When I look at a map of the Dominican Republic it looks like a sea turtle facing east, with a small “flipper” at the northeast corner. That “flipper” is the peninsula known as Samaná. As I continue from Punta Cana to Samaná from last week’s post, I find myself cruising on a 16-passenger skiff across the Bahía de Las Flechas (Bay of Arrows), named after the greeting given to Columbus by the native Taínos when he first arrived. Later , they ruefully accepted him and tragically, within 70 years were completely wiped out. Fortunately, their spirit, culture, and artwork in the form of ceramics and pictographs remain along with their whisperings heard in their sacred caves.
Dominican Republic -DR, is the number one Caribbean destination widely known for their scores of all-inclusive resorts. I was looking for a much different kind of trip-something along the lines of wild and authentic.
In Samana´, the south side of the most northeastern peninsula, on a magical boat excursion to Los Haitises National Park, a protected virgin forest and microclimate filled with more than a hundred species of birds, amphibians and reptiles – I found what I was looking for.
Los Haitises means “land of mountains” and touring in a boat gets you up close and personal with the giant “boobs” (as Patrick Bennett from Uncommon Caribbean)likes to call them!
Los Haitises has its own microclimate due to the copious amount of rainfall. The hot humid forest exudes an aroma like an exotic perfume. There are almost a thousand species of plants, scores of palms, bromeliads and prehistoric-like ferns. This is the most bio-diverse place in the Caribbean. We are talking ecotourism! Our boat was small enough to get very close to the Mangrove’s roots which looked like massive modern sculptures. If we were in quiet kayaks, we would have likely seen the manatees that live in this water as well. (That is another excursion). Pelicans, herons, terns, and the occasional Hispaniola parakeet congregate all over the countless large green knolls that jut up 30 – 50 meters out of the water. The awe-inspiring hills were formed more than a million years ago when the earth’s tectonic plates collided together and transformed the limestone into these wonderful sculptures.
Our daylong excursion was put together by Tequia Experiences.
I didn’t think the day could get any better, but before I knew it, we docked and our guide then took us spelunking, where we saw the ancient pictographs of the Tainó Indians! Pictographs are pre-Columbian drawings of faces, animals (manatees and parrots) and otherworldly creatures (Gods). I wondered whether this was ancient graffiti, or something much more. The Tainó believed that the caves were a portal to the afterlife and were thought to have painted the pictographs for spiritual guidance.
Exploring the two caves – La Cueva de La Linea (because of the old train line that used to pass in front of it,) and La Cueva de La Arena, was the icing on the cake! La Cueva de La Arena had a petro-glyph, a stone sculpture of a face or an owl guarding the cave, warning us not to go in (Indiana-Jones style), but we did, respectfully. Another cave was the “bat cave” where bats colonized on the ceiling, keeping one of the members of our group away. (Chiroptophobia!) As we left the bat cave, appropriately, there was a window – a hole that resembled a bat in flight! Afterwards, our guide Eduardo, had a treat planned – a little refreshment break on the island with fresh coconut, and pineapple, and dark rum, Coca Cola or Presidente lager! Here he talked to us about the Solenodon, an ugly (or cute!) little shrew like rodent that is endemic to this land and very endangered.
The boat captain and guide then took us to Sabana del Mar where we were greeted with lively music and fresh coconut juice served in the coconut. The “bartender” enthusiastically hacked off the top of green coconuts and then gracefully presented them to us as we boarded a truck fitted out with “limousine style” benches, which transported us 10 minutes down a dirt road (and into a time warp) to Paraíso Caño Hondo - a sustainable eco-tourist hotel run and built by locals. This place is remote! Literally in the middle of nature and nothing else!! We did not stay here, but I would have liked to. It was carefully made with local hardwoods, stone and mosaics using the themes of nature. Impressions from real large leaves adorned the walls and the view of the Samaná Bay from the hotel was breathtaking. The air was fragrant as the heat released the heady fragrance of the heavily scented flowers. There was even a dog that looked like mine!
As we ate our lunch – a typical Dominican home-style meal of stewed beef, rice and red beans, roasted chicken, and shredded salad, we watched merengue dancers perform with a live band playing traditional local music. Some of the men in our group also participated in shots of Mamajuana, a Dominican Republic specialty – rum in a marination of herbal sticks and roots and professed to have aphrodisiacal qualities.
On our return trip in the truck, back to the awaiting boat, the entire band hopped in, along with one of the Meringue dancers! They played vivaciously, one member using something like a cheese grater as percussion, as the beautiful dancer danced all the bumpy way home!