Noel not a Hurricane just a Topical Storm

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Hurricane? Not a hurricane, merely a ‘tropical storm’! Any difference? Not a lot really, just that nobody bothered to tell us this one was coming!
With the wonders of modern science we can of course track the satellite pictures of cloud formation and we could have been suspicious on Saturday afternoon when the merest fringes of what appeared to be a massive cloud formation hanging over the central Caribbean started to give us some extremely heavy squalls.
Perhaps we are not the most ardent followers of the Dominican media, but we definitely keep our ears close to the ground in the Boca Chica community and we never heard even a murmur about anything untoward on the way. On the contrary… the locals asked us, because of our satellite picture watch, and unassumingly we said, “Yes it looks like it could be quite wet for a while”.

Saturday night was just a taster. Deluge would have been the very appropriate word. It sounded like somebody pouring buckets of water on the roof, but constantly!
Sunday morning it was still raining heavily and in general looking very dismal indeed. We made the extremely rare decision to close Playa Vista, or rather not open Playa Vista, and unlike nearly every other occasion when that almost unthinkable possibility has been considered, this special Sunday did not get any better as time went on… it actually got worse… a lot worse. The sea rose, and the beach disappeared beneath the waves strangely just like when a hurricane passes by! (please see photos of Hurricane Dean’s effects Aug 19th entry)
Then Sunday night when we got what was so reminiscent of a hurricane that it obviously was more than a coincidence, we began to suspect that something was up. Firstly the electricity supply was cut -always a sure sign of serious difficulties here in Boca Chica- and then the water supply that actually had already beaten a hasty retreat some 24 hours before that, totally failed. Then followed a second night of deluge, but this time accompanied by extremely high winds all night long.
The next morning we had phone calls literally from all around the world, joining the increasing local questioning as to “what happened?” Due to there being no electricity, it was very difficult to verify anything except, thankfully that Playa Vista had escaped with very minimal damage even if some of the in-coming telephone calls talked of the felling of numerous large trees in the neighborhood and major evacuations of people in parts of the Dominican Republic.

Well, now here on Tuesday morning with electricity back in supply we are able to know that it wasn’t a hurricane just a ‘tropical storm called Noel’ that traveled at the paltry speed of 6mph thereby prolonging the agony leaving at least 20 dead and considerably more missing due to swollen rivers and flooding around the country.
Not a hurricane we reiterate, with the voice of the authorities very quietly echoing in the background… just a tropical storm!

Snakes on the Beach

Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Immediately adjacent to Playa Vista on the west side there is a plot of land almost identical in size to our own. When we first arrived in town many years ago, the plot was occupied by at least three micro-businesses: a fishmonger, a hairdressers and a restaurant-cum-kitchen… not to mention whatever was happening on the beach immediately in front of the property. We can even remember being offered a parcel of this land, by one of the micro-businesses, for the sum of US$50,000!
However, a couple of years went by and then suddenly a mass clearance of these businesses was instigated by ‘the genuine owner’ who had suddenly decided to make his presence felt after many years absence and, by the way, had a hard time getting rid of all the long-time squatters, especially the ones doing whatever they were doing on the beach in front of the property. At this point the true history of genuine ownership of the land began to fall into place, and it became clear that it would have been a very sorry good-bye to $50,000 to anybody foolhardy enough to do a deal with the non-owners of any parts of the land.
The genuine owner turned out to be a certain well known banker-family that had suddenly decided they wanted to sell up and had ordered the property to be cleared and fenced off. This seemingly small maneuver took quite some time mainly because the relevant authorities here, for many different reasons, like wanting their “part of the action” and the usual accompanying bureaucratic crawl had to be negotiated before something as simple as even fencing got put up. A “Se Vende/For Sale” sign finally went up and then simply the vegetation, for better and for worse, just grew and grew around it.
We maintained contact with the banker-family, not through our initial contact, the patriarch of the family – because it seemed, shortly after our first encounter, he had “difficulties” regarding his involvement with the collapse of one of the major banks ‘Banco Nacional de Credito’ – but through his grandson who continually assured us that the family were definitely selling the land but that the principal obstacle to the sale were the many family members party to the ownership and getting a consensus decision on anything was very difficult indeed.
Finally, after several years of passing, we were alerted recently one morning to the latest, we presume, sea change regarding the land, when we heard rubble being tossed on to the land from what was the D’Nancy beach restaurant next door on the other side. At this point it would be relevant to mention another story within a story, namely that just a few weeks earlier the D’Nancy restaurant caught fire and was entirely gutted! Our own observation of this couldn’t help noticing that ‘strangely’ the same afternoon of the fire, certain ambulant sellers of cooked sea food such as conch and squid had been boiling up their fare on the adjacent vacant lot and the smoke and embers were, in the strong sea breeze, drifting in precisely the direction where the roof of the D’Nancy restaurant caught fire!
However, in order not to digress too far, for now let us return to the rubble tossing! After our experiences over the years in seeing this derelict site in question abused in so many unthinkable ways by whoever was passing, we immediately enquired of the rubble movers what they were doing… only to discover Nancy’s husband, the owner of the burned out D’Nancy restaurant, orchestrating this latest clearance.

