Dominican Republic Journals

From Dominican Republic – Spring Break 2010

April 10

Through a rectangle of plastic and glass is an abstraction of blue, like one of those paint samples at Home Depot, a delineation of spackled white flecks in clusters, as if the painter had an artistic streak, attempting new techniques.  We pan across slowly, and even at 500 miles per hour it’s a crawl across the ocean.

When we come over the country, there is first the line of the coast, a fractal strip of sand, frothy white breakers surrounding, and green inland.  Lower through the clouds the green takes the form of palms and flat grassy expanses, the dull blue-brown of  muddy lagoons, then the brown cuts of roads, dusty and meandering, and further in the spines of mountains, and then farmland, long rectangular grids of varying shades, some lush, others scorched, breathing black smoke up towards the plane.  There are small towns in the center of the grid, looking almost like those early villages in a game like Civilization or Age of Empires.

The airport is chaotic, the terminals done up in thatched Pacific Islander tiki huts.  We’re directed into the queue by bored locals in neon yellow shirts.  The line into customs is entertained by a happy band, a requisite photo of every entrant with the none-too-authentic senoritas with maracas and fruit-laden sombreros.

The biggest hassle is the 10-dollar US entry fee, cash only.  So I have to leave Steph stranded, annoyed and foot tapping while I bustle through customs to the bank, surcharged 6 bucks for my 20 dollar American withdrawal, to hustle back through to get our Passports stamped.  We heft our bags and walk to the bank, once again, the band kicking their tip jar in our path.

We withdraw probably far too much local currency – Dominican pesos, and then get hassled by a swarm of white-shirted Airport “helpers” who lead us outside into an even larger assembly of pink-shirted taxi drivers.

We’re led to a white Toyota van, quoted the price of 1300 pesos, and pile in our bags.

There’s the awkwardness of the language barrier, the 1400 pesos crumpled in my hand, the paved road pretty much the only sign of development as we pull away.

The surrounds feel positively third world.  The pavement of the road ends in a gravel shoulder, a lane of dust where locals ride old motorcycles, often doubled up, a girl on the back sidesaddle.  Beyond that are palm fronds and dark skinned men standing idle, watching the traffic.

There are long rows of barbed wire and untouched jungle or brushland, and I’m reminded of Oscar Wao, the regime of Trujillo and the iron fist in which he ruled this half of the island.  I wonder if this area is so undeveloped because it was kept safe in his malevolence, and only now mega corporations have invested in the capital to carve mini-Edens out of the brush.

The drive is twenty minutes or so, and we’re gleaming in a light sweat when we pull into the driveway of Paradisus.  The place is constructed in a mish-mash of kitschy Mayan ruin and drug lord palace, an open aired lobby of marble and teak accented with shallow decorative pools.  Plant life abounds.  The staff are dressed in white linen shirts and pants, with woven belts of brown or tan that make them look like low level students in a karate dojo.

At first there’s a bit of a mix up.  We’ve been escorted to the check in for the normal peons, not the Royal Service VIPs (who knew?), so we’re ported onto a rickety diesel golf cart and taken into the heart of the resort.  From the initial lobby there’s a narrow path that winds through a mangrove swamp towards the beach and the pools.

We sit around waiting for long minutes.  Waiting for our room to be cleaned, for our butler to arrive (a slick well-spoken man named Juan), for the wireless modem from the hotel business center to use internet in our room (I mock Steph’s Facebook addiction).  And so there are long minutes sitting in chairs, watching the surrounds and the people here, and thinking.

This is certainly not a resort for the young, the backpackers.  The tourists are often overly tanned and middle aged, with defined beer guts and hearty cigar chomping laughs, middle managers from the States and Canada and Europe on a long saved vacation.  This is the paradise they’ve sought, that they think they’ve earned.  No spiritual quest or adventure, merely pampered hedonism.  I’m not complaining, only observing.  Is that our goal here as well?

We get bracelets of wood and nylon twine, the initials RS in varnish – “Royal Service”.  We’re given a private beach, pool, even butler service.

