Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic – Home Away from Home

 

It’s a special feeling, listening to Christmas music in the beginning of December, while sewing the flag of a Caribbean country on your shorts and packing for a holiday somewhere warm. Not that I’m complaining …

10 days in the Dominican Republic can seem like forever  if you spend it in Punta Cana, and it can feel like no time at all, if you decide to travel around a bit. We decided to travel, but soon discovered that 10 days would allow us to explore just a small part of the island. We chose the Samana peninsula, since this is a great place to enjoy the beaches and the jungles and have fun without dealing with hordes of tourists.

We left Budapest, arriving  Barcelona in the evening, where we had to pick up the keys for our GuestToGuest apartment, from a friend as the owner was not at home. It always amazes me that while the world is going to hell in a handbasket with  wars, fear, and insecurity, you can still sleep in someone’s home and make yourself as home as though we were old friends from university. Total strangers letting others stay in their houses for credits to do the same.

Nice tapas in Barcelona:

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We arrived at the airport after our long flight from Europe. If you choose a discount flight, like we did, make sure you order food in advance or take something with you, or it’ll be one long trip. I had to choose from their buffet offer, and as a vegan I was stuck with a small bag of chips, a small bag of almonds (the best I’ve ever had, though) and 2 small bags of green olives. I covered my monthly salt intake in an hour.  And I watched a bunch of movies I wouldn’t watch otherwise.

The guy at the passport control asked me if I know the meaning of my name. I immediately imagined some romantic version of my name in Spanish, meaning, Moonlight Flower or something else delightful, but then he said Edit. You know, like on the computer, when you edit something. Yeah. I know.

There were lots of travel agencies beyond the security check, and we looked for a ride to Bavaro Beach, which was 35 dollars everywhere. We went outside, found a guy who offered to take us there for 40, but agreed to take us for 20. He tried to put us in a van with other drivers, but none of them were going in that direction, so he ended up taking us. We had read in advance that they drive like crazy and that it can be very dangerous. He was more brazen than dangerous. Opportunistic, I would say.

We had a very  cheap accommodation, since we were just  staying there for one night. A small room with a bathroom, 3 minutes from the beach with a view of the water from the roof terrace. We went for a walk, but since I had been awake for  more than 24 hours I was very tired. The ocean is, in fact as blue as you imagine, the sand is, in fact as white, and it was full of people. We got a SIM card and unlimited internet for 5 days, so we could get information, GPS, etc. We had dinner by the sea, but to me it seemed very expensive for what we got. I had pasta with tomato sauce, which I usually like, but this wasn’t very good. The fresh pineapple juice was great, though.

We went to bed early, exhausted from jetlag. The next morning we woke up early for the same reason, and by 5 am we were both showered, dressed, packed, and ready to go. We left our luggage in the room and went for a walk on the beach.  It was dark when we first got there, the tall palm trees dancing in the breeze, the warm, silky water licking my feet. There were other people jogging. Then the first rays of sunshine painted the horizon, ushering in the excitement of a new destination, the beginning of a new adventure.

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We wanted to go to Las Terrenas, but since the taxis are overpriced (about 300-450 USD), we decided to take public transportation, which is easier than you are led to believe in some forums. Buses leave every 2 hours from Bavaro Beach for Santo Domingo, where you can transfer. Since we were up early and had brought no water and fruit, we decided to take the bus at 7, rather than waiting for the one at 9. We grabbed our belongings (a backpack each) and took a motor-taxi. Poor guy in a Mickey Mouse T shirt had to sit on the tank of the motor as we both sat behind him with all our stuff.  One ride is normally 1 USD / 50 pesos per person. If it’s a longer ride, then twice that.

We arrived at the bus station 5 minutes before 7, but the express bus was already full. They sell the exact number  of tickets as the number of  seats, so there is no standing option on the 3-hour ride. But we were informed that there was a bus to Higüey,  an hour away, and from there we could transfer to a bus to Las Terrenas. We didn’t want to wait, so I grabbed some water and fruit and hopped on the bus. They left on time, and there was A/C and music. Music is very important for the locals. Even if with music on the bus, many people had their own phones with their own music, and they listened to it out loud without earphones. The music is similar, so you get used to it, it sounds like a mix at a party. When we arrived, they showed us to the other bus. The busses leave every 20 minutes, so you don’t have to worry too much, if you don’t get a seat on the first try. And there was even a movie on board.

Santo Domingo is bigger than I was expecting, very crowded and noisy. We got off at the final station and found a self- service restaurant where the locals eat. I had plantain, which is green banana that taste like potato, yucca root with sauce, and okra stew. We paid less than a quarter of the price compared to the meal the previous evening, and it wasn’t bad. You see apple stands everywhere, which seemed strange to me, since I was expecting things like pineapples, mangos, coconuts, but red, shiny apples everywhere. Later we were told that it apples are not grown locally, even though there are regions at altitudes where they could grow, but just like we enjoy  eating bananas and oranges at home, which normally don’t grow there,  they like to eat apples and grapes, which doen’t grow there.

