20 –27 February 2014: Luperon and Inland Exploring, Dominican Republic
With strong winds forecast for at least 5 days it was the perfect opportunity to leave Balvenie on her mooring in the secure harbour of Luperon and head for the hills. We “sort of” hired a 4WD, lets just say one of the permanent cruisers in the harbour made a couple of phone calls, we stood on a street corner at 9.30am, a Ford Explorer arrived with a local man and toddler inside, we got in and dropped them off up the road, we gave him $100 – he gave us his car keys. Easy peasy – the joys of doing business in the less developed world!
Did Anyone Bring a Map??
We were sharing the 4WD with Carla and Daniel off C-Time. They too were due some shore leave after many long days and some nights at sea so we decided to hit the road together.
I guess really it was my job to be navigator, I’d done a great job of printing off the pages of information on where we were going, but not how we were getting there! We weren’t doing too bad following the erratic sign posts until we arrived in Santiago, the 2nd biggest city in the DR, the slip road entry onto the Ring Road was closed for road works and why would they waste time putting up detour signs?
And so began our unplanned sightseeing tour of Santiago!! Quite some time later, with Daniel navigating us on Google Maps on his iPhone (not entirely accurate!) and Mark definitely enjoying driving like a local we successfully popped out the other side of the city and resumed a less frantic and chaotic pace on quieter roads.
The Outdoor Adventure Capital of the DR
Our first nights stop was in the foothills of the mountains at Jarabacoa, the surrounding countryside was lush and green, the air clearer and cooler. Jarabacoa was a functional working town, nothing too cute or touristy about it, even though it was purported to be the tourist mecca of the interior we didn’t see another “gringo” around and didn’t even get hassled by any tour operators to take us kayaking, white water rafting, paragliding or on a tour to the nearby waterfalls.
Where Are The Dinosaurs??
After spending a comfortable night at Hotel California it was off into the jungle for some hiking, waterfall sightseeing and dinosaur hunting. Many scenes from the movie Jurassic Park were filmed at the Salta Jimenoa Uno Waterfalls so we went off road down an exceptionally steep grassed driveway to the track entrance and hoped like hell we would be able to drive out again!!
The hike down and back up got the heart pumping, not from running from the jaws of dinosaurs though, just exercise at altitude, something we very rarely do. Back in the carpark the attendant stopped traffic on the road in preparation for our exit. Mark gunned the accelerator and we exited the carpark feeling like a rocket being propelled skyward – we landed successfully back on the road and continued our journey up into the mountains.
One Big Vegetable Patch
We stopped at a small farming community for lunch and sat with the field workers eating beans and rice, the staple diet of so many of these countries. Back on the road we kept climbing, making our destination of Constanza mid afternoon. It is a small but busy agricultural town, set in a very picturesque valley at 1200m surrounded by high mountains on all sides. As far as you could see in every direction the fields were full of crops of all varieties. Strawberries were in season, roadside stalls offered the fresh fruit, strawberry jam and various other strawberry concoctions, we stocked up on goodies.
Definitely Off The Beaten Path
We decided to go for the complete rural experience and headed some miles out of town. The drive was an adventure in itself, first we needed to convince a road works worker we really did need to go down the road that was closed, then convinced another that we could just fit between the two big holes they had dug, then we went off road stopping at every intersection to ask directions – rarely understanding the rapid Spanish instructions fired back at us – just following the way they pointed! And finally we found Rancho Macajo.
The log cabins were probably just a tad more rustic than we would have liked, but the setting and views were just amazing. I was the only one up for an afternoon walk so I climbed as high as I could above the ranch to take in the views, then went back down to the dirt road and enjoyed a long walk up into the valley, soaking in the vista below me. Every inch of land was either planted or ploughed, interestingly we didn’t see any farm machinery anywhere but we didn’t see any oxen and ploughs either, is it all tilled by hand?
The ranch was an interesting place, the owner has turned it into a mini menagerie with 21 different species of birds and animals. We had an excellent dinner, followed by nightcaps sitting around a roaring bonfire, the starry sky was crystal clear, the silence overwhelming, it was a magic spot.
Next morning it was downhill all the way, we made a couple of attempts at finding an alternative route back to the coast – both failed badly. We did however find the ring road around Santiago again but to our dismay it was closed on this side as well. While we were parked in the middle of the road looking for plan D a car pulled up in front of us and the driver had rather a heated discussion with the armed guard patrolling the traffic cones. We heard them mention Puerto Plato which was where we were aiming for, eventually the guard moved a cone, the car drove through and so did we. We didn’t hear any gunfire behind us and never looked back!!
About 30 miles later we got to the Puerto Plato exit, and you guessed it, it was coned off!! We drove slowly by to assess the situation and make sure the exit was actually passable, all looked ok, no traffic or armed guards around, so we reversed back to the exit, I jumped out and moved a couple of cones, through we went and headed on our way!!!
Back to the Seaside
While we had the 4WD we couldn’t forego an opportunity to do a supermarket run and nearby tourist town of Puerto Plato was sort of on the way. We made it down to the waterfront, but where was the supermarket? While I was off looking for somewhere cheap and quick for lunch Daniel spotted some friendly policemen and next thing I know we were all back in the 4WD and following a police escort to the supermarket, right into the carpark!!
A couple of hours later, with the 4WD bulging at its seams, we made our weary way back the last 30 odd miles up the coast to Luperon. We emptied the contents at the dinghy dock and Mark set off trying to find the owner of the Explorer. He never did find him, but the keys were handed to someone and we never had anyone come looking for us!
It’s Great To Be Back In The 3rd World (Maybe 2nd World!)