickly. However, with the Halifax incident, it was IN A SNOW STORM and WITHOUT POWER at the airport. There’s not an easy path plowed and God doesn’t part the snow so that the driver can see the whole way there. First responders don’t teleport (just in case you didn’t know).

When my plane crashed we ended about 300 meters (1000 feet) off the runway, stopped by trees that ripped through the first five rows of seats. Some passengers got lost in the woods and were missing for awhile. Many of us walked through knee to hip-deep snow to the edge of the runway where we could see the lights. In our case, we had simply disappeared off the runway and no one (at the airport) really knew why. They may have activated first responders quickly, but it wasn’t immediately known where to send them. So yes, I too, was out in the cold, dressed poorly for winter, standing in the snow, in shock waiting for someone to rescue me, when they didn’t even know for sure that we needed rescuing. I still feel like I was there for hours, but reports say that responders were on scene in 20 minutes. Shock does weird things to you.

Lucky for those of us who were able to trudge through the snow to the runway, when we made it there, we piled into cargo vans (or at least a group of us did) where we were shuttled back to the airport terminal and placed in some sort of cargo room and told not to leave. For those who were still on the plane, it was hours before they could clear a path through the deep snow to the plane to get heavy equipment there to extract people who were pinned into the plane.

I know it is easy to judge and to say that the first responders should have attended to passengers first, but if that plane (Halifax) had exploded they all would have been dead. Don’t you think it’s important that the situation is totally under control primarily?

Sure, I wanted better response times during my crash too, but sometimes circumstances get in the way. Sometimes human error gets in the way. But, don’t forget for a second that everyone responding was doing so with concern for the safety of all involved. They are not doing so with mal-intentions and are doing their best to do what they can.

Thank you to first responders and staff who pitched in to do what they could for my plane crash in Fredericton in 1997 and for those on March 29th, 2015 in Halifax. I’m sure improvements could be made, but difficult situations are never ‘perfect examples’. Doing a test run of an emergency never plays out exactly like an unexpected emergency. All you can do is your best. So thank you to those who responded with their best. Please stop picking on them for doing their jobs as best they could while you watch from the sidelines.

Having been through a very similar situation it is incredibly hard to watch this in the news all over again, but it is impossible to avoid. It happened. It cannot and should not be erased. Although I would never wish a plane crash on anyone, it is a huge factor in so many ways of the person I have become and, to tell you the truth … I kind of like me. I am not glad that I was in a plane crash, but I am glad that I’ve become who I am.

Black Orchid Resort – Review

Beauty, serenity and hospitality

I stayed at the Black Orchid Resort for three nights in February 2015. Should I return to Belize, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again. I did not go to Belize for a chaotic city vibe, so staying outside the city in a small resort on the river was perfect for me.

I had arranged an airport transfer from the hotel and was warmly welcomed by the driver who took me to the resort. Check in was easy. My room was clean, comfortable and cozy. It had everything we needed and maid service cleaned and tidied up for us daily. Luggage was delivered to my room which was nice as it was on the second level (no elevators).

Black Orchid Resort, Burrell Boom, Belize

Black Orchid Resort, Burrell Boom, Belize

I had the opportunity to see several of the different rooms and each one is unique with a Belizean flavour, but different interiors. Some have been more recently renovated than others, but all of the three or four that I saw were lovely in their own charming way.

Black Orchid Resort Rooms, Burrell Boom, Belize

Black Orchid Resort Rooms, Burrell Boom, Belize

I had hot water and lovely showers while I stayed at the hotel which is always a plus when you’re staying in a country with less infrastructure than Canada.

The staff were extremely helpful, friendly and attentive. I didn’t have any issues, but if I did, I wouldn’t have hesitated to ask them to help me. And I feel confident that they would have gone out of my way to assist as quickly as possible.

The grounds of the Black Orchid are rustic, but charming. Full of nature from the trees and flowers to the monkeys. It was lovely just to take in the peace and quiet of the surroundings while sitting by the pool, overlooking the beautiful river or relaxing in a hammock.

While I was there I took one of their free bicycles and rode around the small community. People were incredibly friendly, as well as curious. They were surprised to see tourists biking around, I guess most visitors take tours, rather than explore the small community.
I stopped for a drink at a local convenience store and chatted with the owner, and I met a man who regularly races in the big Ruta Maya Canoe Challenge, so I heard about the race from a competitor which was interesting.

The Black Orchid is outside of the city, out of the hustle and bustle, completely quite, serene and relaxing. I didn’t spend any time at the bar, but a few of my co-travellers did and enjoyed the evenings chatting away over drinks.

I was particularly impressed with the food. Every day I ordered something different and it was just as good, if not better than the previous day. The soups were full of flavour and ingredients, the fish was fresh and the chicken dishes were all very flavourful as well.

Tacos at the Black Orchid Resort

Tacos at the Black Orchid Resort

Breakfast was sufficient but not luxurious. There was always cereal, juice, coffee, tea, some kind of bread or pastry and a couple of fresh fruit options. I never left the hotel hungry. If you arrived near the end of breakfast, supplies might be slightly limited, but the one morning this happened to me, I just asked for replenishments and a couple of minutes later I had everything I needed.

