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Tourism sector float proves a major attraction at the closing Carnival parade

  • Puerto Plata.- An example of the important role of the tourism and hospitality sector in the province of Puerto Plata was the sector’s participation in the closing parade of the Carnival, which took place on the Malecon in Puerto Plata last Saturday.
  • To the surprise and amazement of the thousands of local and international spectators who witnessed the extravagance and colors of the Carnival, the sector’s float featured the hoteliers and other leaders in the tourism business appearing on top of an impressive float with the slogan "Discover Puerto Plata"  -- a slogan inspired by the variety of attractions of Puerto Plata province as a destination. All the way along the waterfront of the city, the float sent out its enthusiastic, positive message and it was accompanied by the contagious rhythms and movements of the Bravissimo Show dancers of Ocean World.
  • In a show of unity, managers and CEOs of various tourism associations of the area are working together and cooperating in supporting events and traditions that make Puerto Plata such a beautiful and unique destination.
  • The participation in this last closing event of  Carnival 2013 in Puerto Plata was the perfect moment to herald the tourism sector’s increasingly close contact with the community, to encourage the preservation of our natural, cultural and social resources, and to enhance the population’s enjoyment of the leisure and recreation the Amber Coast has to offer.

Not for Sale: local hotels join the fight against child prostitution

PUERTO PLATA– The Northern Hotel Association signed a pact that unites Puerto Plata’s hotel sector with ECPAT International, UNICEF and the World Tourism Association to combat child prostitution. Commitments involved in the pact include employee training in detection and prevention as well as the diffusion of public awareness campaigns and deterrent warnings in the region. These programs will be managed through MAIS, a local non-profit dedicated to the fight against child abuse.

This dark side of the tourism industry has united many Dominican Republic institutions in a common front against child sex tourism, including the Ministries of Labor, Tourism, Education, Health, the National Hotel Association and others.  Severe laws were put in place in 2001 that give teeth to these organizations’ efforts to deter child abuse.

Foreign governments such as Canada and USA also lend force  by pursuing nationals who have been arrested here. Last year, an American citizen charged for child prostitution in Puerto Plata was extradited to the United States where he received a 24-year sentence.

MAIS coordinator Luis Méndez signs pact together with representatives of the Northern Hotel Association

Expats volunteer to help improve the visitor experience

Members of the The Meeting Place, a cultural center run by Canadian residents in Puerto Plata, held a press conference to express their interest in participating actively and voluntarily in local projects that will help improve the tourist experience in this province.

Frances Boylston and Henry Milner, founders of the center, said they are preparing a series of activities to contribute to this end, starting with a forum to be held Saturday, February 2. that aims to raise issues of public interest such as the challenges accompanying the imminent opening of a cruise ship port in Puerto Plata.

“We represent a wealth of resources to be taken advantage of. Foreigners come to stay and spend long periods in this city, and not only invest their capital, but they buy local products, employ local people and maintain their properties. We represent this sector, we want to optimize our presence this community  that has welcomed us for decades by volunteering in areas that can benefit from our perspective as foreigners as well as our language skills” they said.

They added that they will be working voluntarily and tirelessly, providing ideas and skills and  events to promote the area and its resources so that all visitors have the opportunity to share and experience pleasant experiences in this destination.

For more information visit 

  • Members of the The Meeting Place, a cultural center run by Canadian residents in Puerto Plata, held a press conference to express their interest in participating actively and voluntarily in local projects that will help improve the tourist experience in this province.
  • Frances Boylston, Flérida Otero, Rafael Herández, Henry Milner Frances Boylston, Flérida Otero, Rafael Herández, Henry Milner

Puerto Plata advances in brand development

23 JAN 2013– The Northern Hotel Association (Ashonorte) together with The Tourism Cluster of Puerto Plata and the Chamber of Commerce hosted a conference entitled “Development and Importance of branding Destination”, delivered by product branding expert Sergio Forcadell.
This event also served to highlight the progress made ​​so far developing the brand Destination Puerto Plata, presented by Gregory Dunn and Brian Klein of the Global MMGY marketing agency.
Over the coming months the agency will develop brand strategy and visual identity and then follow up with a marketing plan and promotional campaign development, which is expected to be ready for summer.

