Howdy wilderness fans! I’ve been a little lax on the posts here, partially because I have been recovering form an amazing two-week vacay in… where else… the Dominican Republic (that’s the DR for you lazy types). It was a great trip where we explored this Caribbean island’s extremes from the high mountains to sandy beaches to the depths under the island’s blue waters. It was a great adventure… here is how it went down.
We landed in Punta Cana on a sunny afternoon. The tropical heat was a bit of a shock after several hours sipping cold beer in the first class cabin of our Delta jet. We stumbled through the visa line paying our $10 entry fee and getting our passports stamped (Latin music and reefer wafting through the air) before we made it to the car rental kiosk where our POS rental car was waiting on us.
After wrangling with the folks at the rental counter for a while… we bailed out of Punta Cana on a six hour car ride to the lush mountains of Jarabacoa. This drive took us south, along the coast, and through the capital Santo Domingo where we stopped at a KFC (of all places it had WIFI to check our directions… ect). It was at this little piece of Americana where we had our first taste of just how rough this island paradise can be. While I snacked on chicken strips, I noticed a dude enjoying an extra-crispy dinner with his wife and 12 kids. For reasons unknown, this otherwise peaceable gentleman had a Glock tucked in the front of his waist band… gangsta style. Gotta love open carry laws/the wild west mentality.
Once we were reasonably certain of our next move, we left the urban coastal region behind and the road began trending upward as we rolled north passing gaudy campaign convoys with blaring music, each suggesting we should vote for one smiling candidate over his competitor. The convoy’s flashing lights dancing along the road made little rainbows and halos in the evening rains that would come to govern our plans over the coming days… its the rainy season after all.
Arriving in Jarabacoa, we pulled up to Rancho Baiguate, our accommodation for the next several days. This smallish, rural resort offers great all-inclusive packages and TONS of activities for the not so feint at heart. The meals here are simple, tasty, and served three times a day… which, along with the ranch’s full bar, allows weary adventurers to recharge after a day on the trail or river. The open air bungalows are clean and well kept by a friendly staff, and the excursions are led by good humored outdoors experts.
From Rancho Baiguate we took full advantage of the surrounding wilderness opportunities. We went canyoning, horseback riding (which was kind of scary… I thought the tiny horse I was on was going to die), and we had an amazing white water rafting experience.
After romping in the mountains for a few days, we packed up our rental and hightailed it back to civilization for 4 days at a Punta Cana all inclusive resort. Now, I never pegged myself as an all inclusive resort type, but sitting next to the beach at 9:30 in the morning with a beer in one hand and a margarita in the other after 4 days of adventure is about as close to paradise as I think I have been. Apparently, this sort of thing is also really popular with thousands of other folks as well. (apologies but decency mandates that I limit the photos from this portion of the trip… also, I forgot my camera in a boozy haze.)
The Iberostar Bavaro resort we stayed at was packed! Speedo-clad, elderly, euro-trash types strode down the beach in bathing suits that probably would have been considered too small decades before they settled into retirement. Despite all of the rotund sun worshipers, there was never a line at the water sports pavilion where we rented a sit-on-top sea kayak and paddled out to an old wreck about half a mile off shore. Water shot like a geyser out of holes in the rusted hulk as waves crashed on the scuttled ship’s exterior. After about 4 days of gorging on all-you-can-eat roasted pig, rum-filled coconuts, various other delights we packed up and headed out to Bayhibe in search of a slower pace.
In Bayahibe, I found the sleepy beach town I had been searching for this whole trip. We stayed at a little place aptly named the Hotel Bayahibe. Our guide book was right on in recommending this hotel. The rooms were large, the complementary breakfast was tasty, and the air conditioning worked. Don’t expect much from the staff-described in one guide book as cute, friendly, and useless-unless you are persistent and speak fluent Spanish.
From our base in Bayahibe, we went horse back riding, diving, and we took an all day snorkeling trip/booze cruise (FYI… beard/mustache = poor seal on dive mask. I hear Vaseline helps but I didn’t get a chance to test that potential fix) . You can’t miss with the dive shops in Bayahibe. In fact, all of the tour operators here were great to work with. Many of the companies employ young adventurous kids from Europe and the US seeking shelter from the economic crisis/real life in general.
In all, Bayahibe was probably my favorite part of the trip. The great seafood, fun atmosphere, and the people all stewed together creating a vacation perfect storm that could tempt even the most down to earth to abandon all responsibility and try their hand at leading tours in this idealic sea side town for a few years (I know it tempted me).