As for location, there is nothing within walking distance of the resort, but there are a myriad of great adventure activities in the surrounding area. This makes the Black Orchid a great central point to stay for a few days.

You can do canoeing, cycling and bird watching right at the resort. The Baboon sanctuary is only a few kms away. Within an hour or two you have Lamanai Ruins which are fantastic ruins hidden in the jungle, accessible by river. In the other direction you can head to San Ignacio for caving, tubing or many more ruins sites. Most of these would be full day trips from the Black Orchid.

On the flip side, you can also easily reach the Caye’s from Burrell Boom. Arrange your transfer into Belize City, hop the ferry and off you go to Island Paradise. Two to three hours and you’ll go from jungle to beach.

Although I wouldn’t suggest spending your entire Belize vacation in Burrell Boom, it is certainly a lovely, off the beaten track resort that caters to those who appreciate the sights and sounds of nature over the hustle and bustle of the city.

You’ll be sure to be well taken care of by the friendly staff.

Kizomba Lessons

A few years ago I met a Cuban guy living in Halifax. We hit it off and hung out a few times. I discovered he used to work for the resorts in Cuba as part of the entertainment crew and used to teach people how to dance. hmmmmm … It didn’t take me long to ask him to show me a few things!

One night (long ago) he asked me if I had ever heard of Kizomba. I hadn’t. He loaded up some good ol’ youtube videos with kizomba music and told me ‘just feel the music’.

There we were, ‘feeling’ the music in my living room. How romantic right?
Generally, I would agree with you … handsome latin man who can dance, sexy music … should be very romantic.

This is what ‘Feeling the music’ is supposed to look like ….

Then there is me trying to learn to dance to Latin music when I don’t have Latin blood. It is difficult. Our white North American bodies are not accustomed to moving the same as Latinos. They learn to dance from birth and here I was 30 years late getting started! I had a lot of catching up to do!

Me?

Ok ok … I’m not that bad.

I thought that Dominican bachata was the sexiest dance I knew, but then I learned about kizomba! Ooo la la!

Lessons didn’t last very long that night. I don’t think I was a very good student. For some reason I have difficulties with follow the leader. (ha ha ha) It was probably because kizomba is danced so physically close to one another that it is like you are one.

Fast forward several years until March 2015. I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm of kizomba, but it isn’t very popular in any of the areas that I’ve traveled. Or maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places.

One night when I was out with my friend in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we stopped for Happy Hour at La Bodeguita, a Cuban bar / restaurant on the malecon, whose creator is famous for the original creation of the mojito in Cuba. Come to find out, we were an hour too late for happy hour, so we didn’t stick around, but on the way out I noticed a sign advertising kizomba dance lessons at 9pm that night.

We went out and had a few drinks at a nearby bar (I couldn’t resist 2 for 1 Pina Coladas) and then returned to the Cuban bar to check out kizomba lessons.

The instructors started off with a beautifully choreographed dance to show us all what ‘could’ be done and then a small group of us practiced the basics together. We learned a few of the basic steps and danced a couple of songs and then the lesson was over. It was just a short little teaser for the workshop that they were organizing for the next two days.

I had looked into taking dance lessons (salsa) when I arrived in Vallarta, but I didn’t have any luck finding group classes. Having stumbled upon kizomba classes and a workshop taking place on my last weekend in the city, I just couldn’t say no.

Late Saturday afternoon I headed to Isla Cuale (a very small island in one of the main rivers running from the mountains to the ocean) to a newly opened bar called Utopia. It was quiet mid-day but looks like it would be a great place to dance the night away. There I met with the promoter, the instructor and about seven others looking to learn kizomba.

The workshop was put on by Nora from Keep on Dancing. She’s a beautiful dancer and speaks fluent Spanish and English. Amazingly, and very proudly, I told her that she did not need to repeat everything in English for me and I actually understood the instructions in Spanish. Although, I’m sure the demonstrative nature of a dance class helped some.

I knew I was in the right class when she explained the basis of kizomba as being all about connection with your partner. The first thing we had to do was form a circle and then individually hug everyone in the circle. Keep in mind, nearly all of us were complete strangers, with the exception for the couple who were there and two girls who had met at a prior class. Now, I know many people who cringe at the thought of hugging a stranger, although it doesn’t bother me at all. But, take a second and think about hugging a stranger for 10 – 15 exaggerated and long seconds. It was important to hug long enough to actually relax a little and feel the connection. This is a hug like you would give your mom, your dad or your partner and isn’t the quick little pat that you give someone in a receiving line at a wedding. For anyone who knows me, they are more like my squishy hugs or even my wiggly ones. I’m a strong believer that hugs are good for your mental health and I give and take them whenever I can.

When was the last time you had a 10 second hug? I was literally very happy that day because I had at least 10 hugs before the dance class even started. If I could take dances classes daily that started with hugs I think I would be the happiest girl in the world. It was a great, although a slightly awkward icebreaker, but afterwards we didn’t really feel like strangers any longer which makes it a whole lot better for dancing kizomba.

The first 45 minutes was spent listening to the music and standing in a line learning the basic steps. Then we would practice them with rotating partners. This way everyone got a feel for how to dance with different people and since some were a little more advanced than others, you could learn from your partner while practicing.