We headed towards the Colonial Zone, traversing a local market that was being held on the street. People were cooking all kind of dishes and selling fruits, vegetables, and live animals. We bought some sugar cane to chew on.

The Colonial Zone is fancier and you can tell it caters mainly to tourists. There is a big supermarket there, selling all the things you can get in a Western European country. It is a lovely place to walk around with children feeding the birds in front of the Cathedral (which was not open) and a couple dancing the Bachata. Even though I took private Bachata lessons before the trip, I didn’t end up getting the chance to dance anywhere. But there is always next time….

We went to see the fort. A nice old man offered to be our guide, but it was too hot, and we didn’t want to stop too much in the sun, so we turned him down. When we arrived back at the entrance, we offered to sit with him under a tree, so he could tell us about the place, but two young girls gave him a better offer, so we left.

We found a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, “Time”. It was very cool in more ways than one J.  It was very cold inside, and the food was fascinating. If you go, make sure you order the vegan options. I tried the cauliflower steak with chili chocolate sauce, which was okay, but not my favorite, but there was a silk tofu something that was really great. On the way out, we took a photo with the open kitchen staff, but that photo was lost, details later.

We walked to the bus station where our bus to Las Terrenas was departing. Someone took a big, flat-screen TV on the bus, someone else a few chickens in a cotton sack. We stopped a few places, but we arrived on time. The bus goes to the outskirts of Las Terrenas, so from there you have to take a motor-taxi if you don’t want to walk. We still had time before checking into our accommodation, so we decided to look around a bit. There is a big difference between the tourist areas and where the locals live. By the sea there are two streets with shops, restaurants, and hotels, while further inland the locals live in poverty.

When I booked this accommodation on AirBnB (if you register through my link you get a discount from AirBnb) I thought the place was outside of the town and that we would need a car or scooter to go to beach, for example, but it was still part of Las Terrenas, and you could get there and back by motor-taxi. We arrived at the small street, but as it was so steep that the motor-taxi couldn’t drive up there with two passengers and all our belongings. We had to get off and walk the last few steps.

When we entered the garden, it was like a piece of paradise, SyLou. A French couple, Sylvie and Louis, had been on vacation two years previously in the area, fell in love with the place, and six months later they sold everything they had in Cannes and moved here. They bought a piece of jungle, cleared an area, planted fruits and vegetables along with some flowers, and built their own home. The house is made of wood. We were shown to our own bungalow. There is only one, next to their house, so it is not crowded like in a hotel. The small bungalow has a bed in the middle, a bathroom – also made of wood – and the sink is a dried gourd. They made everything themselves, and you can see that it’s all made with love. There is a small balcony in front of the house. We were so tired when we arrived that we had no energy to join them at their place, even though they invited us. We just sat on the balcony and listened  to the sound of the jungle and felt so happy and content with life. They brought us some soup. There was a variety of foods in the fridge, including their own handmade kombucha and vegan kefir there. Ákos told me that he wasn’t spiritual enough to drink vegan hippy kefir, but after I tasted it – it was made with pineapple and – so soft, so light, so good – we finished a whole bottle in one sitting. We agreed that we would join them for breakfast.

The bed was very comfortable and we felt at home immediately. We slept well, woke up early, opened the front door, and watched the sunrise from the bed. The buzzing town is close by, and it was just a couple of minutes’ ride between that and our own private paradise.

We entered their home and realized that there was no wall on the other side, just the jungle. The table was set, Christmas tree ready, cheeky little kitty running around. They welcomed us with a hug and a table full of anything you could dream of fresh fruit, kefirs, kombuchas, coffee, bread made from coconut flour, homemade jams made from mango, etc. It was the best meal we had had on the island, in fact, one of the best I have had in my life. The local coffee with dark chocolate and ginger was so good that I didn’t even put my almond milk in it. We had a long chat, enjoyed our time being there, and then we were shown around the garden. They grow every kind of vegetable, they even have a cocoa tree, and they make their own chocolate, which we tried as well.

We agreed to join them for dinner and for breakfast the next day. They charge much less than any restaurant and they serve natural, handmade food, so there was simply no need to look anywhere else. As a vegan, I get used to eating something just to eat, things like fries, rice, and salad, but the variety they offered me was priceless. They are not vegans, but they know what it means, and the food is great.

After a tour through the garden, collecting papaya for next day’s breakfast, we headed to the center of town. We took a motor-taxi to SuperPola. It’s a big supermarket, where you can get anything you need. There were two things I couldn’t find, however, tofu and wheat gluten. I wanted to make seitan later on in the Dominican Tree House Village.

