While the resort life was exceeding all of my expectations, I couldn’t help but feel the need to stifle my curiosities of what lay beyond the walls of the resort. So, I would just have to go experience for myself.
I set off down the beach in the direction of the the resort’s edge.
There was literally a line in the sand marking the end of the resort and the start of the public beach, as a thick rope stretched out across the beach and into the water.
It seemed that with every step I took toward the rope, a group of men on the other side mirrored me. With one last forward movement, my foot connected with the ground on the other side and I was immediately swarmed with that same group of men.
Come to my shop, I have a gift for you.
Aah beautiful lady, come with me.
Hello Señorita. Holaaaa Chicaaaa!
I shooed them away and ignored the others. I have no problem interacting with the locals when I travel, however I wouldn’t put up with being harassed into buying things that I don’t want at home, so why should I do it here?
I continued on past the rope and eventually made it to a calmer area of the beach, with less of the smooth-talking salesmen.
The beach was lined with countless palm trees, some of which had been knocked down into the sand and extended out into the water. I jumped over their curved trunks and inspected their mangled roots, wondering if they had been destroyed by the recent hurricane or if they had simply just ran the course of their lives.
It was the same Sea viewed from the resort, but somehow it just felt different. The water appeared more vibrant and sparkled a deep turquoise off of the sides of the boats that scattered on the bobbing surface of the ocean.
Dozens of water taxis and fishing boats lined the beach here, creating an authentic beach scene, as this is where people made their livelihoods.
Next, I came to a beautiful and artistic monument. It was a dead tree which had been stripped of its bark and small branches, supporting Dominican flags on each of its existing limbs. It sat atop a rock pile in the water, also supporting an old canon and anchor.
Many of the people passing by glanced at the tree, but quickly continued on their way. I couldn’t help but stare at the tree and try to photograph is from every angle. I found it to be a unique art installation and wanted to know the meaning behind it.
The beach was lined with smaller shops, restaurants and there seemed to be a lot of signs offering cheap massages.
Everything was bright and colourful, but had a rustic charm to it. Some of the buildings were breaking down and many of the alleyways were littered with dirt and debris.
Eventually I continued back down the beach, this time ready to make a stop in the shops. As soon as I approached the swarm had reappeared. I informed them that I was just looking and did not want to follow them around the market.
I entered the first shop and knew what I was looking for. Having just lost one of my favourite ones in Norway, I wanted a new ring.
The lady working in the shop showed me her collection, but there was nothing that I liked. She told me to sit tight while she gathered up rings from the neighbouring stalls. She returned with two handfuls of rings, closer to what I was looking for, but still not right.
This happened two more times until I finally thanked her and told her that they weren’t for me.
Word must have spread around the market of what I wanted, because suddenly there were two men holding rings up to my face, a woman pulling my arm toward her shop, and several others shouting that they had “large rings with no colour!”
I took on a few more shops to look, but they were either too thin or too colourful, I just couldn’t find the perfect one and I didn’t want to be pressured into buying something that I didn’t truly love.
I thanked everyone for their help and headed back to the resort.
The following week I found myself in Puerto Plata, once again staying on a resort–and once again itching to get off to explore.
This time I wanted to get away from the beach and explore the inner city of Puerto Plata. I wanted to see the people going about their daily lives and I wanted to witness the impressive Victorian architecture of the homes and buildings along the narrow streets.
Knowing that there would be a lot of ground to cover by foot, I happily accepted the guided driving tour of Puerto Plata with CocoTours.
We started out by driving around the main streets of the city, where my driver commentated everything that was happening around us.
He explained the schedule of the schooling system, in that they have three separate starting and finishing times for the different groups of children. Group two was finishing as he spoke, and the intersection was filled with kids in light blue uniforms.
He said that the most common form of transportation was the motor-taxi, and they played a risky game of “who can fit the most Dominicans on one bike“, and the most he had seen himself was seven. After a family of four passed by, I couldn’t imagine any bike fitting seven.
We drove up and down the streets, without any set itinerary, just to see the genuine Puerto Plata.
I hopped out at San Felipe Church to take a few photos and look around the area. The Catholic Cathedral is symmetrical blend of old and new.
The cathedral dominates the historic centre of town and had recently been renovated. Its two whitewashed, reinforced-concrete towers are visible from most points in the city, as well as from outside of the city itself.
The buildings surrounding the cathedral square made up the city centre. They were painted with bright oranges, greens and yellows. No two homes or shops looked alike, and vibrant signs adorned every available space.
The great thing about Puerto Plata is its distance to nature. No matter where you are in the city, if you are ever feeling confined by the pavement and chaos, all you have to do is look up and you are rewarded with a view of the luscious mountains of Isabel De Torres National Park.
Of course, the city also lines the beach of the Caribbean Sea, which can be reached by a quick stroll. Hopping back into the van, we headed along the shoreline toward Fortaleza San Felipe.
Fortaleza San Felipe is a historic Spanish fortress that was used to protect the City of Puerto Plata from pirates and corsairs. It is located on a hill at the Puntilla Del Malecón, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; its strategic location protected the entrance to the city’s seaport.
It is now dedicated as a tourist attraction, welcoming thousands of visitors each year that come for the history and panoramic views of the city and coast.
Knowing that the location draws in visitors, many salesmen set up their shops in front of the entrance to sell their souvenirs and art to tourists. Don’t be afraid to barter, as these men are open to negotiation.
I had a great time exploring Puerto Plata, and urge you to get off the resort and do the same.
You will never experience the true Dominican if you insist on staying behind the resort walls. Immerse yourself in the culture and get exploring!