“Yeah, you know, and since we’re leaving on Fri—”
“Wait, what? What do you mean? Where are you going?”— I interjected. I could feel the bewilderment settling in and radiating outward, like a movie projected onto a screen for all to see.
Oh, the woes of being transparent!
“Río San Juan. We’re gonna be there until Monday”— he stated matter-of-factly.
By the time the last words left his mouth, I had already fallen into a tizzy. This new information had flooded my brain violently and at that point, I was just trying to process and make sense of it.
“You’re leaving tomorrow?”— I asked.
“Yeah. In the morning. Wanna come with?”
And that, my friends, is how I found out how I’d be ushering in the New Year. Not without first expressing my objection to this half-baked plan, mind you, but eventually relenting nonetheless— on the condition that I’d return early on Sunday to spend my Dad’s birthday with him.
We were off to the small town on the first day of 2016, in the early hours of the afternoon. As we were leaving the city, the change in scenery was apparent: tall, industrial buildings and busy streets gave way to green pastures and grazing animals. The road became more narrow and irregular and soon enough we were weaving in and out of curves, riding up and down hills. Surprisingly, I was able to overcome the queasiness without serious incident and except for plugged ears, I survived the drive relatively unscathed by the elements.
By the time we arrived the sun was almost setting and it was beginning to get dark. I recall seeing a lot of people hanging out in the streets and in the proximity of what appeared to be the local park. There was music blaring loudly and multiple speakers scattered around the area.
This was my first time visiting and part of me felt out of place because of it, but it didn’t feel entirely unfamiliar either. I guess growing up in Sosúa —another small town by the coast— somehow made me privy to certain things. However, in the spirit of being honest I will go on the record to say that there were both great moments and unfortunate ones.
But I learned from it, I promise. There really is a point to all of this.
Now, where was I?
Right. We had just arrived, and some people felt like taking a dip in the beach. I didn’t think much of it and tagged along. The view was beautiful and I took some pictures that I really liked. There was barely anyone there and the quiet stillness was a nice change of pace from the hubbub that had welcomed us as we drove in.
But there were also mosquitoes, and I was (quite unfortunately) wearing shorts, completely unaware that I had essentially given them permission to feast on my blood.
It wasn’t long before I started to feel the bites. The more I scratched, the more desperate I became and shortly thereafter I decided that I’d had enough. You could say I was…itching to get home.
YEEAAAAH! (Source: them0vieblog.com)
That incident seemed to set the tone for the rest of the night, and I felt uncomfortable for the remainder. Everything I saw or experienced after that was scrutinized and interpreted negatively.
I could only focus on the fact that the music was way too loud and not to my liking, that wading through the sea of people hanging out in the streets proved to be really tiresome, that the cigarette smoke was seriously intrusive and annoying, that I was bored and sleepy, or simply put, I wasn’t even enjoying myself. Not only that, but it was evident to everyone around me as well. I went to bed that night wondering why I had even agreed to go in the first place, and I fell asleep covered from head to toe despite the obvious lack of ventilation in the room.
You have to give it to the mosquitoes. They really had it in for me and were tenacious in their efforts. They also weren’t gonna take no for an answer: something I learned the following morning when I took a look at myself in the mirror.
“You look like Kylie Jenner”—he said before letting out a chuckle.
See also: Kris Jenner in that one episode of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ (Source: dailymail.co.uk)
To be fair, after getting over the initial shock of seeing my inflated upper lip, I laughed too. Taking the previous day into account, I also hoped this wasn’t an omen of worse things to come.
To my surprise, I managed to put my embarrassment aside, make it out of the room, take a shower and head out for breakfast. Four of us walked around in search of a place to do just that and quickly found a restaurant.
After learning they were out of their famous croissants, we settled for omelettes and sandwiches, as well as coffee. Both the food and the service left something to be desired, but the conversation among us more than made up for it.
The rest of the party was still fast asleep by the time we had polished off the last of our food, so we decided to go to the beach again. I enjoyed being able to walk around the town, following someone else as we maneuvered in and out of streets and took shortcuts, watching people go about their daily lives. There were also murals adorning the town everywhere you looked, which I hadn’t really been able to appreciate until then. It was an exciting Easter egg hunt of sorts, and I had fun trying to spot as many as I could.
Once we arrived at our destination, we sat under one of the trees and continued our conversation. We drank coconut water and ate its pulp, did some more people watching and eventually, some of us decided to go in the water. The sun had been kind of a no-show up until that point and it was understandably cold to the touch, so we weren’t in there for too long. After laying out for a bit, we got a call from the rest of the crew to tell us they were finally awake, so we headed back to the meeting point to decide what we would do next.
After lunch we headed to Playa Caletón, but upon arriving people complained that it was too crowded, so a change of plans was afoot. It was also then that we realized that the refreshments had never made it into the SUV and they were probably still sitting in the market where we had purchased them only moments before. Some of us had to go back for them while the other group went on ahead to Playa Grande, where we agreed to reunite.
