Category Archives: Dominican Republic

Back to Santo Domingo

Mar 1 – We survived Dominican Independence Day on 2/27, and we survived Saturday night in Río San Juan last night. The two celebrations sounded about the same, with every car and motorbike cranking up their sound systems to the max, on the supposition that everybody has the same favorite song. It felt like little Zumba classes on every corner. Mercifully, all the noise stopped at 10pm, and you could hear the sound of the ocean again.

This morning we awoke to a gray, rainy day, so we didn’t mind bidding adieu to Río San Juan. We boarded a big air conditioned Caribe Tours bus at 9am, and it took us directly back to Santo Domingo. We returned to Hotel Casa Aluge for one night.

So, one more stroll down the shopping street.

One more Quinceañera celebration. This beauty was fussing with her dress, but gave me a big smile when she saw my camera.

What else can I show you? Did you know that cigars are made here?

We haggled for souvenirs – a plate for our wall, a magnet for our fridge. One more shot of Mama Juana for the road.

We thought we’d get away without concern about the corona virus, but today the first case was reported from a tourist to the D.R., and the government has begun turning away cruise ships. The checkout clerks in the supermarket have donned masks. A good time to go home.

We had a lovely time.

Laguna Gri Gri

Feb 25 – Aside from the beach, the other claim to fame here at Río San Juan is Laguna Gri Gri, a small lake surrounded by gri gri trees. Gri gri is either a reference to a mangrove or a black olive tree, both of which are known for their big roots. Wikipedia has no opinion on this subject, so this is the opinion of blogs I consulted.

According to the travel sites, a visit to Laguna Gri Gri is a fine diversion for those tired of the resort beaches of Puerto Plata, about 60 miles away. For us, it is just one block away, so off we went to explore.

The lagoon has lots of little boats, waiting to take folks out on tour, but the boatmen are not pushy. We walked all around the lake on foot, marveling at the still waters and the elevated roots.

Lots of birdsong. Here’s a little crab sunning herself on a rock.

The tour boats take tourists out to the ocean, but we couldn’t see a trail from here that would take us to the beach.

The restaurants surrounding the lagoon had lots of fine wall art, though.

More mosaic tile work and wall art on the walk home.

We returned to our apartment for a swim in the rooftop pool. Here’s a picture of the exterior of our place.

Now here’s a shot of the place next door. Yes, this is a very poor country, and has no resort nearby, so the folks we meet are not much involved with tourists.

Our pool is not Olympic size, but fine for cooling off.

The view from our rooftop. See the beach?

So here we are for a week of eat, walk, swim, croissants, swim, eat. Jim is serving up super delicious meals, and has made a friend of the grocer nearby. I’ll check back in if anything exciting happens…

Rio San Juan

Feb 23 – we said goodbye to Villa la Caleta, and Dario drove us to Las Galeras so we could catch the morning guagua back to Las Terrenas. He seemed surprised to learn we were heading for Río San Juan. Why would anyone ever want to go there?

It was early Sunday morning, so for much of the ride the van was only partially filled. Blessed relief! Back through Samaná and El Limón we went.

When we reached Las Terranas two and a half hours later, there was a lively discussion among the driver and other riders about what should be done with us. It was 11:30 am, and some riders felt we should wait in town until the big bus heading north left at 2pm. The other, equally vocal contingent thought that in the interest of time, we should continue to guagua on to our final destination.

We opted for the guagua, so the driver brought us to the next van, which took us to Sánchez. (We know in retrospect that we should have asked for this route at Samaná, but oh well.) The nice thing about the guagua system is that there are no layovers or downtime. Each driver takes you directly to the next van, and tells the next driver where you are going.

After Sánchez, we headed up into the hills, and it started to rain like crazy. On to Nagua, then finally to Río San Juan, where the final driver actually took us right to our place on the beach.

