Sunday, November 20, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and North Coast - Final Part

We left Tubagua at 10 am and Charly the taxi driver took us to Puerto Plata bus station, around 25 minutes away. I didn’t think I could subject Michelle to the public shared taxis. From there it was a simple route home on one bus, then another, then another which dropped us off outside my house. The public transport system works so well, with buses combining with each other and the conductors are always great at helping with luggage so traveling with a suitcase is not problem.

It rained all the way home and continued raining until Danilo took Michelle back to the airport on Monday and life returned to normal. Apart from the rain.

The rains have displaced tens of thousands of people and thousands of homes destroyed.

Even the hospital and airport in Puerto Plata were flooded.

There are loads of videos on youtube – here is just one so you can get an idea of the damage.

The situation has been exacerbated by the opening of the Taveras Dam in the middle of the country to save it breaching.

I understand why they had to do it, but even though those living close to rivers were warned the affect has been appalling.

The water has filled the main river in the north of the country, the Yaque del Norte which, together with the rain has caused tens of bridges to collapse or to disappear under the water. They have now closed the main bridge from Santiago to Puerto Plata, for inspection and should they have to close it for longer, the north coast will be more or less cut off as  the other routes from Santiago, over the mountains including the road we took to Tubagua are also closed – one as the bridge is going and the one via Tubagua as the road disappeared, although they are now making a bypass of the big hole!

Thousands of acres of agricultural produce have been destroyed especially the staples of bananas, plantains and rice, but in true Dominican tradition people are just doing the best they can.

And it still carries on raining, although supposedly things will improve by the middle of the week.

The good news is that when we got home, Danilo had bought a rat trap. I had bought some nice cheddar in Sosúa and he put a piece of that in it (don’t ask why not use Dominican cheese) and that did the trick – RIP rat. However, a few days later the television in our bedroom stopped worked and on closer inspection inside, there was a baby rat asleep. No idea how many more of the little sods there are.

So, the end of my annual holiday. Despite the rain it was a lovely break – no work, loads of fabulous food, and meeting friends old and new. Plus speaking English for a week! Now it is back to work and wait for the sun to appear so I can do my washing as am rapidly running out of knickers!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and the North Coast- Part 5

As I said yesterday, the sun came out for a while the following morning so we went off to explore and we were able to see exactly what the cabin was like.

I rarely feel as if I am in the Caribbean for some reason, maybe as the island is so big, but Tubagua and the way it is built using different woods and plants and all hand made, makes you feel like you are back in the time of the Taino Indians.

It was lush and green.

The villa had a bedroom with a mosquito net and plenty of cupboard space – the slats on the windows all closed completely as well.

The living area had a super comfy couch, with plenty of books provided where you could curl up (minus the dog) and spend a lazy afternoon.

The bathroom was rustic, basic but functional with a hot and powerful shower.

And look at how beautiful the roof is.

As night fell and we were above the clouds, you really felt on top of the world,

watching the lights slowly come on down in the valley.

After another superb meal of salad, vegetables, beans and barbecued chicken it was off to bed ready for the trip home the next day.

The following morning, before we left  I was thinking that, having visited the whole country, this really was the perfect place to live. It had “to die for” views, beaches within 20 minutes and Puerto Plata and Sosúa the same distance away with international schools, the international airport, international supermarkets, great restaurants and health care, so I mentioned this to Tim. He suggested I might want to see his next project which is right next to Tubagua on the same piece of land. There he has 10 lots for sale, each of 650 square meters and should you want to purchase one, you don't just get a chunk of land,  Tim will build you a little villa, just like the one we stayed in, so it is move in ready until and if you want to build your very own eco house.

One of the eco-houses Tim has built

It really is the perfect spot. Tim wants to keep it all ecologically friendly, but what an amazing community this will be. Fresh running stream water, no need for air conditioners or even fans, privacy, at one with nature but with friends and company on your doorstep if you need it. The price of the land with your very own little villa is US$40,000, less if you would prefer just to pitch a tent in the short term. If you want to know more just email Tim here. And no, I am not on commission but if I didn't already have my own mountain abode - this is where I would live.

