Dominican Republic - Part II: January 28-February 5, 2007

Santo Domingo

The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti, and is the second largest country in the Caribbean, with an area just under 30K square miles.   Approximately nine million people live in the DR.  Of these, one third live in the capital city and province of Santo Domingo, on the southern coast.

 Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartholomew, founded Santo Domingo in 1496, making the city the oldest permanently occupied settlement in the Americas.   (La Isabella, just a few miles west of Luperon, was founded by Christopher on his second voyage in 1493, but that settlement lasted only about ten years.) 

We boarded a minibus with Linda and Steve from Seaman's Elixir and Andie from Oma and Opa before dawn one morning, and were transported about an hour to Imbert, where we then squeezed into a large tour bus, mostly already filled, mostly with German tourists from the resorts of Cabarete.   The bus then proceeded for about another three hours to Santo Domingo. 

Our first stop was at The Three Eyes, three transparent water lagoons that are below ground level but found in open caves that feature stalactites and stalagmites. The attraction was a complete surprise.  The bus parks in a large lot right in the middle of the metropolitan area.  You pay your admission fee, and walk down stone steps deep into a large open pit, where you find the caves and pools along the sides.  The floor of the pit is a tumble of coral rock, remnants of a time when the area had not yet pushed up above the sea.  Near the deepest of the three pools, a lone man in swim trunks squats, waiting for the guide to explain that he works for tips and is called Tarzan of the Sea. Then he balances across a chasm and claws his way up the far side of the cave to a high perch from which he makes a graceful swan dive into the clear pool.  Spectacular!

Later, in the old part of the city, we saw El Faro a Colon (the Columbus Lighthouse), which is on the eastern bank of the Ozama River.  It is described in the literature as a vast mausoleum in the form of a cross that houses the mortal remains of the Great Discoverer, as well as exhibits from Spain and almost every American country.  Presumably anxious to have us move on, our guide told us there was “nothing in it”, and so we only saw it from the outside from a distance.

We also saw in Santo Domingo Calle Las Damas (Ladies Street), the first street ever built in the new world.  Reportedly thirty Spanish ladies who were friends of Columbus' wife paraded down it each day hoping to find husbands.  And Alcazar (Columbus’ Castle) which housed not Christopher Columbus, but his son, who served as the governor of the settlement.  The building is now a museum filled with fascinating displays, including an interesting example of "hypocrisy chairs".   In an age when Mass consumed multiple hours, the priests maintained the illusion that they stood the whole time by leaning/kneeling on the supports behind the high "backs" that were actually fronts facing the worshipers.   And speaking of Mass, we also saw the Catedral Primada, America’s first cathedral.  

Pictures marked with (*) were taken by Linda.

On the way into Santo Domingo, we passed this truck of water containers. Note the passenger.

*View down into the huge pit that houses the Three Eyes

Steve and Linda coming down the steps

*Barb and I on our way down

*Steps at the bottom of the pit

The first "eye"

Eye with Barb

And another view

Guide explaining that the diver works for tips

*Diver clamboring up the far side of the cave

*...up and up

...and up

*The third pool is "lucky" if you touch it

Everyone seems to believe it

Outside the Columbus lighthouse

*Another view by another photographer

Our bus parked outside the lighthouse

Nicolas de Ovando, founder of Puerto Plata

Barb and Andy near the Calle de las Damas

Andy on Calle de las Damas -- Columbus house in background

The Columbus house -- now a museum

Inside the Columbus house

Figures in the beams at the Columbus house

Hypocricy chairs (see text)

Hat vendor outside the Columbus house

Trip to Puerto Plata

We were so impressed with our guide/driver for our falls excursion (see below), that we arranged for him to take us to Puerto Plata.  We, being Steve and Linda from Seaman's Elixir, Carol and Gene from Magic Moment, and Barb and I.  Roughly 25 kilometers east of Luperon, Puerto Plata was founded by Nicolas de Ovando in 1502.  The oldest standing edifice there is the 2K square meter San Felipe Fort.   It was built by the Spanish in 1577 to defend the city from English, Dutch and French pirates.  In 1821 it was turned into a courthouse and jail.  It later fell into disuse, but was restored in 1974.  The fort overlooks the statue of General Gregorio Luperon, hero of the war that restored the rule of the country to Dominicans from the Spanish.   Outside the fort, I was happily taking pictures when a man with a donkey signaled that he would take a picture of me with the donkey.   Great!   Only two problems:  the pictures he took were off-center, and he then demanded 100 pesos!   Boy, did I feel like a sucker.

