Surfing in the Carribean

Trip Start Jun 20, 2008
Trip End Jun 27, 2008

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Monday, June 30, 2008

I first tried surf in Hawaii, which I think was the best place for a complete beginner because they did everything for you: took you to the right place, pushed you through the waves and practically put you up on the board, just so you could stand up there, stretch your hands out, and watch how the beach line is coming closer and closer, and it felt great.
This time, I decided a couple of introductory lessons won't do and that I was ready for a real adult stuff, i.e. sign up for a real surfing adventure. We went for a surf camp.

The place is called Cabarete and it is far from the perfect bounty-like island which is where all Russians go, but it is a place for surfers (all kinds of them, really, wind, kite and just wave surfers). Everything is for the unpretentious taste of sport addicts. On the other hand this means it is no place for family vacation and people around you are young, adventurous, pleasure driven and just fun. One of the things I noticed about surfing, which attracted a single gal like me from the outset, is the number of tanned, fit and perfectly built athletic men who tend to practice it. Surfers are a dead handsome race, I must say. And to prove that, our instructor turned out to be the most gorgeous, greek goddingly handsome guy I happened to meet in my life. Of course he later went and did the exact same thing all men do no matter how much you admire them at the beginning, and that is to prove a complete disappointment. A particular feature about the sex I guess, they do everything to destroy the good feeling.

But back to surf first. This time I was traveling with 2 friends. For the purposes of this narrative I will call them "my friend" and "my little friend" ;-) People who know them will know exactly who I'm referring to with each of the nicks. For those who don't, well, doesn't really matter. One is just smaller.

I dragged them both against their will under the promise that everyone will be free to do whatever they want, the underlying idea was however that once they'd get into the whole atmosphere they wouldn't be able to resist and would take up to surfing like I did. They did indeed feel obliged to participate once we got to the place, no one asked them if they wanted to, really, but it was sort of assumed by default that they came to a surf camp not for eco tourism anyway.. Every day at 6 o'clock a truck came to pick us all up and drive to el Encuentro, which is supposed to be the perfect place for surfing in Dominican. It was, actually, but for one minor thing - strong waves and rocky bottom, not really suitable for unsporty beginners like us.

As I said, I was pretty confident I would be able to learn in no time, since I already had a wealth of experience compared to my friends (I'd already stood on the board 3 times by then!!!). The reality proved much harder: first, the waves turned out to be a little faster than in the Pacific, so my old-lady technique of "getting on the knees, and then putting one foot out after another and then straightening up" didn't really work, as I was still struggling to arrange my knees in the right order and the wave was far gone by then. Second, it took a lot of water swallowing, paddling and push-ups to get back through the waves to the point where they start breaking, so that by the end of the track, I barely had strength to hold on to my board lying face down breathless and practically pulseless, let alone jump and stand on it.

As I watched my little friend surf the waves with the greatest of ease (or at least this is what it looked like for an independent observer) after only 3 lessons, her 42 kilos planted confidently on the board (and I was still struggling with the jumping on the board phase), I realized I really have about as much talent in sport as a skunk. On the other hand although she succeeded much earlier, she did have her share of water swallowing and elbow bruising to go through at first, and she seemed much more afraid of the ocean when we first came... so I guess it just takes longer for someone clumsier but the result will be there sooner or later. On the bright side, if a skunk like me can learn it, anyone can.

The best part however was at the end. The part when I did manage to get up on the board in time and for a couple of seconds just relax and look straight ahead. Really sensational! You can't relax for long though, because you'll be soon hitting the rocks a constant reminder of the geological conditions you got yourself into. But those few seconds are really worth it! The last day, I really managed to get it. Even learned how to turn the board. To the right only. Fantastic!

