Feb 12, 2015
Hey there! If you are ready for another round of “Travels with Biondi”, here goes.
This winter has brought me to Dominican Republic, the island that shares the same landmass as Haiti, in case you were wondering. I knew I wanted to go somewhere warm this winter and luckily I got out, (almost in the nick of time), enduring only one snow storm on Cape Cod before I left, on February 1st.
I had searched the website www.HelpX.net in order to find a place here where I could do a work exchange with horses in the tropics. I settled on Dominican Republic, I suppose because the native tongue is Spanish and after spending time in the Galapagos last year, I realized that I was actually learning a bit and wanted to continue. There are many opportunities here to practice my Spanish, as not many Dominicans speak English. Luckily most of the Haitians who live here do, albeit with their Creole accent, so it is still a challenge to communicate…but that’s part of the fun, or so I figure!
I found a ranch to work on called “Wise Mountain Ranch”….kind of a misnomer, as there is not much “wisdom” at this place 😦
The herd of 18 horses is in rough shape, scrawny, skin and bones versions of horses. Granted, the local Dominican mixed breed is small to begin with, but the owner of the ranch, a Canadian midwife, (who ought to know better about nutrition), has neglected to care for the animals since she bought the place three yrs ago. She relies on her Dominican help to care for them and do what needs to be done and then acted shocked when she saw what poor shape they were in this weekend. Huh? She sees the daily on the ranch. She has not maintained a regular food supplementation program and I have heard the grass here is inadequate in nutritional values to keep a horse in good shape. No wonder they are in such poor health. Not only are they skinny but they are tick infested because they are weak and now anemic as a result! I have never seen such a sad case of parasite-infested horses. If I were in the USA and saw the shape these animals are in I would be reporting the owner to the SPCA. Unfortunately, there is not much happening here in the animal-neglect/prevention department. The owner claims to “rescue” horses but they need to be rescued from HER, in my opinion! She only has them as money making objects, offering trail rides. I rode the first day but have not since, as I felt sorry for the horse. I have been vocal in getting the owner to get them fed and medicated and looks like she is stepping up to the financial decision to put the money where the mouths are….18 hungry horse mouths. You should see the kicking and fighting that goes on at the feeding trough! We keep a healthy distance!
I came here to train some of the ranch horses, including a 10 month old foal, pictured here below. His name is Aladar and he is obviously not weaned yet!
I had trained my own foal years ago using Natural Horsemanship techniques so I bought the basic equipment and headed down here to see what I could do. I was shocked and felt pretty depressed about the situation for my first week, last week. Now I have somehow adjusted to the scene and decided that I am here to help these poor creatures while I am here for two months. Mostly I just groom them and do tick control and do basic ground work training with them. There is a horse hobbling around with a dislocated hip who looks like he is in pain every time he steps. I’m not sure why she has decided to keep him alive. He wandered onto her property in that condition 9 months ago and “rescued” him. Hmmm…no food or regular water supply. Not sure how that is called “rescuing”. Putting him down would be the humane thing to do.
My day consists of sleeping until 7, as best I can, working my required 4 hours in exchange for a room and all meals…and then I head off to the town of Cabarete, 25 minutes west of here, on the north shore, where I enjoy the ocean, beach and endure the chaos of a gazillion “motoconchos” (motorbikes that serve as taxis), ‘guaguas” (vans that serve as people herding devices….a 15 seater I rode in once had 27 of us crammed in!!…reminded me of the old “how many people can you squish into a VW” trick?)
I normally take the guagua into town and hire the motoconcho for the short trip to the ranch off the main road. The entire one hour round trip costs about $2.80 USD. I am always the only Gringa on board, but that’s kind of fun. I like to be the minority, surrounded by local color. The Dominicans are happy, outgoing people, usually laughing a lot amongst themselves, nearly sitting on each other. They are friendly enough to me, but reserved. Since I don’t speak much Spanish and not many of them speak English…it’s a quiet ride to town and back for me. I communicate simple things, “beautiful baby, beautiful day, thank you”, etc.
Till next time….
Feb 21, 2015
I will try to keep these updates short and readable.
