Jarabacoa and Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

I’ll be honest and say up front that I never really had the Dominican Republic on my radar before. I mean, what do you think of when you think of the DR? All-inclusive resorts, sure. (Flying from Ottawa to Saskatchewan via Punta Cana, definitely.) Baseball? Reggaeton and loud blaring music? Adventure tourism? I can appreciate all of that (except for the satire-friendly political grift), but I wouldn’t include any of those things amongst my preferences.

But hey, when in Rome DR…. I’m here for the wedding of my dear friends Paul and Louise, along with a small group of our friends who’ve all flown in from Vancouver. While I’m not staying with them in the resort, this event did bring me to the country, and I chose to explore a little with the few days I had before it.

After Santo Domingo though, I was definitely looking for a little bit of respite from the hustle and bustle. Mountains, fresh air, and quiet? Sounds great. Oh look, Santo Domingo weekenders!

Hey, I’m not gonna judge how a country chooses to enjoy themselves in the mountains. But it was definitely a surprise to see giant mud-covered ATVs veering around the town centre, party buses leaving every 10 minutes from the most popular restaurant circling the entire town and surrounding areas, and motorcycles popping wheelies to the soundtrack of club music right next to the central Parque Duarte. I even caught restaurant staff and guests asking the man at the table next to me for autographs, as they played his new rap music video on the TV.

Perhaps I would have seen a lot more of this celebratory atmosphere at the Parque de la Confluencia a 4 km drive (…for me, walk) out of town if it didn’t start pouring. Oops. At least it didn’t seem to stop the party buses.

Bad pictures. I regret not taking photos of horses, wheelies, and ATVs.

Relieved to see a surprise sunny day the next day, I joined with fellow hostel guests Pierre and Tomas to Salto Jimenoa, a rather impressive waterfall a 10 km motorcycle ride out of town with a subsequent slippery 45 minute hike down. Purportedly the location was used in filming the first Jurassic Park, and it certainly looks the part — even if the heavy rains recently prevented us from being able to safely approach the river, falls, or rapids.

Stranded at the trailhead with an hour and a half walk back to town to look forward to, we were fortuitous enough to see a flatbed truck making a delivery at the house next door. Insisting on offering our help in exchange, the friendly workers zipped us back down, leaving us with a lovely view to enjoy al fresco… and a heck of a lot more time left in the day.

So why not just take a ride right back up the mountain and jump off it? Good times. When in DR, right?

Fast forward past a rainy evening and six hours of bus rides the next day and I’m at Bayahibe, a beach town dominated by surrounding all-inclusive resorts. Is it a little weird that there’s crowds of foreigners, tour buses, boats, and activities galore? Sure, but let’s just go with it. Reunited with my friends from home, we went for a scuba lesson (a refresher for me, as it’s been 11 years since my last dive) and a neat little wreck dive. I’ve forgotten the wondrous feeling of being surrounded by schools of fish.

And while I may not be an all-inclusive resort guest, let’s just say there are… ways to enter. Very appreciative of the unlimited food and drink, but moreso the opportunity to spend time with my home friends abroad, something I’ve not been able to do in ten years. Living the luxury life for a few days was a jarring but enjoyable reprieve from the backpacker life. But this leads me to confront an admittedly elitist opinion head-on: I’ve always derided resort travel for its “inauthenticity.”

You know what? Everyone’s got their own comfort level, their own preferences, and of course, their own abilities for travel. For many, a resort is what they can do, and a much needed escape. With an open attitude for engagement, guest interactions with staff are every bit as genuine.

I think back to the hostel owner in Jarabacoa teaching Pierre, Tomas, and me in the kitchen how to peel plantains, how to best prepare tostones, and joining us for dinner. Or the manager of my hostel in Bayahibe never interacting with an Asian before, curious about the texture of my hair. And at the resort? The staff playfully teasing and encouraging my friends to speak Spanish; their excitement and enthusiasm for helping us have a good time; and even their zeal for a good time of their own, off in the corner when not busy, inviting anybody in.

Resorts aren’t walled cities barring their guests from leaving. Bayahibe itself may be a tourist town, but it’s also a living town with residents going about their day, kids playing in the streets, a healthy contingent of domestic visitors, colmados and street food stands pumping in the evenings, and — of course — a very busy baseball diamond. Resort guests mill about town, and the locals are just as friendly and chatty to them as everywhere else in DR.

Travel will differ however you choose to do it. The people here will not — wherever you go, they’re Dominican through and through, and it’s what I appreciate most about this country in the very short time I’ve had.

As for the wedding? It was an absolute blast, a formal occasion yet one to let loose at and release two years of pent-up social energy, but not my story nor my photos to share here. Congrats, Paul and Louise!

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