First Day in Muñoz.

View outside the door of "Mango House" at the Sun Camp. Jacob Bielanski/2013

This would have been a shitty car, even when I was in high school. And I drove some beasts. It didn’t age well. Things were rattling and shaking and doors didn’t open right.

“Mama, where’s my seatbelt?” Lily panicked. From the Santo Domingo airport she was thrilled to be without a carseat, but the excitement has worn off. I looked around and sighed in exhaustion. “I’m sorry honey, I didn’t know. There are no seatbelts. We’ll be okay.”

This was our prearranged transportation.

We traveled from Puerto Plata to the outskirts of the city, after making three stops at different ATMs. ATM is a funny thing to try to convey to a Spanish-speaking person if you cannot remember the country-specific word. After three stops, I finally got cash.

Silently we rode with Lily sitting unbuckled and sweaty in the non-air conditioned seat next to us. Jake turned and asked, “Did you verify you were the right ‘Jamie’? This seems so far off the main road.”

We drove through the Haitian batey and the mountain got closer as the city of Puerto Plato got further. We pulled into Sun Camp and suddenly. I was filled with dread. We were greeted by a few friendly people, but we were so far from the city. It seemed so isolated. Where was everyone?

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We were shown three different apartments. The first was a two-bedroom and that seemed dark and musty. The second would have been perfect, but it was too expensive. I wanted the third, which was being painted. I asked if we could have it regardless, and was told they’d finish it as soon as possible. We took the dark room for the night.

View outside the door of “Mango House” at the Sun Camp. Jacob Bielanski/2013

Diane, the owner of Sun Camp, told us they do dinner at the Papagayo by the river and we were invited to join. We were feeling antisocial and didn’t want to do a dinner out, but we had no food other than a granola bar. We asked if they had beer, as all we both wanted was a cold Presidente. “Oh yes, of course! A large beer is only 100 pesos.” She had our number.

We settled into our room. We both felt a bit uneasy. Wanting a beer, we walked down to Papagayo. Jake and I normally would have been our typical introverted selves and sat alone. A young guy sat us at a table full of others.  Alas, we were forced to converse.

We talked about volunteering, where everyone was from, why we were all here, and for how long. The girls were “neighbors” in the sense that one was from Seattle and the other Vancouver. They were both discovering career paths post-college. The Belgian couple seemed the most active at volunteering daily and were fascinating to talk to (they “ship-hiked” from France to the Virgin Islands, then were “free labor” on a yacht that island hopped down here). The retired Kindergarten teacher from Florida had no reasons to be away from the weather, but loves traveling through the Caribbean. The four of us planned to reconvene to go through curriculum and plan a teaching schedule.

We sat out for four hours making new friends and meeting all of the resident dogs. Lily showed off her games. We made our way back to the apartment around 10 p.m. We all agreed, this is going to be a great month.

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