We also tried one excursion, the only one during our 1 week stay there. The itinerary was really trivial and Antonio had signed us up for it already so we couldn't really say no... No self respecting girl can resist his charming Italian / Greek eyes. Ohhh... Mother nature really crafts outstandingly well sometimes... Never mind.
We drove to what was called Playa Preciosa, a small wild place which had that paradise thing going on. He then told us to take our boards and prepare to go to another bay, perfect for surfing he promised. I already imagined how it would be sandy and calm and how great I would look riding the board effortlessly, towards that yellow beach and how I would come out of the wave, very James Bond's girlfriend (I pictured myself a little thinner than I actually am to fit into the idyll). Two things are worth mentioning here. First, the only way to get to that bay was by water, which inevitably entailed paddling on your board, because there was no one to carry the stupid thing for you. Now, a Bond's girlfriend can certainly afford to look a little beaten up, because everyone will still think she's cool, but she is definitely not supposed to have saliva dripping off her mouth, eyes popping out of her eye sockets and throbbing veins on her forehead, all evidence of the inhumane effort it takes to paddle 25 minutes in a row. Second, when we did get there I recognized the same familiar dark colour of the rocky cliffs along the beach line, which only meant one thing - that we paid $20 bucks to paddle like crazy to another el Encuentro (cos it didn't really differ at all, apart from the scenery) and risk our lives there. Having spent 30 more minutes restoring my breath I only had enough time for 2 runs (one of which I thought would be my last ever, I got so near the cliffs). We then had to make our way back. And yet again - the damn paddling! Two natives went behind us, pushing my board and my little friend's board now and then, because we wouldn't have made it on our own obviously.

To top it off, as I was close to the shore looking forward to throw my board away and finish the adventure a huge wave covered me so I fell off and got rolled to the beach.
Unfortunately for me there was a settlement of sea urchins where I landed. Well, unfortunately for them as well, cuz the poor creatures suffered an attack they weren't probably prepared for. Judging by the number of spikes in my hands, feet and bum after I came out of the water, they must have been left naked, if they'd even survived, which I'm not sure about, poor things. Perhaps the only specimens in the Dominican, and I really made it my business to destroy the whole population by standing up, sitting on them and then standing up again. I sat on the whole family with my enormous arse, and trust me it is massive enough to cover a very extensive surface, they didn't have a slightest chance to escape.

I blame it on the instructor. He should have told us to come out in a different place. Swore off all handsome men, not that I have too many of them in my life, but I convinced myself that the good looks crossed out any hope for a brain or a manly behavior, as a trade off. The above mentioned couple of natives helped me take out some of the spikes in places I couldn't reach (and that perhaps were more interesting for them to explore). After which I stormed off with a proud "I will survive" look in my eyes and an unnaturally straight back, slightly swaggering though (it is difficult to pull off Barbara Streisand when one has to walk on just one foot) and desperately trying to put behind the fact that we had just got a bit too intimate, after one of them had spent a quarter of an hour squeezing my bottom to get the spikes out.

Although I had to go to the local doctor to have my feet healed so I could stop waddling like a duck and start walking like a normal human being, I was relieved this time it was about butt and feet only. After the story that happened to my friend two days before we did have some reservations about surf in general (the paddling excursion didn't help either). It actually happened on the first day when she was just learning to jump on the board. Before she knew it she was off the board and under the water. The board naturally hit her on the head, the fact which didn't surprise me per se, cos with our luck, an accident that calls for a visit to a pharmacy is a norm. But in her case it was a bit more serious than we were planning. Not sure how she achieved that exactly, but she cut open her crown and the wound on her head was bleeding and looked terrifying. Even more so combined with a complete calm and serene behariour. I guess she figured panicking would result in a proper hysterical scene as there were enough of us to join, which she wanted to avoid, or she just didn't see how bad it looked. Anyways, seven stitches and thankfully no other damage to her looks, hair safe and no bandages over the head she was told she was lucky it didn't end worse.

We were a right trio. A cracked skull, spikes in the butt and a bruised 42 kilo body.

The rest of the days were just standard. The daily schedule included 6 o'clock surf, a nap on the terrace, sleeping on the beach (not always successful because of some unwanted and very persistent attention from the natives, but all manageable). Actually the pestering natives trying to sell their stuff turned to be a bit more annoying than usual. It is even more exhausting when you have to always be on the alert struggling to protect your little friend who has a shopping abuse problem in general and an addiction to shiny useless rubbish in particular and you see her eyes sparkle every time a dirty handed Dominican boy lays out his cheap merchandise in front of her. And the more unnecessary and useless the trinket is the more she needs it. So the way to go about it is to firstly convince her she doesn't want the thing and, secondly, fight off the guy as they are also not prepared to let go of such easy pray easily.

