As I stare at the Macbook on my lap, I’m uncomfortably aware of sweaty, criss-crossed lines being burrowed into my ass from the vinyl pool lounger I’ve been perched on for more than an hour.
I’m tapping away in the hot, late-morning sun while Tommy, an eager golden retriever and fellow resident of Bali Hai in Cabarete, is perched poolside, fidgeting, panting and glancing back and forth at the pool, then at me. The pool. Me. Pool. Me.
I push my laptop aside, peel myself off the lounger and jump into the pool to fish out Tommy’s red ball, which I know is resting somewhere at the bottom. Tommy knows the routine as well as I do, so he takes off running before I even raise my arm to toss the ball into the courtyard between the Spanish-style townhouses of Bali Hai.
Dripping warm chlorinated water onto my laptop, I try to shift myself back into a comfortable position on the lounger when Tommy bounds happily back to the pool with his drool-covered red ball. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch him lie down poolside, spit his ball onto the concrete deck and use his nose to slowly nudge the red ball towards the water’s edge.
“Tommy! Can’t you see I’m trying to concentrate here?!” Tommy looks up at me panting cheerfully, then looks back at the pool. Me. Pool. Me. Pool.
Frustrating as it may be, this has been my and Tommy’s routine every morning for the last two months since Ryan and I left our boat on a mooring in Luperón, Dominican Republic, and came to Cabarete to explore its kiteboarding, surfing and general easy-lifestyle options.
Our stay in Cabarete was originally supposed to be just a quick side-trip with our friend Morgan to check out his favorite Dominican beach town before we said our good-byes and sailed on to Puerto Rico without him.
We weren’t expecting to fall in love. And we definitely weren’t expecting to stay. After all, we’d excitedly formed a plan to sail Hideaway to Grenada and leave her there for hurricane season while we jetted to England to participate in the upcoming Clipper Round the World Race.
But then, ambling along Cabarete’s Kite Beach, surrounded by muscly surfers, smiling Dominicans, Bachata beats and coconut drinks, the warm Caribbean waters swilled around my ankles and washed away any desire to hurry anywhere. This place seemed to grab hold of me, tugging at my shirt sleeve and pleading like a childhood friend to stay just a little while longer.
At times, cruising can feel like a lifestyle that’s dictated by external elements more than emotional instincts. Hurricane seasons, weather systems, wind patterns and engine troubles are just a few of the influences that decide when we move on from a place and when we stay put. Which feels wonderfully primal at times, but has also made me miss the kind of travel you can do with a backpack, with routes and schedules dictated primarily by how much you love or hate a place.
For six months, sailing from New York City to the Caribbean, we steadily moved from one port to the next, never stopping for long, moving when the wind blew and staying put when the weather interfered or boat projects called. Like Tommy the golden retriever, who doesn’t question why he has to run when his red ball is tossed in the air, we sailed. When the wind blew, we weighed anchor and moved on.
But upon discovering the inviting buffet of jungles, beaches, mountains and rural villages the Dominican Republic has served up, we started to wish we didn’t have to leave so soon. Then we started to wonder, “Why do we have to leave so soon?”
It wasn’t until Ryan suggested, “Why don’t we take an apartment in Cabarete, exhaust this place to our heart’s content, do a little work, have a little fun, and leave the boat in Luperón for hurricane season?” that I realized if we’d been backpacking, that’s exactly what I would have chosen to do.
“What about Grenada?” I asked.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Ryan said.
And it occurred to me that sometimes the best adventures require quashing the plans you’ve made and creating new ones. For the first time in years, we had the luxury of time to play with indefinitely, and yet we’d somehow forgotten that no one dictates our schedule but us.
For me, at its best, travel is an organic experience. The best stories and experiences come from those impromptu moments when you get lost, are thrown off course or find yourself on an unexpected journey with people who’ve invited you into their lives for a brief moment in time, in that country.
It’s hard to fully experience that joy when we’ve so strictly planned our travel itinerary that we find ourselves rushing through places we love. So we made the conscious decision not to blanch the organic experience of stumbling through the Dominican Republic in search of adventures just to mindlessly scurry off to Puerto Rico with the winds, like some kind of time-stamped Mary Poppins. Instead, we decided the rest of the world could wait until we’d quenched our thirst for this country.
After all, plans are written in sand… at low tide. As they should be.
So rather than run after the red ball this time, we’ve buried it in the backyard instead. But you can be sure the next time that ball sails through the air, jerking us into action, it will be because we dug it up on purpose.