EXPERIENCE Map of Dominican Republic

Judith Zander
© Copyright 1998 by Judith Zander

I wrote "A National Geographics Experience" after a trip to the Dominican Republic. My husband Wayne told me the story about his fishing trip experience in the tiny antiquated village. This adventure has been retold many times.

It is so cold here! It is time to get away from the biting cold of winter. My husband Wayne agrees. We begin to plan a vacation to an island in the Caribbean Sea. Our long time friends and current neighbors, Bud and Mary, have decided to join us. We will have some fun and get away from the cold Canadian winter, for a little while, anyway. Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic, is the chosen place. We have selected Chieftain Holidays, a well known and respected Canadian travel company to make the arrangements. After looking at travel brochures until or eyes pop out we decide on a two bedroom condo complex called Dorado Nacho as the place where we will spend our eight day vacation. The money is paid and the trip is booked. Now all we have to do is wait for departure day to arrive.

Finally it is here. Time to go on our much anticipated vacation. Boy are we excited!

We board our plane in Toronto, Ontario and four hours later we are landing at the airport in Puerto Plata. It is so hot outside that the plane is sweating inside. Drops of water are falling on us from the ceiling. We get off the plane and sink to our knees with the heat. But it’s better than the frigid temperatures we left behind. The sun is shinning and a native band is playing very lively salsa music. As we pass by a local man hands us frozen daiquiris. This is a great beginning to our eight days in paradise. We make our way to the appointed spot to meet our tour representative. We notice that a lot of men, in different uniforms, are wearing guns--big guns and little guns, guns slung over shoulders and guns in holsters. We have never experienced this before. It’s kind of scary.

Next our tour director is explaining that Chieftain Holidays has gone bankrupt while we were in the air! Dorado Nacho, our condo complex, will not honour our reservation. Well this is just great, now what? We’re here for a week and no place to stay. Finally, our tour director tells us that we will be going to a hotel in town and that all of our meals will be included, at no extra charge. We are loaded into a beat up old van and taken to our hotel. Surprisingly enough, it’s a pretty nice place.

We are given connecting rooms. I guess this is as close to a two bedroom condo as they could get. We find out that it is a training hotel for the island’s hospitality staff. Everyone here is learning different parts of the hospitality industry. This could be fun.

It is Sunday night and we want to get some money changed from Canadian Dollars to Dominican Pesos, so we ask at the front desk. Soon a man named Raemo appears and we get into his car and go into town. A guy he knows will change our money for a good rate. As we wait in his car, we watch the people around the main plaza of the town. Their clothing is really white, so white it almost sparkles. It is worn and patched but so white that Mary and I are wondering what kind of soap they use.

Raemo finally appears after what seems like an awfully long time. We ask him to stop at a store for some beer and booze. Let the party begin!

We will get to know Raemo very well before our vacation is over. It seems that whatever it is that we want to do or get Raemo is "the man." He gets us a portable radio and a rental car and he can also arrange a deep sea fishing trip for $20.00 each. WOW! What a guy!

Wayne and Bud are quite avid fishermen. A deep sea fishing trip is just what will make their holiday complete. Wayne asks Raemo what kind of boat they will be going in and is told it is a "Beeg Boat, Señor, it holds 6 beeg men like you." So this is great and the deal is set. They will go on Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. So for the next 2 days we hear nothing but how great this fishing trip is going to be. It is going to be sooo good that a fellow named John, from Toronto, Ontario has decided to go along. So now they are three.

Wednesday morning arrives and Bud, John and Wayne are up and gone to meet Raemo in the lobby. Out in front of the hotel a beat-up old blue Toyota is waiting for them. Raemo says "We go," the 3 guys look at each other and get in the car. They work their way through town and out into the countryside towards the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

After a drive of about one hour, Raemo suddenly turns the car off the main road and onto a dirt road that leads into the thick, steamy ungle. They drive for about half an hour down the dirt road until it turns into a muddy trail and the car can go no farther. Raemo informs them that "We must walk, Señores." They look at each other and get out. Bud says, " a fine mess you’ve got us into now, Ollie!" They start to walk single file, with Raemo leading the way. They walk for about ten minutes, suddenly Raemo sticks out his arm for them to stop. A great big snake, "as big around as my arm," says Wayne, is in their path! Raemo is looking for a stick to hit the snake in case it decides to attack. Wayne is looking for a tree.

After the snake slithers away, they notice some holes in the mud. Some cattle have been seen up on a hill just a little way from where they are walking. The holes looked to be about the size of the cattle’s hooves, so this explains the holes, they think. On they walk in single file until they come to a clearing in the jungle.

It is like a scene from a National Geograghic film!

The first thing they see are two old women sitting in the mud, off to one side of the trail. The two old women are smoking small corn cob pipes. Across from the women is a graveyard. They know it is a graveyard because of all of the sticks, in the form of a cross, stuck in the mud.

Then they come to a clearing where the bay comes in from the blue-green Caribbean Sea. There is a semi-circle of huts along the water's edge. People, chickens, ducks, dogs, and goats all seem to be running in and out of these huts. Raemo stops and says "We wait, Señores."

Wayne says, "We wait, for what?"

Raemo says "The boat, Señor."

It seems that the boat has been out fishing all night. The men feel a little better about the boat because it must be big if it’s been out all night on the sea.

