A Travellerspoint blog

Dominican Republic


los gallos tienen derechos!

sunny 30 °C

Leaving my friends in Samana and boarding the bus to Santo Domingo was a very strange feeling. I was ready to be on the move again, but sad at the idea of not returning back to the castle and the town of Cabarete which had become a wonderful home for me. Two months settled there is the most stable I have been throughout my year of traveling. However, it was onwards and upwards to see what new adventures I could find. I had planned to meet a friend of a friend at the bus station and to stay with him at his place for a few days until I worked out a new plan. As it was also the week approaching Easter (or Semana Santa as it is known here), he invited me away to his family holiday home in Palenque – another state.
As my friend doesn’t have a car, we packed our things the night before and got up really early to drive with is neighbour. His neighbour works for a debt collection agency and does the actual collecting. It took us about 5 hours to drive what is usually a one hour drive. But it was really cool because as we went to each house and small shop that owed money, I got to see different tiny towns and parts of the Dominican Republic.
I loved this shop that sold beans
And this is small town, Dominican gas station!
When we finally arrived I had to smile at my own ignorance as a holiday home to me is Pauanui or like the ones we stay in when we are in the States. However, this holiday home was very small, just 2 bedrooms and with no running water. The electricity worked when it wanted to and refused to do anything when we really needed it. But the house was in the middle of nowhere, not too far from the beach, and it was just lovely. Especially when the breeze blew from the mountains and kept us cool in the extremely hot and dry weather.
The home itself sits ammongst a hundred straw huts filled with chickens, roosters, and baby chicks.
Every single day more and more chicks are born and I was so excited to cuddle the tiny babies.
One of them I even got to help pick the egg off as it was hatching.
I didn’t understand at first, why the baby chicks were taken away from the mother and placed on mesh inside other cages without food or water. I thought about it for ages and asking why they were being so cruel to the baby chicks who just wanted their mothers. The replies were always the same – to help make the chicks be tough and strong. And it suddenly dawned on me – I was staying on a farm where they raise roosters (gallos) for fighting to win money!

I was so upset once I realised because I had already begun my campaign (LOS GALLOS TIENEN DE RECHOS/ ROOSTERS HAVE RIGHTS) on the streets of Cabarete. However, this was different – I was staying in the mother land! Somehow I managed to convince the farm workers that they needed to take care of the chickens better. That roosters don’t actually WANT to fight to the death, and that even if that is the case (which was proven to me when they kept holding roosters together to prove their natural desire to fight) and we can’t change that – then the farm needs to give better conditions to the chickens. They argued that this would mean the chickens wouldn’t be so tough, they wouldn’t fight as hard. We discussed how barbaric it is to watch animals kill each other for human enjoyment, as a way to make money, and that it is actually disgusting and cruel. How much better it would be to live in a country where animals are protected and the environment is clean and clear of rubbish. They all just looked at me as if I was completely mad – but I did notice that the boys put down some sugar water for the baby chicks to drink and replaced the mesh with some soft blankets for them to sleep on. We called my favourite one Bachatica (little bachata dancing girl – doesn’t sound the same in English) and they promised it would never fight or be eaten and that it would have a very good life at the farm. Can’t change the world I guess, but I changed it for one chicken and that’s a start! They kept telling me I could take her with me and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to travel with a chicken. It’s great for eggs they said, and you can eat it at the end. I don’t eat meat I told them. Well, they said, you don’t have to worry Katy because it isn’t meat – it’s chicken!
How can you do anything other than laugh?
We spent a lot of time over the weekend down at the beach swimming and at the beach side bar dancing a lot of bachata. We ate habichuelas con dulce which is sweet beans… And actually taste really really good! I found them to taste like Christmas cake with custard but all in a custard texture. This is what everyone eats during Easter in the Dominican Republic. It was strange not to eat a single piece of chocolate – and I really hope I never experience another Easter without junkfood! But the food was great, I sat and helped the abuela (grandmother) peel the peas for hours under the shade of a giant oak tree, I cut the onions and diced the molondrones (no idea what that is in English, I don’t think we have it. I googled it and it says Okra…), and I played with the 7 year old until her mother told us to both sit down and drink some water and have an ice block because we were sweating too much. It was such a nice feeling to be a part of a huge family – even if we were all sleeping on sofas, couches, floors, and me with my new shadow’s (the 7 year old’s) feet in my face – Oh Grace how I miss you always, somehow yours are the only feet I will never care to have shoved up my nose. It was fun to watch the fun, the teasing, even the arguments - and to be able to be a part of it and to keep up with the conversation due to my ever improving Spanish skills.
We danced Bachata until the early hours of the morning, drank Rum by the bottle, and there were many cigars being passed around – of course I had to stop for a photo even if I think cigars are revolting!
It was a really fun weekend, and it ended really well too. All 16 of us piled into a small van (complete with souvenir chicken) and returned to the city. I bid my new friends farewell and headed off to meet my friend Glencora who had just arrived from Venezuela. She was on her way up to work at the job I had helped her to find in Cabarete. We danced and drank rum and chatted for hours, it was so good to see her again after 5 months since our time together in Colombia.
I madee my plans to stay in Santo Domingo at the hostel while i searched options for what I could do until it was time to meet Erie on June 1st in Guatemala.

