January 22, 2014: The Museum of Amber

Given our long day yesterday, we opted for a relaxed, slow-paced morning around our cozy hotel. We had brunch at a sunlit café that adjoined the hotel, and were delighted to discover that they offered bottomless coffee (“café sin fondo“). Our coffee-addictions rejoiced.

This country, overall, has been a very easy place to eat gluten-free, since the diet is largely meat and rice (this is actually one of the reasons why the Peace Corps placed Elana here, since she’s gluten-free too). A full 1.5 weeks in, I had my first GF issue: I asked if a menu item came with corn tortillas and was told it did, but it arrived (looking heartbreakingly delicious) wrapped in a big flour tortilla. Alas. They were very kind and apologetic, but since the café was a slow-food sort of place, this added an extra dollop of slowness into our day, while the second, genuinely-GF meal was cooked. Still, 1.5 weeks without a problem is a fantastic record.

Over breakfast, we decided that we would expedition to Puerto Plata, a city along the coast to the west of us. We headed out from the hotel, then ran back in to fill our water bottles, then headed out, then got waylaid by an interesting shmancy-Dominican-clothing store, then ran a few errands—then finally, around 2pm, caught a carro to Sosua. In Sosua, we switched to a different carro which would take us the rest of the way to Puerto Plata.

Roofdog, the Puerto Plata Welcoming Committee.
Roofdog, the Puerto Plata Welcoming Committee.

The carro dropped us a few blocks from our key destination, the Museo del Ambar (Amber Museum). Puerto Plata is full of marvelous old gingerbread Victorian houses, and the museo was located in one such Victorian, a huge, multi-balconied, beautiful pale yellow building. Once we entered the main building, a young guide led us into the museum exhibits, which were all arranged within the upstairs section of the building. Here, it was dimly lit but pleasant; as we walked through, the guide gave us a little explanation for each section. Apparently, the RD is somewhat unique in the amber that can be found here: whereas many countries may only have a few colors of amber, the RD has a whopping 10+ colors, including the very rare blue amber (which shows blue only under direct sunlight, and otherwise appears as a normal amber color).

The exterior of the amber museum.
The exterior of the amber museum.

The museum exhibits were a little scattered, but were magnificently cool nonetheless. In every room, there were a number of small exhibit-panes in which pieces of amber were mounted, along with written descriptions of what you could see within them: flower parts, termites, ants, spiders, even a tiny lizard (the prize of their collection). Higher on the walls, they had framed collections of amber from other countries with notable amber. The back of the museum was done up to look like an amber mine, complete with little stalactites and fake vines. About half of the amber specimens were either back-lit or illuminated from above, which gave them an otherworldly golden beauty.

Golden.
Golden.
The prize lizard-in-amber.
The prize lizard-in-amber.

After the museum tour, we spent some time in the gift shop, which offered scads of gorgeous amber, both set and unset. They also sold larimar (a semiprecious, ocean-blue stone that is found only in the Dominican Republic), as well as Dominican cigars and other nice-quality paraphernalia. Once we finished there, we headed back into the streets and strolled through Puerto Plata for a while. We stopped at a department store; Dominican clothes and shoes tend to have the most majestically gaudy color-pairings ever, which we appreciated.

An old Victorian in Puerto Plata.
An old Victorian in Puerto Plata.

When we emerged, it had grown dark, and a tropical rainstorm was splashing down on us. We were able to hop into a carro to Sosua almost immediately. I don’t think I’ve discussed Dominican driving methods previously in this blog, so: when you’re on a Dominican road, speed limits are merely scenic signs, and lanes are no more than an idle suggestion. If the road has two lanes going in one direction, it’s fairly common for drivers to drive smack-dab in the middle of those two lanes, right on the well-intentioned dotted line. It’s even more common for drivers to go as fast as humanly possible, passing all obstacles that stand in their way by breezing into the opposite lane. This is true regardless of whether the road has the solid double-yellow “no passing” lines, whether there’s immediate oncoming traffic, and whether the daring pass will only put them right behind another slower vehicle (which they will then also hazardously zoom around).

Thus, as you can imagine, taking a carro after dark, in the middle of an enthusiastic rainstorm, with all of the normal Dominican driving tendencies, made the experience rather harrowing, instead of its normal “mildly alarming.” However, since we were at regular full carro capacity (three people in the front seat and four in the back), I figured our squished-together-ness would be better than seatbelts in the event of an accident…? Or so I told myself.

In Sosua, we switched over to a carro toward Cabarete just as the rainstorm slowed, so our final public transportation leg of the night was a smidgen less terrifying. We sought dinner immediately upon arriving in Cabarete, settling on an American-style sports bar called Kahuna Restaurant and Bar. (Cabarete, you are such a bafflingly weird touristy place.) Elana had a whole fried fish, and I had a bunless hamburger, both with sides of grilled vegetables, all of which were delicious.

(My Dominican vegetable-deprivation has actually brought about a permanent change in my food preferences: while I was there, I craved vegetables so much that it completely overrode my lifelong dislike of bell peppers, and even after my return, my newfound liking of bell peppers has persisted. I never knew this day would come.)

Once we had cleared our plates, we sat contentedly, finishing tropical rum drinks and gazing out at the dark beach and its palm tree lanterns, while American hockey shone brightly on TV screens all around us. We walked back to our hotel through dark, humid, warm streets, and spent the rest of the night happily hunkered down, amid video chats, books, and writing.

One thought on “January 22, 2014: The Museum of Amber

  1. It’s nice they have jobs for dogs there. You had the canine that called farewell to you in Clavellina, and the hound that heralded your arrival in Puerto Plata.

    I LOVE that little lizard entombed in amber. And *I* have my own larimar, thank you very much.

    I wish you had photos of the garish color pairings of the clothes.

    I like this: “speed limits are merely scenic signs, and lanes are no more than an idle suggestion.” In fact, I like the whole bloody thing. You have to travel more so I can read more about it. But I get to go-with next time. How many more postings lie ahead?

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