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The Dominican, part two: Los Haitises

In my last post, I started writing about a fabulous spring break trip Denise and I took to the Dominican Republic.  After a few days in Santiago, we spent time lolling about the beach at Las Terrenas and enjoyed a great trip to a waterfall with our son’s college group.  At that point, the end of the trip was near.

On our last full day in the D.R., we get up early and have breakfast on the beach.  We are a bit sad knowing our trip is coming to a close, but we also know that adventure still awaits.

After breakfast, we pile into buses and head south on windy roads to the port town of Samaná.  Once there, the group mills about the waterfront and its sunglass and t-shirt hawkers while the advisors sort out trip logistics.  Eventually we board a large boat with two decks.  Soon, a guide is talking to us, mostly in Spanish, as the boat moves away from the docks.

Samana Boat

Setting out across Bahia de Samaná, all smiles.

Land recedes slowly as we cross a massive bay toward a national park known as Los Haitises.   The hour long trip is uneventful until we near  the south side of the bay.  Sailboats are tied up before an undulating, lush green shoreline.   It could have been a set for Pirates of the Caribbean V.  Our guide points out limestone cliffs and rare birds and discusses the history of the native Taino people. We tie up at a rickety dock installed against an overgrown hillside, ready to move about.

The boat’s crew lowers kayaks into the water.   Denise, Casey, Maya, and I clamber down a ladder and, in a couple minutes, we gain a semblance of paddling coordination.  Being at water level and observing the natural world is fascinating.  The interplay of water, rock, vegetation, and sunlight from the height of the kayaks is almost magical.  Did I mention the weather is perfect?

In short order, we nose the kayaks into the channels of a mangrove swamp whose entrance lies in a nearby cove.


Casey and Maya paddling

Some of the students do not get the gist of kayaking.  They laugh and bump into logs, rocks, and other kayaks.  A guides teases one pair, holding their stern line when it trails in the water.  When the paddlers notice the dead weight, there is  mock indignation on their part and laughter from the rest of us.


The peaceful and mysterious mangrove swamp

We paddle into the swamp for almost half an hour, finding low hanging branches and crabs lurking on spiderlike root systems. Limestone cliffs jut from the water, and we navigate myriad complex channels.   It feels like a puzzle.   I could happily explore for  hours, but we must head back to the boat.

Lunch is great, and everyone seems relaxed.  Some of the students jump into the water from the upper deck.  I follow suit, somewhat tentatively. Then we switch groups and pick up flashlights.  A cave tour is next.

Cave mouth

The somewhat ominous maw of the cave

The cave is not mammoth, but experiencing it is fascinating, including seeing how people react to the darkness.  A number of the students have never been in a cave before.  Curses, laughter, whispers, and phrases like “wow” and “ohmigod” appear.  Highlights of the venture include stalactites, flowstone draperies, a squeeze passage, and bats.  In one area, the cave’s ceiling opens to the sky, and a densely vined and twined ficus tree grows out of it.  Nearby, in a dark slot, green light emanates from the sun-lit waters creeping beneath the limestone.  We are that close to the outside.  On the way out, we see humanoid petroglyphs.  Denise and I agree that the cave is amazing, and we are very pleased with the day’s adventure.


Ancient cave petroglyph

The boat ride back is rough, and spray kicks up over the bow and sides of the boat.  Multiple people get queasy, although it doesn’t bother me.  People are tired and chilly, but most seem very content with the excursion.

On the return leg of the bus trip, we stop at a house and buy a giant wheel shaped loaf of bread.  The carbs contribute to some heavy napping. That night, our last, we have a grand meal on the beach.  Later, we drink a wee bit of Dominican rum and play silly games in people’s rooms late into the night.

Beachside Dinner

Maya, Casey, and friends at beachside dinner. Ahhhh.

A taxi comes for us at five a.m. Half an hour into the drive, bleary eyed, we spy a body on the side of the road.  The taxi driver does not want to stop, but we find la policia and alert them.  Hopefully, the man is just blackout drunk.  The mood becomes a tad somber, and once we are at the airport, I consider the darker aspects of our trip.  There is obvious poverty, pollution is bad in places, and racism is apparent.  Yet that cannot override the great experience we have had, and I consider a return.  Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean at over 9000 feet, calls out to be climbed.  Until then, however, I am happy to fly back to the States, dreaming in Spanish.

Hikers of the world, unite!

Welcome to Hiking Northwest!  I plan to slowly build content about hiking in Oregon and Washington, with occasional ventures further afield.  There is a lot of generic coverage of popular hiking spots and trendy new equipment, but I want to go beyond the obvious.  I will also write about gear and how to use it, from emergency firestarter to ever important boots to treking poles, hydration systems, and more.  I also want to touch on the mistakes I see less experienced hikers make regularly, especially at those popular trails on holiday weekends.

As far as my credentials, I am not only an avid hiker, but I have experience on foot as a U.S. Marine, a wilderness ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, and a volunteer firefighter going out on trail rescues.

At the foot of Barrett Spur

In my element

I have hiked thousands of miles across the West, and I’ve climbed many peaks in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, New York, and New Hampshire.  If my knees and back hold up, I’d like that list to continue growing.Being in the wilderness with a small pack is normal for  me, and I love to write, but publishing a blog will be a different kind of adventure.  If you have ideas for stories or content you would like to see, please drop me a line.  Thanks, and happy hiking.