CABARETE, Dominican Republic- All beaches sit at the end of the road. Traveling to one means coming to a point where you cannot go anymore, it means removing all impetus to travel elsewhere, to remove your boots, lay down, do nothing, and enjoy what sits directly in front of you.
There is nothing else to do at the end of the road other than to look out upon your horizon and dream about the way you had come. The beach is where the gears of your progress grind to a halt, are put on standby, re-oiled, and pretend — for a mere moment — that they never have to start again.
You have now come to the end of the road: you have arrived at the beach.
“Why do people travel all of this way to just sit around doing nothing,” I asked my wife as we took a shortcut through a resort in Sosua on the way to the beach.
“Because that is all they want to do,” my wife answered simply.
She was correct, the people who were laying in lounge chairs before me really seemed to be enjoying their nothing — they seemed to be loving every last glimmer of it, even as the clock was ever ticking down towards the time where they would have to do something again.
The word “vacation” perhaps only means doing the polar opposite of the normal processes of your regular day . . . for a moment. Most of these people in the resort, I imagined, work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year — they are probably busy people. To do nothing is to flip the script on their regular existence, to slap the motives and ethics that keep them going to work each day in the face and to take back their lives — for two weeks a year.
“These people really just want to be treated as children. They want to have everything done for them,” Chaya continued. “They want people to cook for them, they want people to clean up after them, they want people to pour their drinks and entertain them.”
This “do-nothing” time is precious, and is something that I have not previously realized that so many people value to such extents that they would pay lots of money, get on a plane, and come to another country to, for a lack of a better word, “do.”
Doing nothing is perhaps the greatest of all commodities that modern humans knows of: it is the true precious jewel of our species.
I laugh when people say that people in foreign lands are poor because they live in shacks, don’t wear shoes, and sit in their doorways all day long doing nothing. 90% of the time these people have full stomachs and smiles on their faces. A large portion of humanity knows how to sit on the beach.
To calculate the amount of money tourists in the resorts of the Dominican Republic pay to do-nothing, and then apply that to the rest of the people on the planet who do-nothing as a way of life, and you will find that most of the undeveloped world is richer beyond the 9 to 5 confines of the wealthy by far.
“What is wrong with here? There ain’t nothing wrong with here! You just hate sitting, you hate sitting watching the waves on the beach!” -Chaya to me
“Do-nothing is our national sport.” -A young man in Indian, speaking jokingly, to me
If do-nothing time could be commodified, then I would be a very poor man. My do-nothing assets surely are amongst the lowest on the planet. I perpetually sit in do-nothing poverty, I joyfully work away my share of wealth with constant activity.
I am an overly active person. I don’t rest. From morning to night I am active. To be told to sit down, put my hands under my butt, and to do nothing is a sentence of punishment for me — there was never a worse fate for me as a child than to be put up in “the chair” and be told to do nothing. Even now, it takes extreme effort for me even to sit out the duration of a movie.
Each day is for the purpose of building something for the next. Perhaps this is why I travel: travel is nothing if not the constant collecting of impressions, knowledge, stories, and memories. To do nothing in a day is, to me, a wasted day. To be standing in the same boots, in the same place, I am today, tomorrow, is the worst thing I could ever imagine doing to myself. I enjoy building mountains far too much.
I have a lot to learn from the beach.
You travel to the beach for the beach, not the culture. My standards in judging beaches have been flawed these past 10 years. I have often avoided otherwise nice beaches — or have not fully enjoyed them — because they have been gentrified by the winds of tourism. But you pay nothing to go to the beach, in almost all cases, and a tourist beach is just as free to go to as one at the end of a lone dirt road.
I prefer abandoned, difficult to get to, idyllic beaches as a force of habit. This was my preconceived idea of what a beach should be like when I began traveling.
One of the first places that I traveled to outside of the USA was a little town on the Ecuador coast called Salango. It was a place where beach and rural Ecuadorian life meet — the fishermen would bring in the catch in the morning, old men would walk the sands stabbing a kebab of crabs with a long skewer, you could walk for miles and have your reflection be the only foreign face that you would see.
From this stay, “the beach” became an ideal, a goal to be obtained, a set of parameters of what is good and, conversely, what is not good.
I have never read the book of this title. I picked it up from a discount book vendor one year but could not get passed Leonardo Decapprio’s feline face on the cover. Someday I will rip the cover off of this book and read. It is my impression that it deals with an issue that all long term travelers will face: discovering that you construct your travels along the frame of ideal expectation, and, more severe than this, actually seeing your travels through this lens even after having contrary experience.
The ideal in travel is often stronger than personal observations. If a person goes out into the world looking for something, they are going to see it everywhere. Once a person is wrapped in the thorough of expectation when traveling — when they read too many guidebooks or shitty websites that idealize what traveling should be — then nothing else will be seen. And they will hence regurgitate the myth.
If you travel long enough this bubble will eventually burst, and you will either work towards learning how to find the substance in what is really in front of you or go home.
This was how I viewed beaches — by the empty damp sands and clear ocean horizon of Salango. This is a pill that I now need to digest: it is the beach that makes the beach, and nothing else should matter.
I once abandoned a magnificent shady, good swimming beach at Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica for a vastly inferior one in Uvita. I wanted to be away from the tourists and touts and t-shirt stands, blubber cooking in its own sunscreen, and European men prancing around in speedos. So I chose a beach further down the road that had less tourists, nobody trying to sell me anything, where I could look out on the waves and see only the sea. But there was no shade over the sands and the swimming was not half as good.
I got sunstroke.
I learned a good lesson: the beach is about the sand, wind, and waves, not about people.
The beach is like going to church: you are there with lots of other people, but, in sense, are there all alone. At the end of the road.