Sun, sand and a tropical storm!

Published: February 17th 2016
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The taxi is a three-wheeler: two, back-to-back, metal bench seats over the rear axle, welded to the front half of a motorbike. On this we, and our baggage, travel to Las Galeras; slowly, noisily and belching black smoke on every hill. We are glad when the hour long trip to the north coast is over.

Las Galeras is a small fishing village - the fish seller comes to the door every morning while we have breakfast. Fish or octopus today? It has to be fish! The octopus looks like tripe with a pink skin. And, anyway, we don't know how to cook octopus.

Breakfast comes with a fresh coconut full of juice, and lots of fruit and coffee. We are staying in our own little cottage overlooking the beach. In the evening, we cook the fish in our kitchen, with sweet potatoes and some vegetables that we buy in the market. We don't know the vegetables names but they taste delicious, the sweet potatoes remind us of sweet chestnuts.

Las Galeras' beach is palm backed and long. At one end are the fishing boats - they fish early and then spend their day ferrying visitors to other beaches. There is quite a selection of beaches here, every one impressive. White coral sand; palm trees to provide shade in the heat of the day; azure blue seas; a reef just off shore to protect us from the real Caribbean waves.

At the end of another tough day, we relax in the beach bar. Pina coladas made with fresh pineapple and local rum as the sun slowly sets. On our last night we muse, could we, perhaps, postpone our flight home?

But the gods heard our musing and the next day, for the first time in five weeks, we had rain! Our local bus arrives in Santo Domingo in a tropical rain storm. Nothing is built to cope with rain and it pours off every roof and overpass into the road. It is as is we are driving through a series of waterfalls.

Santo Domingo is the Caribbean's biggest city. From around 1500, Christopher Columbus, followed by his son Diego, ruled the Spanish Caribbean from this city. Their territory included most of the Caribbean islands plus Florida, Mexico, most of Central America and the northern parts of South America!

It is amazing how many of the building from this period still remain. Some had to be rebuilt after, in 1586, Sir Francis Drake took the city for the English and did an awful lot of damage. In a museum we hear how Drake was a "pirate and thief" whose death was celebrated across the Caribbean. Not what we we were told at school!

The old city has a real Spanish feel with plazas and outdoor cafes. Catedral Primada de America is the oldest cathedral in the Americas. It is solid and quite austere but it is amazing that it has survived over 500 years.

Nearby is a huge fort, Ozama. It was used as a military garrison until the 1970s. During its life, the fort has flown the flags of Spain, England, France, Haiti, Colombia, the USA and the Dominican Republic.

And so we come to the end of our time in Colombia and on Hispaniola. We have learnt a lot about this region, its history and its present day challenges. Colombia and the Dominican Republic are both clearly moving forward. Colombia is working hard to leave its drug baron days behind. The Dominican Republic has establish enough political stability to move forward, gaining western investment in industry and tourism. But Haiti still has a way to go, some corruption-free political stability would undoubtedly help. It is easy to forget that, not so long ago, Haiti was everyone's favourite Caribbean destination; Colombia and the Dominican Republic were far too dangerous to visit!

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