Beach Volleyball in Luperon (BG) - September 3

Yesterday, took the volleyball over to nearby beach.  Keith is a truly competitive player and has inspired me to become the same.  It seems like the least I can do since after all, by the time we left Massachusetts his tennis game had improved to the point where he could beat me soundly (on the tennis court).  But apparently real volleyball players don't play in the wind -- he's horrified at the idea of hitting in the afternoon breeze.  Admittedly it averages 20-30 knots.

Anyway, stumble into a group of local people on the beach, all of whom decide to play.  Everyone except the old men stretched out in hammocks under the trees gets into the action, and we bounce (technical term=  bump) the ball around for about an hour and a half, much to the amusement of said old men.  Many of us (myself included) improve noticeably -- me mainly because the boys aren't hitting to the girls and I'm determined that someone will hit the ball to them so it has to be me.  So nice when you do something unselfish and it turns out to be in your own interest too.

While we're resting afterward, mention that my "novio" (boyfriend) and I like to ride horses, and one of the teenagers, Jose, asks if we'd like to go with him.  "Oh, do you rent horses?" I ask, and he responds, "No, not to rent, just to ride."  Now, last time I rode, it cost a small fortune even after bargaining.  Cannot believe this invitation.  Immediately accept for Keith and myself and set a time.  

Horseback with Jose (BG) - September 4

When we meet up with Jose at the local marina he greets Keith with absolutely no expression on his face.  Keith asks in English, "Are you sure he knew your boyfriend was coming?"  Gather that in the rush to overcome Keith's understandable reluctance to spend a day with a man he has never met, I have forgotten to warn him that 1) Jose is not a happy-go-lucky all-smiles type and  2) he understands a fair bit of English.   Out of politeness Jose pretends to be stone deaf (or maybe didn't understand the question) and ferries us out, one at a time on the back of his motorscooter, to the house of his friends with the horses.  Turns out this is about eight miles away, meaning that before we get on the horses, Jose has already ridden about 32 miles on his scooter.  

The family -- Maria, Nicolas and Sinfredo -- give us a tour.  They have an incredible view for which youd pay a fortune in Massachusetts or probably anywhere in the US.  On one side are rolling hills and startlingly blue ocean; on the other palm-covered mountains and startlingly blue sky.  The house is different.  There are chickens stalking irritably along the cement porch, baby pigs racing around around and around the house like small children playing tag, giant -- and unbelievably ugly -- turkeys gobbling, and cows wandering in and out for a drink in the thatched barn.  The mother pig is especially fascinating (to me).  They have her tied by the leg because otherwise when the babies feed, she tries to roll over and squish them.  Always knew breast feeding wasn't the mystical bonding experience mothers claim and now am sure of it.  Don't be fooled by breast-feeder PR; for this poor pig to want to kill her babies for doing it the experience must really suck (pun intended).

After the tour, we ride down a dry creekbed to a nearby beach and watch the spray spume up from holes in the cliffs.  Jose shows us how to put our hands to the cracks up to 100 yards away from the cliffs to feel what he calls "la respiracion del mar"-- the breath of the ocean.  It feels more like a hairdryer.  But still very cool.  Back on the horses, we wander aimlessly through grassy fields.  I keep taking off and circling back just to feel the smoothness of the mare's canter.  Keith and I are riding Nicolas's horses, wonderfully trained to respond to the slightest gesture, but Jose rides his own transport -- a mule.  I ask him the mule's name and he looks blank.  "She doesn't have a name?" I say.  He furrows his brow for a moment, then almost smiles.  "Mule," he says.  It was much funnier in Spanish.  Keith misses this conversation, and when I report it as an oddity he smiles.  "You think of animals as your friends," he says.  "Have you ever named your car?"

We ride to Jose's house, where we meet his mother, sisters Joanna and Isabel, niece Emily and assorted mostly unidentified small children.  We're not sure whether the house is always chock full of kids or Keith and I are the talk of the neighborhood and they couldn't wait to see us.  Or all their mothers sent them over to find out who the gringos were.  They feed us on a freshly cooked, still-warm concoction they call cornbread, but it is a sweet delicacy  much more like a sort of hearty creme brulee, complete with carmelized top.  Jose's mother has cooked it in a giant iron pot over a fire behind her house.  To melt the sugar on top she has piled coals from the fire on top of the pot.  Amazing.  

Next we ride off across a grassy plain that looks exactly like pictures of the African veldt...except for the incredibly blue ocean waves crashing alongside.  There are those spreading trees (plane trees spring to mind though I wouldn't swear to it) scattered all over.  Not a house in sight...or any other sign of mankind.  We canter along these tiny paths made by goats with the salt breeze from the ocean blowing through our hair.  Sometimes you forget to count your blessings...then all of a sudden it hits you.  At this moment, I literally cannot believe that this is my life.  I find myself think strange things like, "I feel like I'm on a safari, in some remote continent," and then realize that...I am.  (Of course, everyone reading this is actually making money, what a concept.)  Jose shows us several local caves, which Keith and I (of course) have to explore, although we have no flashlights.  Keith climbs down a hole in the ground with no visible means of return and we spend ten minutes waiting for him to escape, which he finally does, after breaking off large chunks of rock on his first three tries.  Jose also points out the spots where daring (read crazy) local boys free-climb the cliffs to gather honeycombs from giant beehives stuck to the rocks about 30 feet above the ground. 

We gallop back to Maria and Nicolas's house and they feed us the national dish of fried chicken with rice and hot bean sauce, as well as a giant salad and some other stuff we can't identify.  Before we leave, Maria gives me a bouquet from her garden.  She's put it in a vase she's made from a jelly jar.  When I say I'll bring it back when I come again, she emphatically tells me no, insisting it's for me to keep.  After hearing the sailing men in Luperon talk about the locals trying to make money off the tourists (and why shouldn't they? We did on Cape Cod!), Maria's giving me the flowers absolutely undoes me and I am about to disgrace myself.  "Crazy gringos," they'll think.  I picture them nodding sagely and saying to one another, "These people from non-Latin countries are so emotional."  I jump back on Jose's scooter before I do anything foolish like cry.  He's roped in another friend to take Keith on a second scooter, and they race each other back to the marina.  We have trouble convincing Jose to accept 100 pesos (roughly three dollars) toward his gas money.

A really magical day.