A Travellerspoint blog

Volcano Pacaya

toasting marshmallows over lava

semi-overcast -50 °C

We woke up super early - which was about to become the theme for the rest of our time together in Guatemala, regardless of the time we went to bed – and got ready to meet the shuttle that would drive us to the other side of El Fuego and to the base of Pacaya. On the way, Erie had her first experience of latino driving, when our bus nearly collided head on with another. Luckily our driver was wonderful, and managed to save us from a very nasty accident by sacrificing only his wing mirror. The fault was of the men signalling which lane got to drive due to the roadworks, miscommunication or any other equally useless excuse. However, we arrived safely at the base of the volcano, signed our life away, and began the trek up to the peak.
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The going was not as bad as I had imagined, but we were stopping every ten minutes or so – both to look out at the view, and to get out breathe back.
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There was an option to take a horse, and the horses followed behind us as we made our way up which was a little tempting. However, the entire group was pretty determined we were going to make it up without a horse so they ended up sending the horses back down to try their luck with the next lot of hikers. The view out towards El Fuego and Acastenango were just incredible.
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We could even see them sending out their puffs of steam and smoke into the sky where it would then mingle with the clouds.
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I felt like I was going to die at one point as I was struggling more with the cold than the exercise. After a year in the Caribbean, cold is not a feeling my body understands too well these days. I dosed up on a few puffs of the old Ventolin and soon found my second wind. Erie and I were soon racing our way up to the top with new found energy, and finally we got to the part where there is the most volcanic activity.
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Suddenly the landscape changed to one of volcanic ash and rock, and the trees and greenery instantly disappeared. The earth felt hot under our feet and we couldn’t tell if it was from the sun hitting the dark gravel or if it was geothermic activity.
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The view out across the other mountains was unbelievable and we all stopped for a few pictures at the top of the trail. The hike doesn't actually lead to the summit of the volcano - due to safety reasons, but we were close enough that being higher wouldn't have changed anything.
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Erie and I tried our best to make it look as if we were on top of the entire world.
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The hike over and across the volcanic rock was quite slippery but lots of fun to slide across. I could see how it would be possible to do volcano boarding in Nicaragua – the main destination of mine after Erie leaves.
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We laughed as we approached a ‘lava store’ on the side of the volcano – always a gift shop huh?
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But the coolest part of the entire adventure was being able to actually SEE lava, and then toast marshmallows over it! We were so excited it was ridiculous.
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The lava itself wasn’t red which surprised us. It had a very dark and sticky appearance, looked like melted tar from the road. But wow was it hot! There was no way we could touch it, and it melted our marshmallows to a perfect consistency without burning the outsides at all. Now we just need to have some lava at every s’mores party!
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The hike from the lava pit up to meet the trail to head back down was the toughest thing I have ever climbed in my entire life. Thankfully it only stretched for about 100 – 150 metres because it felt like at least 2 kilometres. We were stopping to catch our breath every 4 or 5 steps because it was so tough. I swear the only thing that got me up was the promise we had made to eat another burrito when we got back to Antigua!
We joined back up with the jungle part of the trek we had hiked up on and passed many people who were walking up to start their volcano hike. We felt really bad for them as the clouds had come in and there was no way they would have seen what we saw. We made it back to our hostel without any further driving dramas and returned to Cactus Taco to eat the same delicious prawn burrito that had motivated us to boost it off the volcano!

Posted by chasingsummer 11:05 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

let the Guatemalan adventures begin

a day in Costa Rica before I meet Erie

semi-overcast 18 °C

As I write this latest blog entry, the tears glide down my cheeks because my best friend has just left my side after three wonderful weeks together. But before I can write about today, I need to go back to the beginning of our crazy adventures.

