Around Thanksgiving time of 2018, my younger sister, the notorious K.A.Y. mentioned wanting to partake in a vacation trip of some sort with her beloved older sister, me. At some point within a group text message mess we settled on exploring the Las Terrenas area of the Dominican Republic for a week. So, in February of 2019, Jake, Kay and Kay’s boy-man-friend named Nate and I hopped on planes and met in the Santo Domingo airport. We rented a car, piled our carry-ons into the trunk, and drove two hours North to Playa Bonita in Las Terrenas, DR where we had rented a house for the week.
It was a shit show. A wonderful, beautiful, shit show. Literally and figuratively. By the end of the week I was down-and-out with traveler’s gut, we were all sunburned and slightly hungover, and we had garnered ourselves a traffic ticket. But god, getting to that point in the trip was a beautiful, exciting adventure.
None of us speak Spanish fluently – or really much beyond what we all learned (and forgot most of) in high school. We’re idiots. Guess what language they speak in DR? Yeah, it’s Spanish.
Upon entering the custom’s area in Santo Domingo, when asked by a customs agent where she would be staying, Kay apparently pronounced the area: “Lahs Ter-AY-nuhs.” With a Texan accent. My sister was born, raised, and resides in New York, by the way.
So yeah, the people of DR are tolerant and patient. And I have a new goal: learn some more Spanish, damnit. And also, I love my sister.
After arriving at our rental condo situation mid Saturday evening and hitting up the local grocery store just before closing time, we spent our first full day in the DR, a Sunday, walking the beach from our rental. We walked for a few miles, taking cerveza breaks and beach puppy playing breaks and water splashing breaks until we made it to Restaurant Luis. Once there we pointed to a few dead fish and a lobster and waited for the cooks to grill it in their open air kitchen. We drank a few more cervezas, watched a surfer rescue a young girl from drowning, and let the sun beat down on us. Then we walked back to our rental, repeating the tasks of our walk there. Water. Puppies. Sun.
Las Terrenas is beautiful. Other worldly beautiful. It’s poverty beyond what we see in the U.S. It’s beaches with clear water. It’s hustle and bustle – with las motos (little underpowered motorcycles) weighed down with 2-3 riders hanging off at all angles crisscrossing roads without warning or apparent rule of law. It’s tropical heat and sunshine interrupted by daily rain showers. It’s friendly packs of dogs roaming the beach. It’s $3 Presidentes and seafood at every meal. It’s wormy horses and mules hobbled and grazing along the roadside. It’s a roulette of “is this water drinkable”?
On Monday we ventured out to hike up to El Limon waterfalls. After a bit of online research, we thought we had a plan of how to undertake this hike without having to pay for a guide. The locals of El Limon have created tourism by
offering insisting that you take a guided tour to the waterfalls. These guided tours involve you being plopped on the back of a raggedy horse as a man in rubber boots walks beside you up to the falls. We weren’t interested in riding underfed, worm ridden horses up to waterfalls, so we decided we would avoid doing that. We showed up at a location that we had read would allow us to pay for parking and access to the falls, but not force us to ride the horses up to the waterfalls. Upon arrival at this location we attempted to communicate with a man who appeared to be the ‘boss’ of the small parking area. All we could gather was that he was insisting that we had to ride the horses. Just as we were becoming frustrated by his insistence, an angel arrived. An angel with silver hair in a little silver car. An angel in the form of a 72 year old Floridian woman named Jane – who was currently traveling with another companion, Lilia.
Jane rolled down her window, and decently forcefully told us to get back in our car and follow her. Like good Americans we did as we were told. We trailed her into another home’s parking lot, where Jane informed us we were ‘too white to be anything but being taken advantage of‘, told us to wait there, and then went in search of ‘La Abuela’. We watched La Abuela and Jane size each other up. Once mutual respect was established, Jane motioned to her companion Lilia, who then haggled pricing with La Abuela. They settled on a price of $4 for parking per car, and permission to hike up without a guide or horses via La Abeula’s property.
