Outback and Beyond
Whilst in the Dominican Republic we did a few excursions to see a little bit more of the surrounding areas. Although there is so much going on at the hotel, it can get a bit repetitive and boring so we booked the Outback and Beyond trip through our Thomson Reps for the second Monday, in hopes for an adventure. And what a day it was!
I first read about the trip on Tripadvisor and, with stunning reviews, it was definitely top on the list of things to do. It boasted a bit of everything from history, tradition, food, and beach fun! Before getting picked up at 8am we were told to make sure we had our swimming costume on, camera at the ready and suitable footwear. Sun tan lotion was a must and, of course, a towel. We knew the basics of what we would do but there were constant surprises a long the way.
Our, what I like to call, off-road truck picked us up at 8am and headed straight for our first stop on the journey. We were taken through smaller villages and areas with big built up houses to be shown the difference in class. Unlike in England, it appeared as if everyone at least had some kind of shelter and not a single homeless person was seen on the streets. Many were sat in their porches or carrying heavily loads, mostly likely to and from their local shop. Since the tap water is not drinkable, there are stacks of large bottles of water by every side road but the areas weren't particularly clean. The higher class houses were ornate buildings often up in the mountains. We didn't get to see many but I wouldn't have expected a lot to be around, especially with the Dominican Republic still being classed as a third world country. We were told we were heading to a traditional Dominican house where there is a family that works and lives, and they are happy to show us around to get a good understanding of what their life is like.
We arrived and before we could have a look around we were all handed a bottle of water to keep us hydrated in the blisteringly hot sun. Stupid me fell asleep on the sunbed the day before and badly burnt all my shins so I was already in enough pain as it was. Another two groups doing the same safari had arrived so each were shown a different way round the site. It was a lovely little place surrounded by jungle and there only seemed to be one or two other houses next door. Kids, being off school for summer, were hanging around the fencing handing out flowers, probably in hopes of a little money or at least some freebies. They struggled with their English so it was nice to be able to reply using the little Spanish that I know!
Our group or, as our guide, Junior, kept saying, 'our family' first went to have a look at the cocoa and coffee beans. He explained how they would grow and harvest a coffee bean until they are turned into the granules we use to make coffee into a drink. The same with the cocoa beans and just by the side they had some of their home brewed coffee and hot chocolate. Not being a coffee fan, I tried the hot chocolate and it is nothing like you have ever tasted before. It's so pure and well, chocolatey, it melts in your mouth with such an unusual taste. It is delicious but nothing like the hot chocolate we are used to.
Swiftly we moved on to sample various fresh fruit. The family that own the land have their very own plantation, as most families do, in order to be self-sufficient and gain a little income. Apparently this family don't sell a lot of their produce, as they use and store a lot of it, but it helps them gain that little bit extra money when they need it. They also have chickens so for the most of it, they have enough food to survive off! The fresh fruit we were given was delicious and so refreshing! I'm not a massive fan of mango but when it is properly fresh like that, I love it!
Junior took us on a guided tour of the plantation to be shown exactly what everything was. Everything from pineapples growing out of the ground, bananas and mango in the trees, and all sorts of herbs, spices, nuts etc. everywhere else! Literally anything you can think of that grows on a plant, you could find. Naturally for a Caribbean country, there was plenty of sugarcane around! Most of it is used to make alcohol, in particular, rum!
Before we left, we were taken through the traditional house where we got to meet some of the family who lived there. Granted they probably get a bit of money from Outback Safari themselves and there was no actual way of telling it that was really their home but it was interesting to see how small the houses were. You step straight into a small box living area with a room to the left big enough for a single bed. The living room leads straight into a kitchen with very basic cooking facilities. I did notice the cupboard at the back full with all kinds of mugs, including ones with English football team logos on. That was all that was in the main house. All washing facilities are kept in a separate small building next door. I suppose they don't have to worry about getting cold walking to the toilet in the middle of the night like we do!