We had a car booked, but we had insurance from another company, and they weren’t happy with that, they wanted us to have insurance with them. After a long discussion we rented a scooter, rather than paying 300 USD for the car and 400 USD for the insurance. The scooter  was 15 USD per day, but they didn’t offer insurance for scooters. Seeing the way people drive there, I’m not surprised. We got on our scooter and were free to go anywhere. We went to see the El Limon waterfall. It was a slow, leisurely ride, of about an hour, looking around. As we got closer, locals would drive up alongside us to offer their tour guide services. From the main road we had to take a dirt road which was not easy with the scooter, but we managed. The entrance fee is 50 rupis per person. They immediately offer you horses, as 80% of the tourists go on horseback. Please, don’t do it, the poor horses are walking up and down in the heat. They try to scare you by saying that it isn’t possible without a guide, especially not on foot. It was easy. We had to cross a river twice, which was cool, fun and refreshing. Then you have to walk up a bit, walk at the top, where you have a nice view of palm trees, then after passing a small house with  souvenirs, you go back down, and there you are. Altogether it is about a 45minute hike, and an easy one at that. You can swim in the water, as it is nice and warm. We arrived around 3-4 pm, and the place was quite empty. We met many tourists on horseback coming back, but at the time, we were the only ones going that way. We had a nice walk back, jumped on our scooter, and went home.

We stopped at a lovely beach to freshen up, not far from Las Terrenas, Ákos opened a coconut, he is a pro at it. Even Louis, our host, said that they go to the beach now and again and just collect the coconuts there.

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On the way home, we passed a motorcycle with a live pig tied to the back seat. The rider stopped now and again to give him/her water.

The countryside is fascinating with small, turquoise houses, but huge poverty.

We arrived home, had a nice shower, and then joined Sylvie and Louis who were ready with dinner. They made tapas out of different things, and a lovely soup as an appetizer. All vegan. For dessert, Louis flambéed bananas. I made a video, but it was lost (details later). We had a nice evening chatting with them about how they are living their dream. They imported one cat, and they found another small, black one under their house, little Lia, who was all over the place, sitting on our laps, begging for food, purring, sleeping, climbing up the Christmas tree.

After a good night’s sleep, we started the next day with Sylvie and Louis as well. We set the alarm for 7:30 am, but while we woke up on time, we just couldn’t get out of bed… just 5 more minutes to watch the jungle, just 5 more minutes….

We arrived to a set breakfast table with different kind of kefirs to try (banana, papaya seed, pineapple, spices), and Sylvie had made two raw vegan cheeses for me. After breakfast we tried their truffles and chocolates. It was sad to leave, as we loved staying there, but other adventures were waiting.

Before crossing the peninsula, we decided to visit the Route de Coffee, which was not far, a number of small villages and farms with coffee and cocoa. We arrived at a small coffee farm with lots of flowers outside and old uncle Olive inside, who  greeted us with a smile. He warmed up our coffee in an old tomato can over an open fire, letting me grate chocolate into it and play with handmade kauchuk balls. We bought two different types of chocolate from him. We decided to continue our ride as far as we could on the scooter, although it wasn’t easy on the dirt road. After 2-3 minutes of riding, there was a tree trunk lying across the road. We stopped, and I jumped off to move it out of the way, so we could continue. Just then, a guy jumped out of the bushes, waving at us and repeating something over and over in Spanish. I understood immediately that he didn’t want us to cross, and I wondered if they might be doing something  illegal there. But then two masked guys came from behind, and I realized that we were being attacked. Since we were on our way to our next accommodation, we had all our belongings with us, so we were in danger of losing all our money, our passports, etc. They were screaming: Money, money, money… They took the key to the scooter, both of our phones, and they cut my video camera from my neck with machetas. They were very nervous and kept, shouting, go, go, go… We got back on the scooter, got back the key, and tried move forward. The tree was still there, however, so we tried to turn back, fell with the scooter, and they were still thereshouting go, go, go.

We finally made it back to uncle Olivo’s, place, and told him in our nonexisting Spanish about the 3 banditos, machetas, and no telephono. He called the police. We waited at his place for about an hour. A Swiss couple arrived, and we warned them not to go further. I was in shock, trembling, crying. My stress was coming out. The Swiss girl showed me how to press an acupuncture point under my nose to help relieve the stress. Thank you.

When the police arrived, they asked a few questions. They were carrying  guns and went to look around. They told us to go back to the police station in Las Terrenas to report the robbery, which we did. They took it seriously. We had to come back two hours later to make it final. In the meantime, we had a pizza on the beach and got a new SIM card, Ákos had brought an extra phone, just in case.. We tried to buy a new camera, but there was no such thing for sale anywhere. There were several sound systems for cars, but no video camera.