I wish I could have seen more of the area when I was there - gone on a hike to the waterfalls, visited the amber mines, but the weather was against us. That gives me a great reason to return, For those of you who live in the DR and who have not been to Tubagua you simply must go and see more of what the country has to offer. I have lived in a beach/tourist area, and in a town, and now in a mountain campo which is by far my favourite - but Tubagua takes it to a different level.

In the Taino language, the native Indians who lived in the Dominican Republic prior to the arrival of Columbus, “Tubagua” means an abundance of water. Well we certainly had that but there is a sign on the wall of Tubagua, in the main eating/social room saying Mi Bagua es Tu Bagua. Definitely My Home is Your Home is perfect for Tubagua.

Final part tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and the North Coast - Part 4

It was time to leave Sosúa and what a surprise. It was raining. We said goodbye to Casa de Compai and the amazing taps –

including the one in the kitchen which had a green light on it when the water was on,

and the pool we never had a chance to use,

and set off in a very smart taxi, driven by Charly to head to Tubagua Eco Lodge.

We turned right out of Sosúa on the road to Puerto Plata then turned left in Montellano up the so called carretera touristica. The road goes over the mountain to Santiago and has a bad reputation for being in a poor state of repair, but apart from a few areas where there was no tarmac it was fine as far as we had to go, and it didn't take long to arrive at Tubagua in the pouring rain.

Charly helped us with our luggage down to the main living/dining/reception area where we were met by Tim the owner, who is the Canadian Consul for the north coast, and Tania, the American guest services manager. It was cold and wet and the view which Tubagua is famous for was just cloud.

Still we settled down for a long chat with Tim over hot coffee and a bottle of very nice red wine appeared from nowhere an hour later which helped warm us up!

The lodge is Eco with a capital E. Built on top of a mountain with stunning views (so we were told) everything is hand made with local wood. There is a choice of accommodation from what is called the long house with basic 2 bedded rooms and an outdoor washing area

and even an outdoor toilet – well you look at the view while you poo, which Michelle tried out.

There are palapas which are open sided rooms with beds upstairs (via a ladder) and down, and cabins which have their own bathroom.

Given the torrential rain we were pleased to have a cabin.

All of the food we had was basically a fusion of  Dominican and super healthy and we had a fabulous meal of fish in coconut sauce, with an amazing salad, rice, beans, fresh vegetables and avocado, plus a little more red wine, which we ate in the kitchen as it was warm and cozy.

Tubagua really does feel like a home from home, with no standing on ceremony and you can ask for whatever you need and the staff, Tim and Tania will all do their best to help you.

It was then time to go to bed, and suitably kitted out with borrowed raincoats and an umbrella, we ran back to our cabin.

On entering our cabin we discovered we had a guest. A dog, who let him/herself in and refused to leave.

Michelle and I both love dogs, and were grateful for the extra security although having said that I felt as safe at Tubagua as I do at my house, and given the torrential rain it seemed fair to let the dog have a cozy night with us.

We called the dog Sanky as it was spending the night with two foreign women, and true to form in the morning it followed us to breakfast expecting some goodies.I should point out for those who don't like or want dogs in their rooms (like husband Danilo - but chickens are OK) the dogs are an optional extra and are kept away during meal times and not normally allowed in the rooms unless requested. For those who want a pet friendly hotel - this is definitely the place and no issues about bringing pets and the dogs were very well behaved. For me it was a special treat to be allowed a dog in the living area next to the bedroom.

The sun was out and at last we saw the famous Tubagua view and OMG what a view, from Playa Alicia in Sosúa to the east

to Pico Isabel del Torres above Puerto Plata in the west, and in front of both, the Atlantic Ocean. It really was stupendous.