Sticking with the idea of tradition, our next stop was a primary school, after we were each given a plastic reusable cup to use at the happy hour all inclusive bar they had on board (basically a cool box). The idea of the cups was simply to reduce waste, plus it meant we all got a little souvenir from the trip! When we arrived at the school, it was obvious that it was summer holidays since it was eerily quiet. Granted, we still had access to see the classrooms. I was amazed at the size. We are so used to an infants and juniors section with a playground and possibly a field attached here in the UK, so I will admit that I was awestruck to find only two small classrooms with chalkboards and a small basketball court attached. By small, I mean approximately 30 foot long at maximum.The basketball court hadn't been finished either so it was just a closed off area of tarmac. Apparently some of the money raised from Outback Safari trips goes back into that school and so far has helped with some smaller renovations and in adding on the basketball court. We were able to purchase Outback Safari merchandise to both help support the excursion and put some money back into the school!
This was the best photo of the school I got as I felt rude taking photos of the people doing the excursion. I did get some videos so look out on YouTube for those! You can see the drinks cups here though!Although we had been given a basic itinerary and I had a rough idea of what to expect, I was surprised by our next stop. After driving down bumpy roads, lined with sugar cane, we arrived at a gorgeous secluded stream. I have never seen anything like it before. It was so picturesque and refreshing to jump into! Not knowing we'd be going anywhere like it, I forgot to bring my swim shoes and instead just had flipflops but that wasn't advisable. I hate things touching my bare feet in water so I attempted to keep my flip flops on in the water but the second I got in, they fell off. Good job they float! I stuck to the deeper area to have a little swim and a well needed cool off whilst Ed was off playing around with recording sounds and then slipping and falling on his bum (it was pretty funny and I really wish my camera had been facing him at the time!)
Lunch time was definitely a highlight of the day! It was the first time we were able to sit down and get to know some of the other people on the trip with us and being an English group, there was some good ol' Lancashire/Yorkshire banter. Us Lancs were slightly defeated due to the large number of people from around Sheffield. Luck of the draw I suppose! It was all a good laugh though and the food was delicious. All you can eat "Dominican Fried Chicken" served with rice, beans, pastas, salads, and fruits of your choice. Absolutely delicious!
At the site where we ate lunch, we were welcomed into the souvenir shop to be told about their popular drinks and artistry. The most popular of the alcohols is always Mamajuana. You can buy ready made bottles or the ingredients to make it yourself but it's basically a bunch of cinnamon sticks, tree bark and herbs fused into a few spoonfuls of honey, the a quarter red wine and fill to the top with rum. It is nice but definitely very strong, although most make it slightly differently. There was also pineapple wine tasters and wooden carving being made right in front of our eyes. Not wanting to spend money at the time, we just browsed. There were plenty of others making up for the lack of money we spent though!
After lunch, our final stop was at a beach where we had a bar, free massages and body boarding lessons. White sands and the perfect waves for trying out body boarding for the first time. It's simple enough but takes a few tries to get going. Also, wearing contacts isn't the best of ideas! It got busy in the sea as the guides section it off due to the harsher waves further in. It's mostly to save their backs so no one gets hurt. I wasn't going to be the one to deny a free massage either and I didn't regret it. It hurt from kneeling down on a sandy massage bench (mainly because of my burnt shins) and the sand I already had on my back from the beach but in some ways, it made me feel the massage more. I've never had a professional massage before and it definitely made me want to book a spa day!
Overall, the day was thoroughly enjoyable and there was lots to learn and see! I know everyone enjoyed themselves, and some even booked to do it again later in the week! The food was great, drinks were great, and the company was great! Everything you need to make a memorable excursion! It's always nice to know that the company you go with are big on community support as well as sustainable and reasonable tourism. They offer the opportunity to purchase local products which helps give back and sustain the local economies within the countryside which would otherwise not be effected by the usual tourism income. All the more reason to enjoy the trip and share it with the world. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is going to the Dominican Republic!
Whilst in Dom Rep we also climbed Mount Isabel de Torres and took a tour around the main city of Puerto Plata. I shall be writing more about my holiday but in the meantime check out my Instagram for lots of photos! Not only that, this Saturday I fly out to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro trek! Cannot believe it's come around so fast!
This post was originally published 16/08/2017 before I changed website providers.