Rumors go, and it would seem to be so close to fact, that he and his associates have purchased the infamous land and that they plan to build a hotel complex on the site, although they say there is no hurry and that initially they will be using the land for a parking lot. Observations so far would indicate that hurrying is not actually an option. To clear two trees and the very small concrete structure that existed, took about three weeks and countless man hours of labor, chiefly because chainsaws are not used in these parts where the manly good old fashioned axe approach still rules. After the clearing of the two large trees – as the owner prepared foundation holes for inserting poles and proper fencing – those good old authorities arrived again in the shape of the navy and the tourist police indicating that the alleged new owner did not have permission for such and must remove the protective work already done. The squatters still operating on the public beach in front of the property who ‘of course’ do not have any permission to put out tables, chairs and parasols or sell drinks and food to beach guests and, as if to add insult to injury, ‘of course’ do not pay the obligatory taxes have ‘of course’ never been asked for any of the required permissions at any stage in the proceedings either!
For the impatient reader here comes the conclusion… local squatters can, until at least some logic is introduced not to mention fairness, in spite of repeated governmental promises of a thorough ‘cleanup’, do almost whatever they want on other people’s unused property and on the public beach in front, but as soon as a legal owner pops up and reclaims his land he will have to spend a lot of time and money dealing with the squatters and the authorities who now suddenly, enticed by the sweet smell of easy money, show up in numbers with great expectations of handsome rewards for their ’services’! Unfair? Of course it is… but all part of daily life in this tropical paradise where there are always quite a few snakes around to keep us on our toes!

An Eight Year Water Wait

Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Over the years we have unashamedly pointed out the natural tendency for, eh hem, let’s call it… delay here in our corner of paradise. You may remember stories like ‘how long does it take to send a fax?’ and ‘how long does it take to change a light bulb in Boca Chica?’ In the former case most of the day and in the latter over a year, were the answers. In our story this time the finger of mockery shamingly points directly back to ourselves. For the sake of continuity let us ask the same kind of question as before: How long does it take to correctly install a water pump? Well, in this particular case give or take a few months about eight years, actually!
So much time has elapsed that the intricate details of the story test the memory banks considerably, since one of the first technical decisions we ever made all those eight years ago when we were re-constructing and remodeling the hurricane Georges- damaged property that was to become Playa Vista, was to purchase a water pump. Reason being that such a piece of machinery is quite standard here for the purposes of augmenting the domestic water supply.
With the object of the exercise being to pump water from our underground water tank in the event of cessation of supplies from the water company CAASD, or to merely boost the pressure if it should fail, our pump was indeed connected up to the pipe work, but before it was all regulated and automated somebody or some bodies hopped over the wall one night and separated the pump from its tubing and thereby from us by absconding with it! We soon bought a replacement and saw this not only connected, but this time inside its own securer protective locked hut. Unfortunately this idyllic phase lasted not much longer because the electrician had failed to put in any surge protector and the over-zealous electric company sent a powerfully erratic supply of electricity one day which entirely burnt the pump out! We moved on to pump number three but by now our own enthusiasm for this particular project, perhaps understandably, was waning. Pump number three was installed, but the complexity of the pipe work, perhaps in harness with the incompetency of the electrician/plumber, distracted our attention to other more pressing matters at the time. Our recollections lead us to believe that we never actually had the new bigger pump pushing water successfully through our entire system at any time back in those days.
Anyway, just a mere eight years later we stepped smartly up to the plate, reactivated our dear eight-year-old new pump and bingo… we now have water at a consistent pressure absolutely any time we want!
Why now, you could reasonably ask? The avid Playa Vista blog readers among you will recall the recent sorry story (June 26th) of pumping machinery theft from the water company on a grand scale in our little community that left not only Playa Vista but the rest of Boca Chica with significant water shortages calling directly on the need for our internal action. So, it really does go to prove the old saying that there is a silver lining in every eight-year-old cloud!

