The middle of December we headed to Michigan to spend Christmas with our oldest son and his family. The drive from Pittsburgh to Big Rapids is about a seven hour trek. (Hold your right hand up, palm facing you and at the base of your ring finger you’ll find Big Rapids.) We know weather this time of year can be “ify.” Luckily we hit a sunny, cold but sunny, day. Each time we return to Big Rapids we’re always noticing things that have changed since we left four full years ago! What are the new restaurants? Who went out of business? Well, you get the picture. After living there for more than 20 years,we feel very lucky to have family still in Big Rapids. And Kris and Andria’s home is always a great place to visit. They are both amazing cooks, their home is like something out of a magazine and the tenor of the house is always upbeat and relaxed! In addition, they have two great teenagers who are both very musical.
We couldn’t believe it when Andria told us that if we came the week before Christmas we could attend three of their band performances. Talk about good timing! It was a great holiday. It was fun to watch everyone open their Christmas surprises, then enjoy a scrumptious dinner, catch up with good friends, play some euchre and just enjoy each other’s company. Of course the time passed far too quickly just like it always seems to do.
We flew to DC the day after Christmas. Cary, coming in from Rome, would meet us at the airport. We’d get an Uber to the hotel and meet up with Patrick for dinner. We’d make the “big switch” with Patrick. He’d bring us our warm weather suitcase we had stored at his house and we’d trade him for the colder climate wardrobe we’d been traveling with. Then in February when we return to DC we’d switch back. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this wasn’t our best planning packing wise but we hopefully had found a solution. It’s always fun connecting with the kids at airports, whether we’re meeting their planes or they’re meeting ours. This one was no exception. As we came through security there stood Cary with a big smile on her face. This was the beginning of another adventure.
Thursday morning, Cary, Bob and I headed to National Airport on our way to Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, Cary was on a different initial flight than we were but we’d meet up in Miami and then go on to the Dominican together. A little less than three hours to Miami and then another two hours to Puerto Plata. Not bad! We rented a 3 bedroom villa with pool in Sosua Ocean Village, about a half hour drive from the airport. Patrick would meet up with us the next day at the villa. Our host, Ruslan, had suggested his driver, Robinson, meet us and bring us to the villa. That worked out great; just outside security, Robinson had a sign with my name on it, and introduced himself. We were impressed that he also spoke English!
The first thing that struck us was the weather. It feels so good to be out of the cold. It’s not hot; it’s not cold; it’s perfect. Ruslan had left the villa front door unlocked so that left us with a good feeling about the security of the area. Even though it was late we had to check everything out…particularly the terrace and pool. (Okay, you found me out; I took these pictures later!)
Wow! First thing the next morning, the local car agency we had rented through delivered our car. Hmmm…the one we had reserved wasn’t available so instead they gave us a Porsche SUV. Our “over the top” enthusiasm quickly diminished when we realized that this Porsche was filled with dents, and torn seat covers. Besides, how would we ever maneuver this beast on these crowded narrow roads. But whatever…we’d manage. The tank was almost on empty so on our way to the grocery we stopped and filled it. Holy Moly! Almost a hundred dollars! So we had a lot of mixed feelings when the agency called the next morning and told us that our car had been returned and they’d drop it off shortly. It turned out to be a KIA sedan, the year we couldn’t figure out, but given that it had a zillion miles on it, it wasn’t anything close to new and the driver’s door stuck. We weren’t sure this was an improvement over the Porsche or not! Lesson learned: Stick with car rental agencies we know! OK Motors must have felt our pain though because the KIA was delivered with a full tank of gas!
Ruslan stopped over about noon to meet us and answer any questions we had. He walked us through the necessities and showed us how the wifi and the stove worked, where to take the trash, etc. He also explained that Osvaldo and his wife, Lali, would be available every day to provide anything we needed. Also, the pool would be cleaned daily by a different gentleman and there was Juan who would garden and just generally be available for us. We would obviously be well taken care of. When Robinson dropped off Patrick late that night we were ready to start celebrating New Years!
Cabarete is a town of about 14,000 just a few miles east of us. We were thrilled to find a parking lot just a few steps from the beach. 100 pesos ($ 2.00) until 6 pm. In an area with wall to wall traffic what a find! We had no pesos yet but surprisingly the attendant took Bob’s $10 and gave him back $8 American!
As we walked down the shop-lined block to the beach we were astounded to see kite after kite of all colors flying over the beach.
The beach is absolutely gorgeous. For $ 10 we got 4 chairs and an umbrella. Bar after bar line the beach offering beers ($3.50) to the more expensive pina colada ($6). There is a continuous parade of beach vendors offering massages, carvings, fresh fruit, shrimp, hats…well, it’s quite the market place.
We had read about the Sunset Grill…Fodor’s says this is the place to see the best sunsets on the northern coast. So we decided to try it out after our day at the beach. We absolutely fell in love with it so much so that we returned on the kids’ last night here.
Our villa is technically listed as part of the Sosua Ocean View Resort. We enter through a security gate and security guards abound. But I wouldn’t consider it a resort, at least not by American standards. And we’re fine with that! There are three nice restaurants. We’re in the tropics so they’re open air and two of them have amazing views of the ocean. The third one is a craft brewery. All have good food that is reasonable priced. Also, all have wait staff that speak English. Probably our favorite was Al Porto. Great view, great prices and great food!
Ruslan had told us Maria Restaurant, which is a second restaurant located within our community, was going to have a special celebration for New Years.
