After an amazing few sun drenched days on the coast of Samana, relaxing on some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches, we decided that we would go to the country’s interior. Indeed the Dominican Republic is known for its beaches, but we wanted to also experience the Republic’s less famous but, as we would later find out, equally beautiful sites.
As usual, we had to take a couple of local mini-vans (gua-guas) to get to our final destintion. Although this usually consists of being crammed in with other people and objects, it truly is the perfect way to experience the local people and culture. I cannot reiterate how affable and warm Dominicans are, and although we have usually been the only foreigners on the local transport, they are always willing to chat.
As we neared our final destination, really only hours away from our original starting point, we could see the topography changing: more trees, lusher, and (I thought I would never hear myself saying this!) cooler! Upon arrival, we did the usual hotel search, and finally found one close to the city centre, with sweeping balcony views of the mountains!
Our intention was to chill out for a few days, see a couple of waterfalls and make our way back to the capital. Somehow, in a matter of hours we had organised to climb the country’s highest peak leaving the very next day! A man had approached us and told us that he was leaving the next day with a couple of Spaniards, and as a last minute deal he would give us a good price, USD $125.00 each for two days including food, water, transport to the beginning of the trail, accommodation in a refuge, tour guide, and mules (used for carrying both provisions, and people when necessary). The deal was to pay 50% upfront and the other 50% upon our return. Seeing that the other two had paid considerably more (we know that for a fact, as we would later ask them), we felt that this was not only a good deal…..but a challenge! Hey, this is what our trip’s all about!
And so, at 5.00am the next morning the adventure began. We were driven to the starting point, where we would begin our ascent with a young “guide”, an older local guide, whose main job really was to look after the mules, and the mules themselves.
What would you say to hiking 48 kilometres in 2 days! The walk was spectacular, the final view rewarding, and the feeling of accomplishment immense, but (there is always a but!!!)………it was badly organised, not enough food or water, and the guide really was not a guide, in that he provided no information at all on the surrounding area. I must say that it was really hard work, and we are fit! Alex walked it all, and I walked almost all of it….upon our descent, I spent an hour on a mule….and I must say that it felt good!
We almost did not make it to the top, as the conditions were not that great, and the surface very muddy and slippery in places. But we were all determined….despite our night being spent in a rat-infested refuge! Well, perhaps not infested, but I certainly was not going to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, and took advantage of a dome tent that we popped up inside the refuge! Yes, that at least was provided!
After climbing some 19 kilometres the first day, on the second day, we got up early to climb the last 5 kilometres to the peak….to later only have to climb a total of 29 kilometres back to the base on that very same day! At 3175 metres Pico Duarte is the highest point in the Caribbean! We later found out that it would have been better done in 3 days than 2, but we did it! Upon reaching the summit (not that cold, I was in shorts), it was quite cloudy and foggy, but we did get a very brief glimpse of the surrounding mountains. They say that on a clear day both the Atlantic and Caribbean are visible.
Mission accomplished! It was hard yakka on the way back down, and we did not get back until a little after 7.00pm. Although the guide had been useless, the local guide, Chan, was very helpful and resourceful, so we gave him a good tip.
In a nutshell, the hike was tiring but worth it! When we were picked up by the guy who had originally offered us the tour, I basically told him what I thought and explained why we were unable to pay the ensuing 50% for services not rendered! Needless to say, on reaching our hotel room, we showered and went to bed….hungry but too exhausted to eat!