When we finally had completed the reports and left the police station (which is by the beach, in case you need it, hope not), the stress of the whole thing overtook me and made me so weak I could barely walk. I had a good cry and felt better. We were still hesitantto continue to our next accommodations which were in another part of the peninsula, and we debated staying  one more night, so we didn’t have to ride in the dark. We finally left, thinking it would be better to start the next day with fresh eyes, a new place, a new beginning. We arrived in Samana after more than an hour, stopping at the first gas station. As we were getting back on the scooter,I told Ákos not to look up, just get on and go, as two men were handing a huge gun from one to the other, and the new owner started to put bullets in it. WTF! Survival mode on!

The first few days, we were in total bliss. We had read many stories about the criminals on the island, but we had met so many nice people, we had slept in the jungle with no lock on the door, Sylvie and Louis has no wall on their house, and we thought this just wouldn’t happen here. The worst thing was not losing my phone and my video camera with all my lovely photos and videos, it was losing my trust in people. I was frightened, and I didn’t trust anybody. As soon as someone would approach, my first reaction would be, what the hell does he want? I know I can be naïve and that I have lived my life with a trust towards existence but that day I lost a part of that, and I needed a few days to recover. We continue to judge the island and its inhabitants on the basis of a few idiots. And that is a shame, when most of the people are nice and welcoming. Nevertheless, the bad guys left a  mark on my heart. It Is a rule in the Dominican Republic not to go on dirt roads alone  without a local guide. Everywhere else, it is safe. You might say I shouldn’t have carried my camera visibly around my neck, but had I not had a visible treasure, they might have taken my backpack, which would have been a bigger loss.

Our next stay was in Las Flechas, where we stayed with Carlos. 3 nights in a turquoise bungalow with our own private beach. It was good to wake up in a new place after the shock we had, watching the sunrise from a hammock on the beach. So all those photos earlier in this post are not mine, I got them to replace mine.

I decided that I need another camera or something like it, since we still had more than half of the vacation ahead of us, and I had a scheduled interview and a cooking class. We had asked many shops and people in Las Terrenas and Samana, but no one knew of anywhere you could buy one. We finallyfound a small shop with smartphones, and I bought a Samsung s5 that makes nice photos and videos.

Samana is a busy town with overwhelming traffic. We sat down in a restaurant, and they were kind enough to make me some grilled veggies with salad. They looked at me a bit strangely when I pulled out my own almond milk for my coffee, but it was fine. The prices here were reasonable.

Next, we headed out to explore the famous bridge that connects the city to a small island. At the bridge, there was a small bar by the beach, where I had a virgin mojito, and a guy working there told us that he would look after our bike (without us asking), which meant we would owe him  a dollar after getting back.

We had to climb up a few steps, but the view was fascinating. A long bridge with a lush, green island at the other end. It was around noon, so it was very hot. We saw a big cruise ship not far from the port, which confused me. If I ever got to spend time on a Caribbean cruise, I wouldn’t want to stop at the town of Samana, I’d want something more exotic. There are beautiful places on the peninsula, but the city is not among them. When we entered the small island, there were blocks of trees on the road and many unfinished building. It was probably the plan to build a viewpoint there, but nature took back what belongs to her. I like these kinds of industrial buildings, especially when they are surrounded by nature.

On our way back, we stopped at several local small supermarkets to collect as many vegetables as possible to make some dinner. It wasso relaxing, sitting on your own beach peeling veggies and watching the sun go down. Our bodies were still on home time, so we went to bed early and woke up early the next day as well.

Preparing dinner on the beach:

My favourite photo of the trip:

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The next day we were heading north. I had an appointment at 11 with Darko, a raw vegan chef. On the way there, we stopped at a big green field, where  the sea was very rough. We sat there for a while, staring at the rawness of nature. Than we crossed some sweetly named villages (Las Naranjos, Los Cacaos). They have an interesting mixture of small homes for the locals, big hotels with high fences, and private villas, also surrounded by high fences.

We left early to make sure we would arrive in Las Geleras on time, so we had some time to spend on the beach. It is a long beach with white sand, turquoise blue water, and hardly any tourists. When a smaller group arrived, they jumped into a boat with one of the locals to go snorkeling.

After soaking up some Vitamin D, we went to Villa Serena, which is nearby and has its own beach, which is marvelous.

Darko and his fiancée, Ana, are the creators of Art of Raw, a couple from Croatia with several retreats in the Dominican Republic, in Villa Serena. It is funny that we live in neighboring  countries, butmeet on the other side of the globe. You can read my interview with them here, along with more information about their retreats here. We had a long talk about wellness, veganism, healing, values in business and in general, love, kisses and touch, all things that are essential to your wellbeing. The time I spent with them really recharged my empty batteries. It was good to be in their presence, to meet a couple that is not just together in their private life, but also have a vision together and create together.

