Author’s note: This story told in full is much too long to fit in this space. To find the complete ration of BS, please go to mjohnfayhee.com.
It was a law-of-diminishing-transportation-returns kind of sweltering Third-World overland journey that began well before dawn in Santo Domingo on a jam-packed, barnyard-fowl-dense, 1960s-era, shock-absorber-free school bus designed to accommodate legs no longer than those borne by pygmy kindergartners. The journey ended 16 arduous hours later when we were deposited by a very inebriated dump truck driver in front of the humble headquarters for Isla Cabritos National Park — which we found only because of a map hand-drawn by a prostitute back in Santo Domingo who was apparently the official cartographer of the Dominican National Tourism Office (don’t ask) — in the village of La Descubierta (translated: “The Discovered”). My photographer buddy Norb and I were so beat-up and shell-shocked from the trip that we could scarcely stand straight. And we were thirsty.
Before we had the chance to deposit our mountain of equipage, up walks a small man named Angel, the assistant administrator for Isla Cabritos. He seemed absolutely stunned at having to deal with tourists, much less camera-and-notebook-bearing tourists from the Great White North.
Since we had spent more money than anticipated on our journey from Santo Domingo (we were charged extra at every juncture because we had so much shit), our first order of business was changing American dollars into Dominican pesos, a task, we were informed, made more difficult because La Descubierta had no bank. Good news, however, in that there was a local man who would be happy to sell us black-market pesos at a highly deflated rate. And, even better news, according to Angel, the man worked out of the back of a bar he owned! Great! Instead of converting dollars to pesos and pesos to beer, we could just go directly from dollars to beer!
So, we strolled over to the black-market bar, which was just then opening for the evening. Come to discover that La Descubierta was home to exactly two watering holes: the daylight bar and the nighttime bar, an insightful exercise in community-wide organizational logistics. You’d have to be pretty damned drunk to screw those hours up.
Angel said it wouldn’t be long before the place was hopping. And he was right. Within an hour, every non-married female in La Descubierta descended upon that bar like locusts upon a cornfield. And every one of those fillies sat around Norb and I, forming a solar system of orbital estrogen.
“Uh, Angel,” I finally asked, “so, heh heh, what’s up with all these fawning nymphets clawing at us?”
“They all want to marry you, so they can move to America,” he responded in a tone of voice that suggested he thought I was perhaps a tad simple.
Then the DJ took up his post. There are many positive statements you can make about Dominicans. They make great rum, beer and cigars. They are good chess players. They have organized themselves a very impressive national parks system. And they can flat-out dance. These people pop out of the womb dancing. The infants dance. The old people dance. The cripples dance. The nerds dance. Everyone dances all the time, aided and abetted by the fact that few are the moments in the DR when there’s not music blaring from every edifice and automobile in the entire country. And it’s rhythmic music. No trance, drum-and-bass or C&W shit here. It’s all variations of the DR’s endemic style: merengue. Music that enters your body less via your ears than via your skin pores.
It was not long before every single goddamned one of those proximate nubile nymphets was lining up to boogie with Norb and I. But here’s the thing: Not only am I the worst dancer who has ever drawn breath, but I also HATE dancing. My DNA carries nary a strand of funkiness gene. I am literally incapable of tapping my foot to a metronome. This is bad enough in my normal life, where I am generally adept at avoiding dance-laden environments. But, here I was, in a huge bar with music throbbing and a dance floor 12 feet away populated by 200 gyrating Dominican ladies, all of whom were under 20, and all of whom, according to Angel, wanted to bear my children. Wasn’t long before the ladies of La Descubierta finally succeeded in pulling me out onto the dance floor, and, the exact nanosecond I made my first tentative twitch, trying mightily to match arrhythmic chromosomes to pounding salsa-infused merengue, all music-based movement within the four walls of that bar ground to a screeching halt. An immediate cessation of dancing. The DJ stopped spinning tunes. Mouths hung wide. Eyes popped. Hands were raised palms out in desperate hope of warding off an affliction that hopefully was not contagious. Visages that, an instant prior, had been gleeful now stared at me in abject horror. Birds fell dead from the sky. Somewhere in the distance, a dog wailed mournfully.