So we are now in northern D.R., in a very nice apartment with a stove and fridge and everything needed for Jim to whip us up some of his very tasty meals, once the stores open tomorrow. For tonight, we found a shop selling hot ham and cheese empanadas, and that suited us just fine.

Feb 24 – We walked around today and found several grocerias, and stocked up on essentials that included vegetables! We haven’t really had any vegetables since we arrived in country. We found a French patisserie with excellent coffee and crusty fresh bread. We also found an ATM that dispensed more than the equivalent of $20 maximum per day, which has been a challenge in every town here, as hotels and everybody else accept only cash.

Our place has a small pool on the roof, but as we are just one block from the beach, we did our swimming in the Atlantic today. Playa de los Minos has more waves than we encountered in Las Galeras, but the water was warm and the swimming was fine.

The town has a little park with lots of mosaics.

We’re going to like it here!

Villa la Caleta

Feb 18 – We are staying this week in Villa la Caleta, which is run by a very nice Italian named Dario. We are at the eastern tip of the Samaná peninsula, and far from the cruise ship crowds. This area is frequented primarily by Europeans, and we have been hearing mostly French, some German, and some Russian in addition to Spanish.

So against all odds, one of the other villas is inhabited this week by Americans – a retired couple from Philadelphia. It’s strange but nice for us to make English conversation at dinner.

Chris and John have been more places than we have!

Dario runs a little restaurant, which serves an egg and fruit breakfast, and dinner of anything you want as long as it’s spaghetti, at prices much higher than we are accustomed to paying. We’ll have to get creative if we’re going to last the week.

We walked down the beach this morning, arriving after 15 minutes at a resort, with rows of sun worshipers slathered in lotion, lying on beach loungers, and a line queued up for drinks.

We kept walking. There were a few vendors along the beach, selling coconut milk and touristy stuff. I thought these carvings were particularly good.

After another 15 minutes, we reached the little town of Las Galeras, which we had not been able to properly inspect on our whirlwind journey yesterday.

There were lots of little cafés, spas and shops. It’s evident that English is not the primary language here.

English translation needs a bit of work!

The food offerings were still overpriced by our standards, and we had to walk a good way up the street before finding a place where the locals eat. We had a lovely lunch of chicken, beans, rice and salad, then found a very good grocery. Our room has a fridge, so we stocked up on sandwich fixings, a very tasty local cheese, and, of course, some Presidentes.

We purchased a little bottle of Mama Juana – the local specialty drink made of rum, red wine and honey, steeped in various medicinal barks. The locals say it will cure whatever ails you.

We swam in clear waters at the sandy beach.

We took a long walk up the hill to see the sunset.

I think we’ll manage here just fine.

Feb 19 – This morning we broke out our snorkels and set out to see what denizens may lurk beneath the gentle waves. Right outside our villa is a brown coral beach, with lots of places for critters to hide. We had to wear footwear into the water so we didn’t cut our feet on the sharp coral.

I have not been snorkeling since I was a kid in a swimming pool. I had reservations about how clearly I would be able to see under water without my glasses, but I was pleasantly surprised. Lots of colorful little fishies and anemones. It really is pleasant to lie face down in the water and just drift.

Here’s some of the wildlife we’ve encountered.

Hitching a ride!

So this will be our week – eat, walk, swim, snorkel, eat. Repeat. I’ll check back in if there’s anything exciting to report!

Las Galeras

Feb 17 – today was a travel day, and a day worth describing. (Yes, dear friend Tom, this post is for you!) We had our final breakfast in Santo Domingo, and called for an Uber to the bus station, where we rode a big bus north in air conditioned comfort for three hours to Las Terrenas. There was even a movie on the bus!

As soon as we got off the bus, we were surrounded by an eager group of drivers inviting us to take their taxi or moto (motorcycle). We have left urban Santo Domingo, so Uber is no longer an option.

