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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Luperon, my kind of town

Yesterday, I'm standing at the counter of a small grocery come off licence type of Colmado (shop) in the centre of the town of Luperon, waiting to buy a packet of cigarettes, along with few other locals also waiting. There's a local police officer being served who turns and smiles at me, he says, "Como esta", I say, Bien, gracias, e tu, "bueno gracias" he says, and we shake hands like old friends. Next to him, another local asks, in English, "where are you from" England I say, "Oh, Eng-a-land hey, lubbly jubbly" he says, and we laugh. A little kid pushes in front of me, oblivious of the queue, and pushes a crumpled note towards the shopkeeper, who takes it, serves him some sweets and he's gone. It's a slow queue of about six of us standing patiently at the counter, engaged in animated and good hearted conversations, that I don't get, but I can feel it, my Spanish isn't quite that up to speed.  The shopkeeper weighs out small portions of this and that for the police officer that takes time. People pass by the open-to-the-road counter and exchange friendly  banter loudly, with either the shopkeeper or the queue. It's a lively ten minutes whilst I wait to be served, it's a popular little shop, almost a meeting place, more than a shop.
We've just been round the corner to a mini supermacado to buy some eggs and bread, and a couple of bottles of wine, guided there by some guy who wants to help, he speaks good English, wants to be friendly, but I'm a bit suspicious of his motive. Turns out he just wants something to eat in payment for his trouble. We give him four rolls and fifty pesos so he can buy some salami to put in them, that was enough, and as we pass him after buying the cigarettes he gives us a big smile and a wave from across the street.
The streets are alive, awash with people, it's Saturday, noisy people, noisy little motor bikes, weave in and out of the street gatherings, kids laughing, playing, speakers pump out Dominican pop music to a small bunch of teenagers that have taken up residence in the middle of the road, some sit in chairs in the road, parents with babes in arms getting down with the kids, sway to the rhythm of the day.  Each doorway seems to have at least one person, sometimes two, elderly ladies or gents,  sat on an old chair taking in the view, with a cheerful smile and a ready "hola"(hello) as we pass, it would be impolite of us and them not to exchange this simple greeting.
Luperon is alive, life plays out on the street, a ramshackle street, a mish-mash of dwellings, and workshops and the tiniest of stores. We pass one of these no bigger than a garden shed where two young trumpet players are having a music lesson that spills out into the street, everywhere is life in chaotic abundance. And litter, and lazy dogs, missing pavements, holes in the road, watch your step, is the order of the day, and don't trip over those motor bike parts strewn around the guy who's fixing his bike on the pavement.

Then there's the gringos, the cruisers, the live-aboards that have adopted, and been adopted by Luperon, who spend time gossiping, in JRs, or Wendys, (coldest beer in town says the sign) or having breakfast in the upper deck under a corrugated roof on the first floor completely open to the breeze where they serve only breakfast, all day.

 It takes about half a minute after walking in to any of these watering holes to strike up a conversation. "what boat you on, I'm Liz, anything you need to know, want, just ask". Hi, my names Less, need a haircut, a massage, just call me on 68" What did you say your name was, sorry, "Less" oh like more or less I says, " gee that's funny,but  no, more like Lester, but call me Less".

Then we run into hillbilly Bob Mathews, in JRs bar, in a garden courtyard, still on the street. Bob plays fiddle, well, is revisiting the fiddle after a 13 year break, we fall into an easy conversation about music, mostly, and then Cabarete falls into the dialogue.

"I was in Cabarete, in January" drawls Bob, "looking after a small apartment block" That wouldn't be an apartment block just behind Janets' supermacado I butt in. "Yep, looked after it for a friend of mine called", called Jerry I says, "Hell yeh, you know him". Well not exactly but I do know his wife, although I haven't seen her for over 30 years. She used to be married to my best friend Smoke who lives in London. We ran into the brother of the owner that died, down in Salinas, Tony and Rose, they're on a boat called English Rose.
It was one massive coincidence that we had run into them, especially as I had only just remade contact with Jerrys wife, Judy, Smokes' ex of more than thirty years ago now about to live just down the road from us in the Dominican republic, and now we find another link in hillbilly Bob, here in Luperon. Sometimes life throws up the strangest of circumstances, or is it the smallest of worlds.

Luperon; I think I'm going to enjoy our stay here, it's full of cruising characters, and a pageant of humanity that is the real Dominican republic, all colour and chaos, and open hearts.  There'll be the rouges and ruffians lurking, as in any poor and impoverished country, or even in the grand cities of the world, you can't avoid stumbling into a bad experience where ever you lay your hat, park your yacht, choose to be, but hey give me Luperon over Salinas, give me Republica Dominicana any day over Americanised Puerto Rico with its faceless malls, everybody locked inside the bubble of their air-conned all terrain 4x4s.

Luperon hasn't got a good reputation amongst cruisers, especially the cruisers from the USA, the air-con cruisers Roger called them, I think maybe it's just too real, no Disney style fa├žade, no KFC, Burger King, Walgreens, etc., etc., no gloss. They pass remarks like oh no Luperon, an open sewer, a place to avoid at all cost. But they are so missing the point, the point of travel, the shedding of your preconceived notion of how the world should be just like home, and horrified when they find it's not, so they by-pass Luperon, or get out fast to nestle in the comfort of Salinas Bay, with easy access to a mall. We sort of warmed to Puerto Rico, did a lot of shopping, got comfortable I suppose, but we're so glad we finally made it to Luperon, and our beloved island of Hispanola.

We heard all about the corruption of the customs comandante, the shear unhelpfulness of officials, the hassle of checking in. We climbed the steps to the Aduantes' office, after crossing the makeshift bridge spanning a finger of mangrove swamp, to be greeted by a guy surfing facebook, earphones in,"COMANDANTE" he called, and a casual figure in T-shirt and flip-flops appeared from round the corner with a beaming smile. "Hola, como esta ustedes" Bien, gracias, we chime "e tu?" Bien, bien says he, shuffles some scraps of paper on an old clip board and asks for our despacio. "Si ests Bueno, muchos gracias, and in English, Welcome to Luperon. We shake hands and climb back down the stone steps, across the crab infested swamp and make for the nearest cold cerveza (beer). No hassle, no bribes, no problem, absolutely chalk and cheese to our dealings with Homeland Security and Puerto Rican USof A.  
Tomorrow we'll be heading back to Cabarete to luxuriate in our apartment for a few days; long showers with running water, toilet that flushes without being manually pumped, huge bed, swimming pool and dramatic Robinson Crusoe beach.  Come next weekend though, we'll be back in Luperon, play a gig at JRs, and board Picaroon to start on our list of jobs and take up the life of Seadogs in old Luperon......check out Cols song at.......................... https://thebeatcombo.bandcamp.com/track/luperon