After talking to them in the lovely garden, we went into the kitchen. The day before, they had had company, serving them 8 courses of tasting experiences, and we had the opportunity to try them also. The idea of raw food is not to heat foods  above 42˚C, but you can marinate and dry it. We had a mushroom dish that was to die for, and they created our plates with so much ease, that I couldn’t wait to taste it. One thing I learned from them was that you can have warm soup as a raw vegan, just by adding warm water to whatever veggies you want and mixing them together with the seasoning of your choice and… voila!

They have avocados the size of the head of a small child in the Dominican Republic, and they were oh, so creamy. We received a plate full of delicious goodness and it tasted luscious. I was a little worried that eating raw broccoli would make my stomach hurt, but it didn’t. We had a nice lunch with them and the manager of the villa, Martina. You can go there and ask for the raw dishes at the restaurant, even if you are not a guest of the hotel. Wherever I go, raw food is always more expensive than “normal” vegan food, so it was a big surprise for me that keeping the prices down it is among their 5 requirements (it has to be healthy, taste amazing, look good, be reasonably priced and be offered in large portions). They do franchise if you are interested, just tell them I said hello! 🙂

After lunch, we returned to the beach, and when some dark clouds started rolling in, we decided to go home to Las Flechas. We stopped at a grocery store to grab some veggies for the evening. We wanted something simple. My top was wet because our quick departure from t beach left it no time to dry. Next to the vegetable stand there, was a kind of Christmas park with all the  colors of the season.

Once home, we had time to relax on the beach, as the rain never arrived. Then I did some laundry in a baby bath tube, hoping the clothes would dry in the humid weather. They never did. First, I was amused that the locals lye their laundry on concrete, even on the street, or if they only had dirt roads, then  on their car. Now I understood the reason – putting the laundry in the hottest possible spots, so it would dry quickly. Since we were leaving in the morning for our next place, I was very optimistic that our clothes would dry just hanging here and there around the house.

Carlos, our landlord, arrived with two local guys. He lived on the same beach as us, but even when he was home, we really never saw him, so we really did feel we had our own private beach. He has plans to expand, and  we had a good talk about potential new ways to accommodate the tourists. Should he build  several small bungalows or one bigger one with bunk beds to be run as a hostel? There were many good ideas, but I am happy we were there while we could still enjoy this little piece of heaven alone. The boys were planning to grill a big fish and I was responsible for the side dish (meaning vegan food), and we also had a plan to build a bon fire, which was set by the time we arrived.

I cut eggplant into thin slices for grilling. Then I made a tomato salad with lots of parsley and lime juice. We had one huge avocado, so I made a kind of guacamole without garlic, and instead of using lemon I used orange, since that was what we had. It was amusing to see the boys’ faces when they realized it.

I told Carlos I didn’t see any mango, and that I was a little sad about that, since it is one of my favorites – in fact, you could almost say I’m a bit of an addict. I had plenty of them earlier this year in Mauritius, but not this time. I was informed that they were not in season right then, even though there were trees ripening out of season, which was a strange phenomenon. After a few drinks, we were talking about this and that, and Carlos told me that the one thing he hates more than f*cking mango season was the f*cking avocado season. I almost cried! 😀 In my home country, it is difficult to get real, sunkissed, ripe mangos, and we have to settle for small avocados with huge seeds, rather than huge avocados with the same size seeds they had there. I know it is not ecological to make fruit travel, so when I hear someone say he has a big mango tree and hates it, I needed to get a hold of myself.  J  He aid that there are too many mangos for him to deal with them, and as they ripen they fall from the tree onto the roof, making big noises. The local kids keep coming all day long, asking, “Can I have a mango? Can I have a mango?” And the neighbors ask him if he would like an avocado when he already has 20 at home. We have different “problems” J He said he would make the same fuss about strawberries, pears or peaches in our region.

Then we started the fire, and as Carlos said staring into the flames, it was like watching a woman warm, comforting, sexy, but still sometimes a pain in the ass.

The next morning, while I was sitting in front of our bungalow to get the best Wi-Fi connection, I saw a coconut fall from a tree, I got excited and wanted to run and collect it, but then I saw the top of the palm tree shaking and a man came climbing down. He collected his coconuts into a textile bag, leaving two of them. He came to us and handed us those two  coconuts, and he opened them with his machete. It couldn’t be any fresher.

As we couldn’t exchange emails with the next place we were staying, we didn’t know when to arrive, so we left early. The last breakfast before on our beach:

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The Dominican Tree House Village was less than an hour away. We headed back in the direction of Samana, but right before reaching it, we turned right, and we were on the road to the Tree House Village. After a while, our GPS said we were about 6 km away, when the road turned into a dirt road. We stopped for a second, since we had bad feelings about dirt roads, but we decided to continue anyway, as we were not passing through coffee and cocoa farms, and this was the only way to get to the hotel, so there would likely be many other people on the road. We met some locals and passed a beautiful lake, which turned out to be a reservoir. We saw horses and cows grazing. It was a nice Caribbean landscape with lots of green and tons of high palm trees. The road went up and down and sometimes it was so steep I had to get off the scooter and walk.

