A journal of narrative writing.
How to See the Batey

First, do not make any reservations. There are plenty of hotels in Sosua. They're cheap and accommodating. You will visit the Dominican Republic on your girlfriend's Spring Break, while everybody else is beer-bonging in Malibu.

Book the only flight available for a reasonable price — departing from New York, so that you'll have to drive through industrial New Jersey and park your car in the nether reaches of the John F. Kennedy Airport parking lot. This will cost you lots of money, but you actually have some cash to burn, for a change. The early afternoon sky will be overcast and drizzling.

Bring only a backpack full of shorts and T-shirts.

Fly through the night, watching BBC melodramas. Fall asleep, snoring loudly and ceilingward, so that your girlfriend is compelled to nudge you in the shoulder.

Be stubborn. You don't like traveling with people. You have your own way of doing things. You abhor arrangements and tours. You prefer to show up in strange cities and wander around. You like eating street-food and using public restrooms. Dirt and clutter and foul smells excite you. It's been a long time since you've had a chance to travel, because you've been working, keeping busy, paying rent, living with roommates in a dumpy Pittsburgh duplex. There's urgency, now — you finally have enough money to travel abroad. Has it really been three years? And wasn't the last place Puerto Rico, which hardly counts as a foreign country? You want to prove that you can still survive in an exotic locale. You can still puzzle out strange languages and bus schedules and order bizarre cuisine without fear. Prove that your skills haven't atrophied. There is no room for failure. Not on this vacation.

You've lost many girlfriends traveling — because they didn't like your freewheeling style, your careless attitude. They wanted a schedule, a budget, maps, guidebooks, local contacts, emergency phone numbers. You've never bothered with any of these. You didn't take care of them, because you didn't really want to travel with them in the first place. They liked to watch TV. They didn't care about local history or customs. They spent too much time sleeping in or deciding what to do. They spent all their money on stupid souvenirs or boring museums. They caught salmonella from undercooked chicken or got bad sunburns or faked asthma attacks.

Don't let this happen again. Not this time. You have only dated your girlfriend for a few months, but you want to get this one right. You've been a jerk in the past, and past girlfriends have been spazzes. Accept it. It's time to start over. You and your girlfriend have settled on the Dominican Republic, because she speaks Spanish and vacations there are cheap and neither of you has ever been there before. Your girlfriend wants to lie on a beach and you have yearned to cross borders. You find a little town called Sosua. The books claim it has beautiful beaches, shops, hotels, and a peculiar history: Jewish refugees settled there during World War II. So why not? Sosua it is.

When your plane roars onto the Dominican tarmac, smile — this is the first international vacation you've taken in three years. You've missed this nervy feeling — of not knowing where you're going, not knowing the language. The time will be midnight when you arrive and easily pass through customs. Customs will look like a high-school auditorium, with plain walls, ruddy tile floors, and bored security guards leaning against the metal detectors. Note that all the men seem to have mustaches and wedding rings. There are no women.

Once outside the airport, decide to hail a taxi. Santiago is a long drive from the airport — so far that the city's lights barely tint the sky. A thin man will appear and propose in English: You want a ride to the hotel?

Yes! you'll say.

Okay, you come with me.

He will usher you both into a bright yellow minivan taxi, sliding the passenger door shut. You will wait there, watching droplets of rain stick to the windshield, wondering what will happen next. Your girlfriend will search your face, because she wants you to admit how creepy this is. You will give no sign that anything is out of the ordinary.

Another couple will enter the car. They will be middle-aged, frantic-looking, lugging several suitcases into the cab. The woman will ask: Do you know what's going on here?

It looks like they're taking all of us, you'll say.

We just came in from Vermont, the woman will admit. I've never been here before.

You'll have a brief conversation about Vermont, because you coincidentally grew up there, but the talk will be cut short because another cabbie will open the door and usher you and your girlfriend to another cab, this one small, brown, rusting, and unmarked. You will obey, because what else can you do, and a moment later you'll fly down the Dominican highway, the windows rolled down, cigarette smoke everywhere. The cabbie will talk constantly, and your girlfriend, who hasn't spoken Spanish in half a decade, will attempt to translate.

I think he's offering us a hotel room, she'll say. His friend runs it, maybe?

You will drive for about twenty minutes before the cabbie turns off the main road. For a fleeting moment, you'll imagine him pulling into an alleyway, where men wearing bandanas over their faces beat you with table-legs, kidnap your girlfriend, and steal your pesos and passport. But no — the road will be narrow, leading through a stuccoed gate, and you'll park next to a row of small, interconnected houses. They will appear to be either cabins or storage compartments, because each unit will boast a large steel garage door. The man will help you move your bags into the room, which is small but comfortable, the stone floor smoothly swept, the walls thickly plastered. At the offer of cash, the man will decline and offer only Spanish.

He says we have to give the money to Manuel, your girlfriend will translate. He says he'll be back tomorrow morning at eight o'clock.

Eight o'clock is only six hours away, but you won't mind. At least you're not sitting at the airport waiting for dawn, as you had originally proposed to your girlfriend. When the cabbie leaves, you will marvel at the fifty-inch wide-screen plasma TV that looms over the comfy bed.

