January 14, 2014: The House of Kitsch

Amidst all the sonidos del campo (sounds of the countryside), I slept soundly, and awoke to a mosquito sitting smugly on the pillow a few inches from my face. I flailed ineffectually at it, and it flitted off. I was wide awake now, though, so I sat up and admired the morning light that was coming in through the two windows and through a few cracks and holes in the edges of the zinc roof.

Elana made us coffee, which we drank while Nouelle ran an errand, and then we all packed up and headed out of Higüerito. As we walked toward the autopista, Macho Man drove by on his moto, with a little old Doña hanging onto his back. He offered to come back and grab us once he had delivered his current passenger, so we waited by the side of the road until he returned for us a few minutes later.

Once he had dropped us beside the autopista, we flagged down a carro (which is like a cheap, decrepit taxi, with each carro line following a set route; they pile passengers in like in a clown car, and can carry one all around the major streets inside a city). The carro piled in a few more passengers atop us, and then delivered us back to Santiago.

After several sets of conflicting directions from passerby, we found our way to a bus depot that offered guaguas to Samaná. The next one wasn’t for a few hours, so we grabbed lunch inside an alarmingly large and shiny supermercado, chatting merrily over okra salad, rice, and meat. Then, Elana and I said a fond farewell to Nouelle; she headed off to to do more errands, and we boarded our guagua.

Squishy guagua!
Squishy guagua seats!

This guagua was a comparatively nice guagua: 6-7 rows of new-looking seats, an aisle, and intact, clean windows. We stopped a few times for snacks or to drop off passengers in small pueblos along the road, but otherwise made very efficient progress. At Samaná, we switched to another, scuzzier guagua, which would take us the rest of the way to Las Galeras (where we are staying for the next four nights).

Hills made of palm.
Hills made of palm. Plus a tiny waving man.

Between the two guagua rides, it took us about five hours to get from Santiago to Samaná to Las Galeras. I had a prime window seat for both rides; I split my time between talking and laughing with Elana, and gazing out the window and attempting to drink in every last detail. Some notes:

  • We passed numerous wet rice fields, full of wading white egrets, as well as many green open fields. Bananas and palm trees were still omnipresent.
  • I also spotted what looked like chestnut trees and breadfruit trees, as well as dozens of vibrant flowers (which I yearned to investigate up close).
  • Dominican pueblo businesses tend to have their name hand-painted above their door, often with some accompanying art painted below: a well-shorn man’s head for a peluquería (barbershop), or a lively fish for a pescadería (fish shop).
  • The shop names often follow the pattern: [name of type of shop] + [person’s name], e.g. Floristería Ysabel. (Tangent onto tangent: a surprisingly large number of Dominican names start with Y, which is interesting.)
  • During the ride, I spotted a new-to-me shop type: a lechonera, which is apparently a restaurant that just sells roasted pork.
  • As we got closer to the coast, we saw a lot more ginormous, fancy homes with barbed-wire-topped walls, mixed in among the regular one-story, plainer houses. Wealthy Dominicans, or extranjeros (foreigners)?
  • As we got into Las Galeras, we began to see a fair number of white tourists—the first I’d seen since the airport on Sunday (other than myself, Nouelle, and Elana). Samaná and Las Galeras are the second-most touristy region we’ll visit, so it made sense, but it’s nonetheless notable how strongly these touristy regions contrast with the less touristy regions.
"The Strong" Barbershop.
“The Strong” Barbershop.

In Las Galeras, we walked up a long, mud-gravel road, following the signs to the place where we had a reservation: Chalet Tropical. A friendly man, who was manning the desk near the front gate, led us up to our room: into a palm-roofed building covered in decorative stonework, up a flight of knobbly wooden stairs, through a yellow door adorned with seashells and rope, and into our room, which had one yellow-green log wall, one natural-wood log wall, two orange stucco walls, driftwood furniture and beams, and starfish-and-seashell comforters. It was kitschy to an extreme, but within that unabashed kitschiness, it was magnificent.

We walked back into Las Galeras for dinner at a restaurant that served French, Italian, and Dominican food (because of course). We both tried mamajuana (a Dominican drink consisting of rum, red wine, honey, miscellaneous tree bark, and herbs) for the first time: it smelled offensive, but tasted pleasant and spiced.

After dinner, we headed back into the network of dark red-mud roads that surround the Chalet, and with only about fifteen minutes’ worth of wrong turns, we found our way back. It was, however, a beautiful night for a walk: almost-full moon, shadowed banana groves, fields all around, crickets skreeking boisterously, and hot, stickily humid air. It was much more humid here than it had been inland; to me, it was comparable to the feel of a West Virginia midsummer day.

Once we were back at our room at the Chalet, Elana and I each took a turn to luxuriate in a hot shower (with real hot water! which is a little uncommon here). Afterward, we sat around in our pajamas and ate a ripe guanábana (you can call it by its English name, Soursop, but I don’t see why you would) with a spoon. Earlier in the day, I had mentioned my ongoing quest to try All the Unusual New Fruits and Vegetables to Elana, and she had thoughtfully grabbed it for us between guaguas—so here’s a snazzy new fruit for my list!

As we dissected the fruit, we sang “guanábana!” to the tune of “Mahna Mahna” a few times, because it had to be done. The guanábana had a slightly gooey, fibrous texture, which is off-putting, but it’s surprisingly delicious once you get past that. Wikipedia claims it tastes like “a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus flavor notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut or banana,” and that’s actually spot-on.

Guanábana! Do doo be-do-do. Guanábana! Do do-do do.
Guanábana! Do doo be-do-do. Guanábana! Do do-do do.

Thus guanábana-ed, Elana read a book, I wrote for a while, and then we tucked into bed.

5 thoughts on “January 14, 2014: The House of Kitsch

  1. Mahna mahna is now stuck on my brain, enriched by the image of the little Sesame Street cow mouths in matching O-shapes.

  2. Does the initial- Y thing apply in spelling of common nouns and other words, or just names?

    I am enjoying this journal a lot.

    1. Just names, as far as I could tell. I’m not sure why, but it was surprisingly common. There were also some just-plain-unusual names, like a young man named “Frankly” (which he pronounced like “Frankie,” but wrote it down for us with the L).

      I’m glad you’re enjoying this! I enjoy that you’re reading it.

  3. I bet it’s a variant spelling left over from the days when Spanish orthography was less ortho–.

    Tangent: have you ever read El cantar del mio Cid? It’s crizazy! It’s like a molten admixture of proto-Spanish and proto-Portguese with a whole lotta Latin thrown in.

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