My 15 Favorite Photos for the Year 2015

Inspired by Jeff of Planet Bell and Rechito of Expedition Hobo, I decided to come up with my very own photo journal year-ender. Actually, this is such a great idea that I will try to do this every year for my blog. It’s so simple. Just look back at my photos from the past year and decide which ones  make the cut. I am going for 15 photos this year.

For me, 2015 has been a much better year than the last one. I can’t complain. There was not a lot of international travel as we only went to the Dominican Republic in May and to the Caribbean early in December. I haven’t even blogged about our Caribbean trip yet as that would have to happen in the next few days. But for the most part, my annual travel report involves local travel and the outdoors (and a lot of waterfalls!). Personally, I grew as a blogger and as a wife. Mid year, my hubby and I also sorta switched careers from being a regular nurse to a traveling nurse (sounds familiar?) which made our lives much more interesting and dare I say, certainly not stress-free.

Without much further ado, here are my faves. Hope you like them as much as I loved them!

Moore Cove Falls, North Carolina
Moore Creek, North Carolina
Looking Glass Falls, North Carolina
Triple Falls, North Carolina
Ruby Falls, Tennessee
Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
Linville River, North Carolina
Old Mt. Mitchell Trail, Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina
Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina
Cascada El Limon, Samana, Dominican Republic
Playa El Valle, Samana, Dominican Republic
Playa El Valle, Samana, Dominican Republic
Dominican Treehouse Village, Samana, Dominican Republic
dandelion in Melbourne, Florida
young boy, Samana, Dominican Republic


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.

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!
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!)
The main highway connecting Santo Domingo to Samana. A 3-hr drive. No speed limits here.
Local roadside scenes
When you see this horse sculpture, you are in “downtown” Samana
Pretty colored buildings lining the main road in town facing Samana bay
A real dried up riverbed/road leading to the back entrance of the Tree House Village
One of the many wooden hanging bridges over the road leading up to the Tree House Village. Note some of its planks are missing!
Lush jungle mountain top views from the zip line area
Just another random crazy shot
Fruit stand
Surf School
Kite surfing lessons here?
They knew how to fry their fish!!!
We stopped for some local rum to bring home as souvenirs
Alcohol on one side, baby milk on the other. Any strategic marketing relevance?
Steps leading to Cascada El Salto de Limon
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!


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.


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.

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.

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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.


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.


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. 

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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.

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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!