Kite soaring high during a sunset on kite beach.

Oceanside Livin’

There is something to be said about life next to the ocean. You don’t even have to be doing water activities or be explicitly dependent upon it in some way for it to have a profound effect. At the Extreme Hotel, everything you do is next to the ocean. You eat next to the ocean, sleep next to the ocean, trapeze next to the ocean, work out next to the ocean, read next to the ocean, talk on the phone next to the ocean. I could keep going – and those aren’t even the activities that you actually do in the ocean (i.e. kiteboard, surf, scuba, snorkel, stand up paddleboard, swim).

Kite soaring high during a sunset on kite beach.

Kite Beach.

 

A lot of the time when I am doing something next to the ocean, I am highly aware of it. It is hard to ignore a beauty so strong, the scent of salt in the air and the feeling of the ocean breeze on your skin. However, even after just being here for over a week as an intern, it is easy to slip into routine and forget that the ordinary was once extraordinary not so long ago. That being said, the amazing thing about living next to the ocean is that it constantly provides perspective – whether or not the rhythm of its crashing waves has become background noise. Something so great, so loud and so vibrant as the ocean is constantly telling you that you are merely a single, tiny human in a much greater universe.

#1Samana view

Don’t worry, it is not insulting. If anything, it’s humbling and inspiring. The ocean makes me feel small and unimportant. And once I feel small and unimportant, I start to take things less seriously. I think that I can try anything, do anything (maybe learn to kitesurf!) because in the end, I am just one small creature in this massive world.

Trip to Pico Duarte: the Roof of the Caribbean

What an experience! During this trip you will witness breathtaking views from the highest point of the Caribbean. The view from the summit is absolutely incredible!  Would I recommend it to anyone? Yes, to everyone! But be warned, it is extremely tough for inexperienced hikers. Although it is difficult, you will be absolutely blown away by what nature has to offer – Amazing flora and fauna and it doesn’t just stay the same. The landscape changes along the way as well as the vegetation. You will walk through the clouds and watch the sun rise over the highest point of the Caribbean while looking over Haiti and Puerto Rico. We headed out at four in the morning from the base camp. I have never seen stars so clear and bright! Besides the natural beauty, the sense of satisfaction from doing the climb totally made the tough hike worth the effort.

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This trip can be shorter or longer depending on your preference and we did the express version (two days). From Extreme Hotel on Kite Beach, Cabarete, we passed through Moca to get to Rancho Baiguate in Jarabacoa (www.ranchobaiguate.com/). Watch out when you drive down to San Victor as there are some sharp u-turns going downhill. Also watch out for holes in the road and drive very carefully. Take a phone that has Google Maps. This app can help you out big time when you get lost which is more than likely – it’s all part of the adventure!

When we got to the ranch we ate a very nice meal at the buffet. The guides explained what we would be doing the next day and afterwards we went to bed early to catch some good sleep in one of their nice cabins (you will need this rest for when you wake up at 6 am the next day!). The following morning you drive to La Cienega de Manabao. This is a very cool 1.5 hour ride in an open truck. You will see a lot of nice villages, beautiful landscapes and friendly people greeting you. The hike starts with the journey to the base camp, la compartición, which will take between 7-9 hours. It is there that you will eat and catch some sleep because the climb to the summit begins at four in the morning. After that you return to base camp where you will have another much deserved meal. Then begins the decent all the way back to La Cienega de Manabao.

Base Camp – La Compartición

Very important tip: phone beforehand and ask if the track is muddy or not (Ranch Contact). I would recommend to go only when it hasn’t been raining a lot and to book through some kind of agency unless you are a very experienced hiker. My friend and I practice a lot of sports, but our knees were hurting a lot on the way back because they were simply overloaded. We climbed the mountain without using one of the guides’ mules. In retrospect, it would have been better if we had taken the mule for at least two hours on the way to the top. We did have sufficient energy on the way back, but if your knees are hurting, going down is especially difficult! So in the end, we sat on mules on the way down for 4 hours. All in all, Rancho Baiguate took care of everything very well!

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What is essential to bring?

