A Little R&R in the DR!

April 2, 2013
We just got back from an amazingly relaxing trip to Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic. Our friend Ian went a few years ago and it sounded like a great place so we decided to check it out too! And we’re really glad we did.
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Las Terrenas is a funky little town of about 6,000 people on the Samaná peninsula. It used to be a sleepy little fishing village, but lately it appears to have morphed into a bustling little town with tons of French, Italian, and Canadian expats. Which means there’s quite a potpourri of international cuisine to try out, including a marvelous French bakery and a fantastic Mexican taco joint.
We stayed at a really homey little spot called Casas del Mar Neptunia that was just adorable. And the Canadian ex-pat owners Jim and Suzanne were incredibly helpful and accommodating. We cannot say enough good stuff about them!
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Every morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fruit, fresh baked bread, and delicious Dominican coffee under the palapa. Plus free Wi-Fi!

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Believe it or not, one of the hardest things to adjust to in Las Terrenas was the noise. That’s right, coming from Jersey City, we had to adjust to the cacophony of the nearly constant Las Terrenas scooter, motorcycle, and ATV traffic roaring up and down its two main streets. After a few days, we hardly noticed it, but it was a bit overwhelming at first. According to Jim, the noise used to be worse because a lot of people liked to ride around without mufflers so their bikes sounded cool. The town recently passed a law against this practice, which helped a bit, but apparently a few people have gotten around it by poking holes in their mufflers! You see a lot of scooters and motorcycles with entire families on board, like this one below with a couple and their dog (who’s peeking out of the driver’s bag in front).
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Our first few days were spent walking as far away from the main drag as we could possibly go. Our hotel was just across the road from Las Terrenas beach, which is actually quite pretty but we wanted to explore a bit.
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The first day we walked past the fish market and hung a left toward Playa Bonita.
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We were thinking maybe we could walk all the way to Playa Bonita, but it turns out that you can’t, at least not anymore. Apparently you could do it a few years ago, but the people who built fancy houses up on the cliffs won’t let you walk on the dirt road that goes past their property and the guard at the security gate for the condos where we tried to walk through wouldn’t let us pass there either. Oh well, guess we’ll just have hang out on this gorgeous stretch of beach that we already have pretty much to ourselves!

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Eventually we headed back for a piña colada at the beach bar we stopped at on our way out.
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And then we stopped for lunch at the Pueblo de los Pescadores (or Fishermen’s Village). At one point this place was a charming little cluster of fishermen’s shacks that were converted into restaurants and looked like this:
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(Photo courtesy of New York magazine, Laura Siciliano-Rosen)
But a year or so ago there was a fire and the whole place burned down. The town quickly constructed a new Pueblo de los Pescadores, but some of the restaurants that had been there before couldn’t afford to come back and unfortunately the construction of the new place lacked the unique charm of the original.
However, we were hungry and we’d heard there was some good food to be had here. Since Pizza Playa seemed to be the only place open, we decided to give it a whirl.
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To my mind the crust was very good, super-thin and and crisp on the outside, doughy on the inside. The cheese was different, with a slightly sour taste to it that wasn’t altogether unpleasant but was definitely like no other mozzarella we’ve ever had. Mmmmm! Another tough day in Las Terrenas.
The next day we discovered that walking around the corner and past Punta Poppi, only about half an hour from our hotel, would take us to another pretty unpopulated beach. We spent the day swimming and playing in the water. We saw a sea lion frolicking offshore but we probably only saw about three other people. Our kind of beach!

When we got further down the beach we came upon some of these seagrape trees that seem to propagate all around the Caribbean.

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Since they were bearing fruit we understood for the first time the reason they’re called “seagrapes.” Pretty cool, huh?

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We were getting thirsty so we wandered over to the beach bar at Porto, the exceedingly fancy restaurant at the swanky Balcones del Atlantico resort. We liked their nautical theme almost as much as the piña coladas. The bar is even shaped like a boat. How cute is that?

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I was momentarily confused about which way to go when these two signs greeted me at the restrooms, but decided to go with the pink boats and feminine-sounding “yolas” and luckily made the right choice! I read somewhere that yoleros is a name for Dominican fisherman and supposedly the name comes from the name for their type of boat and is pronounced “yawlers,” though Rich says these boats do not resemble yawls in the least (yawls have two masts!). Oh well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
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We stopped at El Mosquito Art Bar for lunch on the way back. Apparently it used to be in the Pueblo de los Pescadores before the fire, but now it’s just a little shack of a bar on the beach with a few chairs and tables. What more do you need when you’re on the beach? I believe it was on our way home from there that we decided to stop and swim at a spot that had a little more surf than the one we’d tried before. I’ve had a few close calls with crazy waves as a kid so it took a little coaxing for Rich to get me into the water there, but once I was in we had a really great time. That is until things took a Greg Brady in Hawaii turn and I was hit by a rogue wave that took me under. I came up only to be nailed by another one that followed in quick succession and I spent a little time getting scraped along the bottom of the ocean. When I finally resurfaced I had lost my sunglasses and scraped my knee up pretty good and had what felt like a few good handfuls of sand inside my bathing suit so I decided that was enough body surfing for the day.