We tried to figure out what was better – going faster, and if we fall we fall big time, but maybe it is easier to control the bike, or going slower on the rocky, sometimes watery road and if we fall we don’t hurt ourselves that much. After passing the entrance of the zip line, we arrived. There were boys sitting outside ready to carry people’s suitcases. We left the scooter outside and started to walk in near a small river. When we finally saw the small wooden houses scattered through the jungle, it was like seeing a childhood dream come true. There is a bigger house for the community with a reception, living room, dining room, and other small ones for staying. When we walked up on the stairs, there was a kitchen on the righthandside, open out to the jungle. There were no walls, all the green surrounded it. We got a warm welcome from the staff and a welcome rum with chinola (passionfruit).

Some people who were hanging out in that area came to say hi and introduce themselves. There was one guy who took his wife there for a surprise birthday weekend. Than we were informed that check-in started at 3 pm, so we had plenty of time. We could leave our stuff there and go to the beach, which is about 3 km from the hotel. They have people working for them who will take you there free of charge, or you can rent a bicycle or a quad. We asked what the road is like to there, but they said that if we managed to get to the hotel on a scooter, going to the beach would be no problem. They were right, the road there was nice and straight, you can’t miss it. It goes through a small village and past some green fields, and then you arrive. Before leaving for the beach, we decided to grab some food. We were informed that there is a restaurant right outside of the entrance, and actually you have to cross it in order to leave, “Emma’s restaurant”. As the hotel had no internet and hardly any mobile reception (it helps you to reconnect, they say… and actually I enjoyed it), the restaurant should have some Wi-Fi. I’m not sure if they don’t or if we misunderstood the password, but as it turned out, I was happy to be without internet for a few days. There were chickens everywhere, even under the tables. We ordered food, and when I told her I don’t eat meat, fish, milk, etc., she gave me some beans and rice (which I really love) and salad.

Then we went down to the beach. This beach was by far my favorite of all the ones we had visited there. It is situated between two lush green hills in a valley; it is long, hardly anyone in sight, and big waves crash on the shore. At the entrance, there is a small restaurant, “Mami’s”, and a few fishing boats. From there, you can go right or left, and you can be alone. It is like a scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean. If you go left and walk to the end, you will see how the small river (the one we saw next to the hotel) empties into the sea.

After 4 pm, we returned to the hotel, checked in, and accepted the terms we had previously agreed to I would cook several vegan breakfast and dinner options during my stay there. It was good to hear that there were more and more requests everywhere for at least vegetarian dishes. We were able to settle into our room, which was really cool as you can see in the pictures. The whole hotel is situated in a valley, which acts is a natural green barrier that , hides the small houses. I had talked  to one of the managers who told me that two months earlier they had had a big flood after the hurricane, and you could see nothing but mud, all the vegetation was gone. It was fascinating to see that it took only two months for nature to reclaim the valley. There is a lighted, wooden bridge to the rooms. I don’t know if the lights were for the Christmas season or if they were permanent, but it created such a special atmosphere after dark. There was a small bridge to our  room as well. Room number 9. Before we entered the room, on the right side, there was a bathroom. Primitive, but everything you need. Once we were inside the room, there were no actual walls, only on the bathroom side, the rest was open, but with the dark curtains it still felt private. We only left the front curtains opened. There is was red chair hanging from the ceiling, which was the best spot to observe the jungle before sunrise. The bed was huge and really comfy, the linens were soft and smelled nice.

I went back to the kitchen to meet the cook, Leo. He is a young guy and made me feel comfortable with the process. We agreed that the next morning after breakfast, we could have our first cooking session. I stayed in the kitchen and dinner was pizza (for us, with mushrooms and vegetables) and a dish made from plantains. It is green banana they use in cooking. It was smashed and cooked in a pot, layered with some vegetables and baked in the oven for a few minutes. We washed everything down with some rum & chinola.

We woke up early. It was till dark, but with the first rays of sunshine were entering the valley. Even without walls, the whole hotel area was silent, only the birds were singing. I love slow mornings, when all you need is a good breakfast and you are set for a great day.

Good breakfast. Good day. Good life.

We went to the community area. There is a big table for sitting with other travelers, chatting, meeting new people, and having a good laugh. And there are other tables for 2-4 people. We decided to sit in the wooden armchairs at the end of the room with a view to of the jungle. I had porridge made with coconut milk and fresh fruit.

After breakfast, I went into the kitchen and cooked up some delicious dishes with Leo. We made some veggie spreads and guacamole with toast for breakfast options. I loved that there were fresh fruits and vegetables in abundance on the shelves.