We saw the extensive and fascinating Amber Museum, housed in a 1919-built mansion.  One of the exhibits, a mosquito-encased amber, was used in the movie “Jurassic Park”.  I bought Barb a gorgeous pair of amber earrings here.

We also did a tour of the Brugal Rum Factory.  Brugal is the largest rum producer in the DR, and the third-largest in the world.  The tour ended with a daiquiri tasting and an opportunity to purchase fine quality rums at good prices.  We only bought one case as we are not sure where we are going to store the bottles on the boat as we are pretty well stocked already. 

We took the funicular (cable car) up to the top of Mt. Torres, Loma Isabel de Torres, a 2,600 foot mountain, which affords a spectacular view of a large expanse of the north coast.  At the top of the mountain is a large statue of “Christ the Redeemer”.   At the base of the statue is a gift shop, a café, and a 135,000 square meter park – the Isabel de Torres botanical gardens.   We had an enjoyable walk through the park, which features subtropical vegetation and 15 small brooks and streams and multiple trails to observe enormous ferns, overgrown flowers, fire-red gingers and giant hibiscus peaking through the rain forest’s shield.

Just before we left Puerto Plata to return to Luperon, our driver stopped at a large supermarket so we could do some power shopping, since we hadn't seen a real supermarket since Provo.  As we arrived back in Luperon we passed by the cockfighting ring and realized that the weekly cockfight was underway.  We asked our driver to stop for a few minutes and we all got a small but ample taste of the "sport".  Barb, Linda, and Carol all waltzed in, but the men soon discovered that whereas women are granted free admission, men have to pay, in pesos, of course, the equivalent of $30 USA per person (and turn in any weapons) at the gate.  So the men climbed up and watched from an outside (free) perch, joining the local young rubberneckers, while the women watched and took pictures from within.  Between fights betting occurs, and so feelings can get pretty intense during the contests, with the crowd shouting out encouragement in a manner that for all the world resembles a human boxing contest.  We watched only one contest, and observed that the losing cock was not killed but appeared to play dead once he realized that he had lost.  Later, we read in our guidebook that once a cock recovers from a match he usually comes back to fight another day.  The appearance of the cocks was a surprise, by the way.  Head, wings and tail feathers were retained, but the rest were plucked nude in order to avoid getting caught by the spurs.   If a cock starts bleeding badly, his feet are put in cold water and the bleeding stops immediately, or so says a book about the DR.

The pictures marked with an (*) were taken by Linda.

*Street in Puerto Plata

*Another street

San Felipe Fort

Another view of fort

*Our driver Jaime (left) and the museum guide

Barb at one of the turret openings on the roof

*Enjoying the spectacular view of the harbor

View toward the sea

Puerto Plata harbor -- a busy commercial port

*Stairs in the fort

A different kind of stairs

Vendors just setting up outside the fort

Another vendor

Sucker bait

*The payoff captured on film

General Luperon -- one of the DR's heros

*One of many displays in the amber museum

*An example of a piece with preserved insects inside

View from the bottom of the funicular

*On the way up

*Puerto Plata from the top

Looking east

The ramp to the terminal at the top

The terminal at the top

Statue of Christ atop a large hemisphere/shop

Ain't we artistic?

