A Travellerspoint blog

Hide and Seek

in an abandoned resort

sunny 30 °C

Hide and Seek in the abandoned resort may or may not have been one of my ideas…

But when Mimi, a good friend of mine told me all about an abandoned resort that was her favourite place on earth – I simply had to go there. I asked Timpe and Hod (who had gone with Mimi) if they would like to go again, and if so could they lead the way for me. And soon enough, the idea turned into hide and seek with a great bunch of people from the castle. We had to postpone it once due to good wind (meaning every kite surfer dropped everything and ran to the water), and then when it was looking like postponing was going to happen again we had to make the final decision – wind or no wind, surf or no surf, hide and seek was happening.
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And I am so glad it did. The place itself was ginormous. Over 500 individual house style apartments – each that once had at least a bedroom, a desk, a bathroom, wardrobes, and some with kitchen facilities.
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There were houses that had multiple bedrooms and clearly once housed families on vacation.
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There were giant eating areas and restaurants, one that was out of bounds for hide and seek due to the large population of bees living within its walls - and having 2 severely allergic game players, both without their epi-pens (oops, sorry parents)…
Abandoned swimming pools…
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Abandoned mansions…
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An abandoned swim up bar and pool house that felt as if it once housed some amazing parties…
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Abandoned and ancient generators for power beside an unrestrained well in the ground…
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Even the pool equipment was abandoned and flooded in its underground bunker…
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And everywhere we went, the eeriest feeling filled the air. It was as if a million families and friends had partied. Had posed outside their cabana and peered into the cameras with beaming holiday faces and their arms wrapped tightly around each other’s shoulders. The couples who had shared their honeymoon, the sibling fights, the lovers tiffs, the nights of passion, the races to the swimming pool to do the biggest divebomb. The giant reception hall stood unroofed and desolate after being witness to thousands of people who had checked in and checked out probably to have no idea of the fate of their beloved 5 star holiday destination.
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The looters had come, and everything was gone – from the toilets to the light switches, and even to the tarnished bronze drawer handles now on their way to Holland to be a Christmas present for my friend’s mother.
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And a little piece of all of the energy the resort had ever seen, remained where it was ingrained into every single piece of flaking paint and broken roof tile. Where I looked around in dismay and could see what the not so far future inhabitants/ cultures of earth will see when our current society wipes itself out with its greed and over consumption.
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When the future generations will walk around in disgust as they observe how we could leave everything so broken and empty, how we can close the doors and walk away from something that once was our dream purely because it no longer served us. Because the price for selling it wasn’t enough so it was better off that no one had it, even in a country where there are hundreds and thousands of people living in mud huts surrounded by dust and debris. Somehow to someone, it seemed better to shut the doors and walk away forever rather than donate the structurally sound buildings to families in need around the country.
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However, the remnants of the rubble are now home to one beautiful, smiling, kind Haitian family of squatters who have rigged up the best property in the place with running water from a hose and electricity – luxury to many people in these parts of the world.
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And to us, it was a huge desolate playground for adults, where ever corner held danger and excitement. Where all we could do was explore and search and stare in amazement at something that was once so full of life.
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Posted by chasingsummer 09:57 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged buildings parties caribbean adventures Comments (0)