The next day was kind of rainy so we stuck close to home, only venturing out to try El Wekito, the Mexican place. We enjoyed some excellent tacos and chinola (or passionfruit in Dominican Spanish) margaritas there. We got to chatting with the owner who’s originally form Veracruz, Mexico, and I was fascinated when she told me that she doesn’t know how to swim, and has no desire to do so even though she lives so close to such a beautiful beach. Then again, looking back on my little brush with death from the day before maybe she has the right idea? When we were finished, she packed us up a little to-go bag with some of her delicious hot sauce. Apparently the Dominicans don’t like their food spicy and complain that her sauce is so hot it makes their lips swell up! Since I’m originally from California and my great-grandma Nettie was Mexican, I grew up on this stuff and though I used to cry when the food was too hot as a kid, I guess I crave that sort of thing now. My dad would be proud!

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The next day we headed to Playa Coson, a beach about 20 minutes away by car. Jim had generously volunteered to rent a car for a few days to take us and our neighbors Rigo and Hilary (who happened to be from Flatbush, Brooklyn!) on a few excursions. We’d been contemplating renting our own scooter or getting a ride on one of the motoconchos (or motorcycle taxis), but we figured why not? And when we saw the deep ruts in the dirt rode to Playa Coson we were glad we were on four wheels. We spent the day at Playa Coson, beginning with lunch at Restaurante Luis, which is basically a little shack on the beach with tables and chairs. We sat sipping piña coladas right from the pineapples while we waited for our lunch to be prepared. It was kind of a long wait so we might have ordered a couple more piña coladas to tide us over.

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It looks deceptively simple but I would say this was the best meal we had in Las Terrenas: fresh grilled bonito and lobster, along with french fries, rice, tostones, and habichuelas (or beans). But then, we didn’t really have any bad meals in Las Terrenas.

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After lunch we wandered down the beach and Rich found a mangrove.

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The next day we stuffed ourselves on pan chocolat, beignets, and cafes con leche at the French bakery before heading off to Playa Rincon with Jim.

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Playa Rincon, which we read was the second most beautiful beach in the world according to a list compiled by Conde Nast traveler or somebody, was very beautiful indeed. We had yet another amazing lunch of freshly caught fish cooked up at a little shack on the beach and washed down with a few Presidentes. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. We were there on a pretty windy, slightly cloudy day so it would be hard to say if it was the second most beautiful beach in the world or not, but it was a spectacular spot.

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On our way back, we got stuck in a traffic jam caused by about 50 cows who just didn’t want to move! The girl behind us got off her scooter and turned on her hazards, which made us think it could be a while. Eventually a couple of guys on horses came along and got them moving but it took some time. Then again, what did we care? We were on island time.

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On the way back to Las Terrenas we stopped in Las Galeras, another little fishing village that still had its sleepy vibe intact. A woman working at a little place on the beach beckoned to me with her siren call, “Piña coladas?” I managed to convince Jim and Rich to stop in for one by telling them that the woman had insisted it was customary. I mean, we really didn’t want to offend her, did we? Our drinks came with forks, a first for us, but there was a lot of chunky coconut-y goodness to scoop out of the pineapples so we made good use of them. While we were sitting there we got to watch the dramatic scene that is a Dominican game of dominoes unfolding at a table nearby. There was lots of yelling and hooting in between dramatic pauses punctuated with the clatter of the tiles on the table. It looked like a lot of fun, though I’d need some lessons before I tried to join a game. These guys take their dominoes pretty seriously!

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Our last day or two we just soaked up as much of the relaxed Las Terrenas goodness as we could. Our neighbors were going on whale-watching excursions and climbing to El Limón waterfall, but we were happy to just lounge on the beach and chill, like the beach dogs, of which there were many.

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Back home I’d be worried about the fate of stray dogs on the beach, but the restaurant owners feed them scraps at the end of the day and from the looks of them these pooches were all getting enough to eat. Jim and Susanne now share their home with Rubio, a former beach perro who adopted them. We wanted to be adopted by all of the ones we saw.

Okay, technically this little Chihuahua was not a beach perro because her owner was having a drink at the bar nearby, but isn’t she adorable? Like the beach dogs, she was pretty well behaved too.

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We also wanted to adopt the catamaran that was anchored offshore. The whole time we were there we never once saw anyone on board. Jim told us that another one had been anchored in the same spot for a while and then mysteriously blew up. Fortunately no one was on board, but everyone thought it was some kind of insurance scam. To the owners of the catamaran that’s floating there now, please don’t do anything hasty. If you’re reading, we would love to come take care of your boat for you whenever you need us!
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And before we knew it, it was time to head back home. Good bye, Las Terrenas! We will miss you.

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8 Comments

  • Reply SeattleSue April 2, 2013 at 2:37 am

    It looks like you had a wonderful trip. After your first year living aboard I’m sure you were ready for a little rest in the Carribean. I’m already looking forward to your next post.

    • Reply Monica James April 4, 2013 at 1:31 am

      Thanks, SeattleSue! We’re getting ready to start on spring projects so you’ll see a post on that soon. Now, if the weather would just cooperate!

  • Reply Kiini Ibura April 2, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Love this! Great photos, great descrip. You look great, and super happy, in all the photos. Looks like it was a wonderful trip!

    • Reply Monica James April 4, 2013 at 1:32 am

      Thanks, KK! It was a pretty good break! Thanks for reading.

  • Reply Marcy May 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Looks like you had a great trip.
    Loved a lot of the photos!!
    Marcy

    • Reply Monica May 7, 2013 at 3:44 am

      Thanks, Marcy! It was a great trip. Thanks for reading.

  • Reply aklejon@gmail.com May 8, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Lovely!

    • Reply Monica May 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks for reading, AK! Hope to see you and Alvatron again soon!

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