Five million tourists visit the Dominican Republic annually, and they all seemed to be in line with me to enter the country. (You have to love a government who charges you $10.00 a person to visit their country...before they have even checked your documents.) Just after the cash is a Merengue band playing the traditional Dominican music while you clear customs and gather your bags. The sunshine, the music and the Caribbean breeze...the mood is festive for this month of Carnivale celebration in the Dominican Republic when every Sunday is a celebration of the island nation's 1844 independence from their Haitian neighbors.
I spent the first few days of my 7 day visit to Punta Cana like most of the other 5 millions tourists (according to my Apple Vacations tour representative 85% of those visiting are from North America and the other from Europe) eating, drinking, hanging out at the beach. (I am looking to improve my Spanish so I spent a few of those hours taking Spanish lessons by the pool and conversing with native speakers). I have to admit, the above was the only items on my personal itinerary (I did inspect a few resorts while here, a sort of 'bus man's. holiday).
"Outback Safari, it is our most popular tour, you should go", said Romer my Apple representative. Now you who know and love me know 'Outback' to me is a restaraunt and 'Safari' is something you do in Africa. I politely smiled and went to change the subject when, Romer continued. "This is a chance to see the real Domicican Republic. Go up in the mountains, visit a local school. Go to a local farm and see how they grown and process the agricultural products of the country: pineapple, sugar, cocoa, and coffee." I did and I am so glad I did. The mountain back roads were rutted and very bumpy, the large jeep struggling and bucking up the mountain...once we arrived it was all worth it. Gone were the bathing suits, the fruity cocktails and the smell of suntan lotion. Cool breezes from the mountain and lush vegetation surrounded us. as we saw farming demonstrations and tasted local coffee, sugar, chocolate and vanilla all grown on the local farm. The farmers home would be considered rustic by North American standards, but it was charming all the same and the smells coming the from the detached kitchen were making my mouth water. The day ended with a visit to a public beach in the Macau portion of Punta Cana. 90% of Domiican citizens work in the tourism industry (the number one industry in the country followed by agriculure) with 65,000 of them in the Punta Cana hotel zone. Most work 5.5 days, the families at the Macau beach happy to enjoy each other's company by the shore.
During my visit I have enjoyed authentic Domincan cuisine ( dominated by beans, rice, meat and plantains), seeing the countryside; and especially getting to know the Dominican people. The history of the Dominican people is not that different than our own, native people inhabiting an area, being 'discovered' by Europeans and the forced immigration of Africans. The Dominicans however, make it work so much better. The three groups have blended over the century to create the modern Dominican. Dominicans consider themselves, 'faceless'. a true blending in harmony of their three tiered ancestry.
Well enough history and culture. I am back to the beach to work on my tan, which was my number one goal before I got here. I am very happy to report that while I may not be returning home wth a 'savage tan'. I leave with a better understanding of the place I visited. And my blog readers will know that is my favorite kind of souvenier.