– Warm clothing, a hat and gloves are needed at the top! (we did the tour in March and it was about 5 degrees Celsius at the top … other months can even be colder)

– Good quality hiking shoes and socks

– High energy snacks like muesli bars

– Sunscreen and sunglasses

– Flashlights (iphone will suffice, make sure it is fully charged!)

– Rain gear

Y ahora, vetepalla!

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Written by Jelle Boekema, the Netherlands (29) and Billy Gonzalez Capellan, La Republica
Dominicana (23)

How We Handle Mosquitos in Cabarete

Extreme Hotel Cabarete, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, caters to an eco friendly environment. One of the realities of living next to El Choco National Park is that there are mosquitoes during the rainy season.

Dealing with mosquitoes is a fact of life in the tropics. Chikungunya, malaria, and dengue are a few mosquito transmitted diseases that have been contracted in the Dominican Republic, but there are things that can be done to help manage the mosquitoes without having to poison ourselves with chemicals. All it takes is some creative thinking to ensure that we have a mosquito tolerable environment.

One effective measure that works for us is spraying an organic insecticide around the property as needed.

Here’s a glance at our handy man, Oscar, spraying for us (I know you’re singing “Ghostbusters!” right now):
ghostbusters!

The harmless spray contains a mixture of organic neem oil, water, and a natural detergent. Neem oil is an incredible moisturizer and is widely used today in popular products such as shampoos, toothpaste, soaps, cosmetics, and creams. It also contains vitamin E, essential amino acids, fatty acids, and compounds that offer natural medicinal and insecticidal properties.

In addition to our checmical free mosquito management technique , we offer our eXtreme guests a personal mosquito swat-racket.

There is a technique to using a mosquito racket. Basically the procedure is to close all your doors and windows in your room, checking to ensure that all the seals are closed so no more can get in. Next, use your racket in a gentle swinging manner to clear the room and all the corners of the mosquitoes that have managed to get inside.

These are no ordinary mosquito rackets – our staff ran a trial period of testing out various rackets to see which ones were most effective in zapping away the mosquitoes. We unanimously agreed upon a mosquito racket with wires that only run one way- no crossing! This technology allows air to swiftly fly through the racket instead of being propelled forward and ultimately pushing the mosquitoes out of the way. The end result is dead mosquitoes with minimal effort, and easy sleeping nights with no mosquitoes buzzing around your ears!

mosq

Here are a few handy tips for getting the most out of your zap-racket:

1) Close the door behind you! Don’t give insects a chance to fly in as you enter the room. Also, check that your screens aren’t damaged with holes or crooked frames.

2) Make sure the green light turns on when you press down on the yellow activation button. If the green light does not respond, then you need to try rolling the batteries around a bit in order to guarantee that they are receiving proper circuit supply from both ends. If the light still does not respond, then we can switch out your faulty racket with a new one from reception.

3) Mosquitoes love damp, warm areas and are often found gathered in corners of rooms. Sweep your zap-racket slowly around the corners of the room and rest easy as you hear the sweet, succulent zapping sound.

An additional measure we take towards our eco-friendly bug management includes bat housing we installed on the property. A single bat can consume up to 1000 mosquitoes in a night! Citronella plants and Neem trees have also been transplanted onto our property to act as natural insect repellents. You may recognize the scent of citronella (lemongrass) in the air. It is has an energizing citrus aroma used in perfumes, soaps, and incense. We are also continuously inspecting the property for standing water. By eliminating standing water we also eliminate the bug breeding ground that comes with it.

Inside the eXtreme Hotel rooms you will find big fans located directly over top of the beds. These go a long way in reducing the random stray mosquito! Due to the lightweight nature of mosquitoes, the fan makes it difficult for them to maneuver through the air.

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to bring an organic mosquito repellent. You can easily concoct your own by adding a few drops of citronella or neem oil to a moisturizer. Your skin will love it after playing in the sun all day!