Casablanca Night in Cofresi

Casablanca night in Cofresi

Festival features free percussion concert

Sara Renelik
Puerto Plata Provincial Festival
Nine municipalities in the province of Puerto Plata and 200 local institutions are preparing to showcase local culture over the weekend of 16, 17 and 18 November. During the FEPP event more than 60 new arts and crafts will be on sale, there will be bachata dancing contests and a drumming performance featuring Canadian singer and choreographer Sara Renelik and Dominican composer José Duluc, who have collaborated on a show entitled “The Power of The Tambor” that highlights the talents of 15 leading percussionists from the province.
A model of Puerto Plata province is being created in the Central Park in Puerto Plata City for the three-day event.
The event is being sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism, municipal governments and the Japanese cooperation agency, JICA. They are working towards including the municipalities in the TURISOPP project with the municipalities of Imbert, Luperon, La Isabela, Altamira, Guananico, Villa Isabela, Estero Hondo, Los Hidalgos, Cerro de navas, Sosua, Villa Montellano, Maimon, San Felipe de Puerto Plata, Yasica Arriba and Pedro Garcia de Santiago, among others.
The inaugural event takes place on Tuesday, 13 November at 5:30pm at the Casa de la Cultura in Puerto Plata.

See the Calendar of Events

See Sara Renelik in this performance in Santiago May 2012

$59 million resort project heralds region’s reawakening

President Medina visits north coast flood victims

Rains displace 12,000 in northern provinces

At least people were forced from their homes, leaving more than 3000 families homeless, due to flooding caused by intense rains that pelted the northern part of the country over the past two days.
The Emergency Operations Center, or COE, said in a communique that it decreed a yellow alert in eight provinces and issued lesser warnings for two others in the face of the danger of sudden flooding.
Almost all of the displaced people are being put up in the homes of friends and relatives, the COE (the national emergency operations center) said.
The provinces under the yellow alert include Montecristi, Dajabon, Santiago Rodriguez, Valverde, Puerto Plata, Espaillat, Maria Trinidad Sanchez and Samana, while Monseñor Nouel and La Vega are under a green alert.
The COE also recommended that small boats remain in port since high seas and abnormally strong winds are being registered along the country’s entire Atlantic coast.
Authorities emphasized that the rains have not caused any known deaths, and they recommended that the public continue to follow the precautionary measures and recommendations mentioned in the periodic COE bulletins.

Tubagua Plantation Eco Lodge

Damajagua’s Joe Kennedy wins US Congress seat

Joe Kennedy III

Many Dominicans have a personal relationship with one of the winners in the November US election. Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, who spent two years in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer working on the successful Damajagua Falls sustainable community tourism project, was elected to represent Massachusetts in the US House of Representatives. A Democrat, he defeated Republican Sean Bielat 61% to 36%. Kennedy was a key volunteer in a landmark sustainable ecotourism project using his skills to work both at the grassroots and high political levels. He worked side-by-side with community members in the Damajagua Falls Guides Association to win a government concession that enabled them to directly benefit from the leading ecotourism attraction. During his two years living in the community, between 2004 and 2006, he used his business acumen and his connections to prevent the resource from being privatized. Kennedy, who is the grandson of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, came to work in Puerto Plata after graduating in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. After leaving he completed a law degree at Harvard Law School in 2009. He was an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County in Massachusetts when he decided to run for office. See the New York Times article


Police major busted at airport

PUERTO PLATA– National Police major Jose Antonio Polanco Rodríguez was charged Wednesday with helping a drug trafficking network ship narcotics to Europe and Canada, allegedly using his post as Assistant Security director at Puerto Plata International Airport. He’s accused together with other junior officers and enlistees, in the cocaine shipments for an alleged ringleader, which the National Agency (DNCD) identified as Miguel Quezada Nicasio.
– Dominican Today

Puerto Plata Region at a glance

An overview…

What can you expect on a visit to these shores?

Playa Dorada
Beaches that just don’t quit... Most of the north coast is beach and most of the beaches are unspoiled and undeveloped

View of Puerto Plata coastline from the Panoramic RouteBreathtaking countryside… More than just a strip of sand in the sea, this is the second largest island in the Caribbean with an ever changing terrain and non-stop unspoiled natural beauty.

Almost all visitors comment on how Dominicans are the friendliest people they have ever met when

Latin culture…
counterbalanced by the familiar faces and flavors of many Europeans and North Americans who have relocated

Raw nature… but you don’t have to rough it. You can be four-wheeling through jungle roads by day and, at night, be sipping sipping French wine and eating lobster in your cottons beside the beach.

Not expensive … No matter your style of travel, you encounter relatively good value. With few exceptions, dining out costs US$8-$20 and local drinks are about $3 apiece. In other island nations prices are typically 30- to 50% higher than at home; here, virtually all local services and supplies cost the same, or less, than at home.

