Erika and the Dominican Republic

Hurricane Erika or the remnants of it passed by Florida over the weekend without much impact. It was raining the whole day Monday in Melbourne and Florida (not sure if it was the whole state though but I doubt it) was put on a flood alert after days of frenzied news updates about the possibility of then tropical storm Erika turning into the state’s first hurricane of the season.

This hurricane blasted through the Caribbean though and brought much damage to Dominica, Puerto Rico and Haiti.

Being away from home for a long time was a first for us, so we monitored the news like a hawk, even asking our local friends their opinions if we needed to put up the hurricane shutters. In true Floridian fashion, most said that we don’t need to, unless it was a Category 3. Thank God for real honest to goodness local people who take the much exaggerated weather news with a grain of salt. And thank God for friends who are willing to put up our hurricane shutters if need be. We don’t know what to do without them!

With the event of this storm passing through Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, particularly Samana and the Dominican Tree House Village came to my mind. Not too long ago, my hubby and I had a quick unforgettable four day trip to this country. We felt we developed such a strong connection to the staff at the Tree House that by the end of our trip, they all seemed like family to us. So it is but natural to worry about how they fared during the hurricane.

The next day, a Facebook post from their page was put up saying they were luckily spared from the wrath of the rains and the winds and that everyone was safe and no property was damaged. I was happy to hear that!

This post is a throwback to our good ol’ Samana days.

11000475_10153300847883166_7088675196777288318_n
The Tree House Village. This is the main tree house cottage and the highest one at that too. Not much room inside though. But I bet the views are amazing!
IMG_3591
The fire pit, where when it wasn’t raining, guests and staff hang out after dinner to talk, play games and/or just to relax (the unlimited rum helps too!)
IMG_3454
The main highway connecting Santo Domingo to Samana. A 3-hr drive. No speed limits here.
IMG_3456
Local roadside scenes
IMG_3463
When you see this horse sculpture, you are in “downtown” Samana
DSCN0318
Pretty colored buildings lining the main road in town facing Samana bay
DSCN0494
A real dried up riverbed/road leading to the back entrance of the Tree House Village
DSCN0486
One of the many wooden hanging bridges over the road leading up to the Tree House Village. Note some of its planks are missing!
DSCN0271
Lush jungle mountain top views from the zip line area
IMG_2226
Just another random crazy shot
DSCN0433
Fruit stand
DSCN0428
Surf School
DSCN0425
Kite surfing lessons here?
DSCN0396
They knew how to fry their fish!!!
DSCN0324
We stopped for some local rum to bring home as souvenirs
DSCN0325
Alcohol on one side, baby milk on the other. Any strategic marketing relevance?
DSCN0347
Steps leading to Cascada El Salto de Limon
DSCN0376
Cascada El Salto de Limon. A very crowded touristy destination but worth a trip there on horse back. You may want to arrive early to beat the crowds.

And that is it. Samana in a nutshell!

Hope y’all enjoyed my photos!

What Makes a Place Special?

It’s People.

No matter how many beautiful tourist spots there are to see, even with breathtaking sceneries, and no matter how jaw dropping the architectural wonders are, if the people are not friendly, and not welcoming and you, at the same time, haven’t interacted with a single person either, then that place will just be another check off your bucket list. Lifeless, soul-less, without meaning.

To me, the people you meet along the way are what makes your journey memorable, more colorful and worth talking about. The exchanges with the locals, young and old alike, regardless of the cultural, religious or language differences are what matters. In fact, it is in breaking down these obvious barriers and looking past them that you get to truly experience the heart of a place, a country and it’s people.

Meet some of the people that made our trip to Samana in the Dominican Republic special. They have touched my life in one way or the other.

From the smiling young boy named Jonathan who helped take away our bikes and then held my hand to guide me down the steep path to the riverbank, to Memem, the slightly crazy adrenaline junkie zip line guide, to Ramon, my horse guide, ever so gentle and yet despite the huge language barrier treated me like his daughter, to Jackie, one of the many wonderful smiling staff at the Tree House who made sure we had a wonderful time and to that random guy who proudly showed me the fried fish he cooked that day for lunch. If you just take time to look around you, listen to people’s stories and be in the Now, these are the moments that are extra special!

dompeeps

I also took some street shots that show how communal they are and that they like to be around lots of people, hanging out, having fun and talking. The streets are always busy and alive. They like to sit outside their homes or their yards and play loud music and sing or dance. One thing I have observed here is that the Domincans love their music!

The last photo at the bottom right shows a funeral procession, pretty much the way we do it in the Philippines, with some people walking and some in cars.

streetshotsamana

In your travels, do you take time to interact with the locals too? Are you interested to learn and listen to what they have to say?

Deserted Beaches and Overcrowded Waterfalls, Yay or Nay?

