The Caribbean Revolt of Las Terrenas
We are approaching the end of September.
The official Caribbean hurricane season is halfway through. We've been lucky. The storms that were building by this time to the east of the Atlantic were bent north.
Days later, one of them, Lorenzo, strengthened to a category 5 hurricane, defied any logic of the weather. It advanced the North Atlantic and lashed the Azores. It still had the energy to torment the coasts of Ireland and Great Britain.
The Caribbean seaside of Las Terrenas that welcomed us also showed a different face from the sunny turquoise-emerald that attracted vacationers from other parts of the world in a flood.
Agitated by a Karen tropical storm that curved abruptly to the north as it passed beyond the Lesser Antilles, the darkened and churning sea extended in vigorous, frothy waves to the base of the coconut trees and to the edge of the already shortened sands.
To the added frustration of bathers, these days, lifeguards from offshore hotels held up the red flag and followed instructions to forbid them from entering the water, even for mere refreshing dips. That left the pools of shiny tiles and fresh water. It wasn't the same thing. Nor to what had gone there.
We decided to walk out of its range. A few hundred meters to the east, entry into the sea was less deep and problematic. We realized that there were no currents, just the normal and controllable movement of the waves, so common on our Portuguese beaches. We had fun facing them and hitching rides from them, until we saw the crown of coconut trees high above our heads.
We resume the walk. As we approached Punta Bonita on the Samaná Peninsula, we realized that part of the projects – the most exposed to the sea – had not yet recovered from the damage caused by hurricanes or storms of the past season.
And how the vagaries of the climate made volatile investments made thinking above all about the long Caribbean lull from December to May, when that same coastline and those of the Caribbean in general take on their immaculate views of sea, sky and lush vegetation.
Cascada Limon, Cigars of Other Flavors
The next day dawns radiant. We left the hotel at eight in a convertible truck that began by making up its capacity with passengers from other hotels on the seafront and from distant and soon frigid places in the world: Canadians, French, Germans, Americans, among others.
Then, we follow the path through the green and picturesque little lands and terrains of the peninsula of Samaná. As is customary on these tours, the company had a scheduled stop at a local store, in the case of cigars. It was Las Ballenas, located in El Cruce. We went down. We crossed the road after giving way to two young men who had emerged from the end of the road at a gallop on savage horses.
We entered. We immediately smell the widespread smell of natural tobacco, with hints of the various aromas in which cigars were made there: mango, vanilla, brandy and others. One cigarette working by hand behind a small counter focuses attention.
It attracts a curious group of spectators who follow their busy hands cutting and rolling the tobacco leaves until they reach another of the handcrafted cigars that gave the brand its name. And to another. And to others more.
The different Las Ballenas packages surround us. In a small separate work station, a younger craftsman, armed with an old iron and wearing an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball t-shirt, tries to enlarge them. We approach you and get to know your craft better.
Afraid of destroying the packages he was responsible for finalizing, Eduardo Cancu barely takes his eyes off the iron. Still, it gives us enough rope to realize that it processes a good hundreds a day. And that, “thank God, that's not the only task he carries out in the company”.
We all return to the truck and travel mode. For a mere 2km, the same ones that were from there Rancho Limón from where we were supposed to leave towards the homonymous waterfall.
As soon as we got back to the ground, we came face to face with a small crowd of expectant Dominicans from the area, each holding his horse. More outsiders arrive. A person responsible for the operation of putting them on horseback calls his fellow countrymen according to any criteria.
Little by little, the foreigners are invited to mount the assigned horse and follow them into the forest guided by their dismounted squires.
We are not one of the first to receive a horse, or anything like that. To compensate, the guides that suit us are young, fun and unconscious. Moments after we leave, we are already urged to pull at the horse's trot. For them, we could even have completed the route at a gallop, and it is not entirely unrelated to the fact that one of them is called Geronimo.
But the route was rocky, irregular and muddy, uninviting to large animals. Even so, we took the lead in a flash.
On the last winding descent to the waterfall, we passed a lost cow that stalked all this action suspiciously from the middle of the rainforest. Now, when we disassemble, already overlooking the waterfall Limón, without realizing either how or why, this or another almost identical cow swam in panic, circling, inside the waterfall's lagoon.
The cow takes two more laps, realizes that there is only an exit from the side where humans watch, in disbelief, the swimming she practiced, and resigns herself. Finally, he leaves the pond, messed up and out of control. It forces us all to take refuge from its unpredictable trajectory. When most of the truck's passengers gathered there, the animal was already gone.