At five o’clock we finally make it to the beach, finding a shaded cabana next to some loud mouthed New Englanders, watching the surf.  I do some body surfing in the crisp sand-churned water, chunks of seaweed wrapping against my chest and legs.  The beach curves in a long convex, the edges touching the horizon.  Sailing boats and flags whip in the late afternoon breeze.  The clouds move fast, and for a while they clear out, and there are only tiny M.C. Escher flecks of pattern against deep upper atmosphere blue.  The “Dionysus” clouds.

Later, sitting next to Steph we make small talk about the nervousness of travel, the relief to be here, our respite from daily life, past travels, etc.  I make some passing remark about the baby.

“I pray for it,” she says.  “That it’s healthy and growing and I don’t have a miscarriage or any deformities, and I pray that I won’t worry.”

“That’s good,”

“Do you pray?”

“Yea.”

“How do you pray?”

“Well it’s in my head.  It’s non verbal.”

“Tell me how.”

“I can’t.  It’s nonverbal.  It’s not like I’m reading out a prayer inside my head.”

“Tell me what you think about though?”

“Well I think about how thankful I am for everything I have, and for help being a good person.  That kind of thing.  I kinda think that it’s sorta…petty to pray for specific things.  Because then we’re thinking we know the mind of God, God’s plan.  God is above all that, God is big picture stuff.  And you know whatever happens is God’s plan so I can pray for the humility and the trust to go with whatever comes.”

The wind whips through the dried cabana leaves, the drunken old New Englanders laugh at bawdy jokes, and Steph curls into her towel, cold.

***

Later, I rinse and float in the pool, a can of Presidente cervesa resting on the side, gray tile with Aztec temple motifs, gargoyles spitting water.  I try to watch the clouds scroll above, obscuring any hints of development or human influence from my vision, just the tips of palms on the periphery.  I breathe through my nose and arch my back so I’m floating by means of the inflated air in my lungs.  With each breath I rise a few inches, and sink on the exhales.

So there is this sort of rhythmic bobbing as I respirate, ever slower, and the chlorinated water nearly enters the corners of my eyes.

I blink and think about what I was saying – if I’m merely saying that stuff about God and my version of prayer to reassure Steph.  Or if it’s merely a placebo for myself.  Is it really a dialog?  Or just a monologue, played out in front of the mirror of my mind, running down the doubts and self-consciousness I have?

I’ve said it before and here it is again – I gain far more self-introspection and bravery through Buddhist Zen techniques then Christian prayer and meditation.  Letting emotions and the thoughts of negative destinies float off into an unknowable ether works far better than acknowledging them and placing them on a bloody altar of sacrifice.  The Zen mindset elevates us beyond the vitriolic, antsy chaos of internal emotion.  It sees our spiritual self as more dignified, stoic in the face of existential horror. Even acknowledging that horror like a dark storm, facing it down, perhaps small and wind-whipped, with squinting monk eyes.  But facing it nonetheless.  “Take in the thought, look at it, turn it over, then let it pass, let it blow past you.”

And the Christian method is a transaction with another for every negative trough.  Even more, the emotive strength of the Christian message requires that very pain to be realized and focused and amplified in order to identify with the ultimate sacrifice.

And so these are just some things that have been unmentioned, unnamed and unwritten in the back of my mind these past months.

****

When the sun falls the wind picks up and howls past the sliding glass door of our room.  We order a bath drawn and room service and fall into each other, the warmth of an embrace in a soapy tub, scented and candle-lit.  We toast a bottle of champagne and I drink the whole thing, watching Shrek on the TV, wearing our bathrobes to eat delivery pizza.

April 11

Hucksters

We wake to the wailing of the wind outside.  We try to sleep in, rolling over, the light faint through the double curtains.

We talk about tropical weather, those scenes in Lost where the sunshine is instantly drowned in a downpour, the big cumulonimbus clouds, dark above the palm leaves, raining down.  It’s not a bad downpour, however, just a cooling sprinkle.

