When we were in el El Valle we saw a great big house at the top of the hill.
That, and a rumor of a lake called “Laguna del Diablo” got us searching for a road, which we eventually found close to Playa Rincon.
We started up that road but eventually it got really bad, too bad for our car Izzy to keep going up without some major damage, so we took a break to open a coconut, and that’s when a pick-up truck full of workers came down the hill after the end of their shift.
As I moved the car out of the way, Gabriel made small talk with them, asking if they knew where the lake was, etc..
Within a few minutes, we had the number of one of the workers who was going to take us on a personally guided hike to the lake the next day.
So we came back up and Victor and his son took us on a hike through what’s yet to be the most virgin part of the Dominican Republic I’ve seen so far.
There are some roads up there, but most of them are pretty new, including the Ruta de Jengibre, which you’ll find on google as “Carretera La Loma Atravesada” as the project is to eventually connect Playa Rincon to Playa El Valle.
So far though, what you’ll find up there are mostly local farmers who live off the land and rarely need to go anywhere.
The land is farmed in part, and completely virgin in others. It’s paradise.
We got there very early in the morning and when we finally had a view of the lake, it was covered in fog (pictured above) But as we got closer to it, and the sun came up over the hills, the fog burned off to reveal a rather large and beautiful lake.
We were alone, Gabriel, Victor, his son, and I, save for a few fisherman trying to catch their sunday lunch.
Our voices echoed on the walls of the hills opposite us, carried by the reflective stillness of the lake.
The birds chirping away.
Of course, we’d come a long way, and it was warm, so a swim was inevitable. But Gaby had to take it a step further:
As with most lakes, the bottom was mainly sediment, “up to your waist in it at parts,” said Victor’s son.
But a while back someone laid down some concrete, so we could actually step a bit.
If you’re like me, that video grosses you out. Now think about all that sediment floating between your toes…. eeeeeewwwwwwww :)
After the refreshing swim and a nice long rest by the lake, we hiked back to the car. It was hotter this time around.
Unfortunately we’d taken Izzy down a steep hill, on a gravel road, and she had trouble coming back up. It took the three of them pushing, rocks flying at their shins, while i tried to maneuver her up, but finally, we made it. Phwew!
We were invited back to Victor’s house for some warm lunch. Local viveres straight from their yard, like this steamin’ Yucca.
Sure, the hike was fun, but the best part of this adventure were the people.
Victor’s son is 10 years old.
He goes to school, but mostly, he learns about life by living.
He’s the one who knew the way to the lake really, and as he was leading us down his father said to me “you have to trust the children. The children know more than you give them credit for. Let them roam around and learn about life and you’ll see how much they come back with to surprise you.”
Victor used to live in Sosua for a while, but decided the “city” life was too full of issues all the time. He came back to the “monte” to live off the land and raise his kids.
“In the city” he says, “if I let my kid loose he’d come back with trouble, guns, and drugs. Here, if I let him loose he comes back with lunch, and a story.”
Indeed, this kid and his friends go on three day hikes, armed with nothing but a machete, to the end of the peninsula, looking for crabs.
They bring with them the food they’ll need and a bucket, sleep in caves with the bats, throw rocks at birds if they want some protein, and come back three days later with hundreds of crabs for the community.
Now those rubber bands around his wrists aren’t some exotic tribal tradition; that just shows he’s a hustler when it comes to playing a rubber-band game with his friends.
There, vegetables and fruit grow in their backyard, chickens provide eggs and meat, supplemented by the occasional pig, and the cherished salami as a treat.
Dogs are security, cats are rodent control.
There’s a reason for everything and everything has a reason.
Victor helps build the road that goes to that giant house we saw from El Valle. The first bit of the road was built by the government, and there are plans to finish it, as I said above, but in the meantime, some rich guy from Santiago is building a mansion atop the hill and wants a road, so he’s contracted local workers to finish it, which they do by hand, rock by rock.
That’s how Victor pays for the extras they can’t get right from the land, like rice and oil, their clothes, and of course, television.
We finally made it to that house, but that’s a story for another day. This day, we were fortunate to experience a piece of genuine dominican life, as it was 50 some years ago, before the new road changes it too much.
If you’re interested in experiencing it for yourself, drive yourself up the Ruta del Jengibre. Up there you’ll find peace, quiet, a wonderful view, real people, and little typical houses you can stay in for the night.
Get out of the resorts. Go experience real life. But please, do so responsibly.
Every action you take changes the environment around you.
Be the change you want to see in the world.