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All is calm at night in Punta Cana

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					All is calm at night in Punta Cana.
 .
DR.
The



Will See You Now
  LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE? FROM
  PUNTA CANA TO SANTO DOMINGO TO
  PUERTO PLATA, THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
  DELIVERS. Text And Photos By Steve Larese
L
                                                                   As we approach Sabana de la Mar,
                                                                   I suddenly comprehend the old
     ike Christopher Columbus before me, I have set out to         adage about the journey being
explore the Dominican Republic. And like Columbus, I have
no idea where I am. Fortunately, my wife, Kat, does. She and
                                                                   more important than the destination.
I are driving across the D.R. to discover this beautiful country
for ourselves, and I have two things Columbus didn’t: Kat’s        winter nights. Its topography and size make the D.R. a haven
sense of direction, and a GPS unit for backup.                     for a range of flora and fauna.
    What Columbus thought was Asia is today an emerging                As for history, here it is in a nutshell: After Columbus
country excited about its future, and is welcoming the rest of     arrives, the Spanish enslave the native Taíno Indians, but
the world through tourism. On this trip, we’ve decided to          the harsh conditions lead to disease, decimating the tribe.
explore what Columbus called “the most beautiful land that         Africans are subsequently forced into slavery and shipped to
human eyes have ever seen.” Our plan: Fly to Punta Cana on         Hispaniola. In the capital, Santo Domingo, the New World’s
the east coast, and stay close by for a few days; then drive       first paved street, university, and hospital are built. Spain looks
west to Santo Domingo; and finally, north to Puerto Plata,          to broaden its interests in the Americas, and the French move
where we’ll stay a few more days before flying out. We’ll be        in and colonize the western third of the island, which becomes
traveling all over the eastern half of the D.R., and we’re         Haiti in 1804. What follows for the D.R. (then known, like
determined to venture off the beaten path. Not that there          the capital, as Santo Domingo) are nearly two centuries of
really is a beaten path in the D.R.                                unrest: Haiti rules it for 22 years, until 1844 when, led by
    Today we’re enjoying a relatively short day-trip — a test      national hero Juan Pablo Duarte, independence is won, and
run, if you will — driving northwest along the east coast from     the country is renamed the Dominican Republic. There’s a
our resort in Punta Cana to Sabana de la Mar in our rented Kia     brief return to Spanish rule, then nearly a decade of U.S.
Picanto, which we’ve dubbed “la Niña” — our small tribute to       occupation, and 30 years of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s brutal
Columbus. The verdant, rolling Dominican countryside is            dictatorship. Much of the next 35 years is spent under the
breathtaking, unlike anything we’ve seen in the Caribbean.         tight grip of a former Trujillo crony. Finally, in 1996, with the
    As we pass through villages with colorful homes, neatly        election of Leonel Fernández, the country turns a corner.
uniformed school children and other locals wave at the two         Nearly 15 years later, the D.R. is an independent democracy
turistas bouncing down their road. Stopping at small fruit         with enthusiastic, fair elections.
stands along the way, we find that the proprietors and cus-             Indeed, everywhere we drive, campaign signs depicting
tomers are pleasantly surprised to see foreigners, and they        smiling men and women decorate utility poles and store-
seem eager to share their country with us. It takes us five         fronts. The government has announced that it will invest
hours to drive 70 miles — partly due to our self-imposed           US$1 billion in tourism development by 2012, and foreign
detours, partly thanks to the bumpy roads that la Niña clearly     investment has increased dramatically. At the same time, the
loathes — but as we approach Sabana de la Mar, I suddenly          D.R. is protecting many of its natural resources, which will
comprehend the old adage about the journey being more              foster ecotourism and create jobs. And its outpouring of post-
important than the destination.                                    earthquake aid to Haiti has established a new era of trust
                                                                   between the two neighbors.
Taínos, Trujillo, And Today
To appreciate the Dominican Republic in the 21st century,          At Bay
it helps to know a little about the country’s land and its         Near Sabana de la Mar, we find a quiet fishing village with
storied past.                                                      colorful boats. We were expecting more development, but
    At 18,815 square miles, the D.R. is a little more than twice   the peaceful scene is just what we need after the long ride.
the size of New Hampshire. It shares a 224-mile border with            Across the 10-mile-wide Bay of Samaná is the town of
Haiti to the west, and together the two countries make up the      Samaná, where whale-watching tours originate. Our map
island of Hispaniola. (Despite Haiti’s tragic January earth-       shows a ferry route crossing the water from here. I show the
quake, travel to the Dominican Republic has not been               symbol to a local, who manages a chuckle.
                                                                                                                                          Dominicana Maps




affected.) The D.R. is quite mountainous in its interior; in           “No ferry here,” he says in Spanish. “But for 300 pesos
fact, 10,416-foot Pico Duarte is the Caribbean’s highest peak,     [US$9] I could take you across.” We take him up on his offer,
and temperatures there can actually dip below freezing on          and when we arrive on the other side of the bay, I ask about


50 INTERVAL WORLD ■ Summer 2010                                                                                       IntervalWorld.com
                                                                 Colorful Haitian art is displayed
                                                                 on a Punta Cana beach.




