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"A Passage to Puerto Rico: a Dominican Odyssey.".............. (by Raul Martinez Rosario)
3: Too many people for a yola
Home
1: Joining other travelers
2: On our way to El Macao Beach
3: Too many people for a yola
4: The return and the defeat
5: Without a job, without money and harassed
6: My companions for adversity
7: Papin: "What a shame to leave in a Yola"
8: The tortuous road to Punta Cana
9: The first hours of terror
10: Eshastion and Insecurity
11: Our long night in the Caribbean Sea
12: Our second day in the Caribbean Sea
13: The unsuspected at a small island
14: Our Arrival to Puerto Rican Beach
15: Our Entrance to San Juan
16: Papin's Sad Fate
17: Puerto Rico: an inhospitable place for illegal emigrants
18: I preferred Death than Deportation
About the author and his Work
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     We went through a second and final large gate and  inmediately, we found ourselves on  white sand of  a beach with its many coconut palms dancing in step with  a cold and intense wind.    The vehicles moved closer to where the yola was.  Everyone got off at once and shuffled off together curious to see the boat.  Juan and I also directed ourselves toward the yola.  Leo, in the meantime, was being helped to unload the minibus.  While we were approaching the yola, those who got there before us were commenting about it.  My heart was beating intensely.  Juan and I pushed our way in.  He said with anguish:

 

      ---Is this the piece of shit we'll be traveling in?

 

      The boat was there, tied to a trunk sticking out of the water.  The wind and the waves moved it.

 

      ---This cannot be the yola in which we'll be traveling ---Juan insisted.

 

      I was stunned and trembling.  I did not want to believe that this was it.  I stared at the sea and with an enthralled look I scanned over the entire beach.  I expected to see another yola, but there was no other within sight.  Until then, I had the illusion of a ship where we would travel with some comfort.  But now the yola was here in front of me; it seemed so small for so many people.  It was about thirty five feet long by twelve wide; that is to say, it was a safe boat for no more than twelve people.  There was not too much difference between this yola and the ones in which less than ten people cross the Ozama River.

 

      Some of the disillusioned travelers were shouting their complaints.  But Leo and his assistants paid very little attention to them.  They were loading the yola with fuel and provisions while the northeast breeze kept on blowing and the waves  swayed the yola.

 

      As soon as the ship was loaded and the motor was started, Leo addressed us aloud.  He was grabbing the motor's rudder with one hand, which helped him to keep his balance.  It was not difficult to distinguish his long, thin face, nor to notice that his big round black eyes stared at all of us,  who, between murmurs, would look at him and wait discouraged.  In a lamented tone, but determined, Leo said:

 

      ---Señores, there is not room for all of you here.  As soon as I get to Puerto Rico, I'll return to take with me those who can't make the trip today.  Don't despair, this very week there'll be another trip.  José and Frank will stay; they'll give you more instructions.

 

      As soon as Leo spoke, we could hear Frank's voice saying and repeating:

 

      ---Those of you who are not leaving, get into the pickup truck and in the minibus.  We're returning to La Romana at once.

 

      Some passengers rushed into the yola, unwilling to  take the risk to wait for the next supposed trip.  Others boarded slowly and hesitantly.  The rest were observing the small and fragile boat being boarded by the others.  Thereupon, my companion Juan, in his "cibaeño" accent said:

 

      ---I'm not crazy enough to get into that piece of shit!  God, they want to kill us..!

 

      A few more continued to get in.  And I, silent, worried and very cold, continued listening to Juan who kept on saying:

 

      ---Oh, shit! I didn't know this was like this.   These mother fuckers just want to cheat us out of our money and get rid of us by putting us in this shit.  You won't get in this shit; will you, Raul?

 

      I was wavering.