So, my time here at (Un)-Wise Mountain Ranch is winding down. I have decided to move on, after one month of volunteer work instead of two, as it is difficult to be party to the animal neglect and abuse that I witness on a daily basis. Aside from the neglect, each time a trail ride goes out, the horses come back with open sores on their backs due to improperly fitted saddles.
I have secured another exchange experience which will begin March 1st at an upscale equestrian center. The new place will be a welcomed change of pace from this scene. I can only hope that I have helped make some beneficial changes here, having been a partial influence in getting the owner to start feeding her horses and give them proper medical attention, as well as doing some training with the foal and other horses. I have merely scraped the surface of a job that would take too many hours for one person to accomplish.
I met a German woman here who is married to an American architect from Nantucket Island. They own 8 gorgeous horses and live with their small family (8 yr old boy and 19 yr old girl, 5 dogs) in a gated community called Sea Horse Ranch. They built a 6 bedroom, multimillion dollar home here to showcase his architectural talents and I was invited to live in their house in exchange for doing some training with their 3 yr old horse, and to do blog posting for her real estate website. I will be living there with the family for two weeks until they go on vacation. Then I’ve been asked to house/dog sit for two more weeks until my time here in DR runs out. My future bedroom is over-the-top elegant!!! Something out of Sunset Magazine, with a huge swimming pool right outside the door and the beach a short walk away. Quite the opposite of this rustic ranch.
I went riding with the German woman the other day and then got the house tour and met her husband. I noticed he was wearing a belt with the logo of “North Sails” on it, the largest sail making company in the world, and I mentioned that an old friend of mine (my first high school boyfriend) is the VP of that company. “Oh, I know Dan! In fact he was just here a month ago!” he said!
Small world! When things like this happen, it tells me I am on track. 🙂 Crazy how things happen!
Here are some shots from my current life. Will send pics of my “new life” in a week.
Feb 25, 2015
I have been getting more comfortable here in DR now that I am starting to meet more people, am practicing more Spanish with the locals and now am doing my ART (bodywork modality) on competitive sailors and windsurfers. My goal is to pay for all my extra expenses while here. So far so good.
I met the owner of a sailing/windsurfing company on the beach and he was interested in a treatment. Turns out he knows Dan, my high school sweetheart, as well….just coached him in racing 2 weeks ago in Florida. He liked my work and set me up working in a spa next door, where I pay rent on a per treatment basis. He had me give a presentation to his sail racing clinic and I worked on my first client today. I’m starting to think this place is not so bad after all! Finding my niche.
March 9, 2015
I am now settled into my new luxurious home here in Dominican Republic. It is quite a change from the old ranch, as you will see from the photos. There is a maid who comes everyday to clean and cook and she even makes my bed! I feel like I’m living at a fancy resort!
The house is in a gated community called Sea Horse Ranch and the homes here are over-the-top HUGE. Of course all owned by foreigners. This is a 6 bedroom light and airy place designed by the American owner who is an architect. Living with the family has been interesting. The 8 year old boy and 19 year old daughter constantly challenge the German mom who is most often at her wits end and constantly complaining about her “difficult” busy life. Hmmm…money DOES NOT buy happiness…so true! I spend every afternoon in town with friends in order to give and get space.
My work here consists of training their three year old horse named Spirit, each weekday morning at the beautiful equestrian center. The horses here are well fed, groomed daily, pastured or kept in stalls and loved by the owners.
There is a lovely pool at the house where I do my morning swim and I help out with preparing dinners for us all in the evening. I’m considered more of a guest of the family, not “help”. They invited me to attend a potluck dinner at a friend’s house last night where I met many people who have moved here or are visiting from other parts of the world, Serbia, Canada, St. Croix, US. One was a young man from Gaspe Penninsula, Canada who is studying circus arts instruction! An interesting crowd, two older women from NYC who are pediatricians, the guy from Serbia has a master’s degree in agriculture whose tomatoes we have been enjoying daily!
Last week I had a personal tour with a young Dominican friend, Carlos, who teaches windsurfing at the beach and who has been helping me with my Spanish. He brought me to the “National park” area to see the water filled caves. Crystal clear turquoise water! Next he brought me to his house for dinner which was an interesting experience. I got to see the typical poor neighborhood scene here, houses packed in tight, tin roofs, kids playing in the streets, chickens and dogs, no running water, just a pee bucket for a toilet.