One of our practice exercises was to dance with our bodies touching, but without our hands. It is important to maintain body contact at all times and you ‘should’ be able to follow your leader by feeling their movements rather than with hand signals. Here’s a short clip (I’m in the black and white dress on the left).

For the next hour and a half, we practiced various steps with increasing difficulty and putting them together into a choreographed movement. The choreography was mostly so we could learn how all of the steps could transition and be used together, more so than having to learn to dance this exact formula of steps.

Through changing partners the men got to practice leading different women. I felt bad regularly as I suck at following, but I tried really hard to follow and by the end was getting better. If a guy can’t lead, the girl doesn’t know what to do and if a girl can’t follow then nothing works!

I won’t lie, I stepped on a few toes and my little toes got squished a few times too. Note to self – don’t learn to dance with open toed sandals. I learned how to move my hips in a proper figure 8, how to do the dolphin move (rolling your body) and all kinds of variations of quick-quick-slow, slow-slow-quick, side to side, back and forth and walking along with a couple of turns or salidas.

In the end it was actually lovely to hear from the instructor how much I had learned throughout the class and have a laugh at how uncomfortable the dolphin move is for me, even though I was doing it correctly.

Here’s a little video of the instructor showing off all the moves that I did not learn in my first class. Well, the dolphin is in there toward the end where she moves her whole body like a dolphin, or a worm (standing up). Add these moves into the choreography of a beautiful partner dance and it becomes incredibly sexy. Hmmmm … I’m not quite there yet.

Sadly, I was too busy learning to take any video of my efforts. I know how disappointed you all are! But, I hope you enjoy the few little videos I’ve shared.

I now know how to dance at least the basic steps to salsa, cumbia, bachata, merengue and kizomba. Keeping all of the music straight is sometimes a challenge, but I just can’t tell you how much I love latin dancing.

If you ever get a chance to try a class, give it a ‘roll’ …

A big thanks to Keep on Dancing for the classes and Nora for being so lovely and encouraging.

It’s a cat … oh wait, no it isn’t!

I’m living in a nice area of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is on the border between Fluvial and Pitillal. It is a newer neighbourhood, only a few years old and there is new construction happening on at least four houses in a two block radius. It is very quiet here (other than some barking dogs) and no traffic.

The house I live in is quite nice. It has two levels, tile floor throughout the house, three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a full kitchen … A normal house. I’m guessing about 2000 square feet. The front door opens to a dead end street with about five houses in total. Not only is the street a dead end, but the sidewalk blocks the entrance to the small street so that traffic doesn’t enter. Of course, the locals in the few houses bring their vehicles in, but most people wouldn’t bother to manoeuvre over the sidewalk.

I’m living with a local lady, her cat, dog and sometimes her boyfriend when he is in town. The cat and dog are lovely. I’ve never met such a calm and well behaved cocker spaniel. She only barks at danger and never at me.

Tonight, I went downstairs to get a drink at around 10:30 pm and the screen door to the small patio and laundry area was open. This is normal, as the small backyard (about 8 feet x 25 feet) has a cement wall about 10 feet high and then a screen / fence around the top for another 5 or 6 feet. The small patio has room for a laundry sink, washer, dryer, cleaning supplies, a small bbq and a few plants.

The dog, Mona, was sitting by the open doorway perfectly still staring into the distance. I thought nothing of it because she is always so calm. I walked by again and she didn’t stir. She didn’t even cock her head or ears. I said her name, nothing. She was like a statue. I called her name louder and still nothing. She wouldn’t take her eyes of of ‘something’ outside.

I went to the open door, stood over her and timidly peered upward in the direction where her eyes were fixed. I saw nothing but blackness and the shimmer of plants in the breeze. She still hadn’t moved even though I was invading her space and likely blocking her view.

I took a quick look around the house for the cat and determined that she must be somewhere in the back yard, that’s probably what the dog was looking at, right? It made sense at the time.

I looked out of the open screen door again, standing still a little longer and letting my eyes adjust to the light. And then I saw the glitter of animal eyes at the top of the fence above the backyard (about 16 – 20 feet up). I squinted through the dark night to see what it was. It wasn’t much more than a shadow, but was about the size and shape of a house cat. About a foot long, four legs, hairy and it had a round belly. It didn’t help that the animal was also dark brown or grey, not exactly easy to pick out from the blackness of the night sky with no lights.

Yes, it must be the cat, Menina. She is grey and black striped and since she’s not inside the house, it is quite possible that she’s climbing the fence in the backyard.

I made some kissy sounds to get her attention and she looked at me. As I squinted to see what colour it was to make sure it was Menina, it started moving very slowly across the top of the wire fence, about the speed of a cat stalking a mouse. She continued to move slowly away from the edge of the house and to the corner of the fence where she stopped.

As it was moving very slowly and my eyes were starting to adjust, I could tell it was not Menina. The animal was far too plump to be the lovely little cat that was in my bed last night. And, now I was questioning if it was a cat at all. But what else could be cat-sized and climb fences?

As I caught a glimpse of the animal’s profile, I realized it clearly was not a cat. It had a long pronounced snout. And then it paused and looked at me again and seemed to be content to stay in that corner for the time being.