The valley of La Cienaga

How to Climb the Highest Mountain in the Carribbean – Pico Duarte – on the Cheap

It all started with my boyfriend, Honza’s upcoming 30th birthday. I always knew he would love to climb Pico Duarte – the highest mountain in the Caribbean, but I also knew I wanted to plan this trip myself and surprise him on his birthday. So I seemingly ignored his talks about it and secretly started plotting. Through The eXtreme Hotel, I got in touch with Jade and Gabriel of the fantastic travel blog: wetravelandblog.com. They  climbed Pico themselves, so I was able to get a number for a guide and valuable advice on How to Climb the Highest Mountain in the Carribbean – Pico Duarte – on the Cheap

The valley of La Cienaga

The valley of La Cienaga

Pico Duarte (elevation: 3,087 m) is situated in the Armando Bermudez National Park, roughly 80 miles (130 km) from Cabarete. There are basically two ways of doing this trip. Either you can go through an agency which will organize everything for you, transport, hotel, guide, etc. for approximately 500 dollars per person or, if you are more adventurous, you can do it on your own will!. We opted for the latter. We had a great experience, and on top of it, managed to lower the cost to slightly under 200 dollars for both of us.

On Friday morning, we set off from Los Brazos on our motor bike towards Jamao, Moca, and Jarabacoa. It went quite smoothly all the way there. Although those steep hills were definitely challenging for our bike La Perla Negra. (Name she got when one man in Cabarete claimed it was his stolen bike called la Perla Negra. Turned out it wasn’t the guy‘s bike but we liked the name so it stuck.). For those of you who decide to go by a motor bike or a car, in Jarabacoa it can get a bit tricky. There is a sign ‘turn right to go to La Ciénaga’ but then no sign telling you to turn left  at the next crossroads. So, naturally we kept going straight. Another big challenge for our bike: a steep dirt road, many holes, very little traffic…us thinking that La Ciénaga must be really off the beaten track. Turns out we were on the wrong track ourselves, of course. Luckily there were two men driving a van back to Jarabacoa who took me and our big backpack with them and Honza followed us on the bike. This time we took the right turn and got first to Manabao and then to La Ciénaga: the starting point for the hike to Pico Duarte.

In La Ciénaga we asked for “parque nacional“ and pretty much anyone would send us in the right direction. We met our guide Francisco in the centre of the village. He then showed us to his house which is right next to the colmado where we bought food for our trip. We dined together at his cousin’s little shack and Francisco arranged for us to sleep in the building of the national park. Herman, the keeper of the park, let me and Honza stay for 200 pesos per night. We agreed to meet up early morning in our guide’s house, have a cup of coffee and set out on our adventure.

Happy hikers on pico duarte

Happy hikers on pico duarte

Saturday morning, 8:00 a.m. Honza, myself, Francisco, one horse, and one mule – ready for the trip! The last two were the ones who carried it all – our stuff, our food, and our guide. The weather was great, sunny and a little bit chilly – perfect for a hike. It didn’t take long and we were higher than we could ever get in our country – Alto de la Cotorra. The path was steep as we got higher but the view was stunning and we were full of energy so we didn’t mind.

 

 

 

We were amazed at how different the landscape was, how palm trees changed for pine trees, how hilly and cool it was. Hard to believe we were still in the Carribbean. As for animals, we heard many birds sing and almost all the way up we were accompanied by humming birds. It seemed they welcomed our company and enjoyed flying around us. We took regular refreshment breaks in order to regain our strenght. Funny how even ordinary things like bread and cheese taste so much better once the body gets tired and you are in fresh air.

Landscape around Pico Duarte

Landscape around Pico Duarte

We weren’t the only ones who decided to climb Pico Duarte that weekend. There was a group of four people with two guides who we kept passing. Apart from them, all the other people were going down. It was nice to hear that although we had a long way ahead of us, we were doing really well when it came to time.

It took us less than 8 hours to get to Compartición (2,450 m), a place where we found shelter, spacious kitchen, bonfire and a good company of fellow travellers. That night there was a big group from Propa Gas having a team building weekend. They were really welcoming and we spent a good part of the night laughing and joking with them. Around 10 p.m. both me and Honza as well as our guide Francisco went to sleep because we wanted to leave at 4 a.m the next morning.

