Every day, in myriad ways, I’m grateful to have discovered the joys of “working remotely” long before the pandemic forced virtually everyone into the same experience. It started as an island freelancer’s reality that one could be productive and overhead-free by working at home/cafe/other people’s offices, and ended up an aspiration to be mobile with my assignments, since so many were becoming based on copywriting for online platforms.
For the past five years I’ve managed to make a humble a living, do work I’m proud of with clients I believe are the best at what they do, and at the same time hop around my family diaspora in ways I never expected. But Covid-19 disrupted even my reality, leveraging lessons in lockdown, life and liberty that will long affect my decision-making process about where and how to balance work and life.
I’ve circled right back to the ironwood straight-backed chair at the mammoth dining table in the little blue and white wooden house overlooking the Atlantic ocean, separated from my balcony only by a luscious swathe of grassy fields and swaying palm trees. It’s by far the most beautiful spot I’ve ever been fortunate enough to live in, and it belongs – or is rented by – my son, who welcomed me back here with open arms at the end of July, just as he did a year ago when he invited me to escape the freelancer’s greatest peril of not earning during a global pandemic.
The northeast coast of Dominican Republic has been his home for almost two years now, and he’s taken to the place like a duck to water. Maria Trinidad Sanchez is the province, Cabrera is the town, and ‘unspoilt paradise’ are the words that come to mind. My sailing dude’s career as a boat captain brought him here a few months before Covid-19 had been heard of, and I was lucky to fly up and spend Christmas 2019 in this spectacular place before everything changed.
I’m so grateful to have seen that moment in Cabrera, with its streetside cafes frying fresh pechurina and grilling local catch of the day, usually served with a heap of crispy tostones. Meeting at “the square” was de rigeur for the whole community, and after dark the tiny central park was heaving with promenading families, groups of excited young friends, and a new set of gringos who were starting to frequent the scene as employees of an upcoming high-end development. It was a fortnight of Christmas lights and bachata music, fresh mojitos and sweet jelly coconuts, food truck empanadas, Mata Hambre burgers, and watching the constant river of pasolas gliding by and somehow avoiding a pile-up [almost] every time. I left on New Year’s Eve 2019 and promised to come back soon, not knowing how soon that opportunity would arise.
Saint Lucia to Dominican Republic in August 2020 was my first mid-pandemic travel experience, via the well-reported post-election-madness and mask wars of Miami, to a country that had experienced its own a post-election spike in cases and was under a 7pm curfew – 5pm at the weekend. Arriving from Saint Lucia – still ostensibly closed but sliding towards a perceived “normality” – such restraints may have seemed harsh to my friends back home. Reading about the situation in Dominican Republic made me appreciate the safety net, as well as the benefits to my circadian rhythm, of early nights and daybreak mornings.
When I arrived that time, my son was still living in the same cute house in the centre of Cabrera, just steps away from my favourite fruit and vegetable market, and a slew of exotic little stores for me to browse away the mornings and afternoons, between a self-imposed schedule of classic momming, practically pro-bono work, and staying active. His two big puppies were my motivation for walking the nearby Malecon, getting my steps in accompanied by dazzling ocean views and feisty blowholes edged by green clifftops that Ziggy and Zoey loved to snuffle through. Other days, we’d head to the undeveloped cliffside development, where they would wander off the leash and always bounce back through the springy grass for a tasty snack or two.
It was hot as hell and despite being literal steps from the coast, the town house had little breeze, so it was a no-brainer when the opportunity arose to move to the foothills of Catalina, into what the sailing dude immediately dubbed the “Surf Shack”. With its Lucian-blue and white exterior, under-house liming spot, and huge walled garden with shady mango and wax apple trees, it was an undeniably cool Caribbean vibe. We settled in immediately and two German Shepherd puppy brothers were added to the clan within a week or two.
But Casa Azul, as we refer to it officially, is very much a bachelor pad, with an open plan layout and only one bathroom. We made it work from October through the first week of December 2020, when I left this dramatically gorgeous, authentically friendly paradise to pursue a new pandemic plan on the other side of that hypnotic, blue Atlantic Ocean. From the depths of my heart had come a driving urge to make the impending winter lockdown count by spending the horriblest months of any year in Belfast, Northern Ireland, helping my parents and hanging out with my ‘bubble’ that included two sisters’ families and sometimes my gorgeous daughter.
En route to the pendulous skies and below-zero wind chill of my homeland, I spent two nights in Miami visiting a beloved friend whose cancer diagnosis had also made me question the fairness of the Universe. In October, the most Lucian man I ever met had been urgently flown out for medical attention and had spent the next two months inside a Florida hospital battling one obstacle after another. After two short days and several precious hours of heart-wrenching conversation, I hugged his tall, bony frame as if my life depended on it, and took the train back to MIA on December 8, 2020, to whatever the next chapter of my pandemic travels would conjure up.