January 21, 2014: Leaping from Waterfalls

Adiós a Clavellina! We woke earlyish, and after a quick coffee and breakfast, we gathered our things and said farewell to Elana’s casita. We walked to the road that leads out of town to seek a bola (free ride)—and after ten minutes’ wait, we lucked out! A pickup truck drove by, with one of Elana’s friends in the passenger seat, and since they too were heading to Dajabón, we were both able to get a bola with them.

We climbed into the bed of the truck and cozied in, perching on the side of the truckbed and tucking our feet and bags in amongst a bunch of large, silver jugs full of fresh milk. Then, we set out toward Dajabón, holding on tightly as we bounced down the road, taking one last look at the fresh morning fields. A few times, we hit bumps large enough to cause Elana and I to bounce up off our truckbed-side seats, but we were nonetheless quite secure.

After a stop for another bola passenger and a stop for some more large milk jugs, the driver dropped us off in Dajabón, right near the stop for the expreso buses toward Santiago. A midsized guagua was about to leave, and we nabbed two of its last available seats before it rumbled into motion.

Clavellina farewell committee.
Clavellina farewell committee.

Leaving Dajabón was a bit of an interesting exposure to some of the systemic racism here. Coming into Dajabón from Santiago, three days earlier, our bus had passed but not stopped at a number of military checkpoints along the road. However, the other direction was a whole different story: within an hour of leaving Dajabón, our bus had been stopped at five different checkpoints. Since Dajabón is on the border with Haiti, they were apparently very concerned about Haitians traveling illegally or carrying contraband. At the first checkpoint, the guards closely examined the passports and papers of all the people on the bus who looked more Haitian—but didn’t ask to see any documentation from any of the medium-to-lighter-skinned passengers. They also searched through several of the Haitians’ bags and packages. The later checkpoints were all less thorough, with the guards asking to see only the passports of the Haitians (yet again). At only one of the checkpoints did they actually ask for everyone’s passports—including ours—but they were satisfied just by seeing that I had a passport-shaped object, from a distance, and they didn’t even wait for Elana to dig out hers from her bag.

I spent much of the bus ride reading George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, whose snowy, foggy, glum landscapes made an interesting contrast to the guagua‘s noisy, cheerful Dominican music and the tropical scenery outside the window. This author has a habit of writing hundreds of pages of build-up and then casually dropping startling plot revelations; I encountered one of those revelation-points while on the guagua, gaped for a bit, then nudged Elana and whispered “Oh snap!”

We asked the guagua to drop us in Navarrete (about a half-hour outside Santiago), where we switched into a crammed carro headed towards Puerto Plata. We jumped off near Imbert, at the entrance to our primary adventure for the day: 27 Charcos. This place has a series of up to 27 waterfalls (depending on how much rain there has been) which flow through slick limestone canyons, which you can wade, swim, slide, and leap through.

We bought a quick lunch at the 27 Charcos’ restaurant, then changed into water-safe clothes, collected our lifejackets and helmets, and hiked into the wilderness. Our guide spoke some English as well as some French and some German, although we still mostly stuck to Spanish. He took great delight in teasing us and trying to startle us with loud noises, but we teased back quite effectively (e.g. after we spotted a tiny snake and he suddenly, coincidentally sped off down the trail far ahead of us).

Snaaaaake!
Snaaaaake!

Today, we would only do 12 waterfalls, as there was not enough water in the river canyons for all 27. To get to the beginning of these waterfalls, we crossed a large bridge with a beautiful view of the Río Damajagua below, then marched for about 30 minutes way up into the hills, up a huge number of wooden-backed mud steps, stepping around serpentine tree roots. Most of this trail was through a tropical forest, solidly shaded by trees overhead and with greenery invading on all sides. We heard, but did not see, some ciguas palmeras (palmchats, or Dulus dominicus) shouting down at us from the trees; they are the Dominican Republic’s national bird.

After trotting down two final sets of narrow wooden hillside steps, we reached the waterfalls. Here, we waded into a shallow natural pool, surrounded by rocks and ferns and hills on all sides. Up ahead, the water rushed through a gently curved limestone canyon. We walked in knee-deep water for a while, then reached the first waterfall, which formed a perfect tiny rock slide into a pool below. With the guide’s assistance, we slid down it and splashed into the lower pool.

