Tour of Las Lajas | The Real Story

12 Jun

It takes at least 4 ropes to hold up a steriotipically steroided-up German-sized Tiki face.  Who would be qualified to make this wild assumption you ask?  Along with being roommates to an arquitect, which automatically makes me an expert  tiki and person measurer, the hostel in Cabarete had an Arnold-esque kiteboarder and the massive tiki statue pictured above as my primary resources.

For me, Las Lajas is alot like this tiki statue.   Many ropes hold up the story that encompasses the essence of Lajas; each has it´s own unique message to tell, and without one, the whole picture falls apart.  I don´t believe I´m a skilled enough wordsmith to accurately portray the whole story, but here´s my best shot.

The Scene

It just so happened that we chose a nice and beautiful place to go in the Dominican, and I´m not going to lie to you, walking outside to scenery worthy of an overpriced art gallery is one hell of a good way to wake up.  Even if the rooster perched in the window outside your bedroom decides 4:30am is prime crowing time.

The people here sustain themselves through their own fruits, the produce of their animals, and a little sharing.  I imagine it´d be hard to live off only eggs and chickens as the pollo master.  The master of the fruit section of the food pyramid suffers from a similar crisis, thus sharing is not only caring in this instance, it´s also diet diversification.  Don´t laugh, food boredom is an epedimic at dining halls across the nation.

Typical scenery of Las Lajas

But the phisical environment is just one part of a story

It´s the people.  They´re what makes this charming place tick.  It´s the non-chalant, stress free, fatalistic, day by day way they go about their lives that changes every person who is blessed with an experience here.  Instead of pursuing lofty goals, imagine your main objective of the day is to decide what should be for dinner.  Last year I would have laughed at someone writing this, but this way of life has its own charm.  It´s simple, less stressful, surprisingly rewarding, and quite possibly why the DR is ranked one of the happiest countries in the world  (Google TED talk: Happiness Index).

Case in point: While we were walking around town conducting interviews, this stud of a man and I start talking music, ritmo, and latin rhythms.  Naturally, he and his jorts bust out a bass guitar, which he valiantly tries to play.  Sadly,  the ancient amp in his house decides that his beautiful beats are too good for our ears and screams like a kid hit in the family jewels instead.

As if this wasn´t enough, 5 minutes later he showcased his bull fighting prowess and rescued our group from a wayward papa cow.  Man he worked those jorts.

I love Mr. Bass, and even though he might have wowed us with more feats if given the chance, he lived pretty far off the beaten path, and we didn´t have the chance to venture to his patch of woods again.  Luckily, Moreno, the town construction worker/handiman more than filled his shoes.  He took stud to a new level.

Of the many feats I´ve witnessed Moreno perform showcasing his inginuity, here´s a few:

Install a Toilet for his house- a big upgrade from the latrine out back -with rusty nails he pulled out of things that no longer needed nails.  Brian and I return to the Moreno pad 30 minutes after seeing him bring the unluky piped out back to find him finished arquitecting the pipe apparatus funneling poo 50 feet to his latrine.

After 5pm every day it rains, and Moreno routinely becomes the ferryman taking all women to safety across the raging, angry body of water that forms in the middle of town.  His version of Ferryman doesn´t involve a boat.

Drag 50ft of steel pipe and objects behind his WW2 motorcycle to work.  The 8th wonder of the world.

Because of these and other feats of Manliness, we affectionately nicknamed Moreno Rambo.  On top of all this, he´s also one of the most genuinely nice, caring individuals you could ever meet.  I can tell with every action he makes that family is his #1 priority.  For me, that was the most striking element of Las Lajas.

Mi Familia

Family portraits are a big deal in the DR, so my gift to the family was a nice photoshoot.  It turned quickly into Daniela showing her sass (second from left), Brandy making ridiculous faces (bottom), and the rest of the fam trying not to laugh.  My attempt at leaving them something pales in comparison to the show of unconditional love they´ve showered at me for two years in a row, and for me this is what makes Lajas so special.  By no means am I harping on anyone´s family dynamic in the US, but in the Lajas family is the most important thing in people´s lives.  It´s a different set of priorities, and precisely the reason I became family the second we all first met last year.

Our open air pad.  The front hang out zone turns into a mud playpit/moat during rain.  Epic win

Imagine a stranger dressed in ridiculous clothes shows up at your front door.  He can´t communicate because his spanish is so bad and smells a little weird.  Obviously the thing to do is to give him a bed in the house, sleep with your crazy children, refuse to let him do any chores, wash his clothes, and more or less turn your house dynamic on its head.  For 4 days.  Afterward, wash, rinse, and repeat for 2 weeks the next year.

To clarify, I did manage to help around the house, but I had to sneak around like a ninja, and if caught Gladis gave me a stern talking to while simultaniously laughing hysterically.  We had way too much fun.

I feel blessed to have had such a wonderful family take me in and only hope we can serve them half as much as they have impacted our lives.  I know for a fact everyone else who´s come on our trips can say the same. Familia is the rope that holds Lajas together.

And then there´s Domingo.

Domingo is the only disabled kid I´ve seen in Lajas.  He is the size of a 12 yr old at 18, can´t hear from his left side, can only manage a mumbled grunt to communicate, and seems to have some sort of mental disorder as well.  Despite all this, he is fed every night at someone´s house, plays well with all the kids, and does a remarkable job living life.  I´m a firm believer that this is a direct cause of how passionately the community has come together to help him out where needed.

There´s no doubt that I´m painting a rosy picture.  Don´t get me wrong.  I´ve witnessed telenovela worthy drama, seen kids caught in terrible domestic violence, people carry pistols like it´s a 60´s western, and the education kids receive would make your heart sink and inspire you at the same time.  But everyone´s family. This and an overwhelming sense of contentment seem to make all the other issues fade away.

When you ask someone ¨¿Como estas?¨ or ¨Hey, what´s up¨, the answer that rolls of the tounge of your new friend is almost without fail ¨Tranquilo¨, or ¨tranquil¨.

This is the REAL story of Lajas.



2 Responses to “Tour of Las Lajas | The Real Story”

  1. Tim Rosenberg June 19, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Thanks for sharing Kevin!

    Keep the pictures comin’


    • kmmille4 August 16, 2011 at 12:24 am #

      Always a pleasure Tim.


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