We were looking for the local public transport, or guagua station, but couldn’t find it, although we walked up and down the street where Google said it should be. We ducked into a shop, and a very nice tailor left his sewing machine and pulled out his phone to help us. Nice person of the D.R.!

Turns out there is no longer a guagua heading to our town. The best option was to cross the city of Las Terranas by motorcycle and find a guagua heading for El Limón. Please note that I have never ridden a motorcycle ever, let alone ridden helmet-less behind a Dominican. But here we are, so here we go!

Ten minutes (and $1) later, hair blown back, we were on the other side of town, stepping into our guagua, otherwise known as an open pickup truck. Here’s Jim getting in with his pack. Yes, we sat on the wood slats on the sides. No, we didn’t worry about falling out, as once all nine of us were shoehorned in, there wasn’t much room to move.

The truck took us half an hour (16 miles) to El Limón, where we were instructed to leave the truck and hop into another guagua, this time a van, which was nice and breezy as the doors and windows had been removed. The van took us 15 miles to Samaná, where we transferred to an even sadder-looking van with a cracked windshield, and wooden crates where the seats should be. All the interior upholstery on the sides and top had been removed as well, giving the van a nice, rusty metal vibe.

I thought the van was quite full enough with twelve people plus the driver, but the driver kept calling ‘Las Galeres!’ out the window until were reached our 15 seat capacity. From there, it was stop and go every few blocks, as folks got off and others got on, greeting their friends and keeping up a noisy chatter. Big parcels had to be strapped to the roof rack, and when we passed a grocery, the driver got out to do some shopping. He was nice enough to inquire if anybody else needed anything.

17 miles later, we arrived in Las Galeres. Almost there! We were just two miles from our destination, and guess what? Two motorcycles were standing ready, waiting to take us! I jumped right on, this time. I am a biker pro!

So now we are in our seaside villa, listening to the lap of the waves and feeling the gentle breezes. There is a salamander on our bedroom wall, and cows lowing right beneath our window. It’s good to be home.

Sunset view from our balcony

More from Santo Domingo

Feb 14 – For those who wish to see this city, know that the Zona Coloniál is very compact and easy to navigate. We understand that most tourists spend one day here, on their way to or from the beach, but our guidebook has a walking tour that will take us to every interesting thing, so that’s what we are doing.

There is a pedestrian-only central street with lots of shops and restaurants.

There are lots of churches, but many are closed. Here’s Nuestra Señora del Carmen, with a historical facade and a beautiful black wood altar.

This is the Iglesia Regina Angelorum. I liked the painted fresco behind this statue.

The first ever fort built in the new world (1502), Fortaleza Ozama, contains some of the timber from Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria. It overlooks the Rio Ozama, and for a while it was actually the tallest structure in the Americas.

The Pantheon of the Fatherland is a former church that serves as a mausoleum for important military figures in Dominican history. I was happy to see a number of females included among the busts of important people. The big three heroes, Duarte, Mella and Sanchez, have full sized statues in front of their crypt.

The Museo de Casas Reales had an interesting display of an early pharmacy, including a still used to make potions and a cabinet used to store medicinal herbs. As many could not read, the cabinet was painted with a picture of what each herb looked like and the tree or shrub on which it could be found.

The Museo Alcazar de Colón was the residence of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego, who was the Viceroy of Hispaniola, and his wife Maria de Toledo. It contained artifacts from Columbus’ family. His office displays a modern painting of Christopher and Diego. The deteriorating statue depicts Maria de Toledo, who ruled Hispaniola whenever her husband was out seafaring and exploring. She was said to have been compassionate to the indigenous people.

Feb 16 – today was the municipal elections, which were canceled midday due to problems with the electronic voting machines. Sound familiar?

Tomorrow we will bid adios to the city of Christopher Columbus’ brother, and head north to the beach!

