Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bayahibe and Saona Island: A Good Day to be at the Beach

"Bayahibe and Saona Island: A Good Day to be at the Beach"

Glorious day at the beach. We had an incredible day today. We woke up very early and met the Snows, Swapps, and McDermids at the Casa at 6:00 a.m. We decided to meet to determine whether we were going to go. Well, we decided to take our chances. We loaded up: Snows/Hammons; Swapps/McDermids and headed out. It was a gorgeous drive to Bayahibe where we caught a boat with Scuba Fun just down the road. We gathered our things. Amazingly, there are prescription face masks for snorkeling. Joanne, Brother McDermid, and I got one, and they made all of the difference, which I will talk about later.
Bayahibe Bay
We walked down the road, waded up to our knees out to the boat, and climbed onboard. Soon, we were off, after we waited for five scuba divers that came onboard. We motored out to a spot where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean. From the distance, we could see the giant waves as these two oceans met. Fortunately, we didn’t go out all of the way. Our boat driver said it was not necessarily safe to do so in the type of boat we had. We stopped instead at some Mangroves and drove through them. We did see a bunch of smaller turtles, barracuda, and four stingrays. After ooing and awing, we were off to the confluence of the Caribbean and the Atlantic. We climbed out of the boat and did a bit of snorkeling. Well, I didn’t have it down yet, but I did have some fun.
Saona Island
Then, we drove over to a little island called Saono Island, a small island just off the coast. The boat let us off there and then left to take the scuba dive folks off to scuba dive. We clamored up the beach and gathered our chairs beneath some very tall palm trees. It was stunningly beautiful. As we sat there, we could see a decrepit dock whose main floor had vanished years ago. Now, huge cement pilings stuck out of the ocean, now perfect resting spots for birds, mostly sea gulls. 
Off Saona Island
The white sands stretched along the beach, and blue water lapped against the sand beach. As we sat there, I said: “We are in the greatest mission on earth.” Then, I asked Elder Swapp, “What time is it?” And we both said, while laughing uproariously, “Who cares!” As I sat there and contemplated our surroundings, the thought came to mind: “It is incredible that we are on a mission in paradise.”
Not long after we arrived, I decided to swim out to the old pier and check out the fish. I slowly made my way out with my snorkel donned. Soon, I was seeing fish I had never seen before. Perhaps, it helped that I finally caught on to snorkeling and I could actually see through the googles. There were tiger fish; beautiful blue and yellow fish; larger silver fish; odd looking fish that looked like a rock with a round, long tail; and many other fish. Many of them just hovered beneath the old pier, darting periodically out and about. Some of the Tiger Fish came close to me, but they sensed me and headed back down. I just watched, enjoying every minute of seeing things I had never seen before.

Slowly, I lifted my headed and motioned to the others to come out. Elder Swapp said if I saw anything to give a wave. Wave I did. They came out, and we swam around the pilings. What a beautiful view we had looking beneath the water and beneath the pilings. That’s where the fish were. Soon, it was time for lunch; so, I snorkeled back, dried off a bit, and headed for the grub.
Palm trees on Sanoa Island
Well, the island grub was pretty good. We had pasta, potatoes, pineapple, and grilled pork chops and chicken. It was absolutely delicious! I even had seconds. After a tasty lunch, we just sat beneath the palm trees and watch our beautiful wives frolic in the ocean. What could have been a more peaceful setting? We decided this was one of the things we could do again. Soon, we were ready to shove off to our next destination: the ocean’s natural swimming pool.
Yellow boat off Saona Island
They weren’t kidding! When we arrived, it really was a “swimming pool in the middle of the ocean.” It was about chest high for several acres. While we were there, we snorkeled again and saw lots of starfish. Joanne picked one up and held it. She said it was quite heavy, so much different than the dried old things we see in stores or on display. We had a great time there, but the time overcame us and away we went.
Our next stop was a deeper part of the ocean although it was a bit blue. The divers donned their tanks and jumped overboard. Our guide told us to stay close to the boat because there were so many other boats coming and going. We did. What an incredible view we saw. It’s another world down under. As I lay there all stretched out, head in the water, breathing through the snorkel, I saw things I had never seen before. It looked to me like a garden. The plants were large and flowing with the water. Some of them reminded me of giant ears, flapping in the water. Both large and small fish played tag with one another, darting in and out of the foliage. There were some things that looked like little volcanoes or Mexican-looking stoves in the bottom.   
Sister Hammon looking as gorgeous as ever!
While we were looking at the gorgeous floor, I noticed something like a plastic bag floating in the water, just to my left and moving toward me. With a bit of trepidation, I recognized it as a jelly fish. Remembering our stings at Palenque, I quickly got out of its way. For a moment, though, I saw the delicate beauty of this fish.
I think I have finally caught on to snorkeling. I stayed submerged for a long time, both here in the natural swimming pool and at the island. It is way too much fun. 
Elder Hammon snorkeling
We had just an amazing day.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