                    The highlighted routes ind
                                               icate the roads
                    the author took from Pun
                                             ta Cana (A) to
                    Sabana de la Mar (B), and
                                               Punta Cana to
                    Boca de Yuma (C) to La Rom
                                                 ana (D) to
                    Santo Domingo (E) to Pue
                                             rto Plata (F).




IntervalWorld.com
the ballenas (humpback whales).
We’re directed to Roberto, who oper-
ates his tour company from a small
building. He tells us we’re about a
week too early for the whales, who
mate here from mid-January through
March before migrating north to
feed. Instead, we pay Roberto 1,500
pesos (US$42) each for a boat tour of
the Parque Nacional los Haitises, an
83-square-mile nature preserve of
mangroves reached only by water.
    The D.R. boasts an impressive
number of protected natural areas,
including 19 national parks and six
scientific reserves, and that number is
growing. Some — such as the
Santuario de Mamíferos Marinos,
north of the Samaná Peninsula — are
underwater sanctuaries that cater to
divers. In all, several species of sea tur-
tles, 303 types of birds, 33 land
mammals, and 5,600 varieties of plants
are found in the country, and that’s not
to mention the sea life that abounds in
the coral reefs. Gazing at the unspoiled
waters of the Bay of Samaná, we can
see the seeds of ecotourism germinate.                          It’s a bit difficult to
                                                                find, but persevere,
                                                                because Ponce de
Nice And Leisurely                                              León’s fortress-like
Later, back at our resort near Punta Cana, we’re enjoying the   home near San
amenities of our all-inclusive resort. The white-powder beach   Rafael del Yuma
                                                                provides a
slips under lapping waves, and Kat and I lose track of time     fascinating glimpse
lounging under coconut trees. We stroll the beach, admiring     of the explorer’s life
Haitian paintings for sale at a stall, before enjoying pre-     and times.
                                                                INSET: Ponce de
dinner cocktails as we try to decide which of the resort’s      León’s original
restaurants we should try tonight. After dinner, we briefly      furniture, including
consider catching a Dominican-themed show, but we have a        his bed, are intact
                                                                inside the house.
long drive tomorrow, so we retire to our room.
                                                                LEFT: Carnival is a
                                                                countrywide festival,
A Tale Of Two Yumas                                             with each town
Kat and I have packed our bags, and we’re ready to trade our    adding its diverse
                                                                masks, costumes,
home base on the east coast for one in Puerto Plata. We have    characters, music,
a 250-mile ride ahead of us and many places to see along the    and celebrations.
way. La Niña heads south toward San Rafael del Yuma, near
the home of Juan Ponce de León, who arrived on Hispaniola
in 1493, after Columbus’ second voyage. An experienced


52 INTERVAL WORLD ■ Summer 2010                                     IntervalWorld.com
soldier, he put down Taíno rebellions,                                                                Original furniture, including his bed,
gained favor with the Spanish Crown,                                                                  as well as his armor and artifacts found
and mined for gold in Puerto Rico. In                                                                 on the grounds provide us with a
1513, Ponce de León set sail, landing in                                                              glimpse at life here in the 16th century.
what he would name Florida. His main                                                                  (In case you have trouble finding
mission was to find gold, but legend has                                                               the home, the GPS coordinates we
him searching in vain for the Fountain                                                                recorded for the house are N 18º26.482,
of Youth.                                                                                             W 068º40.752.)
    The Fountain of Youth might be                                                                        Continuing south a few miles, we
easier to find than his house. We’re                                                                   arrive at Boca de Yuma, a fishing vil-
expecting billboards pointing to what                                                                 lage just north of the Parque Nacional
we’re sure is a major tourist draw, but          The catch of the day for sale in Boca de Yuma.       del Este and Isla Saona, which is an
there’s nothing along quiet Highway 4                                                                 island nature preserve. Again, we’re
but fields of sugar cane. Our GPS shows we’re near the area,                   surprised that this gorgeous piece of oceanfront property
so we begin asking residents of San Rafael del Yuma for                       isn’t overrun with tourists and hotels. We stop at Brújula
directions. After a right and a left, we pass a cemetery, then we             Restaurant, where a man named Rafael introduces us to the
come to a dirt road that rises toward the Río Duey. We perk                   popular santo libre — rum and Sprite. We dine on seafood
up as we notice an open wooden gate with the hours of                         that must have been swimming an hour ago, and watch
operation hand-painted on it. Past the gate, we’re elated to                  locals play dominos on their lunch break.
discover Ponce de León’s stately two-story home, a fortress of                     After lunch, we stroll down the main street, passing by a
a structure. A guide greets us and unchains the massive front                 woman selling freshly caught lobster. After learning that we’re
doors. We pay 30 pesos (less than $1) each and explore the                    turistas, the woman asks us why we’re here. “Porque es bonito”
explorer’s home, which he shared with his wife and children.                  (“Because it’s pretty”), we respond. The woman puts down