Easy to get to… Daily flights from Miami (2 hrs), New York (3 hrs), Atlanta (2 1/2 hours) Puerto Rico (1 hr), weekly charters
from dozens of Canadian and European cities.

Backpackers… Lots of pensiones, cheap hotel rooms and inexpensive public transportation. Easy hops from place to place with something different to experience at each one.

Luxury… This destination attracts many very well heeled people who want to get away from all that. You won’t find Marriot or Sheraton but you do find some very exclusive and comfortable owner-operated small hotels and you can also rent million-dollar villas by the week. Most of the large resorts are predominantly filled with economy travelers on all-inclusive vacations; a handful are four-star. Meanwhile, you can get just about anything you want, from private car and driver to helicopters and yachts. Maxim Bungalows in Cofresi, poolside

All-inclusive resorts… There are dozens of all-inclusive beach resorts, where food, drinks, beach equipment and a long list of amenities are all part of a one-price package including airfare conveniently organized out of major European, American and Canadian cities. Lots of great deals available.

Adventure Travel… Dozens of specialty vacations are being offered by people who came as tourists and then moved
back to set up shop because they discovered that this place is great for… horseback riding in the mountains (several
excellent ranches), getting scuba diving certification (one of the least expensive places to get it), windsurfing (excellent schools for learning and all services for pros), white water rafting, whale watching (the largest Atlantic ocean gathering of humpback whales spawning January to March in Samana Bay), hiking trips (the tallest mountain in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, 10,000 ft, with guides and mules available), mountain biking (bikes and guided tours for all levels), motocross and four-wheeling (dirt bikes and jeeps for rent and you’ll find endless, unmapped backroads). There are plenty of guided day trips and excursions that make it easy to have a tropical or third world adventure and get back to the comfort of your hotel by the end of the day.

Relocating and Investing… Each year more people come and don’t leave. As one of our friends says, “my cost of living is equivalent to my tax and utilities budget back home.” People looking for a place to retire, or who simply dream of living in the Caribbean will find that there are a lot of good reasons. price and friendly people being the main ones, to consider this part of the Caribbean.

. This guide will help you find all of this and more.

Have you already booked your trip? Don’t forget to get a free copy of our Puerto Plata Hot! Regional Visitors Guide that you can download to bring with you maps, coupons and local information that you will be glad you have once you get here!

Dominican Republic Video

Carnival breaks ground on new cruise center in Dominican Republic


Carnival Corporation said Tuesday that it is building a $65 million cruise ship center in the Dominican Republic to draw ships to the Puerto Plata region for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The Amber Cove Cruise Center at Bay of Maimon is scheduled to open in 2014 and is expected to accommodate as many as 8,000 cruise ship passengers daily.

The center is being built on 30 acres (12 hectares) of waterfront property with help from local shipping company Grupo B&R. It will feature a marketplace, restaurants, bars and a water attraction, Carnival said.

More than 350,000 cruise ship passengers visited the Dominican Republic last year, a 1 percent drop from the previous year.

Sosua’s beginnings: a haven for Jews fleeing Hitler

Today the Dominican Republic welcomes thousands of sun-worshippers to Sosúa, its popular North-Coast beach resort. In 1940, the Dominican Republic also welcomed travelers, but they were hardly tourists: they were Jews fleeing Nazi terror – and in all the world, this was the only haven offered to them.

The unlikely notion of a Jewish colony in the tropics had its origin in a seemingly unrelated event on March 12, 1938 – the day Hitler’s troops marched into Austria. The next day, the Anschluss (unification) of Austria with the German Reich was declared.

Austrians greeted the takeover with wild enthusiasm. When Hitler crossed the border at Linz that evening, a joyous throng awaited him at the city hall. Göring reported in a telephone call, “There is unbelievable jubilation in Austria. We ourselves did not think that sympathies would be so intense.”

The elation climaxed in a triumphant speech by Hitler in Vienna, before a wildly cheering crowd of 250,000.

Within just a few days of the Anschluss, 70,000 political dissidents and Jews had been arrested.

In the three years since the Nuremberg laws canceled Jewish citizenship in 1935, some 150,000 Jews had fled Germany, mainly for Palestine. But Britain’s strict immigration policies kept most out. The Anschluss had now made some 200,000 more Jews stateless; thousands fled or were dumped by the Gestapo into neighboring countries.