La Playa Palenque

"La Playa Palenque"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

Palenque Beach, looking west
Today was our first trip to the beach in the Dominican Republic. Several couples accompanied us:The Fords, McDermids, Glaziers (MTC President), and Elder and Sister Cornish with their son, Reid. We rode with the Cornish family. We were going to Juan Dolio, but Presidente Glazier said he knew of another beach out in Palenque. We began to drive out there. 
Palenque Beach, looking east
Sister Hammon beneath the thatched roof
First of all, we missed the turnoff for Palenque. Elder Cornish had to stop for gas anyway, which was fine. Then we drove off the Autopista and began driving through these little, very poor towns. Soon, we were weaving this way and then that way, and then that way and this way. After stopping two or three times and asking for directions, we finally made it to this beautiful beach. Lots of people were there already although they were farther down the beach. We found a little table. Actually, one of the caballeros there found us a little table. He counted heads and collected the right number of chairs. The table had a thatched umbrella roof, a large one, spread over the top of it. We set our stuff down on the table and walked down to the water.

President and Sister Glazier, the MTC (CCM) president
Elder Ford was already out in the water by the time Sister Hammon and I arrived at the edge of the playa. The beach was not the white sand everyone sees, but it was a darker gray sand. It wasn’t long before Elder McDermid and Elder Ford started coming out of the water. They said they had been stung by something, perhaps a jelly fish. I looked at Elder McDermid’s foot where he had been stung. It was a bit red. Soon, though, we all went back into the water. Before too long, I felt the sting on both my right ankle and my left leg. I started out of the water. As I was walking out, Joanne cried out, too. We walked out of the water. Joanne’s sting marks looked really red at this point.We decided it was not a healthy thing to stay in the water. We would watch the white waves roll in and crash onto the beach, knowing full well that the jelly fish lurked in the beautiful warm water right off the shore.

We asked one of the locals what they were. He confirmed that they were jelly fish. Apparently, they had a huge rain storm on Wednesday or Thursday, and the jelly fish had been caught up in the turbulence of the storm waters and brought into the little bay there. He said they had never had them before. According to Elder Cornish who is doctor, any part of the jelly fish, attached or detached, can sting you. We stayed clear of the water after that.

Some of our Dominican brothers and sisters here for the "Day of Service"
We decided to just walk up and down the beach and take pictures. We met several “Helping Hands” people along the beach. Today was the world’s “day of service.” Our church is the biggest partner in the DR. They go to the beach and clean it for a day. As we talked our way down the beach, each person told us a different number of members and community people who helped with the clean up. The numbers varied from 400-600. These  people had come from the church and their community to clean this section of the beach. Many, many young people were there. We chatted with some of them. They were fun to talk to. Many of the young people wanted to pose while I took their pictures. They are definitely posers, these Dominicans.

I met a bishop and chatted with him. He was sitting on a bucket by some men who were ostensibly fishing. When I asked what was going on, I thought I heard that a boat sank, and they were pulling it in. But when I talked to the bishop he told me it was really a big net that the boat that was out in the water had dropped, and the men were slowly bringing in the catch of the day to go sell in the market place.
Fishermen pulling in a net from the ocean
 There were probably five or six men, slowly dragging in the net with a long yellow rope. Hand over hand, they inched the net in from the depths of the blue sea. One man stood at the end of the rope, with it tied around him, acting as the anchor. He wasn’t a big man; nor were any of them big men, but they were sturdy, strong men, used to pulling in this net each day to sell its goods in the open market in town. Several feet of yellow rope, caked with sand, lay sprawled out around him. Out on the water was a boat that bobbed watchfully at the net. Apparently, this boat dropped the net out and let it sink. Then, he motioned to the group, and they began pulling, hand over hand. The boat scooted in and around the net as it came in. Soon, though, he rowed to shore where he could help with the catch. They had worked some time at this. It reminded me of one of the last scenes in Nemo. Unfortunately, we did not have time to watch them drag it completely in. I think it would have been pretty cool to have watched them “land” a net without a boat.