I closed the screen door and went to my room to get my trusty iPhone to use as a flashlight. I was a little scared that the animal might have moved, or climbed down into the patio area while I was upstairs, so I was scared to open the screen door. I tried (hoping for miracles) shining my light through the screen, but it didn’t work. I timidly opened the screen part way and shone the light up at the corner where I had last seen the animal. Sure enough, the light glistened off of it’s eyes. It then started it’s way across the top of the fence again. Ah! Maybe it is a racoon? They aren’t so bad, we have those in Canada! They like to make a mess and dig through garbage, but they don’t really scare me. But then I saw the long, thin, hairless tail. The tail was approximately the same length as the animal’s body.

What does a long, thin, hair-less tail mean to you?

RAT.

I nearly squirmed out of my skin at the thought that this cat-sized animal could be a rat. I’ve seen lots of wharf rats in Halifax and other large rats in other countries, but never the size of a full grown cat.

It wobbled atop the wire fence, likely because it’s body weight was more than the fence was meant to withstand, and I quickly shut the screen door and then the glass door while I got myself together. All the while, Mona, is still sitting under foot, just inside the door, following the movements of the creature.

With the glass door shut, there was nothing further that I could do, but at least I knew it wasn’t coming in the house through the open door. I went upstairs to research what the animal could possibly be.

Searching for cat-sized rodents in Mexico, rodents with long tails in Mexico and large rodents in Mexico brought me to lots of images that I should never have looked at before bed time. Was it a coati, a rat, a racoon, a capybara?

I couldn’t tell which it was, so instead of going to sleep and forgetting about it, I marched myself back downstairs to see if I could get another look.

I tried to see through the glass and the screen with no luck. I opened the glass, muttering to myself the entire time that it better not be standing right by the door or I might die.

I cracked the screen door open far enough to stick my hand out and pointed my phone’s flashlight up at the fence. Sure enough, it was still stealthily moving across the top … until it changed it’s mind and started climbing down … on the inside of the fencing … That’s right folks, headed down toward the ground on the inside of the patio. I watched until it got to the bottom of the fencing and was contemplating how to manoeuvre from the concrete wall to the large tree with it’s leaves reaching upward.

I contemplated no more. I shut the screen door and then quickly shut and locked the glass door. After all, if it was a racoon, they are smart little buggers. I didn’t want it figuring out how to pry the door open because it smelled the garbage can in the house.

With nothing further I could do, I messaged the lady I lived with to warn her not to open the back door as there was a large rodent out there. She hadn’t read the message, but came home a few minutes later.

When I told her the short version, that there was a large rodent outside, she said ‘oh, was it about a foot or two long and green? I’m sure it was just an iguana. Don’t worry about them. They won’t come in because of the cat and dog.’

I had to explain that this was definitely not an iguana. And, with that, she bravely opened the glass door and we looked through the screen for the mysterious creature. We finally found him back on top of the fence. Since he was at the top of the fence, I took my light out and shone it on him again. We then both got slightly grossed out and our voices each went an octave higher. Even she didn’t know what it was, but she was equally disgusted at it’s long, hairless tail.

We watched it slowly crawl along the top of the fence for a couple of minutes and then it started down on the outside of the fencing. This is when she squirmed a bit and closed the glass door again, reassuring me that if it had gotten in that the dog and cat would take care of it quickly. Sadly, that really wasn’t very reassuring with a skinny cat and a cocker spaniel, I didn’t feel particularly safe.

In the end, we still don’t know which kind of rodent it is for sure and it was too dark to take a photo.

Lesson learned to always keep the patio door closed at night though!

My First Christmas Abroad – Part 3

After reading Part 1 & 2 about my beliefs on Christmas and how Dominican’s celebrate differently than North American’s, I hope you’ll appreciate how absolutely at peace I was with my decision to be abroad for Christmas in 2014. Of course I missed my family and friends. More than anything though, all I could wish for was that every single one of them was enjoying Christmas in whatever capacity brings them happiness and no stress. Christmas morning I slept in until about 9am. When I woke up, I immediately called my family to say Merry Christmas and chat for a bit. My apartment was ‘decorated’ with clothing hanging to dry on a drying rack after being at the beach the day before. My mind was rested from a good night’s sleep and the sun was shining (when I finally opened the curtains!). Amazingly it was just like any other day except fewer people in the community were working and stores were closed. And I felt … Happy. Later that day, with a handful of other students and friends from IIC Casa Goethe (my Spanish school), we hopped in a carro publico and made our way about 30 minutes outside of Sosua along the coast to a small community called Saboneta. On the outskirts of town we were met by our guide and her jeep, waiting to take us to her farm where we would meet the horses and begin our day. We all got saddled up and acquainted with our horses and then slowly set off through the streets of the little town toward the mountains. Locals were sitting on their porches chatting away as normal. Kids were playing in the streets. Bachata and Merengue music could be heard around every corner. And we clip clopped through waving and saying ‘Feliz Navidad’ to the locals.

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Once we set off up the first hill, our guides checked in to make sure we were all doing ok in the saddles and then shortly after that we had our first opportunity to go fast, straight up a large hill. I’ve been horseback riding only about 10 times in my life and I’ve never gone any faster than a saunter, so this was particularly exciting for me. And off we went straight up the hill. How exhilarating! The strength, speed and agility of the horse, balanced with the concentration it took from me to stay on her … amazing! Do it again! Do it again! (it wasn’t time yet though) We climbed a fairly well-groomed dirt road for a good half hour and then headed down into the valley where we got the first glimpse of the river that we would be crossing with our horses. This was also the rest stop for the horses and a relaxing snack and dance break for us.

