An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — February 2008

Big Steps


After a full day of meeting with local boaters and organizations, a nice lady looked me in the eye and said graciously, “You’re not going to change the world…” Moments later, I bellied up to the bar at the Yacht Club with a man known in Luperon as Karaoke Dave. “Do you think you can change the world? Because you never will. You know why? It’s filled with people.” Ironically, both were people who had been very supportive of my intentions and actions in the community.

When Dan and I returned to the boat from the Kids Alive school, we had a little bit of money left over. Dan learned there were some areas in Luperon we could probably help out with, so it seemed like a good idea to donate the remaining money we had raised to the needs of a community we had enjoyed so much. We started asking. Homeless Haitian kids who needed to be fed. Medicine at the hospital for unable families. Building houses in the outlying “campos”. There were needs everywhere and people trying to help.

Meanwhile, the word seemed to have spread about Dan and I. Almost daily, someone from the boating community would ask us what we were doing with the kids and how they could get involved. One couple even went out to the school to, you guessed it, sand boards. Then one morning, at the bottom of fresh cup of Dominican coffee, the obvious hit us. There are people making a difference and there are people who want to make a difference, we should introduce the two.

The idea was simple. “Charity Night”-a night when anyone interested in getting involved could listen to those already involved and donate to the cause they connected most with. I got to work, first to secure a time and place at the marina. Then investigating all of the people and organizations who were already doing good things in the community. That’s when I started running into problems or should I say opinions.

Everyone had a different opinion and each opinion was a passionate one. Ways it would work. Why it wouldn’t work. What I REALLY needed to do to make this happen. On top of it, there was an average 3 degrees of separation from the people who were actually involved. Finally, the evening after being assured I was not going to “change the world”, I had just about had it. There was one full day left until the event. I had a couple leads but nothing solid and now I was being assured I was NOT going to change the world.

That’s when I learned of Viejito (little old man). It was the day of the event and I had secured one or two people to speak. Through the grape vine I learned of a man who years ago made a living diving for lobster. The man known as Viejito all but lost his hearing from improper decompression over the years. Then, unable to hear the car honking, Viejito got hit-damaging his right leg. A short time later an infection occurred on his left leg from another incident which eventually led to amputation.

Maria, Viejito’s wife, does laundry 6 days a week at the marina and is the only source of income other than their livestock which they had just sold the last of. I walked into the steamy room, yards from retired boaters and in broken Spanish asked her what she needed. She handed me a letter from the hospital. The cost for a prosthetic was 54,000 pesos. Maria had 20,000. We had a new goal for the evening.

Karaoke Dave handed me the mic. I introduced myself then the people doing things in the community. Finally I took the mic back and shared with the people about Viejito. Dan and I had $300 left from donations so I announced we would match the first $300 (approximately 10,000 pesos). “I donate 10,000 pesos!” Yelled one lady from the back, “And I challenge anyone to beat it!” “10,000 pesos!” Another man yelled. By the end of the night we not only raised the 30,000 pesos needed, we raised nearly twice that 57,052 to be exact. In 8 minutes we raised almost twice as much as Dan and I raised in 8 weeks!

With the exception of singing “Play That Funky Music White Boy” for karaoke and a little bit of dancing, I just sat on the outskirts and watched. Maybe it was me, but there was something in the air that night. People were laughing, singing, happy. Everyone got to be a part of something special and somewhere in Luperon, Viejito-who I had yet to meet, was going to get another chance to walk.

The next day about 20 boaters went down to the local baseball field and challenged the Dominican kids to a game of softball. The gringos got whooped and following the game had a hot dog cook-out with Presidente’s on the house. A few days later, Dan and I got to meet Viejito and share the good news. Another special memory-sitting in the back yard, chickens running around, while Dan, Maria, Viejito, and I smiled and chatted while eating corn on the cob.

We may not have changed the world, but one man’s world is going to get a whole lot better.

February 23, 2008   5 Comments

Small Steps


I have to admit, trying to make a difference is not always easy. You think you want to do something in life, something that matters. In the back of your mind you imagine grandeur. Feeding the hungry, solving homelessness, saving the orphans. You take steps and when you finally stop and look around you feel like you’ve gone nowhere.