The main eating and relaxing area is perfectly set up to enjoy the view and you could literally sit here all day long although there are also plenty of other areas throughout Tubagua where you can curl up and enjoy a book or just while away the hours. There are books and magazines everywhere and it is a place for feeling totally at home, at one with nature and the environment and total relaxation - even in the rain.

Breakfast was fabulous, fresh coffee, yogurt, fresh fruit, granola, eggs any way, potatoes, bacon or sausages, toast and a variety of jams and all cooked to order. If you need coffee as soon as you open your eyes in the morning - no problem just yell out of the window and a flask of steaming coffee will be delivered to your room.

We checked emails, with the excellent WiFi, gave Sanky the odd bit of bacon and sausage as payment for services rendered (as a watchdog!) and set off to explore before it started raining again….which it did.

Part 5 tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holiday to Sosúa and the North Coast – Part 3

We woke up to the sound of heavy heavy rain but were cheered up following a roasting hot, super powerful shower. I could have stayed in that shower for ever!

We had arranged to meet two American expat friends for breakfast who I hadn’t seen for ages, so I called one to check if she was getting a taxi to the restaurant and if so, could she pick us up, as we had no umbrellas, nor rain wear. Not only did she pick us up she brought the all important plastic carrier bags for us to wear to ensure getting slightly less damp.

Off we went to breakfast in Bologna, arriving at the same time as the other person joining us.

By then the streets of downtown Sosua were totally flooded, although it was worse in the next city along, Puerto Plata, and Facebook was being inundated with pictures and videos of the damage.

The rain showed no sign of stopping so we chatted for hours until it was around 11 am chomping our way through bacon, eggs, toast, fresh juice and lurpak butter (a real treat).

Then we went our separate ways. One of the ladies, Ro, stayed with us and we got a lift through meter high water to a money changer and then a cab to Playero the supermarket where we decided to buy stuff for lunch and retreat to the safety and comfort of the apartment.

While in Playero I bought a few of the things I can’t get here and crave: Sriracha hot sauce for Danilo which he calls Red Dragon sauce and puts on everything,  Basmati rice, Arborio rice for paella, mushrooms of course, cheese, and nice bread and ham for lunch. We also got two large black bin liners as better rain wear as they had run out of umbrellas.

Returning to the apartment, Ro was as amazed as we had been about the quality and we all settled down to check emails for a while. The WiFi was super fast and lunch was delicious.

Ro left and we contacted the person we had arranged to meet for dinner, another American lady, and when there was a brief lull in the rain we walked to her apartment in the centre of town, it only took 5 minutes or so, but even though it wasn’t raining the pavements were 6 inches deep with water.

We spent an hour or two chatting over a bottle of red wine and then went out for dinner to El Conde restaurant, run by a fellow Brit, well from Northern Ireland so close enough!

Fabulous conversation, fabulous atmosphere, fabulous food (steak of course) fabulous service and another bottle of red wine later, it was still chucking it down and time to walk to the taxi stand. The owner of the restaurant actually walked us to the taxi stand with an umbrella which I thought was beyond the call of duty and much appreciated and we made it home in one, only semi soggy, piece.

I made the calls to arrange for the taxi to come and pick us up the next morning for the next part of the holiday – Tubagua Eco Lodge, which is in the hills between Sosúa and Puerto Plata, and we settled down to watch the American election results on each of the 3 flat screen TVs followed by bed and sleep.

Part 4 tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Holiday in Sosúa and the North Coast - Part 2

We reached Casa de Compai and the rain was coming down steadily but it looked like a nice place to stay – clean and bright. Our condo was the one upstairs with the balcony.

I have stayed in several apartments and condos here and while they have always been  fine, they were always very Dominican with wires on the outside of the walls and basic facilities. So that is what I was expecting.

