If you are feeling lost in your life, feeling alone or directionless, coming to Cabarete will show you the way. A small coastal town on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. It is a place of possibilities. A place where the sun always shines and the wind always blows. Every day is a new day, and yesterday is forgotten. You cannot escape the beauty of the wild outdoors, everywhere you look. The people are radiant with their surfer, yogi, active glow. Living vicariously, taking risks, being unafraid, living in the moment. Every day bizarre Dominican life will surprise you, make you look twice. Total unpredictability, you won’t be able to stop yourself laughing.
It is not difficult to see why people come here on vacation and fall in love with this place. But more importantly, they come here on vacation and fall in love with themselves. They travel here from big cities – cold, Western climates, stressful jobs – and here they find joy. They reconnect with simple pleasures. The sunrise. The sunsets. The sound of the ocean, sounds of the birds. Playing in the waves and the waterfalls. Drinking rum on the beach. Dancing salsa. Playing dominoes until the early hours. Talking Spanish with locals who happily sit and talk to you all day about nothing whatsoever. Something releases inside people, they set themselves free. They find themselves, finally at peace, and ask themselves what they have been fighting for all these years. Everything you could possibly need is right here in this simple paradise.
I was that girl. Cabarete captured my heart and my imagination all at once. It gave me the strength to cut all my ties to my previous life and return open-handed to the beach with my heart on my sleeve. Boarding my one way flight without even glancing back over my shoulder. Arriving in a place where it is possible to be anyone you want to be. But the truth is, Cabarete can be cruel. When you are strong, it lifts you up and gives you wings to fly. But when you are vulnerable, feeling weak and full of self-doubt, it will walk right over you with it’s ever-changing, unforgiving ways.
As the months went by, I began to look more closely beneath the surface, and in some places I saw dark water. I saw glimpses of a community that values status and wealth above honesty and integrity. A society that encourages ego, and turns it’s back on selflessness and forgiveness. A culture of blame. Hands wiped clean of responsibility. Real issues brushed under the table. Violence over peaceful resolution. Complex webs of lies and deceit. Women to be played. The white man to be played. The game to be played.
So here I was, open mind and open heart. Ready to give, to love, and to heal in this beautiful place. And the more I gave, the more people took from me. The more depleted I became. Time passed and the less trusting I became, the more bitter and resentful I found myself. Caught up in the futile game of Dominican social politics. Where no one ever wins. A pawn in the desperate struggle to the top. A struggle I had come here to escape from. And Cabarete beat me up on the way. It lied to me, stole things from me, attacked me, made me really sick and then cheated me from my hospital bed. 6 months after my grand arrival, I sat looking out at the beach, tears rolling down my face, totally unable to see any beauty whatsoever. I booked a plane for the next day, and left Cabarete, a shell of what I once was.
I wondered if I would ever return. It took me a long time to face up to the emotional scars I carried and to allow them to heal. I come back here now and breathe in the fresh air, watch the sun rise, and know that Cabarete cannot hurt me. There is no tropical paradise on earth, all we search for is the paradise within our own mind. How can we expect a place to fulfil all our desires and be the answer to all our problems? And now I have set myself free from my unrealistic expectations, I see everything for exactly how it is. I don’t ask Cabarete for anything – money, love, or any stability. This ever transient place cannot give me that. But what it can be, and always will be for me, is a window. A window into myself. A place to recharge, remember how to love myself, and see my own million personal possibilities. In exchange, I give as abundantly as I can, I love unconditionally, I forgive people, even those who steal, I accept people for who they are, see the culture with open eyes for exactly what it is and with as much humility as I can find within me. Why? Because this place needs no more anger, resentment and revenge. And within my tiny gestures, I find my own peace. Relinquishing everything, amidst all the chaos, I have found my own paradise.