Posted by chasingsummer 13:17 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Samana beach sleeping

from sleeping in a castle to sleeping in the sand

sunny 30 °C


After quitting my job at the castle just 5 minutes before we were about to leave, I had to quickly pack everything I was prepared to leave behind in order to take it with me on our planned trip to Samana. I quit in a blazing argument with my boss/ wonderful friend. I have come to realise that for me, working has always been about making the world a better place – and has nothing to do with financial gain. Thankfully, I can now see this is where I keep going wrong with reception and bar work jobs over the last year. My Spanish is finally good enough to try and avoid these types of jobs so I can find work in my career instead. That was always the goal, one year to improve the language before I found a 'real' job - and now I am at the one year mark. I am starting to feel a little bad though… over the past year, at least 9 people I have worked with have quit their jobs because I have highlighted to them the terrible working conditions and he racism and rude attitudes of the employers. In these parts of the world, jobs aren’t so easy to come by and maybe this isn’t the best thing for me to be doing. However, I got an email from a friend yesterday who quit last week from his new job and took 5 with him. He told me that he was being treated badly and decided he couldn’t stand it anymore, and managed to raise the teams courage to quit together and screw over the management. He said it was because of what I had taught him… ooops.

Anyway, we had our nice big fat jeep piled full of my hastily packed things and the backpacks of the others. We headed away; Arjan, Brandon, Hod, Tias and I. It was Hod and Brandon’s final days in the country and we wanted to go and explore the Samana peninsula. I had not seen everything I had wanted to see when I was last in Las Galeras and knew I would have so much fun with the boys. We arrived really late due to the delays back at the castle, but managed to find a lovely little bay where we slept on the sand around a campfire. There was a raggedy beach hut on the grass beside the bay so Brandon and I went to investigate. And we were so lucky, because this is how we met Jairo who was one of the kindest most special souls I have met on my travels. He told us we could stay on the beach, he brought a mattress out from his house for me to sleep on at night, and he stocked us up with fire wood and prepared our fires while we were out during the day.
He even sat up and talked with us at night, we taught him how to make s’mores and roast marshmallows which he soon became very addicted to. Brandon, Arjan, and I were the only ones who could understand him, but Hod and Tias were very soon friends of his too as they were just so overwhelmed by his kindness. In a country where most people are out to rip off the tourists, Jairo really did seem like a blessing in disguise. And his beach was just beautiful.
One one of our day trips we headed out to Playa Rincon which is one of the top 10 beaches in the entire world – and it is really easy to see why.
The drive itself was incredible, we drove over high mountains where the entire peninsular fell away before us and we could see the beautiful Caribbean sparkling all around us.
We stopped and bought some delicious fruit, paid way too much (thanks Brandon) for a bottle of Mamajuana, and drank fresh cacao fruit hot chocolate. Mamajuana is a bottle filled with tree bark and roots, spices and canes that is then fermented with honey, vanilla, red wine, and of course Caribbean rum. The best mamajuana is usually made carefully over a series of weeks/ months and is actually a ancient remedy for infection and illness as well as an alcoholic beverage. Many Dominicans will drink 2 shots of mamajuana every single day in order to keep sickness away.
The beach itself was incredible and it felt as if we were the only people in the world.
It was a bit windy so it wasn’t quite perfect tanning conditions. It just felt so rugged and raw; so untouched by humans.
I have a huge problem with the rubbish here in the Dominican Republic. Such beautiful places yet rubbish everywhere, and even worse – it’s that rubbish that got outlawed in most 1st world countries. That white foam type stuff for eating and drinking from. And everyone just leaves it lying all over the beaches. So seeing Rincon was a joy to my eyes. Poor old Jairo got an earful about the state of his beach, but I promised the help of myself and the others, and between the group of us we got it looking pretty beautiful. He has since contacted me and said it is now even cleaner and he is trying to do his best to keep it clean and make sure visitors do their part too.
On one of the other days we headed to ‘the bridge to nowhere’ in Samana. Naturally, we all wanted to jump off it but only a couple of us could due to genuine excuses – 24 hours’ worth of planes to catch and not wanting to be salty, and my spider bite (oh yea, I got bit by a tarantula) was still far too infected that a large jolt of hitting water from a height would cause debilitating pain. Only 5 days earlier I had been in hospital, unable to even sit or walk without crying my eyes out.
Anyway, the bridge and the walk was pretty spectacular, and Brandon and Arjan did the rest of us cliff jumpers great pride as they threw themselves straight down into the harbour below.
Over the week we slept at the beach, we ate nothing more than plates of chicken. For just $3.50NZD we could eat at the world’s best chicken restaurant, no exaggeration. We ate there up to 2 times a day; rice, beans, salad, and fresh fried chicken.
On one of the days we went on a huge drive and found a cool tree house village where we sat and drank hot coffee and rum while it poured with rain all around us. The tree house village was incredible, it really was a 5 star jungle resort, Tarzan and Jane playground. It had swinging beds, private tree huts with power, double beds, beautiful lighting, and amazing views. There was a full bar and restaurant, and everything was interconnected with swinging platforms and bridges.