The house was decorated with paintings and fake flowers and glass fruit in a bowl on the table, rooms separated by curtains. We ate by candle light, out of necessity, as the electricity is only on at certain times of the day, like at the other ranch. I offered the father, who cooked our meal, a mini flashlight as a gift, since it seemed it could be a useful thing to have around the house.
I had a simple conversation in Spanish with the 10 year old sister and encouraged her to speak to me with what English she knew. She was shy but proud that she could show me what she had learned in school! I love the exchange that happens when trying to communicate in their language and they in mine. Lots of smiles, laughter and blushing. It’s fun and amusing! It’s what “makes” it for me when traveling. The give and take of it all, the sharing of culture and knowledge, seeing how they live, so different from our US existence.
I shared pictures with them on my computer, pictures of my daughter and family, images from back home, our beaches, frozen Cape Cod Bay, me as a young girl and teenager. They were intrigued by it all.
I got home that night to find out I had been accidentally locked out of the house. Funny! I had to curl up on one of the outdoor couches under the palm frond hut and fell asleep to the sound of waves and chirping insects, (and buzzing mosquitos!) Covered only by a thin sheet I borrowed from another couch, it was a long night! But at least I was warm and dry. My luxurious bedroom….so close yet inaccessible. I cracked up at the juxtaposition and thought of my Dominican friends in their simple home and felt lucky to have shared time in their simple home and to have shared a meal with them. Such generous, inviting and humble people.
Till next time….
Hasta luego mi amigos!
March 17, 2015
I realize that mostly what I do here in DR, besides train this wonderful young horse, write blogs and beach it, is people watch. DR a great place for this pastime, as there’s such an amazing and colorful mix of people. The array consists of local vendors, foreign visitors from all corners of the world and local families with kids. Dominicans, Haitians, mixed race families, mixed-aged couples (anything goes here!), people of all shapes and colors, stroll up and down the beach.
Cabarete beach is an athletic person’s dream vacation spot with windsurfing, sailing and kite surfing. Even though I consider myself athletic, I don’t feel drawn to getting out there and participating for some reason. I’m typically an “ocean person” but maybe because I am in “horse mode”, I’m not feeling the draw here. As I observe I see lots of room for accidents and injuries so I’m fine staying on the beach and relaxing! A friend who I met here went home in an induced coma from a horrible sailing accident. He’s lucky to be alive. I’ll spare you the details. This could have something to do with my uninterested attitude!
Restaurants and bars line the beach and after doing a little research for a blog post for the woman I work for, I noticed that Happy Hour can be found at the beach at nearly any hour, daily, between noon and midnight, with half priced drinks and pizza or other meals. Today, being St Patty’s day, the beach was alive with Irish music entertainment from the States, with bagpipes included, and Irish step dancers….and of course lots of beer and green! I had a beer and stood by to watch and took pictures. It seems this tradition has been going on for decades here in Cabarete, hosted by the one and only Irish bar, Jose O’Shay’s!
My time here is winding down, at week 7 out of 8, and I’m starting to feel how much I’ve blended with this place, compared to my first two weeks when I was feeling overwhelmed and in culture shock with the amount of noise and chaos on the street. Somehow the constant barrage of vendors looking to make a few pesos, or “motoconcho” drivers constantly asking for my business, riding the packed local transportation….squished like sardines, has become such a part of my day that I have somehow become desensitized to it. As annoying as it is, I notice that I can still say “no gracias” with a smile or indicate it with the slightest shake of my head or expression from across the street to inquiring vendors.
The men are still as persistent with their, “te quiero” (I love you) as I walk the street from one destination to the next. Harmless really, and sort of amusing because, do they really think a woman will want to ride on their motorcycle or come into their shop if she is being hounded in this way? It’s so much a part of their culture that you can’t get upset by it. They blow kisses and flirt and try to get you to check out their shop or restaurant or buy their goods. Seems sort of backwards really, but it’s the Dominican way.
Chao for now, enjoy the pics.