at the rent-a-car at one o'clock. I
exchanged the pesos I had for fifty dollars. This was the exact amount to be
paid in order to be transported from the Puerto Rican beach to San Juan. Leo
arrived at the rent-a-car by four, one hour later than promised. He was accompanied by six passengers, driving a blue Charmant
which he exchanged for a grey four doors Nisan Sunny. He was exchanging vehicle,
as always, to derail any traffic authority, because whenever they recognized
him they stopped him, to make him give them a few pesos.
We arrived in La Romana a little after five in the afternoon. We stopped in one of its barrios, in front of two houses. We found a group of people chatting happily below a cement gazebo and on the green grass in the front yard
that both houses shared. Some of the passengers were unknown to me; I had seen
others in the other trip. Among those, I saw Ana, the young lady that lost her
camera at El Macao Beach. I approached her with a smile, and told her:
---God, young lady, you're still in this! You're tough!
She laughed and commented:
---Since we decided to get into this, we have to go through
with it until the end. Any way, we're screwed here ---A few seconds later she
---I live here with my mother ---and pointed to one of the
two houses, and while referring to the other house, she said:
---See that guy over there, he lives right there ---she was
referring to Pedro, who was having a meeting with Leo, Jose and Frank. They were
---Ana, will you give me a glass of water ---I told her---
It's hot, I'm thirsty.
She walked up to her house.
I waited at the door. When I had drunk the water, I asked:
-Is your mother going too?
---My mother? Oh no! She thinks it's crazy. That's my mother. Her name is Maria -she was pointing to a
fifty year old woman, tall, with spanish features. She seemed to be pleased with
the presence of so many people. She was happily chatting with some of them. We are old friends of Pedro and Augusto
-Ana added. I asked:
-What about your girlfriend?, the one that accompanied you
on the other trip.
got scared. She said for nothing
in the world would she get in another yola. And what about the cibaeño that was with you?
Is he here too?
---No. He's not. I
think he got scared, just like your girlfriend.
After talking with Carmen, I joined one of the groups. She went back to talking with the people with whom she was conversing before I interrupted
Maria and Pedro's were the last houses on this street.
them, on the other side of the street, was an abandoned half-built basketball court.
Past this, the land stretched out to the East and South without any houses built upon it. Only weeds covered those
lots where it was evident that an earlier construction of houses and streets had been stopped long ago.
Quite some time after we arrived, Leo left with Jose and Frank. Pedro stayed with the group. Before their
departure, Leo informed us:
---We're going to make some contacts and inquiries to have
everything ready so we can leave before midnight.
After the three organizers left, many of the passengers were
talking to Pedro. I got interested in what they were saying. Not long before,
I had noticed Pedro with Leo's group. But by what he was saying and by some passengers'
questions, I realized that instead of being an assistant to Leo in matters concerning these trips, Pedro used to organize
trips to Puerto Rico by himself.
---When things are going to happen, they just happen ---said
Pedro as he answered some passengers questions about his last, disastrous voyage. His
account of the shipwreck did not seem to discourage anyone. Four months had gone
by since the tragedy: the yola that he was navigating sank while trying to cross the Canal de la Mona. Of fifty shipwrecked, only twelve survived until the morning of the following day when the Puerto Rican
Coast Guard rescued them almost dead; some were found grasping boards of the destroyed yola, other were hanging onto empty
fuel tanks. When Pedro was brought to Santo Domingo, in spite of some accusations,
he always denied that he had organized the trip.
---I was tortured; but some friends of mine helped me to gather
enough money to get out of jail -Pedro explained-. Now I'm up to my eyeballs
in problems. I can't even make any money.
Some mother fuckers have been spreading stories about the death of my passengers.
The worst thing of all is, señores, the brothers of two of those who died tried to kill me the other day. As if I were to be blame for their death...-
And telling us about his problems and his trips, Pedro entertained us for several hours; enough time for Leo and the other organizers to return
from making their contacts and inquiries. When I say contacts, I refer mainly
to an aspect noticed by anyone who has become involved in making one of these illegal trips to Puerto Rico: Some members of the coast guard authority, after receiving a large sum of money from these organizers,
allow the boats to be launched at all costs. Leo was splendid when it came to
spending. And when I say inquiries, I'll limited myself to say that the most
important of them was to investigate the one element that would ruin all the plans: to find that the latest forecasts of the
atmospheric conditions for the next few days was going to be very adverse to make the trip.
