January 15, 2014: Three Beaches and a Donkey

This morning, a cool tropical breeze blew straight through our front wooden shutters, and nudged at my head until I awoke: gentle, but energizing. I wish that that were my alarm clock every morning. After dressing and brushing, Elana and I traipsed downstairs to claim our breakfast (which came complimentary with the room). In keeping with the Chalet’s theme of Overflowing Kitsch, the breakfast came artfully arranged on a wooden platter, with the various foods and liquids displayed on bits of broken coconut shell and in bamboo pitchers.

We decided to expedition to the Las Galeras-area beaches today, two of which are said to be among the most beautiful in the entire country. The hotel owner Sarah called up a boat operator acquaintance of hers, and he arrived within fifteen minutes to drive us to our launchpoint. Our lancha (little boat) for the day was small, perhaps 12 feet long, and open-topped, with several rows of plain benches and a motor at the back. Ten people (including one adorable, smiley babe-in-arms) helped push the lancha into the ocean, and we were off!

The combination of the small size of our boat and the slightly windy weather made it a magnificent day for boating. We bounced and skipped over brilliant, otherworldly turquoise waves, dipping and leaping dramatically as we crossed the bigger waves. Everything—from the ocean to the sheer, rocky cliffs, specked with plants and vines and topped with palm trees—was unbelievably beautiful. Thanks to this divine Caribbean climate, we were comfortably warm even when buffeted by sea winds and splashed with salt spray. I was grinning like a mad thing for almost every second of the boat ride.

Here’s a snippet of video:

Our first stop was Playa Frontón, the farthest east of our destinations. This beach was perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen: fine white sand; hundreds of coconut palm trees all arching gently toward the water; a fascinating section of eroded grey sedimentary rocks and fuzzy-seaweeded tidepools right at the water’s edge; craggy, steep black-and-red cliffs in geological whorls; a proliferation of lush tropical plants crowding up against the foot of the cliffs; and that unreal deep-turquoise ocean. As an added bonus, the beach was almost deserted, since it’s somewhat remote and difficult to access.

The cliffs beside Playa Frontón. Astoundingly beautiful.
The cliffs beside Playa Frontón. Astoundingly beautiful.

After we landed, a teenage boy (an associate of our boat driver’s) hacked open two fresh coconuts with a machete, and gave them to us. ¡Qué rico! We sipped the coconut water down with great delight, then munched on some of the coconut meat, while Elana helped translate between a Dominican guide and a German couple, who had also come over on our lancha.

Then, we headed off down the beach to explore. We had a wonderful time wading around and staring at tiny things in the sand. Among other things, we spotted:

  • a bush with odd, white, pocked fruit (which turned out to be noni, or Morinda citrifolia, whose juice is sometimes sold as a possibly-toxic alternative medicine)
  • interesting rocks and large, complex shells embedded in the grey sedimentary rock
  • one perfect pumpkin shell (AKA a sea urchin test, which I remembered hunting for eagerly on the beach, as a child in South Africa)
  • tiny sand-camouflaged fish, algae balls, and a vibrant green crab
  • at the far end of the beach, a small sea-cave filled with miscellaneous ocean debris and remnants of fires

Once we had had our fill of beach exploration, we headed back to our lancha, and (after another glorious, bouncy, sunny boat ride), we arrived at Playa Madama. This beach was much shorter, and was located at the back of a little inlet, with tangled mats of plants growing beyond the stretch of sand. A small Dominican boy stopped by with his donkey, and Elana asked whether we might try riding the noble burro ourselves. He kindly allowed us to, so both of us took a turn to hop on its back and walk with it around in circles (well, when it felt like walking forward, anyhow).

Burro-riding is serious business.
Burro-riding is serious business.

Because of the sheltered shape of Playa Madama’s inlet, it was an ideal spot for swimming, so Elana and I switched into swimsuits and waded in. Although I yelped a little at the chill at first, the water was roughly the temperature of a half-hour-old bath, and we were soon both floating and paddling around quite contentedly. The rocks along the sides of the inlet jutted out over the water by a few feet, so you could swim beneath them. The ocean floor was striped diagonally, with areas of dense, smooth seagrass (where the water was shallow, about knee-to-hip depth) and of smooth white sand (deeper, up to my shoulder, but still shallow enough that I could stand).

