Obligatory DR Beach Post

The Caribbean is synonymous with fun in the sun. And fun in the sun is synonymous with great beaches. So while I'm not generally a beach guy, I did make a point while in the DR to check out as many beaches as I could. By beach number 5 or so, I was starting to come around: beach time ain't half bad.

The things I look for in a beach are 1) uncrowdedness 2) ample availability of shade and 3) absence of hustle (vendors insisting you "just look" at their wares, restaurants with pumping beats to supposedly entice you in, etc.) After these things comes the more generally accepted criteria of sand quality, swimability, etc. And while I didn't find my perfect beach by any means, each one I got to check out has its charms.

I found one secluded enough that with a 5 minute walk down the beach, I was totally alone*. Then, while maybe not the best for swimming or laying out, in a little town called Las Galeras, the beach felt very traditional and unexploited. I did a bit of laying out and reading (after all, what's time on the beach without the reading of a mindless novel), but mostly I stayed active.

Among the land of the mega-resorts (a.k.a. Punta Cana), I walked the length of the beach and back (it counts as my exercise for the day and a cultural experience!) seeing how the true vactioners do the beach. In the hippie(-ish) town of Cabarete, I found some folks to juggle with which caught the attention of some of the passers by. A lady from a nearby resort asked if she could film me to post on their facebook page. Of course I obliged (and then went and stole the video for this here blog :-))

A while I missed some of the reportedly best beaches of the country and skipped out on some of the more stereotypical beach activities, I'm pleased with my beach time. You could even say I more than pleased. I was pretty dang happy.
Thursday December 18 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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How to Skin a Coconut

One of my favorite things to do in the tropics is to find and open a coconut the way nature intended: with no tools. Mano a coco. I don't really like the flavor that much and I don't do it to save money on food. No, I just really really (really) love the concept: something so ubiquitous that you find them on the ground almost everywhere yet so difficult to get to without the right tools. I feel like it is an evolutionary challenge: "Are you clever enough to get the goodness that's inside me?" I take the challenge every chance I get. Here's a handy guide if you ever decide to have a go.

Step 1: Find a coconut. They won't look like those you see in the stores back home. They've got a big thick husk designed to make you feel inadequate. Try looking on a nice coconut palm lined beach. Plus, hey, you're on a beach!

Step 2: Find a couple of nice sharp rocks and start wailing on the thing. Be sure to try lots of approaches and angles because none of them works very well. And try not to smash your finger.

Step 3: Sweat...a lot. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Plus, there's a good chance you'll burn many more calories opening this stupid thing than what's contained inside, so you can write it off as today's exercise!

Step 4: Swear...a lot. Don't worry, that smashed finger will heal. Consider giving up. Because after all, you don't really like coconut and who is this "evolution" that's throwing the gauntlet anyway?

Step 5: Triumph! You've now gotten the husk off, half the battle. You deserve to take a selfie for instagram.

(Yes that was just half of the process. I never said it was going to be easy.)

Step 6: Now comes the delicate part, getting the nut open without spilling the delicious* water inside. If you had your trusty pocket knife, you'd just poke holes through the eyes on the end. But since we're going au natural, try a little more delicate smashy smashy.

Step 7: Drink and be merry! Totally worth it for that half cup of chunky water.

Step 8: Smashy smashy (again). Less care is needed this time around. Feel free to get out your aggression here. You showed that pesky evolution who's boss.

Step 9: Munch on the meat inside...for about 5 minutes until the novelty wears off or you get slightly sick of it. Chuck the rest into the underbrush. It doesn't keep well. Besides, it was all about the pursuit anyway.

Step 10: Head home for a nap. After all that work, you deserve it. On your way, consider grabbing a coconut ice cream and sit back and appreciate how much [of someone else's] work went into making it.

There you have it, a handy step by step guide to one of the most enjoyable rewarding satisfying activities the tropics have to offer.
Sunday December 14 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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27(-ish) Waterfalls

NOTE: I didn't take this photo (or the one below). I didn't take any because I left my camera in my backpack to stay dry. It was my attempt at living in the moment. And when I made the decision, I didn't know how cool it would be. If this photo is yours, 1) thank you for letting me use it and 2)please don't sue me. :-)
I don't mean to sound cliche here, but if you ever find yourself in the Dominican Republic, put 27 Charco on your todo list. I usually don't like trying to sway people into doing what I liked, as I am a much bigger fan of the serendipity of travel, but so much about this place is great, I've gotta recommend it!

Firstly, from a purely geographic standpoint, it's awesome. The river has cut a series of narrow canyons, deep pools, and varying waterfalls. It's somewhat like I imagine the slot canyons of Utah to be like during a flash flood. The canyons would be gorgeous to walk through even without the falls and river, with neat rock layers and formations every which way.

Then there's the experience: they do you up in a life jacket and helmet* and let you jump, swim, and slide your way down. Because I arrived too late (after the always confusing act of getting anywhere), I only got to do 12(-ish) of the 27(-ish)* falls. I got to jump* the highest cliffs, slide the best chutes, and go through some spectacular canyons. I can only imagine what I missed in those upper 14 waterfalls. Also, my guide* told me that the water level the river changes drastically depending on the rains, so some chutes would be faster with more rain, but the cliffs not as high.

Finally, there's the story behind the place. You can read all about it on their website (linked above) but basically, through the help of peace corp, they got it to be a national reserve where the government helps monitor things and keep things safe and fair, and some of the money goes back into the communities in the form of money for schools, etc. The guides share everything so they don't fight (like the hassle that ruins the experience at so many other places). All in all, it sounds like a good good thing that's happening there.

So are you sold yet? Don't you just want to be there right now? I do, again, and I was just there! Next time, though, I will get there early enough to do all 27 and take my camera in a sturdy plastic bag. Next time...
Friday December 12 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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Hit the Ground Walking

The first thing I like to do when I arrive in a new place, after securing a place to safely lay my head, is to head out and walk. No map, no destination, no expectations—just walk. On the functional side of things, it really connects with and orients me to the area. But it also serves to help me truly be in a place, rather than experience it through the lens of whatever guidebook, website, or friend's recommendations I have gotten. Just walking allows me to follow whatever minor whims occur at the moment and see where they take me. There's always time at the end to visit any highlights just walking might have missed.

Take Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, my current whereabouts, for example. Today, my first day here, I must have walked at least 8 miles, and I saw a lot. Of the "you should see this" list, I happened upon the presidential palace, Independence Park*, the malecon*, and the Columbus Lighthouse*. But I also happened on all sorts of other cool stuff, like this crazy Ricola statue* and this amazing fort/castle, places I probably would not have found if I was on a mission to any place in particular. I had lunch at a place that's never been mentioned in a guide book* and got lost resulting in the opportunity to practice my Spanish in asking for directions home. And I earned the 3 ice creams I stumbled upon.

Yep, this hit-the-ground-walking routine really works for me. My feet my be tired and my socks more pungent than normal, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Wednesday December 10 2014File under: travel, Dominican Republic

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