Our recent trip to Samaná in the Dominican Republic was mostly for us to unplug and digitally detox from the modern world, not totally though, as I’m sure you know what I mean. We still have our phones but there was no wifi (which was GREAT!), no TV in the bedrooms or in the common areas, however, my husband still managed to kill some time by playing Plants vs Zombies (que horror!) on his phone. I forgave him for that. For it is not without great difficulty on his part to survive without TV or any type of gadget and for him to last four days in the jungle without complaining is quite a feat. To make it fair, I was also using my phone too – for pictures!

So what else was there to do?

Zip Lining

The Dominican Tree House Village where we stayed at had its own zip line (Walk the Plank) inside the property. It had 12 zips total, starting from the very top of a mountain crossing to the other side and zig zagging its way down the valley. The first zip line is the longest one and the “scariest” because you have to literally “walk off the plank” of a pirate ship perched on a mountain peak.

The views are amazing and flying through the Samaná jungle either solo, tandem or upside down (as seen in photo with my crazy hubby) gives you such an adrenaline rush! Bonus points for this one having an excellent braking system where they do the braking for you while freeing your arms to take photos/videos or do crazy poses.
DSCN0290

Chill out beach sessions

A quick 15 – 20 minute bike ride from the Tree House, Playa El Valle beckons to you like a long lost friend. It’s turquoise blue waters and Atlantic Ocean waves are but a part of the entire package. The beach has that peaceful rural vibe and is not crowded at all. It has three local eateries that serve the freshest fish. And if you are lucky, you may just have the lady cook for you sancocho, a favorite Dominican stew-like dish, which is soooo full of homemade goodness!

This is just my kind of destination. Not a lot of tourists, no pushy vendors. Almost deserted. Mountains flank both sides of the bay while coconut trees are swaying gently to the breeze. There are two streams that cross the beach to the open waters that make for an interesting exploratory walk. One can easily spend an entire lazy afternoon here.

IMG_3513 IMG_3510 IMG_3523 IMG_3530 IMG_3544

Biking

And of course, biking is another simple but enjoyable activity to do. To get to Playa El Valle (that deserted beach above), you pass by a local village and see people going about their daily lives. Men fixing their fishing nets, women tending to their children and young kids at play out by the road. Their lives are a whole lot less complicated. Dogs, horses, chickens and pigs are a common sight.

IMG_2260

Cascada El Limon

Located about thirty or so minutes away from Samaná town, this waterfall is one of the major attractions in this area. It is not a big gushing waterfall but rather unassuming with tall wispy layers of water streaming down a yellowish moss covered rock surface into an emerald green pool.

DSCN0372

DSCN0388
Lots of locals doing crazy jumps

To get to the falls, you can either walk or ride a horse from the beginning of the trail. Walking takes you about an hour depending on the trail you take while on horseback, it takes you about 15 minutes down steep, rocky and sometimes muddy paths. But you are not alone. Each horse has a guide who walks alongside you and the horse, who helps egg the horse to a fast trot or to guide the horse who appears to be unruly or lost. At the end of the trail, you get off the horse and go down approximately 200 steps to see the waterfalls.

Since we were Tree House guests, we decided to join this excursion because it was a smaller size group and besides, we knew everybody already. Hiking to the falls was our first option but we didn’t have a rental car to get us to the jump off point and I didn’t really feel like walking on mud. 

DSCN0339 DSCN0337

To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of people I saw visiting the falls that day. I’ve read that it can be quite crowded but never did I expect it to be that way. Even with the downpour that morning, making it an extra adventurous horse ride for us, lots of people were coming and going still. I never got a good picture of the falls in the end.

More beach time

After El Limon, we were brought to Playa Coson where we had lunch. Fresh fish and the best Piña Colada! This was a bigger beach this time with more people. Not that I minded when you have views like this.

DSCN0408 DSCN0411

There are so many more activities to do, from the relaxing to the most adventurous ones. Samaná alone covers such a huge area that you cannot possibly explore everything in a couple of days. A little sampling here and there was all that we can do.

On our last day, we headed back to Playa El Valle for more beach time and relaxation.  Soaking up as much local air and that distinct Dominican vibe before we head back home to the real world.

Yes, this was truly a magical jungle adventure!

Why I Fell in LOVE with the Dominican Tree House Village

A few days ago, my hubby and I took a much needed quick four day trip to the Dominican Republic. It was our first time there so I can not really comment much on the country as a whole.

The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean sea on the island of Hispaniola sharing it with Haiti to the West. I knew nothing about this country except for its beautiful beaches until this trip came up and in the course of doing my research, I have learned so much already.

I admit I didn’t know that the official language is Spanish. I simply assumed that just because they are next door neighbors with Haiti that they spoke French. That makes communicating a tad bit easier then, thank God! So I brought it upon myself to learn a few basic Spanish words and sentences just to get us by while traveling there.

Our adventure took us to Samaná, a sleepy little town and municipality on the Northeastern part of the Dominican Republic. I’ve looked at many other popular places, Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, Bayahibe among others but this little rough gem caught my attention. It does not have the glitter and party vibe of the all-inclusives and other luxury resorts. In fact, it is the least known by Dominican natives and foreign tourists in general. As it is, it stands alone by itself, unique and waiting for you to explore its hidden natural beauty.

