Those going on this day trip from Santo Domingo to Sanoa Island start at the Pizzerelli Pizza Palace at six forty five in the morning.
There is no one on the street this morning when I walk to our assigned pick up point, but, at the pizza place, there are five of us who are met by Isidro of Colonial Tours. We follow him down stone steps, out of the Colonial Zone, where we load onto our tour bus transport. Picking up more passengers in Boca Chica, along the way, we are full by the time we all get to Bayimbe where we board several small boats and a catamaran and putt putt out to Sanoa Beach, our destination.
Santo Domingo is, I have found, far away from the best beaches of the Dominican Republic. The real sand and surf activities are on the north shore of the island at Punta Cana, Bayimbe is a cute little town being discovered and developed by foreigners and Sanoa Beach is clean and secure for all travelers even if locals walk the beach selling their jewelry and local crafts that you have already been showed a hundred times.
On our sail back to the mainland at the end of the day, where we re- board our tour bus and return to Santo Domingo, there is dancing on our catamaran, too much booze, but very happy passengers.
It is dark when we all get home, a twelve hour trip for sixty five bucks, a value when you add all the pieces.
I never see these beaches without wondering about sailors marooned, Robinson Crusoe, pirate treasure buried by the foot of palm trees marked by an X on a yellowed map hidden deep in an old chest that has been in storms around Cape Horn.
A trip to the Dominican Republic isn’t complete without getting sand between my toes.
After each trip, new moments join old moments in one big jigsaw puzzle.
Today’s moments can stand on their own, but, they seem to pick up depth and velocity when they hold hands with older ones.
Comparing moments brings wisdom, but learning, I have been told, is best done with a Pina Colada in one hand and a barbecue wing in the other.
It is easier to describe this place by telling what isn’t here.
There are no condos, resorts, blue water swimming pools, water slides, fancy cabanas with fully loaded bars. There aren’t people wearing sunglasses and expensive thongs. There isn’t a paved road to get here, or fountains, or water features.There aren’t staff moving from room to room cleaning, maintaining grounds, loading luggage into taxis.
Ulong Bay is where locals go to cool off on hot days.
It is a fifteen minute bumpy ride in a tricycle from Mogpog, and, for a moment, you wonder if the sea is really out there. You walk over a rickety bamboo bridge, down a small path, and then you see water to the horizon, as flat as a surfboard.
This evening kids ride pieces of plywood on the slippery beach, dogs swim, families play in the sea as the sun goes down. Fires have been lit and our sun begins it’s swan dive into the sea.
There are better beaches and clearer water in the Philippines, but those cost one hundred to two hundred a night and come with tourists, high prices, and New World extravagances.
Ulong Bay is attractive for what it isn’t, and what it is isn’t bad.
At nine sharp, practitioners dress in loose fitting clothes, clutch their orange or green mats, make their way into the yoga studio and begin exercises with a background of soothing music and the reassuring voice of a Yoga master who has learned the same way, on a bare floor in some distant part of the world.
Yoga Shala is similar to many of the hostels here, a compound of thatched roof cabanas, most with shared bathrooms, limited cooking facilities and wide open air porches for catching sea breezes and writing in notebooks in the afternoon.
On a wall at the head of outside stairs leading up to my second floor bungalow is a circle of painted Yoga positions, each position taking years of work and concentration to achieve.
Living without amenities grows on you.
Doing simple things well is hard work.
Learning how to breath was never something I used to have to think about.
At this point in our acquaintance,I’m not sure Yoga and I are meant for each other.
They start as an idea, then move past idea to become reality.
Artists bring their buckets and shovels, pots and rakes, sticks or bones, bottle caps or string, shells or seaweed to make hair. They kneel in the sand, and, with bare hands, sculpt, as best they can, their visions. When all is done, what they make stands till tides or careless feet sweep them away.
Sandy is Joan’s idea and, in her bag, are buttons, mittens, sticks for arms, an old pink ball cap,a Tecate bottle, and a composition scheme that allows sand to be stacked a couple of feet high.