I left Billy at 2am in a bundle of goodbye tears, overstaying immigration fees, and ticket confusion at Santo Domingo airport. I flew to Costa Rica for what was the longest day of my entire life as I waited the 16 hours until my next flight to Guatemala. Thankfully I was allowed out of the airport to explore the nearest city; Alajuela. I slept in a park for a while and kept waking up to concerned Costa Rican citizens asking me if I was ok. I even overheard a couple of children asking their grandfather why there was a white girl asleep in the middle of the park. The grandfather replied that not everyone is fortunate enough to have money or a home – I laughed to myself because at this point in my life I actually don’t have either!
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I had enough of wandering around the small city and spending money I didn’t actually have, so I returned to the airport to waste the rest of the day. I fell asleep on the floor of the airport, which again can’t be a normal sight in Costa Rica because this time I woke up to a man taking photos of me! Not every day does one end up on Instagram wearing a cat shaped eye ask and pink earplugs while snuggled beneath a stolen airline blanket (thanks Condor). Finally, the time to fly to Guatemala arrived and it was a short while later that I arrived in Guatemala City (commonly referred to by both Spanish and English speakers as Guate). It had been 24 hours since I leaving Billy in the Dominican Republic – nearly as long as Erie’s flight time from New Zealand. I got to my hostel without any problems and settled in for some real sleep, in a real bed, without the paparazzi or confused children.
The next morning I woke up with butterflies in my stomach as if I was 5 years old on Christmas day! I headed off to the airport to wait for Erie, and was super gutted to realise her plane was 3 hours delayed! I literally paced the grounds waiting for her to appear, drinking coffee after coffee, and trying to sneak through customs so I could be with her just a few minutes earlier.
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Finally, there she was in full Erie glory and it was so great to be back together. We used the taxi of my friend who was already driving me around everywhere, and he drove us as we chatted absolutely nonstop towards the gorgeous city of Antigua. The city itself was once the capital of Guatemala until it was shattered by a devastating earthquake in 1773. Because of the huge threat of future damage to the city due to its position between three (still) active volcanoes, the entire city moved an hour’s drive away to form what is now known as Guate(mala City). Because the architecture of Antigua dates pre- 1773, the old city itself is gobsmackingly beautiful.
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The old buildings remain everywhere, the streets are of cobblestone, and everything is framed by the beautiful volcano named el fuego (the fire).
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It was quite late by the time we arrived to Antigua so we found something to eat (recommend Cactus Taco restaurant to anyone who ever goes to Antigua, get the prawn burrito!) before deciding to have a quiet night and just one rum… Well, of course one rum always leads to a bottle, and next thing we were dancing reggaeton, bachata, and salsa with the local cool kids in a bar on a Monday night!
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The next morning, despite the hangovers, we explored most of the city on foot as we made our way up to see the lookout point of Cerro de la cruz. On the way we found a market and we tried the weirdest, spikiest, oddest fruit ever - Lychee!
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We had been walking for about 4 hours over cobblestones and of course Erie was very jetlagged. When we saw the huge hill we had to climb to get When we got to the base of the lookout we just looked at each other, laughed, and pulled over a tuktuk to take us up!
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When we got to the top, the view out over Antigua was just gorgeous.
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We took our first photo together at the top as we looked out and spotted everything that we had walked past. We also realised there was also a lot more to the city that we had not seen on our walk!
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One of our favourite things were the chicken buses (called parillas in Spanish) that were everywhere in Antigua (and as we soon saw, throughout Guatemala). In the USA, school buses can only do about 150,000 kilometres before they are deemed useless/ unsafe for driving school children. Thankfully instead of sending them to the dump yard they are sent to central America where they are pimped out, driven with great pride, and provide the cheapest transportation around!
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That night we booked the Pacaya volcano trip for the following day and actually managed to tuck ourselves into bed at a reasonable hour. The following morning was due to start at 5.30am so there was no way we were going to climb our first central American volcano with a rum hangover!

Posted by chasingsummer 09:34 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

Bahia de las aguilas

Heaven on earth

sunny 33 °C

While I was in Cabarete, my amazing boyfriend contacted to tell me to keep a couple of days free the following week for when I would be back in Santo Domingo. When I asked him why, he told me it was because he was going to take me to Bahia de las aguilas. I was over the moon excited as this is the most famously beautiful beach of the entire island. It is the most furthest away from anything, UNESCO protected, and has some of the bluest waters of any beach ever.