Los 27 charcos

The 27 waterfalls

sunny 30 °C

Los 27 charcos / The 27 waterfalls were possibly one of the most amazing natural occurrences I have ever been able to see and explore. I was so pleased I made it there as it was one of the huge draw cards for sending one of the emails to the Castle and my wanting to go up to Cabarete in the first place. Johanna, Sarah, Nicholas, and I packed our bags and headed off to Puerto Plata to stay with our friend Brandon – aka machine man. He was house/ cat sitting for a Korean lady who had left behind the strangest wide eyed cat in the entire world – great for staring competitions. We set up the living area as a giant slumber party due to a bed shortage and headed out for giant pizzas for dinner.
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On the way home, we found a group of guys doing some work on a building using a cherry picker. Now, most people who know me may not be aware that going in a cherry picker is a lifelong dream. Yes, I have trampled my way through ancient Mayan temples, eaten off the floor in a Cambodian orphanage, danced in the tropical rain on a tiny Carribean island… but what will soothe my soul – A CHERRY PICKER! And boy, was I excited when they boys loaded me up into this battered and tattered death contraption and flew me high up into the air with a million jolts and bumps.
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Even though it was night time, and the floor to the cherry picker was anything but stable, I was able to look out from the highest height as I clung to the flimsy metal structure and see the Caribbean Sea by night, the ships floating past and the city spread out before us. The others were amazed at how high we kept on going up, I was amazed that the angled cherry picker didn’t throw us out or collapse beneath us! But somehow it didn’t and it dropped us safely back to about 3 meters high where a ladder and a friendly giant helped me back down with the words largest grin on my face and a heart pumping with adrenalin.
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The adrenalin was soon followed by a whole lot more as we woke up early the following day to head off to one of the world’s only natural water parks. Of course, what adventure isn’t quite complete without hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up truck for the final kilometre?
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We had arrived early so to be able to do all 27 waterfalls. There were options available to do 1 – 7, 1-18, and then all 27 but you could only do them all if we arrived early enough. The other part of arriving early was to skip the crowds, which we managed to do. For most of our 4 hours of adventure, we were all alone with our guides. The tour guides we had were slightly crazy and super kind. I was wearing the worst shoes in human existence and slipped over in the mud multiple times as we hiked up the hill on the way to the top waterfall. The hike up took over an hour and that in itself was worth the measly 500 pesos ($15NZD) we had paid for the entire day’s adventure.
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We saw caves on the way, painted ourselves with mud, hid in the trees and scared each other, and jumped and splashed through mud puddles.
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And sure enough, it wasn’t long before we hit the top!
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And then we were throwing ourselves off waterfalls of all sizes
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Into pools of the clearest blue
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Sliding down natural rock slides like my favourite scene from one of my childhood movies, The Goonies.
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Some of the rockslides were short but had the best drops at the end of them.
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The canyons as we walked between each waterfall were amazing and we could see where the river once reached to hundreds of thousands of years ago.
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There were ladders to help you climb, and in other parts you had no other option but to scramble up or jump off.
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As we walked back at the end of the day to make the bus, we all felt as if we had achieved something amazing. It wasn’t hugely taxing physically but some of the jumps and slides did take a lot of mental preparation. Especially as I ended up hurting my elbows going down the first slide the wrong way meaning every slide after meant I was slightly apprehensive to go down! But there is nothing like scraping down a waterslide on the bones of your elbows to remind you to lean forward the next time you do it so you don’t do a 180 turn in a bad way!

Many people had told me it wasn’t worth it, that it was a tourist trap, and that it was too much physically! However, as usual these people had not actually gone (and didn’t share my deep love of waterfalls and jumping) so of course I had decided not to listen to them and as a result I had one of the best days of my life. I was so grateful that I followed my heart and went along. I went with the best group of people possible too, there was just the right amount of fear, adrenalin, excitement, laughter, and competence. We made a great team, and I’d go back there in a heart beat.
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Posted by chasingsummer 16:00 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Making a difference

medical center translating

sunny 30 °C

One day in Cabarete, I was walking down the street with a group of girls from the hostel when an elderly lady approached me and asked if any of us spoke Spanish. We told her that I could, and she then proposed a little piece of voluntary work.

The concept:
A group of medical specialists from Canada were coming to the Dominican Republic to work for a week in a building in Callejon de la loma (better known as Callejon, the main Dominican Street as opposed to the main gringo street in town). There would be doctors, dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists, nurses, paediatricians, and pharmacists who would give free care to as many people as possible over a 7 day period of time.

I agreed to do the work, partly because of my love to do work that actually matters and mostly because of my desire to get more experience translating so that I can do more work that actually matters…

I signed up to work for the pharmacist as I was terrified of seeing in people’s mouths, and unwilling to have close contact with super sick people due to my hopeless immune system. However, on the first day I found myself put immediately with the optometrist as the pharmacist didn’t really need translating because the Doctor’s translator was the best person to translate the prescription, rather than doubling up the job.

