The trip to the South was a truely memorable experience. We had rented a car from Santiago and gone to Santo Domingo. After a couple of days we took the road to the West, in order to go to Enriquillo Lake. This part of the coutry is much drier, there are no resorts or big industries, so it's considerably poorer than the other parts. That's where you can really get a third world country feeling, but also meet ordinary hard-working and friendly Dominicans. During our 2-day journey we didn't meet any tourists, except a few Spanish people at the lake (which is a must-see!!). We drove to Barahona through what seemd to me a desert, barren land with just cacti and cactus-like trees, a few poor villages(see Local Customs tips) and police stations with machine-gun armed guards. The roads in the country are notorious, but that road was even beyond description, avoiding all the potholes was like playing a fast video game! When I was driving and we went trough some town or village, a lot of people were staring at me, 'a woman driving!'. At these poor places not many people had cars, so I guess if the family could afford one, it was just the man driving it...
We went to a local beach called Playa Najayo, close to San Cristobal and Barahona. to get there we drove past sugar-cane plantations and poor villages.
We went to Jimani, a town at the border with Haiti. We decided to buy some Haitian rum, and were allowed to cross the border to the market on the other side without showing any ID!!
We stayed for two night at the Cacique hotel in Barahona, well, that was part of the experience too!
We saw the Indian cave, iguanas, and crocodiles and birds at Enriqillo Lake, and it was great. But another part of this experience was meeting the poor and friendly people of the Sounth and their way of like.
I would definately like to do that road trip again.
The lagoon is small and has a prolongued river-like shape. When the water level is low you can see the roots of the trees. Shaded by those trees with weird roots and with a lot of birds flying or hiding, this lagoon is a strange fairy-tale place. It's like entering a darker, older world. And then, after the short boat trip you emerge into the open and enter the sea, and again it's so bright and hot. Then the boat takes you to the small Cueva de las Golondrinas (a cave with a lot of swallows) and on the way back you can bathe in the sea or the lagoon.
We took a boat trip from the small town of Rio San Juan which can easily be reached from Puerto Plata/Sosua/Cabarete. Boats can also be taken from the small beach right next to the 'mouth' of the lagoon.
This place is more popular with the locals so you don't see big crowds of tourists. Still, it's worth to see this dark lagoon and the Swallows' cave, and then you'll have the chance to swim both in fresh and sea water on the same trip.
Children in Dominican Republic need basic school supplies. If you come here and want to: bring suitcase of pencils, paper, chalk, chalkboards, maual pencil sharpeners and the most basic school things.
They truly need and appreciate them!
Baseballs and gloves fun things too.
Then you have empty bag to bring souvenirs home!
The SW coast/region is the least exploited part of the country although it offers a lot when it comes to ecotourism and really unspoiled beaches. Because of this, it might be difficult to find good (or decent) accommodations other than in the Barahona province.
This zone is better to go to if with a tour or with someone who can communicate in Spanish, because English isn't as widely spoken as in the other (heavily) touristic areas. With that said, that doesn't mean that if you're perseverant and armed with a Spanish-English phrase you won't go a long way!
This is one of the parts where I spent most of my childhood visiting family and friends, which is sort of why I don't have many tips or pictures so as of now I can only show my Baní and San Juan pages.
(Sorry for the bad map.)
I consider Samaná to be an off the beaten path destination because of the few hotels that can be found there. The tourist activity peaks during the whale season but Samaná has more than that to offer:
- unspoiled beaches at Las Terrenas, Las Galeras and Samaná city
- excursions to one of the hidden gems in DR: El limón Waterfall
- day trips to Cayo Levantado (Bacardi Island)
- food that's only found here: fish with coconut (milk)
The road going there is bad (as of Feb 2008) and it takes about 4 hours from Santo Domingo or Puerto Plata but a highway is being built between Santo Domingo and Samaná that'll shorten the trip to 3 hours or so. Also there are 2 airports and there's the harbor where cruises stop to let the guests visit the town.
One major economic activity in the inner island is the sugar cane plantations. You can see huge plantations (farms) where the green sugar cane fields extend for kilometres and kilometres.
The owners of these farms have installations for their workers, mainly Haitians. Haitian men come to Dominican Republic in search of work and bring wife and children. These sugar cane farms have all the required infra-structure for families: houses for workers, school for children and basic health care system. Mainly, all their life is there: women take care of house and children, men work in the plantation, children attend farm's school and when someone is ill they go to the farm's doctor. Actually, this is the official version I was told by our guide. Nevertheless, I’ve also heard about Amnesty reports about the exploitation and lack of conditions of these farms.
The sugar cane grows in these farms, and occupies huge extensions of land: sometimes it looks like reaching the horizon, as everywhere you look you see sugar cane.
