Barahona Blues

Published: August 6th 2007
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Pico PolloPico PolloPico Pollo

Rio San Juan De best breakfast joint. It was simply delicious. boiled yucca and scrambled egg with saltfish.
24 May 2007

The 415 km bus ride from Rio San Juan to Barahona started at 8 am. It would take us back thru SDQ. At the tiny bus terminal in Rio San Juan, we met the nicest guy - Manny. He helped us store our backpacks and took us to the only open breakfast spot - Pica Pollo Benito - aplace we would have normally bypassed in our search for culinary delights. But Benito seemed to be a local favorite and that morning he served up hot boiled yucca and bacalao with egg (saltfish and egg). Another specialty was deep-fried cheese. We passed up on that one.

At the station again, we wolved down some of the goodness before saying 'adios' to Manny and then we were out of there. What a pleasant little village. The driver handled the big luxury Volvo bus like a gua-gua as he sped thru the narrow countryside streets and honked at everything in sight. It did little, however, to to decrease our travel time because we arrived in SDQ at 12:30 pm ot thereabouts. The bus to Barahona would leave at 1:45 pm. The Benito's remnants were quickly consumed as we watched, without sound, 'The Mythbusters' on one of the giant plasma screens in the Caribe Tours terminal. We estimated the SDQ-Barahona leg to be one-and-a-half hours long. Our estimate was half correct and we would spend another 3 hours on the bus.

Founded in 1802 by Haitian General Toussaint L'Ouverture, Barahona is home to some 90,000 residents whose main economic activities are sugarcane farming and mining salt, gypsum and bauxite. The ride would take us thru some unfamiliar landscapes because as much as the north was cool and lush and green, the south was hot and dry and barren. What, one one side, would have been lovely green hillsides now showed a harsh, desolate landscape and where fruit trees flourished now became cactus patches where prickle-bush reigned supreme. The desert-like conditions of the south stunned us and so too did the living conditions. We sped past homes in former landfills and children playing in piles of broken glass, past armed soldiers at a checkpoint and dry river beds. The sun was noticeably hotter too, as for the first time, we were not shivering in the bus' a/c. The people too were darker as if, and most likely, they were burnt by the scorching heat. We weren't prepared for this. This was certainly a much different Dominican Republic from the one we had come to know.

When the bus pulled into Barahona, we dragged our tired seven-hours-on-a-bus bodies three blocks down the slight slope to our next watering hole - Hotel Cacique. After 'securing' our stuff in the bathroom of lucky number 13, we set out to find our main purpose for coming to Barahona - Coral Sea Divers. The receptionist told u that the hotel thru which they operated had changed both name and owner and that it was a few blocks from the Cacique. We got to the new Hotel Costa Larimar only to find that the dive shop no longer existed. Shanna called the number in the phone book and was 'cussed out' by a very rude lady. Frustrated, we decided to 'scope out' the hotel and we headed around back. There was a large freshwater pool where two older gentlemen cavorted with two Dominicanos chicas. There was also a good-looking beach. 'Good-looking' because it photographed well but, being a reclaim from mangrove, the beach had challenges. The water quality was really bad, the man-made beach had a rusty and muddy look in places and we were almost eaten alive by a colony of sand flies. We left there in a hurry. The other beach was filthy and it could be a really lovely place if they would just clean it up.

The streets and waterfront of Barahona would actually turn out to be the most festive. Music blared from every corner, sidewalk cafes were everywhere, there was an open-air market and quite a few night clubs. We bought fruit for dinner and planned our 'escape' on the 6am bus.

In retrospect, the Barahona leg provided the ying to the yang, the balance, as it were: the hot for the cold, the barren for the lush and the dry for the wet. Its people though were the liveliest and seemed unphased by the challenges around them and they seem to live life in the moment. All in all, we were happy we made the journey. 😊

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31st May 2007

Looks like you two are having a really great time. I love getting your updates and seeing the wonderful pictures that were taken. Travel safely and God bless.

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