A telephone ring will startle you — because not one person on Earth knows where you are — and your girlfriend will have a brief conversation about where to put the money. We're supposed to put it in a container, she will explain, not sure what this means. You will soon find an iron chimney build into the wall; the cylinder will swivel, revealing a hollow compartment. You will place the agreed-upon sum — a bundle of cash, amounting about $30 U.S. — into this compartment and swivel the chimney around. You will hear footsteps on the outside of the building; a hand will grasp the money, sliding it out, and you'll listen to the cash flipping, peso by peso, as the invisible man counts it. The footsteps will diminish into silence.

You will spend the rest of the early morning watching Terminator 2 in Spanish, trying to nod off. But every time you try to sleep, you will be awakened by the faint sound of salsa music. Where is it coming from? you'll wonder. When you wake the next morning, and the sun is slipping through the slotted blinds, you'll realize that this music is wafting from little speakers stationed at either side of the bed. The speakers will not be connected to a stereo, and no knobs will control their volume or frequency.

As you depart, throwing your backpacks into the taxi's trunk, you will be grateful to be leaving this strange hotel, despite your gratitude for a warm and seemingly safe place to bivouac.


Take public transportation. The bus will depart from the squat bus terminal, where you will nurse a cup of black Dominican coffee and watch Santiago unfold around you. The city will bloom with political billboards, smiling politicians peering from behind rows of palm trees. The houses will burn with pink and red and yellow facades. You will pass offices and four-lane streets, erratic drivers careening around corners; you will hear screeching tires and distant sirens. The city will melt into suburbs, then stretches of barrios, and then only flat farmland.

Your girlfriend will sleep, but your excitement will keep you awake. You will resent those three years of stasis, traveling only in the U.S., usually staying in Pittsburgh. You will marvel at the mountains, which will seem to stand like giants above the highway, helmeted with rock, caped with cliffs, hairy with trees.

The bus will amble around curves, joining a feisty tribe of motorcyclists. Everywhere, Vespas and squat BMW's will buzz around the wheels of the bus, seeming to vanish beneath the chassis, re-emerging and driving figure-eights around each other. Riders will carry one or two passengers, riding off-road; the wheels will spit wet soil into the air. Traffic will seem like a performance — a daring circus of reckless two-wheeling — except that each rider stares straight ahead, determined to reach a destination. You will promise yourself a motorcycle license in the near future.


Pulling into the bus station of Puerto Plata, the bus will idle for a few minutes as crowds of teenaged Dominicans yell and jostle each other. A few will board, followed by an energetic hombre carrying an open bottle of beer. He'll wear a patterned tropical T-shirt and frayed denim shorts, and he'll hold his sinewy arms outstretched, yelling: Eh, cabrón, donde estan las chicas chulas? You will have no idea what this means, and your girlfriend will still be sleeping, so you'll just listen to them high-five and guzzle beer in the back, laughing high-pitched laughs.

Puerto Plata will not impress you. The beach, so near, will seem very far away. The white buildings will look sun-baked and wearied. As the bus bends through the narrow streets, nearly missing buxom mujeres and their gaggles of chicos, you will anxiously await the Sosua bus station, now only a short drive away. When the bus pulls over and "Sosua" is announced through the bus' megaphone, you will feel disarmed: The road's pavement will be caked in dust, the bus station will be the size of a mobile home, and the flood of motorcycles and dwarfish cars will fly past the idling bus, speeding toward somewhere else. This will not seem right at all, not with the dense rainforest puffing itself against the roadway, swollen and dripping. Surely there must be a mistake.

Your girlfriend will not appreciate the lack of reservations. We really have no idea where we're staying tonight? she'll clarify.

There are plenty of hotels, you'll insist, although you've only glanced at the vague map in your guidebook. Let's just get some lunch and scope them out.

Before you can get any such lunch, you'll reach the beach. Hike a full mile across the shaded sand. Beneath the canopy of venerable palm trees, you'll stumble into a vast tunnel of kiosks and restaurants — a City of Hawkers! Hundreds of young men will yell for your attention: Hello, my friend! You look at this watch! You want to eat? Very nice photograph for you! They will spawn from the shadows, handsomely dressed and waving menus and napkins and binders full of postcards. They will extend conches and bunches of green bananas as offerings. They will grab your arm, then step back, holding their hands in the air, saying, Sorry, my friend! You are hungry? You visit here, yes? With the posture of matadors, they will hold out beach blankets, forcing you to walk through them. You will pass plastic tables, wood tables, aluminum chairs, mini-bars, stout refrigerators, plastic coolers, tryptich displays of local paintings, benches covered in sea-shell earrings, gold and silver chains, vintage clocks, bamboo letter-openers, bottles packed with colored sand, statuettes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, small-press travel guides with ClipArt covers, reggae albums burned on a home-computer, rows of coconuts, racks of cheap imported wine, shelves of suntan lotion and floppy hats, sun-visors and novelty T-shirts, turquoise-studded bracelets and hoop-earrings, copper toe-rings and scratched snorkeling masks.

You will spot the center of town, reachable only by a crumbling concrete stairway, which leads to a broad alley. Now the signs will be multilingual: German scuba-diving lessons, French wind-surfing, an English pub, an Italian jeweler, an Austrian Internet café — the bright placards will spin around you, you will feel dizzy and already exhausted, broiled by the Caribbean sun, burnt along your exposed knees and forearms.