Recently (probably over a bottle of tequila) we were talking to our best friends, Derrick and Sarah. Derrick is known for having an “open heart valve,” just like his dad. In other words, he likes to get sentimental; he’s known for a heart-felt cheers on all occasions. He was talking about how much they had been influenced by Tim and I in terms of travel, and especially in the sense of wandering off and not knowing what will happen, but trusting that it’ll be awesome (or even not awesome, which makes for a great story later, after you’ve healed from the trauma). Recently, the four of us traveled to the Dominican Republic together. Not many people would rent a car and drive all over DR, but that’s what we did.
Tell us a little about yourself! What do you do when not traveling?
Derrick and Tim work at the same company here in Rochester. Derrick is an engineering manager and Tim a product line manager. I’m a ENL (English as a New Language) teacher at a local high school, and Sarah is an Operations Manager for a local recruiting firm. Whenever we all get together, which is often, there are endless laughs, and usually, endless drinks.
When did you first realize you had the travel bug?
I think we all first realized that we would make good travel buddies a few years ago when we took a road trip to nowhere for my 30th birthday. We took Friday off, got in the car, and just started driving without any destination in mind. We ended up in Boston and Providence, and got into so many shenanigans along the way (including, but not limited to, an epic karaoke performance on Tim’s part, inviting random people into our hotel room, and a really sketchy basement party in Providence). We were obviously in close quarters with each other the whole time, and not only did we not kill each other, but we had a total blast.
How did you land in the Dominican Republic? Was it accidental or on purpose?
We actually spent a long time planning a trip to Belize, but we made the rookie mistake of waiting too long to book plane tickets. When the prices nearly doubled, we looked for cheap plane tickets, and that’s where DR came in. We flew into Santiago for less than $500 round trip, which is pretty good when flying out of our tiny Rochester airport.
How would you describe the vibe of the Dominican Republic? What made it so memorable?
I’m sure anyone who knows a Dominican would tell you they are the most kind, easy-going and fun people they know. Dominicans are in no hurry ever, and in fact, while driving all over the island, we observed a favorite Dominican pastime everywhere we went: sitting. Yes, that’s right, there are people sitting everywhere. Sitting in lawn chairs by themselves, with neighbors, with family members, their dogs, on their roof, you name it. When Derrick shared this observation with his Dominican co-worker, and I with one of my Dominican students, they laughed out loud, “yeah, Dominicans love that s*&%.” They’re out there talking to each other, making memories, telling stories, and enjoying the good weather. My student explained to me, “Your neighbors are like your family. If anyone ever had a problem with you, your whole neighborhood would have your back.”
How did you get there?
We flew out of our local airport, ROC, and into Santiago, Dominican Republic. We rented a car, which was a total fiasco. I think Tim almost murdered the Enterprise worker. I’m not really sure what advice to offer about this besides doing your research, but every person in that room who was renting a car was furious. They added all these extra charges, and we were completely stuck with them. I must also say, driving a rental car around DR is not for the faint of heart (Dominicans who we told of our travels thought we were insane). You have to go through checkpoints with guards wielding machine guns, and while you’re driving you are dodging burros, people with machetes on motorcycles, people with babies on motorcycles, vehicle-sized potholes and other road hazards. It’s just generally kind of crazy, but also beautiful and entertaining if you can keep your cool. Luckily Tim was our chauffeur, who has extensive 3rd world driving experience and didn’t blink an eye.
Where did you stay?
At the tail end of our trip, we spent a few nights in Santo Domingo at a small renovated hotel in old town. We had a blast exploring the Malecon, Zona Colonial, and drinking wine out in the square. The true highlight of our trip, however, was the time we spent in Samaná, which is a peninsula on the north part of the Island, with some of the most incredible nature and beaches we’ve seen in our lives. What really made this experience amazing was the Airbnb we chose, called Casa El Paraíso. This place was a series of open-air cabanas in the mountains, overlooking the ocean. If that doesn’t sound good enough, throw an amazing pool and communal space with a personal world-class chef in the mix. It was the type of situation where you let Mirko, the chef, know if you were going to be around for dinner, and he would go into town and get supplies for whoever was eating dinner that night. Incredible and different every time.
Top three things you experienced there?
- Playa Rincón – our aforementioned chef, Mirko, made arrangements in town for us to take a little boat to Playa Rincón, which is one of the places they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean. He also packed us a cooler full of beer, champagne, and wine. This beach was the most breathtaking beach I’ve ever seen. The clearest, bluest water, incredible mountain scenery on three sides, and almost no people at all. When our little boat brought us back to our meeting spot, we played volleyball with some locals while we waited for Chef Mirko.
- Casa El Paraíso – This was such an incredible place. The reviews are for real, it’s magical. You’re up in the mountains, and while you’re driving there you’re wondering where the hell your GPS is taking you, but once you walk down the charming stone path to your villa or to the communal dining and pool area, you won’t believe it’s reality. Chef Mirko explained that the kitchen is completely open, you can take any bottle or beer you want, and it gets tabbed at the end of your stay. Mirko was an incredible Chef and host, and has a really interesting background. From the roosters crowing below and using an open-air toiled that overlooks the ocean to the infinity pool to the hospitality we were shown, we can’t more highly recommend staying here.
- Exploring Santo Domingo – We aren’t major planners, so we had a blast “gunk holing” around Santo Domingo after a crazy drive south from Samaná. Between glasses of wine in Zona Colonial, walking/running the Malecón, driving a quad bike around with a 6-pack or hanging out at our adorable hotel pool courtyard, we were completely charmed by Santo Domingo. There’s a lot of history here to explore.
Did you meet any fellow travelers that left an impression on you?
While we were at Casa El Paraiso enjoying Playa Rincon, we met some fellow travelers from Sweden, who were also enjoying Mirko’s delicious flame-cooked fish. It was a group of guys, friends, who were be-bopping all over the island together. The more we travel and meet other travelers, we see how common it is for people from other parts of the world to travel off resort, wandering about and finding all kinds of rare sights and places, and I think the rest of us can use a little more of that too!
Do you have any words of wisdom for wanderers looking for off the beaten path locations?
No matter what anyone tells you, don’t go to Boca Chica. We got Boca Chica’d, and it was just as bad as it sounds. In fact, to this day, when we’re describing a time when we got completely screwed, it goes something like this:
Tim: I was walking down the street, and this guy jumped me and took my wallet!
Derrick: Man, you got Boca Chica’d.
Do you have an off-the-beaten-path travel story? Share the location in a comment below!