When I got home to Santo Domingo I was so excited about our upcoming trip. A couple of the people pulled out, but then it worked out that Nicolas, Camila, and Javier could come with us! So the 6 of us (plus a friend of Billy’s from work, Sarah) packed up everything we could possibly need to eat and sleep on the beach, got into the van at 4am, and slept while Billy drove us 7 hours towards the most South Western point of the country, just 20 minutes from the border to Haiti.

On the way we drove through some amazing countryside. At one point it really felt as if we were in the desert, and Nicolas loved it as he had spent much of his childhood in Africa.
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The closer we got to the beach, the brighter the blue became.
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The restaurant at the point where you take the boat around to the bay was beautiful. The view out over the water was incredible, and no camera will ever do justice to the colours of the sea.
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We climbed up to the top of the cliff and looked out over the different bays.
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The view at the top was absolutely incredible, the colours were brighter than any colour I had ever even imagined

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And then we returned back to the restaurant where they told us the prices of the boat trip to Bahia de las aguilas.
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We were in shock, there was no way we were going to pay the price they were asking when it is usually just 100 pesos – they were asking $40USD per person! Luckily, I had done just a teeny tiny little bit of research online and remembered reading that there was a road, not a wonderful one, but there was road access. We ditched the guys at the restaurant after I told them they were idiots as they had lost us buying 2 meals of lunch for 6 there over 2 days, paying for the return trip boat ride, and the money we were going to pay to sleep on their balcony. Considering there was no other people anywhere near the beach, the restaurant, or what felt like that entire part of the planet, I cannot understand why they did not try to make a better deal with us! However, we then headed around to the other side where the fishermen were and the less fancy restaurants. We asked about the boats, and they said there were none running. I cheekily asked about the road and the man looked us over and then pointed towards the gate. I asked if he thought our van would make it, he nodded and asked if we had paid the entrance fee for the national park (100 pesos). I said we had (we had) and he opened the gate and let us through! We were able to drive with all of our things, right to the beach of Bahia de las aguilas, saving us about $300 to go about 5km, you can imagine how pleased we all were!
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We met a family who Billy spoke to, and she encouraged us to go and speak with her husband who was in charge of turtle conservation. My ears pricked up when I heard the word turtles, and my eyes sparkled when I saw the sign saying that the areas of the sand were protecting turtle eggs.DSC01797.jpg The lady told us where to go to find the man in charge, and sure enough we found him at his large turtle tower – which we labelled the penthouse.
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The biew from the top of the pent house was pretty spectacular too!
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We spoke with him at length and got on very well with him. He told us that it is not allowed to sleep on the beach because of the turtles nesting at night. But because he could see we were good people, he would let us sleep in the penthouse. He also promised he would return that night and take us to see the turtles nesting. We enjoyed the whole day at the beach, because of our early departure we were at the beach by 11am!
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We snorkelled (I taught Camila how to snorkel) and we swam for ages with the fish
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We got to see the amazing giant star fish that I had so desperately wanted to see at Isla Saona. Billy swam down and picked them up for me so I could have some pictures with them.
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The beach was just so amazing, no one could even believe where we were
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Billy and I went off for a walk by ourselves, running along the sand, searching for giant shells, swimming together where it felt like we were the only two people in a world of brilliant blue
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We watched the sun slip into the Caribbean sea as we drank rum from the bottle - just like pirates!!
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We ate fresh fish, salad, and rice on the beach that was delivered to us by Ignacio, the turtle carer. He returned after dark, and with bottles of rum in hand – the hunt for the turtles began.

We must have walked up and down the beach 10 or 15 times, each time searching for tracks in the sand where the turtles would have made their way up to the dunes to dig and lay their eggs. We couldn’t find anything, and there was even a time where Billy and I curled up together on the sand for a wee nap while we waited. We had codes and signals with the special torches we were using, so that we wouldn’t need to call or scream to each other to gather attention. But there was no sign of the special codes, just darkness all around.
At about 2am, we decided to give it one last try. Camila went to sleep and decided she wasn’t going to search anymore. I looked at the others who were desperate to see one, and I felt that little voice inside me say; go on Katy, one last chance. So we walked further than we had before and Billy and I lagged quite a way behind the others. A couple of times we heard a really strange noise, but figured it was something up in the trees behind the sand. We caught up to the others and all settled down for a nap, we set an alarm to wake us up to have one last try as we walked back in an hour.

