The Bay Of The Whales
The next time you think of exotic travel, remember that getting there can sometimes be half the fun. Let's take a look at the country in the Caribbean Seas' Greater Antilles; the Dominican Republic. This magnificently large land mass is joined on the west by a towering mountain range to Haiti. South of Cuba and at the same latitude as Puerto Rico, the climate is temperate, the flora is tropical and the life goes easy. Seven million people of Spanish-Afro decent inhabit this friendly democratic ally of the U.S. Most people live in the large capital of Santo Domingo or the tourist city of Puerto Plata in the north.
The journey begins in that north coast city. Three miles from the International Airport, are dozens of quality hotels in all price ranges and affords an excellent overnight opportunity to get accustomed
to that slower pace of life. All the major auto rental companies maintain fleets of late model cars and jeeps. The hotel and the airport facilities will set you up with the vehicle of your choice.
The road east on the north shore begins to unfold the next morning after breakfast and robust Dominican coffee. The destination is Las Terrenas; a minute dot on the map. Located in the region of Samana, this northeastern thumb of land points into the straits leading to Puerto Rico. On the road traffic is light. Sweeping visas of the sea are over each bend of the coast
and then the double-lane highway east turns inland for a while. Here the countryside turns a lush green and then silver from the seas of rice fields. Throughout the drive the temptation to pull off the side and marvel at the vegetation entwining columns of majestic limestone cliffs or count the numbers of species of fruits and nuts swaying from trees can slow you to a crawl.
Taking time to enjoy this section of the land can be fulfilling when passing the clean villages draped in fresh washed laundry and seeing the day to day life. The senses are snapped back to the mission at the first hint of salty air.
Around another bend unveils the flicker of white sunlight skipping off of the waves, yet the road is in darkness. Seventy feet overhead is a canopy of coconut palms so dense and so established to this oceanfront highway, that a driver speeding along could be hypnotized in the grandeur for a dozen miles. Oxen pulling two wheeled carts heaped with these ripen fruits sway under the strain of the loads. Off in the distance is the outline of Samana Peninsula
At first the turn-off is only as impressive as the lush tropical growth of the previous 200 KM or, just about three hours on the coast road. But now the detour takes on a new dimension: up! Las Terrenas is on the other side of this 1000 foot high range of hills. Vertical assents like this one, provided by at least four cylinders in your vehicle, are a breeze, but do not hurry. The sounds of countless tropical birds enveloping all spaces fill every moment. Each turn, climb and dip on this well-paved two lane road brings adventure. One yachtsman writer described this area as the western hemisphere's closest kin to Bora Bora. Certainly, this road could be the Eden for the botanist.
The descent and the panorama of the sea below, specifically the Bay of the Whales, off this northeast coast , brings euphoria and the knowledge of adventures to come. As before, cocopalms are growing from the roadside and they again begin to shroud the drive in a canopy of darkness. Now at sea level, the destination is in sight; the EL Portillo Beach Club. The grass runway that handles the daily flights in and out of single engine planes, stresses the remoteness of this soon to be discovered hidden treasure.
EL Portillo Beach Club is a member of the countryís distinctly unique hotels Gran Bahia Principe and has 462 rooms. It is an all- inclusive enclave of two level hotel structures angled to the sea and shaded in groves of coconut palms. Several suites of "bungalows" provide beach-front living and round out accommodations for about two hundred guests. The complex is infused with nature, from the open air dining pavilion, to the beach front sports areas, and throughout the manicured grounds. All tends to focus on the sea: the Bay of the Whales.
This part of the world has the unique privilege shared with Maui, Hawaii in the Pacific: wintering humpback whales and their calves romp the waters of 80 degrees. El Portillo Beach Club Divers know this is a resource rarely envisioned by many anywhere and have stressed a protected and respected environment to encounter these serene creatures. They also stress safety and employ state-of-the-art technology in their Sherwood dive equipment. Letís not forget that the Caribbean seasí 80 degrees also brings coral reef life in all the forms and the dive masters know when, where and how to make the most of it. Here, all the work is done for you.
Back on the beach itís time for a frosty beverage; remember it is all-inclusive! The Dominican Republic brews one of the finest pilsner beers in the islands and calls it EL Presidente. Thatís right up there next to the perfectly aged golden rums served at the beach bar: Brugal, Rondon, and Barcelo brands. For those inclined, hand-rolled award winning Dominican cigars are for the asking. Three meals each day are served off of extensive menus, and yet, some of the best food and fun come while sampling local seafood and treats at the Dominican evening barbecues. And, oh yes, merengue dancing under the stars is always expected. Telephone them at 1-809-240-6100.
If getting there is half the fun, then, being a guest at the Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo Beach Club is the other half that adds up to one great journey. - R.T.D.
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