*In the botonical garden



Linda and Steve making whoopy

Inside the Brugal rum factory


Bottling/Capping machine

If the machine fails to properly place a seal over the top, this fellow does so manually

This machine puts the bottles into a box. When they don't all fall into the proper slots, the man on the right straightens and inserts them

*Another view of the boxer

Carol and Gene on the observation deck

The end of one of the lines, and stacks of bottled and boxed rum

*Cockfight in Luperon


*The boys in the peanut gallery

Other Adventures

Between Altamira and Imbert lies Damajagua, an ecotourism attraction of cascading and plummeting waterfalls.   We walked through a canopied forest, along a path that repeatedly chris-crossed a small stream.   After about thirty minutes, we reached the first pool and falls.  We were accompanied by an acrobatic (and mischievous) guide, who helped us climb up and through the first seven of the falls.  After the first pool, the path was not mostly beside the river, but rather mostly in it.  We had to wade and/or swim through it.  On the way back we either jumped down into the pools, or sat on the smooth rocks and, arms tucked in, legs straight ahead, leaning slightly forward, slid down with the stream over the falls into the pools.  Great fun.  Spectacularly lovely walls along the narrow canyons carved over the centuries by the flowing water.  We were joined on the trip by Steve and Linda of Seaman's Elixir and Carol of Magic Moment.  Linda had purchased a waterproof camera just for the trip, but alas, it did not work, and so all we have are pictures taken later at lunch, and our warm memories of the unique experience at the falls.

In celebration of his 65th birthday, Roger, of Oma and Opa, made arrangements with the restaurant Casa del Sol to have a dinner "with all of the bells and whistles".   Casa del Sol is owned by a German woman and her conspicuously younger Domincan husband.  We couldn't reach agreement on whether Roger would treat us or we would treat him, and so we taught Roger a new phrase:  "Dutch treat".  The meal was delicious, and made all the more fun by the showmanship of the DR owner, who prepared a desert of bananas flambe and flaming coffee, all the while maintaining a humorous monologue (in Spanish) at a mile a minute.  Truly a memorable evening.

Rick, a friendly guy who came to Luperon intending to stay but a short time, but who has now been there long enough to know everything and everybody associated with the support system for cruisers, made arrangements for the restaurant El Belga to throw a pig roast at 1 PM on the Sunday before we departed.  The affair was by invitation only, since the pig was finite, and we were fortunate enough to be included.   As we have indicated elsewhere, we had stumbled upon El Belga before, so we knew the meal would be good.   And indeed, it was.  The name of the place, by the way, is a consequence of the nationality of the owner, a small wizen man originally from Belgium.  His wife, who says that he is teaching her how to cook, is a young pretty Domincan.   (We saw this "pattern" quite often in Luperon:  a white man getting on in years, not particularly in good shape or particularly handsome, hair thinning or mostly gone, belly spreading or mostly over the belt, paired with a young and pretty but subdued olive-skinned Domincan woman.  Their bearing, when they arrived at the marina restaurant, always struck me as having the same "feel" as that engendered by observing a grizzly bachelor arriving with his collie on a leash.   The owner is happy to have the companion, and takes it for granted.   The dog follows along faithfully, but doesn't seem particularly happy about the leash.  But of course, in the instance of the human pairs, we are certain that in every case they were deeply in love.)

Lunch after Damajagua

Luperon statue in Luperon

Celebrating Roger's 65th birthday

Wonderful b'day meal at Casa del Sol -- run by German wife and DR husband

Desert at the birthday bash

Banana flambe

Coffee and flaming liquor

Early morning walk

Nice home along beach NE of Luperon -- note helio pad behind palm

"Dog Shit Beach" -- dog owners' popular destination on outer harbor

Linda taking photos on D.S. Beach

Panorama of Luperon Harbor

Roger on a Sunday at the marina

Lady in green asked the singer to sing into the phone

Sunday at Puerto Blanco marina

Over-imbiber at the marina's Sunday party

Doesn't he look comfortable?

Sunday celebrants

"And then I told him..."

Friendly Rick (who came to Luperon to stay a week and just can't seem to pull away...)

Dancing to the Sunday band

Famous (among cruisers) author Bruce Van Sant

Special Pig Roast at El Belga restaurant

Guest of honor

Barb and another pig eater

Flag courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.