I must admit even I found it difficult to resist at certain points. Especially when it came to salsa music. After having spent half an hour picking out the CDs that we liked, aka listening to the ones the guy played and moving them to the "to buy" pile, we settled for 8 compilations of reggaeton, salsa and bachata. He wanted 2500 pesos. Not that my friend is fond of haggling or anything, but with a wuss like me willing and ready to pay for anything just to avoid arguing, and a shopping freak like my little friend, she was the only sober minded person to protect our finances. She determinately said 500. A serious bargaining ensued. He went into the whole trouble of explaining how much the empty CD costs, and what margin he pays to his firm and that he also needs to get smth for his work. I really wanted to pay and get it over with. She was adamant we won't pay more than 1000 cos that is how much those discs would be worth in the Moscow subway. The complication was in the fact that she didn't speak Spanish, so we had to translate her angry arguments, which I can't say I was comfortable with, because the tone was much stricter than I usually use voicing my own thoughts. Half an hour later and nowhere closer to an agreement he was gathering his stuff prepared to leave, the disc pile on the table sadly looking at us. 1200 was his last offer. She took out a thousand note and put it on the table...

He gave up. And with the words "buena negociadora" he stretched out his hand with respect and in the recognition of the fact that it was indeed a pleasure to deal with an equal, she smiled and shook it...

We met him a couple of times later that week. He always recognized us and looked very happy to see us again, like we were sort of mates, he even once turned out to be very helpful, having got my little friend into the front row of a crowd who was there to witness hatching of the little turtles (apparently something that only happens once in 20 years, so we were told). She got the best pictures from that angle. Nice dude.

And the nights out in town or at the camp. Cabarete is the only place on the island where bars are allowed to stay open until 4-5am, hence the partying. Not that there are too many places to go out to, but they are ok. I would just mention "Lax", "Ola" and "Bamboo" - this is where most people hang out, and they are so close from one another you can easily migrate back and forth.

I actually preferred the nights we stayed in, just hanging out with people from the camp. A Canadian girl talking about wake surf (which is different from wake board) and a freak show somewhere in the desert in Nevada, an Irish girl who said they used to sing Irish anthem in bars after midnight, and with a story about her cousin who got asked out on a date by Jack Nicholson and then stood him up, a South African who met Prince William in person and who introduced me to the wonderful language of Xhosa. I was fascinated and it was the first interesting conversation I had with people I barely know. This is what they mean when they say" traveling expands your horizons".

We also went to watch Eurocup and witness our sad team lose to Spaniards in semi finals. What did we expect, really? A bunch of talentless bastards who can't even stay up on their feet, they have to fall so often. Anyways.

Food, well, not much to comment, really. We usually bought us something in the supermarket next to our camp. Had a kitchen to cook, but we didn't. Except for one occasion when I decided to surprise them with an octopus. I let it boil for a while and brought in solemnly on a plate. My friend took a piece and asked if I was sure it was ready. When faced with a question like that I doubt anyone can be sure what their name is, but from what I could tell it was perfectly edible. A little difficult to chew, I admit, but what was the problem? I wasn't cooking for her 80 year old grandma after all. They clearly didn't share the same views when it came to my cooking and I truthfully don't think they relaxed for a second while I was cutting it. I was a bit hurt by the lack of trust and demanded they eat the whole thing. They didn't. So much for my influencing and persuasion skills. We went down for a proper dinner at the restaurant. Now, I can't deny the local specialty, churrasco (which is a piece of grilled meat, beef, I suppose), was better than my octopus. But, hey, it was better than any other meat I've ever tried before. Next to the Florentine steak (I wouldn't compete with that anyway). The second time in my life I really appreciated how good the cuisine was. I usually just eat and not even notice. Well, the rest was standard.

In 7 days it was over. Not too short, not too long. Just before we got bored, and right when we started planning our next surfing vacation.
We'll see where that takes us.
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Where I stayed
Ali's Surf Camp, Cabarete
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