For our second week, we wanted a week of adventure – and what better way to do so than with Adventuresque in the Dominican Republic. Adventuresque is a tour company that provides a fun week packed with outdoor exploits in various spots throughout the country – it’s a great itinerary that includes scuba, surfing, canyoneering, and more – seriously check them out:
Full disclosure – Jen originally met Matt, the founder and owner of Adventuresque, 15 years ago when she was a ski bum and they both worked for a resort in Germany.
We arrive into Santiago around midday and Matt meets us at the airport to whisk us away to our first adventure. We drive up into the mountains to Jarabocoa and within 30 minutes of us checking into Rancho Baiguate, we’re tackling the ropes course. It rained for about 15 minutes while we were up in the trees – not a big deal, but little did we know that it would prepare us for the week ahead.
After the course we had homemade cocktails –prepared with fresh juice from Matt’s family – nice touch, dude, nice touch. It rained a little bit at this time as well, but again we weren’t fazed – oh we were so naïve. . .
The plan for day 2? Rafting in the morning and horseback riding to a waterfall for the afternoon – awesome!
Due to a good series of rains in the previous weeks (seriously it should have dawned on us), the river was really high, so the rafting was amazing! Jen’s been twice before and this was by far the most intense – one of our fellow boats even flipped over at one point (everyone was thankfully ok, but not everyone was amused). Many of the photos from the trip look relatively serene, but that’s because those were the only times safe enough to get a snap.
Our rafting guide, Carlos, had a nice Germanic sense of humour and told us all the names of the falls – “mother in law”, “Mike Tyson Jr”, “Grand Slam”, “this will kill you” etc. But the best, was one of our boat mates – a woman who would scream bloody murder just before we hit a rocky patch and then oddly giggle throughout the rapids. . .
After lunch back at the ranch (who btw, had a.maz.ing rice and beans), we headed out on our horseback ride. We had both been horseback riding before, but this time was just a bit more extreme. This was no casual saunter through the hills. Our horses had one speed: super fricking fast. They seriously sprinted through the trail – there was no ability to take photos and the bouncing up and down was beginning to make both us a bit dizzy.
However, it turns out Jen’s horse had one other speed: none at all. For some reason, when crossing one of the streams, her horse just stopped in the middle of the water and stayed there. And then stayed there some more. A little more. Just a little more. Ok, he’s still staying there. Seriously, he’s not moving. We’re not sure if it was a happy or sad place for the horse, but there was no budging him. The guide had to ride back and finally get him to move.
Anyway, we made it up the mountain to a gorgeous waterfall that you could swim beneath. After the intense pace of the horses, we were just happy to relax and take in the beauty.
On the way back (still at full speed of course), the heaven’s opened and the first part of what we now call Storm Trump had arrived. We got absolutely soaked and it took days for our clothes to dry out.
During the ride, Erwan also got bad saddle sore on his bum – it’s almost a week past now and he’s still suffering from it. This was the first of many injuries for Erwan. . .
The third day began with a drive to the north coast, where we checked into Extreme Hotel in Cabarete. Extreme Hotel had tons of activities – kitesurfing, trapeze, yoga, etc, however see the previous post to learn about their best asset – Morpheus.
The drive there was a few hours, so at one point we needed to take a comfort break. We stopped at a stretch of restaurants/shops and right there along the side of the road was a man hand rolling cigars. He taught us a bit about his craft and we bought a select few to enjoy throughout our trip.
After the drive, the dive! The activity for the day was a discovery scuba class – essentially the first part of getting certified, which includes a bit of pool time and then a few real dives. The real dives were meant to occur in the ocean, however we were told that there was going to be really bad visibility (due to all the recent rains). Thus, we decided to postpone the real dives to Day 5, when the dive school (North Coast Dive School) would be doing a day trip to the same lagoon we were going to be at anyway.
Pool dives done, easy peasy, time for more homemade cocktails! Oh and we not only met Morpheus (see previous post), but we also finally met Matt’s family over dinner!
Erwan’s injury today – a large, weird, unexplained bruise on the inside of his elbow.
Election Day in the US and Storm Trump has arrived!
It started raining again the previous night during dinner – lightly at first, then a bit harder, then harder still. IT. THEN. JUST. WOULD. NOT. STOP. It monsooned throughout the night. By breakfast, it had lightened up a bit, but we were told that the morning’s activity, surfing, would be delayed until the afternoon, since our instructor couldn’t currently get out of his neighbourhood due to “a bit of flooding”. No big deal, we went to yoga instead – at which time, Storm Trump went full throttle. We detail it more in a previous post, but while at yoga, our hotel room flooded and the area was declared a national disaster area. Several people had to be evacuated and people sadly lost homes and livelihoods.
Fortunately for us, the flooding wasn’t too bad. Jen had to dry out all of her clothes (even the clothes that had only just dried out from the horseback ride rain), but none of our stuff was ruined. The day was shot, though – no surfing and no trapeze, which was supposed to be the afternoon’s adventure.
Granted with how Erwan was doing medically, it’s probably a good thing. Erwan’s injury today – a sprained ankle. It was easily remedied with some ice and wrapping it – even though he originally thought he wouldn’t be able to walk for the foreseeable future. In this moment, Jen learned that Erwan had never had a sprained ankle before – such a sensitive soul. . .