There were moments like this at the school we were volunteering at for desperately needy Dominican and Haitian children. Coming in we put out the call: raise $1,000 to buy supplies for these children. And we did it! Actually you did it. One week after we arrived the Dominican Republic we received a donation that put us over the $1,000 mark. We were stoked. Excited that we reached the goal, and amazed by those who donated. Donations from friends we knew were in a tough spot, from some we hardly knew, from some we didn’t know!

Needless to say when we arrived we were anxious to dig in, to make a difference. The first few days in the Dominican Republic we got acquainted with a small village surrounded by cane fields and filled with poverty. In the middle of the village, was a 3 year old school built to provide tremendously impoverished children with an education, school supplies, and for many of these kids their only meal.

The children were beautiful. In the morning, they lined up outside the gate to the school fitted in the uniforms they had been provided. They began their day with a piece of bread and warm milk. After going to class for a couple hours they returned for lunch. Bowed their heads, gave thanks, ate every grain of rice in front of them and after a couple of songs infiltrated the field to play baseball. They had little, but had no idea. They were happy. They played, laughed and smiled. Life was good.


I’m not a doctor, and it’s fairly difficult to teach when you don’t speak Spanish, so I did the other thing I know nothing about, construction. My job was to sand when the wood and/or equipment was available to do so. To be honest, I felt like I did as much standing as I did working. Which gets a guy trying to “change the world” thinking… what exactly was I doing? Sanding shelves?

But there was more to do. We had $1,000 and a school and children with a lot of need. We asked our friend Jessi and others at the school to compile a list their greatest needs. We explained that we had raised some money from the website and wanted to help with supplies. After several days they gave us the list.

There were needs that were obvious but some you wouldn’t think of… like a lawn mower. When we first arrived the school we watched as 5 men walked the grounds swinging machetes. They weren’t threatening, they were mowing the lawn. All week we watched them hack away at the overgrown grass where the children played, and by the time we left they still hadn’t finished. So on the list of needs was a lawnmower.

Jessi drove us into town, first to a department store. Dan and I walked pricing the listed items. Underwear, socks, belts, everything seemed more than we expected. Then Jessi got an idea: the Haitian markets. Row and rows of piled clothes. We split up and got to bargaining. We emerged we were sweaty, dirty and armed with bags supplies. When all was said and done here’s what we had:
∑ 200 pairs of underwear
∑ 17 belts
∑ 10 bras
∑ 70 pairs of socks
∑ And yes… a lawnmower

It occurred to me you won’t go anywhere in life if you don’t take steps. No matter what your path. Some steps are smaller than others every but step moves you a little bit closer. Someone has to hammer a nail, someone has to sand a board. It might not be what you expect but it’s something and it all adds up. It was a important lesson and one that would be put to test sooner than later.

February 17, 2008   6 Comments

Comets in the Harbor

When you are four years old, nothing is more stimulating than lights. Fireworks on the 4th. Parading the streets in the VW bus during Christmas. Being hypnotized by every emergency vehicle that roars by. So when you’re sitting on the your grandparents’ front porch, in the soupy southern air and the world starts to blink you couldn’t be happier. That is until you learn the lights are coming bugs! Lightning bugs. Can you imagine? The two most fascinating things in life rolled into one: lights and bugs.

Then those 4 year old wheels start turning. I might have been young, but I knew I was genius when I discovered the firefly lantern- shoving as many lightening bugs as my devious hands could catch into one of my grandmother’s mason jars and bumping through the house like a snot nosed Lewis and Clark. It was only a matter of time before I innocently discovered that the magic glow juice in these little creatures can be used to draw happy faces on one’s prestained t-shirt. Life was good.

I’m still fascinated by the phenomenon. Which is why I was instantly intrigued when I learned of phosphoresents. My whole life I had heard rumors of the water lighting up when you stirred it. Some sort of algae that creates light. I finally experienced it when I did my first night dive in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. The water would literally sparkle as it rushed through your fingers. I saw it again in the Mediterranean waters of Cinque Terra (Italy) when a couple friends and I braved a late night swim.

