Sunday, March 15, 2009

Whirlwind Tour of the DR

The first of our three day tour began with the rental car guy who promised a cheaper and better car than we had previously arranged and then cancelled did not show. After various delays and untruths, said rental car guy (Tony) showed up with the wrong car and then drove us to our original rental car place, which tried to up the previous high price since it now had to pay a commission to Tony. What a country.
We picked up Sepeta, the tour guide that Rob had used ten years ago and was now the head of tourism in Luperon (but no longer a guide). Sepeta does not drive, and therefore Peter became chauffeur. Fortunately in this country one drives on the right side of the road. Unfortunately, that is the rule but there are so many motoconchos (cycles) bearing up to 5 bodies (!), wide trucks, guaguas (a ramshackle van with a man hanging out of one open door to facilitate the pushing and shoving of boarding passengers inside to create the effect of a sardine can)and fast moving cars on narrow streets that the rule did not matter. In the cities the streets are occupied by street vendors walking in between the cars selling sunglasses (quick, pick one out before the light changes), cell phones, cell phone cards,semi-peeled oranges, icecream, you name it, or driving bicycles equipped with BBQ cookers hawking roasted corn. As a result, the driving was hair raising. At that end of each evening several scotchs were consumed and deserved by our handsome driver.

Our tour started at Puerto Plata with the San Felipe fort, the oldest European fort in the New World (yawn), and then an exciting cable car ride to the top of Isabel de Torres mountain, with fabulous views of the city and magnificent gardens.
Next, a tour of the amber and larimar museum presenting expensive shopping opportunities (larimar is a stone discovered in the recent past and named after the finder’s daughter Laura and the sea (mar) whose color it reflects. Lunch was followed by a tour of the Brugal Rum factory, with a tasting of Extra Viejo and a magnificent mojito.
We drove through Sosua and visited the Jewish Museum. The former dictator Trujillo, to appease the United States, agreed to accept refuges escaping the Nazis, and most settled here; very few remain. (The synagogue had less than 13 windows, what’s up with that?) Then, off to Cabarete to see the wind surfers, who had the day off lacking sufficient wind.
We finished the day with a drive through the lush Cibao Valley on our way to Santiago, the capital of the DR.

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