Travelblog By Emily Yurcheshen, Travel Writer
“What are five words you would use to describe your first impressions of the Dominican Republic?” Deborah asked me while walking along the beach of Cabarete. Cabarete is the neighboring town to where I was doing a summer internship for Deborah and DS Publishing. I paused, for I was not certain I was ready to define my experience so soon. It was less than a week ago I had arrived, and I felt as if I wanted time to let the miraculous Caribbean waves wash over me. But like a good intern, I decided to answer the question. .
The first word I blurted out was magical. Here in the Dominican, I felt the magic of the sea from the moment I saw it. My heart knew I was connected to this place even though I have never set foot here in this lifetime. Then came the four others: compassionate, creative, musical, and colorful. Over the course of the summer, I began to see the truth to my adjectival blurts. With each passing day, my belief in magic deepened as I opened to the wonders of this amazing island, edged by Caribbean on one side and the Atlantic on the other.
Good Bye Cubicle. Hello Caribbean!
After a week of digging my fingertips into the computer keys, diving into the plethora of creative projects Deborah had lined up for me, I was ready for a little adventure. Ok, but really, but how grueling can it be to proofread The Vacation Travel Rental Guide, 268 pages of some of the most spectacular vacation homes in the world, while you are living in a three-bedroom penthouse on the beach in the Caribbean? .
The most distracting sound during the day is the rhythmic pulse of the waves ebbing and flowing on the shore. This is by far the most creative work environment I’ve ever manifested. I remember years past working in a gray drab cubicle. It nearly drove me nuts to sit all day long in the most uninspiring environment. Yet as far as I was concerned, this was an excellent way to spend five hours a day. I joked with my new friends after joining them for a mid-day beach swim, that the Caribbean was my break room. But after a few days of typing, swimming laps in the local pool and scoping out the neighboring beaches, it was time for a change of scenery.
Musical Mermaids in Cabarete
Dressed in our bikinis, Deborah and I packed for the day. This included my book blueprint because one of the other reasons I made the journey from Santa Barbara to the Dominican Republic was to finish my book entitled, An Odyssey of Song. Deborah is also my publishing coach and Sunday was typically our coaching session day. We hopped onto a gua gua, the public taxi in the Dominican Republic. It is usually a car or a van packed to the brim with Dominicans and tourists. The ride is an act of faith, for seat belts are not guaranteed and there are, in reality, three lanes, although only two of them are outlined on the road.
Our first stop was Millennium, one of the multitudes of Cabarete’s local spa centers. Swimming in the smaller, murky pool in the condo complex was fine for morning lap swims, but this was taking it to the next level. The water at the larger Millennium pool is clear and glassy and sits on the edge of a kite surfing beach. It was delightful to watch the colorful creations dance in the wind as the surfers sometimes floated 20 to 30 feet above the sea. Waiters serving drinks around the pool were readily available, but I preferred to be in the water. .
I playfully dove and splashed remembering when I was a little girl; my summers spent frolicking in the pool. At first I was terrified of the water. I don’t remember if I was pushed or finally jumped in, but once I hit the bottom and surfaced, the fear disappeared, replaced by complete joy. Instead of acting like an insecure, shy girl, I would cross my ankles and imagine I was a mermaid, a goddess of the sea. I’ve always felt an affinity toward these goddess creatures with their long flowing hair and angelic voices. Little did I know that later this very night, I would be reunited with mermaid sisters who gathered to share their magical stories of their lives in the Dominican and listen to a mermaid-like musician singing songs. It was a mix of American contemporary rock, R and B, and a little rap combined with Caribbean rhythms to rock me into a sweet, magical bliss.
Colors and Cocktails
After the refreshing, dip we strolled down Cabarete beach. An abundance of restaurants offering food from all over the world, the colors of their countries reflected in their awnings, architecture and amenities. Happy hour languishes until nine p.m. at most restaurants. We discovered a lively, local Dominican place called the Mohito Bar. Deborah knew the owner who delighted us with a kiss on the cheek and led us to beach front seating. With a cornucopia of options on the menu, I was unsure of what to order. The owner suggested a Thai dish called, Pattaya. “Sounds great,” I said as I closed the menu. Many of the meals come with a fresh squeezed juice or a Mohito, a Tequila and Mint specialty for which the restaurant was named. The meal was scrumptious! It sailed onto my table in a half golden pineapple. I smiled knowing that I was in a tropical paradise.