When sugar cane grows, men cut the cane with a proper instrument, a kind of blade, and put it in a "carriage" that is pulled by some kind of cow or ox. When "carriage" is full, the animal pulls that load (guided by worker) to a central warehouse. This warehouse is equipped with machines that help to unload "carriage" and weight the sugar cane, that is then placed inside the warehouse.
The sugar cane is used to produce rum, the Dominican Republic's typical drink. Everywhere you go you will find rum, plain or mixed with something. When we visited one of the plantations, the driver took us through the plantation showing worker's way of living. Then we visited the harvest and the warehouse and were, obviously, welcomed with rum (plain or with Coke). Also, they offered us fresh sugar cane pieces to taste.
While visiting the inner island, we were shown a typical house. Houses are somewhat apart from each other, and made of wood, some of them being very colourful. Usually houses consist of a living-room connected to the kitchen, and one or two bedrooms. Not too big, but all the family fits there and seems to be happy.
Around the house you may find a kind of warehouse/outside kitchen and lots of trees – fruit trees, cocoa and coffee. The fruits, cocoa and coffee grown from those trees are for family's consumption.
We soon discovered that the house that we were visiting was the driver's house. He introduced us to his nice family - wife and kids - and showed us around. We had a nice explanation about local fruits grown at their house - papaya, mango, and banana - and where given some to eat. Fabulous, tasty fruit!
We were also shown how they "manually" produced their own coffee and cocoa. That’s an interesting process, although it requires some work. I ended up buying some homemade coffee and cocoa. Delicious!!
Cocoa "fruit" grows from the trees. In this photo you can see that they grow in a different way, .. .well, I found it different since I had never seen any of these trees where fruits grow in the log. When fruit is mature, they catch it and then a treatment they make some balls of cocoa and store it that way. When they want to use it (to make chocolate) they grate it in the amount they need and use it. It smelled so good and tasted delicious!
This family, as many others, also grows their own coffee. When coffee beans are mature they put them into to oven to toast it and later grate.
The Dominican way of making coffee is: they boil water and put the coffee inside a fabric bag with a stick. They pour the water over the bag and they roll the stick until it presses the coffee. They repeat this operation several times, until they consider coffee is ready to drink. They used to say they made the best coffee in the world. Being from Portugal, I found it very tasteful but weak, as I am used to stronger coffee.
La Romana was a 2 hour drive from Punta Cana.
Do visit the street market in La Romana, buy some fresh fruits and if any children follow you buy them a drink when you stop to get yours, because you will need it! (tip: make it a coca-cola for the kids).
Don`t be suprised to see beef and poultrey hanging from hooks in the stalls, completely covered with flies and in the midday heat! It may be a turn off but the Dominicans are used to this.
TIP: Do visit the Haitian VOODOO market in La Romana, it was a bit scary but exciting at the same time for me. All the different concotions for everything for improving fertility to warding off evil. From chicken feet to spices, to herbal remedies
TIP: If purchasing CDs, don`t be suprised to find a `burnt` cd instead of an original one, although the packaging may look authentic. A medium to high-end laser printer & some creativity, will do a good job of making a CD cover!
TIP: If you want a change of pace from the Salsa y Merengue music, do listen to ``Bachata`` music. This is basically guitar music very popular in the Latin countries especially in the Dominican Republic. It is a take off the `bolero` music of the older days and is a much slower paced type of music and is the `romantic` music Dominicans
You may meet local inhabitants (especially at the beaches) who will offer you "new hair-do" - pigtails with the colour beads at the end.
You can choose from many colours of beads they offer. Of course you don't have to change completely your head - you can just "order" a few pigtails...
It looks really nice. And what interesting - daily hygiene (I mean washing) doesn't make it away!
You will be impressed of how fast it could be done - it's really incredible!
Of course this service is paid, but as usually at Dominican Republic - you can negociate.
This may seem a strange place for a Puerta Plata tip with it being the center of much of the tourism to the Dominican Republic. But it this case, I mean to refer primarily to the actual port that is probably rarely seen now that it is not visited by cruise boats. Even if one makes an excursion from your resort to the city you are unlikely to see the port unless you go to the point with the light house, monument to General Gregorio Luperon and the modest Fuerte de San Felipe.
The city is also modest with no monumental architecture of note and not much business directed at the visitor. There seems to always be a several guys hanging around the main plaza hoping to be employed as guides, but there is not much need or demand for their services. There are about a half dozen souvenir and art shops 2 blocks west of the Parque Central. The city has built a nice Malecon along the ocean front that seems to become active on weekends and holidays but is otherwise empty. This is a great spot to observe and meet normal Dominicans.
Even though this is a small city in the middle of a tourist visited coast, people are friendly and easier to meet than in Santo Domingo or a town overwelmed by tourism. It is just odd that it should be so close to the center of things and seem to be off the beaten path. It has not always been this way and the town has plans return to riches with a beach sanitizing program and the building of a deep dock for the cruise ships. Until then it may remain a seemingly safe place to get know a little about the life of ordinary Dominicans.
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