13 hours in the city that never sleeps
21.06.2016 - 22.06.2016 20 °C
It was a strange feeling, leaving Billy and the Dominican Republic. I kissed Billy goodbye at the bus stop and traveled from Cabarete to Santo Domingo alone. I spent the afternoon with Billy's family, visiting his sister who was recovering from her terrible car accident that had happened while we were in Haiti. Billy's dad dropped me to the airport at around 10pm, and all of the cousins and nieces piled into the truck so see me off. It was a strange feeling leaving everyone I love behind, and not because they didn't want to come - especially in Billy's case. But because of the racist beaurocracy and false ideas of borders and frontiers that are put into place to segregate our 1 true race of humanity so that those with dark skin and no money are not granted the freedom to move around this one planet we all share. And yes, I say dark skin and no money without a comma. Because they are one thing, there were plenty of Dominicans on my flight to New York. And 98% of Dominicans have dark skin - but these ones had money and therefore a visa. It broke my heart.
I was nervous to go back to 'the first world.' I hadn't been back since I left Montana on my way to Mexico which is now over two years ago. My brief experience of a semi-first world country in Costa Rica had been shocking enough, and I knew of any where in the world - the USA really does do first world well and truly the best. They outshine it, if there was a number that came before 1, they would be that.
My mind began to pace, would I be ok? Would I start arguing in Spanish when the fruit vendor wouldn't sell me 5 mangos for $2. Would I remember how to wear proper shoes, and would I be able to afford to buy a pair when I landed? I couldn't remember what water I was able to drink from the tap - all of it or just some? Did I have enough money to last me a month, I mean the prices of things are always going up up up and I had been long gone for over 2 years.Most importantly what worried me (and I know my parents and Billy too) was how on earth was I going to remember to keep my head down in public and not get into political and revolutionary conversations with strangers in the street. It is certainly no secret that one of my most favourite things about living in Latin America is the taste of revolution in the air.
I took a deep breath and flew away in the night, grateful that I couldn't see down over my beloved island or out over the forever soul-calling Caribbean sea. I was fortunate to have a row of seats all to myself and as I knew I had a huge layover at JFK before arriving in Las Vegas, I decided to down and do what I usually do in difficult and unavoidable situations; I lay down and slept... the whole way to the first world.
As we began our descent, I woke up and opened my window shade to see a gorgeous sunrise. The silhouette of NYC lay ahead surrounded by the lights and colour reflecting off the water. I relaxed and saw it as a sign from the Universe that everything may be a little hectic for a while, but it would be ok. After all, trees stand patiently and tall and the sun continues to shine no matter where on earth we are. It's only the man things that change so drastically between countries. What really matters most of all and the things I carry with me - unconditional love, kindness, adventure, empathy, our damaged but oh-so-beautiful environment - exist everywhere.
With only a slight (expected) kerfuffle at immigration - my beating heart and I were efficiently stamped back to the first world.
The first difference hit me as soon as I got away from baggage claim - English. Everyone was speaking my native language! The signs were in English first and it was Spanish that was written underneath in smaller letters. Everyone greeted with a hello or a good morning instead of hola or buenos dias. Everytime I tried to squeeze past someone I would automatically say permiso instead of excuse me. Salud instead of bless you to strangers. Gracias instead of thank you. I recognised immediately that over my years in Latin America I had subconsciously adapted my "public language" to be understood by strangers.
I checked my bag into a locker as it was too early to check in to my next flight - and there is no longer straight through checked luggage when traveling through the USA - another change! I was super tired but I decided to make the most of my long stop over - and I hopped aboard the subway and made my way to Manhattan island.
I met a guy on the Subway who grew up in the Caribbean island of Antigua. We chatted the entire bumpy ride to the city, and we didn't wave goodbye until I found myself a cafe near times square and Broadway. The first things I noticed in the city were:
- Very little trash and very clean streets
- It was COLD without the sun shining down as it was still too early for it to have rise about the skyscrapers (6am)
- There were very few people out and about, which is not how I had remembered NYC. I remembered being overwhelmed when I was 17 and had visited with my parents. Maybe I have become too accustomed to crazy busy Latin American cities?
- So many coffee shops. How I had missed a nice cosy coffee shop!
- Even without opening my mouth, people spoke spanish to me on the streets. Perhaps because of my Caribbean tan? Either way, it was odd.
I wandered my way slowly up past street markets who were setting up for their day, past coffee and sandwich carts, and enjoyed peering into the different windows of stores selling completely unnecessary items for ridiculous prices. I met a Dominican girl from the plane and we wandered around together for a while too.
I decided the best place for me to go until the city opened it's doors would be central park. Immediately the sun shone down as I crossed the street away from the high rises. The beautiful park sprawled out in front of me and I wandered amongst the runners and the cyclists, the dogs and the yoga lovers, enjoying the prospects of beautiful day ahead of all of us.
I found myself wandering back slowly as well, enjoying the newly opened market and some of my old favourite stores selling my new favourite things. I ate delicious food that wasn't beans rice and salad, but it was super expensive! I couldn't believe I parted with $20USD for a simple wrap, a yoghurt, and a fresh juice! That should have been no more than $4USD back in the DR - where the juice would have tasted freshier and tangier too!
I wandered until my feet ached, my travelers heart constantly desiring to see around the next corner. Until I realised that I would be stuck in the city of overpriced handbags and food if I didn't make my way to the subway stat! Thankfully I had nabbed a little airport info brochure which said the subway stations on them. I knew where I needed to go - I just didn't know how to get there. I asked a local cop, who pointed me in the right direction but told me it would be 6 avenues. And that the station I thought it was, wasn't actually it. I knew I needed to run. So run I did, despite the weird looks from everyone on the street. People all seemed to walk briskly or slowly. No one but me dared to run. I made it to the station (that was only 2 avenues and WAS the one I had thought it was) but I had just missed the quick train (Long Island Railroad)- and the next one wasn't for another 40 minutes. So I attempted the metro again - but I couldn't work out which direction I needed to go and it seems that no one really wanted to help me too much... Or that they didn't know either! And I couldn't find anyone official. I started to panic, even though I was trying to breathe calmly and not let that happen - when I saw the international symbol for travel; the airplane silhouette and an arrow beside a platform with a boarding carriage that also sported the same insignia. I clambered on, and crossed all fingers and toes as we bumped and stalled a million times towards JFK once more.
I made it to the airport, grabbed my bag, checked in, waited for an hour in security, to make it to my plane and be one of the last people on the flight. What luck !