First, an American breakfast of eggs and bacon, croissants and assorted gourmet cheeses and meats from the RS lounge.  Then we try the beach.  The clouds roll through, north up the beach, and a strong wind renders lying on the padded benches nearly impossible.

So we retreat into a small thatched hut thing with a padded futon, shaded and cool, and dry.  We lay in there for an hour or two, sipping bottled water and reading our books.

Close to noon we decide to venture out and find lunch.  We’re not in the mood for the sub-par Italian we had yesterday, so we wander towards the restaurant district to find something.

Someone finds us first, a white shirted concierge with a charming local accent and a somewhat endearing demeanor, like one of those hired guides in a travel film.  At first we figure he’s just part of the butler service, showing some extra hospitality to the RS members, but it turns out he’s part of a bigger spiel.  We’re propped up in padded chairs in the shaded lounge, given cold drinks and pulled into the charming world of small talk.  Where are you from, what do you do, how long have you been married, how often do you vacation, etc.  Steph reveals the pregnancy, nada on the adult beverages, etc.  He even gets Steph to volunteer that she’s up for massage later in the day.  Just priming the mark.

The guy has a hefty binder with resort maps and brochures prominent, and eventually the game becomes apparent.  He’ll take us to lunch and show us the VIP area of the resort, even chip in 50 bucks towards that massage.

I’m beginning to sense the pitch.  Steph is too, and we give each other looks.  But since the restaurants aren’t yet open (so he says) and that 50 bucks would be nice to have (never mind the fact that our time here, the 5 days free of the concerns of commerce and income are practically priceless), keeps us sitting there.

Until he pulls out the forms.  “90 minute presentation” he says. “No obligation.  We don’t collect your credit info.  You get lunch and get to see the VIP area, the nicest part of the resort.  Just sign here.”

That’s the point we should have stood up and said “no thank you.”  I can’t speak for Steph, but there was something endearing about this guy.  Not quite sad or pathetic, but earnest, in his broken English and enthusiasm, the fact the spiel, a trade perfected in good old white-bread America, Willie Loman and all that, had been exported even here, this poor island nation, only recently evolved beyond malevolent dictatorship.  Hucksterism alive and well.

So we said yes, filled out the forms (with subtly invalid information – we don’t want to be spammed after all).  It would be a transaction.  Our time for the fifty bucks.  It was cloudy anyway.  But when the guy stood up, proudly holding his signed forms to summon his manager (for the next step of the game). Steph gave me that look that said – I may not be able to resist the sales pitch.  I am hormonal after all, and given to appreciate professional marketing.

Through the hoops we go, always with the thought in the back of my head that I’m going to say no at the last minute, once the 50 dollar gift card is assured, without causing too much of a raucous, perhaps getting stranded in that VIP section of the resort, without the transportation of a backfiring diesel golf cart to lug us back to the beach.

The next dude is Jairo, a bulky Aruban with a gold chain and a collared shirt, low-buttoned, fitted slacks and nice leather shoes.  Matching all definitions of a wiseguy Staten Island head cracker, aside from the fact his brow didn’t have that hard-sloped “don’t fuck with me” look.  At a glance, a nice, cool guy.  Salesman material.

First we get lunch with the guy, nice enough – even some jokes about pregnancy and women.  Here, still early, he’s cautious, ordering us twin Cokes en espanol from the host (who perhaps didn’t care anyway, because we had to wait till the designated waiter arrived to re-order those Cokes).

He walks up into the headquarters of the Resort office, a standard American office except the cubical dividers are done in stained drift wood, angled and graceful.  He logs into a computer demo program, but his primary spiel is done on a piece of paper.

He figures out how much we desire vacation, our need for exoticness and luxury, frequency and budget.  He puts us in the prime paying bracket.  Drawing charts and graphs on the back of his questionnaire, lines and big swooping arrows pointing from one boxed-in dollar value to another, making the argument that signing up for a “subscription” to the hotel chain was a better deal that buying vacations as we went through life, year after year.

