Posted on April 4, 2017
When I told US friends I was moving to The Dominican Republic, several said they’d vacationed there and loved it. Most, like many of my coworkers and school community, enjoyed seclusion at Punta Cana’s resorts where they received five-star treatment. I get it; I loved this stay at Barcelo Bavaro Grand Resort last fall. Perfection…or at least one version of it. But like my friend from home, Sara, who said she had wanted to see the “real DR,” I also understand why many local friends love the Samana area for adventure and authenticity. I especially like Las Terrenas because of its “mom and pop” properties–private apartments and beach bars I remember from my childhood summers in Florida.
I love the laid back vibe of the province of Samana and will be forever grateful for the good times spent there with friends —horseback riding, swimming in a waterfall, drinking pina coladas on a small island off the main island, and whale watching in Samana Bay. I’ve seen couples enjoying different stages of life together there, too–newlyweds, retirees, and recently a pair from Canada who decided to pack up, move south, start a beach business, and live the dream.
I’ve always been fascinated with expats reinventing their lives in faraway places, like folks I met in Marrakesh like Aussie Alexandra featured on this blog who are doing just that. Likewise, Samana has enticed many from North America and Europe to move to the Caribbean.
Something pulls people here–even if just for a weekend. Anyone who travels regularly from Santo Domingo knows the thrill of coming around this curve, parking on the roadside lookout point, and thinking I’ve arrived. Paradise pops in Renoir-rich blue and green until sunset softens the sky with Monet-muted purples and pinks. This place definitely leaves an impression.
Riding through the province of Samana is also colorful. Mountain homes teeter on cliffs and balance above deep ditches while motorcycles and cars careen around curves.
Last January I loved the villa where my friends were married and vowed to stay in such a place near the hub of town on my next trip. I had instead chosen an all- inclusive in El Portillo because I’d snagged a Daily Deal on Booking.com. I looked forward to pondering possibilities for the new year and not having to decide where to eat or what to cook sounded relaxing.
I left Nashville on a redeye flight after the holidays, had a layover in Miami, then a three-hour bus ride from the Santo Domingo airport. Seventeen hours later, I was excited to finally drop my bag in the room and head for the fridge. I’d planned to grab a beer, order room service, and take a hot bath in the Jacuzzi, but the fridge was empty, room service was not included, and the bath jets were dead. When I went to the terrace to regroup before making the trek back to the front desk, the sliding glass door’s lock fell to the floor. Two days and multiple hikes to the front desk later, I was moved to a room where everything but the safe worked. It was fixed a day later. But on the very bright side–where I like to focus–the weather was perfect, and I loved dancing/exercising at the pool with fun instructors, great music, and guests from Europe. Hearing French, German, Italian, and Spanish on the beach was sweet as was eating every meal on the water, Brazilian steak night, the Crème brûlée, and the French man who sang while couples danced in the dark (see video at bottom).
Posted on March 17, 2017
Spring break may be in April this year in The Dominican Republic, but spring flings have been happening here for awhile. Every January-March humpback whales go rogue—migrating to Samana from Greenland and Iceland over 3000 miles away. Dr. Ken De Pree, author of Whales of Samana, likens their mating behavior in Dominican waters of Samana Bay, Silver and Navidad Banks to humans cruising singles bars. To attract the ladies, males croon tunes, form bromances to size up the competition, then brawl-it- out with up to nineteen rivals for the most fertile female. Breaching, tail slashing, body slamming each other– sometimes even drawing blood–there’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on. Pregnant moms then carry calves for eleven-twelve months, give birth, and nurse another eleven months until their babies are strong enough to make the journey back to the North Atlantic.
Whale watching ranked top of my DR Bucket List since moving here in 2016. Thanks to my friend, Sana, who booked Kim Beddall, an English- speaking Marine Mammal Specialist with Whale Samana, and her husband, Steve, who booked a car to get us there, we set sail last Sunday on Pura Mia, a 55- foot custom whale watching vessel. We loved returning to beautiful Samana Bay.