On the way back we were all very tired and disappointed, we had been so determined. It looked as if the storm in the distance and the fact that the moon had set early was putting the turtles off from coming to shore – or so we thought. Suddenly, we saw Igancio’s torch giving the signal as he told us there was something nearby. We searched the beach as best we could – no lights and no moon was making it very difficult. And then we saw it, what I had thought was a giant boulder began to flap and move around!
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I had been expecting turtles of 30cm in size, I didn’t realise that what I was seeing even existed – 900 kilogram leatherback turtles!
DSC01915.jpgAfter we saw the first one, we realised there was another one nearby which was even larger. She was obviouosly more experienced as she had found herself a much better place on the beach. Ignacio explained to us how there cannot be any water in the holes the turtles dig or the eggs will not survive. Sadly what was once the most common turtle in the world, found all over the planet except for in the poles, is now bordering on extinction. Many people here in the Dominican Republic eat their eggs for aphrodisiac purposes, and the turtles are dying in the ocean because they confuse plastic for their favourite meal of jellyfish. Because of this reason, Ignacio carried with him a shotgun in case he encountered anyone on the beach trying to steal the eggs. We did our best to keep quiet and not let our excitement brew over too far as to disturb the turtles. We desperately wanted to watch until they laid their eggs and swam back out to sea, but we could sense that we were watching something private and that the huge mission that the mother turtles were embarking on was already stressful enough. The last thing they needed was a bunch of young travellers watching on, regardless of our good intentions. DSC01914.jpgDSC01924.jpg
Ignacio checked for their tags, as each turtle has a tracking tag so that their mileage can be recorded for a range of different purposes. One of the turtles wasn’t named so Sarah quickly decided it would be Tallulah. As we walked away and bid farewell to the giant reptiles, we realised there was a third one about 200 meters away! We couldn’t believe our luck.
When we got back to the penthouse, we woke up Camila and told her she had to go and have a look. Ignacio raced off on his motorbike and picked up his wife and small daughter, returning to show them the three turtles as well. Camila went off with them, and I am so glad she did because I really feel that it was something that we will never have the chance to do again.

We all slept together up in the pent house. I was so grateful Billy and I had bought two giant duvets (we usually sleep under them with the air-conditioning on full blast at home), as it was really cold due to the wind blowing. We snuggled up and kept warm but I think the others were quite chilly. 90_DSC01935.jpg90_DSC01936.jpg90_DSC01937.jpgDSC01938.jpg

The next morning was pretty amazing to wake up to such an amazing view
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We all had a quick swim, some breakfast, and spent a little more time staring out at the most beautiful beach we had ever seen before deciding to make our way back to the city slowly. We stopped at the river at Los Patos beach for a fresh water swim to wash away the salt and sand.
Billy had told us about a place where there was a magnetic pole. Apparently we could go there, turn the car off, and the magnet would force the car to go up hill.

We drove all the way there, and sure enough he was right!
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Except we started to realise it wasn’t really a hill… it was more of a flat road with a very strange gradient and a peculiar trick to the eye…
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After some very basic science tests, we realised that we had been Dominican scammed again – it was not a magnetic pole, rather what is known by google as a gravity hill! Oh how we all laughed and laughed! It was such a great way to end our amazing adventure at the most beautiful beach in the entire world.

And thank you to my amazing Billy for taking me to paradise, I love you x
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Posted by chasingsummer 17:51 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Back to Cabarete

sunny 30 °C

I realised after seeing Johanna, Nicolas, and Arjan when they came down for the Isla Saona trip, that I just had to go back up to Cabarete. I needed to make up with my friend/ ex-boss Mati. Just because we didn’t agree on something in regards to work has absolutely nothing to do with the fact I don’t think of him as one of the most amazing friends I have made on my time away from New Zealand.

Billy had a full on project with missionaries from Trinidad and Tobago so I knew he would be gone from early morning until midnight every day for the entire week. I made the decision to catch the bus up with Snail (after he returned from Amsterdam and surprising his mother). Mati had caught wind of my return – castle gossip was always our strong point, and he wrote to me saying that I should stay at the castle. Even though I had plans to stay with Glencora at the monkey jungle, of course…where else would I stay but back in my castle?