The resorts were all magazine snap-shot “gorgeous”, that same manicured golf-course look slaved over by dozens of cheap indigenous laborers, a gated community off of the land, run by a corporation, run by a billionaire suit.  It was basically a glorified timeshare for hotel rooms in Latin American and Spain, perhaps “paradise” if we were of the Hispanic wealthy leisure class, with two months of the year to jet off to warmer climes.

But what I realized, as we moved through the presentation, is we fit a different mold.  We asserted first once, then again, that we don’t buy things on credit (after about the third time that the salespeople pushed the idea that buying this subscription on credit was a valid option).  WE *use* our credit card for a purpose – to timeshift our expenses to the end of the month.  We use it to normalize our budget, not to splurge.  It’s a practical tool (not a hedonistic one).

I watch the clock, and we’re shuttled off to the far side of the resort to look at one of the “VIP” properties.  It’s a larger room, obviously nicer, but more expensive (with a curious tennis motif – tennis racket and ball on the bed (as if tennis were so vital to your vacation regime that you would leave your sweaty racket on the top of the duvet) and a large beachball-sized tennis ball as the centerpiece of a side table).  Sure, there were the items that would entice the females – the rose petal Jacuzzi – the whole idea being that you could call up ahead of time (me, the husband) and order that thing to be waiting, warm and bubbling, for you when you jet in.

We wait for the shuttle back for a few minutes, the sun now out, Jairo standing idle.  We talk about travel and places, he first asks about Atlanta’s weather, I ask about Caribbean seasons (rainy vs dry).  He mentions that he wants to see snow, stumbling over some fabled place that has snow he’s never been, starts with a C-sound.

“Canada?”

“Vancouver” he says, probably on the tail end of Olympics fantasies.

We talk about snow, the beauty of it, the fun of it, and the opposite appeal of it to sticky sunshine of the Caribbean.  And it’s here when he seems the most vulnerable, that I wonder if his small talk is on his “own time” that we’re outside of the spiel.  Perhaps this is his real desire, that he legitimately wants his wife and kids to see and play in the snow, that even now he’s saving up for some winter vacation in Canada, or Colorado, Utah, etc.

The more insidious thought is that even here, in this moment of off-topic chatter, he’s working.

So then it’s back to the cubical dais for the final sell.

We review the numbers and his marked up chart.  Apparently here the software is not too effective.  He summons his manager, a chirpy twenty-something Latina in a biz suit with very manicured eyebrows.

She goes over the numbers, we admit their promoted program is just too much (4 weeks of vacations for 900 bucks a year!?)  So she downsells, feigning understanding.  We go further and she summons *her* manager, who’s perhaps an even more upscale Latina woman with dyed red hair and a starched white shirt.

This woman is all business, trying to restart the selling process.

Steph and I are now on the same page, with the same excuses – sorry, we’re pregnant, our family comes first, we like to pay for everything up front, not on credit, and having the constant recurring payment would hover over us like dark cloud.  Reasonable excuses.  But not a firm enough “NO” for her.  Downsells us more.  “The economy” we say. “Put it on credit!” she says.  “You lose your job, at least you have vacation!”  Does this absurdity work on people, I wonder?

Maybe people with this hedonistic addiction to the dream of sunshine, those who are already dangerously close to both cirrhosis and melanoma, who’ve lived in their bikinis and sombreros longer days (and happier days) than their khakis and Sunday’s best.  It’s Sunday, I think.  And here I am, worshipping in the den of the money-changers.

“The upfront cost is just too much. Sorry, no can do.”

“I’ll wave it all together.  How much you pay for this trip?  2500?  Divided by 12 months.  104 bucks a month.  You do, yes?”

“No.”

She throws up her hands.  “I’m done.”

We are too.  Thankfully.

Jairo walks us to the desk outside, perhaps defeated, but still standing strong, proud (perhaps his personal dignity isn’t all holed up in the sell), and we get our 50 dollar voucher.