The beautiful river

The beautiful river.

Break time for the horses.

Break time for the horses.

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Dance break for the humans.

After a leisurely break, we mounted the horses and started our true adventure through the river and jungle of the Dominican’s beautiful mountains. The horses navigated their way down a short, slippery and rocky slope to the river and then in we went! No time to reconsider, the horses were following the leader and he was already on the other river bank! Each of the horses daintily waded into the water stumbling on rocks and regaining balance almost with every step, but never losing a passenger! The water was up to the horses’ tummies which meant our feet were fully submersed in the river and occasionally up to our knees. Don’t be fooled though, the rest of our bodies didn’t stay dry with the splashing from our own horse as well as whoever happened to be in front. As dainty as they may be when they are trying to choose the path of least resistance, they sure can make a splash as they clomp into a river. We quietly followed the leader along the sandy banks of the river for awhile and then criss-crossed back and forth down the river to follow the best pathways along the beaches, rocky banks and through the jungle. More than once I found myself drifting off into a relaxed day dream as I bumped methodically along the pathway surrounded by large leafy trees, the bubbling sound of the river passing by and birds singing in the distance. My mind completely relaxed and I was able to just enjoy the freshness and revitalizing spirit of nature. I’m not sure if others in my group felt the same or not, but they were equally quiet and there were times when no one in the group spoke for five or more minutes as we trotted along the trails. It was complete human silence, only broken by the sounds of nature. After traversing the river and riding through various different types of foliage, we reached an open field where we were allowed to run with our horses to the other side where we would meet our final path back to the main road. A couple of the others were seasoned riders and took off at the speed of light. Me and my horsey, Puerto Plata, started with a trot and then next thing I knew she was going full speed ahead. I was a little torn between fear of losing my balance and the exhilaration of going so fast. In the end, exhilaration won as I’ve decided that I love horseback riding and need to find more opportunities to improve my skills so that the fear of falling off doesn’t inhibit me from going as fast as the horse can take me. We all met up at the last trail and clip clopped our way slowly back through the little village to the farm. I can’t really put in to words how much I enjoyed the three hours we spent amidst nature with the horses, but I know that for Christmas 2014, I found my holiday happiness, my tranquility and my sanity on a horseback trip through the mountains and rivers near Saboneta, Dominican Republic.

My First Christmas Abroad – Part 2

Check out Part 1 for the background on my Christmas beliefs before delving into the following post.

*Beware, some sarcasm may ensue half way through this post. You have been forewarned.

Pretty much from the minute that I started making travel plans in the summer of 2014, I knew that I would be away over the holidays that year. My friend had asked me to photograph her wedding in the Dominican Republic on December 28, 2014 and by the end of summer I had confirmed that I would be there. I decided to fly into Dominican Republic on December 11th (before the Christmas rush and high prices) and leave at the beginning of February (after the Christmas rush). That gave me about seven and a half weeks to enjoy Dominican life. Keep in mind that I’m not on vacation while I’m traveling, I’m working as a travel agent, so I spend a good chunk of each day working, just like you. The big difference is that before work (or after), I can walk to the beach.

I was so busy traveling throughout the autumn of 2014, I didn’t really have time to think about what it would feel like to be abroad for Christmas. The thought crossed my mind occasionally and I wondered if I would be homesick. Would I miss my family? Would I miss the tree and the presents? Would I feel lonely on Christmas day? Would I be able to find turkey dinner? But, I was too busy living every single moment to think that far into the future.

Once I got to the Dominican Republic I settled in quickly, made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I immediately felt at home. I arrived on December 11th and went out dancing my first night. You could tell it was Christmas because there were a few decorations at restaurants and shops, but they weren’t very prominent. There was a small Christmas tree in the lobby of where I was renting and the bar that I went dancing at had a wrought iron tree / candle stand, but overall, just like Dominican in general, it was ‘tranquio’ (which translates to quiet).

A couple of days before Christmas one of the motoconcho drivers that I had met invited me to come spend Christmas with his family. I wanted to go sooooo badly, but I knew that it was a ploy to show me off as the ‘white girl trophy’. I contemplated going for the experience, but I didn’t know him very well and in the end I decided that as much as I wanted to see a real Dominican Christmas, I knew that I would just be annoyed if he acted like my boyfriend the entire day. So, in the end I said no.

Dominican Republic is a very poor country. They do not celebrate Christmas the American way and I’ve got to be honest, I think America could learn from them on this one. Generally speaking, Christmas Eve is spent attending church and then gathering with family and friends for lots of food (often pot-luck kind of style) and drinks. Everyone stays up late and it is all about spending time together with loved ones. Christmas day is spent being ‘tranquilo’ with friends and family. On Christmas night everyone goes out to dance and celebrate.

Most locals don’t have a Christmas tree, although you are likely to see some form of nativity scene as most families practice their faith. There will be random Christmas trinkets and old-style decorations hung throughout their tiny, basic homes from the oddest of places. Decorations are eclectic, they don’t match and you know what? None of that matters here.