From there, we wrapped up in towels and piled back into the boat to skip along to Playa Rincón, to the west of our original launch-point in Las Galeras. This beach was also quite lovely, but far more easily accessible than the others, so it was much busier and lined with rentable beach chairs. We went directly to a beachside restaurant for lunch, where each of us ordered a fresh grilled lobster (along with the normal Dominican side dishes).

Thus lobstered, we ambled over to another part of Playa Rincón, a quieter, cove-side beach with soft, faint-gold sand and barely any people. We discovered an interesting section of flat, jagged-edged rock shelves that formed mini-tidepools on the beach side, and served as a dramatic wave-breaker on the water side. From there, we ambled overland back to the main beach, lay in the sand for a spell and chatted, and then returned to our lancha for the final crossing back to Las Galeras.

The rock shelf at Playa Rincón.
The rock shelf at Playa Rincón.

After a stop at the Chalet and some haphazard attempts at roadside-flower macro photography, we walked back into town to grab dinner to-go at a little comedor. While waiting for our food, we got drawn into conversation with two young Dominican men, for almost an hour. Elana enlisted one of them to help her demonstrate the bachata (a uniquely Dominican dance style) for me, to the sound of music blasting from a discoteca (nightclub) across the street. Even after we told them we were both casadas (married; this is Elana’s standard response to the relationship question here, as she has found that the simple, fully truthful answer of having a boyfriend does not deter flirtation as effectively), they remained friendly and non-pushy. We returned to the Chalet to eat our dinner, then fell into conversation with a pair of Norwegians who were also staying there. These types of random friendships and interactions are one of the things that can make travel so valuable: the throwing-together of people from many different backgrounds, who might otherwise never have met or talked.

Later in the evening, as I strolled down to the Chalet grounds to video-chat with Ali, I noticed a toad shape, sitting behind a chair outside the front door. I did a double-take, then knelt down, watching it closely for blinking or signs of breathing—but nothing. Its skin looked matte and fake anyway, so I decided it was just a toad statue I hadn’t noticed before, and continued on my merry way into the garden.

Walking back, however, still talking on the video, I noticed that… it had moved about a foot, and was facing a different direction, although it looked just as fake and statuelike as it had before. What the—? I loudly cycled through several stages of bafflement, then found a stick and gently nudged the toad statue with it. The toad statue puffed up slightly and turned its side toward me. What the—? Elana had heard my noises of confusion, and galloped downstairs with my camera in hand. The last thing Ali saw on the video call (before my iPod battery died) was us attempting to photograph the toad, Elana nudging it with her toe, and then—sudden darkness. All further records of the dramatic battle that undoubtedly followed have been lost to posterity. Elana got a slightly numb toe from her interaction with the beastie; with some Internet research, we decided it was probably an invasive cane toad.

Possibly my favorite photo of Elana ever.
Possibly my favorite photo of Elana ever.

Having survived the toad invasion, we fell asleep to the sounds of crickets and of a half-hour burst of tropical rain.

I took far, far too many photos on this day (over 120), so here is a small selection of those photos. As always, click on any photo to open the gallery slideshow, then use the arrow keys to navigate:

4 thoughts on “January 15, 2014: Three Beaches and a Donkey

  1. The “bizarre plant” looks like a lychee. What is it? What’s it like to have a pleasant, enjoyable trip? I’m so glad you have the answer.

    I’m having fun reading. But you must write more often.

    1. I don’t know what that plant is! When I put all the photos on Flickr, I’ll submit it to a plant identification group I’m a member of, and maybe they’ll know.

  2. I decided to reread your post. Truthfully, if I hadn’t read my own comment, I wouldn’t have been entirely sure that I’d read it, even though it seemed awfully familiar. This time, what stood out to me was this sentence:

    > A small Dominican boy topped by his donkey

    Until I misread that as noted, I hadn’t realized that Dominicans wore donkeys on their heads.

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