Travellers' shelter at Comparticion, pico duarte

Travellers’ shelter at Comparticion

We woke up before the alarm clock and started packing. Francisco decided to leave the mules there and we only took a small backpack with us. The sky was amazing, so many stars among silhuettes of pine trees. We greeted the other group of guys that was getting ready to go up that morning and set off. Pitch black, a bit rainy, Francisco with a torch leading and us behind him with a headlight. We kept walking up, following only a narrow stony path, putting one foot in front of the other. I had to stop more often to catch my breath and soon enough we saw a line of headlights in the dark approaching us. The way they swayed I couldn’t help but think they looked exactly like the Seven Dwarfs.

 

Although the very last part ot the trip seemed really lengthy for me, we made it to the top at about 6.30 a.m. Just in time for the sunrise, which was definitely beautiful but unfortunately not for us that morning. All we saw were clouds. We took photos anyway and waited around hoping the sky would clear up, looked for an easter egg that Jade told me was hidden somewhere around Pico Duarte but no luck with either. What we did find though, burried under the rocks, was a samurai sword with a very nice carving on the sheath saying PAZ (peace). We got the message and decided to slowly head back. We also didn’t want our guide, Francisco to freeze. As we were leaving, he waved at the statue of Juan Pablo Duarte and said “Adios. Hasta la proxima!“

Hiking pico duarte

At the peak. We made it to the top!

This hike is usually done in three days, two nights. That was our initial plan too but as it was only around 10 a.m. when we descended to Compartición and the sky cleared up, we decided to go back to La Ciénaga the same day. We had a small breakfast and coffee, packed our things, loaded the mule and set out for the last part of our adventure. As it turned out it was also the most exhausting part. The trip back seemed never ending. I kept asking myself how could I have made it all the way up so easily.

The path was steep, winding and it didn‘t look familiar at all. There were lots of stones and I started to feel blisters on my feet. Still, when Francisco offered me the mule I said no. The pride in me didn’t let me and riding a mule didn’t look that comfortable anyway.

We had a bit of rain on the way down. Just enough to refresh our minds and bodies and to appreciate how amazingly new and green everything looks after the rain. Pine trees slowly replaced by palm trees again, now and then we even saw a wild orange tree and most importantly we could hear the river which meant we were getting closer. We still kept walking and when I asked Francisco if we were there yet and he said “almost“ for the third time. I replied, “I’m just gonna stay here.” As long as it seemed, surprise surprise we made it to our “base camp” in the national park. Exhausted, sleepy and tired but happy.

Sunday’s total – 17.4 miles (28 km), 12 hours of walking and 14 hours awake when we reached our original starting point in La Ciénaga.

We took a cold shower, had a small dinner and a celebratory beer with Francisco at his cousin’s shack and then went to sleep to regain our strength for the next day’s adventurous motor bike ride home.

Info and contacts

  • Our guide’s phone number – Francisco 829-903-9274 (he only speaks Spanish)
  • Feel free to contact us for more info – karin.nealce@gmail.com
  • You can find more photos from our trip here:

http://koubin.rajce.idnes.cz/Dominikanska_Republika_-_Pico_Duarte_3087m.n.m/

Article and photos by Karin Gartnerova

Snorkeling in Sosua

Snorkeling on the Main Beach of Sosúa

This past weekend myself and the rest of the Taino Organic farm volunteer crew decided to go exploring and Snorkeling on the Main Beach of Sosúa. As volunteers at the farm, we often head to the north coast of the island to eXtreme hotel in Cabarete to meet up with friends and explore. We dropped by the eXtreme hotel to borrow some snorkeling masks and then hopped into a gua gua heading west towards the playa principal (main beach) of Sosúa. If you don’t mind being a little squished, gua gua’s will allow you to explore the north coast of the island at a very low cost. From Cabarete it is only 30 pesos and takes about 20 minutes to get to one of the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic.

Gua gua Dominican Republic

The farm team in the back of a gua gua headed to the Main Beach of Sosúa on the North Coast of the Dominican.

 When we arrived, we found some shade and took turns heading out into the water. If you would like, you can rent a beach chair for a hundred pesos (they also offer drinks and massages for an additional cost), or you can bring a towel and lay out on the sand for free. Being a first time snorkeler, I headed out and was in awe when I dove beneath the surface and was able to see everything so clearly. The water on the main beach is calm and the foliage and fish are as vibrant as the rest of this beautiful country. The current isn’t very strong so we swam out quite far, gazing at the different areas of reef and attempting to capture the glory with the GoPro.