We ran through the rain, up the stairs to the apartment, being surprised the floor was not slippery with all the rain, and walked in the door – then looked at each other in shock. We were not in a Dominican apartment, we were in a 5 star Manhattan high rise! It was a total OMG moment.

There was a grey and black granite top in the kitchen.

Top of the range fridge, Panasonic microwave and every imaginable gadget – even a toaster and a blender. I was prepared to have to go out and buy coffee, sugar and water - it was all provided.

The living room was spacious, and (don’t laugh) my first ever sighting of a real flat screen TV.

Comfy sofas, spacious balcony with mahogany chairs, rather than the usual plastic. Beautiful slidey windows and patio doors, all with top of the range screens.

There were plenty of fluffy towels – which we would need with the rain, and the bedrooms were lovely too.

So was the bathroom.

We really could not have asked for more - talk about exceeding expectations.

I had a hair appointment with Julia, the wife of a Russian man who had done some translating for me, at 5 pm so we headed off towards the area the salon was, hoping to find some food on the way. We were not having much luck, but Julia had said that the salon was in a shopping plaza above a café called Fresh Fresh.

The fact it said it was a café meant there must be food, so we went there and it had an extensive menu and absolutely delicious food. All fresh and healthy and lovely. We both had wraps, Michelle with chicken and me prawns ( something I had not had for a while and a big treat) which really were to die for.

The rain even stopped long enough to eat outside and then it was upstairs to the hairdressers.
The sign on the door was a tad off putting – couldn’t imagine coming out looking like that – but I hadn’t had a hair cut for over a year, apart from when Danilo massacred my fringe, and it was over 7 years since a professional had cut my hair, so this was a special treat.

Julia’s English was much better than my Russian which consists of hello, goodbye, please and thank you, I speak Russian (which I don’t) and I love you. None of which are particularly useful for describing how you want your hair. I did the actions for I have no hairdryer, no flat iron, I just want to wash it and leave it, oh and look cute.

Julia and Michelle

She did an amazing job – I would say the best haircut I have ever had! Julia is a total genius when it comes to cutting hair.

Me and Michelle
I was so impressed I even took my first selfie!

We went home and the rain started again and the roads were beginning to flood around the apartment

so we decided not to venture too far to eat and went to la Costera just at the end of the road.

The menu was extensive with a whole page dedicated to imported steak and that was just what I wanted. Michelle and I took a while to decide exactly which steak to have and I was salivating – until the waitress said that they didn’t have any of them. They did, however have one Dominican steak so we had that and it was good.

Back home to bed. Not any old bed, Sealy mattress and some sort of thing on top of the mattress (no idea of technical word), which made it even more comfortable and fabulous pillows.

Sleep came immediately.

Part 3 tomorrow.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Holiday in Sosúa and the North Coast - Part 1

So I went on my annual holiday to Sosúa on the north coast of the DR and home to many expats. I decided on Sosúa as a friend of mine from Canada, Michelle, was flying into the airport in Puerto Plata and I needed to go and meet her. I thought that a week in my house would be boring, so we decided to spend 2 nights in Sosúa itself in an apartment in town and 2 nights in a mountain top eco-lodge outside Puerto Plata, before coming home. Over the next few days I will tell you what happened so you will be inundated with blogs about the north coast.

I had to go by public transport as my car is unlikely to make it that far, so Danilo took me to Mao to take the bus to Navarette which is a 45 minute journey and costs around US$2.50. On the bus were two Haitians and the bus conductor asked for their papers, which caused a reaction from a couple of the Dominicans on the bus who told the conductor he was violating their human rights. The conductor explained that if they were found to be illegal at the checkpoint outside Navarette, he would also be in trouble. As it was they showed their passports with the correct stamp in them and there was no issue at the checkpoint.

The bus dropped me off at the stop for the public shared taxis to Puerto Plata. There are four things common to most public shared taxis, known as publicos; the cars are usually falling apart, the drivers drive like lunatics, they are very very squashed – two passengers in the front seat and four in the back, and they are cheap.

