All the beach days aside, it’s this adventure that will stick in my mind forever!
Here’s what you’ll read today:
- Is it dangerous outside the touristy parts of DR?
- Here’s a place you’ve never heard of before in the DR – and how to get there
- How you can directly help the community in the DR
- What to do in case of a strike (and why the world (of the telenovelas) is so small:)
- Should you go to Las Cienaga?
Ever heard of Barahona?
This part of our trip was such a challenge! From Las Galeras we went all the way back to the capital, Santo Domingo, and rented a car there. After we managed to get out of the city, we went on to the most adventurous part of the entire trip! Here’s a part of the country that doesn’t get almost any tourist: the Barahona province in the South-West.
(Btw, the GPS said it was 15 minutes to get out of Santo Domingo and to the highway. Well, it turned out we needed almost two freaking hours! The traffic is CRAZY. Seriously, we thought that after the traffic in Bosnia we were equipped for any part of the world. Nope, Santo Domingo is a traffic hell! It was still fun though, even after getting lost zillions of times:))
We stayed three nights in this part of the DR; changing places every night. The first stop was the tiny village La Cienaga.
A hipster alternative to stay in the Dominican Republic
How did we end up here? Well, not by chance.
While I was researching the DR before going there, I was looking for options to stay in the home of a Dominican family. On a random forum post on tripadvisor I read something about Cooperativa Coopdeci situated in a remote village called La Cienaga. It is an initiative to empower the local women of the village. They offer several services. They run a small cafe where the local women cook. They also make homemade marmalade and they offer tours and accommodation.
I looked up their website and wrote them an e-mail*. I didn’t get any response for days and almost gave up on the idea. But they got back to me after a couple of days. I announced that we will be coming and that we’d like to stay with a local. The communication didn’t go quite well since they wrote in Spanish and I used google translate:D
BUT, long story short, after finding our way here from Santo Domingo (we stopped a few times and asked around where to find them), we parked before the small cafe. It seemed as if they didn’t really expect us (as I said, communication issues:D).
Thankfully, we got invited by a volunteer from the US. We explained everything and he set us up with our host for the night – Paulina.
Here I am with our host Paulina and Frank, the US volunteer of the NGO Peace Corps:)
Here’s Paulina making us coffee.
*UPDATE: I wanted to link the website of Cooperativa Coopdeci but it seems that the website is no longer online. Here’s their Facebook fanpage and their e-mail address: email@example.com.
Sleeping in the home of a local
We spent our night in the home of our host Paulina. We paid 500 pesos (10 USD/EUR) each for the sleepover and breakfast.
Paulina spoke no English so we communicated with our basic Spanish, our hands and face expressions. Her home was not the cleanest and most pleasant accommodation, to say the least. But we were accepted unconditionally and wholeheartedly in this community. It will remain one of my dearest travel memories for sure.
This is Paulina’s home.
And here’s our room 🙂
Now, this was so funny! Here in Bosnia people have been watching first Spanish and now Turkish soap operas. They are crazy about this stuff. Well, the night we were at Paulina’s we heard from our bed that she was watching what we thought – was a Spanish soap opera. So I went into the living room to keep her company.
What I saw was her watching Sulejman Magnificent (Sulejman Veličansveni), the most popular ever Turkish soap opera in Bosnia, dabbed in Spanish!!! We couldn’t believe it. This world is so small! :)))) She moved on explaining me who is doing what and I was like, I’m not going to reveal any spoilers – since they’re a few seasons behind 😀
My most precious Dominican memories
It will sound like a cliche and I hate cliches. But let me tell you this. These people have so little, this village has electricity for only 12h a day and even their water supply is interrupted. And still, they don’t stop smiling and sharing what every they have.
One of the most precious memories from the three weeks in the DR was my walk through the village at 6 am. People were just getting up and ready for work, kids on their way to school.
While I was walking around, an old man called me from his house and asked if I wanted to have a coffee with him and his mother. I accepted of course! They called in the grandchildren as well and asked where I was from (it is far away you will probably not know it:)). I left with a souvenir – their family portrait.
Other kids were in front of the house and Maria and her friends showed me their homework and their favorite cartoons.
I even got a kiss that morning:)
The nicest grandma in the Dominican Republic
And then, when I was about to get back to Paulina’s (Nerma and Ajla were still sleeping), I had the most special encounter in La Cienaga.
I saw a grandma cleaning the street. I approached here and asked if I could help her (Yes, I have at least that much Spanish under my belt:)). She was surprised but still showed me where to put the trash.
Then she invited me to her home. She said she lived here alone. She suddenly disappeared inside the house and came back with the only thing she could offer me – two fresh mangoes. I will never forget this moment. Pure human kindness.
What if all roads are blocked?
Let me round this story up with drama! That morning we were about to go to our next stop – Pedernales. But then the shock: the only road was blocked because the villagers were on a strike. They demanded from the government the building of an aqueduct to solve the water supply problem. They were throwing rocks on any car they saw on the street.
Here we are waiting with everyone else:)
You need to wait, they told us. How long? No one knew. Oh, maaaan, why today? So we waited, for an hour, and another hour, and another one. Then the military stepped in! Two trucks full of DR solders drove by on us. Then we heard sounds of gun shots. Tear gas, they explained us. After another few hours, finally, the road was clean. We drove by what looked like a fighting scene, rocks all over the street, fire burning on the street side. Our first thought was that this will make for a fun story back home:)
How to get there
We got here with a car that we rented in Santo Domino. Driving here is not a problem (apart from finding your way out of Santo Domingo:D). There are not that many streets anyway so it’s quite straight forward.
Before we decided to rent the car, I was researching options to get here with public transportation. Turns out that it is possible and it is a pain in the ass. The easiest is to take a Caribetour bus from Santo Domingo to Barahona (around 3 hours). Once in Barahona, you’ll take a guagua (a local minibus). Once in La Cienaga, you’ll have to ask around. The easiest would probably be to hop on a motoconcho (a motocycle taxi). But this place is very small and people know each other. So, again, if you take it easy – and take your time, you’ll end up before their doorstep eventually 🙂
My final vote on La Cianega:
Do this! It will not be comfortable and you might get upset. But trust me, you need this. You need to see this pure human kindness. I hope it will make you appreciate your own life more. And please support initiatives like Cooperativa Coopdeci because your money will directly help the people who need it the most.
Stay tuned for the next episode on getting lost on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in a tent and the most beautiful beach on Earth, all in Pedernales!
LET US KNOW IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE RARE PEOPLE WHO WANDERED TO THIS PART OF THE DR! DID WE MISS SOMETHING?