Huh! Imagine that.

Shhhhh …. Don’t tell anyone ….

It actually does not matter if your tree lights are hung perfectly.
(Unless you are diagnosed with OCD and then I’ll agree that it could matter in that case)

In Dominican Republic, you will not be judged for your Christmas decorations or lack thereof.
You also have no need to put pressure on yourself because someone might be judging you. They just aren’t.
Woah! What a concept.

Sorry about my sarcasm, but one of my biggest problems with North American Christmas is the expectations that people put on themselves to impress their family and friends when really, none of that matters. It is all superficial.

Side Note – Thanks mum and papa for not ever judging me for how untidy my house was. I know I used to get in trouble for my messy bedroom as a teen, but I’m not THAT bad anymore.

Did you notice in my description of Christmas in Dominican Republic what was missing?

Dominican’s in general don’t celebrate Christmas with gift-giving.

WOAH! What is this concept? Is Christmas even Christmas without giving gifts?

Well folks … believe it or not, even though Jesus was welcomed into the world with gifts, in my humble opinion, God is not judging anyone based on what size Tonka truck they give their son or if their daughter would rather a tool set than a barbie.

Anyone care to argue that point? My comments section is open … open for nice, intelligent conversation, no bullying folks!

In Dominican (and lots of other countries) families don’t have the money to buy gifts to celebrate Christmas. Some families do, of course, but the majority do not. There are no long lineups. No one is stressed about having enough money to buy the best new shoes or most popular new toy for their kids because they are more stressed about putting food on the table (a problem for separate discussion). You don’t have to keep up with the Jones’ because the Jones’ are just normal people, struggling to get by. So, instead of giving gifts, they spend time with their friends and family.

WOAH! What if we all did that?

Nearly every day the week before Christmas I arranged my work day so that I could go to the beach for a few hours. Immediately I hear most of you thinking to yourself ‘Lucky girl. That must be nice.’ Followed by tinges of jealousy.

You know what? It was beautiful. It was relaxing, sunny, warm and not even remotely Christmas-like in Sosua on the beach. I did not hear Christmas music. I saw very few Christmas decorations. There were no extra long line ups, no stressed people, no complaints about not having money to buy gifts …. Hmmmmm … quite the concept! I bet most of you reading this would love to have a relaxing Christmas.

So, I ask you … What’s stopping you from having a relaxing, enjoyable Christmas (whatever that means to you)? Why are you letting family, friends and advertising dictate how you spend your time, money and sanity?

I understand that I’m not going to change the entire North American way of thinking about Christmas (after all, I’m not an advertising company). I know that I can’t single-handedly stop the huge influx of ridiculous advertising around the holidays, but what I can (and did) do is remove myself from the stress that burdens so many people around the holidays.

You can let yourself get caught up in the mob, or you can step aside and let it tumble on past you.

For my first ever Christmas abroad, I chose to do something on Christmas Day that would bring me joy. Something that would make me feel good and that would not cause me any stress. It was completely relaxing, enjoyable, peaceful and beautiful …

Check out Part 3 for how I spent my first Christmas abroad.

My first Christmas abroad – Part 1

(the back story on my Christmas beliefs)

Bah humbug.
Yeah, that’s what most of the world’s Christmas lovers would say about me.
I prefer to think of myself more as an advocate of less stressful holidays. That doesn’t mean that I hate Christmas (although I don’t particularly love it.) And, it doesn’t mean that I try to bring others down. It just means that I choose to avoid the chaos whenever possible. I stay away from the malls. I don’t do Christmas baking. I have very few Christmas parties to attend. I don’t listen to Christmas music. I don’t put up a tree or decorate. Some people love these things, but for me, they really all lead to more stress.

I think part of this is because I’m an introvert and chaotic situations drain me physically and emotionally. So, with a holiday as hectic and chaotic as Christmas, I feel tired and drained the whole season (which often starts before Rememberance day). That’s nearly two full months of exhaustion. And, let’s face it, if you live in the Americas it is impossible to avoid Christmas.

Even if you do your part to keep your own stress level to a minimum, it is still near impossible to avoid soaking up some of your friend’s stresses. Not to mention advertising on television, radio, buses, etc and post after post on Facebook about the long lines, the high prices, the ridiculousness of it all … but yet everyone still going crazy to meet the deadlines and high expectations that they have placed on themselves.

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to explain to my family (who mostly understand) that I don’t really enjoy Christmas. I’m not interested in gifts. I don’t need anything and I don’t want to buy stuff for others that they don’t need or appreciate. The commercialization of Christmas and needing to buy gifts for everyone frustrates me to no end. All I want for Christmas is a turkey dinner with family. My expectation is that my mom or sister will cook the turkey because I don’t know that I could come anywhere close to doing it as well as them. However, should something happen and the turkey doesn’t turn out, I would hope we could all laugh about it rather than being upset because it wasn’t perfect.

Stress … Think of all the stresses that surround Christmas!

