The Dominican Republic and the Damajagua Cascades

Our journey over the following day and night was uninteresting, though a southeast wind did frustrate our efforts to head, you know, southeast. It was not particularly difficult sailing, however, and the wind was brisk enough to allow us to point well, so we ended up nearing the coast of the Dominican Republic only about 10 miles west of our intended destination, Luperon. The waves and wind were sufficiently diminished along the coastline for us to motor, and I came up on deck to an unexpected sight just as John and Jackson dropped the sails and began motoring east. I could have perhaps predicted such a vision, having heard of the beauty of the Dominican landscape several times, but I was thoroughly unprepared for what I saw. Mountains projected straight out of the ocean all along the coastline, and their thickly verdant slopes gave the impression of an uninhabited, fantastical landscape. The mist, too, was just beginning to dissipate, creating an effect so reminiscent of Jurassic Park that I half-expected to see a pterodactyl swooping overhead. This stunning view accompanied us all the way to Luperon(along with the Jurassic Park theme song, which I kept unconsciously humming, undoubtedly making my fellow travelers wish that a pterodactyl would indeed swoop down and bear me out of earshot), and while we waited for the commandante to come out to our boat, we were afforded enough time to consider the true extent of our accomplishment. Making it to the Dominican Republic finally achieved our goal of making it to the Caribbean. We had crossed the Tropic of Cancer on the way to Mayaguana, and the Turks and Caicos are technically Caribbean islands, but they could really be better described as “Caribbean light”. The Dominican Republic on the other hand, bordering the Caribbean Sea, is the real thing, and it was immensely fulfilling for us, after so much work, time, and disappointment, to finally be there.

Immediately upon anchoring in the Luperon harbor, a boat approached us, bearing a man who introduced himself as “Papo”. He has worked in the harbor for 20 years, and runs the moorings, as well as running a laundry and shower service out of his mother’s house, delivering water, diesel, and anything else you may need, as well as offering hull and stainless steel cleaning. This was clearly the man to know. The moorings cost two dollars a day, which we were more than happy to pay after 8 months of marina bills that often cost that much per foot. We had to forego the rest of his services for the moment, unfortunately, as we had not yet cleared customs. The DR is home to the most extensive customs process we have yet encountered (other than returning to the U.S., that is). In addition to meeting the commandante of the harbor, we had to speak to three or four other customs officials, fill out paperwork, pay fees, and submit to an agricultural inspection, all in a vague combination of broken English and Spanish. We eventually cleared without issue, and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Luperon, finding wifi, and drinking a few beers for the first time in what felt like months.

Our plan for the first full day in the DR was to visit the Damajagua Cascades, a series of 27 waterfalls, so we rented a car from Tony’s, a local internet café that also has a car to rent, and drove the hour or so down to the waterfalls, stopping only to pick up a local meal of fried chicken, beans and rice(this will be applicable in a post or two) but arrived at the location to do all 27, and had to settle for 12 instead. The Damajagua Cascades are another activity that is unashamedly geared towards tourists(the parking lot is filled with tour buses, covered in names like “Camel Safari Tours”, neither of which I knew existed in the DR) and is nevertheless entirely worth a visit. You are provided tour guides, helmets, and lifejackets, and they lead you up a series of easily navigable stairs to the river. It turns out to be a surprisingly safe trip down. The guides know precisely what they are doing, and every waterfall with a jump also has a slide for those who do not enjoy the feeling of uncontrollably plummeting through the air. I am what most people would call a “pansy” when it comes to leaping from heights. The highest I’d ever done was 10 feet, and that was at the mouth of the Welland Canal on this trip, so jumping from 25 feet on our second waterfall was akin to jumping from an airplane as far as I was concerned. After seeing Ellen go before me with little hesitation(though with a bit of a scream), I had little choice but to throw myself into space and hope that my body didn’t, by some convulsive recoild from the ledge, cause me to bounce painfully down the precipice in a steeper, rockier reenactment of the Princess Bride. I wound up perfectly fine, however, and even a bit exhilarated, somehow looking forward to more such jumps.

The whole path down this beautiful canyon is similar. Sometimes you jump(though 25 feet was the highest), and sometimes you slide down these grooves in the rock, worn to a comfortable smoothness by years of water and millions of vacationing posteriors. Surprisingly, I found a couple of the slides significantly more perturbing than the jumps, as you twist and turn down these rock gullies, with your head flashing inches past these very solid looking boulders, before getting spit out sideways into the pool below. Everything is very controlled, however, and barring a thoroughly boneheaded move, you are perfectly safe, so it is easy to take your time and enjoy the sights surrounding you. Thewhole area is a wilderness preserve, so you are not exposed to any of the trappings of civilization that might distract from the enchantment of the falls. The river has created a gorge, lined with rock up to maybe 20 feet above the river, where soil and trees take over, extending upward so thickly that you can’t see the top. The river, meanwhile, runs down this channel, sometimes dropping with punishing weight over a waterfall, elsewhere running smoothly through multiple small gullies along its course. Pools abound(creating the opportunity for cliff jumping), and also give you the opportunity to paddle around for a bit, relaxing in the cool water. Indeed, this was not the least pleasant aspect of visiting the falls. Our last showers had been in Provo, five days before, so swimming around in fresh water, muddy as it was, felt remarkably cleansing as it wiped away the accumulated layers of salt and old sunscreen that form a gunky layer over one’s skin after a few days. Our only real regret was that we hadn’t gotten to the falls earlier in the day, and so been able to do all 27. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and all piled happily back into the car to explore Puerto Plata, the major town just east of Luperon.

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