President Franklin Roosevelt had come under mounting pressure from Jewish groups to confront Germany over its treatment of Jews and to push Congress to liberalize American immigration laws. But America was mired in isolationism, which had reawakened in the 1920s and took on a distinctly anti-Semitic stripe in the ’30s.

In many circles it was believed that just as the “Jew Deal” had been engineered by Jews, so would be America’s entanglement in the European war. Likewise, there was entrenched opposition to opening America’s doors to a flood of Jewish refugees. The New York Times of November 26, 1938 reported that New York department stores had to deny rumors they would fire a given number of employees and replace them with Jewish refugees.

The world, said Chaim Weizmann, “was divided into two camps: One, of countries expelling the Jews and the other, of countries which refused to admit them.”

After the Anschluss, Roosevelt realized Europe would soon be awash with refugees. Eleven days later, he invited thirty-three nations to confer on the refugee problem at Évian-les-Bains, France. FDR had carefully circumscribed the goals of the conference to head off opposition: The agenda stipulated that no nation would be expected to admit more refugees than its present laws permitted, making it crystal clear that the haven sought was to be outside the United States. And lest Germany take offense, no mention was made of that country or of Jews.

Sure enough, at Évian the U.S. would do no more than cut existing State Department red tape for German and Austrian refugees. Thus, for the first time, the U.S. would allow the number of such immigrants to reach the legal quota of 25,957. (The U.S. fulfilled its annual quota of German-Austrian immigrants only once in the next six years – in 1939, following the shocked reaction to Kristallnacht, in November 1938.)

The other delegates readily followed suit: France had taken enough refugees; Britain was not a “receiving nation” and Palestine, of course, was off limits; a senior Canadian official said “None is too many.” (A number of high Canadian officials of the day were anti-Semitic, including the prime minister.)

The sole glimmer of hope came when the delegate from the Dominican Republic, Virgilio Molina, rose to declare that his country would take in up to 100,000 Jewish refugees as settlers on the land – a staggering number for a small country of only 1.5 million.

The conference closed after creating a permanent body, the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees (IGC) to study the problem further.

Ironically, the idea of saving European Jews had originated with Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the ruthless dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist.

Trujillo, widely known as el Jefe, exerted absolute power over the populace with unbridled brutality and a secret police force that didn’t shrink from torture and murder to achieve its ends. Though the nation’s populace was poor, he was counted among the world’s richest men, because he and his relatives used the country as a family business.

The dictator was so consummately evil it was difficult to imagine. He had an interest in medicine; so, Mengele-like, he tested his crackpot health remedies on his unfortunate underlings. The previous year, he had drawn worldwide criticism for beheading 20,000 Haitians living as illegal aliens in the Dominican Republic.

Why would a Latin-American mass murderer offer to save the Jews from a European mass murderer? Some thought he wanted the European influx to lighten the racial stock of the country. Others thought he wanted to curry favor with the United States by helping Roosevelt with the refugee problem.

Perhaps the simplest explanation is the most convincing. When Trujillo’s daughter Flor de Oro was attending school in Paris, the other girls snubbed her because she was dark-skinned. A Jewish girl, Lucy Cahn, befriended her and el Jefe never forgot the kindness: when Lucy married, he gifted the couple with a tobacco plantation.

* * *

More than eight months passed while the United States studied alternative settlement areas, from Alaska to British Guiana (now Guyana).

Finally, the State Department acted on the Dominican plan. The American Jewish Joint Agricultural Corporation was chosen to finance the project. It would be headed by James N. Rosenberg, a western Pennsylvania attorney and philanthropist renowned for his work with refugees.

The Dominican Republic Settlement Association was incorporated under New York State law, with Rosenberg as its president. DORSA would select the settlers, transport them to the Dominican Republic, then support and train them until they were self-sufficient.

Rosenberg drew up the most extraordinary agreement ever made between a corporation and a government. It contained a bill of rights guaranteeing the settlers and their descendants the irrevocable right to live in the Dominican Republic “free from molestation, discrimination or persecution, with full freedom of religion.” It was signed by Trujillo himself on January 30, 1940, in the presence of representatives of the IGC, DORSA and the U.S. State Department.

In essence, the bloody dictator of this tiny nation had returned to Jewish refugees the very rights Hitler had taken away.

Rosenberg and his second-in-command, Dr. Joseph Rosen, an agronomist, traveled to the Dominican Republic to select a site for the settlement. They had worked together before, resettling urban Russian Jews in the Crimea. They selected Sosúa, a 26,000 acre abandoned banana plantation donated by Trujillo.