1. Deadline to buy the gifts, have them wrapped or sent by mail.

2. Having the money to buy ‘good enough’ gifts for whoever is on your list.

3. Buying gifts that your significant other will like.

4. Cooking turkey dinner with all of the fixings.

5. Having your tree decorated PERFECTLY.

6. Having your house clean enough for company.

7. Entertaining company (specifically the in-laws) over the holiday

Thankfully my family isn’t particularly wrapped up in material items, so it has never been about spending large ridiculous amounts of money. Of course my mom decorates for Christmas and I always appreciate how pretty it is, but I would never ever judge her if she one day decided not to decorate!

For the past few years, my mom, sister and I have tried to stick to exchanging hand-made gifts. These could be self-made, or they could be purchased from a local artist. Something interesting, not terribly expensive, but more about the thought and meaning of the gift rather than just buying for the sake of buying. Personally, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this and try to stick with it.

My mom has both made, and bought beautiful hand-made bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry. My sister made a donation in my name to the Planeterra Foundation and bought me a t-shirt from a not for profit. She also purchased a bracelet for me from Free the Children that gives water to a family for life.

For my family, I usually create a travel photo calendar of that year’s adventures. One year I also purchased garden baskets for African families to be able to start and maintain a garden, the way to a healthier and more prosperous future.

These things warm my heart because in all honesty no one in my family needs anything. We have everything we need (likely 10 times more) and if the spirit of Christmas is giving, I think it should be given to those who need it, not those who don’t!

Trying to keep this perspective alive is nearly impossible when you are bombarded with Christmas gift giving expectations and advertisements. Whether you believe in Christmas or not, you have no choice but to be subject to it because it is so commercialized.

So, in 2014 I ran away from it all and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Stay tuned for How I celebrated Christmas 2014 and why I loved it so much.

Cheat the Yankee

I truly love the differences that come with all of the cultures of our beautiful amazing world. I love that people everywhere are the same, but yet somehow totally different.

I’ve been to Dominican Republic twice before, including a seven week stay in 2012. I’m here again now for approximately eight weeks and I’m enjoying *almost* every second. I’ve been sick with a couple of different issues which was not so enjoyable and I’ve had a couple of frustrating situations. However, overall, the people, the beach, the sun, the food, the new friends from here and afar, the little town of Sosua has not disappointed me.

Anytime you travel you have to be particularly careful of tourist scams. In my opinion, high priced excursions that you book in advance of travel or on the resorts are not scams. If you agree to the price in advance, if it seems reasonable to you in whatever culture you are used to and you are happy with the quality of service you receive when you take the excursion, then it’s not a scam. However, if you arrive, take the excursion and then there are additional ‘required’ costs at the end that you weren’t advised of, that is a different story.

Also don’t forget that the extras are offered at additional cost because people DO buy them at that price. If they weren’t getting any sales from it, they wouldn’t be in operation, or at least not offering that particular product. Business is the same everywhere in that they are all looking to make money. They will not do something at a loss. However, in some places you have to be more careful of the business ‘ethics’ and ‘scams’ than in others.

Many people book excursions in advance for the ease of it as well as the security of working with a reputable company. For those two things, you are paying a higher price than you would locally. However, if you try to book the same tour locally you have to consider that you have to barter the price on your own, spend your time researching the options and you aren’t sure on the security and standards of the local company. You are also on your own if something goes wrong rather than having the backing of a larger, reputable company. Prices can go either way locally for the exact same product. It can be the same as what you were offered by your travel agent or tour operator, or it could be lower or higher. It all depends on the agreements in place between the international and local suppliers. Some times they’ve negotiated special rates because they bring in bulk clients, which also means that the local companies are very careful to please and meet the standards of the international companies. Or, sometimes you can find a local supplier and pay less. Just keep in mind that you take your chances when you do that.

However, there are lots of real ‘scams’ out there. In fact, many people joke (but they are really serious) that the national past-time of Dominican Republic is actually ‘Cheat the Yankee’, not baseball as they would have you believe. Now, not all Dominican’s do this. There are certainly fair and honest people here. But, there are also many crimes of opportunity and tourist scams that you should be aware of

Take for example this one which is quite common in Dominican Republic. Here’s a little story so you can relate …

My friend and I left from Sosua to go to Puerto Plata to enjoy the summit to Pico Isabel de Torres on the only Cable car in the Caribbean. We hopped into a carro publico (public taxi), paid our 50 pesos each for the upcoming 45 minute drive squished in the back seat of a car similar to a Honda Civic with a total of six passengers. The driver, plus two passengers in the front and then four passengers in the back seat. This is the main source of transportation here so it’s nothing new to us and for one dollar, it’s really a pretty good deal.

Keep in mind, the public transit drivers don’t speak English, the remainder of this story takes place with me speaking Spanish.

As we got close to Puerto Plate the driver inquired where we needed to get off. I told him the centre of Puerto Plata would be fine as we were heading to the Teleferico. He asked a couple more questions, but I couldn’t understand him. My Spanish is much better when I can see someone speaking and hear them. In this case because he was in the front, driving, and I was in the back with the music blaring, I just couldn’t hear well enough to understand.

When we stopped at the central station in Puerto Plata everyone piled out, including me. Before my friend was able to wiggle her way out of the car, the driver told us to stay in the car to go to the Teleferico. I explained no problem, that we would find our own way there, but he insisted (nicely) that he would take us there and I got back in the car. Let’s just say I should have known better but for whatever reason at that moment, I thought he was genuine. And, I was able to hear and see him when we had the conversation, so I understood him well.

