TRULY we now live in the much-vaunted global village.
Eighteen hours ago, tall icy Presidente draught lager in hand, I was measuring my length on a beach recliner as the hot, remorseless Caribbean sun beamed down on the Grand Paradise Hotel at Playa Dorado, neat Puerto Plata, the third largest city of the Dominican Republic.
A pleasant off-shore breeze made the climate liveable with. I was perhaps two-metres from the high-water mark where still, silent electric-blue-to-variegated-turquoise lagoon pools tempted an absolute last refreshing plunge.
White waves languidly, soporifically even, broke on the unique Unesco World Heritage Site-protected black coral reef a little way out.
A note from travel agents Thomas Cook warns globe-trotting punters not to “liberate” any of the black, white or more common pink coral as it is, ecologically, a severely threatened species and thus sternly protected. “On return to the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Customs will confiscate any specimens stolen from the sea,” the flyer warns.
They won’t of course. They are far too busy checking for explosive underods to worry about would-be purveyors of purloined polyps!
It seemed to me as if the revenue paid attention to just one passenger on our Airbus A330 with almost 350 passengers on board: a singularly unprepossessing specimen who’d annoyed fellow travellers on the way out by scowling menacingly at them while sprawling across three or four seats in the packed departure lounge.
A prime candidate for a sort, sharp, flat slap, I had mused presciently at the time.
He had obviously vexed someone considerably more on the laid-back idyllic island, because he’d acquired a couple of prize shiners, broken nose and sundry cuts, scars and bruises on a sneering face, during his particular fortnight’s vacation in paradise.
The Dominican Republic is —much against its wishes and Herculean efforts—a natural hub for drug trafficking, lying within a few hours’ flight of Colombia and short sailing distance of Jamaica. Thousands of tourists arrive daily from every part of the world: even, now, from Poland, the Baltic and Balkans, Russia and the former Soviet empire, Scandinavia, Holland and Germany. Dozens of planes leave daily for New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Florida and the main Canadian cities. The tenuous, often mountainous, border with the basket-case voodoo- and corruption-ridden, natural disaster-prone unfortunate Haiti is an imaginary line drawn on a piece of parchment 200 years ago and –to say the least—is extremely porous.
Thus it is a natural jumping off spot for opium and similar narcotics from the east heading westwards and cocaine, crack etc produced in the Americas and on their way east.
I suspect HM Customs and Revenue may well have suspected that the battered bruiser attempting to take the Green Route was just the sort of customer likely to be carrying a suitcase full of strictly controlled substances. His worldly possessions were being minutely examined as I passed by. The plane was nearly an hour early!
The Dominican Republic is tropical, well-watered and highly agriculturally productive. Possibly the world’s second best cigar tobacco is grown there (after Cuba); I saw burley and Turkish tobacco farms, rice, almost every conceivable fruit and vegetable flourishes, yams, cassava, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Allegedly almost everything edible is in season at some time of the year. Ubiquitous coconut palms fringe the hundreds of kilometres of unspoiled golden beaches and drop their deliciously rich fruit at sun-worshippers’ feet!
I did not see any maize, either growing, on sale or on the table, but sweetcorn obviously thrives.
They seem to have a fairly liberal attitude to mbanje. Touts, masquerading as tour guides—licensed or otherwise—make side-of-mouth offers about the so-called “delights” of pot-smoking and obliquely offer “horizontal refreshment!” which is, in my experience a brand new term for prostitution!
I am always amazed in these supposedly devout Roman catholic-dominated statelets in the Americas that organised and freelance whoring is not only usually legal, but apparently actively encouraged. This time last year, in Mexico, the sombrero-wearing “B”-movie deputy mayor of some one horse town we visited, proudly pointed out on a tourist map two brothels for locals and a premium cat-house dedicated to “turisticos”.
Even as he spoke, his words were almost drowned by the tolling of scores of church bells announcing morning mass on the Feast of Epiphany!
But I digress (as usual) and I’m already almost out of space. More details of the Dominican Republic and its fascinating historic capital Santo Domingo—the oldest city in the Americas, home to the continent’s earliest-founded cathedral and university, in the Standard on Sunday. Sorry last week’s Standard submission—including my experience of the Haiti earthquake in which a quarter of a million may have perished– wasn’t originally on the Website. This was an oversight in Harare, which should have been corrected by mid-week.
I started, here, by describing sun-kissed Caribbean beaches, thronged with giggling, golden honey-tanned strawberry blonde honeys in skimpy bikinis, where I was 18 hours ago.
After briefly halting for a mug of tea and a couple of Shrewsbury Fruit bikkies at the 500-word stage, that was now still a short 20 hours away.
I am now in rural Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom where last week the temperature PEAKED at minus 4 C. On arrival it was a far less bleak +5C, but skies were grey, unwelcoming and threatening.
After a few days’ almost total thaw, it started snowing again only about four hours ago. My daughter’s back garden rapidly began to look like the scene from a Dickensian-style Christmas card.
At least that was an excuse for my delightful not-quite four-year-old granddaughter, Siena-Rose Vincent, to bunk non-mandatory (at her tender years) school. She sits on my knee, gurgling suggestions, hints and tips, as I finish this latest missive.