As helper, my job is to capture seawater in a bucket, add beach sand and mix with a shovel till you have a material that will pack, hold together, and allow itself to be shaped.
It takes ten buckets to make ” Sandy “, and, when all is done, our borrowed shovel is returned to a hotel closet and the bucket is washed out and fresh water added for Felix the cat.
After photo documentation of the event, Sandy is left to face her public
The whole project is considered a success when strangers stop to take pictures for their Facebook pages.
From their tables in the dining area at Ahau Tulum, customers and friends watch the sun go down as the Caribbean Sea vanishes into dark. As sunlight dims, people leave the beach, wash away sand and suntan lotion,put on sexy night clothes and sit down to dinner and a few drinks. There are families here, romantic couples, locals who sit at their favorite tables, waiters taking orders and hustling drinks. Most guests are fleeing winter in Europe, United States and Canada. Table candles are made from Corona bottles and waiters bring little flashlights out of their shirt pockets to help guests read the menu as the sun hits the water.
As a visitor to Tulum, I am enjoying living the life of the rich and famous, as I imagine they live.
In reality, as nice as this hotel and restaurant is, it is just another budget eatery for people, like myself, of modest means.
Most of us can’t dream as big as our modern uncrowned royalty and business billionaires live.
Some men and women,these days, not all of them politicians, live a lifestyle that would make Caesar blush.
He circles his target, turns himself into a projectile by tucking his wings to his body,and disappears head first into the surf. When he comes back to the water’s surface, he shakes his wings and recomposes, a fish struggling in his enormous beak.
Not long after, a fisherman wades into the pelican’s same fishing hole, net in hand, and the pelican takes off like a seaplane from an Alaskan lake.
The fisherman moves slowly, studies the waves, the light, the wind.
Positioning himself, he casts his handheld net with both hands,lets his net fall to the bottom, then draws it back towards him with a rope line, hand over hand. When he drags his net onto the beach it holds silvery fish twisting in the bright sunlight.
He and his friend transfer fish from the net into a plastic bag, then lift up and climb back on their bicycles and pedal home, the net draped over a bike’s handle bars to drip dry.
If you live simply, how much of the day needs to be used up working?
What is so important to us that we work sixty hours a week?
Some places on this beach you find no nasty presents from high tide. There is white sand, pools of trapped sea water, an occasional shell. Other places you find a narrow strip of seaweed, like Christmas tinsel on a living room floor. In the worst places you find piles of seaweed drying in the sun, an obstacle to beachcombers and an offense to noses.
Early morning, hotels hire men with shovels and rakes to move the unwanted seaweed and beach debris. Sometimes they cart it away in wheelbarrows, dig holes and bury it, cover it up with sand, or,best yet, haul it off in a wagon pulled by a tractor.
Each morning there is a new batch to be disposed of.
Even in paradise there are menial chores that wash up on our beaches. For every happy tourist, in a beach chair, there are two or three locals working behind the scene to make the place postcard perfect.
It doesn’t take more than a whiff to know that shoveling seaweed is a job waiting for Mike Rowe to put on his television show..
This is a job that makes me appreciate roofing, concrete work, painting, digging swimming pools, having to assign student grades and facing an overflowing class of maniac eighth graders.
Today, I’ve met a job worse than most of those I have had to do.
One moment it is smooth as glass all the way to the horizon, the meeting of water and sky straight as a pencil line drawn by laying a ruler down. The horizon is so straight that you believe the world is flat like old explorers believed and imagine their fear as superstitious sailors neared the edge of their world, as they knew it.
On good days, the water is turquoise, clear, and you can see white sand twenty feet underneath blue waves.
Palm trees move in the wind like a sea of jungle ants scavenging on the jungle floor. Leaves in the canopy move all directions and it is difficult to see what direction the wind comes until you look at the slant of the tree trunks.
It is no lucky accident Mayan royalty built their retreat here but they had no idea it would become a tourist zone for foreigners looking for paradise outside their own urban concrete and steel jungles.
The Mayan’s couldn’t totally duplicate, in their culture ,the richness of what they saw around them, but they could and did pay homage to the God’s that led them here.