Morning Adventure in the Dominican Republic

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“You expect me to climb up that?” I asked Carlos, my guide on a morning adventure in the Dominican Republic.

“And then slide back down?” I added with a badly-hidden note of fear in my voice.

Reassured by my leader’s words of encouragement, but only slightly so, I scaled the first of 27 waterfalls created by a rushing river whose arctic-like temperature contrasted with the sweltering heat of the surrounding forest and began my rapid descent.

After returning safely, if slightly bruised, from this unusual outing, I stopped for what to me was a less-than-usual lunch of pit-roasted pig washed down by a cold local brew. That was followed by hiking in a rainforest, pausing to explore caves that have been carved out over eons.

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Many people picture the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic, if they think of it at all, as a place of golden sand beaches and inviting all-inclusive resorts. While there are many such settings, I had other things in mind during a recent visit.

I was intrigued by a lengthy choice of activities that provide opportunities to explore largely unspoiled countryside, interact with local residents, visit villages little touched by tourism, and enjoy encounters with Mother Nature.

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I was following the journey of Christopher Columbus who spotted the island, which the Dominican Republic today shares with the country of Haiti, in 1492. A colony was established there 10 years later. Among reminders of Spanish colonial days is a stone fort, Fuerte de San Filipe (“Fort of Saint Phillip”), which still gazes out over the north shore. Its massive walls enclose a little historical museum that tells the story of the Dominican Republic’s fight for independence, which was finally was achieved in 1821.

Today, many visitors head for the vacation complex of Puerto Plata, which is well located for excursions to nearby towns and beaches. Playa Cabarete (Cabarete Beach) is popular among both locals and tourists. Its semi-circular stretch of golden sand is set against a backdrop of restaurants and bars.

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Another beach that is a favorite among Dominicans is Sosua.   In the past, it was a tranquil fishing village. In recent years, it has grown into a bustling little commercial community. Small shops and restaurants line the beach, and vendors stroll along the sand selling snacks and trinkets to sun bathers.

When I sought a change from checking out beaches and sightseeing attractions, the challenge became which of an inviting choice of alternatives to select.

I decided to focus on new experiences, and found the perfect solution. After asking around, I was directed to Iguana Mama, an outdoor tour operator that offers a wide array of tempting activities.

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That heart-pounding climb up, and plummet down, rushing waterfalls that I had experienced is but one choice among its long menu of offerings. Along with the recreational pastimes available at many vacation spots, the company throws in a few that catch your attention and if, you participate, your breath.

Zip lining and canyoning provide trips over and down into the landscape. Sailing on a catamaran, ocean fishing and whale watching cruises get salts and landlubbers alike out to sea.

I selected two options that appeared to provide challenge enough but not too much. One was a bike ride over dirt roads that pass through neighborhoods of modest homes. I waved to children playing in the streets while steering to avoid bicycle-eating potholes and chickens scratching in the dust.

Then, after loading the rented bike onto a rundown outboard motor boat, I enjoyed a ride on the Yessica River, past cows grazing in fields and fishermen casting their nets. Back on land, I sipped a cool drink of coconut milk from the shell, then pedaled back to my starting point.

Another day, another outing. This time, it was a hike in the Choco National Park, named for the chocolate (“choco”) color of the earth. It included exploration of several of the more than 100 limestone caves, many connected by underground rivers, that add a whole new dimension to the usual walk in the woods.

An appealing bonus was an encounter in the forest with an elderly man who invited me into his tiny, primitive hut made of palm tree wood and fronds, and offered a snack of warm yucca. That hospitable gesture epitomized every experience with the Dominicans I met, who invariably were friendly and courteous.

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People I meet when traveling have much to do with how much I enjoy a destination. Add beautiful beaches, magnificent scenery and tiny towns, plus a long list of activities both familiar and less so, and the Dominican Republic has much to offer those seeking active days, hours lolling on the sand, or a combination of both.

For information about visiting the Dominican Republic, go to godominicanrepublic.com