One of the things I was desperate to do was see El Limon waterfall. So off we went to the waterfall entrance where we got scammed into riding horses up a path (while people led us) to another waterfall entrance.
We then had to pay, got scammed into drinking mamajuana, and then had to ditch the horses and walk the rest of the way. But wow, was it worth it…

The day was hot and sticky and the water was so nice and cool. We had been sleeping at least 4 nights on the beach by this point so swimming in fresh water was an absolute treat. If I had been smarter I would have taken my soap and had a bath!
We found parts to jump from but of course my bite was still bad so I couldn’t jump from the top like I wanted to. However, Arjan did me proud and jumped from a huge height.
It was the most magical waterfall, we bathed there for hours. There were very few people there so we got to really enjoy it all to ourselves.
Of course we had to go back the same way, with the bloody horses and the people asking us for money we didn’t have on us. They threw a tantrum when we refused to tip them more than $100 pesos each. In a country where tipping isn’t customary, people surely can make you feel bad if you don’t oblige! I wish we had investigated the waterfalls better, I am sure there is a way to enter on foot and without guides. To both save money and to be on our own as we wanted desperately to explore the smaller waterfalls on the way, and just to be away from people who only want us for money.

However, we were all really glad we went to the waterfalls and that we saw some of the best beaches in the Dominican Republic, if not the world. We were so lucky to find Jairo and his hospitality – that even included freshly cut coconut water and then flesh for breakfast. It was a magical time together.
Waving Brandon and Hod off for the airport was strange, and then even stranger seeing Tias and Arjan leave for the castle and me for the bus to Santo Domingo.
Not returning to the castle, what had become my home for 2 months was a really bizarre feeling. I was not sure what to expect, I was feeling very lost and alone again like I didn’t know which way to go. But something had changed once and for all – I really understand that to feel like that is actually all part of this huge adventure. To be out there, to be free, to be really living, is scary. It’s dangerous, it’s lonely, and it’s confusing and it’s hard. But after feeling this way on and off now over the last year I have realised that it is something to embrace rather than something to fear. Because the universe has never let me down, and I know that I will always find a new adventure even crazier than the last.

Posted by chasingsummer 12:57 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Laguna Dudu

ziplining into the blue lagoon

sunny 30 °C

All of the amazing people who had been staying long term at the castle, and those ones who had not stayed so long yet had made a huge impact on my life, were readying themselves to leave for their countries again. One of the things a lot of us really wanted to do was head off to the Laguna Dudu – or the blue lagoon. We had heard a lot about the place as a hot spot for diving, cliff jumping, and exploring caves. We hired a car and off we drove, me driving at first to the overstuffed cars dismay – I had not driven in nearly a year and was now driving on the other side of the road! But thanks to the love and support of my amazing new friend Suleima, I managed to drive for at least 45 minutes without a single bump or hiccup. I was just the slowest driver on the road who seemed to be too far left and too far right all at once!

When we finally arrived at the lagoon after asking for directions and still driving right past the entrance, I cracked up at the painted ticket booth:

No guns, No weapons, and no shisha… Of course those are the three most important things to never enter!
The lagoon itself was a lot bigger than I had imagined and the water was a really deep but transparent blue. Not the Caribbean blue I had expected either.
I was scared by the giant zipline that lead across the lagoon as it meant holding on for at least 10 seconds before dropping down into the fresh cool water at least 9 metres below. I was only scared because of my lack of faith in my own body strength, it had nothing at all to do with the drop itself.
So instead, I threw myself off the huge cliff and straight down into the water to cheer on the others who were using the zipline.

