Posted by: Lydia | August 21, 2010

SCUBA and the joys and frustrations of moving out in the DR

Well dear readers, Matt and I have finally moved into a shack of our very own after nearly six long months of being at the mercy of (albeit well meaning) host families. I am now the proud owner of a 50-pound gas tank, a tabletop range, a blender (liquidoras are CRUCIAL to your well-being here. How else do you expect to eat all of that overripe papaya and zapote without making milkshakes?), and the cutest little semi-automatic washing machine this side of the Haitian border. I also have on my hands a brand-new yet completely non-functioning minifridge, so tomorrow I will begin the likely long and agonizing process to get a repairman out here to the boonies from Dajabon. Originally we thought it was the extremely horrendous wiring job in our hovel and our living at the very end of the electric lines, but considering the fact that all of the other appliances can run simultaneously we figure it’s the %&$#*@& fridge. Well, if everything had worked from the outset, this wouldn’t be Peace Corps, now would it.

At any rate, we have luz y agua mas o menos half the time, plus an (extremely leaky) faucet high enough to shower under, so we really couldn’t ask for more as far as the campo goes, except for maybe a real sink… washing dishes in a small plastic tub for two years while squatting in the blazing midday sun on my back “patio” is going to get real old, real fast. The pleasures of being able to blare surf rock as loud as my laptop can pump it and make my own food outweigh any of the benefits of living with a more well-established and wealthier family in a house made out of something sturdier than palm-board.

Today Matt and I made green chile fried potatoes and eggs for breakfast and pasta with green peppers, onions, and a sauce made from reconstituted tomato paste and carnation condensed milk (no canned stewed tomatoes here, folks – but nevertheless it was delicious) for lunch, proving that you can indeed eat pretty well from what you can scrounge up at a colmado as long as you smuggled some spices from home. We have an ant-covered tomato and ¼ lb of young white cheese and some dried oregano waiting for us for dinner. Needless to say living with little to no refrigeration in the tropics gets you very accustomed to picking (or not, depending on how lazy you are and the relative hazard posed by the insect) bugs out of your food.

Here are some pictures. Did I mention that my house is bright pink with blue trim, and how extremely excited this makes me? When else in my life will I be able to live in a pink house until I go to the great, panhandled land in the south where all Jews go to fester out the end of their lives in the humidity and dengue-infested suburbs? Come to think of it, is living in the subtropics going to flip some switch in my Ashkenazi DNA and accelerate my aging?

Matt picking through dried beans on the front porch. You really, really have to sort your grains here before cooking them because of bugs and rocks. For example, in this particular ½ pound of beans we bought, about 15% of it was waste because they had been chewed through by some kind of weevil.

Matt cleaning baccalao (salt cod). It actually is incredibly delicious when properly prepared. Matt made baccalao with tomato and raisin sauce that was inspired by an 18th-century Neapolitan recipe I found in the book Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

Before and after.

The kitchen. We had a local guy make those tables for us so we had something to put our stove on, and I’m pretty sure he has never seen a level in his life, because we had to shim each one with about a half inch of wood scrap. But, ellas sirven, so it’s all good. The bowl filled with plastic bags of spices is actually half a calabash that our neighbors gave us filled with avocados, bananas, plantains, and fresh cut flowers as a housewarming gift. The stash of empty bottles are for storing the mead once it’s done (currently fermenting under the bed, in the great family bootlegging tradition). Matt and I have also finally been able to fulfill our dream of covering the walls of our kitchen with nails so we can hang all our pots and mugs.

The shower (and the sole source of water for the house…. but hey, no complaints here. We could be in the middle of Africa having to haul our water on our heads from an hour’s hike away):

The front yard. We have a very productive passionfruit vine, 3 grapefruit and 2 tamarind trees around the house as well:


Enough of my bragging about our psychedelic pink party pad. I have much more exciting news… Matt and I are now PADI open-water certified SCUBA divers, courtesy of the Peace Corps’ Marine Interest Group and Gus’ Dive Shop. If you are ever in Santo Domingo and want to go SCUBA diving, hit this guy up: Gus Dorreira 809-850-4900. He was a fantastic teacher and gives the Peace Corps a hefty discount for Volunteers to get certified. Oh yes, he also speaks English, so no tienen que hablar español to work with him.

We did our course over 3 ½ days, which included several hours of classroom time, one dive in a pool to get started, and four open-water dives; two at Las Culetas marine park in Santo Domingo, a former PCV’s site (there are Taino statues sunk around the park’s reefs), and two in Boca Chica, SD’s closest and sketchiest beach. We learned how to find and restart your regulator (the thing you breathe out of) if it gets knocked out of your mouth, how to empty your goggles of water while underwater, how to share air with your buddy if you run out, and how to make an emergency ascent. The trick (well, not trick.. the thing that will keep you alive) is to keep exhaling the entire way up. Even if you feel like you’ve run out of air, if you keep your airway open more air will escape because as you ascend the air in your lungs expands, and if you don’t continue exhaling your lungs can overfill and rupture from the decompressing air. All those years of choral singing paid off because I had a really easy time using only my lungs, not my BCV (the inflatable vest you hook your tank up to) to control my buoyancy, and I only used half my air (1500 psi out of 3000) in a 45-minute dive at 40ft, apparently pretty good efficiency for a beginner. Did you know that you use more air the deeper you dive? It’s because air compresses as you go deeper (every 10 meters under water the pressure increases by one atmosphere), so you consume what air was originally put in your tank at a much faster rate because it’s in a smaller package but your lungs are consuming the same volume of air. Apparently expert divers can alter their breathing so as to keep using the same amount of air they would on the surface at deeper depths. I tried taking half breaths while down at the bottom and it worked well for me, since your blood is still getting the same amount (or more) of oxygen, just in a smaller breath.

I don’t know why I keep getting into sports that require insanely expensive gear (rowing, skiing…), but SCUBA is particularly addictive. Apparently it takes around $600 to get outfitted (including the air tank), so I know where a chunk of our readjustment allowance is going as soon as I get back to the states. It’s only been a day since we dove but all we can think about is getting back underwater. Fortunately Peace Corps Dominican Republic gives you the opportunity to bucear (SCUBA dive) as part of your work through organizations like Reef Check, but living so far away from everything in the mountains, as much as I usually love it, is going to make it difficult to dive as frequently as I’d like.



  1. Great! Ma and I just finished reading your latest posting, complete with the pix of your new home.
    Congratulations on assembling such a comfortable looking “pad” with most of the amenities really necessary. Your scuba section, of course, made me recall our accompanied dive on the Great Barrier Reef and the Cod Hole when we visited Australia. I will look into getting certified so that I can dive with you guys in the future!

  2. yeah! if you get certified before you come to visit then we can all go diving together!

  3. Thanks for a great writeup and the pictures! I am glad that scuba certification went so well. Enjoy your delightful new home! Looks great and the privacy is a bonus!

  4. Your new home looks very, very comfortable.
    All you need now is some artwork to hang on the walls!

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