Poor Old Jamaica

Sunday, August 19, 2007
All we can really say is, “Poor old Jamaica!”
After several weeks of an extraordinary absence of tropical storm activity in the Caribbean Hurricane Dean came barreling by yesterday directly on its way to Jamaica. The center of the storm passed 250 miles to the south, thank goodness, because the storm surge we experienced would indicate that if it had been any closer we would be looking at a disaster area this morning.
The Playa Vista terraza proved yet again what a wonderful vantage point we have for overlooking the Boca Chica beach and Caribbean horizon because we all had a great time yesterday cheering as each successive wave beat against the terrace wall. The sea water went as far as licking the bar top with one particularly high smashing wave and apart form soaking good old “weather-watcher” Richard we were fortunate in avoiding any material damage whatsoever.
Here we present a few timely shots of the occasion!

Hand-Made Cigars in Boca Chica

Thursday, July 26, 2007
The Dominican Republic is a major producer of cigars… and for that matter a major exporter too, with numerous brands having attained an excellent international standing. Being so close to Cuba perhaps that is no surprise because the local climate allows for equally abundant tobacco growth. Directly from Boca Chica we are pleased to be able to bring you cigar fans out there a little inside tip on the subject of Dominican cigars: you can now buy genuinely hand-made quality Dominican cigars in Boca Chica and even watch them being made right here in the center of town.
Basilio Pascual is the man behind this new venture when four months ago he moved his two-year old business from nearby Andres to the main Duarte Street in Boca Chica. He arrived bringing his 12 years of experience in the cigar industry to Boca Chica where he can be found at his extremely well stocked “Fabrica de Tobaco” (Cigar Factory) immediately opposite Banco Popular.
He concentrates exclusively on his self-created “Gran Selecto” brand which comes in five principal sizes: Churchill, Torpedo, Toro, Robusto and Corona. To bolster this and offer a complete range he also produces the smaller “Petit” format and the extra special “Premium”. In the two years since its launch Gran Selecto has established itself nationally, in numerous export markets such as Switzerland and France and even as far afield as the Ivory Coast.
The tobacco leaves he uses are treated and classified according to national standards and come from Navarrete in the heart of Dominican tobacco country near Santiago. He claims his creation is a unique fabrication particularly because of the extremely low level of aroma pervasiveness when lit.
The Boca Chica tobacco “factory” is the only place of Gran Selecto production in the country and the entire production process can be observed by merely stepping through the main door. In addition to the work benches, dozens of cigar boxes can be seen piled in different corners of the premises ready for direct sale to the public. The ultimate tip is that instead of buying a full box from Basilio you could, of course, try a “Robusto” for size at the Playa Vista bar and see if the refreshing sea breeze and marine view, together with a traditional hand-made cigar really suit your style!

Professional Italian Dust Damper to the Rescue

Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Undeniably it is small fare in comparison with a number of other travails that have coursed our years on the Boca Chica beach but nonetheless it is quite indicative of some of the exasperations of the local mindset that we have to deal with from time to time.

It goes without saying, of course, that it was yet another beautiful sunny day with the usual south east breeze slightly on the upside of breezy kindly removing the intensity from the summer heat. We had been ensconced in some Playa Vista office routines and emerged in the late afternoon to notice a layer of red dust. Where you may ask? Actually, everywhere, and it could be traced directly to next door from where was emanating a huge billowing cloud of the stuff drifting through Playa Vista settling on each and every available surface in its path.