But I’ve never in my life seen anything like the waters in Luperon. The Luperon harbor is surrounded by mangroves. And the water is as thick and cloudy in the day as at night. But at night something happens. One night standing on the bow I noticed the water was sparkling slightly but with not source to reflect. “Phosphoresents?” I thought and grabbed the anchor chain. As soon as I tugged a glowing line descended into the darkness.

Immediately, Dan and I climbed into the dinghy and started doing circles around the boat. We cruised like rock stars through the bay. The bottom our ding glowing like it was supped with neon lights ready for the next episode of “Pimp My Dinghy”. I just stared in the water awestruck when Dan noticed something. Occasionally, a line would streak through the water, shooting away from the boat. Fish.

You always dream of having superpowers, and while night vision doesn’t really compete with flight or invisibility, after tonight I’ve got a newfound respect. Anytime our boat approached a fish, the water would light up with streaks like comets zig-zagging through the water. It is without a doubt one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Rivaling those youthful nights on Grandma Turner’s porch.

Now every night, as I brush my teeth preparing for bed, I stand on deck and watch for shooting stars. Not the ones in the sky. The ones in the water.

February 11, 2008   4 Comments

Gettin Close with the Locals

There are moments you wish you had your camera and there are moments you are glad you didn’t… I’ll start with one I wish I had.

Every country has it’s own system of transit. In Europe there are trains, in Thailand- tuk tuks, and in the Dominican Republic you have motorcycles or gua guas. A gua gua (pronounced gwa gwa) is basically a mini van that runs between cities, and there are a lot of them. To catch a gua gua simply stand on the side of the road and the a car is sure to stop to pick you up. In fact, 90% of the time a van will stop or honk even if you are not looking for a ride. That’s the easy part. The hard part: getting on.

To begin, everyone squeezes into the car like a poorly funded high school sports team. One guy taps the side of the car to notify the driver everyone is in. The driver proceeds a few kilometers to until spotting someone else on the side of the road. Dan and I got the hang of traveling by gua gua and despite the initial discomfort, it’s actually kind of fun.

But there is one ride that sticks out. We were headed back from sight seeing on a different part of the island. We climbed in and instantly knew we were in for something special. Dan gets in first, then I pull in and comfortably park quarter cheek on the same seat. We look back to a sea of eyes staring at us. Both start counting. “How many did you get?” Dan asked. “18, I think!”

Minutes later- helper taps side, driver honks and gua gua pulls over. Man on-19 total passengers. Moments later- same thing, but two people. 21 total passengers. Amazing! 21 people in one car?! Then tap-honk-stop, we pull over to a group of 4 young guys. Impossible! Well maybe if the door is shut. But easy if 5 guys are willing to hang on to the side with the door open. Total passenger count: 25 (plus a few bags of luggage).

We finally reached our destination one hour later, put our joints back in place, and held our heads high-proud of what had to have been some kind of record.

Then there are the moments you’re not so proud of. This time we were headed to the mountains. 27 waterfalls and a tour that requires you to wear helmets and life jackets sounded like a “must do”. But first you have to get there. Fortunately, this place wasn’t too far from where our boat was docked, so rather than the gua gua, we went with the less expensive option: motorcycle.

The motos are small-mostly 150 cc or less, but we’re in the Dominican Republic, where the idea of three grown men on one little scooter makes perfect sense. So once you sort out your securities, the first decision is who gets middle. “I’ve got the backpack…” Dan shrugs. I roll my eyes and climb on. Then Dan climbs on ensuring there is no extra space between driver and I.

The good new is when there’s no room to move you don’t really have to “hold on”, so I rest my hands the only place they make sense- on MY legs.  Then Dan realizes the opportunity at hand. I catch movement out of the corner of my eye and see Dan’s arm move past mine to poke the driver. The driver turns his head and looks out of the corner of his eye.