Fresh Fish at La Boca
La Boca means mouth in Spanish. It is the place where the mouth of a local river meets the Caribbean Sea. Another author Deborah is coaching, guided us on a day trip to explore an intriguing meeting place of fresh and seawater. In fact, Bob, the man who arranged the outing, plus Deborah and I, were all launching book babies this summer-triplets! Bob guided the entourage. It included the three of us, Bob’s girlfriend and a family friend visiting from India.
Bob handed each of us a goodies bag and led us down a long stretch of beach. I felt like I was on an elementary school field trip. “These are for all the treasures you collect,” the tall bearded man said with a twinkle in his eye. A warm wind whipped the sand and my bright blue hat kept flying off my head. I tucked it under my arm and began following Bob’s lead for treasures. He pointed out two shiny seeds. One was round and smooth, quarter-size. In English, referred to as a cow’s eye, Bob had a keen eye for these and brought them to us with a closed fist like there was something truly magical inside. He would drop the seeds in each of our plastic bags. Soon after one was dropped into my bag, it would land on the ground. I quickly realized that my bag had a hole in it. Bob remedied that problem with another bag and we were happily on our way down a gorgeous stretch of golden sand. .
After gathering our seeds and driftwood, we were escorted into a small wooden boat and driven across the river to a little local seafood joint named Wilson’s. We received first-rate service from the owner who knew Bob’s girlfriend. The fish I ordered came whole, fried, on a plate and appeared as if it were staring at me. I didn’t let it scare me though, for all the walking and water sparked a deep hunger. Served with salad and friend unsweetened bananas, I grabbed a fork and dug in. We washed our meals down with fresh coconut water straight from the coconut. What a splendid meal! Lovely Dominicans escorted us back to the other side of the river where our car was parked. Before hopping in the car, Bob pointed out beautiful purple hyacinths blossoming along the water’s edge. Deborah eagerly transplanted some and was tickled when she woke on her birthday (a few days later) to four gorgeous purple flowers.
Mother Mary in the Mountains
One of the pearls of my summer was my journey to the mountains with my sweet Dominican companion, Luiz. He took me to his mother’s home, about an hour southeast of Cabarete. Here I enjoyed a mystical experience and had a taste of authentic Dominican food! Deborah and I were eating at home most of the time, learning to cook and create unique dishes with fresh local produce — coconuts, bananas, mangos, avocados, and almonds to name a few. In fact, there are almond trees and sea grapes growing right outside our terrace.
The mountain tropics presented a unique combination of lush tropical foliage as the gua gua chugged up the spiraling hilltop. Small pastel colored houses lined the winding roads. We walked for at least a mile after disembarking from our third public taxi, to arrive at our destination. The landscape, people and food were captivating. Luiz greeted all of the people we passed by as if they were family. I was impressed how people of all ages in this mountain town or “campo”(as it is referred) had such deep bonds with one another.
For the first time, I tasted boiled, unsweetened bananas. They were accompanied with salami and served by a wonderful Dominican woman, the mother of my travel companion, Luiz. With eyes of compassion that reminded me of the Lady of Guadeloupe, she hosted us with open arms. She cooked and opened her home to us. I felt a spiritual connection with this woman. Maybe this was due to the paintings of Mary and other religious icons adorning the walls of her dining area, or perhaps, because there was a deep compassionate energy emanating from her. Living in Portugal for two years, I developed a deep bond with Mother Mary. In the northern city of Fatima, three shepherd children claimed to have seen Mary with their own eyes. I don’t know if this was true, but I felt it was her divine feminine presence that led me there. Perhaps she had led me to the Dominican as well. .
