This weekend I heard one of the best phrases ever – “This is the best vacation I’ve ever had!” It came from one of our dear friends who, after much secret scheming and plotting, I had arranged to fly down to surprise my husband for his birthday. He was only here for three and a half short days, but we managed to see some of the best nooks and crannies of this drop-dead gorgeous island in the span of that time. And, we found ourselves rediscovering some things from our early days here, while finding new bits and pieces we hadn’t previously encountered.
There was nothing about this escape to the Samaná Peninsula that I would have changed – we had beach and we had rain, we had walks and we had drives, we had tons of food and little roadside snacks, we had beer and we had chinola, and above all else we had lots and lots of laughter and love and fun.
I find that one of the best things about having visitors is that we see things through their eyes. In this vein, we really lived it up and tried to make every minute of his trip worthwhile. This was easy because this is a country where there is just so much to see and do if you keep your eyes open and say “yes”…or “si” to the opportunities.
Because we stayed at an eco-lodge this trip was filled more than most with a keen awareness of the foods we were eating and from where they came. Like these things:
The top photo is of pineapple (obviously) and the bottom photo is a pineapple field - that goes on and on. In all of the time we have been here and despite eating tons of piña, I had never actually seen a pineapple field - let alone tromped around in one...on the way to milk a cow. The sun was still fresh in the sky and my boys were so fascinated by the adventure. It took me back to my childhood in the country...only we didn't live on a farm and I didn't milk cows.
Our hostess pointed this plant out to us and explained that they often use it to color foods - like sauces for fish - and that the Taino (the natives of the island) were thought to have used it for painting and body art. I thought at the time, "Hm, that's interesting." But, when I did a little research I discovered that this little plant is none other than annatto - a very common natural food dye that I have seen on packages of all kinds of things.
My thought was that these are very, very tiny just-sprouting mangoes. The tree that hosted them looked like a mango tree to me and, despite their size, they seem to be mangoes. My boss, however, who is a bit of naturalist and has been here almost 20 years says she thinks they must be something else. My plan is to email the photo to our hostess at the eco-lodge and find out for sure. I kind of hope they are mangoes because they're just so cute....and because I want to trust that my ability to identify fruits and trees here is developing.
This is a fruit stand on the dirty, pot-holed road out to Rincon. That is the fruit stand owner - he gave us a wonderful presentation on the things below...
This first photo is of cacao fruit (the stuff chocolate comes from). Of course, I have known that cacao is produced here and through work have even had the opportunity to taste some yummy, yummy dark chocolate straight from the source. But, I never had any idea that that's what the fruit looked like. When they cut it open it has those white seeds in it - the frutero said they're a bit like almonds, but taste nothing like chocolate. Then they put the seeds in the sun (the final photo) to dry them out. Then, they pulverize the seeds with a giant mortar and pestle and then roast them. When they're done they have a big hunk of cacao. Now, I have a big hunk of 100% cacao...and I am waiting to decide what delectable thing I can make next by combining it with this...
This is coffee flower honey! That's right - the bees drink the nectar of the coffee flowers and then produce their honey! I have long since felt like the honey here was abnormally good. It is so incredibly rich and sweet. My mom had the theory that they must put something extra in it. Our friend who was visiting had a much more attractive theory (he works for an organic food distributor) - honey in the US often has things added to it. This stuff here is straight from the source. Someone is probably going to tell me soon that I am in danger of contracting some tropical illness from eating this stuff, but if I did, let me tell you the medicine would go down sweet because this is nectar in a bottle...coffee nectar no less!
These are guandules shells. Guandules are evidently pigeon peas - I hadn't realized that before, but that's probably because I never ate them in the states. I love guandules!! Everyone loves guandules. I have never heard anyone here say, "Yuck! Guandules!" You can eat them one of two ways - moro de guandules which is essentially guandules mixed in with rice or just guandules...which is guandules on top of your rice. Love, love, love!
These are some packs of tree bark for making mamajuana. Mamajuana basically looks like sticks and leaves and things stuffed into a bottle with some liquids - more or less the witches brew kind of mess we would make while playing in the woods as children...only we used pond water instead of alcohol. I will never drink this. I think the stuff looks scary...and the guys who sell it on the beach do not look to me to be the most trustworthy sorts either. But, you know, if you wanted to brew up your own, this bag of bark would get you started. Or you could drink this...
And there you have it - the typical Dominican roadside stand. Hooray for an old friend for inspiring us to get out of the car and mill around a bit! Fantastic!