Altos de Chavón overlooks the Chavón River.
Paramount Pictures’
Robert Coppa
designed Altos
de Chavón as a
faithful replica of a
16th-century
Mediterranean village.
LEFT: At Altos de
Chavón, a doll maker
sells her wares.
RIGHT: A hat maker
works the straw.
her lobster and takes us by the hand, leading us around a cor-     with good reason. Bluhdorn, whose company owned
ner to the ruins of a Spanish fort with rusty cannons              Paramount Pictures, adored the D.R. Paramount set designer
overlooking the bay. Men cast nets from brightly painted           Robert Coppa designed Altos de Chavón, and Dominican
boats bobbing in the turquoise water. Scanning for dolphins        fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, a good friend of the exec-
per her instructions, and sipping Presidente beer, we begin to     utive, decorated the hotel rooms at Casa de Campo, where
wonder how much a house would cost here.                           Bluhdorn entertained many movie execs and stars. The coun-
                                                                   try served as a stand-in for Cuba in The Godfather: Part II,
Mediterranean On The Caribbean                                     and the Chavón River played the part of the Mekong in
Puerto Plata is still far away, and we’ve been itching to check    Apocalypse Now. Perhaps if Bluhdorn hadn’t died returning
out nearby Altos de Chavón, so we hit the road. Near La            from the D.R. to the U.S. in 1983, the country would be a
Romana, on the grounds of the Casa de Campos resort, Altos         Caribbean Hollywood today.
de Chavón is a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean vil-            We walk over to the Regional Museum of Archeology. The
lage. Built in the 1980s by Gulf+Western founder Charles           curator, Diógenes, discusses the many Taíno artifacts, art, and
Bluhdorn as a cultural center for the people of the Dominican      diagrams on display, and we leave Altos de Chavón for Santo
Republic, Altos de Chavón seems fantastically out of place in      Domingo all the more impressed than when we arrived.
the D.R. Dominicans in period dress mill about, available for
photo opportunities. Artisans sell their wares, and bistros lend   Capital Gains
the place a modern European flair. A paddleboat straight out        On our way west to Santo Domingo, we stop and watch a
of a Mark Twain story churns the waters of the Chavón River,       few innings of a youth baseball practice. Baseball is next to
and off in the distance, the world-renowned Dye Fore Golf          religion in the D.R., and many Dominicans, including Albert
Course, designed by Pete Dye, challenges even expert players.      Pujols, Hanley Ramírez, and Sammy Sosa have played pro-
    The whole surreal scene reminds us of a movie set, and         fessionally in the United States. The kids look at us quizzically




Couples still marry at the ruins of
the Monasterio de San Francisco,
which was constructed nearly
500 years ago.
until I say they’re the next Sammy Sosas, then they put on a         Port Authority
show that makes me believe it.                                       Puerto Plata was a major tobacco port, and its colorful
     While driving in the rural Dominican Republic, we               Victorian buildings with gingerbread fretwork reflect those
encountered bad roads and scary driving; now, as we                  times and European influence. The city was founded in
approach Santo Domingo, the roads have improved, but the             1502, and was named for the silver-ish hue of its beaches at
driving, well, put it this way: The only traffic law we can dis-      sunset. It lies at the base of 2,800-foot Pico Isabel de Torres,
cern is, Don’t hit anyone or anything; otherwise, it’s a bit of a    whose peak we access via a 20-minute cable-car ride. It’s a
free-for-all. And yet, in our entire time driving here we don’t      clear day, and the views of the ocean and surrounding
see one accident. Somehow, it works. Kat, a MINI Cooper              mountains are stunning.
driver at home, steers la Niña like she was born here.                   Closer to sea level, there is a charming plaza with a two-
     Arriving in the capital, we’re delighted to find a decidedly     story Belgian-designed gazebo called La Glorieta, which has
European city rich with history. We park near the 12-block           become the symbol of Puerto Plata. Just two blocks away is
Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; nearby, res-            the must-see Museo del Ámbar. Once the home of a wealthy
idents enjoy the restaurants, shops, and sites alongside tourists.   entrepreneurial German family, the museum contains an
     We start at the Parque Colón, where a statue of                 exceptional collection of prehistoric insects and lizards
Christopher Columbus points skyward in front of the Gothic           preserved in amber — fossilized tree resin, likely from a now-
Catedral de Santa María la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the        extinct species of a prehistoric tree. The museum enjoyed its
New World. Calle las Damas, the first
paved street in the New World, leads us
to the Alcázar de Colón, the palace of
                                              The kids look at us quizzically until I say they’re
Columbus’ son Diego, who governed             the next Sammy Sosas, then they put on a show
here. At the Torre del Homenaje, we
imagine soldiers watching from the
                                              that makes me believe it.
tower for English buccaneers; and in the
national pantheon of Independence
Park we pay respects to the Dominican
heroes, such as Duarte, who are
entombed here.
     Famished, Kat and I find a sidewalk
table along Las Atarazanas, a row of
16th-century warehouses that now
house cafes and shops. In the distance,
we can make out the modern Columbus
Lighthouse, a glass structure built in
1992 to commemorate the 500th
anniversary of Columbus’ first landing.
Its light can be seen from Puerto Rico,
and the explorer’s remains finally rest
here, after having been moved many
times throughout the centuries.
     At night, Santo Domingo lights up
with merengue clubs and bars, but we
get back in the car, navigating the city
streets until we find Highway 1 north to
Puerto Plata, the Silver Port.