Still a flood situation in the area, however we were largely able to stick to the original schedule for the day: a morning visit to the swimming holes at Lagoon Dudu and beach time at Playa Grande.
Lagoon Dudu was great – it was still raining a bit, but that fortunately kept the others away. When we first arrived, we found one of the smaller pools and had the place to ourselves. Despite the rains, despite the election result, Jen found a nice peaceful, happy place. She could have just stayed there. Forever.
Erwan and Matt eventually coaxed her out and we then went to the main pool and completed our scuba dive class. After all, it doesn’t matter that it’s raining when you’re underwater. . . While the lagoon was not as clear as the ocean would have been, it was really atmospheric – creepy sunken dead trees littered the place. And we’re proud to say that Erwan and Jen both passed the class.
We interrupt this story, for a word from our sponsor. . .
Onto the beach! When we left Lagoon Dudu it was actually sunny! Um, not for long. We arrived at the beach, opened some beers, and then it started raining. Again. We took shelter and fortunately, this time it only lasted about 30 minutes – and Jen made some friends. . .
However, it started back up again at dinner. Seriously dude? Erwan is now convinced that the beautiful images of the Dominican Republic coast are all taken on the same one sunny day of the year. We should also mention that throughout all of this, Erwan’s Weather Channel app was still only stating “light rain”.
Erwan’s injury today – his ears weren’t “right” after the dive. “They just weren’t right.”
Yea, so throughout the night, the hotel flooded again. Fortunately, we (and all other guests) were on the floor above, but it was clearly looking like the rest of the itinerary would be a wash out.
The original plan was for us spend the day paddle boarding along a river to a local farm, where we would stay the next couple of days to enjoy the nearby canyoneering opportunities. However, the farm was flooded, the river was three times as wide and dangerous, and canyoneering was seriously questionable due to downed trees, excess water, etc. Were we going to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves? Hell no! We came up with a new adventure plan:
- Although everything was flooded, the rain had now stopped and so we could get that surf lesson in – yea!
- Let’s evacuate ourselves to the south coast and hang out in Santa Domingo instead! It will be an unplanned adventure!
So first, the surf lesson! We had both been once before a few years ago in Barbados, but it clearly stuck with us. Jen was able to fully ride out the very first wave she tried. The instructor was impressed (he originally thought it was her first lesson) and commended her “good balance”. Although it took Erwan a little longer to catch some of the waves, he then was on a roll and caught 5 in a row!
Surfing over, we made our way to the local bus station and caught the next available to the capital city. Four hours and one bottle of rum later, we were in Santo Domingo, checking into Island Life Hostel – definitely recommended – good facilities and friendly staff.
Us evacuating the north coast:
Although we got in fairly late, we still went out on the town enjoyed some really, really good local food – vegetable pinchas for Jen and pork chicharron for Erwan, as well as craft beer from Panama (in preparation for our next stop). The same place also sold local beers from Jen and Matt’s time in Germany!
Erwan’s injury today – blisters on his feet – not sure how he got these, considering the day was spent surfing and on a bus, but at least he’s walking after the “horrible” sprain from before.
The unplanned adventure! We hadn’t prepared to be in Santo Domingo, so had no idea what to expect. Unlike most places we go, we didn’t do any research and hadn’t read anything about the city. Fortunately, we were in the good hands of Matt, who has spent many a weekend there and of course our own rocking urban trekking skills.
We explored the Zona Colonial – the oldest town of the “new world”. Interestingly, it has a mix of Spanish and French architecture due to its varied colonial history. However, if you’ve been to Carthegena, Columbia, it’s not as nice. It’s also not as well preserved as San Juan, Puerto Rico, but it has a nice friendly buzz to it. We got into nice casual conversations with locals and there were a few times that local kids wanted pictures with Jen (blond hair and blue eyes – it’s like living in China, again).
The main city highlights are:
- the Cathedral – first church to be started in the Americas, however not completed in time to actually get the “first” title
- the fort – smaller than we thought it would be and sadly a large factory sits a bit behind it, ruining some views
- Independence Square – a park/monument to three of their founding fathers: Duarte, Sanchez and Mella
- And a little random, they have a Chinatown!
We also learned that the Taino, the original local tribe (same as Puerto Rico) “invented” barbeques and hammocks. Cool people. Check out more photos from the exploration on Jen’s Flickr page:
In the late afternoon, we got to know our hostel mates, but it was clear that we were the old ones. Not only did two French twenty somethings address Erwan with “vous” showing respect, but when we came in from our dinner and drinks out, they were now all heading out to the club. We got a full eight hours of sleep – adventure doesn’t have to be sleep deprived.
Our last and final day in the DR was spent enjoying breakfast and our final time with Matt and saying our goodbyes. It was great to reconnect and he played the perfect host – not just as an old friend, but as the guide of Adventuresque. Despite what Storm Trump threw at him, he was able to keep the fun going, keeping the itinerary flexible, proposing alternative activities and being an overall logistic ninja.
So, if we had to sum up our time in Dominican Republic in one word, it would definitely still be adventure, but we’d like to add a second word as well – wet. . .
Oh! And the soundtrack to the week: