Wednesday, October 8, 2014

La Isabela

Hooray! Have new camera so normal blog service will be resumed.

Visitors arrived on Sunday. This time it was Tracy, who has been here several times from the USA and she brought my new camera with her. Also Andrea from Canada, who although she is a DR veteran had not been to the Wasp House, and Tracy's Dominican boyfriend, Mario, who I call Sniff as he is allergic to the dogs and sniffs all the time. Danilo calls him his version of Sniff, Eneef.

So Monday morning, bright and early, I rounded everyone up, including Chivirico who was here for the weekend, and off we set for La Isabela. The reason for going there was threefold. Firstly, La Isabela is the place where Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island and as that is such a momentous historical event I really wanted to see it. Secondly, as we did not celebrate Chivirico's 8th birthday at the swimming pool, I wanted to take him to the ocean and eat fish on the beach. And thirdly, I am in the middle of updating the DK Top Ten Guide to the Dominican Republic, so needed information on La Isabela, a place I had not been to.

The plan was to drive directly north to La Isabela, then from there go west to Playa Ensenada for lunch, as  there are tens of little huts right on the beach which cook fabulous fish, then home. As usual, where Dominicans or the Dominican Republic is involved, the best laid plans of mice and men.....

All went well till we had driven through the town of La Isabela. According to the map we had to turn right to reach the National Park on the coast, where the ruins of Columbus' settlement were. Only there was no right turn. So back to the normal Dominican way of asking. Not once, nor twice, but every other Dominican in sight. And as usual they tell you where to go, even if they have no idea, and every one gives you different directions. Eneef and Danilo did the asking, but almost immediately forgot the directions they were given, hence there was lots of turning round and asking someone else.

The road changed from a tarmac road to a dirt track. I pointed out that this could not be the road as coach tours went to the National Park. I was ignored. We then had to drive through a stream, carefully avoiding the cows drinking and women washing clothes, and then back onto the dirt track. Then we reached a river. Not a stream but something akin to the River Thames in London. A real, fast flowing, deep, proper river.

"No way," I said, and Tracy and Andrea agreed with me. Danilo and Eneef tried to persuade us it wasn't that deep and the vertical dirt track on the other side of the river would be easy to drive up even though we had no four wheel drive. They even got a man to wade out into the river so we could see it wasn't that deep, but as the water reached his waist, that was enough for me. We turned round and went to Playa Ensenada for an early lunch.

Playa Ensenada is a mile or so before Punta Rucia. A lovely beach with loads of little huts lining it, each one selling fresh fish and lobster.

You choose which hut you fancy, and then sit down at the tables which belong to your particular hut, lined up along the beach.

Then they bring the fish out on a tray and you pick out which one you want.

The fish is then cooked it over an open fire, the fogon and served with fried plantain chips, tostones, and fried sweet potato, batata.

It was delicious and afterwards we just sat chilling for a while looking at the view while Chivirico romped in the ocean.

So, I asked Tracy and Andrea what they wanted to do next, and they said they wanted to find La Isabela but that this time we would do it the British/Canadian/American way and not let the Dominican contingent ask every other person and lead us to an uncrossable river. So, map in hand, off we set.

We tried a variety of different routes and didn't seem to be making progress, so stopped to ask a Dominican. He said to go straight down this road, we would reach a baseball field, turn right there and we would come to a river. El Castillo, the place where the ruins are, was just the other side of the river. I asked him what the road was like and he said it was fine. I wasn't falling for that one, so asked if it was stone or tarmac.He said it was stone, but fine. I then asked if there was a bridge over the river and he assured me there was. All bases were covered.

Andrea, Tracy and I smirked at each other. We would show these Dominicans how to navigate and get proper directions. We drove down the dirt road - for a very long way, and at last reached the baseball field. Mutual congratulations all round. We turned right, and as we bumped along the road, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. This was the same bloody road that we had taken to the river before. The men started howling with laughter. We reached the same river and I looked to my left. There was a bridge.

It just didn't have a bit in the middle! Note to self. Next time ask if the bridge goes all the way across the river.

However, it looked as if the river was a lot lower than earlier so Danilo decided to have a go driving across.

It worked, so we all climbed aboard and off we went. The dirt track on the other side of the river soon turned into a proper road which said it was heading for Luperon and Puerto Plata - further west on the north coast and the National Park was just off that road.

The National Park is well organised and there is plenty to see including the ruins of Columbus' house and the rest of the houses for the 1,500 men he brought with him.

There is a tree there which is home to owls - the first time I have actually seen them in the wild.

The guide was excellent and full of information. The part the Dominicans enjoyed the best was the cemetery where 49 people were buried, both Spaniards and Taino Indians.

And what is more, there is a real, dead skeleton of a 37 year old Spaniard who died of malaria. Apparently they can tell he was a Spaniard as opposed to an Indian as his hands are crossed across his chest.

We went to the well laid out museum, grabbed some freshly squeezed orange juice, then it was time to head for home. I asked the best way back and unfortunately the good road only went to Luperon, which was totally the wrong direction for us, so there was nothing for it but to go through the river again. Luckily, although it was higher, we still crossed it with no problem.

All in all a great day trip, well worth it, with lots of laughs along the way.


  1. Very beautiful. Looks like a lot of fun. Glad you got a new camera. Love the pics!

    1. Thanks Mary. The north west of the DR is pretty unexplored so there is still much more to see - all the way to the Haitian border.

  2. OMG - there's just so much great insight in this one post: history, culture, wildlife, but most important for me - a great secluded beach! Paradiso! thank you.

    1. Thanks Brien. Playa Ensanada is lovely - but if you like secluded don't go at weekends as hundreds of Dominicans descend there. If you carry on a couple of miles you come to Punta Rucia beach which is also lovely. There are plenty of places to stay from upmarket all the way to little guest houses.

  3. Very brave to have crossed the river, but worthwhile!
    I can't imagine that many tourists would visit that area if that bridge is down, what a pity.

    1. They can get there easily coming from the east Sami. Someone told me there is usually a man in the river and you pay him RD$200 to drive your car across! Looks like we saved some cash.

  4. Thank you for sharing some awesome photos of La Isbela Cemetery and Ruins of Christoper Columbus's first residence. I will go and see them someday. Now, I am Deaf American Expat and living in Santo Domingo. :)

    1. Yes Hisel you should make the effort - is a lovely part of the country.

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