This isn’t a diary, but we’re going to pretend like it is today because this weekend was one of the best of my lives and I’d like to share the happenings.
This weekend my friends Heather, Christine, and I loaded up our overnight bags and went on a good ol’ fashioned Dominican road trip. Our destination was the peninsula of Samaná (I often get carried away when typing this word and end up with Samanamanamanamana. It’s just an exciting word to type and an even more exciting place to be.)
The journey began at 4:20am on Saturday morning. I had been house-sitting for the past few days for a family with a dog (and two cats – one of which is, as far as I know, still stuck on the neighbor’s roof – and two fish) and even though the dog is often outside, she won’t pee in the yard (which is really a tile patio or a cement block, so I suppose it’s understandable). So I got up at 4:20am to walk the dog. The motoconcho driver came to get me at 5:00am to take me to the bus stop (that’s 1 motoconcho and 1 bus for those keeping track). I met Heather and Christine at the bus stop. We boarded in excitement and we were off.
We got off at another bus stop (bus #2) in the capital to catch a bus to Sanchez (not our final destination). The man at the bus stop said that the next bus left at 9am. We were bummed. Then we clarified where we were going and the man said, Oh, that bus will come by any minute. So we used the bathroom (thankful for Christine’s foresight in bringing a roll of toilet paper) and waited just a few minutes before getting on the green bus that would take us to Sanchez. The drive was beautiful and I listened to my road trip playlist on my iPod. I also slept some and marveled at the amount of flooding once we got close to Sanchez. We passed rice fields and huge stretches of palm trees that had their tops cut off. We found out that the guy sitting in front of Heather had the same final destination as us – Las Terrenas – which was helpful for finding bus #3.
We got off in Sanchez and followed our bus friend to a gua-guita (mini bus) which is really like a 15 passenger van only smaller and for more than 15 people. A gua-guita has a bench in the very front for the driver and 2-3 passengers and then four benches for four passengers each. We were packed in there like sardines! I was sitting next to Heather, who was shoved into the corner under her bag, with my backpack on my lap. Next to me was a flaca (skinny woman) and then a man with all his stuff. We were on the back bench. On the bench in front of us was a man, another man, and Christine. The bench was full with three people and their bags, but “full” is a different word when we’re talking about Dominican transportation. So naturally another large woman wedged herself in between Christine and the side of the van, as instructed by the bus driver and all the passengers. During this bus ride, Christine started brainstorming a new song called Spooning with a Stranger.
When we un-wedged from the gua-guita en Las Terrenas we were so happy! We hopped on some motoconchos and zipped along the ocean to our hotel, which was a super adorable place. The owner was French and explained the hotel haps to us in a mixture of French, Spanish, and English. It was confusing, but not as confusing as one might think.
We had planned to go horseback riding up a mountain to a waterfall on Saturday, so we asked the hotel owners about that. They (and some other guests) said that the trail was bananas (in so many words) because of all the rain they had been having. They didn’t recommend it. But we were there for two days, man! And Sunday was already dedicated to whales. So we picked up a gua gua, which in Las Terrenas is a pick up truck with benches in the bed, and enjoyed a beautiful twenty minute, 50 peso ride to Limon. Man it was beautiful. Green, mountains, and more green. So lovely.
We found the place we were looking for pretty quickly, despite a local entrepreneur’s attempts to trick us into paying him more money than we would have paid anywhere else. The dueña (owner) was so, so great. She told us that she wouldn’t feel comfortable sending us up the trail on horses because of how high the river was running and because of all the mud. We were bummed, but grateful for her honesty and her goodness. We were also super thankful for the lunch we ate there. Nothing beats rice and beans.
By the time we had stuffed ourselves silly with delicious Dominican food, the dueña told us great news! The sun was drying up the mud! We could go up the mountain! So we did! It was amazing and scary and beautiful and adventurous and fun and seriously so beautiful. My horse’s name was Maria and she was a great horse. Christine’s horse was named Choco and Heather’s was Trueno. We had two guides with us (those crazy tough guys walked up the mountain with us, leading the horses and constantly reassuring me). At one point one of the guides had Heather’s horse, one had Christine’s, and I said, “Don’t worry about us. No necisitamos ningun hombre,” which directly translates to, “We don’t need no man.” Maria was a champ.
One part of the trail disappeared into a river, but that didn’t stop us from following it! We crossed the raging river on horseback! The water came up to about the middle of my calves. It was thrilling! At the end of the trail we crested one more hill and then saw the best view in the world. From the top of the mountain we saw more mountains, so much green, and also the ocean! We couldn’t go down to the waterfall because there was a flooded stream blocking the way, but we did get to see it from afar and snap some pics. Plus, for me, it was the horseback riding up the mountain that was the exciting part.
We rode back down the mountain (which took a lot less time than the riding up) and caught a gua gua/pick up truck back to Las Terrenas. Then we took a little nappy and some showers and read some chapters of our books. Christine sang some. It rained. For dinner we ate at a pizza place that served a pizza-calzone combo! It had eggplants and pepperoni on it and it was amazing. In addition to dinner, we had some rocking conversation. Those girls are buena gente (good people).
On Sunday we rose early in the morn (although not as early as we did on Saturday) and got another gua gua/pick up truck to Samaná. I know I’m using the world “beautiful” a lot, but this ride was beautiful. In fact, it was on that ride that I saw the best rainbow I’ve ever seen! It was so full and colorful and huge! We also saw a beautiful grandma taking a lot of water to her grandkids because they didn’t have any! We rode the gua gua/pick up truck right to the bay, right to the boat that would take us to see the whales!
The company Christine got us reservations with is called WhaleSamaná and I would highly recommend it. There were a lot of choices and most of them were cheaper, but I can’t imagine any of those other tours were as good as Whale Samaná. They were informative, quadlingual (is that what you call a company that speaks four languages?), and so fun. All of the crew clearly enjoyed what they were doing and loved the whales. They knew their stuff! And they gave us candy! And crackers! And rain ponchos! And motion sickness meds! And the experience of a lifetime.
Before we got on the boat, Christine said she might cry when we saw the whales. I thought that sounded like an odd reaction, but then I saw my first whale! So majestic and yes, beautiful. Overall we saw at least fifteen different whales. We saw their flippers, their faces, their spouts, their tales, and we saw them fight over a female! Whales are cool, man.
After the whales we ate more good food and then came on home. On a bus, then another bus, then one more motoconcho. Our plans were to get off the first bus at the same place we got on it, outside the capital towards San Pedro. But we were not allowed to do that. People are pushy! So we rode thirty minutes in the wrong direction but ended up getting off in front of a KFC, so we kept up the vacation mode and got us some KFC.
If you ever get the chance to go whale watching, take it! It was well worth the money (and the sunburn). If you ever get the chance to ride a horse up a mountain and across a river, take it! If you ever get the chance to go on an international road trip, take it! If you ever get the chance to live in a new place, take it! The moral of the story is: travel, go places, see things, call things beautiful, and experience it all with buena gente.
*Christine took all these pictures, except for the map, which I found on Google.