Tall banana trees, butterflies, the sounds of birds and chocolate – Explore the Caribbean with Debbie

Destination:  Constanza, Dominican Republic

Charco Bonito.

Rancho Wendy, located in the mountain village Los Quemados some 15 km from the mid-sized town Bonao, has been around since 1990 offering cheap accommodations and eco-adventure excursions. Before I set off for the 190 km rough ride to Jarabacoa where I plan to go on a rafting experience on the Rio Yague del Norte, I wanted to find out what a Rancho Wendy excursions is all about. Due to time constrains I select the shortest and consequently most affordable excursion ($10 USD) which will take me to Carcho Bonito.

As I am about to find out, reaching the destination is just a part of the experience. The other part cannot be controlled, depends heavily on ones curiosity and can lead to unexpected interactions with both people and nature. My guides Frank and Elias make the introductions. Just a few hundred meters separate rancho Wendy and the Rio Yuma. The wide, riverbed indicates that the rainy season has not arrived yet. In order to reach the other side we still will have to cross a rapid flowing stream, about 40 meters wide. To avoid wet feet and to enhance the sense of adventure, we cross the minimized river by a awkwardly swaying suspended bridge, constructed out of bamboo some large tree stems and a rubber tarp which are being held together by relatively thin steel cables. Before long my attention is being drawn to some kids in the river who are wearing diving masks and who are obviously looking for something. Frank calls out to one of the boys called Blanco who explains he and his friends are catching river crabs that sell for about 30 pesos each ($O.80 USD). Blanco is more than willing to show off the best “catch of the day” which he takes from a bag that holds about twenty more. For these kids, river Crab fishing can be a lucrative pastime. For a while we walk parallel to the river following a narrow path. Frank and Elias ask me every other minute if I ever have seen this plant or tasted that type of fruit. For the first time in my life I see a cocoa tree and Frank knows where to find even riper cocoa fruits. We are being greeted by a middle-aged woman who is carrying a white bag and a machete. “Hola Idalia”, says Elias who continues to explain that we just past by her house. Idalia Rosario Tabares is returning from her work on the fields. The relentless afternoon sun demands respect. Idalia offers me a big smile while I take her picture and she invites us to pass by for a coffee on our way back to the Ranch. We cut through the forest. It does not take long before I can hear a waterfall. I am amazed by the different colors of the cocoa fruits, the tall banana trees, coffee, butterflies and the sounds of birds I have never seen, let alone that I can recall their names. I drink water from the stream without having to worry about my stomach and minutes later I am standing in front of the natural pool called Charco Bonito and the wonderful waterfall that pours into it. Though slightly chilly, I can’t resist to dive in the water and swim against the stream to touch the white water wall. There is more to explore. We walk up the hill, climb on the rocks above the cascade and experience the sound and vision of the roaring water just inches away. This sight must be even more impressive in May when the rain is about to arrive. On our way back to Los Quemados, Frank selects a Cocoa fruit for me. I feel like I received a treasure but at the same time do not have a clue what to do with it. While I sit down on the front porch of Idalia’s humble home, Idalia tells me how she moved about 36 years ago to the area from the Santiago Rodriquez province. To meet her daily needs she harvests, sells and trades coffee, cocoa and other products that she finds in the forest or grows on her piece of land from where she just returned. She enjoys harping on her estranged husband who is never far away, talks with passion about her work in the mountains and proudly introduces Marisbel, her 11 year old daughter who unlike too many children in the area, does attend school and loves to do so! It is clear that time is of no essence to Idalia who does not know her own day of birth. According to Idalia, the only time her birthday was of some kind of interest to anyone was when politicians wanted her to vote for them. Although she never gets to celebrate here birthday, Idalia feels like “a million bucks”, after all she does not care much for parties. I cannot resist asking her if she never thinks about the future, when it gets harder for her to work on the land and to reach the nearest village. For Idalia the future means next month, hardly ever next year. Her sense of security is complete as long as there is food in sight.

While on the road I do not have much use for a large cocoa fruit. I suggest to open it right here and now to see what is inside. Idalia cracks the fruit on the floor. I can see the large seeds that almost seem to float in a white sticky mass. Although Frank tells me that it is not recommended to chew and eat the seeds, I am encouraged to put one in my mouth and experience a rich, refreshing taste that only slightly hints of chocolate. I take one more before it is time to leave. We decide to take the shortcut back to the Ranch by wading through the river while exchanging smiles and greetings with the locals who take advantage of the cooling and recreational properties of the water. The excursion with Frank and Elias, did not just take me to Charco Bonito. I came in contact with a whole new natural environment and some of the wonderful people who are an integrated part of it. A great experience I will not likely forget.

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