It was a swap that turned out to be the best thing that could have happened (thank you universe!). Our job involved testing people’s eye sight by giving simple reading tests or wall tests so as to prescribe them the appropriate seeing glasses. I realised how magical what we were doing was as soon as we helped the first person to see – there were tears of joy, hugs, kisses, promises of fresh food delivered to us, and so forth for the rest of the day. On that first day, we helped over 100 people to see life better, it was an amazing feeling. One of doing good for people, of making a difference, and of using whatever we can inside each of us to make the world just that little bit better. And the feeling reminded me of my old job in New Zealand with Applied Theatre of restoring hope in others; of how it used to be before I lost the hope and faith in myself due to the lack of quick results and bureaucracy.
I quickly realised over the following week that my Spanish is now good enough to resume working in my career. Not yet in editing, but most definitely in teaching. I was called upon by doctors and dentists throughout the week to translate when it was a particularly thick accent or someone spoke too fast. Most of the translators were second (or third or fourth) language speakers and I quickly realised how much deeper my comprehension was. The Caribbean accent is very thick and lazy but due to spending so much time here over the last year, I didn’t have any trouble at all and was able to translate efficiently and with smiles all around.

One of the things I learned about translating is that the patient sees me as the doctor, even though I am just the voice. So they will talk to me, they will expect me to be the one to give the magic answer, and they will plead their case with me. And somehow, when that is then translated by me the urgency, the desperation, and the truth of the situation is somehow lost. It just becomes another story amongst many. Yet when that person is talking to you from the depth of their soul about how they need only $3500 pesos ($100NZD) to save their eyesight from cataracts, it is impossible not to feel that impacting your own inner being. We were only able to provide eye glasses as we did not have the equipment nor the time, skills, and space to do operations or medical procedures.

Speaking of space, it sure gave some perspective to the optometrists in the first world. I bet very few of them have worked on one side of a desk with another optometrist and translator seated on the other, both prescribing used eyeglasses from plastic bags after just a simple test. With two dental hygienists within a metre of us, scrubbing and scraping the build up on peoples teeth with translators describing basic dental health. Where behind the hygienists worked two dentists who’s arms were so sore from pulling hundreds and hundreds of rotten teeth all day long that they often needed to stop for rests because they could no longer feel their muscles. Amongst the 6 medical professionals and the 6 accompanying translators were lines and lines of people waiting for their turn, in a room with 30 degree heat, no running water and at most parts of the day - no electricity, meaning no fans! All watching with anxiety, scared to have their teeth pulled or worried that the glasses that would be their prescription may not suit the shapes of their face. There was the little girl who the dentist refused to pull her tooth, he asked me to explain to the mother that she was only 8 years old and far too pretty to live a life without a front tooth. I explained to the mother in the nicest way possible that the tooth wasn’t damaged enough to be pulled and it could be easily saved if she went to a local dentist. And the girls face lit up – both because we had saved her pain, and also because the strange white man who didn’t speak her language had come all the way from Canada and thought she was pretty. I knew she would remember us forever – either at 16 when she looked in the mirror because her mother took her to the real doctor and saved her fate by spending a few pesos wisely, or with kindness because we tried and hatred towards her mother for not listening and giving her the complex of having holes in her smile.

There were the little old men who would light up when I spoke of being in the country to dance bachata and merengue, who told me of their youthful days of dancing to the same music that I have come to love more than any other. There were the teenagers who pouted and lied about their vision until they got the glasses they wanted, the ones that matched their sanky haircuts. I had to laugh as I remembered being in the same situation years ago, spending hours and hours with my own mother as we chose each other glasses – that suited our eyebrow lines of course!

It was an amazing experience and I was so happy and proud to be a part of it. I learned that I need to be doing work that matters, and I also learned that my Spanish is good enough. That maybe I am finally one step closer to bilingualism as I have dreamed about for so long.