 

      ---That's it! Nobody else get in! ---said Leo repeatedly.  And then they started to plunge the boat out into the deep sea.  Maybe because of seeing Leo at the helm, with all my indecision, I got into the water and boarded the vessel.  And Juan, my companion, with great bitterness and hesitation, getting his clothes wet behind the yola, grabbed my hand and also got in.  We tried to find a space to accommodate ourselves while the small boat, moving with a small motor, started its slow departure.

 

      The ones at shore saw us leave.  They were urged to return to the city before being caught on the beach.  The time of day, the isolated location and the things they were carrying would announce their intentions to the authorities if they were to show up.

 

      Fifteen minutes after our departure, the sea increased its agitated oscillation.  Since Juan and I were the last to board, we were at the stern.  We located ourselves close to one of the tanks containing the fuel and at the same time close to Leo who was driving the boat.  Pedro was in the bow and by his side were many other men.  The rest were as crowded as when we were in the pickup.  Almost seventy of us were stuffed into this yola.  Some where sitting on the seat boards, others occupied any space they could find not taken by the three plastic tanks that contained the fuel.  Each tank held sixty gallons of gasoline.  Each weighed, therefore, around three hundred pounds.  Everyone recognized that the ship was super overloaded.  Juan cried:

 

      ---Oh shit, Raul!  We're really crazy, you know! We got in this shit with so many people.  This shit is gonna sink.

      ---You're right, Juan ---I said-, right now is where I've realized that we're in big trouble.

 

      The level of anguish increased as we were getting farther into the sea.  The waves, though not too high, were very active.  The top border of the yola was separated from the water by just a few inches.  This allowed water, once in a while, to get in over the top.  It was obvious that the water level inside the boat was slowly increasing.  Soon, hopelessness took over a great number of the passengers; and it grew, for, the small motor turned out to be unable to move the yola at an adequate speed.

 

      Fortyfive minutes after the departure, the coconut trees were only at about three kilometers away.  Dawn was becoming clearer but our situation was getting darker and darker:  water kept getting into the vessel and some of the desperate would shout to the captain:

 

      ---Let's go back, let's go back!

 

      On the other hand, others shouted recklessly:

 

      ---Keep on moving this God dam thing, no matter if we all get screwed up!

      Leo kept on going.  Each minute more water got into the vessel and she could advance less.  Cries, prayers and lamentations could be heard aloud.  Some women were clamoring to God and all the Saints.  A man, with a knife, was cutting off the plastic containers in which some had brought drinking water.  We continued in our effort to gather together as close as possible in order to make room for the plastic containers with which, almost since we departed, some were scooping water out of the yola.

 

      Soon, no one would ask Leo to continue; almost all were begging him to return to the beach.  To get back to the beach was a matter of four thousand five hundred meters, to get to Puerto Rico a matter of two hundred thousand.  It seemed entirely impossible to travel this latter distance in our condition.  Leo, at last, seemed to understand this:

 

      ---All right! We're going back, so that at least half of you can get off the yola..!  I told you not to overload the boat; I said no more people..!

 

      ---Ok. I'll get off! -assured some, while Leo, little by little, began a large circle to turn the boat around and come back to the beach.  I was one of those who insisted that Leo should return to shore, like almost everybody else, I felt a great sense of relief as Leo was turning the boat around.

 

      The turn was completed but the water level increased inside the vessel.  The waves continued to hit the sides of the boat.  Upon splashing up, the water that threatened to sink the boat kept the people inside wet.  As the water level increased, so too did the desperate efforts of those attempting to counteract the attacks of the waves.  A few minutes after the turn, it seemed impossible to get to the shore without the vessel sinking.  Some would shout out, while crying:

 

      ---Oh, I don't know how to swim!

 

      ---It's too far away! -shouted some women, as they referred to the shore that could hardly be seen in the distance.  Something had to be done and Pedro backed up one woman's proposition.

 

      ---Throw every thing of weight overboard! -repeated a thirty year old woman, with mounting grief.

 

      ---What are you talking about? ---protested a man---. No one has brought anything of considerable weight here.