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I made chocolate mousse from avocado, ripe banana, and cocoa powder. Everyone was skeptical, but it was a success, I enjoyed watching their faces when they tried it for the first time. You can’t taste the avocado, but you can feel its creaminess. You can make it just with banana or just with avocado. In my opinion, it taste better with raw cocoa powder, and you can sweeten it with maple syrup or dates.

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Then we made two different types of vegetable ragout. One was with tomato sauce, and the other was with coconut cream. I made sure I didn’t put tomato into the coconut one, so it wouldn’t turn red/pink. We mixed them both with cooked rice. I emptied a half pineapple and filled it with the coconut ragout. I carved out a big avocado, a bell pepper, and an eggplant. I filled them with red ragout and put them all into the oven to bake.

I had mixed chickpea flour with water in advance, left it resting for half an hour, and then added some salt, pepper, and olive oil. It made a nice omelet, filled with some veggie spread and fresh salad.

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We went to have a dip in the waterfall next to the hotel. We spent the rest of the day on the beach. There was some preparation for a party going on, building a stage, and cool decorations. Many people arrived with tents. I had a pineapple and a good book.

Back at the hotel, I decided to wash my hair which is not a big deal normally, but in our room, we only had cold water. For a hot shower, we had to go to another bathroom that was shared with others. When I say hot water, I mean it. There is a pipe with boiling hot water and another with cold water. I tried to mix them, but it kept turning hot and cold, rather than a mixed warm. Finally, I was standing under the water, feeling the hot water on my right side, and the cold on my left. I felt like I had my yin and yang balanced.

It was taco night at the hotel, and everyone was excited about the party on the beach. The plan was to have a dinner together, and then the hotel organized a bus to take everyone to the party and made it available to come back anytime we wanted. Dinner was nice. I could eat the taco with beans, guacamole, and fresh salad. It was great. We ended up stayed behind when the others left, and enjoyed the almost empty hotel, tried the hammocks, and had a good talk.

The next morning, after the coconut porridge, Leo surprised me with a vegan omelet filled with a vegetable ragout. It was just perfect.

Then we had another cooking session. We grilled sliced eggplant and rolled it up with bean sauce, and we baked sweet potato and carrot fries. Note to self: when I cook somewhere new, I should familiarize myself better with the oven, I should have checked the fries before burning them. Anyway, the rolls were nice with fresh salad.

The other dish was plantain ragout. I made a vegetable one first, and when that was almost ready, I added some cut plantains. With some fresh cucumber, yummy….

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Then I made muffins. When you don’t have a muffin form and paper cups, you just improvise. The recipe is from Kristof, and I added some small cubes of pineapple and papaya, along with passionfruit juice. It took longer with this oven than it normally does at home, but it turned out great. I added more chinola on top.

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We went around to find a place to fill our tank, you can get petrol in beer bottles:

The next adventure was trying the zip line. It was built before the hotel, but by the same owner. He was kind of testing the waters. When it turned out to be successful, his childhood dream of building a Robinson kind of village became reality. We booked it ahead of time, and a guy came to pick us up. Since you start at the top of the hill, you must climb up first, which can be challenging in the heat, but it was so worth it. There were 12 lines, and you stop after each one to wait for the others. It was very cool, even when it started to rain a bit, then sunshine, and then pouring rain. We just slipped from one stage to the next. It ends by the waterfall next to the hotel, so you can have a dip and cool down. Many children from the valley dream about working for the zip line, meeting new people, learning English, and looking cool.

We had lunch on the beach, beans and rice (nice), French fries (I don’t recommend them), and salad. The local doggies are waiting ever so patiently for leftovers. It was our last lunch here, vacation is almost over (we bought extra petrol to make sure next morning we reach the next town).

We had pasta for dinner with our own sauce, and we said good bye to everybody, as we would be up early the next morning to start our long day.

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We woke up with the first sunlight and left the hotel. My last photo there, nature is taking back:

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We had to cross the peninsula with the scooter and take it back. We were a bit worried, as the scooter was damaged during our  attack. There were scratches on the right side, and one of the mirrors were missing. We stopped at many repair shops but no one had the same style of mirror. Then in Samana, a guy told us to follow him, that he could help. We were in a time crunch and not feeling too confident as he guided us away from the main road, in among local houses, and he spoke no English. We stopped by a shop with tiles. Then he told us through Google Translate that he was an engineer and that he could fix our scooter. He could even cut mirror to put into our frame, but once he realized we only had half an hour, he couldn’t help after all. We gave him 200 pesos, and he was very embarrassed and drove right next to us back to the city. Once he made us stop, got off his bike and fixed our brake as hewatched us ride. Then he continued driving next to us, which was not easy in the traffic. He was very nice, and he showed us his home when we passed it, and his family’s shop. He told us his name (which I forgot), and then he freaked out when he saw that we had just a few drops of gas. We promised him we would leave the city with a full tank, and we already knew there was a big gas station at the entrance to the town.