My publico had all of the above. It cost just over US$2 from Navarette to Puerto Plata and I spent the whole journey perched on about 2 inches at the front of the rear seat as my fellow rear seat passengers had significantly larger bottoms than mine. I also spent the whole journey praying as we weaved in and out of traffic at around 80-90 mph. That is, until we reached a spot where the road had collapsed.

I thought there had been an earthquake, but it was due to the heavy rain we had been having for days. In fact there has not been a day without rain since Hurricane Matthew passed by.

Once past that little issue we were in Puerto Plata in no time, and I was more than relieved to get out of that publico and into another to take me to the airport – cost less than US$1. This driver was exactly the same and I was even more squashed than in the last one.

Due to union rules, only certain taxis are allowed up to the airport terminal, so I was dropped off before reaching the terminal and hoisting my rucksack onto my back I schlepped my way to the arrivals terminal. I had not eaten on route and was sure the airport would have a MacDonalds or something equally delicious – but all there was in arrivals was the worse ham and cheese sandwich I had ever had in my life, and a million wasps all around the litter bins which followed me and my ham and cheese sandwich wherever I went.

Michelle landed 10 minutes early, and came through customs in another 10 minutes. The ordered taxi was waiting for us so we hopped in and sped our way into Sosúa, to Casa de Compai where we were to spend 2 nights.

It was raining.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Avocado season

Over a month since I have blogged so slapped wrist. Only excuse is that I am still very busy with work although things will calm down soon.

It is avocado season, and our trees still are not producing but luckily the neighbours are coming up with avocados – look at this whopper.

We are eating at least two avocados a day and I have become an expert in knowing which are criollo - which means literally creole or natural, but Dominicans say it means Dominican,  or injerto which means grafted. The latter have a different texture and taste and we prefer the former. So whenever we have a lovely criollo avocado we keep the stone to plant it.

I stopped Danilo putting the stone from this monster avocado straight in the garden and we are growing it first in water which he told me would not work and was a silly idea. Every day we would run to the kitchen and see what was happening. This is 3 weeks later. Oh ye of little faith.

I also had a yen for pickle but as I don’t know what you need for pickle I made Green Tomato Chutney instead.

It was delicious and even visiting American Tracy, who had never heard of chutney said it was delicious – I believe Americans call it relish.

Canguru continues to grow but is now in full on escape mode. She and her mum – Grita Mucho – do a runner whenever they can, and it doesn’t matter how often we fill the holes in the fence, they go for hours at a time, just like their predecessors Panda and Pandora who came to a very sticky end. We are now saving up to build a six foot wall all around the front garden, which will cost tens of thousands of pesos, so may take a while, and no way can we build a wall around the rear as it is acres! She is changing colour and although brown and white on her tummy, her back is now turning black.

The rat is still with us. We hear him chomping at night sometimes so now instead of going to bed with a teddy bear and a hot water bottle, we go to bed with missiles – wellington boots (are they called that in American?) and books. If we wake up in the night and hear it chomping we just throw a missile and it goes away. Not a long term solution – but a Dominican one. Danilo is getting fed up of being woken up by the chomping so methinks rat traps could be en route.

We have had two lots of visitors, Tracy and Mario who now has his visa for the US and leaves tomorrow and an American lady and a Dominican for a couple of days, and she brought me a wireless keyboard which fits perfectly on top of my lap top so it is all systems go again, rather than clonking away on a Dominican keyboard on my lap.

The really exciting news is that I have a Canadian friend flying in to Puerto Plata so  I am off for my annual 4 day holiday to Sosúa. Watch this space for my report on Sosúa where I am staying in Casa de Compai apartments, having my hair cut by a Russian lady, meeting some online friends and also staying in Tubagua eco lodge. I have never spent more than a couple of hours in Sosúa so this is an experience I am looking forward to.

I can’t wait for the break!