I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, visitors can serve as a forcing function for exploring where you live. Ray Ray and I have been here nearly a year and had never visited the northeast corner of the island, a place that, if you listen to our friends who have ventured that way, is home to the most beautiful beach in the country. So, in the spirit of “let’s see what all of the fuss is about,” we took our newest guests, Sean and Keri, up to the Samaná peninsula.
Sean and Keri are two of my dearest friends from Chicago and people I have known since my days at Marquette. In fact, they asked me to emcee their wedding reception, a request I accepted with great joy. Like many of our guests before them, they are no strangers to travel abroad, and were more than game to help us explore new territory.
The route is quite straightforward. You get on the highway going north of Santo Domingo and turn right when you meet the Atlantic Ocean. Follow the main road for two hours until it ends in the hidden town of Las Galeras. It’s really that simple. A destination for adventure travelers, Las Galeras – and the surrounding areas – survive on the quality of their beaches. In fact, we passed an entire day at neighboring Playita (Little Beach), coolly oscillating between the beach and the beachfront bar and restaurant, watching the palm tree shadows expand and recede in the water as the sun arced above us.
It’s not that time passes slowly in Las Galeras, it’s that you don’t notice. Or don’t care. There isn’t a rush to do much of anything except enjoy the fact that there isn’t. The most active things we did that weekend was to try and see migrating whales, visit a popular – though terribly hidden – restaurant, and find Playa Rincón, the beach everyone raves about.
Our attempt at whale watching proved futile. We joined a group departing from the beach in font of our hotel and set out into waters north and west of the peninsula’s northern tip. The unseasonable rainy weather made the seas excruciatingly choppy, an element that marred the entire day. The rain fell so hard we had to take shelter at a nearby beach and wait it out. Sadly, no whales were to be seen, nor did we photograph anything for fear of losing our camera in the water.
The next day, with much more favorable weather, we set out for an evening dinner at El Cabito. It is a small place built into a rocky edge that drops about 40 or 50 feet down to the water. The deck is cantilevered over the edge, providing great views, tremendous sunsets, and a soundtrack of perpetual wave crashing. However, you have to earn your relaxation. The drive there, mostly off road and with practically no signs, can test your wits – and your vehicle’s capacity. Once there, however, with drink in hand, you settle right in. This might have been the one time during the weekend where time passed a little more quickly simply because we did not want it to end.
Our final adventure was to find the infamous Playa Rincón. It is a secluded beach that most people visit by hiring a boat from a neighboring port. Or, as we did, you can traverse some rough, unpaved back roads. Having chosen the latter option, we made our way from the hotel to the “short cut” and on more than one occasion seriously worried about our ability to slog through treacherous mud. Fortunately, Green Monster was up to the challenge. After 40 minutes navigating some very dusty, winding, and rocky roads, we arrived at a beach that looked as if it had not been touched since the creation.
End-to-end, the beach is almost a mile long. About 100 feet from where the water meets the land is a softer sand littered with palm tree branches, coconut husks, and other tropical debris. There is a restaurant at the east end of the beach for your dining needs, or you can simply wait and someone will eventually come along to ply you with just-above-freezing beer and and frozen drinks mixed inside the shell of a coconut or pineapple. Calling it heavenly almost seems like an understatement. Here, like Playita, the day passed in a leisurely stillness. We were not sure what time we wanted to leave, only that it would be better to do so before sunset. The road back to Las Galeras was hard enough during the day. It would be no joke at night.
Back in Las Galeras I inquired as to why the road to Playa Rincón wasn’t paved. Easier access to the beach, I thought, would increase tourism and give this corner of the island an economic boost. It turns out local boatman derive significant income from ferrying passengers to Rincón and back, and they’ve lobbied hard against road paving. I guess all politics is local after all. Someone always stands to lose with a change in the status quo. According to some, the current president’s tourism initiative means fully paved roads are in the future.
With that, we dashed back to Santo Domingo and bid our dear friends farewell. If time and circumstance allowed, they would have stayed longer. And I would have loved that. Having them here was a nice reminder of home, and I don’t just mean the US.
So you see, visiting us can be as much a gift to us as it is to yourself. Hopefully these tales and pictures can sell you on the idea!