The bishop told me that once they reeled in the catch, they sorted them, throwing all of the little ones and the ones that won’t sell back into the ocean, the little ones to grow and develop and the undesirable ones to serve a food for other fish. The bishop walked us almost back to our table on the beach. We shook hands. He promised to stay in touch via Elder Andersen because he wants to us come help with a welfare fair on October 23.
three empty chairs
Reid, Elder Cornish, and Sister Cornish
After getting back to the table, we sat around and just chatted for a while. It was way past lunch. Originally, we were going to leave at 9:00 a.m. and be home by 12:30 p.m. Well, with all of the twisting and turn and turning and twisting, we didn’t arrive until 11:00 a.m. Then, we were all around the table, some of the couples brought out a lunch. Before too long, we were all sharing the Cornish’s lunch. Sister Cornish had made several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which tasted really good. Plus, they bought some bananas along the way. They also had little bags of chips. After that was all gone, they brought out another bag of crackers and cookies. We were glad someone was prepared. Thanks to the Cornish family!
Soon, it was time to go. It didn’t take us as long to get home as it did to get there. They set their GPS’s on “Home,” and away we went. Along the way, though, we did stop at one part of the beach that was called Trujullo’s beach where the former president of the DR had a conclave of beach huts where he brought his family and friends. It was a pretty part of the beach. Then, we drove home.
Not going anywhere...
Lying at anchor
We had a great day at the Palenque Beach. It was a very nice day. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Getting to Know Our Neighborhood"

"Getting to Know Our Neighborhood"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

One of the fun things Joanne and I did on Saturday was become better acquainted with our neighborhood. We walked down to the hardware store called “la ferretería." I had earlier had a key made, and it didn’t work. I took it back. One of the men there took it and re-did it. He then handed it to me and said, “If this doesn’t work, bring back the door.” With that we said good bye and headed across the street where we took a look at some artwork.
Passage way
The art place is really an abandoned corner where people show a variety of Dominican and Haitian art. It was located on the corner of Pasteur and Independencia, one of the busiest streets in Santo Domingo. The front of the lot has the art hanging from clothes lines or just sitting on the ground. In the back of the lot sits an old estate. While Joanne was looking at the art, I walked to the back of the lot to the estate. Before I did, though, I did ask permission from the gentleman showing Joanne the art. He didn’t seem to think there was a problem.
Here you see some windows from the estate. I suspect it was quite an estate back in its heyday. As I was taking pictures on the front, a gentleman comes running across the lot and says that he is “attending” the house but indicated I could go ahead and take pictures. It startled me just a bit because I had already asked permission of the gentleman in the front of the lot. He introduced himself as “Samuel,” the attendant of the property.

Of course, I had to take picture of “Samuel,” the supposed attendant. While I talking to him and his companion, here came Joanne with the art guy around the corner of the old house. They were on their way to another art place just down the road. Come to find out, they are all connected. As we began walking, Samuel stopped me and told me he was hungry. I had him repeat what he said because I wanted to make sure what was happening here. He again told him he was hungry, which meant he wanted some money. So, I snagged two, ten peso coins (about 50 cents) from my pocket, gave them to him, and thanked him for allowing me to take pictures of the house. As we walked across the empty lot, I asked the art guy about “Samuel.” He said that he was really a pretender. So, I had just been had. But one never knows, and I surely didn’t want to encounter any problems.
Mom in front of hotel with the Fritznel painting
On the way back from the art place, we found a hotel that had the type of painting Joanne was looking for painted on his wall. We chatted with “Raul” the guard about the painting. It is by a gentleman by the name of Fritznel; so, now we know the name of the artist. So, Joanne wanted her picture taken in front of it. I wanted to take a picture of Raul, but he said he couldn’t because he was dressed in his security uniform. Then, Raul took us into the hotel and introduced us to the gentleman who managed the restaurant. Actually, it was a bar-restaurant. The menu looked good. We thank Raul and continued our walk.
We stopped at a Villar Hermanos, restaurant/sandwich shop on the corner of Independencia. We walked in, and the young woman at the front greeted us. We asked to look at a menu. She was very obliging and gave us a couple to review. She even asked us to take a seat while we looked at a menu to see what they served. Joanne and I sat down and reviewed the menu.
Richard at his "Colmado"
Villar Hermanos is like a Subway shop. The menu had some delicious-looking items on it. This is probably a place we will come back to eat. We thanked the young woman and continued our walk. We stopped at a little store called a Colmado. Richard greeted us and told us a little about his Colmado . We bought a papaya from him after he told us about the fruit he had in his store. Richard explained to us about the seasons and when papayas were in season and what they looked like when they were ripe. He was gracious enough to have his picture taken.
Villar Hermanos and the water store
We walked home and then we drove back with our two water bottles to Villar Hermanos. This place also has a hotel and a water purifying plant along side. Joanne and I drove up and paid the cashier 40 pesos (a little over a dollar) to fill two, five-gallon bottles. We placed our number “99” on the bottle, handed it to the attendant who put it on the conveyor belt. We then watched it go the cycle of cleansing, filling, and capping. Within a couple of minutes, our two bottles had been capped. We took them off the conveyer belt and loaded them into the car. Then, we drove home.
We had a great day today. Our neighborhood seems friendly enough. People love to talk to us. We hope to take more walks during the day to introduce ourselves to our neighbors.