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Posted by chasingsummer 09:23 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Castle life

adventures around Cabarete

sunny 30 °C

The last month has gone by in yet another blur of adventures, craziness, bachata nights, and good friends. I am loving life where I am here in Cabarete, and the castle really has become like a new home to me. Only natural for the Mexican television star; princesa de Nueva Sandalia to live in a castle I suppose! The people here are amazing and everyone seems to be up for all sorts of crazy adventures – including some really good nights out dancing. One night we even piled 16 in a car to head up to the end of back street to get to the main road!
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One day a group of us headed out paddle boarding.
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Sadly, the wind picked up half way through so we all battled to get up on our boards and row our way around the beach, fun to try though!
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Another day, I went along to the work place of Juan Carlos; a local friend of mine. His job is to take care of the National Park of Cabarete. We had to wear life jackets and hard helmets to go into some of the caves, and it was really refreshing to jump into cool, fresh water to wash the sticky Caribbean heat away.
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He took me through abandoned parts of the park, where it used to be full of tourists and adventure seekers, long before the resorts of Punta Cana and Bavaro refined their guests within the walls - heart breaking to see the effects of such blatant racism and capitalism reach as far as the north coast of the island. However, we had it all to ourselves, and we wandered around and swam in all sorts of different swimming holes.
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At one point, we had to go through a tiny trap door and into a series of underground tunnels, steep stairs, and narrow corridors to reach a beautiful fresh water cave 25 metres underground! We swam down there for ages, it was so scary to be in complete darkness and I was extremely grateful for our flashlights!
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Another day, Juan Carlos took me back to his work, this time to another part. We went out punting on the lagoon with a friend of his and a nice big bottle of rum. It was pretty interesting to see the lagoon behind the hostel – the same one that had been on fire and caused the castle plague!
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We swam out in the middle of the lagoon and I tried to steer at one point. Let’s just say I wasn’t given a job!
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Another day I met a friend in Puerto Plata City and we went to one of the carnival celebrations. The costumes were intense, so well designed and planned. Each one represents a different part of the Dominican Republic, and their dance competitions were well choreographed.
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I was allowed to use the machete to cut up my own sugar cane. It was too sweet to eat too much and was super hard on my teeth - but delicious!
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I was still suffering the effects of the smoke from the fire so I didn’t stay for too long. Especially once the whipping started. The whipping? Yes. The whipping. They use these rugby ball shaped balls on strings to whip each other and chase each other around with. The balls are not at all soft, and people have actually now been banned from hitting anywhere other than the butt due to so many serious injuries – including stitches, dislocations, and even blindness! Every hit that got me hurt and stung so bad, and as the Carnaval celebrations got later towards the evening the men became more and more macho, the whipping became more intense, the people got drunker, and I just felt like it was time to leave and head back to the castle.
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The days back at the castle have included trampoline dive bombs, pool volleyball, beach adventures, and trips to the city to buy cheap necessities. Even a new hair cut for me …
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Posted by chasingsummer 16:36 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

FIRE FIRE FIRE

where are the sexy firemen?