Santo Domingo

Feb 12 – After a leisurely American breakfast (omelette, toast, juice and coffee, as opposed to the local preference for coffee and pastry) we packed our bag and walked a block to the local bus stop, where we boarded a very nice air conditioned bus that shuttled us to the bus terminal for free. From there, we hopped on a bigger very nice air conditioned bus for the 90 minute ride to Santo Domingo, for $1.50 per ticket.

We are staying in the old part of the city, called the Zona Coloniál, which was originally founded by Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartolomeo, after the first two colonies attempted on Hispaniola failed. Santo Domingo was named after St. Dominic, who founded the Dominican monastic order and invented the rosary (bet you didn’t know that!)

Our little hotel is a five minute walk from the center of town, the Parque Colón. Here there is a statue of Christopher himself, his outstretched arm serving as an invitation to the pigeons.

The park had a festive air, with musicians simultaneously playing Spanish guitar and Sousa marches.

An artist at work.

There were several strange creatures roaming the park. The one giving away red balloons had to do with next week’s political election, and the gorillas had something to do with Carneval, but no one could tell us exactly what. Carneval is celebrated for the whole month of February here.

I admired the entrepreneurial spirit of this group, who stood beside the upscale cafés, drumming up a horrible racket until someone paid them to go away.

Right next to the park stands the Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas.

A small sandstone interior, with a mix of classic and modern artwork.

Sir Francis Drake and his English forces swept through Santo Domingo and took everything worth taking in 1586. This church is definitely lacking the gold embellishments so prevalent in other cathedrals. It is interesting to view history from different perspectives – the English knighted Drake, but the Spanish considered him a pirate.

My favorite display in one of the side chapels was a surreal looking nativity scene that looked like it might have been made of Legos. No baby Jesus, though.

We stopped in to see the Larimar museum, which was mainly a gift shop. Larimar is a pretty blue or green pectolite stone that is only found on this island. Buy some today, before it’s all gone!

Then we went into the Museo Casa de Tostado, Museum of a Family House, which was a house decorated with antique furnishings from the Spanish colonial era. For the price of admission, we received two tour guides and an audio in English, which was so funny that I have to describe it in detail. Two young women ushered us into each room and pointed to the sign displaying the audio guide number. So we walked into the kitchen, pressed 364 and play, then listened while the audio said, “this is the kitchen.” Then on to the next room. Funniest tour ever!

The highlight of the house was this fancy window, with stone carving above, the first one of its type in America. Now you’ve seen it too!

Guess what Santo Domingo has? A Chinatown! A great place to have dinner, although there were no Asians in evidence in the restaurant we chose.

Here is a statue entitled “Chinese Immigrant”.

This one depicts the Buddha, one of Jim’s favorites.

A fun day!

Dominican Republic

Feb 10, 2020 – Looking for a place to warm your bones in the middle of winter? We wondered if the Dominican Republic might be a good place to do just that, and we’ll be checking it out for the next three weeks.

Where is this place? You may recall that the island of Hispaniola is where Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World in 1492. The D.R. shares the island with Haiti, and is close to Puerto Rico and lots of Caribbean islands that folks fly to for resort vacations. Of course, Jim and I don’t do resorts, so we’ll just see how it goes!

Feb 11 – We came in on a late flight through Atlanta, and arrived at Santo Domingo Airport at almost midnight. Jim had chosen a little hotel in the nearby town of Boca Chica for convenience, and a short Uber ride got us there. Cannot say enough good things about Uber in foreign countries. It is a great equalizer, in that the app can not distinguish if you are a local or a tourist ripe for fleecing. I’m sorry that the drivers don’t make enough. I tip. The 20 minute ride cost less than $5.

The little town of Boca Chica really didn’t have much going on, but we sat on the beach for a bit and got our bearings, while enjoying our first Presidente beer. There was a park with some gnarly old trees.

There was a church, but it was not open.

And some wall art too!

Tomorrow we’ll head into the capital city, Santo Domingo, and see what there is to see.