Finally, I knew I had to do the zipline or I would be letting down my entire country, my best friends at home, and the amazing people I was with who were daring and triple daring me and who believed I was not too heavy that my arms couldn’t carry my weight for 30 seconds. So up I went and I got ready to fly… and then I chickened out.
Then I convinced myself I could do it… and then I chickened out…
I must have done this a good 10 or 15 times, with my friends all screaming support from below and the Dominicans at the top cheering me on also. Finally, from that secret spot deep inside my stomach where I know I can always reach to for the confidence to literally do anything, I got the courage and I knew it was for real this time…
And wow, it was amazing! I flew right over the lagoon and found my arms had no trouble at all carrying me right across to the safe drop zone where it was time to let go.
It took me a little while to surface as the drop was quite high, but when I did everyone cheered and I was screaming with excitement. And in true Katy style, once was simply not enough and so off I went to join the others as we flew and dropped over and over again and again and again.

We swam in the water and tried to dive right down to see what was at the bottom. Apparently there are diving opportunities so we wanted to see what was down there...
After our ears were aching from the change in pressure, and our bodies were shaking from the change in temperatures, we went off to explore the rest of the park. We found emus and turkeys and then the caves with the Caribbean Blue water I have grown to love with my whole heart and soul.90_46542240C926A165788B91421DE8CB2F.jpg

We left the park with bodies waning in energy as the adrenalin was wearing off, so we headed to Playa Grande for dinner. The beach itself was super lovely – typically Caribbean with its blue water and white sand. The rainbow beach hut style restaurants called out to us, and we sat on the sand and picked our fresh fish from a giant platter.
It really was the perfect end to the perfect day, before we returned home for a perfect night of dancing bachata until the wee hours of the morning.

Posted by chasingsummer 12:35 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Hide and Seek

in an abandoned resort

sunny 30 °C

Hide and Seek in the abandoned resort may or may not have been one of my ideas…

But when Mimi, a good friend of mine told me all about an abandoned resort that was her favourite place on earth – I simply had to go there. I asked Timpe and Hod (who had gone with Mimi) if they would like to go again, and if so could they lead the way for me. And soon enough, the idea turned into hide and seek with a great bunch of people from the castle. We had to postpone it once due to good wind (meaning every kite surfer dropped everything and ran to the water), and then when it was looking like postponing was going to happen again we had to make the final decision – wind or no wind, surf or no surf, hide and seek was happening.
And I am so glad it did. The place itself was ginormous. Over 500 individual house style apartments – each that once had at least a bedroom, a desk, a bathroom, wardrobes, and some with kitchen facilities.
There were houses that had multiple bedrooms and clearly once housed families on vacation.
There were giant eating areas and restaurants, one that was out of bounds for hide and seek due to the large population of bees living within its walls - and having 2 severely allergic game players, both without their epi-pens (oops, sorry parents)…
Abandoned swimming pools…
Abandoned mansions…
An abandoned swim up bar and pool house that felt as if it once housed some amazing parties…
Abandoned and ancient generators for power beside an unrestrained well in the ground…
Even the pool equipment was abandoned and flooded in its underground bunker…
And everywhere we went, the eeriest feeling filled the air. It was as if a million families and friends had partied. Had posed outside their cabana and peered into the cameras with beaming holiday faces and their arms wrapped tightly around each other’s shoulders. The couples who had shared their honeymoon, the sibling fights, the lovers tiffs, the nights of passion, the races to the swimming pool to do the biggest divebomb. The giant reception hall stood unroofed and desolate after being witness to thousands of people who had checked in and checked out probably to have no idea of the fate of their beloved 5 star holiday destination.
The looters had come, and everything was gone – from the toilets to the light switches, and even to the tarnished bronze drawer handles now on their way to Holland to be a Christmas present for my friend’s mother.
And a little piece of all of the energy the resort had ever seen, remained where it was ingrained into every single piece of flaking paint and broken roof tile. Where I looked around in dismay and could see what the not so far future inhabitants/ cultures of earth will see when our current society wipes itself out with its greed and over consumption.
When the future generations will walk around in disgust as they observe how we could leave everything so broken and empty, how we can close the doors and walk away from something that once was our dream purely because it no longer served us. Because the price for selling it wasn’t enough so it was better off that no one had it, even in a country where there are hundreds and thousands of people living in mud huts surrounded by dust and debris. Somehow to someone, it seemed better to shut the doors and walk away forever rather than donate the structurally sound buildings to families in need around the country.
However, the remnants of the rubble are now home to one beautiful, smiling, kind Haitian family of squatters who have rigged up the best property in the place with running water from a hose and electricity – luxury to many people in these parts of the world.
And to us, it was a huge desolate playground for adults, where ever corner held danger and excitement. Where all we could do was explore and search and stare in amazement at something that was once so full of life.