sunny 30 °C

The first I knew anything was wrong, was 3 hours into my shift on reception. It was about 7pm and one of the hostel guests came to ask if there was anything we should do about the fire that had been raging all afternoon and was now getting exceptionally close to the hostel. I thought she was kidding, as I had said earlier that day that I was feeling exceptionally hung over and tired so I hoped no one bugged me on reception unless there was a fire – turns out, she wasn’t kidding and the lagoon surrounding our hostel had been deliberately lit!
Of course, I ran outside to join the others who were all standing watching the trees shoot sparks high into the air. The smoke was billowing towards the hostel, the sparks and orange flames were higher than the coconut trees, and it really appeared to be no more than 30metres away. The main problem too was that the wind was blowing towards our hostel for the first time in weeks, confirmed of course by the many kite surfers who watch the wind patterns closer than I watch footwork in bachata.
The entire hostel piled onto one of the upstairs balconies to see what we could see, some boys climbing the gutterwork of the 3rd story to get up to the castle roof. I was convinced we needed to do something – pack our bags, evacuate, call the firemen (my favourite option), or at least warn the rest of the guests. However, our super safety conscious hostel manager Mati was very calm and somehow his demeanour managed to convince everyone that this was completely normal.
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Apparently the lagoon is set on fire multiple times a year by the fisherman so as to help make their commute through the mangroves easier. However, the fire was getting somewhat closer, leading right behind and around the hostel as if it was magically avoiding us. The sounds of the cracks and bangs of the fire were really loud, and our eyes were a bit stingy from being in the smoke. The neighbour came over as he was really worried that the fire was so large – stretching for more than a kilometre! I am not so sure who, but someone called the firemen. And sure enough, their sirens soon filled the air with the grand signal of handsome men approaching.
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As soon as I heard that wonderful sound, I ran to the bathroom to fix my hair. Most Dominican men are super sexy – so imagine my great joy at the thought of Dominican Firemen! And I was not wrong; they came striding through the place like giant sex gods, swaggering in the way that only men do when they know they look delicious. One of them even let me try on his hat as he posed with me by the fire engine for a photo.
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The firemen told us that there was nothing they could/ would do for the fire, and not to call them again unless the house was actually on fire. We decided that the best move would be to get out of the hostel and grab some food – if the firemen think everything is ok, what is the point in starving just to sit and watch the house burn down? So 5 of us headed off for sushi night - where we got completely ripped off, and it was half way through dinner that we all laughed as we had all brought our passports and credit cards with us – terrified that the hostel may have burned down! Timpe and I had both actually packed all of our belongings and had them ready to go with us at any sign of danger back at the hostel, but the best was Rachelle she had brought her childhood teddy bear to sushi! We rode back to the hostel in fits of laughter, to the point we were convinced that the trees being burned were marijuana! The hostel was still there of course, however the fire still raged.
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I stayed up that night with Mati to watch movies, I was too scared to go upstairs to bed. At about 1am Heidi came down and said she was worried because there was a lot more smoke in the hostel and she could see the fire was a bit bigger. But because it still wasn’t in the hostel, we knew we couldn’t call the firemen (dam!). About half an hour later, one of the guys from down the road came over to see what was going on because he thought the fire was getting bigger and scarily close to his house. At this point, we all ran outside to see what was going on – and the fire was HUGE! It had now spread at least double what it was already burning, and was moving very quickly. I got back inside to see Mati running around like crazy, I asked him what he was doing as all signs of being cool, calm, and collected were long gone – he just looked at me and half screamed,
“I’m packing my shit!”
I realised that the hostel was full of people wearing their pyjamas. Everyone was carrying their hastily stuffed backpacks out onto the street as Mati had gone and banged on everyone’s door to wake them up and evacuate them. I searched for my fire watching buddy Timpe and as soon as I saw him, he said he had been trying to find me too, and the two of us ran down the street to fire watch. We found a part a little way back from the fire with a little animal trail through the bush and we wandered in with the lights of our cell phone lighting our way closer to the fire.
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The second truck full of firemen had arrived and was out on the street, this time taking things a little more seriously. Out came the hose and they put out the part of the fire that was just meters away from the 2 story wooden house of our friends who live there. We climbed all over the truck during the process, posed for more photos, and tried our best to get as close to the action as we could. I mean, why not right? We all couldn’t believe our luck, to be so close to such a huge fire?! In our countries, everyone would have been evacuated for at least a 1km radius of the fire. This was our one and only chance to see such an adventure!
