Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yola and La Pulga

         Saturday two flat bed trucks carrying many policeman arrived in front of the colmado next to our house and the cops fanned out and swept through the neighborhood looking for the yola that was rumored to be near completion and hidden nearby. It is illegal to build such a boat without a special permit here because most of them are used as yolas, or boats that carry illegal immigrants to Puerto Rico via the Mona Strait. There are always horror stories about yolas in the newspaper-- they are generally poorly outfitted, overloaded and leaky and often swamp in the surf just after launching or disappear or sink at sea. There are evidently only a few suitable landing sites on the coast of Puerto Rico and the authorities there are on constant look-out for illegal arrivals so most that do actually make it that far are locked up and then returned to the court system in the Dominican  Republic for their trouble. Passage on a yola costs between $700 and $1000 and many yola operators could care less if the yola makes it all the way because advance payment in full is always required so overbooking on unsafe craft is a common practice and the owner himself is not foolish enough to go. Saturday, however, no yola was discovered.
         Sunday night after dark Altagracia called me out of the shower to see what was happening on the street. A guagua was parked in front of our house and people were gathering and boarding to be taken to where the yola was to be launched. The dome lights were on inside the bus so we could see who was going and the scene was oddly quiet even though families were being separated, perhaps forever. We saw that Tootie, the new guy who sells pot on the street was going, along with Jose, who walked over and handed Altagracia a mint the other day out of the blue and whose girlfriend murdered his wife some years ago; and Sandra’s husband was going without Sandra or their children; and Lao who used to consul Kiki but turned out to be a gang leader himself came out of hiding and got on too. The lights went out inside the guagua and it pulled away from the curb and about a dozen people on the street watched as it made the turn at the top of the hill where the bakery used to be. Altagracia and I leaned on the railing of the galleria and watched a tall slender old woman walk slowly back the other way through the dark to her empty house.
         Within 24 hours of the guagua’s departure from Loma de Chivo rumors began making their way back and it seems that upon arrival on the beach at Nagua, the men were asked to leave and the women were invited onto the waiting yola. The Marines arrived and some of the men were arrested and some ran away. The boat never left the shore.
Altagracia is getting sicker and sicker of working in the pensión. Her take home pay averages out to 160 pesos/day and her commute costs 30 pesos and lunch is not provided and even coffee is never offered. There is a new receptionist who manages to go into the rooms after guests have left and takes the tips left for Altagracia and, to top it off, Elvira, the owner, has asked Altagracia to bail out the toilet bowls before putting in the cleaner so as to use less cleaner. Saturday and Sunday Altagracia, unprecedently, called in sick and on Sunday we went to La Pulga to see if it could be a venue for a negociocito, or little business for her.
         La Pulga, which literally means the flea, is a weekly outdoor market in Santo Domingo which, these days is located under Ave. Luperon where it is an elevated highway between Ave. Independencia and the Malecón and must be a half mile long with hundreds of vendors. There were more clothes and shoes than anything, but also for sale were bootlegged CDs and DVDs (I saw King Kong, which is still in theaters for sale for about $2), used kitchen utensils, tools, second-hand cell phones and stereo equipment. We wended our way through a maze of mountains of loose clothes, bales of clothes, racks of clothes, clothes hanging on chains of hangers that  were suspended from under the highway far over our heads looking for Alfonsa, who is married to one of Altagracia’s cousins and who drives to the Pulga every Sunday all the way from Elias Piña to sell bales of clothes, which are called paca, that she buys in Haiti. At the end of our first pass through the throng of hundreds of vendors and shoppers we found Alfonsa seated on one of her paca and we sat on another paca and Altagracia asked about licensing to sell here and the prices for paca in Haiti and whether there would be trouble in Customs and about selling prices and it all sounded feasible.
         After giving Alfonsa some money to give to Kiki on her return to Elias Piña and after buying a handful of chicharrone to eat on the way home on the guagua, which is always a little risky but even chicharrone that makes you feel sick a half hour later tastes great, we decided that the next time we go to Elias Piña we will buy some paca and the following Sunday Altagracia can call in sick again to the pensión.

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