Arriving back in Cabarete was an amazing feeling. We arrived after midnight and stopped in at the liquor store as I had wanted to buy some whiskey to leave on the reception desk for Mati in the morning. As soon as I entered the bottle shop, the owner was asking me where I had been for the past 2 months, telling me that he now had an oversupply of rum since I hadn’t been in to see him! As we turned down the corner and through the security for the gates of the castle street, all of the security guards greeted me with kisses and hugs and told me they had missed me too! It was one of the strangest feelings, I really felt as if I was returning home, a feeling I have not felt in a very very long time, since living in the bubble. And there it was, the beautiful crazy castle in all its glory.

And the next few days were filled with reunions, hugs, dancing, and as usual for me in Cabarete – far too much rum. My first night back we even had a rum party - no one even left to go dancing that night!
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We had happy hour on the beach with all the old timers in Lax/ojo bar as we always did for $100peso ($3) burgers and fries with $100peso coconut mojitos.
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I went to the beach in Sosua with Glencora, Mati, and Ola one day. We were invited to lunch by a friend of Ola and Mati who owns a gorgeous restaurant above the most beautiful beach that I wish I had known existed the whole time I lived in Cabarete!
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We ate a lovely meal of red snapper before Mati and I threw ourselves off the cliff a couple of times. It took us a while to jump at first as we weren’t 100% sure on the depth. But after Glencora checked it out for us – we were away!
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I met new friends too, because of course there were new people in the castle by now too. We went out and partied all night as usual, drinking far too much rum and dancing on the beach until everything closed.
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One night even Maria came out, the cleaner from the castle, because she was so happy that I had come back. So we took her out and danced with her all night, she even came back and slept over at the castle until she worked the next morning with a whopping hangover

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We went to a circus altogether, about 23 of us. It was a very bizarre circus with the strangest ad-lib performance where I completely lost it and was laughing so hard I was crying and coughing all at once. Which of course got every single one of my friends going, and then the rest of the audience, and even the performers too were apparently pointing and laughing while I was literally rolling around on the floor where we were all seated.

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On one of the days I went out to visit my friend Glencora at the monkey jungle.
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Since I had put her in contact with them and arranged for her to have the job, they offered to let me through the ziplines and to see the monkeys for free!
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The monkeys were adorable and I was so lucky to be able to go through and see them with Glencora. They climbed all over me as I held out a bowl of food for them.
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At one point I had 9 monkeys on me.

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The thing I really loved was their tiny little hands which were so soft and very intricate. I wasn’t able to pat them or cuddle them as they were afraid of that, but it was really amazing to be so close to them. I loved also that they were rescued and in an enclosure, but that they were able to get out if they really wanted to as it was a free ranging enclosure. They were there because they chose to be.

The ziplines were amazing. I was very hungover from a huge night the previous evening. However, it turned out that throwing yourself down a long wire over the jungle is quite a good cure!
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They made us climb up to the top of a hill before the first line, and in the heat and with the rum still in my veins it really was quite the achievement to be at the top!
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At one point they taught me how to hang upside down from the zipline and that was freaky!
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They had another part which was a straight free fall drop into an underground cave. I didn’t want to do it and the guide promised he would go with me (like he did on some of the superfast ziplines). He attached me up to the free for all drop, said to wait a second as he was coming right behind me – AND THEN HE LET ME GO! I was so confused and upset he wasn’t with me that I didn’t even realise I was falling until I was nearly at the bottom, so I guess it all worked out for the best in the end.
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By the time I got back to the castle again, it was already mojito time – and I could still feel the hangover! But as it was my final night in town, and all of my local (non-castle) party friends were expecting me to be there for the final night I never had before – out we went one more time. I managed to make it out of bed by 2pm the following afternoon, miss my first bus home due to laziness, and then the second due to the car breaking down when Mati drove me to the bus station. By the time I finally made it back to Billy, it was midnight, I had no voice left, a throbbing headache, and he said he has never seen me looking so pale and exhausted despite spending a week in the sun! But ohhhh it was worth it, even just for that feeling of ‘going home’ for a while. To be surrounded by friends and people I love, even if only for the shortest time. To realise that I had successfully made myself a life in Cabarete, that I had friends, a job, I knew people in every shop/ bar/ area and people were happy to see me return. It was a very nice feeling, and I didn’t realise how much I had missed being there until I was back there.

