By Rick Millikan
The Northwest’s dark, rainy November is time for southern migrations and sunny adventures. My wife and I winged our way over the Rockies, Great Plains, and Bahamas to land in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Some years earlier, four Canadians discovered that our destination, Playa Cabarete, had ideal beach and water conditions for boogie boarders, surfers, sail boarders, and kite boarders. Moreover, snorkelers and divers could travel to the reefs of neighboring Sosua. To our delight, Cabarete also offered cycling, our favorite sport.
Iguana Mama provides seven cycling excursions suited to various skill levels and interests. Not only does it utilize incredible off road tracks, Iguana Mama makes mountain biking an up-close introduction to Dominican culture, geography and ecology. We chose two such eco-tours as easily do-able and rewarding.
The Down Hill Adventure began with receiving helmets, water bottles and trip agendas. Then our bus whisked us up 3,000 feet to an extraordinary restaurant.
The veranda’s view embraced the Ciboa Valley plantations, ranches, and cities bounded by the Caribbean’s highest mountain range. After enjoying the spectacular view, our guide Emilio directed our attention to the restaurant’s model Dominican home. The rustic home exemplified native ingenuity and resourcefulness. Then, we enjoyed a typical Dominican breakfast.
During this hearty meal, our mountain bikes were unloaded from their trailer and fine-tuned. We gathered, ready to roll. Emilio counseled us on the very effective vee brakes, changing rather than crunching gears, and descending single file, leaving adequate braking distance between riders. His technical and safety lesson ended with an extra cautionary note.
“You know that chicken that crossed the road? What were its rights? Not many? Remember: cyclists have less! Be careful!” Emilio broadly grinned, adding in Spanglish, “Let’s vamanos!”
The paved mountain road swooped down to the first turn-off. We rattled down the rutted road, pedaled the puddles and geared down to spin up the gradients.
As we passed through secluded mountain communities, smiling Dominicans looked our way, and called out to us “Ola!” and “Buen Dia!” Their bright yellow, green and red “ranchitos” were tidied and gardens hoed.
In the breeze fresh laundry waved from “cercas viviendas”, living fences. Installed posts sprouted branches within two months. These encircled grazing brahma cattle, horses, goats, burros, and strutting turkeys.
Rejoining the main road we coasted downward, gaining enough momentum to comfortably pedal an uphill section to Carmen’s fruit stand. There, Emilio grinned and warned us, “If you don’t sample all her fruit, she’ll be swinging her Dominicano Sammy Sosa bat!” Who could resist grand slam platters of tangy guineos (native bananas), succulent papayas hawaianos, sweet pineapple, honeyed coconut, and sugar cane.
At the next turn off, Emilio described a much more difficult phase and asked if anyone would like to continue on the paved route.
The hardier riders chose the second rugged off-road track. The easy riders coasted happily along the road, enjoying lush mountain vistas, and “high-filing” friendly school children going home.
For the last mile, we rejoined the group and ended our high adventure with a refreshing swim in the Jamoa River.
Days later we returned for the Family Tour and Islabon Coast Cruise. Before we set out, the mechanic had not only adjusted the bikes, but had also inserted a more comfortable seat for my wife. Emilio led us out of town on Playa Cabarete’s busy road.
Though its shoulder proved more than adequate, we “chickens” were glad to turn onto “Camino del Sol” (street of the sun), a shady, gravel road. Its serenity provided quiet opportunities to gain insights into Dominican life. Emilio paused to point out a typical home expansion that accommodated an expanding family.
Further Dominican resourcefulness was noted within the next mile. A large pasture’s “living fence” was being trimmed, burned to charcoal and gathered by carboneros to sell for barbecues.
After returning to the main road, it was a short ride to Islabon Eco-center and Jungle Cruise. As our bicycles were loaded onto a boat, Emilio introduced us to a small, native animal and plant collection. He pointed out a huge Iguana and joked, “That’s Mama Iguana’s Papa!”
After climbing aboard, our boat chugged along the river and under an extremely low bridge. We “ducked down” to pass below. The Islabon River flowed gently through pastureland and plantain groves, into the Yasica River.
As we slowly cruised through a pristine waterfowl habitat, the wading herons focused on spearing their next meal. A snowy egret flew overhead, toting a fish in its beak. A rail appeared and disappeared into the reeds.
Kingfishers skimmed the surface looking for snacks. Gradually the river widened into an extensive lagoon. Here, Dominicans fished with their throw nets. After our boat docked, we ducked again, but this time into a palm thatched, sandy-floored beach bar for cold drinks and shade.
Our return route paralleled the beach. Progressing on this sandy roadway required heavy pedaling and attentive maneuvering. Murmuring surf, colorful butterflies, and warm camaraderie made it a very pleasant effort. When the surface became hard packed again, Emil celebrated with a couple of wheelies.
These tours were more than exhilarating. Guides enabled us to explore, appreciate and experience a warm, hospitable culture. We will long remember our sunny Dominican cycling!
Dominican Republic Tourism Call toll free 1-888-358-9594!
Air Transat Call toll free 1-866-847-1112 to arrange Canadian nonstop flights to nearby Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic!
Iguana Mama Read about Mountain Biking & Hiking Tour possibilities at www.iguanamama.com and reserve through toll free 1-800-849-4720 for discounts!
Rick Millikan widely publishes cycling adventures, writes a bicycle column for Adventure West and contributed two ‘cycle logical’ stories to an anthology titled Traffic Life.
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