Walking through Cabrera


Life moves slowly in Cabrera. Families and friends sit on the front porches of their brightly painted houses for hours, playing checkers, talking or just sitting in silence. An old man sits in a plastic chair under a mango tree every morning, scraping the bumps off of tiny sticks with a machete to make brooms. When the baker says your pig-in-a-blanket will be ready in two minutes, you can expect to be there for ten. That’s the way it is: nobody gets impatient, nobody taps their toes.

Even the sun sets, it seems, a little more slowly in Cabrera (Olivia Burton).

Life moves in a circular rhythm of comings and goings, meals and daily tasks. Guaguas make their circuits around the town, picking up passengers to pile into their crowded seats to take them to the beach or to visit family members. A pile of coins slides around the dashboard. Teenage boys on motorcycles circle familiar routes to find their friends, revving their engines and popping wheelies whenever they sense that someone is looking. “Jodi!” they shout as they pass my host family’s house, hoping to find their friend here.

In between dodging the motorbikes that never stop for pedestrians, you can look up at the sky to see the palm trees gently swaying in the breeze like the rocking chairs on front porches. Their shadows, like giant sundials, tell the time.

The beach in the heat of the day (Olivia Burton).
Playa Grande, located 15 minutes west of Cabrera by guagua, in the heat of the day (Olivia Burton).

When the children from Camp Esperanza see their counselors walking past their houses after camp in the afternoon, they run to give us hugs, high-fives and much-needed directions through Cabrera’s winding streets and alleys — to the bakery, or the ice-cream store. Out of curiosity, neighborhood dogs might follow for a few blocks before stopping to sniff a piece of trash or bark at a loose chicken.

In the afternoons in Cabrera when the sun is the highest and the hottest, time moves slowly…like your melting ice cream, or the bead of sweat rolling down your face.

At the waterfall, a ten-minute walk past the gas station (to my knowledge, the only air-conditioned building in town), kids climb up the slippery rocks, clinging to roots and hand-holds under the falls, and leap into the cool, muddy water. Boys in the pool below taunt their friends, goading them to jump. One follows the river downstream, covers his body in an eggshell-colored clay and lets it dry into a chalky gray before washing it off in the pool. It’s the perfect place to escape the mid-afternoon heat.

credit: Olivia Burton
Local kids cool off by jumping from El Saltadero waterfall (Olivia Burton).

Evening sounds indicate that Cabrera is not lethargic or lazy; rather, it is a relaxed and welcoming kind of slow. “Holas” are exchanged when passing the porch-sitters, and competing rhythms of music waft out of the kitchens along with the smell of roasting chicken and beans.

Women sing religious songs together from across the street, and children shout in games of soccer or baseball. Occasionally, a truck rolls through with speakers playing music or blaring an advertisement. Roosters call out their reminders that the sun is still up.

Walking along the Malecon, an open space with a wide sidewalk and concrete benches offering views of the ocean beyond the cliffs, I see a middle-aged couple sitting on a bench across the street from Manny’s, a popular bar and restaurant. Their tan SUV, doors and windows open, plays Spanish love songs as they watch the sunset together. The man puts his arm across the woman’s shoulders as the sun sinks beyond the fiery horizon. I walk behind the car. I don’t want to interrupt their view.

At night, the silhouettes of the palm trees block out the light from the stars and create their own constellations of shadowy starbursts. Crashing waves at the bottom of the cliffs keep time with their slow movements as they carry the last of the day’s rhythm into the morning.

My own rhythm has had to adjust to Cabrera’s slower pace. I brought a stack of books with the intention of finally attacking my reading list, but often I find myself sitting on a rocking chair on the front porch watching the motorcycles roar past and soaking in the easy contentment of the afternoon.

The other Camp Esperanza volunteers and I meet in an empty lot near the ocean in the afternoons to play soccer with local kids, many of whom are campers in the morning. Although it bothered me not to have specific meeting times during my first few days in the Dominican Republic, the slowness is a refreshing break from the impersonality of schedules. Soccer games are not interrupted by calendar notifications, and the decision to go to the waterfalls or the beach is made at the moment rather than a week ahead. Cabrera has a slow, yet irresistible spontaneity.

Brothers and sisters wave hello to passerby from their backyard (Olivia Burton).