On this mountain tour, I tasted raw cacao for the first time. My adorable guide pulled a big cacao fruit from a tree that hugged the hill right by a spectacular waterfall. He smashed it open and handed it to me for a taste. It has a creamy sweet, white filling, delicious and nutritious. Now that’s another sign of pure magic – the seeds of chocolate. The experience was like a mystical camping trip. There was no plumbing and very little electricity but there was a kindness infused through all the people I met. I could see it in their eyes. Luiz had friends and families everywhere. Their living accommodations were minimal, but there was a richness of spirit that expanded like a golden aura from this little mountain village.
Girls’ Night Out- Kow-a-bunga, Here Comes the Beef!
Part of the magic of the summer is that I have gained a willingness to try things that I shied away from while living in the United States. As an international traveler, I found myself braver and more receptive to explore new places, people, and events. One of the opportunities that come to mind is eating beef at Cabarete’s surf restaurant, Ali. For most people living in this country and much of the world, eating red meat is a luxury, but for me, it takes me out of my comfort zone. Growing up, my dad used to make the most incredible hamburgers, but other than that, I was never a fan of beef. I remember chewing thick steak and counting the minutes on the microwave timer that I would have to gnaw on the rubbery stuff before I could swallow the darn thing. .
Yet when I walked into this restaurant, I entered into a natural wonder. A beautiful arched bridge that beacons hungry travelers lead us to a dining area overlooking a pond. As the moon shone on us, I felt ready to break my beef abstinence. Everyone at the table told me that it was fabulous food. It’s gourmet grub made for surfers. There are huge portions and lots of space to feed many starving surfers. Now let me clarify when I say huge. I have never seen a whole platter covered with beef. Granted, it was a thin slice, but it was huge. Deborah and I shared one between us. I felt like I should receive a metal for eating that much meat in one setting. I think that it equaled the amount of beef I’ve eaten in the last ten years, but honestly, it was so tasty that I felt like a red meat lover who came out of the closet.
Bon Voyage Dessert
Six powerful women from different parts of the world gathered for a celebratory send-off for me at a French restaurant in Cabarete called Restaurant Le Bistro. Amel, the owner, greeted us with a hearty smile and extended personal service throughout the dessert party. We eagerly inquired as he guided us through “dessert un-choices.” This is because every dessert is handmade and it was near closing time. But lucky for us, there was one chocolate lava cake left, two apple pies and three pear ice cream almond scoops. With anticipation, we awaited our decadent desserts as we chatted with the owner about different languages, history and cultures that international travelers understand. Amel placed the brownie-like lava cake in the center of the table and quickly stepped back. To present an awkward or out-all-out food war, one of the women sliced the cake into six equal pieces. Her reward was licking the knife.
Final Summer Magic
Why do we love magic? What is it that makes a place magical? And how do we carry this spark with us wherever we go? When I was a little girl, my dad would do the stupidest magic tricks. He would take a playing card, stand beside the window and tell me that he would make the card magically appear outside the window and float around the yard. I don’t know how he rigged it, but the card was instantly gone. Excitedly, he would point to different spots in the yard and say, “There is it is.” “Do you see it?” It would supposedly be hopping from tree to tree and bush to bush. “Oh there it is. Look over there.” The exhilaration of believing the impossible was incredible. I followed his every word, convinced that there was magic in the air. .
This summer in the Dominican Republic has been that kind of magic. There wasn’t anything unusual that happened. In fact, much of it was ordinary life for most people living here, but for me, it was magical. I landed on this island wondering how the cards of the summer days would play out. I leave the island with a knowing that every moment here awakened within me a beautiful sense of magice. I will carry the magic created by those moments with me, wherever I go. I will close this article with a song that was gifted to me from the divine magic of the sea.
By Emily Yurcheshen
Met a mermaid yesterday on a beach in Cabarete
Eyes like pearls, she flashed her fins
Let her long hair hang and said “Dive right in”
Chorus: For the Caribbean sings to the Dominican songs of Magic (3x)
She led me deep into the turquoise sea
Held my hand and said “swim with me”
We swam to Sosua Bay, watched the dolphins splash and play
I heard music through the melody of the waves
Dive deep into your wildest dreams
Wish upon a starfish
For there is magic wherever you are
It is the song in your heart
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