Sublime beauty.
Sublime beauty.

The rest of our waterfall expedition was tremendous fun, as well. The whole time, we were wading or floating in gorgeous, milky, pale blue-green water. The limestone walls of the canyon varied in color, from dark greys to light browns, sometimes streaked with moss. We spotted several nifty little stalactite-like quirks within the rock. A few highlights of the whole adventure:

  • The first few waterfalls were ones that we slid down, but soon we came to a very high waterfall, perhaps 25 feet high. Here, we had the option to jump off it into the deep pool below, or to slink around the side to an inferior rock slide. I stood on the edge of the precipice and waffled over whether to jump, and finally I managed to talk myself into it—and leaped!—and flew—and landed safely below, shooting underwater with a splash. Absolutely terrifying, absolutely amazing.
  • At one point, our guide let us explore backwards a bit, through several extra half-underwater caverns (which were sort of under the waterfall we’d just slid down). We swam between the sloping walls and splashed around under a waterfall at the back of the dim cavern.
  • Midway through the expedition, we swam by a jungle vine dangling down from the branches of a tree that was growing atop the canyon walls, far above us. The guide suggested (I think jokingly) that I should try to climb the vine. I double-checked: “Really? It’s strong enough?” then leaped onto the vine and monkeyed my way about eight feet up it, as it swung gently over the surface of the water.
Take that, vine!
Take that, vine!
  • At the very last waterfall, which was another choice of jump or slide, we were allowed to go down it as many times as we liked, climbing back up a wooden ladder after each time. Then, we had time to float about in a giant mineral-blue pool, staring up at the ceiling of trees, very much at peace.
Thank goodness for waterproof cameras.
Thank goodness for waterproof cameras.

Here’s a video of two of our waterfall adventures: first, one of our first rock slides down a waterfall, and then our leap off that one particularly high, scary, wonderful waterfall:

After hiking back out of the waterfalls and across the river bridge, we changed into dry clothes and headed to the autopista (freeway). There, we caught a guagua into Puerto Plata, where we switched over to a different guagua to Cabarete, where we would be staying for the next three nights. In Cabarete, we walked a few blocks to the hotel we’d booked, checked in, and collapsed on the bed for a while, rather tired from the waterfall-jumping and from all the crowded legs of our public transportation journey.

Flor amarilla.
Flor amarilla.

Cabarete was hands-down the most touristy place I’ve been in this country. The main drag is located right on the beach, with a single row of restaurants and shops wedged between the beach and the main street. Everywhere, there are English signs, money-exchange shops. and bizarrely non-Dominican cuisines.

We had dinner at José O’Shay’s Irish Beach Pub (really? yes), an absolutely baffling tourist-geared bar and restaurant. It’s done up just like a standard exported-Irish pub, with dark wood and bar kitsch all over the walls… except that there is no back wall, and instead it opens directly onto the beach and ocean, with more bar tables arranged in the sand. So very surreal. We ordered extremely overpriced European/American-style food and froufrou tropical drinks (mine came served inside a hollowed-out pineapple), and sat outside at one of their beach tables. Flocks of nighttime tourists strolled by, and all the palm trees were adorned with colorful lanterns and international flags.

After a stop at a shop for postcards for me (this was the first place in the RD I’d seen them for sale) and Internet time for Elana, we headed back to our hotel for the night. While the hotel was fairly inexpensive and a bit far from the main strip, it was actually very pleasant: well-sealed against mosquitos, with lots of space and shelves, plus the squishiest bed I’ve encountered in this country. After a long and fruitful day, the squishy bed called my name, and I answered.

4 thoughts on “January 21, 2014: Leaping from Waterfalls

  1. When you answered the bed, what did you say.

    I rather enjoyed this post, and loved the glacial milk color of the water. O’, what a thrill it must have been to leap off the waterfalls. This seems like the best adventure. Let’s go on an adventure to somewhere south together, okay? If you do, I’ll let you have cookies after dinner and will let you stay up till midnight every night. José O’Shay… ha ha ha.

    That snake looks like the Rod of Asclepius.

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