***

Afterwards we feel a bit dirty that we sat through the entire hard sell, wasting precious hours of our vacation, and we feign blame on each other, saying we would have quit earlier.  The fact is neither of us are brave enough to admit we were taken by the sell.

Why is it so embarrassing to admit the power of salesmen?  It’s a game that’s been honed through the ages, playing off the hardcoded limits of human psychology: the hint of an economic advantage, the deal too good to be true.

We retreat to the sunshine and the beach (which has filled up since the afternoon, leaving few prime sunbathing chairs).  The fact of the matter is we *were* taken, for that fifty bucks.  We spent our time and listened.  And even if they didn’t get the sale in the end, they got us, their methods were effective in kidnapping from our otherwise carefree wanderings.

I realized I probably know more salesman and marketers than legitimate builders.  And I had a long waking vision of what the world would be like made up only of marketers, all trying to sell one another increasingly crappy products.  I floated out in the ocean and felt the pull of it.  In 50 years or so, when the entirety of human psychology is known, all the tricks documented and taught in Master of Marketing programs, how to engage the rube and get them to sign up for recurring monthly payments for marginal useful programs, until all disposable income is booked up, for everyone, and no one can really do anything but go to their job and pay off their obligations, or go into debt (the only real stigma left anyway – basically an instant jump down the social ladder), and there’s no more space or time for spontaneity, but all our needs are met here and now, via monthly commitments.

And I let the waves hit me, a turquoise water (like Tanqueray Gin), washed with sand and seaweed.

I felt at once angry, betrayed in myself, one of the herd, the consuming herd that inhabits these all-inclusive prisons (because they are prisons, even with a wristband that confines you to certain areas and eateries).  What could be the least predictable thing to break free?

Go for a long jog.  I headed out south, barefoot and bare-chested, without even my sunglasses.  Slow at first, weaving the others possessed with their limited wanderlust, splashing through the thin surf.

Once outside the rope boundaries of the resort the clientele noticeably shifted.  The accents – European.  The woman, topless, often with bounteous jubblies, overtanned, some to the degree that the marginally brown nipples already looked possessed with malignant growths.  Not that I was observing intently – a gentleman only glances.

And so through the waves of resorts, a steady jog, towards the point on the southern horizon where the palms leaned out into the surf and there sailboats were moored.  Hopping the seaweed-encrusted ropes that formed the barriers between the increasingly lesser resorts.

Until there were no more resorts, only brightly painted shacks and signs for rentable boat rides.  The vacationers were both older and younger – backpackers from Europe and diehard Carribeanites from perhaps the Midwest, with their trashy t-shirts and sagging brown flesh.

Further still, beyond the boats, curvaceous local woman with skimpy red and blue bikinis.  One even with a puppy on a leash, skipping through the surf.  Shacks in the dunes, painted red and green and blue, with doors hanging on loose hinges, ratty curtains blowing.  A man, dark skinned in the heat (for the sun was at its brightest here, now, outside of the confines of the resort, in the midst of the run) raised his hand and whistled towards me, waving me closer.  A pimp.

Here, another huckster.  Always a huckster.

So I let me gaze fade, toward the hazy horizon, the ships at anchor, the perfectly featured local (all muscle, hard jaw and sweat) in the bow of a rainbow painted skiff, propped on his side, at an angle, like a photo shoot for D&G or Gucci.  (What’s worse – the fact that an advert would take this authentic scene and use it to sell both their clothing and lifestyle, or the fact that immediately the scene brought forth the idea of an advert?)

I breathed deep and jogged all the way back to Paradisus, a mile or two through the surf.

***

In the evening, after a dinner of steaks and ice cream sundaes, we saunter back to the room.  Drinking Presidente, I sit out on the balcony, listening to OK Computer and watching the other vacationers walk home.  The stumbling frat guy.  Jersey Shores (what we’ve dubbed a particularly annoying six-some of inked-up Long Islanders, all biceps and boobs).

