I was brought up in a strong faith. However far I wandered from its teachings, the miracle of prayer has never left me. I was taught that I could pray any time, and anywhere, on my knees, or walking down the street. It is a habit that has never left me.
“Little boy kneels at the foot of his bed, Droops on his little hands, little gold head, Hush! Hush! Whisper. Who dares! Christopher Robin is saying his prayers …” Vespers. A. A. Milne
February 1989 saw us heading back to the Dominican Republic for another few months. This time with two bikes. In hindsight I should have known that more than spelled trouble. We booked our tickets, Amsterdam – Miami – Port-au-Prince – Puerto Plata. The bikes went for free, unlike these days where you have to pay. (Yes, my husband still takes bikes on planes and I should have known all those years ago that it was going to be an ongoing thing. But let’s face it, I had no idea he would end up as my husband at that point in my life.)
When we disembarked in Miami, things took an unexpected turn. Chris had no visa for the US, which was OK as he was in transit, but he was taken off in another direction to me. I had to leave the airport and check back in again because I was British and did not need a visa.
Bloody Americans and their general paranoia and this was way before 9/11. So yeah, I did that, went back through passport control and sat down hoping Chris would appear again. But he didn’t. He had been made to board the plane that I should have been on with him, despite him telling them that I was not there yet, they seated him. Meanwhile I waited and missed the plane. Don’t ask, because to this day we do not know why they did not call my name. Chris and the two bikes heading off without me.
They put me on a plane to Santa Domingo, 232 km away from where Chris would be. He had no clue as to where I might be. I was exhausted, wired from no sleep and had been about twenty-four hours without a joint, and that is only half the story. I felt as gray as I looked. I had some pesos with me and travellers cheques. I got into a taxi at the airport in Santa Domingo and asked to be taken to a good hotel. It was ten o’clock at night, I was alone in what seemed like a rough city (it was), and I could not think straight. The first two hotels would not take me. A young white woman alone meant prostitute, which meant no, you cannot have a room. The taxi driver had waited for me at each hotel, thank goodness.
The third hotel he took me to let me have a room. It was an expensive hotel and I guess they took pity on me. I had to pay upfront. I was given a room and told that if I wanted room service I would have to pay cash for it, they would not let me put it on a bill.
I knew where Chris was but had no idea of the phone number of the hotel, which was not quite as much of a problem as not knowing the name of it. We had stayed in the hotel the year before but in-between then and now there had been a refurbishment and that included a name change. The owner, a friend, had written and told us as we made plans to revisit, but damned if I could remember.
I was about at my wit’s end. (As I write this I cannot tell you how much I love the era of technology that we live in, all I would have to do is send a text or make a call. Unimaginable to feel that lost now.) I knew I had to get in touch with Chris, let him know I was on the same island and not back in Miami. (Hated Florida ever since, and never been back – two hours at the airport was more than enough.). It was around midnight. I called the operator and asked for the number of the Hotel ………, that used to be, but now had another name. Right. I burst into tears.
I knelt down by the side of the bed and prayed my heart out, begging for God to help me out of this situation. Bone weary, it felt like my only chance.
Does a prayer answered show there is a God? An unanswered one that there is none? I do not know. But as I asked for help, the name of the hotel was planted within my mind. I could see it as clear as day. Things do not happen by magic, and I had read the name in the letter we had received; I knew it was there somewhere, but I had absolutely no memory of it. An immediate answer to a prayer, when I had to have it. I was so thankful and it has never left me.
I called the operator again, this time getting one that spoke better English. I knew the town and the name of the hotel. And got the number. I remember my hands shaking as I dialled the number.
Within a few seconds I was talking with Chris who was as relieved to hear from me as I was to talk to him. He told me he was jumping straight into a taxi and coming to get me. A good three-hour trip on a less than smooth road, from the north to the south of the island.
The right hotel in Puerto Plata
With utter relief, I peeled the small hidden piece of sticky black hashish off of the back of my watch…
“When troubled times begin to bother me, I take a toke and all my cares go up in smoke.” Up in Smoke by Cheech and Chong
Chris arrived around five in the morning and by breakfast time we were in a taxi heading back north to our original destination. Not only had he lost me, but the bikes had disappeared off of the plane in Haiti, when his plane stopped there for an hour. Thanks to an observant Lufthansa pilot and Chris not giving up looking for them, we got both bikes back three days later.
Val with the hotel owner/friend.
The trip had not started really well and little did I know that when we returned to Amsterdam three months later, my life would be blown apart.
CQ of APJ