Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jarabacoa and New Year's Eve

The Dominican Republic boasts several impressive mountain ranges, filled beautiful mountain rivers and the canyons and waterfalls and white water rapids they create.  A little asking around in Luperon made it clear that the place to head to and stage from was the little mountain city of Jarabacoa, located in the largest of the island's mountain ranges and on the edge of the huge Jose Del Carmen Ramirez National Park.

It took half a day of travel in the guaguas to get there.  Every guagua was a little Toyota ten passenger van, converted to a thirteen passenger van by the addition of folding seats in the aisles.  The guaguas won't leave the station, usually just a designated street corner, until they are at least half full.  Once underway, they stop for every person who waves them down along the road.  At one point I counted twenty people in our guagua.  No seatbelt laws or max carrying capacity here.  In fact, all the seatbelts had been removed to save space and facilitate passenger movement.

Jarabacoa turned out to be a not very picturesque city in a very picturesque setting.  We found a hotel room cheap enough to not come with blankets on the beds, enjoyed a fancy dinner out, and then headed back to turn in early.  The room had two double beds and there was some argument about who would sleep with who.  Nate had assumed he and Becca would share one bed and Mark and I the other.  Mark and I had not assumed this.  We all wanted Becca as a bedmate, she being the smallest and least stinky of the group.  Nate eventually bought us off with a bottle of wine.

The next day we hired a local guide named Armado to take us around in his truck to see the nearby waterfalls.  He ran out of gas and while he hiked back for more, we wandered off to explore.  We met another local, a former river rafting guide, who told us about the class IV rapids in the area.  We decided we'd do that the next day.

The waterfalls were spectacular.  Swimming, rock climbing, picnic on the beach, natural water slides.  Aided by the use of some docklines we'd brought with us from the boat, I think we were able to get the full experience.

As planned, the next day we went white water rafting.  It was a half day trip, including breakfast and lunch.  The river ran though a narrow gorge, very rough and rocky.  Lots of fun but not particularly challenging to run in a raft.  The guides simply pointed the boat down river and let it ricochet and pivot off of every rock along the way.

We were back at our hotel by early afternoon, in time to grab a quick siesta.  We needed to rest up.  It was New Year's Eve.  Since arriving in Jarabacoa we had been hearing about the huge, all-night party that would fill the town.  We wanted to be prepared.  The lunch included with rafting had been an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Planning ahead, we really tucked in so that we didn't have to buy dinner.  

At about eight, still full from lunch, we went out and bought big bottles of the local beer, rum, and wine.  With a deck of cards, a table, and plenty of time, we started teaching each other drinking games.  Between the four of us we knew quite a few.  Some were better than others.  

Mark and Becca had picked up guava juice to use as a mixer with the cheap Dominican rum.  With the first swig, however, I discovered they'd gotten guava juice concentrate instead.  Our one quart was capable of making four gallons of juice.  We used it anyway.  Even cut with increasing quantities of rum, it was syrupy and sickly sweet.  

By ten-thirty we'd run through our booze and were ready to hit the town.  We crashed boisterously out into the quiet, empty street and headed for the bars.  They were quiet too. In there park, the food vendors were still setting up their stands.  Confused and dispirited, we chanced upon a big tent in an empty lot.  A party was being prepared.  The waiters in their black vests and bowties were sitting on the curb smoking.  The bouncer was on his cell phone.  Inside we found the DJ stacking cases of CDs.  He explained that everyone spends New Year's Eve at home with their families.  Only after midnight do the people emerge into the streets to party the rest of the night away.

He assured us that no, we hadn't missed the party.  We were just too early.  He was finished setting up by now and, wishing us a happy new year, hopped on his motorcycle and raced off through the city to spend midnight with his family.  Disappointed, we stumbled dejectedly back to our hotel, picking up more beer along the way, to wait out the remaining couple hours until the bars filled up.

When we returned to the hotel room Becca went straight to the bathroom and stayed there.  She said it was food poisoning and I'm sure it was, the kind of food poisoning you get when you eat nothing but two dollar wine and guava rum punches.  

With Becca guarding the toilet, a motion was made to include her current episode on the trip's seasickness tally.  By a vote of three to zero (Becca abstained) the motion passed.  She is now in last place, tying Nate.

At midnight we held a half hearted New Year's celebration in the room.  Then, Nate went to bed.  Finished with the toilet, Becca soon joined him.  Mark lay down to "rest his eyes," issuing strict orders to wake him when it was time to go out.  I stayed awake reading.

At 1:30 a.m., more due to a sense of obligation to Mark than from any actual enthusiasm on my part, I woke everyone up to go out.  Becca got up and went to the toilet.  Nate opened his eyes only long enough to tell me, "No."  Mark hopped out of bed rested and ready.  With a sigh, I followed him out the door.

The bars were bumping.  Speakers loud enough to be used by riot police for crowd control made sure of that.  The girls dressed up for the New Year were all achingly beautiful to two grungy sailors just off the boat.  From bar to bar we tramped, slinging back beers and chatting up ladies, or as much as we could in our broken Spanish, screaming over the pulse of the club music.  We didn't stand a chance.  As the night wore on, we were soon too drunk to care.  From what I can remember, Mark outdid himself, winning some of the most spectacularly cold rejections I've ever been privileged to witnessed.  It wasn't always clear what they were saying, but it was always clear what they meant.  Fortunately, Mark is a resilient fellow and he immediately bounced on to the next girl undeterred.

By 5 a.m. I was done in.  I dragged Mark back to the hotel.  The proprietor had been kind enough to leave the gate unlocked for us.  We both fell asleep fully clothed, on top of the covers.

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