For some the Dominican Republic would not represent a particularly developed country, but returning back to it after visiting Haiti was like arriving into a five star hotel after sleeping rough for a few weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed sleeping rough, although there is something to be said for modern conveniences, drive-able roads and not being the centre of attention all the time.
The Dominican police are all over the buses coming overland from Haiti and we were stopped repeatedly on the way across the border. On the return journey what constitutes the police in Haiti barely raised an eye at the incoming bus from over the border as 85% of the people are trying to cross in the opposite direction. I was heading back to my adopted home city for the time being, Santo Domingo to complete some projects, meet some friends and decide how to spend my final two weeks on Hispaniola.
The only area I hadn’t really explored in the DR was the small finger of land on the north coast that curls round to form the Samana peninsula resting just above Los Haitises national park. Samana is a strange place to arrive into, it has the feeling of one of those disney towns where everything is a facade and behind the brightly coloured papier-mâché walls there’s precarious scaffolding holding everything together. I picked up a decent scrambler at a rental store and left for the serenity of Las Galeras, right on the tip of the peninsula, eventually finding a hostel up on the hills at the end of a dirt track which completely justified choosing a dirt bike.
Las Galeras is a village that is on the cusp of becoming something that the people who first “discovered it” don’t want it to become. Somewhere in between “sleepy” and “developing”. Speaking to the lovely woman who ran the hostel up on the hill whom I was the only resident for almost the entire week I stayed, it sounded like the place was idyllic when she arrived some twenty or thirty years ago. It’s still not bad by any stretch with plenty of beautiful white sand beaches and forest to explore. I was travelling alone again and I had an exciting project to get my teeth stuck into, so what made it for me was the solitude. Being up on the hill completely isolated in a beautiful setting, working during the day and going for a run through the forest in the evenings when the temperature dropped.
Only accessible by boat, Playa Fronton was the beach I was aiming for on one of the afternoons and I had heard from some travellers they had seen videos of a Dominican woman managing to get over the hills and through the forest to get to it which sounded like a worthy adventure. To say the trail was sketchy would be putting it lightly, I found myself cutting through dense forest for at least half an hour coming out looking like I’d been wrestling with a sloth bear. The flora here has evolved particularly well to deliver maximum pain to those wishing safe passage. Two hours after setting off I scraped past the final skin stealing bush to the safety of a steep ravine and finally onto the hallowed sands. True enough there was one other couple who had taken the healthy option and arrived by boat but apart from that I had the hallowed beach to myself.
I spent another few days in Galeras before heading to the somewhat livelier town of Las Terrenas for miles of stunning coastline, evenings filled with bachata music, and re-connecting with the backpacker lifestyle I had been away from for the previous week. Not far from Terrenas is another famous beach, Playa Rincon which for me was the pick of the beaches in the area so far. With a heavy heart I handed the motorcycle back at Samana and jumped on the bus for my final journey back to Santo Domingo and my last few days in the DR.
Truly a magnificent Island, my preconceptions of the Dominican Republic being a place for honeymooners and package holidays had been smashed. The country has so much for backpackers and solo travellers wanting to explore with much more than just days on the beach to offer. Last post to come from the Capital before heading to the promised land, Jamaica. JAH!
P.S. To the lady who runs the hostel in Las Galeras, I will have designs for your cat house to you soon!