19 – 20 December 2012
The Dominican Republic (DR) is an interesting travel destination with lots of history, culture, mountains (over 3k), activities, beaches, etc. However, besides security there are two challenges – most things require a mandatory guide/joining an organised tour (typically US 80-100 per day/event) and most interesting places are remote requiring a 4WD. Consequently, I decided to limit my travelling in DR to what I could experience in the South West travelling towards the Haitian border where I would do voluntary work at a place called Sadhana Forest.
Instead of going directly to Pedernales at the border, I decided to do the trip in two days staying overnight in Paraiso. The bus to Barahona left at 6.15am so I got up at 4.45 and took a taxi to the bus station at 5.15 to be in good time as it was close to X-mas and tickets would sell out quickly. As always in the better Latin American buses it's cold and the music/movie is loud, but I was prepared with a fleece and ear plugs. The sun rose around 7am so I took a nap the first hour driving out of Santo Domingo. Afterwards I enjoyed the views of the beautiful mountains and the countryside with countless banana plantations – as well as local life in the cities/villages we passed by. Everywhere lots of military/police with big shot guns though my feeling is that it's a preventive measure more than for actual use. Barahona is less interesting so I walked through town and quickly found the Paraiso guagua that left within 10 minutes. A nice trip along the coast and through the countryside with beautiful views of the mountains and coastline. Before leaving I asked the driver and other passengers about the price so the ticket guy had no luck trying to charge me 50% extra.
The driver was kind to leave me at the doorstep of Hotel Paraiso – the only accommodation in town. I had called the day before to ask about prices but I wasn't really sure what we had agreed and what to expect. To my great surprise it turned out to be a cheap, nice and clean place owned by a very friendly family – and I was the only guest. The most popular place to visit around Paraiso is Los Patos – a small creek of fresh water flowing from the mountains into the ocean. Everybody told me it was many (up to 10) kilometres from Paraiso so I took a motoconcho just to realise that it was only around 4k. First I walked to a small cave that locals claim comprises (indigenous) Taino petroglyphs – however as I didn't bring my torch I never found them. The creek was nice (and fortunately very few people) but the ocean was incredible - seldom have I experienced such gorgeous turquoise water. I walked back to Paraiso along the stony “beach” and wanted to continue to a view point on the road that I had seen coming from Barahona with the guagua. However, both the hotel owner and other people told me it wasn't safe to go (including several recent examples of robberies) and as it wasn't that spectacular I decided to skip it. Instead I spent the afternoon relaxing at the pool having the last beers for a long time (since Sadhana Forest has a "no alcohol" policy).
I was told that it was a couple of hours with the guagua to Pedernales so I took my time in the morning leaving at 10.15 walking about a kilometre to a speed bump and military check-point increasing my chances that the bus would stop. Pedernales is as remote as it gets in DR so I was lucky only to have to wait an hour before a full guagua arrived (22 people + me) – the bag got tied to the roof and I got half a “seat” on a plank with my back to the driver – beautiful countryside but impossible to take pictures in my position. Not surprisingly we had to make a stop to fix the guagua after hearing weird noises – it turned out to be loose (and two missing) bolts on one of the tires...!? Nice with a 10 minute break to stretch the legs and take a few pictures. Also typical we had to stop at a restaurant for lunch. After 1½ hours more people got off than on and I finally got a better seat for the remaining 1½ hours until Pedernales. Here I met 2 other volunteers Nino and Lilette who showed me the way to Sadhana Forest.
22 December 2012 – day trip to Bahia de la Aguilas
Before entering Haiti I had considered spending a day extra in Pedernales to see if I could find people to share transport to Bahia de la Aguilas – allegedly the most beautiful beach in DR. However, I decided to skip it as I had already seen a lot of nice beaches and there would be little chance of finding people with similar plans and schedule in this remote town. A very good decision since the Sadhana volunteers (see Haiti section about Sadhana Forest) had already arranged a day trip to the same beach two days after my arrival. We left a bit late in the morning and got further delayed by a long supermarket visit and having to break the petrol cap padlock since the truck driver didn't have the key?! After 45 minutes driving through the countryside on mostly less fantastic roads the truck let of off at a beach from where it was the plan to hike to Bahia de la Aguilas. However, since we were late and it was a 45 minute walk everybody but me decided to stay. It was a nice walk first through “cacti-land” (reminded me a lot of Galapagos and I did see one big iguana) and then through a kind of meadow with a big rock wall. Nobody else walked, but a number of people got a boat ride to the beach so I walked a mile and found a secluded place - the beach was not nearly as spectacular as the pictures I had seen on the internet; primarily because of all the seaweed. After 3 hours I walked back to the others where I did a quick walk around the top of a cliff getting nice views of the coastline. All in all a good day with a good combination of hiking and relaxing.