A quick visual inspection revealed the very obvious reason: a considerable re-modeling job is underway at the ex-Terraza Cesar restaurant seemingly starting with a wall-to-wall terra cotta tile floor. As we peered over the wall we saw the floorlayer bent over his cutting machine that was spewing out more unwanted clouds of dust as he prepared another tile to be fitted in his mosaic floor creation. The usual panoply of indignant thoughts rushed to mind such as, how could they be so thoughtless? why didn’t they take protective measures or at the least alert us? etc., etc. But the dust already lay clinging to all those receptive surfaces. We appealed to them at least to know if they had finished and then we could begin the now necessary clean up. We started hauling all our white tables and chairs down to the sea to give them a good soaking. While doing this the next door work brigade claimed they had indeed finished. Good we thought and put all hands to work cleaning off most of the offending dirt as we closed for the evening.

Unfortunately, the next morning revealed that the “finished” of the previous day was merely the finish of that day because the electric tile cutter could be heard whirring into action and the same swirling clouds of fine red dust could be seen wafting over the wall again. Immediately we ran next door to remonstrate. “It is the wind you know, that is doing it,” claimed the floorlayer with all too predictable entirely-missing-the-point defensiveness. Feeling almost embarrassed for this high level of complete non-comprehension we put our negative frustration to one side and constructively asked if they could at least move as far up wind within their own property then it would definitely reduce the dust spreading to our side. All right then they agreed, after some internal, but obviously reluctant, consultation. The amount of dust certainly diminished but almost immediately on cajoling them into this damage-limiting idea the wind chose to step up a gear and we were almost back to square one. We ran again next door to remonstrate further with the guy who appeared to be the paymaster this time rather than just the tile cutter and almost in unified accord they all nodded in agreement to our next suggestion, “Erect some boarding right next to the machine to trap the dust,” we implored. We actually saw them skip off energetically to pull some boarding from the remodeling rubble for this precise purpose.

All then went strangely quiet for about half an hour. Quite abruptly thereafter, the man who we thought was the chief tile cutter stuck his head round the corner of the dust laden wall and yelled, “Heh, everything is all right now we have a real professional Italian on the job you won’t be bothered at all by dust from now on… not at all.” He was virtually ecstatic in his proclamation. We heard the cutting machine whir into action again and sure enough we couldn’t see a speck of dust, not anywhere. The original tile cutter, who seemed to be quite happy to have made himself redundant, was, after some 24 hours of pervasive red dust denial, now proven to be entirely correct!

Watershed in Supply

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Our planet’s surface, as we are all taught, is made up predominantly of water which goes for our bodies too, of course. The planet idea is naturally quite a generalization because people, for example from the Kalahari Desert might see it differently, as would those from anywhere suffering from any kind of drought. However one of the many advantages of living in paradise is the readily available supply of water. Under normal conditions it rains here just about the right amount and with the right frequency (and by the way, very often conveniently at night) to make everything grow about the right amount, leaving plenty for we humans in store for when we need it.
The company responsible for the storage and getting the water to we humans in Boca Chica and Santo Domingo generally is the public utility CAASD (for the Spanish students among you that stands for Corporacion de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de Santo Domingo) . Here in Boca Chica it would seem they do a reasonable job. Clean-looking water flows through our pipes the vast majority of the time. There are the odd days when, we hear, for repair work on the system they shut the water off. The additional inconvenience when they do this is that there is no such thing as an announcement. Just an abrupt cessation of supply and no knowing how many hours it will remain that way.
Some months ago after a spate of interruptions to service we enquired what was going on and we were told that they were working on increasing the pressure and sure enough when they had finished there was a notable and very welcome improvement.
Lamentably in this country, of one step forward any number or size of step backwards, these last few days has seen a complete reversal of this improvement. The reason, unfortunately, is embedded in an all-too-common psyche here that says “help yourself to anything that you fancy even if it is nailed down”. Thieves have absconded with pumping equipment and cabling from the Boca Chica pumping stations to the tune of 6 million pesos! According to the CAASD official we spoke to this means that Boca Chica is currently being supplied to about 40% of capacity and at the time of writing here at Playa Vista 48 hours and counting without even a drop squeezing itself through the normally reliable pipes. Rumors talk of several days more. Well, at least it gives people around the Playa Vista bar something to grumble about in paradise!