“Maybe if you drank more beer,” Angel suggested, sympathetically, when I skulked back to the table, mortified. Well, there’s a thought.
Sadly, what with the throbbing music, the giggling, gyrating damsels and the 447 beers, not much of the way of strategy-honing transpired that night, so we agreed to meet Angel for breakfast to see if we couldn’t formulate a plan for visiting Isla Cabritos.
At this point, some actual facts are required. Isla Cabritos National Park — at 130 feet below sea level, the lowest point on any ocean island in the world — is located in the middle of Lago Enriquillo, a 102-square-mile endorheic lake that is the largest inland body of water in the Caribbean. Isla Cabritos, about eight miles by one mile, lies seven miles from the closest land, a point just north of La Descubierta. Lago Enriquillo is also home to about 15,000 endangered American crocodiles, which can reach 20 feet in length, and a great many of those bunk down every night on Isla Cabritos.
I mentioned earlier about how much gear Norb and I were carrying. Not only did we have full backpacks, necessary for our upcoming ascent of Pico Duarte — the highest and coldest point in the Caribbean — but we also had with us two one-person Sevylor inflatable kayaks, along with all the necessary kayaking accoutrements. The main reason we had those kayaks with us was because, later in our visit to the DR, we intended to paddle down the Rio Yuna, which we ended up doing successfully a month later. We brought those Sevylors to La Descubierta in case we needed them to paddle across Lago Enriquillo to Isla Cabritos, though the thought of having our nuts sitting inches from the waterline in easily puncturable kayaks while making our way across a lake populated with 15,000 20-foot crocs did not exactly titillate us. We were hoping to locate sturdier aquatic transportation.
Angel told us over fried platanos and tomatoes the next morning that the park owned a Zodiac that, for a slight nominal fee, we could rent. He also volunteered himself and the services of a cook, again, for a slight nominal fee. The only problem, he said, was the one outboard motor the park owned was right then in a state of disrepair, and he did not know when it would once again be functioning. So we made our way to the mechanic’s shop, where we found 1) three mechanics sitting around a table playing cards and drinking rum at 9 a.m. and 2) a boat motor spread willy-nilly around the facility in about 1,000 pieces. This was not encouraging, but Angel, after talking with the drunk, card-playing mechanics, assured us the motor would be purring like a kitten within hours. And so it went for three straight days.
There was very little to occupy us as we waited for the boat motor to not get repaired. We did a bit of dayhiking. We caught the few local sights. We whiled away many hours in the daylight bar. We whiled away many hours in the nighttime bar, where, thankfully, I was never once pulled back out onto the dance floor.
La Descubierta’s daylight bar was an interesting affair, less a public house and more a public works project that happened to sell alcohol in large quantities. The “bar” was actually a baño, a place where a rivulet that flowed through the middle of town was dammed and transformed into an ersatz swimming hole that served as a bathing facility utilized by every resident every day. As such, it functioned as a town plaza, with cool water, beer and the ever-present merengue being blasted continually through speakers the size of refrigerators.
Pleasant as those three days were, Norb and I were getting a tad antsy, especially because we were coming to understand that the reason for our delay had less to do with a boat motor lying in 1,000 pieces on a drunk mechanic’s floor that it did with Angel’s 1) lack of desire to actually go out to Isla Cabritos and 2) his fervent desire to milk Norb and I for as many free drinks as possible. So, that evening at the nighttime bar, we announced that we would be leaving first thing in the morning with or without him. In a stunning coincidence, Angel arrived at dawn with the Zodiac in the back of a truck. With him was a cook/fetcher/toter/slave. We drove to the put-in and started loading gear. Just as we were getting ready to launch, my hyper-keen journalistic eye noticed that, at the stern of the boat, right where the motor was supposed to be, there was no motor. I mentioned this to Angel, who said the motor was still lying in 1,000 pieces on the drunk mechanic’s floor and, therefore, we would have to paddle those seven miles across the croc-infested waters of Lago Enriquillo, something we could have done three days earlier.