Posted by chasingsummer 16:28 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Isla Saona

catamaran tanning, free rum, and a speed boat ride!

sunny 30 °C

As I wrote earlier, Billy runs a tour company where he takes people to see the different parts of the Dominican Republic for a better price than most other tour companies. The thing about the Dominican Republic that drives me nuts is the high amount of tourism and the fact everyone is out to exploit each other. Obviously everyone needs to make a living, but the taxi fare of $50 from the airport to the city is not fair – and Billy does it for $25 -$30 a run and still makes a little money from it! $50USD here is a lot of money, it can buy gas and groceries for two people for a week - and still leave some money left over.

Anyway, so one of Billy’s tours is to go out to some of the islands off the coast of the main island. We had been arranging to go for a few weeks and organising the people – organising Latinos is a career in itself I swear! The day finally came, and I was super excited because Arjan, Nicolas, and Johanna had decided to come down and go to the island with us!

Snail had come down with them from Cabarete as he needed to catch a flight to Amsterdam to surprise his mother for her 60th birthday. It was really cool because they came the day before the tour, so Billy took us all on an amazing adventure around Santo Domingo to see some of the sights of the old city.
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We also went to see the monument; el faro de Colon, that was created for Christopher Columbus as the island of Hispaniola (the island that is half Haiti and half Dominican Republic) was the first place he landed on his discovery. The monument was a very strange place, full of inscriptions and shaped as a cross as it was also commemorating the first missionaries who came to spread Christianity at the same time of the discovery.
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We went to a place called tres ojos, another area which was used during Jurassic Park filming. This place was a fresh waterhole that collapsed during an earthquake to create 3 different areas (tres ojos/ three eyes) for bathing. However, swimming is no longer allowed due to the Dominican’s inability to keep anything clean and trash free (sorry if my frustrations are becoming more and more apparent, but I have never in my LIFE seen such utter disregard for the environment as I do on this island). But even though we couldn’t throw ourselves into the fresh, cool, and inviting blue water, it was an amazing place to visit.
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Especially as Billy could tell us all about the history of the caves; when the Spanish were invading, they were raping and hurting many of the indigenous women. The native tribesmen would hide their women and children inside the caves because it was nice and cool, safe and protected, and there was fresh water for bathing and drinking.
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The following day we had to get up really early so we could pick up all of the other tour participants and drive across the island to where we were going to catch the boat from in a small hippy town called Bayahibe.
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We had to wait in Bayahibe for a long time as there were a LOT of people booked through other tour companies. Finally it was our time to board the little speed boat which we all presumed we were taking straight over to the island…But no, it delivered us to a giant catamaran that was pumping music and serving free rum!
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Oh it was bliss, we sailed across the water for at least 2 hours under the hot shining sun with the wind in our hair and rum in our hands…
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We danced on the boat and joined the party for a while, but mostly sat up the front on one of the giant nets that brought back many fond memories of the giant hammock in Colombia. It was really cool to look down and watch the Caribbean underneath us.
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Billy even tanned his hands and feet a little bit
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When we got to the island we had a buffet lunch and sat on the sand to eat it. There was an open bar on the island so the rum drinking continued…
We wandered off with a rum bottle in hand (sneakily pinched from the free bar along with a bottle of coke) and found a secluded part of the island to tan, swim, and enjoy the amazing view.
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We ended up staying on the island for sunset, which was magnificent. There are not many places I have seen the sun set into the sea in the Dominican Republic because the west coast is Haiti.
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We were on the last speedboat back to the mainland, after a minor problem with an oil shortage we were speedily on our way back!
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By the time we made it back to Santo Domingo after the long drive and delivery of everyone on the tour it was quite late and the hangovers had started to kick in. I feel so lucky that I got to go on one of Billy’s tours and I can’t wait to go on the next one – maybe to another island, my island; Isla Catalina!
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Posted by chasingsummer 16:10 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

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