Not having time to think of something witty, I just sit silent… Then Dan does it again. Driver looks. Derek remains silent. Naturally things were getting awkward so the next time I was ready. Dan reaches. Derek blocks. Dan grabs Derek’s hand and shoves into driver’s side. Driver swerves slightly and again looks back…

I’d like to say it stopped there but Dan was just having too much fun (never mind the awkward bond between the driver and me). So after a few subtle pokes Dan changes his strategy to the ol’ bump n push. You know where with every bump in the road the guy on the back pushes the guy in the middle closer to the guy in the front.

Needless to say the waterfalls could not come soon enough, and I’m guessing the feeling was mutual judging by the speed we were going.  Not exactly the “motorcycle diaries” I was hoping to be a part of. You’re kind of at a disadvantage when you are the meat in a Derek sandwich on a Dominican moto. So despite the threats to knock Dan off the back, the driver continued to get casually assaulted all the way to our destination.

Normally, when you reach your destination you can bargain the price of transportation. But today? Today our driver got full price and no doubt still felt cheated. Luckily the waterfalls were awesome and couldn’t have been more fitting-feeling a little dirty from a dusty moto ride. Oh yeah the ride back? It was nice day, so um yeah… we walked.

February 9, 2008   1 Comment

From Wet to Dirty


“No hablo espanol. No intendo. Pero intendo “Loco” y tu no es loco…” I spoke softly to the old lady who was too ashamed, embarrassed, or injured to leave the small wooden shack in which she sat to visit the clinic. Holding my hand, she continued to speak as though I understood every word. She paused only to swallow hard the lump in her thoat that accompanied her tears.

My friend, Jessi, who works for the orphanage asked me moments before to leave the team of nurses and follow her. There was a lady who could not (or did not want to) leave her house. We walked a short distance on a dirt road walled with sugar cane. We approached a small wooden shack, roofed with palm leaves, a smoky tinge crept from its walls.

Jessi invited me in where she began to inspect the woman covered in soars. I watched as the woman, at first hesitant, explained something to Jessi. She would point to her legs as though indicating some type of pain running through them, then her voice would increase a she pointed toward the village. I sat in the background watching, trusting my eyes to translate what my ears failed to understand. After a short time we left and returned with some medicine.

The woman continued, this time to me. Now I softly held her hand and she communicated. I understand very (VERY) little Spanish. So instead I stood and listened. Jessi was heading back to the group of American nurses she was overseeing at the one day clinic set up for this small village. “You can stay here if you like,” she said. I stayed.

I stayed only to listen. To smile on occasion. To search this woman’s eyes for a connection deeper than language. One human. And with the little Spanish I knew tried to explain that I didn’t understand her, but knew she was not crazy (as she was apparently accused of being-that through translation). Before I left, I knelt down, told her she was beautiful, and kissed her on the cheek. It was the highlight of my day.

This was the third day in the Dominican Republic. It was a beautiful day. Most of the villagers who visited the make shift clinic had nothing wrong. Mothers would bring their children and explain to the nurses various ailments their children were experiencing. Stomach aches, headaches, coughs. Often phantom symptoms, most likely from a savvy mother making the most of a rare opportunity. Of course there were some legitimate cases of scabies, flu symptoms, high blood pressure, but fortunately nothing serious.

Nothing too eventful either, but not at all lacking in inspiration. For me it came in my shared moments with the villagers. The elderly woman was one. Another occurred at the end of the day as I chatted briefly with a kind blind man (through a translator). He used to work for the sugar cane companies managing the production numbers. Then about 10 years ago started to lose his vision. Now he can only decipher light from dark.



I told him sometimes in life there are images you hope always to carry with you, a sunset, a moment at the beach… I wondered if he carried any images with him. Snapshots of life. He paused for a moment, then answered it was hard for him to remember. I asked if I could take a picture with him so I could always remember this moment. He smiled. Once for yes. Once for the camera.

Otherwise, I was clinically useless so I spent most of the day smiling at people and just looking generally good. I can only assume the villagers agreed, as I’m not sure what else so many people would be talking about as they watched the gringo. We packed up and bounced back into town. Next up: the children.

February 2, 2008   3 Comments