Posted by chasingsummer 09:57 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged buildings parties caribbean adventures Comments (0)

Los 27 charcos

The 27 waterfalls

sunny 30 °C

Los 27 charcos / The 27 waterfalls were possibly one of the most amazing natural occurrences I have ever been able to see and explore. I was so pleased I made it there as it was one of the huge draw cards for sending one of the emails to the Castle and my wanting to go up to Cabarete in the first place. Johanna, Sarah, Nicholas, and I packed our bags and headed off to Puerto Plata to stay with our friend Brandon – aka machine man. He was house/ cat sitting for a Korean lady who had left behind the strangest wide eyed cat in the entire world – great for staring competitions. We set up the living area as a giant slumber party due to a bed shortage and headed out for giant pizzas for dinner.
On the way home, we found a group of guys doing some work on a building using a cherry picker. Now, most people who know me may not be aware that going in a cherry picker is a lifelong dream. Yes, I have trampled my way through ancient Mayan temples, eaten off the floor in a Cambodian orphanage, danced in the tropical rain on a tiny Carribean island… but what will soothe my soul – A CHERRY PICKER! And boy, was I excited when they boys loaded me up into this battered and tattered death contraption and flew me high up into the air with a million jolts and bumps.
Even though it was night time, and the floor to the cherry picker was anything but stable, I was able to look out from the highest height as I clung to the flimsy metal structure and see the Caribbean Sea by night, the ships floating past and the city spread out before us. The others were amazed at how high we kept on going up, I was amazed that the angled cherry picker didn’t throw us out or collapse beneath us! But somehow it didn’t and it dropped us safely back to about 3 meters high where a ladder and a friendly giant helped me back down with the words largest grin on my face and a heart pumping with adrenalin.
The adrenalin was soon followed by a whole lot more as we woke up early the following day to head off to one of the world’s only natural water parks. Of course, what adventure isn’t quite complete without hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up truck for the final kilometre?
We had arrived early so to be able to do all 27 waterfalls. There were options available to do 1 – 7, 1-18, and then all 27 but you could only do them all if we arrived early enough. The other part of arriving early was to skip the crowds, which we managed to do. For most of our 4 hours of adventure, we were all alone with our guides. The tour guides we had were slightly crazy and super kind. I was wearing the worst shoes in human existence and slipped over in the mud multiple times as we hiked up the hill on the way to the top waterfall. The hike up took over an hour and that in itself was worth the measly 500 pesos ($15NZD) we had paid for the entire day’s adventure.
We saw caves on the way, painted ourselves with mud, hid in the trees and scared each other, and jumped and splashed through mud puddles.
It didn’t really matter how dirty we got as we knew we were going to be swimming the whole way down. 90_DSC00805.jpgDSC00807.jpg90_DSC00842.jpg90_DSC00844.jpg
And sure enough, it wasn’t long before we hit the top!
And then we were throwing ourselves off waterfalls of all sizes
Into pools of the clearest blue
Sliding down natural rock slides like my favourite scene from one of my childhood movies, The Goonies.
Some of the rockslides were short but had the best drops at the end of them.
The canyons as we walked between each waterfall were amazing and we could see where the river once reached to hundreds of thousands of years ago.
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There were ladders to help you climb, and in other parts you had no other option but to scramble up or jump off.

As we walked back at the end of the day to make the bus, we all felt as if we had achieved something amazing. It wasn’t hugely taxing physically but some of the jumps and slides did take a lot of mental preparation. Especially as I ended up hurting my elbows going down the first slide the wrong way meaning every slide after meant I was slightly apprehensive to go down! But there is nothing like scraping down a waterslide on the bones of your elbows to remind you to lean forward the next time you do it so you don’t do a 180 turn in a bad way!

Many people had told me it wasn’t worth it, that it was a tourist trap, and that it was too much physically! However, as usual these people had not actually gone (and didn’t share my deep love of waterfalls and jumping) so of course I had decided not to listen to them and as a result I had one of the best days of my life. I was so grateful that I followed my heart and went along. I went with the best group of people possible too, there was just the right amount of fear, adrenalin, excitement, laughter, and competence. We made a great team, and I’d go back there in a heart beat.

Posted by chasingsummer 16:00 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

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