Wayne, John and Bud notice a big tree stump and decide to sit back to back, so they can watch the village and the water while they wait. The people in the village are almost naked, a few bits of cloth are covering the most important parts of their anatomy. The children are naked with voodoo ankle bracelets. The witch doctor is prancing around with a staff and the guys are undecided whether it is a man or woman.

As they sit there they notice some large pots for cooking and Bud says to Wayne, "We could be dinner," and points to the pots. The three men chuckle and all are thinking, "Could be."

The huts are built right on the ground. They have dirt floors. The roofs are made of large green leaves overlapping one another. The walls are made of dark brown leaves that look as if they had been dried. Some of the huts are round, some are square and some are rectangular. The people of the village seem to know why these strangers have come to their village. No one tries to make any contact. They go about their business, showing only the slightest interest or attention.

They seem to be waiting for an awfully long time, then all of a sudden they hear the sound of a boat motor. As they look in the direction of the sound a boat appears just beyond the opening in the bay, where the water is breaking over the reef. They watch as the boat picks its way through the swirling water of the reef and pulls up on the beach. The man in the boat throws about 8 fish on the beach. This causes the chickens, ducks, dogs, and people to run toward the fish. The people get their fish and go to clean them for their meal.

The "beeeeg" boat is about twelve feet long and made of wood. It has an old 25 hp Evinrude outboard motor on it. The men look at one another and chuckle.

 "Oh well, we’re here now so we might as well make the best of it. If we insult them we could be lunch," they say to each other.

Raemo says, "We go."

Bud and John get in the boat and when Wayne gets in they hear one of the boards in the bottom of the boat crack. There is more chuckling. Domingo, the man who owns the boat, Raemo, and the three Canadians push off from shore.

All of a sudden Wayne says, "Where is the fishing tackle?" Of course the locals don’t know what tackle is and look at Wayne wondering what he is talking about. Wayne makes a motion like casting with a fishing rod and Raemo says, "AH!" and produces some fishing line wrapped around a stick, with 3 fishing hooks and a piece of welding rod for weight. More chuckling.

The boat makes its way back out through the rough water where the reef is and heads for the open water. The fishing equipment and bait is passed around and the men begin to jig for fish. Before long they are catching fish. So things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.

After a while Wayne notices the boat is drifting into the rough waters and turns to Domingo, who is asleep, kicks his foot and makes a motion to start the motor. Domingo nods and starts the motor. The boat is bobbing around and fish are being caught when all of a sudden they hear the sound of a low flying plane. They all look up and see some other boats farther out on the open water. Fishing? The plane is circling above these other boats. Raemo says that the pilot is looking for signs of drug smugglers.

"Not to worry Señor."

Wayne is wearing a bright orange "Florida Gaters" baseball cap that can be seen for miles. Before they know it, the plane is over where they are fishing. It’s an old WW II fighter plane with full camouflage paint and menacing looking guns mounted on the nose.

And it’s diving right a them!

All three figure this it. Their obits will read, "Died of fright while smuggling a welding rod!!!"

The plane comes so close John says, "I could see the spinach caught between his front teeth." The pilot pulls up and he is gone just as fast as he appeared. All three breathe a sight of relief and go back to their reason for being out there on the Caribbean Sea in this little, old, wooden, boat--FISHING!

After about 3 hours of bobbing around in the twelve foot boat, the three guys decide they have had enough of this and the boat is turned around and headed to shore. They pull up on the beach and get out with their catch of 33 fish of different sizes and kinds. The guide pulls a leaf from a tree and rips it into strips, making a stringer for the fish out of it. He strings the fish and the trek back to the car begins.

The two old women are still sitting in the muck, smoking their pipes. Beside them they have burlap bags. As Wayne watches, a large blue crab sticks its head out of one of the holes, in the ground. One of the old women grabs the crab and puts it into the burlap bag. These are the same holes in the mud the men had noticed on their way into the village. So that’s what the holes were. Not from the cattle’s hooves at all. They are just another source of food for the village.

As they drive back into Puerto Plata they discuss what they will do with all of the fish they have caught. Raemo says that the chef at the hotel will clean and cook them for dinner tonight. They all agree that this is what they want. When they arrive back at the hotel, the chef is found and arrangements are made for this evenings meal.

The chef says, "You want ALL the fish cooked?"

The answer is, "Yes, ALL the fish."

The men spend the afternoon inviting their traveling companions and new friends met here in paradise to join them for dinner. At eight o’clock that evening we all assemble in the dinning room for our fresh fish dinner and guess what, yes all the fish are cooked....heads, tails, fins and all.

The reports from all participants agreed."The fish was delicious." The eighteen people that sat down to that meal of ocean perch, halibut, sea bass, seven yellow fish with red spots, and one fish with a single large eye sitting on the very top of it’s head were certainly well filled with the 33 fish that had been caught that day--the day the three Canadians will never forget. The day of the National Geographic Experience!

The rest of our vacation was an anticlimax for the guys, but we women continued to enjoy the warmth of the sun, the relaxed atmosphere and the beautiful scenery. All too soon it was time to leave. We were all wondering if a plane would arrive to take us home.

Sure enough a plane arrived right on time to return us to the frigid winter temperatures of southwestern Ontario. Our week in paradise was over!

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