Posted by: stacylynn12 | December 5, 2011

Moving to the Mountains

Moving days are always tough. We have to psyche ourselves up. Tough is relative I suppose. I mean, we are traveling which implies moving frequently. It would be much more straightforward if we had a car and could just hop in it and drive to our next destination. But alas, rental cars are not in a backpacking family’s budget.

To give you an idea… our move from the beach at Las Galeras to the mountains required the following:

– A short walk with all of our stuff to the main road to wait for a gua gua (small van) to pass by.
– A 45 minute gua gua ride to the town of Samana.
– A 2 + hour bus ride on a large comfortable bus to the town of San Francisco de Macoris.
– A search for a hotel in town to spend the night.
– A rowdy night at a Gigantes baseball game. (Ok, this was not an essential stop on our march to the mountains but when in the land of the almighty game one must heed the call.)
– An early morning gua gua ride the next day to the town of La Vega (about 45 min).
– Unloading our stuff and transferring it to another gua gua going to Jarabacoa. (Another 45 min ride plus about 1 hour waiting for enough passengers to “fill” the gua gua. In the Domincan Republic, a vehicle is never really full… as in there’s always room for one more, until the load verges on complete insanity.
– From Jarabacoa, schleping our stuff into the back of a pick up truck and stuffing ourselves inside the extremely overloaded vehicle for the labored ride up into the mountains. (Except for poor Randy who was stuck outside clinging for dear life to the tailgate with about 8 other people).
– And lastly, getting dropped off on the side of the road to trek down into the valley near the river to our “EcoLodge”.

Total time: approximately 26 hours to go 150 miles.

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Yes, all these people plus Randy rode in the back of this truck and inside there were 10 more people. I’m not joking.

Phew.

Are you tired yet?

Ahhh… But what is traveling if you don’t move? We’ve tried to strike a balance between traveling and staying put. Both are quite wonderful really… There is excitement when arriving in a new place, wondering what it will be like and what exciting new things await us. There is also a comforting quality about staying in one place, even for a week. We get to know the people at the grocery store, where we can find the best coffee and how much a motoconcho ride to this coffee shop should actually cost.

So we arrived in the mountains – La Cordillera Central to be exact, which translated means “The Central Mountain Range”, and decided to make our way to a place called Sondido del Yaque. Our guidebook highlighted the place and a website made it sound magical…

“Relaxation in harmony with nature in its purest state.”

… A verdant paradise
… A true ecotourism experience
… Off the grid and immersed in nature
… Adorned by lush vegetation

And, only 400 pesos a night. (That’s about $10 US).

Now given how difficult it was to find this place (no one in the area really knew where it was and when we were dropped off by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, we weren’t entirely sure we were in the right place) AND given how inexpensive it was… we were pretty sure it wasn’t going to be the kind of EcoLodge you might be thinking of. Frankly we didn’t know what to expect.

We hesitantly began the steep hike down toward the river. We worried that if our accommodations for the night didn’t actually materialize down there that we would have to trudge back up the hill with our heavy backpacks. After such a long trip it was late in the day and we were hot, tired and hungry.

Can you say “Disaster in the Making?”

As we made our way down the hill we asked everyone we passed… “Sondido del Yaque?” while we pointed inquiringly. “Si, Si!” they assured us. Arriving at the proverbial end of the trail, we saw no obvious signs but figured we must be somewhere. After all, wherever you are, there you are. And so it was.

I began wandering through a small village, looking for someone who could help us. I finally found a group of chicas (young girls) and began to try to explain that we had communicated by email with someone, somewhere who assured us that they had a room for us and we could spend the night. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) in this little corner of the world, the relevance of email is absolutely, well… nada.

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The village of Los Calabazos.

The chicas looked at each other.

They looked at me.

I looked at them.

Things were touch and go but eventually they showed us to a cabina and we settled in.

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The “cabinas”. Indeed, surrounded by lush vegetation.

Phew… again.

Hurdle número dos (2)…

Dinner.

