Monday, September 24, 2007

Fun in the Dominican Sun!

Late last night (or more like early this morning) I returned from my last non-California of the year. Actually, no, I'm blatantly lying because I booked a trip to Peru for Thanksgiving break a few weeks back. In any case, I did my first *real* trip to the Caribbean this past weekend with Erika to the Dominican Republic. I stayed at a all-inclusive resort for the first time in my life, which is very out of character for J. Riley. But I have to say that they have some amazing packages which made the trip very much worth it.

Erika and I made a flawed decision to fly out on Thursday morning, her from Peru and me from New York of course. We met up at the airport at around 1:00 and were whisked to the Oasis Hamaca resort (which was more like a city than anything) in our resortee bus. The check-in process was frustrating because they operate on island-time, so everything is slow and unorganized. They finally said that our room would be ready in a half hour which was pretty annoying since it was already 3:00 or so. Finally we got the keys to our room and as we were heading across the street to the "suburbs" of the resort they came running after us telling us that they gave us the wrong room. So, another delay. Finally we got the keys and headed off to find our room. This place was massive though and nobody working there seemed to have any idea about where our room was. After a half-hour of searching, we finally found it, settled in, and discovered that none of the lights worked, there was no key for the safe, and we were practically in a mosquito breading ground - though they seemed to stay away from me for some reason (do I really eat that much garlic? ;o).

After heading down to the desk to tell them our myriad of problems, we finally headed off to the beach (at 5:00 :o| ). What a waste of the first day!!! The water was fantastically warm and clear, though, and there was some great potential for an awesome trip. We hung out there for a while, then got some good all-inclusive food (and beverages :o) and checked out the disco which was decent for both dancing and people watching. Those Dominican girls are nuts. They all (stereotype, I know) have huge butts and wear things that are like bathing suits over their huge asses, hands basically on the floor, and their butts shaking like crazy up against the guy's jock. I guess I should have taken some videos because it was crazy - oh well!

The next day we had breakfast and met up with our resort representative who told us about their great packages for things that we could do. Gasp. Again. I basically despise anything like a tour with a bunch of other tourists around following the guy with the yellow flag so I was switched off until they talked about an island called Saona that he highly recommended. I was mildly entertaining the thought of a tropical island in a national park with drinks, music, lunch, a speet boat ride out there and a catamaran ride back. But the woman wanted to do it so I figured I'd go for it as well, it might be fun.

The rest of the day I spent getting sun-burned all over my shoulders and legs, despite my heavy-duty, weather tested Bullfrog sport-gel spray that I've used on many an occasion to prevent from getting burnt. So I knew I was dealing with some hard core tropical sun (95 degrees plus humidity) and had to be extremely careful the rest of the trip. We took a paddle boat around our area of the beach and basically chilled for the rest of the day there.

At night, Erika's friends from Peru were staying at the hotel next door for a night on their way to another resort on another part of the island. They rented a car and picked us up at night for a drive to Santo Domingo, the capital, to try to find some sweet dance clubs. We stopped at a random place that a guy at our hotel told us about. It was like a parking lot with chairs, music blasting, big-screen TVs with baseball games on (think drive-in movies) and something that resembled a huge bar inside (think a grocery store with only a bar). We had a beer there, took some pictures, and were on our way downtown.

We basically had no idea where we were going (not too smart in a country as poor as this) but Renzo knew about the Zona Colonial area of town that was supposed to be upscale and nice so we headed there. After getting off the highway, the police were pulling everyone over to check their registration. With machine guns in their hand. They started harassing Renzo about not having a Dominican license (uhhh, hello, we're tourists) and the talked for about 15 minutes (not sure what they were talking about) before the cop asked where we were going. "Out for dinner", Renzo said. "I'd like to have some dinner tonight too," the cop replied. Hint hint. I guess dinner would cost 100 pesos ($3) because he handed it over and we were free to go. Pretty common for Latin America, though, and Renzo knows how to deal with these types being from Lima!

By the time we got downtown, parked, had a drink (and I got something to eat) and checked out some really cool, stylish bars and clubs, it was 12:30 so we headed back home. We weren't really sure how to get home either and ended up driving through an area that looked as lit up as Las Vegas with "cabaƱas" (cabins). Basically places where you could go park your car in a garage, get a quicky, and leave. Wow. Can't say I'd been an area like that before! An attractive girl (who was probably just leaving work :o/ ) told us how to get back to highway, thank god!

Saturday we had to meet at 7:15am for our multiple-hour bus ride to the boat launch for our trip to the Saona island. We took these cool, slightly ghetto speed-boats out for about 1/2 hour before we stopped in the middle of the ocean at a sand bar that was waist deep and they let us swim around, drink rum and cokes, and take pictures. Then, we were off to the Saona island where we relaxed, ate a great buffet, drank cervezas, got massages, and talked to some other people. Erika got her hair braided (but took it out a few hours later after her headache wouldn't go away :o). Then, for the trip back, we got on a big catamaran, listened to music, did some dancing, drank some more Cuba libres, and I proceeded to get my face and nose sunburned.

That night, we went to our hotel's disco again and met up with a Peruvian we had met at the airport who was meeting her boyfriend from Spain there. Her boyfriend turned out to be about 55 and was obviously not with this girl for a long-term relationship. His hands were all over her and he was practically attacking her neck and face with his mouth, the poor girl, but she didn't seem to be annoyed. Probably just another Latin American girl with a married guy living it up :o\ .