Fruit stands are abundant, “thousands” of motoconchos speeding and plying the narrow roads, locals are mostly outside talking or simply just hanging out watching the world go by and the children, so crisp in their blue and khaki school uniforms ready to go home from school. The scenery is rural and mostly agricultural, much like the Philippines.

IMG_3455

Because it is a peninsula, it has the big waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the north and the emerald colors of the Caribbean sea on the south. It also has mountains and jungles, rivers and waterfalls. You really get the best of both worlds, with not a lot of tourists (except when the cruise ship docks) to boot.

We stayed at the Dominican Tree House Village which was roughly a 2.5 hour ride (done the Dominican way) from the capital city of Santo Domingo where the international airport was. They also have an international airport in Samaná which is much closer but there was no scheduled flight for us the day that we were arriving. We got picked up at the airport after days of debating if we really need to get a rental car or not, we ended up choosing safety and convenience over the freedom to drive anywhere. Our time was limited anyway so we could not explore the other areas as much as we want to.

DTHVhand

This part is where I tell you about my short lived “love affair” with the Tree House.

After a long ride on the highway, we veered off the main road and onto a rocky and bumpy gravel road where there were little to no houses in sight, just coconut trees and more trees. In my mind, the adventure begins. And when I thought that it was all over, our van made a turn towards a dry river bed! Where’s the road?

road to treehouse

We finally stopped and we were wondering where the Tree House was. The driver and his companion helped us out and picked up my back pack while my hubby carried his. They spoke no English so that really helped orient us. This was apparently the back entrance to the property. It was like stepping into a lush tropical jungle. Rows upon rows of bananas, cacao trees, coconuts, giant ferns, flowers and various plants can be found lining the pathways.

arrival

I was in awe of everything. There was so much nature around! 

The main hall was impressive, made of natural materials. This was where we checked in too. Equally as impressive when we walked in was the open air kitchen with the staff prepping food for dinner. Everyone made us feel welcome instantly with their friendly “holas” and of course, our welcome drink, rum and coke.

Dominican_Republic_Yoga_12
photo by dominicanrepublicyoga.com

kitchen

IMG_2175

Much to our surprise and utter amazement, we were given the VIP room, with no added charge, of course. But what exactly is in the VIP room?

You got more space than the regular cottages, table and chairs, an outdoor patio, your very own private toilet and an outdoor shower. It is much more higher up than the rest so you have to walk a bit further up the hill hence the separate toilet and bath. It is much more secluded with wonderful views of the mountain and the trees.

The rest of the cottages share a common toilet and bath, some with hot water (but who needs hot water in the jungle?), all interspersed through out the property. The rooms all with mosquito netting can accommodate a maximum of two people and except for the VIP room, has two hanging chairs.

The Tree House is surely an outdoor lover’s paradise. This was what we came here for. To unplug and disconnect from the world, no TVs, no wifi, no phones, not even a credit card machine! We truly needed this time off for ourselves, with Mother Nature as your backdrop, the sounds of the jungle as your music, and nothing but your flashlight to guide you back to your rooms at the end of a simple and freshly prepared dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I am afraid of bugs and other creepy crawlies but that does not stop me from enjoying the outdoors either.

Enjoying simple yet meaningful conversations with fellow guests while the staff make you feel at home, learning to appreciate the art of doing nothing and just listening to the jungle noise were the stuff I craved for. On our first night, I wasn’t able to sleep at all. The cacophony of sounds was assaulting my senses, from the crickets to the frogs to the loud squawking birds in the early mornings to the other unidentifiable sounds that serve as nature’s orchestra amplified by the echoes from the mountain across our room. I swear almost every living creature comes to life at night and has its own jungle call. I was in full sensory overload, in a good kind of way. I have never experienced such a thing in my life before. As the days passed, I eventually learned to sleep through the noise and still woke up bright and early from our natural alarm clock, that squawking bird. My hubby wondered if that bird ever took a day off. 

IMG_3575
No, it wasn’t this cute lil one

At the end of our four day stay, after having dined with the rest and went on excursions together as a group, we bonded magically with the other guests and the staff as well. It was a good mix of people, young and old, all like-minded, almost sharing the same interests in travel and adventure, from all walks of life. It is this human connection that we all so desperately need in today’s world, a quick break from the harshness of daily living and immersing oneself with nature.

As we go back to our regular routines when we get home, the stories shared by the light of the fire whilst having a drink or two, the deep laughter enjoyed as jokes are told, and the memories we have had from the Tree House will remain buried deep in our souls.

13408_10153300858988166_4729677472985651175_n
It’s been real, you guys. See you in “30 minutes!”

And as the sun sets low over the canopy of the jungle trees, I fall in love all over again….


 

Disclaimer: All opinions and views here are my own based on my personal experience and do not in any way reflect those of anyone connected with this property.