The road between Samana City and Las Terrenas was easy. Green fields with small villages full of colorful houses. We passed the El Limon waterfall again, and the locals arrived with their motorbikes to offer their services in getting to the waterfall. Then we arrived at a restaurant, where we had a small breakfast. I got fried yuka, a local root vegetable.

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When we arrived back at the bike shop, the owner was not there, only his assistants, so we had to wait about an hour for a verdict as to how much we had to pay. As we couldn’t buy insurance, we were a bit afraid, having heard stories about 1000 dollars in Thailand for similar accidents. They were very fair, however, charging us  70 euros.

While waiting for the bus, we went down to the beach, which was almost empty. We ordered virgin pina colada and beer and relaxed till lunch was ready. The lady didn’t make the typical beans and rice for me, it was natural rice with salad and avocado. There was a lady carryingfruits and veggies on the top of her head, and we bought some avocados from her. Since we didn’t spend too much time lying in the sun during our vacation, we were doing our best to make up for lost time.

We managed to get on a motor-taxi with all our belongings and catch the bus at 2 pm. We wanted to change buses at the gas station in Santo Domingo to catch the last bus to Punta Cana, but the driver told us that it was too late, so we got off at the next stop where there was a bigger station and where we could go back the same way we came through Higüey. They were laughing their heads off on the bus when they found out that we don’t speak Spanish and were still travelling around.

When we arrived in Higüey, it was already dark, and we took the wrong turn when looking for the other bus station, so we went around a bit. It was so overwhelming to be in a busy and loud city after the chill Samana area. Mainly locals were there, and when we found the station we realized that they were lining up to get on the buses. There was no timetable, you get in line, a small bus comes, fills up with people, and leaves. You  wait 10-15 minutes and the next one arrives. When our bus arrived, it didn’t stop in front of the queue, so when everyone rushed onto the bus, they were pushing and pulling like they were running for their life. We joined in the game, and luckily, we both got on board and we even got seats. Two young guys started to play music on two buckets. After about 40 minutes, we took a turn, it was dark outside and we couldn’t see anything, but the whole bus started to scream and shout: Bavaro, Bavaro… There were two bus routes, one goinge to Bavaro (which was our plan) and the other going to Punta Cana. They are neighbors. We checked the GPS on the phone, and the bus was on its way to Punta Cana. The driver calmed people down, but we didn’t understand what was happening. Then we stopped in front of an emergency building, and the driver accompanied a dizzy-looking woman inside. After a couple of minutes, he came out, got back on the bus, and we continued our way to Bavaro.

We got off next to our apartment, which was a lovely and equipped  with all the amenities of a real home, not just a rental. We went down to eat dinner in the Indian restaurant, which was great. We wanted to visit the famous local vegan restaurant which was nearby also, but it was closed. No problem, there is always tomorrow.

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The next morning, we made breakfast and enjoyed it on the balcony, after which we went down to the beach, which was 5 minutes away.

It was crowded. I still don’t understand why people stay there when other parts of the country have empty and much more beautiful beaches. We got some fresh chinola juice and mixed it with rum.

For lunch we tried once again to go to AmaLuna, but it was closed again, so we went to a Mexican restaurant nearby.  The food was nice, and the atmosphere was great.

After lunch, we went back to the beach to enjoy the last few hours before our flight.

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Leaving the beach there was a small shop selling coconuts, we checked our pockets, had 70 pesos left. Ákos asked the lady how much is the coconut, she said 100. She started to open one so I thought they came to an agreement. Sipping my coconut I saw her opening an other one, I looked at him questioningly and he said, she told her 70 for two. So this is our last coco and last photo on the beach.

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We had our stuff packed, and on the way back to the apartment we managed to book a taxi. As we were sitting in it, a guy appeared by the door with his skateboard and bag, asking if we were on the way to the airport. He joined us. He was a bartender from Canada, and he was very relaxed for a guy whose flight was leaving in about 40 minutes. I hope he caught it.

As we waited for boarding to open, there was a cat sitting inside the building. We asked around about her, and she seemed to be local. She was very comfortable, and she climbed into our laps immediately.

If you ask me if I would go back to the Dominican Republic after what happened, my answer is yes. Anytime. Next time, I would like to explore the Northern part, above the Samana peninsula, and I may spend a few days in Santo Domingo as well. There are live music evenings from Thursday to Sunday, which I had planned to visit, but I finally ended up extending my stay in Samana, which was a great idea. I would spend 2-3 days in Punta Cana also, so I could finally try AmaLuna and visit some of the nearby islands, and we also missed Hoyo Azul.