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Antidote at socially distanced Wincanton
We’ve received these photos from Mary Fishwick which she took at Wincanton racecourse on October 15th.
Our son Hadden Frost, who successfully competes in timber races in the USA, one of the most demanding horse racing events in the world, has been living with us since March unable to return to the States due to the restrictions on border admissions.
He was able to return this week via a two week ‘safe-corridor’ period in the Dominican Republic. On the day of arrival in the country he was warned of the imminent arrive of hurricane Laura.
Inspired by his time in the country he wrote this:
There is a dark cloud over the Dominican Republic. I’m not sure if it’s blowing over or about to erupt. It’s hot, humid and beautiful, during these two weeks I have found myself unwittingly watching the country unfurl itself from a harsh summer.
This is my first time here and I admit, despite extensively researching travel restrictions to and from this paradise, my research, indeed my initial interest in its culture, was limited. For me, the Island Hispaniola and its two countries, Haiti and Dominican Republic offered a steppingstone, placed conveniently on route to the States. Perfectly placed to hide out for my enforced fortnights quarantine to enter America.
Making a ritual of a morning run before the heat became unbearable to my English skin, I was struck by a visual onslaught of smells and sights. My morning’s golden sunrise illuminated an unexpected vista of broken bottles, discarded polystyrene, semi-automatic shotgun clad security guards, prostitutes and their pimps on mopeds, flea bitten stray dogs, broken parasols, make shift food stands, swarming fish markets, suspicious puddles. My mind raced, the post cards do not show this.
From my first naive morning I believed the town was still repairing and regrouping from storm Laura, she had just ransacked parts of the Caribbean and was on her way to wage war on Louisiana and Texas.
However, the following morning I discovered that this was the routine, the handful of optimistic bins, stood in vain, at either end of the beach. And the party goers soon outweighed them. Even the cardboard boxes presumably placed randomly by vigilantes acted as insufficient bins and the corner where they were, soon grew into areas of rubbish amnesties.
As for the broken buildings, I now believe they are indeed half broken and half built.
This however doesn’t manage to take anything away from the country’s beauty, it merely spatters dust and dirt on the street artist’s optimistic canvas.
Having travelled by myself for what I deem too much, I will admit to spending too much time dwelling in my thoughts.
However, whenever I looked up from my books and business drafts, this was a sight, a story, an image which would inspire even the least artistic of us.
I think it is safe to say that the people I met on my arrival are some of the poorest I’ve ever met, and they are worn out.
Most of the shops did not open for the first week, locals here don’t spend 20 lavish cents on espresso.
Despite the recent strain, the ghost town did its best to make me feel welcome.
The curfew, it must be said, has a sci-fi feel to it. The shops and people are allowed to go about their busy lives as normal, caveat to social distance and masks, though at 6:45 the mad dash to home begins.
The police gather in ranks and listen to their commander’s rousing speech. And by 7pm, the dogs have the streets back to themselves.
I’ve witnessed the poorest shop owner, a defiant pizza oven and even a beautiful homeless woman with a model’s cheek bones, homemade sandals and a bin bag on her head, wear a mask and close their doors when a policeman wearing a worn in shotgun tells them to.
On a walk my heart sank when I was offered drugs for the third time that morning, it’s a hazard of being a lonely young guy in a city, any city, the illicit target is on your back so please don’t judge the country for this. I subconsciously forgive the guy and attempt to be polite without encouraging a conversation, turn the corner. And I smile, there stood a young boy, eight years old and four feet tall, on tip toes.
The boy is scuffing the back of a stray dog’s head, the dog is enjoying his company as much as the boy his. The boy and his friend are on a mission to fly their kites. These kites are ingenious. Constructed from twigs, reused bin bags and knotted fishing line. In my sunburnt poetic mind, these two became symbols of the country’s resilience, resourcefulness and reassure me of its future.
The future arrived faster than I expected. The planes arrived. And Americans came with them, then the relieved shops opened.
