The International Writers
Magazine: Going South American Way
A crowd of otherwise
unoccupied Dominicans had gathered around to watch the diversion as the
cop held the kid with a firm grip and spoke nervously into his cell phone.
The little boy was letting out mournful wails of the type I never heard
come out of a kids mouth before. They were the moans of an apprehended
crook who knew where he was going and what trials awaited him there.
Green Dog of Sosua by Dean Borok
a world of big putas its impossible for a guy to have
a little fun.
Thats what the little kid discovered, hands cuffed behind
his back, as the cop called for a car to pick him up and take
him to the cárcel.
Magpie and I speedily walked past. If the crowd of men milling around
decided that the kid was being treated with unnecessary roughness, all
hell might break loose. Even in the best of times the Dominican Republic
is a boiling cauldron of heat, poverty and the explosive nature of the
population, of which the lid, the ever-present and massive presence of
the various forces of order, was liable to blow off at any minute.
In addition to the
indigenous descendants of Spanish, Taino Indian and African slaves, there
is a sizable and wealthy population of Germans. There is a Goethe Institute
and a Jewish museum and synagogue for a community of Jews who were welcomed
here in 1940 and stayed to make a sizable contribution to the country.
Election posters solicit votes for one of them, the All-Dominican Benny
Katz, in the upcoming national elections.
in Sosúa, about twenty-five kilometers east of Puerto Plata
on the north coast, the outward appearances of life are those of
an exotic tropical paradise. Brightly colored blossoms explode in
the trees. Ocean breakers wash against the volcanic cliffs with
picturesque drama. German and British tourists bask topless in hot
tubs and on immaculate beaches sipping sweet rum cocktails.
As Magpie and I continued our stroll down to the Sosúa municipal
beachfront, we made way for a battered, antiquated police cruiser crammed
with no less than eight cops, rushing to the crime scene. The Keystone
Kops aspect of this heap loaded with cops sitting on each others
laps dissolved when we got a look at their faces, which were tired, stressed,
overheated and indifferent.
The Sosúa beachfront is one kilometer of palm-fringed white sand
facing an emerald bay lined with condos and hotels perched on the edges
of high volcanic lava cliffs. The day before, Magpie and I had scoured
the whole bay in our snorkeling gear and found some very beautiful coral
formations teeming with many varieties of fantastic marine life. The main
coral, about 500 meters from shore, swung around in an arc, dotted with
small islands of rock on either side. Schools of yellowjacks darted in
and out between fan corals and large, orange flower-shaped corals. Fresh,
new corals grafted themselves onto mature or moribund formations. Unusual
blue-colored brain corals sat beside the normal white brain corals. White,
doughy-looking formations formed underwater lagoons with schools of yellow
fish swaying to and fro with the current while gaily colored parrot fish
chewed on the edge of rocks. Long, stringy trumpet fish glided head-down,
perpendicular to the bottom in their strategy to appear like strands of
sea grass. Large, menacing sea urchins, some colored a lethal red, were
displayed on ledges like spiked figurines in a boutique. Little purple
fish with shiny blue dots and feathery little tails darted in and out
between schools of giant violet fish as yellow-and-black striped sergeant-major
fish approached us, seeking a handout. We observed large fish with red
and green checkerboard patterns, odd-shaped black and white speckled solitary
cowfish and flat flounders with intricate snake-like designs creeping
carefully across the ocean floor. Large grey fish with serious expressions
sized us up as potential meals. Schools of needlefish swimming directly
beneath the surface brushed by our heads.
The joke of this is that these reefs, an easy swim from the beach, are
a closely guarded secret of the snorkeling and diving operators who are
in the business of trying to induce tourists to drop large sums of money
to be transported to inferior sites farther away. The logic of this is:
how can you get a guy to pay fifty dollars and then drive him out in the
boat for one minute? So the tour operators pretend the reefs in the bay
dont exist and take the tourists the long way around to a minuscule
patch of coral far away, like the New York taxi driver taking somebody
to Manhattan by way of New Jersey and then charging $300.