There are families – one a young urban couple with a high tech stroller and a fast clip; the next straight out of the cast of some 80s high school drama, the mother an attentive schoolmarm, the father the no-nonsense principal, stooped and balding, and their son the hapless teenager, curly black hair and flip flops.

Once it is dark the wind picks up and storm clouds roll north.  There are fireworks over the beach, visible just through a gap in the palms.

Then the rain starts, hard and slanted, and there is a man in staff khakis, pedaling his old bicycle through the rain, holding a red and white umbrella perfectly straight as he navigates the winding path.

April 13

In the morning, when the evening clouds clear off, we rotate between the pool, chair and cabana, and in the heat that equals baking, basting and steaming.  A quick dash to the ocean to pee.

I’m holding off drinking in the AM, unlike the squat leathery old dudes, one of whom looks like a resurrected Teddy Roosevelt, others like apes and hobgoblins.  Their wives are often worse, stuffing themselves in far too skimpy bathing suits and hefting saggy flesh into place with tugs and strong nylon knots.  It’s in stark contrast to the young (sub-18) girls that sneak into our pool, all perky curves and smooth, practically pale skin, only to get kicked out by the chuckling bartender.

But that’s the way of the flesh, and I wonder if the young girls see those hags as their future selves in 20-30 years.  I’m reminded of all the blossoms back in Atlanta that bud in a weekend from a closed up woody knot into a thing of colorful, fleshy pedals, and the same moisture rots it from within, till it bruises and the color seeps to a purple brown, and the petals fall off, to grind into mud.

The way of all flesh – and I wonder if I see it in myself already, the distended gut, the inconvenient hair on back and neck, a growing lethargy, despite attempted regimes of exercise and healthy eating (leaving the stacked meat from the buffets off my plate, at least until dinner).

And all these truths are endured year round, but perhaps it is during a vacation of leisure that it becomes more true.  DFW’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing,” resonates a good deal because an all-inclusive resort is very much like a cruise ship – bounded by the water (and in our case, an impenetrable mangrove swamp), with nothing to do but lay in the sun, swim, “activities,” and drinking watered-down drinks.  The same people confined to these spaces and this rough routine of beach–eat–beach–drink–eat-drink–drink–sleep, and you begin to recognize the same folks by characteristics that only present themselves in swimsuits, in bright sunlight.  Classifying women on cup size, cross-referenced with intensity of tan vs smoothness of skin; the men – how hideous their beer gut and if they greet the staff with a bellow or a “por favor”

Even more apparent, but perhaps more subtlety, is the underlying theme of DFW’s essay: the sadness that pervades.  This may be a place of relaxation, even hedonism.  But true happiness?  Hardly – even in that there is sadness that pervades.

In the bored staff that see the same thing every day, the disparity of wealth and leisure between the vacationers, the locals.  Even the sorry hucksters marching down the beach with their boxes of Cubans and laminated photos of activities.

One who lifted his photo of a quad towards me and I said “no” and he puffs up, offended “I’m not asking anything from you!  I’m saying hello!  You speak English?”  I hadn’t heard his greeting in the sound of the surf.

There’s the sadness of entitlement, and limited time – not only here in the sun, but all together, before we are sagging and cancer scarred and leathery hobgoblins, ready to croak.

But I remember something from the yoga instructor the other day – a beginner’s class with long periods between basic asanas of broken English chattering, attempting to explain Sanskrit ideologies and theories, breaking into Espanol when a word escaped him. He was thin and brown and wore loose fitting linen clothes.

As we lay on our mats in the dead man’s pose, he told us to imagine ourselves, our core essence, the Chakras, the light in us, to be *love* radiating from us.

“Love is not like business.  Not give and take.  Love just is.  Stretching out.  Not taking, only giving.”

And I think of the pleasure and sun seekers here in their rotting bodies (and soon to be rotting bodies) and I can feel no love for them.  Taking all their pain and weakness onto myself would be an impossible task.  Who has that kind of empathy?  And if that is what love requires, a pure empathy for others, how can I possibly love?  Love requires pain, requires sacrifice – and if I just barely have enough for my family, perhaps some friends, then we are all doomed, and the world will continue in pain and sadness.