Consenting on some passengers petitions, Maria brought her TV out to the front yard.
We were all attentive to the Ten O'clock News. The last thing was the
forecast. It said: "- -... there will be strong rainstorms, the winds will blow
from East to West at a speed of more than a hundred kilometers per hour...- on the North and East coasts there will be swells
that will rise up to twelve feet high. Meteorology recommends that small tourist
and fisher ships not set sail.
---Oh shit! And now what are we going to do? ---lamented a
passenger, and his question was the beginning of a chaotic interchange. The deliberation
took quite a long time. Many were expressing reservations and were accusing the organizers of bad planning because of the
last minute information. But other passengers were presenting solutions. After having analyzed the problem, Leo gave the final veredicto:
---It's impossible for us to leave with these bad reports;
as soon as they change we'll depart. Those of you who live far away should stay
in La Romana until we leave. Those who leave run the risk of being left behind. At the moment we depart, we'll take off only with those who are present. We won't be looking for or informing anybody.
That night those of us who were not from La Romana slept distributed
between the two houses: women stayed at Maria's house and men at Pedro's. We slept on top of some clothes that we threw on the floor.
The following day I awoke aching to the bones and still sleepy,
since the last few days I hadn't slept due to the tension of waiting for the trip. I
remained flat on the floor until ten in the morning. Then I stood up, picked
up my school bag that I had used as a pillow and with it I went into the bathroom to take a shower. But there was no water: when I opened the faucet of the lavatory, I could not get a drop of water. "What
a shame!, I thought, here it's just like in my barrio: although there are faucets
there's no water". In my barrio we got the water from a nearby public faucet
but here I did not know where to get it. Nevertheless, I headed to the living
room. There were people murmuring and laughing.
I found Pedro at the table with three other young men and Maria, Ana's mother.
They all looked at me at once, and one of the young men said with a smile:
---Hey, come and take your turn!
I knew it was cocaine, the substance they had spread on the
table. They had been insisting that Maria should try it. I was astonished. I had only seen that drug in magazines, movies and books. But I hid my amazement and answered quick and naturally. And,
in order not to look stupid, I chose to answer in the same style that the young man spoke to me, which is used by many of
the young men of our barrios:
---No, my loco! I don't do that. What I need is water to take a shower or at least to wash my face.
Then, Maria, who had blushed the moment she saw me, said with
a hoarse voice:
---This barrio only gets water during the very early morning
hours. At any rate, go to my house; I have two tanks filled. These guys haven't
got anything here.
I intended to leave when I heard Maria. But another of the young men at the table spoke to me in a loud voice.
I was closer to them than to the door and turned to look at who was taking to me.
He stared at me with a wicked smile. He was black, around twenty five years old, dressed in a white t-shirt whose jaggedly
cut sleeves, nearby his shoulders showed his lean strong arms. He had a cigarette
behind one ear. This young man looked even stronger than Pedro, although he was
short, just like Pedro. He stood up to speak to me. He told me with great pride:
---"Loco", I'm -"La Fiera"-! ---he extended his hand to greet
me. I consented. And when he got
my hand, he did not want to free it. He tightened it so hard that he was hurting
---You're from the Capital! Aren't you? ---he inquired.
---Yes. From Las
Cañitas ---I answered timidly. And he, still wearing his evil smile, added:
---Then, come on and take a pass! Or don't tell me that you're from the Capital or even less that you're from Las Cañitas!
I asked him to let go of my hand, but he did not pay any attention. Then Pedro in his usual loud voice, shouted
---Fiera, what's wrong with you? Leave that kid alone!
I felt relieved, because, just then La Fiera freed my hand,
sore and red. I walked out at once. In the front yard, a group of fellow passengers
was chatting under the gazebo. I joined them after washing up.
At one o'clock in the afternoon, Leo arrived. He brought supplies with which Doña María prepared food for everyone.
Then we were told that from that time on, we would have to contribute money in order to buy the supplies that Doña
Maria would use to cook.