Due to the lack of rain in the previous weeks, the Waterfall Limón exhibited a contained flow. Thus, the protagonism passed almost directly from the bovine to two macaws that opportunistic entrepreneurs took there to earn some pesos each time someone gave in to the chromatic and instagrammatic attraction of taking pictures with them.
Cow outside, humans inside. The lagoon soon filled with bathers eager to cool off from the humid, chlorophyllinous heat of the rainforest. There we also dive and relax for a while. After which we return to the ride, this time uphill.
We found that most of the pseudo-jockeys had stopped at a small craft and food shop at the top of the ramp. We dismounted to investigate it and buy the bottled water we were already in short supply. A salesman hears us chatter.
Even if we spoke our usual original Portuguese, not Brazilian, it recognizes the language. “Portuguese? My bankroll is good for you! Nobody sells that cheap. Only cheaper at Pingo Doce!” he shoots, amused.
In the case of Dominican Republic, a destination in Portugal for a long time, it didn't surprise us beyond that a cibao from the rural interior of Hispaniola were aware of the advertising slogans of Portuguese supermarkets.
Incursion to Los Haitises, the Dominican “Land of the Mountains”
We had been circling the peninsula of Samaná for some time, from the north coast to the interior rancher. Three days later, it was time for us to go to its bay. From Las Terrenas we travel diagonally to the south coast of the peninsula, towards the port city of Samaná.
We got into a boat with a fishing profile. In three times, we set sail from the jetty to the bay in front of the city. We sail under the Puente Peatonal de Cayo Samaná. Shortly after, we faced a dense forest with an incredible concentration of coconut palms stretching from the seashore to the top of the slope.
We are in favor of the swell, so that, with no maritime traffic to condition it, the boat advances stabilized, at high speed and diagonally, from one side of the bay to the other.
Half an hour later, we glimpse the colony of rounded and forested hills between 30 and 50 meters – lomites, that's what the Dominicans call them – which signals the entrance to the Bahia de San Lorenzo and the access to Los Haitises National Park, further inland.
As we head deeper into the park, we pass some of these lomites independent. Some appear alone, others in duos or trios that seem to float over the sea.
Connoisseurs of these labyrinthine domains, the helmsman and the guide take us straight to a cave known as mouth of shark, the hollow interior of a Haiti (mountain in the Taíno tribal dialect) to which we were quick to surrender.
Slowly, slowly, they anchor the boat on the beach hidden inside the cave. We disembark onto the soaked sand and inspect the inverted scenery in its time-carved limestone frame.
Returning to the sunny Haitises, we point to Cayo de los Pájaros, a rocky formation crowned with vegetation and which, even at that distance, we could see overflown by dozens of birds.
We get a little closer. Enough to appreciate the peculiar flights of frigates that took us back to the prehistoric imagery of conflicting flocks of pterosaurs. And, in eight or nine male frigates, in particular, the scarlet hearts they have under their crop and which they inflate to win over females for mating.
A few vultures that hovered in the same airspace above the verdant islet broke the frigates' exclusivity without disrespecting the uniformity of the blackness that dotted the blue sky.
From the avian Haiti of Cayo de los Pájaros, we set sail for another of the park's various caves, filled with pictograms and petroglyphs there bequeathed by the ancestors of the Taínos natives found by Christopher Columbus and his men at these stops.
In order to avoid the desecration of this heritage, the authorities keep guards at the small anchorage that gives access to the cave. One of them rests sitting in a chair. He is wearing a gray cap and t-shirt, green trousers and wellies. On his belly and chest, he keeps a shotgun with sawed-off pipes, ready for anything.
From that cave, we navigate to one of the park's mangrove areas. We followed a channel delimited by the amphibious roots of these trees until we came across a new dock.
We were at the entrance to Cueva de la Línea, another cave patrolled by bats and studded with more pictographic inscriptions. This one, too, has a natural opening that displays the resplendent green of the forest above.
Visitors after visitors are photographed in that underworld. Until an unexpected overpopulation of the cave forces them all to disband. We traversed the same mangrove channel.
However, we returned to the secluded sea of Los Haitises and the much more open Bahia of San Lorenzo. We make the return to the port of Samaná against the wind, with the boat always jumping over small waves. Much smaller than the ones we found to resist returning to the beaches of Las Terrenas.