Sometimes the gods of Abuelas shine down on stupid tourists from America.
We spent the late morning/early afternoon hiking up to El Limon with Jane and Lilia. Jane was sassy. And beyond impressive in her zest and knowledge of ‘things’. Like, lots of things. Flowers, trees, birds, insects. When Kay spotted a centipede/millipede and shouted, “hey! look at this bug!” Jane was quick to chastise her that millipedes are not insects. Kay is such an amateur.
Lilia was arguably even more impressive than Jane. She is a young solo woman traveler from Russia who happens to speak 5+ languages and hold several different passports. She has been traveling alone for years. She had just come from Haiti, which she said was like the ‘hell of paradise.’ Her family calls her a ‘white raven’, which is apparently the equivalent of a ‘black sheep’ – expect being a ‘white raven’ has a positive connotation in Russia. Hiking to and from El Limon with Jane and Lilia was one of my favorite things – ever. Jane wanted us to tell all the other millennials (I think she assumed we are friends with every other millennial) that ‘(her) generation fucked up the environment, so we (millennials) have to fix it.’ So anyways, every other millennial, listen to Jane.
After our hike, and parting ways with Jane and Lilia, we stopped headed back to Las Terrenas, grabbed some food, and visited the grocery store. Visiting the grocery was to become a daily event. Apparently we are all terrible at estimating how much food we need. I’m not complaining – Jake and I didn’t ever have to cook. Nate took on the role of chef. Although he mostly likes to just cook meat. Mostly steak. But he made sure I had rice and beans, which was really swell of Nate.
We awoke on Tuesday to the promise of riding horses. I LOVE HORSES. And riding horses. And petting horses. And smelling horses. And everything horses.
Riding horses at Rancho Playa was awesome. The ranch is run by an expat from Denmark who moved to DR about 15 years prior. It was a blast riding with her. She told us stories about the horses and the countryside and she let us trot and gallop down the beach. She loves her horses – and it shows. They were healthy and cared for and one was even ‘on holiday’ from his job as a trail horse, aka, we didn’t ride him.
We spent Tuesday after our ride lounging/drinking on the beach, letting Nate cook us dinner, and playing with Nate’s new beach dog, ‘Scout’. Somehow Scout ended up in our rental, which may not have been our best choice, but he was happy. And we were happy. Everyone was happy.
On Wednesday we went whale watching. Whales were the catalyst for us coming to Dominican Republic in the first place. Well, actually, the promise of whales doin’ it was the what lured us in. Because that’s what they come to the Dominican Republic to do.
The whale tour turned out to be a bit of a ‘situation’. Upon parking the car to go get on the whale watching boat, we were hassled by a scraggly looking man who insisted we pay him for on street parking. We declined. I then observed him pulling a rather large knife on another gentleman who had let us know that we didn’t actually need to pay anyone to park on the street. We decided to park elsewhere. Shortly into our cruise to where the whales were getting it on, our boat hit something in the water. We had to disembark and go hang out on a tourist island (life is rough) until they could get us another boat. We ate some fish and drank cervesas and tried to hide from the men trying to sell us things. Then we embarked a new vessel which would take us to watch whale hanky-panky.
Jake then proceeded to expel the fish and beer we had consumed on the tourist island out of his mouth. He spent most of our whale sex tour vomiting it over the side of our vessel.
Poor Jake – he’s never been seasick before.
WELCOME TO MORTALITY, JAKE.
In our past sailboat adventure he was often the only person who could go below decks to empty our tanks while we were underway – because he didn’t get seasick. But boy did he get sick during this outing. Kay, Nate and I saw a few whales surfacing. Jake mostly just puked. We kind of expected to see more whales. But apparently Humpback whales – the whales that were supposedly getting freaky in this part of the ocean – are solo animals. No pods. So watching them involved a lot of waiting. Finding a pair of whales that had decided to fornicate, then hanging out in the boat while we waited to them to come up for air. Also, maybe they don’t want to surface into a spray of puke, Jake.
