Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cue the Island Music (Dominican Holidays)

Aaahhhh... the Dominican Republic in the winter: no snow, no ice, warm weather, beaches, rum, sun. I'd been planning this since early summer, so what could possibly go wrong, right? Right! It was perfect (well, my daughter Leslie might disagree since the mosquitoes seemed to love her so, but a dip in the ocean seemed to help alleviate the itch).

I rented a 4 bedroom villa on the north coast near Puerto Plata; it even came with a housekeeper, Paulina (who only speaks Spanish; this proved a great end to my Spanish country travel this year!) Leslie, Evan, and my sister Ellen came for 9 glorious days of hanging out on the beach, lazing in a hammock, reading books, drinking rum, and eating Dominican food. We went on a couple of tours so we didn't get too lazy.

(note hammock on left)

Paulina cooked breakfast for us each morning and dinner each afternoon (which she usually put in the oven so we could heat up). Breakfast consisted of fresh tropical fruit: pineapple, banana (local), papaya, tangerines. Dominican coffee made the Dominican way (not in a Mr. Coffee, made in a pot similar to a camping percolator). Once we made it to the mercado (like a farmer's market only WAAAY smellier), we had fresh squeezed orange juice--at 20 pesos/dozen (exchange rate was 36 pesos/dollar) lots of oranges was irresisti
ble! In addition to the fruit and coffee, Paulina usually made scrambled eggs with cheese or with ham and cheese, and often with vegetables in it. Enough to keep us happy until dinnertime. Dinner would consist of rice & beans (usually red, but once rice w/lentils), fried plaintains, and a meat: chicken, beef, fish or goat (called chivo; figuring that one out took a little imagination. Paulina said it was "Baaah" which I thought at first was lamb). She also made flan a couple of times. Not like your restaurant flan--more coarse and with a subtle vanilla/cinnamon flavor. Yummy! Many afternoons I would come in and smell the aromas wafting thru the kitchen and say "Yummy, yummy!" followed by Paulina smiling and saying "Bueno, bueno!" By the end of the week, I was saying "bueno" and she was saying "yummy!"

I was always the first one up and would go for a 30 minute or so power walk thru the neighborhood, which primarily consisted of villas and condos. The really pricey villas, as well as the nearby resort were guarded by Dominicans with shotguns, some in military-type uniforms. They would smile at me each morning and we would exchange an "Hola!" or "Buenos dias!" (often said by them as something like "buendi"). Once they got used to seeing me, they might mimic exercise particularly as I was huffing up the hill. One time my knee was bothering me and one of the guards, in Spanish, asked me about it. Although I didn;t know the word for "hurt", I did know the word for ill, so was able to say "infirme poco" and the guard nodded knowingly. After my walk and a shower I would lay in the hammock reading a book until everyone got up and Paulina served breakfast. Then, off to the beach:

(Evan enjoying (?) the surf)

There were lots of kids at the beach, especially on New Year's Day, and some wanted their picture taken (Not sure why, it's not like I was gonna e-mail it back to them!):

You could shop at the beach:

And, for us Americans, no trip would be complete without:

(Dear Wal-Mart: While we are appreciative of your efforts to assist economically struggling countries, as well as your efforts to blend architecturally with the community, we were disappointed in the merchandise selection).

We went on a couple of tours, the best of which was the Jeep safari tour. After travelling thru the countryside we came to a little village where they roast coffee and make cigars:

(Evan grooving to the island beat, grinding coffee the old-fashioned way)
(Leslie enjoying a hand-rolled)

Once we had lunch at a Dominican open-air restaurant, we came to a national park with a waterfall experience. We hiked about a mile to a series of 7 waterfalls and then hiked up the falls. Through the coursing water. Up the slippery rock. With my bad knee. Pulled up & assisted by the ridiculously strong Dominican guides. But sliding back down each of the falls was exhilirating! I felt like a kid again. At the end, you have to jump about 10' into a pool. As I am standing at the edge, the guide says "Wait, wait". No way, I'm here, I'm jumping and with a giant scream, over the edge I went! Unfortunately, there are no pictures of this; we had to buy the video.

On my birthday, we went on a catamaran snorkeling tour. Not the best snorkeling, as the bottom was stirred up from storms that had been thru a couple days before. The ocean was stirred up, too, with huge swells; I'm guessing an easy 6-8', maybe more at times. Just ask all the people who were throwing up (none of us; all iron stomachs!). We all enjoyed being on the water:

(Leslie & Evan pre-snorkelling)

(Ellen post-snorkelling; maybe post-rum punch?)

And no trip to the Dominican Republic would be complete without a visit to the rum factory:

(this was pre-free rum samples; note hot Dominican tour guide!)

All in all, a great vacation: nothing went wrong, the weather was warm, we lived in shorts & flip-flops, ate well, and brought back great souvenirs (amber and rum!):