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And as quickly as they arrived, they left, driving off into the night as we continued to watch the trees burn and the smoke and ash fill the air. The firemen had put out the threat, but did not distinguish the rest of the fire. And the fire continued to burn through the night and over the following days. I did not sleep much as I was so afraid we would all wake up dead – I mean, the fire brigade weren’t exactly awe inspiring, and it isn’t like the Dominican Republic has ever heard of a smoke alarm! The smoke was everywhere and the ash was falling like snow for days. It was very strange to wake up in the morning and look out the window to see the snow like ashes falling from the sky on a hot Caribbean day. There were a couple of times during the day where the fire did grow again, and off we would all race down the street closer to the lagoon to see what we could see, diving in through the bushes and making jokes about bringing marshmallows. Thankfully it never came back to the hostel as close so we never had to worry quite as much as we did that first night. Which was luckier still since (of course) the hostel had no official evacuation policy or guest count and we had not even noticed that there were a couple of people who had slept through the entire thing!
What did come though, were the coughs. The sore throats, the chest pain, the headaches, the body aches, the sore eyes, and the terrible feeling deep in my chest that something was not right. And then, the familiar feeling of not being able to breathe. I gave myself a dose of steroids, doubled up my medication, and soon realised it wasn’t working - in fact it was all rapidly getting worse. So off to the local mini hospital I went. The doctor was very worried, gave me nebulisers and injected steroids and antibiotics. I was very excited to hear however, that it was not asthma – because after 3 years of getting off steroids and keeping my asthma under control, I had been so sad to think that was the problem. Turned out, I was suffering from the effects of severe smoke inhalation and my lungs were full of infection. The body pains were also from the smoke, and so was the feeling of a burned oesophagus. I left later that afternoon full of drugs, and came back to the castle to pass out on the couch – in what is now known as the 5 hour nap corner. The doctor had told me that smoke inhalation sickness can come on anywhere from 3 days – 2 weeks after inhaling the smoke. And as it turn out – over the following days, many others were soon diagnosed and seen to in the mini hospital. My breathing did not get better at all for at least 5 days, so there were times I went up alone for more treatment, and times I went with others. Heidi and I always laugh that the two photos I have of her are back to back in my phone – one with the fire, and then one in the hospital.
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The doctors wanted to send me to the larger hospital in the bigger city but both insurance and the medical team were very worried due to my low immunity, and the large number of serious diseases. I was terrified for many reasons – one including the medical care given to me by the local mini hospital, who were supposedly one of the ‘high class’ medical facilities. At one point, as the nurse placed the lure into my arm to hook up the antibiotic drip, she slipped and caused blood to go everywhere. She wasn’t wearing gloves, and as she scrubbed at her hands in the sink leaned over and asked,
“You don’t have anything infectious do you?”
I just looked at her and said,
“Honestly, I don’t know and I am not going to lie to you to make you feel better. I have not been tested in about 6 months and I have been traveling through 3rd world countries. If I was in your job, I would wear gloves all of the time.”
About 5 minutes later she used the injection to stab the bottle of saline solution to get air into it, stabbing herself in the process and proclaiming OUCH very loudly. She then went to use the same injection to connect the saline with the drip in my arm. At which point I protested and requested a new needle. She laughed and told me not to worry because,
“my blood is clean Katy.”
I just smiled and assured her it was, but insisted I wanted a clean needle despite her laughing to herself about how bizarre foreigners are.
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The others were still really sick, mostly because their sickness wasn’t so targeted to their lungs like mine was. Poor Heidi was devastated not to be able to do yoga as she is a devoted yogi. And her partner and I were outside watching as she attempted a few poses only to end up lying in a distorted heap of sadness on the grass. Rachelle who continues to be anti-travel insurance took forever to get well, trying to get the chemist to sell her a variety of antibiotics or drug swapping with us and friends s down the road. The scents in the castle were of ginger and honey, cinnamon and lime, as the surfers did their best to kill the sickness in the most natural way possible. The main living area was filled with passed out bodies, all trying desperately to get better so as to enjoy the sunny days that slipped by in a haze of drugs, medicines, sickness, and coughing. No one went out, no one partied, no one did anything except try not to bloody die. But thankfully, after seeing a new doctor who dosed me up, changed my antibiotics to super human strength, and filled me with so much medicine I could hardly see straight, it was only another day or two until I could feel the difference in my breathing and in my health. Which was lucky for me as that was the day that I was going to have to go to the hospital. Thankfully everyone else started to get better, I mean no matter how bad a sickness is – 10 days is a very long time for everyone to be feeling as though they are on deaths door!

However, we now have our own theory of what happened - once we saw the exorbitant prices charged by the hospital – we became convinced the fire was set by the local doctors rather than the fishermen!

Posted by chasingsummer 10:38 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

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