On this day, however, snorkeling was not an option. The Sea God Poseidon
was expressing his wrath and smashing breakers against the rocks and cliffs
with dramatic fury. Magpie and I tried to swim, but the ferocious undertow
swept our feet from under us and the waves knocked us over in a one-two
combination that left us sprawled and winded in the sand, feeling lucky
to still be alive. As we lay there, we were astonished to see a school
of scuba divers appear on the surface of the water, obviously concerned
about making it through the surf, weighted down by the heavy oxygen tanks
strapped to their backs. One was knocked over by the breakers and dragged
back into the surf. She couldnt get up and needed quick help from
her fellow divers. We determined to stay on dry land and go in search
of a different class of wildlife, the two-legged variety.
This led us to the shanty town of shacks that line the beach road behind
Sosúa beach, a phantasmagoria of open-air boutiques hawking cheap
handicrafts and improvised beach bars where any drink might be your last.
As stray dogs, which are a far cry from the cute little critters that
populated Jacques Tatis film Trafic, rooted through
garbage and defecated freely on the otherwise immaculate sand beach, merengue
and bachata music blared from boom boxes in the boutiques. Every step
or two we were accosted by guys aggressively trying to lure us into the
store using English, French or German.
Come into my place. I want to show you something.
My friend, dont you have one minute to look in my store?
And the old favorite: Do you remember me? We spoke yesterday.
Blah blah blah. After a while you get the feeling of swatting away black
flies in the African veldt, so numerous and pestilential do the hawkers
come to seem.
This routine of seedy
of seedy rum bars and painted whores follows a tradition as old as Hispañola
itself, going back to the days when it was a French colony under Louis
XIV. In 1680, René-Robert Chevlier de la Salle, who had for the
previous fifteen years explored and mapped the interior of North America
from Montreal to Louisiana, received a commission from the Sun King to
establish a fort at the mouth of the Mississippi and secure French possession
of the whole continent except for the narrow band controlled by England
along the Atlantic coast and the Spanish west. To ensure the success of
the enterprise, the king had granted de la Salle three ships stocked with
the provisions needed to establish and arm a fort, as well as sailors,
soldiers and even marriageable women.
ply their wares there, too, attractive young women in tight white
jeans and pink tee-shirts with glittery slogans emblazoned across
the front. Baby Girl they proclaim, and Hôtesse
de lAir. The girls navigate through the rutted path
in high heels and gird their waists with cheap studded belts from
Sosua Cops in the Beetles
During the voyage across the Atlantic, one of the ships fell behind and
when the two lead ships reached Saint Domingue, which was at that time
a French colony, de la Salle moored them near Port au Prince to wait for
the third to catch up.
As soon as the soldiers and sailors saw all the fun going on, with rum,
whores, thievery, murder, voodoo and African marimba bands playing night
and day, there was no getting them back on the program. A large number
deserted and the rest came down with insidious strains of venereal disease
that, along with various miscalculations (like the precise location of
the mouth of the Mississippi, for example) and poor management skills
on the part of de la Salle, caused him to be assassinated by one of his
own investors and the rest of the colony to perish of cholera on the plains
of Texas in a scenario reminiscent of the final act of Puccinis
opera Manon Lescaut.
