We’d booked a trip — the Outback Safari — to get out into the country and see the people and land in its less tourist-oriented state. In Jamaica, we’d done a similar tour and loved it, so there were high hopes for this trip.
The truck picked us up around 9am, and after getting folks on board from one of the other Riu properties, we met Eddy (our tour guide) and Leo (our driver). Eddy was terrific! Throughout the day, he reviewed the history of the country, was willing to answer questions about almost anything, from salaries ($150-250/mo) to gas prices ($7/gal) to home prices. We were “Eddy’s Family” for the day, and he took great care of us.
Our first stop was a typical home in the DR. It was comprised of a poured concrete floor, royal palm siding (termites don’t like it — too tough) and a corrugated tin roof. This particular home was about 75 years old, and had been passed from generation to generation, much like we saw in Jamaica. There were currently nine family members living there, with three beds that I saw across two bedrooms and a shotgun living room/dining room combo. This house was just getting indoor plumbing, with an outhouse (men’s and women’s separate), an outdoor kitchen, an eating area outside, and a nice covered porch in the back. The house itself was quite small, but tidy, and seemed like it would be comfortable enough. Of course, there was no air conditioning to temper the hot days.
Along the trip, we stopped at a couple of schools. The children came out to meet the truck, and sing to us. Some of the folks on our tour had brought bags of candy, along with pencils, schoolbooks and other school supplies to donate to the schools. The kids really seemed to appreciate the extra attention!
As we drove through the small towns along the way, kids would call out to the truck, trying to get us to give them money or anything else. Eddy would shoo them off, and talked with us at length about it. His view — and I agree — is that if we gave them anything, that would entrench them in begging the tourists as they drove by, rather than getting real work and trying to make something of themselves. Eddy took a lot of pride in his country, and seemed to want to protect it from itself by steering us the right way. That’s refreshing!
We had a traditional Dominican lunch buffet — roasted chicken, some kind of pasta and salad. This was quite good, and served in an open air, covered pavillion. At this site were a few shops, some alligator cages, bird cages and a brightly colored parrot of some kind. This was rubber snakery at its finest, and I loved every minute of it.
We made another stop at a cigar sales shop. The DR’s biggest export (apart from baseball players) is cigars. The tobacco is not grown in the region of Punta Cana — that’s done in the north central part of the country, some 400km from where we were — but the region had plenty of cigar rollers. We got to see cigars rolled before our eyes, and had an opportunity to buy them at a pretty well discounted rate.
Our last stop in the countryside was at a cocoa and coffee farm. Did you know cocoa grew as a giant coconut-looking shape? I’d no idea. Open it up, and inside are white, pulpy cocoons in which the cocoa hides. That was interesting to see. We got to try some fresh cocoa — stirred into hot water. It was quite good, and definitely far removed from what passes for cocoa in the grocery stores.
We also got to try “mamajuana”, which is touted as a cure-all for almost any ailment you can think of, along with supposedly being something of an aphrodisiac — “Dominican Viagara” is another name for it. 🙂 Basically, it’s a wine bottle sized container of roots and chips of bark, to which you add three fingers of honey, three fingers of red wine and fill the rest with Dominican rum. The batch we tried tasted an awul lot like cough syrup — maybe that’s why it can help so many ailments!
The final stop of the day was a quick stop at a beach for a little swimming. This particular beach was inside a shallow cove, which seemed to amplify the action of the waves. They were strong, the undertow was very strong, all of which made for some fun playing and splashing in the water to end the trip. After a quick 45-minute trip, we were back at the resort, ready for the night’s activities.
I can’t compliment these guys enough for what great care they took of us. They were friendly, would answer anything about their country, and Eddy mixed mean rum and Pepsi’s! He’d stand at the back of truck after every stop, asking us what time it was. Of course, everytime his answer was “Happy Hour!” and he’d begin serving us. So, with the truck bouncing over crater-sized potholes in the road, and without really holding on, he’d manage to open a Pepsi, pour a ounce or three on the ground, and fill the empty void in the bottle — real glass bottles! — with rum. I couldn’t have had a finer drink if I ordered it from the best restaurant!
We ate dinner at the buffet, and mingled among the highly friendly vendors in the courtyard. We’d been eyeing a getting a colorful painting to rememebr the trip by, and found one that interested us. Becky talked the guy down from $180 to $45, which I thought was an amazing drop. I guess if they sell a couple at the asking price, and the majority below that, they end up doing a pretty good business.
I noticed that there are paintings and painters everywhere. There are some common threads in much of the painting, and I expect that once someone got good at these designs, they could probably turn out the paintings in pretty quick order. No matter the speed, many of them were very, very beautiful works of art.