It took several hours to fetch Isla Cabritos. We made camp under a disintegrating palapa that was part of a long-abandoned meteorological camp that was deserted because no reliable fresh-water source could be established. Angel stressed to us in no uncertain terms that we needed to keep our eyes peeled for scorpions, which, he said, thrived on the island.
At dusk, we crept down to the beach, which was filled to brimming with crocs. It was an exotic scene: glass-flat lake water, the verdant mountains of Haiti rising in the distance, several thousand crocs a stone’s throw from our prostrate selves. And these creatures were, as advertised, huge. They rested with their mouths agape, which added to their fearsome vibe, though, in truth, while on land, they were very skittish. (Angel stressed to us that, while in their native liquid element, they were assuredly not skittish.) The slightest sound, such as, but one random example, me cursing through clenched teeth because I just crawled across a cactus spine, had the crocs dashing back into the lake.
After breakfast, Angel showed me the old meteorological station outhouse. While so doing, he brushed aside the dry-rotted wooden toilet seat, leaving me with a smooth slab of concrete upon which to sit. I reclined and, as I did so, my left hand barely nudged the remnants of the dry-rotted toilet seat. I do not know what compelled me to look back at that exact moment. But look back I did, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a scorpion the size of a house cat sprinting out from under the dry-rotted toilet seat remnants toward my exposed butt cheek, poison-tipped tail pointing like a lance at a jousting match. I had to act quickly, lest my ass get skewered. Thing is, I was right at that exact moment in the middle of a digestively awkward set of circumstances. I had little choice, though, but to immediately jump up — pants still down around my ankles — ongoing bowel movement notwithstanding. When I looked at those pants, the sole pair I had brought with me to Isla Cabritos, the sight was not pretty.
I arrived back at the palapa naked from the waist down, my befouled Grammicis held out at arm’s length. I was greeted by, shall we say, perplexed looks. I cleaned myself and my pants as best I could down at the lakeshore while a snickering Angel stood watch just in case any crocs with especially low culinary standards were lurking nearby.
Shortly after our otherwise uneventful return paddle to La Descubierta, I strolled down to the daytime bar one last time for a beer and a swim. We were scheduled to leave town at midnight on the red-eye dumptruck run back to Santo Domingo. Word of my unfortunate scorpion encounter had obviously preceded me, as I was greeted by barely suppressed giggles that soon gained momentum until the entire crowd was rolling on the ground, belly-laughing and trying to catch its collective breath. There was nothing for me to do but laugh along with them.
Toward late afternoon, I found a shady spot back in the woods and dozed. When I awoke, the bar was closed. I sat alone, enjoying the rare quiet and solitude. But not for long. Just as a sliver of moon began to rise, women began streaming to the baño. There were toddlers, teenagers, young mothers and grandmothers. Someone turned on a radio, but kept the volume low. All those women entered the pool. There was storytelling and laughter and gossip and commiseration. Women started washing each other’s backs. As bars of soap began disappearing beneath the surface of the water, the women started subtly moving as one to the rhythm of the radio, and the surface of the pool began undulating, almost imperceptibly at first, then gaining energy, with little waves lapping on the sides, until, at last, water started escaping the pool, wetting the ground. At that moment, in the murky light, with an entire town’s worth of women submerged to their bosoms, there was no telling who was pretty or not, who was old or young, who had varicose veins or who had a protruding tummy. At that moment, they were all the loveliest things I had ever seen.
And there was my lecherous self, sitting in the shadows, pulse well past heart-attack level, sweating profusely, too fearful to move, lest I have added voyeuristic-pervert peeping tom to a resume that already included scorpion-dodging pants-shitter and inept dancer.
I tiptoed over to the nighttime bar. Norb and Angel were there, wondering what had become of me. I did not tell them what I had just witnessed. All I knew was, for the only time before or since in my life, I wanted to dance. And dance I did. My spasmodic gyrations were not things of beauty. But they were things of joy. And, before long, I found myself in the middle of the rhythmic throng, and we were all moving as one, even if for only one short night, and only one short song.