 

 

Snorkeling in Sosua

Peyton swimming with the tropical fish in the reef.

 

When we switched out with our fellow volunteers Karin and Honza, Peyton and I went and laid on the beach where a group of Dominican musicians were playing some Spanish tunes. Two classical guitars, bongo drums and an instrument that looked to me like a cheese grater (a Dominican instrument I later found out is called a güira) make up the enthralling Bachata music native to the Dominican Republic. When they took a break between songs I mustered up the courage to go over and chat with them. Though my Spanish is limited, I introduced myself and they invited me to play a bit of guitar and then sing along with them. The guys were very friendly and soon Peyton as well as Karin and Honza came and joined us when they returned from snorkeling.

Dominican Bachata Musicians

Peyton and I with the Dominican Bachata musicians.

 

Afterwards we grabbed a quick bite to eat and an ice cream, spending less than five hundred pesos before catching a gua gua back to the farm in Los Brazos. Whether you are a budget traveler or a professional diver, the main beach of Sosúa is worth the trip. The locals are friendly and the beach is serene. Grab a mask and swim out into the calm crystal clear water or chill on the beach all day, either way you are bound to enjoy a lovely day in paradise.

 

 

Sosua Beach

The playa principal (main beach) of Sosúa.

punta russia road trip

Road Trip To Punta Russia

Road Trip to Punta Russia

Punta Russia is located 160 km West of the surf town of Cabarete along the North Coast of the Island of Hispanola. This Saturday, Monica and I had some free time, so we decided to road trip there with our new friend Bryan.

Richard from GoKite rents his SUV out to anyone who needs a car while in Cabarete, so I figured I’d pay this handsome man for the use of a safe vehicle.

After getting work all completed and packing up my bikini, pillow and my saved up pesos, we were off on our adventure.

punta russia road trip

Road trippin

 

We left at 3pm, so we arrived in Punta Russian just as the sun was setting. We checked into Villa Manatee (yes that’s right, manatees are the second biggest tourist attraction in this area) and shared some rum before heading down to the party beach.Punta-Russia-Road-Trip-4

At La Playa Ensenada, or as we liked to call it “ Playa Ensalada” there was a strip of restaurants all selling their best fried fish, tostones, yuka, rice and beans, and other seafood goodies. We picked the busiest one and walked through the metal gates into a large area that included a small stage, a bar, a bbq area and hundreds of plastic chairs. We ordered a big plate of conch salad, some tostones and two fish dishes. Everything tasted delicious, especially with some Brugal on the rocks.

Dominican Concert Poster. Manny Jovanny

Dominican Concert Poster. Manny Jovanny

Later in the evening, a band came and played some Moringa and Bachata – in no time the small dance floor was filled with neon leggings and shined loafers. Hips were swaying, booties were grinding. It was like a National Geographic show.

After a sufficient amount of rum, we called it a night and went back for a good night’s sleep at our Manatee casa.

The next morning we headed down to Punta Russia and found a beautiful little French restaurant called la table d’arno for breakfast. We were completely spoiled! Fresh bread, cheese, Tamarin jam, butter, fried eggs, coffee and oj. Official princesses status on this one! What was even more amazing was how we were overlooking the most beautiful turquoise water and white sand.

punta russia breakfast

breakfast fit for kings n queens with a view of the beach

After breakfast we lounged on the beach, read our books, and applied and reapplied our sunscreen. For lunch we beach walked to Salad Beach 😉 and enjoyed some fresh oysters, cold beer and another feast of fried fish, conch salad and tostones.

walk to playa ensenada

walk to playa ensenada

Sunday is a pretty big deal in the DR. Our restaurant was one of many what were packed full of families enjoying their day off together. Mothers, brothers, aunts, babies, and the neighborhood dog spent the day relaxing and playing in the water, laughing and enjoying the local music.

Dominican Sundays at the Beach

Dominican Sundays at the Beach

On the way home, we stayed refreshed with coco frios, and coconut treats. We were sad to miss the beautiful sunset at Punta Russia, but were very pleased with our adventures. It was really the perfect overnight get away.