It might have been the tarantula in the shower, or maybe the frequent power outages during the most inconvenient times of the day. Or maybe it was the 4 days it took to replace the entire plumbing because you really aren’t supposed to flush paper down the toilet. Whatever the reason, two months after I moved to the Dominican Republic for my dream job, it hit me…hard. A bad case of island fever.
I used to laugh at the concept of “island fever”. I mean, how could anyone not like living on an island surrounded by brilliant blue water, sugary beaches, towering palm trees, and the jungle at your back door? Yes, some things take getting used to like the horrendous traffic where lanes and lights are only a suggestion and adjusting to Dominican time. The ocean vistas that are part of this paradise were also a natural prison. The thought that I could drive across the entire country in only 8 hours was a very claustrophobic idea to me. In the USA, I could drive across 3 states, 4 if I’m up in New England. In Europe I could easily cross 4 countries in that amount of time. Sure, if I wanted to drive from one end of Hispaniola to the other through Haiti it would be longer, but I really had no desire to go to Haiti. And so, I was antsy.
So I sat back with my Lonely Planet Dominican Republic guidebook and really took a look at my situation. I had to do this once before when I traveled to Australia while living in Colorado, which nearly broke me financially. I am always living in a place that other people want to visit, so really, I should explore my own city to discover the attraction it has to outsiders. My conclusion: I don’t need to go far for my trip to be considered”travel”.
Next thing I know, I can’t get enough long weekends to discover this beautiful island. I lived in Cofresi, just to the west of Puerto Plata and had a choice of international restaurants. Sosua was a British expat town with plenty of pubs. My favorite place to hangout on an afternoon or night was the beach strip Cabarete with its excellent seafood, nightlife and kitesurfing. Two hours away was the small Dominican town Rio San Juan with a boat ride through mangroves out to the ocean in a panga.
My favorite place to escape was to La Peninsula de Samana, specifically Las Galleras, a sleepy little town where the road literally ended at the ocean. I would stay in the spacious rooms at Hotel Lusitania owned by an Italian and his Dominican wife usually January through March during whale watching season. He loved talking to me though I understood very little of what he said, and remembered me year after year. He also made (in my opinion) the best pizza in the world. The crust was seasoned with Italian spices and was even better the next day. Playa Rincon, which could be reached by horseback or off-roading, is continuously rated as one of the most beautiful virgin beaches by countless critics and magazines.
On the south coast of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo has modern streets sprinkled with old colonial style buildings from Christopher Columbus time, La Romana is perfect for backpackers and Casa de Campo is the 5 star golf resort on the way to Higuey through sugar cane fields and the all-inclusive resort town of Punta Cana. Wildlife reserves for flamingos, crocodiles and iguanas surround Lago Enriquillo, the largest salt water lake in the Caribbean. Waterfalls, ATVs, rapids, and Alpine trees characterize Jarabacoa, and Santiago is where we would go for major shopping trips (it has a PriceMart). Puerto Plata has a little of everything; beach, resorts, boutique shopping, jungle, restaurants, and great views from Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Caribbean.
Then there was the stuff that couldn’t be found in Lonely Planet or the internet like the rotisserie chicken stand on the main road to Cofresi, the delicious mango and coconut trees outside my apartment, the helicopter ride along the Northern coast, not to mention the warm hoospitality of the Dominican people, my wonderful Austrian landlords who loved the dogs and my own private peninsula where my dogs could run free with the horses.
And so I learned that an 8 hour long island can pack many adventures that even with living there for an extended time I could not get to them all. It changed my travel habits and made me look at a place not from a visitor’s point of view, but could I actually live here? Is there more to this place than the tourist highlights? I’ve asked these questions many times on my countless journeys.
I have found my cure to island fever and a new outlook on travel. It doesn’t matter how far you go, but what you see, do, taste and learn along the way.