One of the perks of working abroad is that you usually get off both American and host-country holidays. Today is a Dominican holiday –Restoration Day to be exact. That means that, knowing we would have today to rest up, yesterday we were in the mood for a family adventure – and we certainly had a good one.
Most people think of the DR and think beaches. Of course, they’re not wrong, we have some pretty incredible beaches. But, we also have some wonderful mountains (including the highest peak in the Caribbean – Pico Duarte) surrounding beautifully, green, fragrant and cool fertile valleys. It’s hot here right now – in the mid-90s every day in the capital - but, as we set out on our journey to Constanza, a remote town known for its cool temps, fruits and abundant vegetables, the air began to cool and thick clouds brought in breezes and some rain.
The road to Constanza turns off of a major highway between Santo Domingo and the DR’s second largest city, Santiago. After leaving the main highway in Bonao, it’s a couple more hours of windy mountain roads through villages. The road is really well paved, thank goodness (that’s not always the case), and filled with guaguas (buses), trucks carrying produce, cars (ranging from Porsche to once-was-a-Datsun) and motos. Halfway up you can stop at a chapel and say a prayer…or take a photo or moment of silence…whichever suits your fancy.
Knowing that much of the Dominican produce you buy in the supermarket comes from the mountains of the interior is one thing, but seeing the fields and fields of green is something even better. As you finally make your way into Constanza (don’t think cute Alpine village or hipster Washington state commune, it’s neither, but that’s okay) you are practically bowled over by the smell of garlic in the air. Jeremy said, “Forget garlic, it’s like driving into a giant kitchen of vegetable soup.” The combination of the 30-degree temperature drop and the patchwork hills of veggies make this a seriously fantastic change of scenery.
It had been a long drive, but well worth it in so many ways. Admittedly, once we got to Constanza we weren’t entirely sure what to do with ourselves. The guidebooks warn that there is not much to do there…that is true. But, we made our way to a little hotel that has a restaurant and we enjoyed some okay coffee and delicious flan. We also happened to see two sets of non-Embassy friends who were spending the day there. It was a really nice surprise – one of those things that makes you feel like you really live somewhere.
We had a slight misadventure with the brakes on the way back down. Despite some mountain driving under my belt in the past, I had clearly forgotten some of the most important rules. But, we made it. We had stopped at a pleasant, roadside restaurant in Bonao (Tipico Bonao – for which Fodor’s has this review…if you’re interested) for lunch on the way up and (after our brake-related delay) decided a Dominican truck-stop dinner was in order. We laughed at how we chose the white rice, beans and fried plantains instead of the pizza. The boys flirted with the locals. All-in-all, it was a bit of international adventure at its best – we finished the day feeling a tiny bit like our old backpacker selves…albeit with the kids, and a car, and enough cash to ward of fears of being stranded…but still.