The water was a beautiful, crystalline blue and the sun was still out, but not intense enough to pose a sunburn risk. Palm trees swayed in the wind, and you could hear the waves crashing on the shore, striking and seemingly eager to assert their dominance.
I certainly couldn’t resist its charm, so I jumped in. Sure, at one point I freaked out and could have sworn I was going to drown (I may have overreacted a bit), but other than that, it was a wonderful experience and an even more incredible sight. Time passed quickly, and we headed back to Río San Juan just as it was getting dark out.
Word of a party in Las Terrenas got out and everyone in the crew seemed to have their sights set on that, but we didn’t get ready in time for that one so we opted for Cabarete instead. We walked along the beach trying to find a specific bar and given that it was a holiday weekend there were people everywhere. Some lounged on furniture, others drank at the bars, and there were those that just like us, were looking to listen to cool music and dance.
We finally found the place we were looking for and it was filled to the brim. We had to make our way through the throngs of people and surprisingly, were still somehow able to find a spot where we could all hang out. The music wasn’t the best, but I still managed to get into the groove of things and actually began to enjoy myself. I have no clue how long we were there, but I noticed people started leaving the venue. I guess the rest of the crew had also had enough of it, so we walked to the opposite end of the beach where another party was taking place.
Now, I have to clarify that after my experience with the mosquitoes on our first day at Río San Juan, I opted for long jeans and sandals this time around. Definitely not the most popular of choices given the circumstances, but I didn’t want to give them an open playing field or suffer through more bites.
You’d think that would have made a difference, but even I was caught by surprise when I felt the itching on my feet. I initially waved it off thinking it would go away, but in all honesty the sensation seemed to intensify with every minute that passed. It got to a point where I couldn’t really focus on anything else and was just furiously scratching my feet to no avail.
The frustration mounted and I could feel a sort of panic creeping in. My boyfriend noticed and tried to reassure me that it was okay and that some mosquitoes had probably just found their way to my feet, but there seemed to be no relief in sight and he eventually took me back to the SUV so I could rub some lotion on them. Unbeknownst to us at the time, that’s where we would spend the rest of the night.
The truth of the matter is that we were both pretty tired at that point, and what was supposed to be an innocent 20-minute power nap turned into a couple of hours of good, old-fashioned sleep. We were startled awake by a knocking at the door hours later— the crew was ready to head back to Río San Juan.
As soon as I heard that, it was as if I were reliving the first night of the trip all over again. After realizing we wouldn’t be able to find lodging in town (all the places were already booked), the plan had changed yet again. However, I had somehow convinced myself that I wouldn’t have to make the trek all the way from Río San Juan back to Santiago, given that the distance from Cabarete was much shorter, and we would be there until the early morning hours of Sunday anyway.
“That makes no sense, though! I’m going back there for nothing!”— I complained.
“Maybe, but we’re not just going to leave you here. We can’t. It’s way too early.”
Once again, I could feel myself seeping in all of this negativity and all I could focus on as we headed back were my own feelings of anger and frustration. I was livid.
I begrudgingly unloaded my stuff from the SUV and trudged back to the same room where my upper lip had fallen victim to a vicious mosquito attack and covered myself from head to toe once again, careful not to forget about my mouth this time around.
I don’t think I had even slept for two hours before my alarm went off. It was 7:00 AM and I was hellbent on getting back home as early as possible. After figuring out the route we had to take, I took my things and left the house, walking alongside my boyfriend to the stop where I’d hitch a ride to Sosúa.
The cool morning air seemed to have a calming effect. We walked by the same restaurant where we’d had breakfast the day before and stopped to get some croissants, just as they were coming out of the oven. I recall a warmth enveloping me as I held mine and took bite after bite, eager to reach the gooey chocolate center.
As we drew closer to our destination, I realized that I was no longer upset. In all actuality, I was beginning to feel very differently about everything. Unfortunately, I was also struck with the realization that I couldn’t just go back in time and stop myself from doing the things I now seemed to be regretting. Before I knew it, we were saying our goodbyes and I was boarding the car in a stupor, feeling both tired and thoughtful.
I spent the whole ride looking out into the distance and dwelling on these thoughts, and that’s when it hit me: it wasn’t so much what I had (or hadn’t done) that mattered most, but the people I had shared those experiences with.
I was so caught up in my own feelings that I was blinded by them. I stubbornly chose to focus on the negatives, when I could have just as easily laughed things off and gone with the flow. I mean, hell, even just trying to be a little more pleasant would have probably helped a bit.
And it’s relatively easy to look back now and say, ‘Hmm…I guess I could have done better,’ but the real challenge lies in being able to tune into your feelings in the heat of moment, and check yourself before you do something or act in a way you’ll later wish you hadn’t.
Easier said than done, right? But we live and we learn, and I think it’s safe to say that Río San Juan taught me a little bit about both.