Unfortunately, these lessons of history, of going crippled and blind,
of penises dripping foul-smelling mofongo and falling off like leprosy,
are lost on the latest generation of sexual adventurers, mild-mannered
older European men for whom sexual stardom is just an economy-class ticket
away. Back in their home countries of Norway or Germany, these guys couldnt
even get arrested for opening their greasy raincoats and exposing themselves
on the subway, the cops probably just giving them a whack on the pee pee
and sending them home. But here in the tropics, where twenty bucks will
buy you a threesome, they sat together around outdoor café tables,
shirtless with little wisps of hair lying limply on their sunken chests
like some Cracked Magazine parody of Broadway Joe and the Rat Pack, surrounded
by their cheap little coterie of teenage hookers. This is the globalization
of sex, with the D.R. one of the main purveyors of cheap pussy to the
The barkeeper, a lovely Norwegian fellow named Tom, filled me in on the
background: Some of these men live here year round. Others
are here on vacation. They are not doing anything wrong, because the girls
are all above the age of consent. They have to be the police watch
them very closely. If the police catch a man with an underage girl, its
very bad. The cops are very greedy. Theyll lock you up and take
everything you have and everything you can get your hands on before theyll
let you out.
There are many police. The worst are the National Police. They shake
down the girls as well as the tourists. Then there are the local police.
Then there is the Politur, which is short for Policía Turistica.
Those are the good police who protect tourists, though they dont
speak English. Then there is the Secret Police.
The girls here have a very short window of opportunity to make money from
the tourists. Its not like Europe, where a woman can age and still
be attractive. Here they start to decline when they get to age twenty.
Ive been here five years and sometimes I come across a girl I knew
when I first arrived, and let me tell you, its shocking how they
Most people here dont live past fifty because of the heat
and the hard life.
At that moment, as if to illustrate his point, a crippled stroke victim
hobbled by, supporting himself on an improvised cane, the whole left side
of his body useless and twisted out of shape. He looked to be about thirty-five.
There are many cripples and amputees stalking the streets of Sosúa.
Its not possible for me to draw a comparison to Cuba because Im
not permitted to travel there, but knowing what I have read about that
country, that it has an extensive program of medical facilities, its
unlikely that the Castro regime would permit such people to be left to
rot on the street like garbage, to beg scraps from tourists until their
accumulated maladies cause them to just die in filthy huts and gutters.
And the dogs! Its a shock for a resident of the Upper East Side,
where people dress their dogs in coats and hats, arrange play dates for
them, where the dogs have their own reserved areas in parks and expensive
day care centers to keep them entertained, where people shell out thousands
of dollars for heart transplants for their animals, to see a world where
nobody takes responsibility for homeless dogs. They are left to fend for
themselves until they expire from misery and deprivation without even
the most rudimentary animal welfare program! On one occasion, Magpie and
I took a stroll to the outskirts of Sosúa. We had a wonderful time
taking pictures of the cows and bulls that wandered freely out of their
pastures and onto the road, as well as the free-ranging roosters and chickens,
turkeys and pheasants. All of a sudden, Magpie brought me up short with
a horrified gasp. Oh my God! she exclaimed.
Across our path hobbled a three-legged grey dog, one paw withered to a
grotesque appendage. Covering the dogs shoulders and extending back
down the side of its grey body was a green, iridescent fungus reminiscent,
Magpie said, of that which covers the fur of Sumatran rain forest sloths.
The seasonal rains and pervasive humidity that dripped from every leaf
caused this green fungus to slowly grow on the dogs fur while it
rested under its favorite bush. It could not reach to lick the fungus
off. The dog loped with purpose, making its way toward an open air Methodist
church where congregants were breaking for lunch.The dog was hoping for
As much as I love the D.R., its beautiful coral and its beaches, the foothills
and mountains bursting with lush tropical foliation of every description,
its breathtaking scenery that reveals an explosion of greens, browns,
yellows and reds that are revealed with every turn in the road, the shades
of lighting and perspective that would tax even the interpretive talents
of a Gaugin or a Matisse to honorably depict it on canvas, that much do
I detest the place for the curse that history has inflected upon it, the
needless burden of exploitation, cruelty and suffering that has been allowed
to eat away at its human and animal population like the wretched fungus
eating away at the flesh of this pathetic, misbegotten dog!
© Dean Borok May 2007
travel stories in Hacktreks
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