The waitresses and waiters plastered on their best “come and spend money” smiles. I’m sure these smiles grew into genuine grins as the redundant sun loungers and tables were wiped down and proudly offered to the trickle of big spenders.
Another interesting observation was simply if you want to meet someone attempting to live in splendid Covid denialism, travel.
These people will often be unmissable, they tend to be loud. One man to be fair had every intention to wear his mask, he must have, as he printed “have passport, will travel” the words were not only printed on his mouth but also elaborately announced from his mouth for the entire restaurant to hear. I’m not sure what his point was but he made it.
Personally, I do not know how to feel about pandemic travel, I am sanctimonious enough to consider riding horses as essential travel. I have also seen the devastation that travel restrictions cause countries that are dependent on international tourism, I can only imagine the pressure on international aid packages.
We’re fortunate in the UK, as Betty the bus proves, there is enough National economy and tourism to be “self-sufficient” for want of a more educated economic phrase.
Speaking of uneducated phraseology, my Spanish has improved at my usual languished linguistic pace. Emphasising the strangest stranger in the city feeling.
My usual tactic of smiling broadly whilst abroad to overcome language barriers has been diminished by the physical barrier of a mask and the apparent strained feeling of the people.
Though a fun day had been had by all when the tour company managed to round up enough paying customers, comprised of islanders and tourists. We loaded up on a bus and headed to the tropical island Saona.
The vibe was jovial, even the barrage of presumable insults casted back and forth from one passenger void of mask and the rest of us conscientiously masked. The passengers of the half full minibus soon made friends and danced in our seats to the driver’s fiesta playlist making our way to the national park.
I had driven up to the park in the week to walk around the forest, where I successfully rediscovered some caves where Taíno Indians once worshipped their supreme Goddess Atabey, she was the goddess of water.
These caves were gate ways to the underground freshwater rivers which must have been literal life savers.
It was a surreal moment to stand and walk where indigenous people once lived, loved and toiled.
I was on edge during my escapade through the forest, I had read the trail was only a 1000m long, but I was convinced that getting lost was a possibility with its overgrown path and fallen down signage.
I was overprepared and cautious of sun stroke, sun burn and biting things. Being on edge was humorous to myself, funny or not I definitely over-reacted as I ran away from a clicking noise coming from above, with no idea what it was or what the noise meant, I was sure running away was a good idea.
My Indiana Jones moment over I tentatively drove back managing to be pulled over twice, google translate talked me out of both tickets.
My imagination triggered by experiencing the caves and the Indians’ forest. My mind wondered whilst being sprayed by refreshing water on the speed boat racing to the island Saona.
I had a different perspective of the National park’s forest, the impenetrable tree line from the picturesque water. The forest comes to edge of the ocean. From this perspective I could appreciate how bewildering the wild island must have been to Columbus and his crew.
My love for nature raises the Indians and their culture’s high in my admiration but this was the first time I had understood why Columbus and the early settlers met the Indians with such hostility.
My reaction to the clicking insect proved to me that I would not have been brave enough to live with or learn from the indigenous people in their world either. In all honesty with the same education and cultural experiences as the settlers, I would have changed the Taino Indian’s world to suit me too.
An hour after this empathetic thought, I am sat on a tropical island. Lost in my wanderings of Columbus, Indians and unwritten novels. Being vaguely amused whilst watching an obese Covid-19 denier dowse fellow tourist with mosquito repellent, and I realise despite our heated broken English discussion, she isn’t all bad. Perhaps I am simply an unsocial, insulate recluse.
Packing my bags, I am struck with a surprised emotion. As surprising as my initial disgust to the area on my first run.
This time however I am surprised to anticipate that I will miss this place. I can safely say, I recommend a visit to the Dominican Republic, over any of the Caribbean islands I’ve visited. From the hustlers to the hummingbirds, the fruit stalls to vampire mosquitoes, plastic beaches to crystal waters. I felt safe and welcomed. The island has it all.