After getting off the whale copulation boat, we decided to walk around the city of Samana – where the whale watch departed from. We got some ice pops and drank some coffee and Nate broke his flip-flop and walked around the city barefoot.
On Thursday I woke up with a gremlin in my guts. The gremlin grew more ferocious and insistent on spewing his vile hatred out of my top section and my bottom section throughout the day – which we decided would be best spent lounging oceanside on the beach at our rental.
But, there are worse places than a beautiful beach in Dominican Republic to experience traveler’s stomach. Although I would not want to have much more than traveler’s stomach in DR. We drove past a few hospitals while heading to different areas of the island. And I didn’t really want to have to go to one.
I don’t really know what the other three chortlers did to entertain themselves Thursday afternoon, because I passed out at around 5pm – exhausted from the battle raging inside my intestines. They probably drank and played card games on the porch of the rental by which you could see and hear the ocean. Rough life.
Friday morning revealed itself to be another sunny day – and the gremlin in my stomach was ready for another day of war. But, since I hadn’t fed him anything to rage on, I decided I could appease my very energetic younger sister and join her and the male chortlers for a trip back to Samana to zip down some zip lines. After showing up at the zip lines and not having enough cold hard pesos, we refueled our peso stockpile back down in town at an ATM and returned ready to zip.
Zip lining is terrifying. And thrilling. And terrifying. And now I’ve done it once and that is probably enough for the rest of my life. I mean, maybe it’s less terrifying without the added terror of shitting yourself. But I can’t be certain if the urge to shit myself was coming from the gremlin in my stomach or the fear of being about 70 million feet off the forest floor zipping across a freaking rope strung between trees.
Saturday morning, we packed up and hit the road for the two hour drive back to Santo Domingo to fight through customs and catch our flights. One of my favorite parts of being in the Dominican was watching out the window as Jake bravely drove us up and down the roads and through the towns laden with crazy ass motos. Culture shock is a real thing. And a good thing. I loved observing a totally different way of life, and lifestyle. It was uncomfortable – and I love that. In doses, of course.
During our drive to the airport on Saturday we were pulled over by the policia. The police in the DR are headed by the national government – and DR is a notoriously corrupt country. The woman who ran the horse stables said something to the affect that she loves the DR because it provides a lot of freedom – even though it is terribly corrupt. Money doesn’t go where it is supposed to – and bribery is a way of life.
So, like many tourists driving the road to the airport, we got pulled over. The zip lining guy had told us that pretty much the only people who have cars in the DR are tourists and rich people. So, we were ripe for the picking. And we got picked. Literally flagged over by a police woman standing in the road. DR is not like the U.S. – all the police had to do was claim we were speeding and then ticket us. I guess we probably should have just kept driving instead of pulling over, but there are also military guys stationed at roadside checkpoints and they have machine guns like the Terminator. And we didn’t really want to be terminated.
The language barrier with our policia ‘friend’ was tough. Regardless, we are almost certain the officer was asking for a bribe. After a good 20 minutes of us trying to communicate she got frustrated, ripped up the ticket she had written us and told us to “go, go”. When we got back to the US we went online and found that she did, in fact, ticket us – even though she ripped up our evidence and insisted we just “go, go.” So, we never paid our fine. But, we have a ticket somewhere in the DR waiting for us if we ever come back. So that’s nice. Interestingly, Jane (the 72 year queen of sass) also reported that she got a ticket the same day we did, on the same road we did (we have been in touch via social media). She paid the bribe.
Thanks for the parting gift, DR!
After some struggle to figure out how to return our rental vehicle at the airport, we made our way through customs, just missing the chance to say goodbye to Kay & Nate, who we had dropped off at the curb before struggling to return the rental car due to our policia related delay.
We had a freaking blast in the Dominican – even if it was a bit of a (literal) shit show. But coming home to the U.S. felt good too. Well, kind of. I brought my gremlin home with me. And apparently the gremlin called his gremlin friend who then took up residence in Jake’s guts because Jake came home with my gremlin’s buddy.