 

      The woman, crying with a horse and pressured voice, insisted:

 

      ---Well, let's then throw out the tanks with the gasoline!  I have three small children who I don't want to leave orphaned.

 

      After a short discussion, some of those close to the tanks of gas managed to throw out the first tank without sinking the yola.  They threw out the second tank also, but not the third one that was by my side.  This one was supplying the motor through a piece of hose.  But the boat did not indicate that she had felt the effect of the loss of weight.  She seemed to be in the same place just waiting to sink with all these people crying.  But not every one was crying.  Some women had fainted and were lying on the floor.  Some of the men were trembling  as the water splashed our bodies.  The crying could be heard better than the murmur of the waves that were constantly dumping in more water.  It was impossible to get rid of all of it.  My companion Juan would not say a word, the paleness of his round face spoke for him.  I was very frightened, but focusing on the faraway coconut trees invigorated me somewhat, although I was sure that I was not capable of swimming a tenth of the distance that separated us from them.

 

      Pedro encouraged those who were extracting water.   Leo was still at the helm; but, for a great while, he refrained from scolding us any more; he would not say a word.  He was hearing the people's cries and his face showed a strange mix of serenity and anguish.  When he spoke, he did it without scolding.  I was looking at him.   First, like in other occasions, he directed his eyes to the coconut trees which were far away and fuzzy.  Then he lowered his eyes, took a look at the crowded group and, gasping, said:

 

      ---All the men, throw yourselves into the water to relieve some of the weight of the yola!  This is the only way that we have left to reach the beach.

 

      We all heard him, but no one volunteered on his petition; not even the strong Pedro.  Instead, one of the men said:

 

      ---I would throw myself into the water if I hadn't heard that this is one of the most shark infested water of this island. 

 

      The small ship continued at a very slow speed, almost motionless; the waves insisted in their tenacious labor.  The cries and laments of those who considered death near and inevitable were increasing.

 

      Some were lamenting for their lives and others for their relatives whom they were leaving.  They mentioned their sons and daughters, their mothers... many of the women were horse from crying.  The sadness on some faces was awful and tears were abundant.  I saw some cover their faces and curl up like snails.  I noticed that some frightened woman snuggled up on others.  I estimated that we still were at about two kilometers from the shore. Nevertheless, what I perceived more readily was the chattering of my teeth, and the shivering of my knees.  Certainly, the cold increased my fear.  Had I been a good swimmer I would have found this easier to endure.

 

      Leo, in vane, continued to insist that the men should leave the boat.  We were still afloat because we kept on taking water out of the vessel and because we all endeavored to keep the yola balanced.

 

      Thirty minutes had gone by after we turned around, but the distance traveled was minimal. Nevertheless, the deterioration and  desperation of the passengers had increased a great deal.  By then Leo called out to Pedro, who with great difficulty made his way though the  mass of people and took charge of the rudder.  All of a sudden, Leo, with all his clothes, jumped over the motor and into the turbulent waves.  From there, Leo continued to urge the men to join him saying that they could reach the shore grasping the sides of the boat.

 

      Since the boat did not move from its place, some men started to jump into the water.  I also decided to do so.  I took off my gray shoes which did not look new anymore.  I took my wallet out of my pocket and stuck it into one of my shoes.  I put the shoes in the plastic bag in which I had my other things.

 

      ---Juan hold this for me! Give it back to me on the beach ---I said to my friend as I jumped into the water.

 

      ---Raul, are you crazy? Didn't you hear that there're lots of sharks in there? ---Juan reminded me.  But I fell into the sea water which was just like the water entering the yola: warmer than the cold air that mortified us.

 

      Once eight or nine of us, about half of all the men, had jumped out of the yola, it advanced faster and with less risk of sinking.  Those who were emptying water had more room to do so.  In the sea, we continued taking hold of the yola which was dragging us toward the beach.  And the beach, little by little, was getting closer with its green coconut trees and its white sugar sand.

 

 

 

 

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