56 INTERVAL WORLD ■ Summer 2010
Santo Domingo, the oldest European
settlement in the Americas, retains a
Continental flavor.




 Wood carvings make great souvenirs     Dominican heroes, including Juan Pablo Duarte, are
 of a Dominican Republic vacation.      entombed in the pantheon of Independence Park.
                                                                                                  The graceful La Glorieta gazebo (background)
                                                                                                         has become a symbol of Puerto Plata.




15 minutes of fame in the movie Jurassic Park, in which DNA extracted
                                                                                             fastFACTS
                                                                                     RESORT DIRECTORY: IntervalWorld.com
from the museum’s collection leads to the rebirth of dinosaurs. Puerto
Plata amber is considered among the best and clearest in the world, and              or pages 167 to 168 and 173

the museum has a gift shop where specimens and jewelry may be pur-                   CLIMATE: Expect high temperatures between
chased. Kat buys a pair of earrings made of larimar, a turquoise-like                80°F and 90°F throughout the year in the D.R.’s
mineral that is found in only one mine worldwide, in the Dominican                   coastal areas. The fall can be rainy at times.
province of Bahoruco.                                                                CURRENCY: Dominican peso
     At the tip of Puerto Plata’s beachfront malecón, we explore the pic-            SALES TAX: 16%
turesque 16th-century San Felipe Fortress, with its still-present cannons            TIPPING: A 10% surcharge is added to the
primed to pick off nonexistent pirates. As with so many things in the D.R.,          bill at restaurants; add the equivalent of
it’s the oldest of its kind in the New World.                                        another dollar or two for good service. For taxi
     Before retiring to our resort to drink in the Dominican sun on the              drivers, tipping isn’t necessary, but giving a
beach, Kat and I take the tour of the Brugal rum factory, which was                  little extra is appreciated.
founded in Puerto Plata in 1888. The D.R. has been a leading rum maker               INTERVAL TRAVEL: IntervalWorld.com
for centuries, beginning not long after Columbus first brought sugar cane             RENTAL CAR: Recommended
here from the Canary Islands. We enjoy our free samples at the end of the
                                                                                     CONTACT: Altos de Chavón,
tour, and it immediately becomes clear why Brugal is a national favorite.
                                                                                     casadecampo.com.do; Zona Colonial,
     Before long, we’re finally appreciating what so many come to the
                                                                                     colonialzone-dr.com; Museo del Ámbar,
D.R. for: beautiful beaches and lulling Caribbean waves. After a few
                                                                                     ambermuseum.com; Brugal, brugal.com.do
hours, the sun begins to ignite the clouds with a pastel palette, and we
                                                                                     VISITOR INFORMATION:
decide to take a stroll. A boy approaches us and holds out his hand,
                                                                                     Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
revealing several ornate shells that he has collected.
     “Lo siento.” I apologize and tell him I don’t have any money.                   888.374.6361
     “Es un regalo,” he says. A gift. Placing the shells in my hand, he smiles       godominicanrepublic.com
and walks off, and leaves us with the perfect way to remember the                    hispaniola.com
Dominican Republic. ■                                                                        MAKE AN EXCHANGE
                                                                                           OR PURCHASE A GETAWAY
Albuquerque-based writer and photographer Steve Larese is a regular contributor to         AT INTERVALWORLD.COM.
Interval World. He wrote about St. Maarten in the Spring 2010 issue.




58 INTERVAL WORLD ■ Summer 2010                                                                                                   IntervalWorld.com
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