I was afraid to ask about dinner because if the answer was anything but affirmative, we were seriously hosed. I proceeded to wander through the village again in search of someone, anyone… When I found one of the women and asked if dinner was available she assured me that it was. A short while later we were offered a simple, tasty, locally grown and prepared meal of eggs, salami and mangu (just like mashed potatoes but made with plantains instead).

There were two other guests at the lodge, a Dominican couple from Santo Domingo, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. We spent 3 days here enjoying the cool weather and tranquil surroundings. We had the chance to practice “being” instead of “doing” as there really was a whole lot of not much to do here. We spent a delightful afternoon splashing in and riding the gentle current of the Yaque River and also took a short hike up into the surrounding hills. It required crossing a bridge, the likes of which I have not seen since our days in Nepal. Shockingly, it received a structural stamp of approval from our favorite safety conscious Professional Engineer. It still scared the pantalones off of me.

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The sketchy bridge

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Horses cross the Yaque River carrying loads of newly harvested tomatoes.

Aside from a few days of tranquility one of the most wonderful things about Sondido Del Yaque was simply that it exists.

Per their website…

“The Sonido Del Yaque Ecolodge is locally owned and operated by the New Hope Women’s Club. They believe in using the lodge as a way to improve the lives of their families and the community, and strive to promote renewable resource strategies locally and globally.

Sonido Del Yaque is completely “off the grid” using two essential renewable energy sources. The micro-hydroelectric plant harnesses the power of the Yaque River to help supply the guests with hot water from a clean energy source. They also utilize a system called a Biogas processor. Biogas is an alternative energy source derived predominantly from organic waste. This system provides gas for cooking and lighting.”

They produce a good amount of food there as well. Tomatoes, bananas, squash, plantains, oranges and more both by cultivating the surrounding hills and in greenhouses on the property. When we were there the women were busy working on brand new singer sewing machines making “bolsas” or handbags to sell to the tourists who come through. The progressive machines stood in stark contrast to the primitive surroundings and reflected visually the sentiment of Bob Dylan’s classic song “Oh the Times They are a Changin”. It seemed clear that these women were motivated to create better lives for themselves and their families.

According to one local “in the know”, USAID and the DSTA (United States Agency for International Development / Dominican Sustainable Tourism Alliance) have directed over a million dollars into the development of this project.

The women of the village have a long way to go in order to have a successful, thriving business. They’ll need to figure out how to coordinate reservations and how to serve meals so that guests don’t have to worry if they will be fed or not. They need to learn to clean a room when a guest departs and not to wait for the next guest to arrive. Informational tours of their projects, greenhouses, hydroelectric plant and more would be of great interest to guests who come here for the Eco experience. Right now they are a group of dedicated people who have been given perhaps more than they have been prepared to handle and without the requisite support. With time, experience and desire they will figure it out.

Their destiny is in their hands.

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A small dwelling on the way down to Sondido del Yaque.

Note: Pictures of our time here are a bit scarce as our camera decided to throw a tantrum and quit. Bummer.

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Responses

  1. What a gift to you and your family! I am so impressed with you and I miss you terribly! I think we are still on a travel ban but I am continuing to chip away at the ban with a deep need to provide our children with some natural vitamin D!!!

  2. Sounds fantastic apart from the 26 hour gua gua! The Ecolodge reminds me of the place on the wild coast of South Africa called Bulungula. They are a bit more advanced with the business model but similar goals it seems. Could be a great place to visit! Love you, Jen

  3. Here’s what you missed. I left upstsate New York with a cooler full of venison Tuesday evening. Pat and I left Massachusetts for home Wednesday morning. Eleven hours of driving south on route 95 through torrential rain surrounded by swerving big rigs and impatient drivers we arrived, exhausted at our over night stop in North Carolina. Thursday morning appeared bright and crisp. The rain had finally let up. After another eight hours dodging tire remnants and the “texting while driving” crowd we were back in Florida. Most of the way along our journey we would happily have exchanged places with you in the back of the that truck. Happy holidays and happy trails.


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