After lunch, most of the people gathered together in front
of the two houses. Under the influence of a few bottles of rum, some continued
playing cards, telling stories and jokes, gossiping or making plans. Since this
was an election year, of course, people spoke about politics. Some other passengers,
instead, were watching TV at Doña Maria's house. They could not do this at Pedro's. At this house there was only a bed and a dinning room table. The other furniture had been taken by Pedro's wife when she left him very soon after he was out of jail.
Pedro was also in the yard, sitting on one of the benches. It was he who spoke
---There is nothing like Puerto Rico! ---said Pedro, animated---. I have a girlfriend there!; she is such a pretty young woman! She is as beautiful
as a movie star. She has always wanted to marry me, but since I was with a woman here, I didn't do any thing... This Puerto Rican
has a body you've just got to see! In Puerto Rico clothes are practically free
and with two hundred dollars you can buy a car..! Besides, there, you can buy the same rums we get here. And, the music, just like here, you can hear a lot of Merengue and Salsa.
---Among other things, said Pedro excited---:
---I swear on my mother's grave that when we get there, I won't
come back! The only thing that happens
here is that things get more screwed up day after day.
Pedro's stories, somehow, must have nourished my longing to
get to Puerto Rico. I did not have any reason to doubt his words.
Before sunset, I spoke to Leo.
---Its very uncomfortable for me to stay here. And who know how long we'll have to wait! I'm going back home. When we are ready to depart let me know and I'll return.
---Don't give up hope ---he told me, as he rested his hand
on my shoulder---; we'll leave any moment now. I don't want to leave you behind. You
have given up a lot of things to get into this.
I did not insist on returning home anymore. Besides the reasons given to me by Leo, I would hate to have to give more explanations to my mother. As well, I did not want to incur any
more travel expenses. At night fall, there was still no word on when we might
depart. It was then that Leo referred me to Herman Méndez. He was a fat man, about forty five years old who was always dressed up, called -"Síndico"- by every one. While Leo was explaining my situation, the Síndico was looking me over head to toe
with his big scrutinizing eyes.
---No problem! ---after a few seconds, said the Síndico---.
He can sleep in my house until the trip departs.
That very same night,
I began to sleep at Herman's. He shared his house with a younger brother. I was allowed to sleep on an sofa that was in the living room. It was a very old piece of furniture, but quite comfortable. Herman
was talkative and very affable. From the beginning I wanted to know why people
called Herman -"Síndico"-. The people soon answered me. And also Herman himself explained that it was due to the fact that he really was mayor of the Guaymate
municipio of La Romana province, during the Antonio Guzmán Fernandez presidency (from 1978 to 1982). After Herman occupied the mayor's office for four years, he abandoned politics because of some internal
problems that were affecting his party (PRD) Dominican Revolutionary Party and
were causing personal problems for him. One day when Herman was answering some of my questions, I asked him:
---Why don't you try to get a visa to the United States? You
are a politician who has occupied important positions in this country; I doubt that they would deny you a visa.
He looked at me calmly and proudly said:
---I had a five---year visa.
I did not doubt his words, nevertheless, he entered his bedroom
and immediately returned with his passport. It was a red passport just like the
one I sent to Puerto Rico together with my clothes.
---This is my passport ---he said. I brought it up in front
of my eyes and I could see that, besides the expired visas, the document had been stamped with several entrances to the United
---I have insisted that my visa be renewed but I haven't realized
it yet. You see, obtaining a visa gets more difficult every day; I've decided to go with these people to Puerto Rico. I have
a bunch a good friends there. They'll help me to get ahead. Any way ---concluded Herman---, don't mention the fact that I'm making this trip. You know how people are; they start asking questions and gossiping.
I was surprised that Herman asked me such a thing, because, at that moment, it was not news that he would make the trip. This was, instead, one of the few interesting things to talk about in order to kill the long hours of waiting. Although for the other passengers, the ex-mayor's decision seemed absurd, to me it
did not. I slept and ate at Herman's,
therefore, I knew that each corner of his house showed poverty, that its walls were clamoring for paint; that it had few furnishings
that had seen better days; that the water ---just like in neighbors' houses--- did not have enough pressure to allow one drop
to come out of the faucets. Besides, at Herman's, wood had to be used to cook
because there was no gas for the stove. In order to prepare the lunches, I would give Herman some change and he would leave riding a borrowed motorcycle; he
went out trying to stir up enough money to buy the supplies needed to cook a very cheap meal: usually rice and eggs or rice