The Iberostar Resort was great but we didn't come all the way to the Dominican Republic to confine ourselves to the resort. Therefore, we decided to sign up for some of the excursions being offered by the various tour companies.
There were many different tour company representatives at the tour desk area of our resort. You are assigned a representative from your travel agency when you arrive in the country. Since we booked our Punta Cana trip through Apple Vacations, we were assigned an Apple rep at the resort. It was drilled into our heads during the shuttle bus ride from the airport "Do Not miss your appointment with your Apple Rep!".
Our meeting was scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday, our arrival day. Well, despite all the lectures on the importance of meeting your Apple Rep, our rep didn't show up. As a matter of fact, it was two days later before we finally met her. By that time, we had already booked our first excursion with another tour company at the resort with a 10% discount (thanks to the negotiating skills of Clarence and Bryan). It is apparently a "No. No." for a tour company to book another tour company's clients. When our Apple Rep found out that we had booked our ATV excursion through another tour company she confronted the man who booked us. They spoke Spanish but Traci understood enough of their conversation to know that the Apple Rep was not happy and that she was threatening to report him. Apparently, the confrontation escalated when we left to go on the tour. When we returned, some of the other tour company reps came up to us anxious to tell us about what transpired while we were gone. They didn't speak English but they were laughing and making gestures to indicate the Apple Rep really went off. They thought they were going have to call the police.
We eventually had our meeting with our Apple Rep. We explained to her that the other tour company rep didn't solicit us; instead, we had gone to him only after we could not find anyone from Apple Vacations for two days. She apologized and assured us that the issue between her and the other rep had been resolved.
The ATV Excursion consisted of riding all-terrain vehicles (ATV) through towns in the Dominican countryside and on beautiful Macao Beach. There was a stop at a souvenir store and a stop at a cave where we were given the opportunity to cool off in the cool cave water.
Tracey B. avoiding the puddle
Uh oh! Debbie and Brandon have a flat.
There were generally two people per ATV. Traci and I took turns driving. As we rode through the streets of the small country towns, the people would smile and wave at us - especially the children. I felt an atmosphere of friendliness from strangers that I can't ever remember experiencing in my life.
We rode on Macao Beach, which is picturesque and deserted. We were given the opportunity to take a dip in the ocean. One our tour guides told us this beach won't be deserted for long. There are plans to build hotels and resorts in the area as the Dominican tourism business continues to grow. It is a beautiful beach.
leaving the beach on ATV
The stop at the souvenir shop was interesting, not because of the merchandise, but because as we parked our ATVs, the neighborhood children came running to give us the little flowers they had picked. They did not seem to want anything in return other than a smile. There was one amusing little fellow who couldn't have been older than 4. He was trying his best to keep up with the older children. He came up to me and proudly handed me a twig and a blade of grass. I thanked him. He gave a big smile and ran off to catch up with the other children.
It was a hot and humid day so the cave stop was an opportunity to cool off. Most of our group swam in the water inside the cave. I'm not much of a swimmer so I opted to just enjoy the cool shade the cave offered.
Debbie, Tracey B., and Clarence cool off in the cave water
By the time we had gotten back to our starting point, the tour company already had pictures of us on CDs and a bottles of rum for purchase. The pictures were low resolution and blurry so Traci and I did not purchase ours. We boarded the shuttle back to the resort where we could get cleaned up. If you ever decide to do this excursion, make sure you wear clothing you don't mind getting dirty or throwing away. We rode the ATVs on dusty dirt roads and through puddles of hot, muddy water. Our shoes and legs were muddy and dusty by the time we finished this excursion.
The name of this excursion is somewhat misleading; nonetheless, it was my favorite excursion. The Outback Safari has nothing to do with a safari. Instead, it is a six hour cultural tour through the countryside of the Dominican Republic.
Our tour guide, Tony, was outstanding. He told us about Dominican culture, products, farming, history, and even politics as we traveled from town to town and into the mountains. He always referred to our tour group as "Family".
Our first stop was a "typical" Dominican country house. It felt strange to be walking through these people's house and on their property, but our tour guide assured us the residents don't mind. They are also paid for opening their house to tourists.
Outback Safari Truck
This pink and green house was nicely decorated. Tony told us that the color scheme of the houses have meaning based on African culture. I don't remember what all of the colors mean, but I remember green represents the land and pink represents fertility.
Some of the more interesting aspects of this home is that it has no running water. There is a large black bin to capture rain water. The first half of the week we were on the island, it rained heavily every afternoon or evening as the tropical thunderstorms moved through. With the amount of rain these storms bring, the rain collecting bins probably never become empty. Alternately, the family can receive water deliveries if necessary.
The house has an outhouse for a bathroom. I found this out before the actual tour of the house when Tony told us if any of us need to use the restroom just go to the little green shack. I was quite surprised to learn that this outhouse was not just for the tourist but it is also the same one the family uses.
The house also did not have an indoor kitchen for cooking. The food is prepared in a little area in the backyard. This reduces the fire risk to the home.
residents of the house
After touring the house, we were led down a path in the woods where coffee beans and cocoa beans are grown. We were able to sample some fresh coffee and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was delicious.
The Outback Safari tour continued as we rode the flashy truck through the pot-holed roads of the small country towns. As we rode through, the people smiled and waved. We passed by several schools. The children seemed very excited to see the truck. They would yell, laugh, and wave as we passed. At one point, we got caught in what our tour guide called a "Dominican traffic jam". We had to stop temporarily as a cattleman lead his herd of cattle across the road.
children wave as we pass by
"Dominican Traffic Jam"
Ms. Pat & Tracey B. admire scenery as Clarence braces for potholes
As we rode along, we noticed several downed utility poles and trees. These were some of the results of Hurricane Jeanne that plowed through the island a month earlier. Tony told us, because of the laid back pace of life in this part of the island, he was not sure when any of this would be cleaned up.
We continued on into the mountains where we made a stop to sample some of the agriculture and products produced on the island. We sampled sugar cane, vanilla, and a terrible tasting alcoholic beverage called Mamajuana. Mamajuana is purported to be a cure for all types of ailments in addition to being a potent liquor. Whether this is true or not, it certainly tastes like medicine. Yuck! The funny thing about the drink is that when the tour guide pronounced it with his Dominican accent, it almost sounded to me as if he was saying we were going to be trying some marijuana.
We eventually stopped for a Dominican lunch at a ranch. There we had beans and rice, plantains, and chicken. There were some musicians there playing merengue, the national music. There were also, some girls there that I think were supposed to be dancing to the music. They were only smiling and waving their long skirts from side to side when we saw them.
After leaving the ranch the Outback Safari tour headed to the beach, but not without a stop at a rum shack, where rum and other items could be purchased. We stopped at Macao Beach, the same one we stopped at during the ATV excursion. We were each given a boogie board, a crash course on boogie boarding, and an hour to give it a try in the ocean. We had a good time.
Macao Beach - There are plans to build resorts here.
flooded road back to our resort
The beach was our final tour stop before heading back to our resort. Part of the ride back was interesting. The previous night it had rained cats and dogs for hours. This left some areas flooded. We approached what I assumed used to be a road. It now appeared to be a muddy swamp. Despite this, our driver drove right through it. continue...