Sunday was another day of sun wasted pretty much because we had to check out at noon and had to go to the airport at 2:15. Erikita and I just kind of lounged around, took a nap on one of the many couches and appreciated the last few hours together before she went south and I went north :o(. We had a very nice trip together though and I look forward to more of these kinds of trips in the future, though hopefully with her leaving with me! She has all of the paperwork necessary to try to get her tourist visa for the U.S. and if all things work out as planned, you might just be meeting her in 2008! :o)

J. Riley, Pictures from my trip!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bourne Again

No, I am not referring to the Unix shell, but rather the awesome, confused,
undercover CIA agent Jason Bourne who kicks some serious @$$ on-screen.
Inspired by the character, Paul and I decided we should start training to
become as lethal as he is. First we started by doing push-ups. That lasted
about a day - but is something that we aspire to do more of.

Conveniently, I had been thinking about looking for martial arts studios in the
Bronx to train me how to protect myself in case I get jumped at 2:00am walking
home some night (which is highly likely, since I'm so white that I glow in the
dark. Actually, my hood is not that bad, but it could happen. Just like it
happen anywhere in NYC! ;o). Sure enough, I found a Gracie Jiu Jitsu studio
just a few subway stops *north* of where I live!! This is the martial art that
I've wanted to learn anyway because it seems most practical for street tussles.
Plus all the UFC and Pride FC champions usually know it.

So last night Paul and I trucked it up-town (MORE uptown, almost to the end of
the 6-Subway line) for a free lesson. It was pretty awesome, we learned how to
break someone's wrist quite easily, how to escape from someone grabbing us by
the throat, and a few other techniques as part of the Self-Defense track. It
was pretty awesome and I think I'm going to sign up for the course while I'm
living in the Bronx to get some exercise and get some physical self-confidence
while living outside of my comfort zone.

On a completely un-related topic, I have something to share with the ladies
among the crowd about unusual things I have noticed in the men's room that I
share with a few hundred people at work. No, I'm not talking about Larry
Craig-esque activities (whatever they were). It's more about urinating
techniques that are impossible to avoid noticing. I've observed the following:

1.) Men often *spit* into the urinal while utilizing it. Ummm, why?
2.) Men often squat when zipping up their zipper. Ummm, odd?
3.) Hand positioning. Some men put on hand on their hip and aim with the other
hand. I find this far too casual. Some men put one hand above them and against
the wall and hold themselves at an angle to the wall. It looks like you're
going to collapse if you can't go to the bathroom. Ummm, ok.
3.) A certain percentage of the population corner themselves into the urinal
when using it. Ummm, there are partitions between you and the guy next to you,
so why?
4.) A certain percentage of the population refuses to use urinals and use the
toilets. Ummm, you hate the environment and don't realize that the world is
running out of fresh water, so you need 5 gallons of water to wash down this
morning's cup of coffee?
5.) Men often urinate into the small pool of water at the bottom of the urinal
(rather than at an angle against the porcelain), causing a not-like-a-waterfall
noise and a back-splash that may contaminate the floor. Ummm, why would you do

J. Riley, just some interesting observations that I think about blogging about
every time I go to the bathroom. P.S. I'm going to the Dominican Republic
tomorrow morning!!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New & Awesome Recipe!

I recently discovered one of the most awesome things in the world to eat and I highly recommend it. As most of you know, despite it being very Euro I'm not the biggest fan of Nutella (available at your local, or in my case not very local, Trader Joe's), probably because the Euros tend to eat it at breakfast. However, Melissa mentioned to me something she has been eating in Iceland (because Iceland is really expensive, I guess) and it has rocked my world: Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches! Oh my god! I toasted my bread to give it a bit more crunch and it's totally rocked my world, try it out!

Monday, September 10, 2007

B-to-the-X Update

Well, it's been a whole three weeks or so since I've relocated to the Bronx and
things are going pretty well. Like any move, there are a couple things that I
am struggling to come to grips with. I've compiled a short list:

1.) Lack of non-fast-food, non-Latin restaurants that even appear to pass health
code regulations.
2.) The grocery stores are terrible with very few organic items available and
with fruits and vegetables that are practically rotting on the shelves. I'll
stick with the Manhattan stores on my way home.
3.) It's a long-haul on the subway to get to the main airport. On the plus side,
the ride on a cab from the airport is quicker and cheaper than going to
4.) I am not a cat person, and my roommate has a cat who's kitty-litter igloo is
outside my door. Not only does it wake me up every night by digging through the
kitty-litter (not to mention meowing), but the stench burns my nose-hairs when
it drops the kids off at the sandbox (so to speak). I am trying to train it to
keep the hell out of my room too, but it seems to be a little bit slow when it
comes to being trained. I wonder why it runs whenever it sees me?

Other than that, things are as expected. My commute can be annoying when trains
don't arrive on-time, but it doesn't take me more than an hour to get home
usually (thanks to express trains) and it gives me the chance to get a lot of
reading done during daylight hours. Paul and Cathy have been great too,
allowing me to crash on their couch on a Friday or Saturday night if it's going
to be a late one. For example, Saturday night we caught a great meal in TriBeCa
and a pretty good (but WAY too LOUD) Bruce Springsteen cover band at a concert
venue in the same neighborhood. I am not a huge Bruce fan, but we did see him
perform some songs at an event a few years back and he certainly does put on an
awesome performance....

J. Riley, I just finished reading Kite Runner, which was a very good page-turner
and I'm sure will make a great movie!