Destination: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
I park my car near the bay at the West-side of Puerto Plata’s Malecon and continue on foot, over the paved path, towards the impressive Fuerte de San Felipe. A few street vendors are trying to sell their souvenirs to passing tourist. On my way up, I am being stalked by some very persistent beggars and have to switch on my angry face in the hope the next one shows some more respect for my personal space.
I hear a cheeky voice whisper: “ Pssst, hey you… Mulata”. I look around, now fully annoyed, to see where the owner of that voice might be…. Nobody? “Yes, you there”, and while I frown my eyebrows in amazement, I realize it is the exquisitely decorated mule that I just passed which is trying to catch my attention. “Good morning!”, I say and take three steps back. Now I stand eye in eye with the mule that proudly shows off a large floral composition between her ears as well as a “saddle” made out of multi colored ribbons on her back.
“You are not the only one that feels annoyed, you know, those beggars I mean”, says Isabella Mula. “Begging is really easy, it is much better to perform a trick or something to earn your money, just like me! It isn’t always easy but this way you at least maintain your self respect, don’t you think so?” “Uh yes, that’s true for sure…. “ I say while still feeling in shock. I skittishly look around me in order to make sure that no one is laughing at me; after all I am talking to a mule. Thankfully my environment seems to think everything is perfectly normal.
“ They all know me, I have been doing this work for years and before that my mother and grandmother! I am standing here daily in the baking sun, waiting for tourists who want to sit on my back and go for a ride with me. Sometimes they are really heavy foreigners who do not have a clue about how much energy it costs me to carry them in this smoldering heat. While I haul them around my boss tells them about the fortress, this way we pass on some Dominican Culture to these people, you see?”
I stroke Isabella over her head and ears and put the flowers that had been shifted out of place into their originally intended position.
“Did you know that Fuerte de San Filipe, here behind me, was build in the middle of the 16th century to prevent pirates from entering the bay and that behind these thick walls once existed a prison?”
We carry on with our conversation for about a half hour, talk about the colonial period, pirates and the fact that these kind of defensive fortresses were not only build here, in the Dominican Republic, but all over the Caribbean.
I say thanks to Isabella for the nice conversation, give her a goodbye hug and walk to the entrance of the fortress to visit the museum that turns out to be nothing special although it is always interesting to learn something about the history and culture of the Dominican Republic. Fifteen minutes later I walk back to my car with a sense of satisfaction and see that Isabella Mula makes her rounds over the lovely green lawn with a little girl on her back. I smile to this charming mule and receive a friendly wink in return.