Dinner, served outdoors right on the ocean, live music, fireworks. It sounded like fun! And we weren’t disappointed.
We celebrated with people all speaking different languages but all having the common goal of wishing in a New Year and with it all our hopes and dreams for a great future! A variety of appetizers were offered and choices for the main dishes were either mahi mahi papillote and coconut or skirt steak in goat cheese sauce. Plus a complimentary bottle of wine or the local rum! And of course, champagne at the bewitching hour! Definitely an evening to remember!
The Dominican truly is an island of spectacular beaches. Folks had told us that in addition to Cabarete Beach, Sosua Beach located just west of our community, was also a gorgeous beach and that it was located in a lagoon making it quieter for swimming. So we decided to check it out. Like so many places we go there is the ubiquitous chaos of cars. We weren’t sure exactly where we were headed but when we got close it became clear with locals ushering us to parking places. We chose the first we came to, just at the top of a street that fronted lots of shops and led directly to the beach.
This time the cost was 150 pesos (or $3.00). Again as we approached the beach, we were greeted by a young man who provided us with 4 lounge chairs and two umbrellas for $16. But this guy was smart; “No, he said, “Don’t pay me until you leave.” This way he could make more money by supplying us with drinks or food. And of course there were the omnipresent vendors again offering all sorts of goods from food to souvenirs. This beach was definitely lovely but as we entered the water there was a hard surface beneath the shallow sand.
I’m not sure if it was rock or concrete but it was different. We all decided that while it was a great experience we preferred the beach at Cabarete.
We had read about Las Terrenas, a beach town on the northeast peninsula. It’s a town of many expats with a lot of French and Italian influence. Google maps said it was about 165 kilometers from our villa (or about 100 miles). We decided we’d rent an Airbnb so we’d have time to see some sites while we were there. Good thing! It turned out to take us nearly 4 hours to make the trek. After we had been on the road a short time we realized that the car had virtually no shocks. The road conditions were sketchy. Sometimes they were filled with potholes; sometimes they had nonexistent shoulders. Going through small towns we found cars parked on both sides of the very narrow street and then often a vehicle would just stop and make a delivery and traffic would back up behind it. Then out on the main road again we’d sometimes get behind a slow moving truck and found it disconcerting when impatient drivers behind us would whiz by just as we were approaching a hill or curve. And then of course, the scooters are everywhere. Often the scooter has the driver, the passenger and a small child or baby. We’ve seen them carrying firewood, furniture. And if that’s not enough, we even saw a driver who had one leg, had his crutch attached to one side of his scooter and a refrigerator on the back!
It’s crazy! Cary did a yeoman’s job behind the wheel! And in spite of all the craziness, the views were amazing! We passed rice fields (I had no idea they grew rice in the Dominican!) drove close to the ocean with trees forming a canopy above. (Too bad Cary wasn’t able to see much!)
Terrenas was founded in 1946 when Trujillo forced the people living in that rural area to move into town. At that time they were isolated from the rest of the Dominican. A great road has since been built from Santa Domingo to Terrenas. We connected with this toll road about 45 minutes from our destination. It was such a great change! The collection kiosk was unlike anything we’d ever encountered! It reminded me of a cashier from a bank in the wild west! The toll was 250 pesos but we had nothing less than 1000 so we got lots and lots of change! But boy was the toll worth it!
As we got closer to Terrenas the road took us up and down a gorgeous mountain terrain. And we held our breath as our 4 cylinder KIA chugged along and I found myself hoping the brakes were in better condition than the rest of the car.
Once we finally got to Terrenas we found scooters, cars and pedestrians mobbing the streets and virtually no place to park. So we continued to make our way to the far end of a beach road until we came to our Airbnb. It turned out to be lovely!
We were directly across from the water. And this time the beach was thick white sand. We spent the evening playing cards in a beach pub until they closed. I think this might have been everyone’s favorite beach. What a tough job it is…comparing beaches!
The drive back the next day didn’t seem quite so long or quite so harrowing. Perhaps it’s because we knew what to expect. When we got back we decided to go to dinner at Al Porto. They have a Saturday Craft Beer Fest with all you can eat Seafood Buffet and unlimited beer. How could we go wrong. There was lots of dancing and an outgoing guest came around to the tables and invited people onto the dance floor. Even some of the wait staff joined in on the fun. Dancing obviously crosses language barriers!
Suddenly it was time for Cary and Patrick to fly home. When they first arrived we were ecstatic they could both visit for nearly two weeks. How had that time passed so quickly? We hadn’t seen Puerto Plata yet, the city about 45 minutes west of us where many cruise boats dock. Luckily the kids’ flight back to the States didn’t leave until late afternoon so that gave us time to visit the town. Puerto Plata has a population of more than 100,000 so it took some time to get our bearings. We finally found the Malecon. It reminded us of the Malecon in Havana. We looked it up and found that malecon is a word used primarily in Latin American countries for an esplanade along a waterfront. Ok, now it made sense!We even came upon a parking place on our own with no charge. As we began to walk, what we thought was a police officer directed us to a “touristy” area with shops and an historical square. He also added that it was safe. Turns out that Puerto Plata has guides whose only job is to provide support for tourists; they speak English as well as Spanish. It’s like a walking tourist information kiosk. What a great idea.
We had a great lunch at a street restaurant right on the Malecon and then took the kids to meet their plane. We were sad to see them go but felt fortunate that we had had an amazing two weeks together. Bob and I still have more than another month here. So glad we’re not going to back to face winter!