It was about a five minute car ride to the middle of the mountain where you buy your tickets for the cable car. He dropped us off and as I started to get out of the car he turned around and told me it would be an additional 100 Pesos. The conversation went a little something like this (in Spanish):

Driver: That’s 100 pesos
Me: No. Why?
Driver: Because I brought you all the way to the Cable Car.
Me: But you didn’t tell us there was an extra charge for that. We would have taken other transportation from the centre.
Driver: But I brought you, so you owe 100 pesos more.
Me: (getting agitated) No. I’m sorry but I’m not paying you. I tried to get out of the car and you told me to stay. You did not tell me there was an extra fee. (My friend and I exited the car)

We walked about 50 meters to the front entrance of the Cable Car pavilion when the driver and one of the Cable car employees approached us. I’m not sure which one spoke to me first, but at this point I was really annoyed with the driver.

Driver: You owe me 100 pesos.
Me: You should have told us that before you brought us here. We wanted to get off in the centre, but you didn’t let us. You told us to stay in the car.
Driver: But I brought you here, there is a charge for that.
Me: Not my problem. We were going to take other transportation but you wouldn’t let us. You didn’t tell me there was a fee. I’m not paying you.
Driver: Fine, I’ll get the police then.
Me: As you wish.

He beckoned the ‘police’ nearby which was actually only a security guard, not officially police. I’m sure he thought that the idea of the police was enough to scare me, but I didn’t back down.

The security guard sauntered over from the other side of the parking lot. When he was close the Driver immediately began to explain his side of the story. His side, of course, was simply that he drove us here and then we refused to pay. When he was finished, I immediately asked if the security guard spoke English. Of course he responded no! And I’m pretty sure I snarkily said ‘Of course not!’ Not for a second did I actually believe this as he was security at a huge tourist attraction, but whatever, I couldn’t be bothered to argue over that too. So, I yammered on in Spanish explaining how we had tried to get out of the public car but he told us to stay and that he didn’t tell us there was an extra fee for this.

By this time, there was a group of about five to seven of us. Myself and my friend, the driver, the security guard and several staff from the cable car who wait outside to greet people.

The security guard just stood there listening. I quite honestly don’t know if he even said a word other than ‘No’ that he didn’t speak English. And even then he might have just shook his head. HA HA

At some point one of the staff asked how much we had paid and I explained that we paid 50 pesos each when we got in the car in Sosua until Puerto Plata. 50 pesos each was already slightly high as I believe it is only 45 pesos, but I hadn’t asked for change, so I wasn’t going to argue over it.

It was then they asked why I didn’t want to pay the extra 100 pesos.

Although my friend tells me I wasn’t loud, I was certainly angry at this point. I was arguing over 100 pesos (approximately $2.50 CAD). Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? In the back of my mind it seemed ridiculous to me too, but I knew this was a regular occurrence and felt like I needed to take a stand so that they would know it wasn’t right to take advantage of tourists.

I also know that this has happened to other tourists and generally they just pay the money and back off as they don’t know what to do, what’s going to happen or even if they are right or wrong. For that reason, it is intimidating and the locals who are looking for opportunities can take advantage. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me … at least not this time.

Driver: It is only 100 pesos. That is not expensive.

And then I kind of lost it.

Me: Just because it is only 100 pesos doesn’t mean it isn’t expensive. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean that 100 pesos is nothing. I’m not new here. You should have let us out of your car or told us the price in advance and then we wouldn’t have this problem. We could have easily taken a moto concho or walked. We tried to get out of the car but you told us to stay. You are not honest. You didn’t tell us there was a fee. I’m not paying.

What I really wanted to do was take out 100 pesos and tear it up in front of them to prove that it wasn’t about the money. I’m glad I didn’t though. It would have been a waste!

I turned to the security guard ….

Me: Ok. Now what? I’m not paying. What happens now?

There was some mumbling and grumbling between the driver and the cable car staff and a short conversation between them that I didn’t understand.

Then one of the staff said ‘Ok. Ok. Go ahead’. I looked at each of the staff and the security guard and sincerely said ‘Thank you.’

My blood was boiling. For one, I don’t like confrontation. Secondly, confrontation in a foreign language? Yikes!

Go figure, once we finally got inside it started to rain and the teleferico stopped! Thankfully only for a short period of time, so we were able to get on about 30 – 45 minutes later.

It took awhile before my blood pressure returned to a regular level.

Funny enough, one of the staff who had been involved in the argument approached me while we were waiting to buy tickets and told me how good my Spanish was. Hmmm … maybe if you want to sound good in Spanish you just have to get angry so that you talk faster and they won’t hear your mistakes!

One of my friends in Canada said to me today “Don’t forget, you aren’t in Canada anymore.”

My response? “What are you talking about????? I would NEVER EVER EVER have argued like this if I was in Canada! I would have been arrested! LOL I only did it because I was in Dominican!”

By the way, for those of you who might be concerned (i.e. Mum & Papa) … I don’t do this on a regular basis. In fact, this was the first time. And, if there had been any real chance that I was going to be arrested I would have paid the $2.50 to stay safe.