***

I tried out some water sports the last few days – a single sail catamaran and a sea kayak.  Got both of the crafts out beyond the breakers, where the wind chopped the water and made for a rough ride.  There was no real danger, but the hint of the sea’s malevolence was there – the relentless assault of its movements, the stretch of it’s deeps, even the color of the water, a cold blue gray, once you get beyond the shallows and even the sunshine can’t reflect the sand and cast everything in warm glowing azure.

After a rainstorm in the late afternoon, I decide to go for a walk.  North, around a corner of the island, to an area that Google Maps hints is free of sprawling resorts.

What I find is more of the same.  The palm thatch cabanas, beach chairs, locals in yellow or navy uniforms, the speed boats and parasails for hire.  I don’t know what I was expecting, a virgin beach, devoid of people, with a mangrove swamp right up into the dunes, perhaps some sort of military installation, tan dudes with automatic weapons out of some Arnold movie.

There was the line of shops, shadowy openings up from the beach, selling cigars and shells, all sorts of souvenirs and trinkets, an entourage of pushy hucksters to draw in the prey.  A few lazy yellow dogs slept in the sand, curled up and breathing slow in sleep, their muzzles black against their sandy fur, and waking with furtive eyes, at once feral and friendly.

April 14

It’s fitting the last day is the best – no rainclouds in the morning, the sun at its brightest and warmest.  After breakfast Steph spots the gardener of the towel hut, and I approach him to cut us fresh coconuts.

“Uno?” he asks, wielding his three foot machete, the leather sheath at his waist, knee-high black boots.

“Dos.  If you can,” I say.

We take a path to the main pool and he motions for me to stay put as he maneuvers behind a bush and a palm front, camouflaged lizards scurrying along the trunk in the morning light.  He selects two green coconuts from a small cache hidden within the bush, and he brings them out to the garbage pail along the path.

With a set of well aimed and efficient slices of the machete, he flattens out the bottom, then fashions a spout on the top, a perfectly round hole in the core of the fruit, with just a flap of wet white meat keeping the “milk” inside.

“Muchas Gracias,” I say as he hands me the newly cut coconuts, and I raise one to my lips to taste the water within.  It’s practically like the juice of a watermelon – sweet and slightly cloudy, only a little warm from the dark core of the nut.

I get the bartender to make us Pina Coladas with little cherries and flags on the side – Steph’s virgin of course, and we clank the thing together in a rough approximation of “cheers!” as we sit on the rapidly heating benches flanking the RS pool.

Later – I decide to dash to the ocean to drain out that Pina Colada.  The waves are rougher and I’m distracted by two model-perfect women wading out in the surf, topless.  I catch a larger wave, arms extended, body surfing towards the sand, when the entire thing explodes in froth and I reach my hands to my face.  Too late – my sunglasses are gone.

It’s hard to feel upset on a day so perfect, and I feel the loss is fated.  They were 8 dollar imitation Ray Bans from China Town, after all.  But there’s also an underlying sense that they’ll turn up.

I immediately look to the shore and find a set of palms that line up linear with my position, estimate where the large wave crashed down, and begin to sweep the smooth sand with my feet.  There’s too much froth and sand kicked up to see anything in the water, but I hold out hope that there will be a moment when the silt will settle and the angled rays of the sun will shine through to reflect off the mirrored lenses, or the chrome frame, and there will be a beckoning glint in the surf.

No such luck – only the radical distortion of the sunshine through the cloudy water, everything warm and brilliantly azure.

I’ve about given up and am heading to shore, moving with the push of the current, the dips and loose pits of sand in that intertidal zone, and I feel something against the side of my foot.  It’s less forgiving than a strand of seaweed, so I reach down, bump my thumb into the frame, pick it out of the sand.  It’s my glasses, none the worse for wear, after being batted around in the surf for 30 minutes.

Amazed, I put them on my head and head inland.

Sometimes, things just work out.

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