Since humpbacks are the most active species of whales anytime, knowing our boat would be a bit bigger than creatures that average 40-50 feet and weigh 30-40 tons (the record is 59 feet and 60 tons) was reassuring. Even so, the traffic of an estimated 1500 whales—400 that congregate at one time in rough waters in Samana Bay– made for some rocking and rolling on the waves. The tour company offers Dramamine, but most, like me, who had never been seasick didn’t take it. A rookie mistake. Thankfully pressure point bracelets, Sprite, and crackers helped as an hour in many of us were turning green.
We were serenaded by a male’s song by way of a recording played on the ship. Only males sing and can hear each other twenty miles away. Jacques Costeau called them the “Carusos of the Deep.” Prior to 1952 when the first scientist captured their song on tape, sailors and whalers were spooked by haunting sounds from beneath their ships. Though that mystery was solved, there are still many unknowns about humpbacks and what lies beneath.
Sources: Whales of Samana by author Ken De Pree, PhD, who has studied humpbacks near Samana since 1987, and contributors Osvaldo Vasquez, a leader among Dominican scientists in the study of humpbacks and Kim Beddell, founder of whale watching in Samana Bay in 1984-85. Also special thanks to Kim Beddell for amazing information given at sea.
Posted on October 30, 2016
After a Domincan breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and rice, papaya, mofongo we were back on the van following the blue bus above deep into the jungle. It is estimated the Dominican Republic has 1.5 billion USD in marble, most of it mined in the Samana province. When we explored Mina de Marmol I again wished my dad was with me. He’d worked in a rock quarry for years in Kentucky.
From there we headed to Boca Del Diablo, the Mouth of the Devil, a blowhole where the sea churns beneath and sounds like a dragon breathing until it spews water up and out the cliff’s surface above. I was so excited to get this on video that when I heard the ocean churning I took off too fast across an overgrown path and tripped on the jagged stones under the vegetation. Semi-dehydrated, when I was pulled to my feet and looked down upon a 2- inch strip of skin hanging like crepe paper from bloody gashes in my knee I almost fainted. Thankfully Steve and Sana took my camera and got the shots of the cliff below.
Though only my traveling companions spoke English, a kind lady on our van from Ecuador gave me some antibiotic cream and our guide brought a bottle of water from the cooler. Afraid I would vomit or faint, I poured the water over my head and felt better.
In the van as we headed to the beach, I thought about my first instinct after the shock of being bit by the devil’s mouth.
Blindsided by going down, I turned on myself: What are you thinking going on an adventure like this at your age? Living outside the US? This is all a bad idea.
As my friend, Kim, and I have discussed often, when blindsided we feel shocked and vulnerable as I did in an earthquake in Costa Rica or a van wreck in Morocco. The impact of being taken down unexpectedly shakes lose accumulated hurts and hard times bringing us to our knees literally.
Challenges with this move had been churning in me for awhile and, released by my fall, they blew inside my head. Once I could be as kind to myself as others were to me, I was back on track and headed to the next beach. The next day I’d get a stronger antibiotic
but at our next stop beauty would make me forget the pain and I’d plunge into the cleanest, most beautiful waters I’d ever seen. The salt began healing my body at the gorgeous Las Galeras and I was again so grateful for the chance to see all I’ve seen on this island. Here we played in the water and had delicious fish for lunch.
Posted on October 29, 2016
I understand now why local friends kept saying they love vacationing in Samana. While Punta Cana on the easternmost tip of The Dominican Republic is better known by tourists for mammoth all-inclusive resorts, Samana on the north shore is more a Mom and Pop kind of place–pristine and private. The beach above, Caylo Levanto, is perfection– an isle off the main island in Samana Bay.
Griselda (left) whose family is from the DR arranged the weekend for Sana, Steve, and me. She said we wouldn’t believe how beautiful Samana province/peninsula is. She was right. Our van took off at 7 AM Saturday and by midmorning we were on a boat headed for paradise.