The dictator was now dubbed El Benefactor by the largest newspaper in the republic, which declared Sosúa would be the largest Jewish settlement, second only to that in Palestine.
On May 11, 1940, more than two years after the Anschluss, the first 37 Jewish settlers arrived at the settlement. A total of 600 would come, but the rescue of 100,000 Jews was not to be.

The refugees found themselves in a place that must have seemed like paradise. Sosúa was situated on a striking crescent bay surrounded by palm, mango, and avocado trees, its tropical climate moderated by cooling trade winds.

But conditions were not totally bucolic: there were snakes, malaria, no running water or electricity, and unfamiliar foods. The colonists were cultured, middle class – habitués of cafés and the opera. To them, working the land in a jungle outpost was utterly alien.

To make matters worse, most of them spoke German; only one spoke Spanish. Worst of all, though now safe, they knew that thousands left behind in Europe – including their families – had been less fortunate. Some colonists were simply unable to adjust; one couple committed suicide together.

* * *

A cooperative system was set up, similar to Israeli kibbutzim. It was to be the source of constant friction and discontent. The colonists farmed the land; DORSA provided food, clothing, and social services. The settlers ate in a common dining room and slept in barracks-style buildings.

Communal groups were set up, each containing at least one married couple so the woman could do the cooking and laundering.

The colonists tried to raise a variety of crops – beans, corn, peppers, oranges, tomatoes, pineapple – but often could not find markets for their produce and had to dump large quantities in the bay.

Some ingenious solutions to problems were developed. Mongooses were imported to rid the colony of snakes. The settlers built windmills to pump rainwater down from the hills.

Gradually, they began to replace the society they had left behind with a new one, distinctly Sosúan. Longing for their lost cafés, they built a rustic surrogate in the jungle, Café Stockman. They also built a clinic, pharmacy, school, library, bank, theater, newspaper and synagogue. Local foods were adapted to recipes from home: potato salad was made from yams and dumplings from yucca. Though torn from a dozen European countries, they shared one experience: most had lost relatives; so the colony became their family.

The colonists abandoned farming and turned to livestock production, which proved far more successful. “If you sent four cows out to pasture, six came back,” Ernest Schreiner, one of the colonists, would later recall.

Two cooperatives were set up, to market meat and dairy products. But the Sosúans continued to chafe under the communal system. A normal family structure was lacking; wives were expected to cook and clean for the entire group.

Determined to make Sosúa successful, Rosenberg recruited a consultant in 1944: David Stern, director of Agricultural Colonization in Palestine for the Jewish Agency.

Stern eliminated much of the friction by instituting a moshav system. The colonists would continue to market their products collectively through the two cooperatives, but the land would be individually owned and worked by the settlers.

More difficult to solve was the problem of maintaining Jewish identity. The majority of the emigrants were secular Jews who had had little Jewish tradition in their lives. Men outnumbered women 2-1, and a number of them married Dominican women.

Attrition and intentional obstruction by the U.S. State Department kept the colony from growing beyond some 600 members. When the door from Europe was slammed shut in 1943, further growth from outside was impossible. The dream of rescuing 100,000 was dead and as a Jewish community, Sosúa seemed doomed as well.

But the anti-Semitism they had suffered awakened many of the colonists to their Jewishness, and they made a valiant effort to revive and hold on to it.

As time passed, the community acquired a number of Eastern European Jews whose lives had been steeped in Jewish tradition. They brought to Sosúa classic Yiddish plays, such as S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk” and Shalom Aleichem’s “Mazel Tov.” A musical, “Die Romanische Hasena,” was so popular that it was presented later to audiences in the capital.

The settlers established a school with a teaching staff of six. The curriculum included Dominican history and Spanish, but also daily Hebrew and biblical history. The whole town joined in huge Purim and Chanukah festivals.

In 1990, more than 300 original settlers and their families returned from Canada and the United States to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sosúa’s founding; the theme was “50 Sosúa L’chaim.” Both these writers attended.

The secretary to the Dominican president addressed the returnees: “We’re so proud; the real saga is what you have accomplished here.” That night, Dominicans and Jews stood together, clapping to Spanish and Hebrew songs.

All agreed that Sosúa’s history must not be forgotten. To that end, a museum was dedicated to house artifacts of the settlement and photos from the era. The Sosúans felt the town was a place unique in the world – a town entirely populated by Holocaust survivors. They believed that present-day Jews should not forget what happened in Europe and should know that only the Dominican people welcomed Jews in their darkest hour. They must ever be vigilant, as dark days could come again.

Many reunion participants felt the years they spent in Sosúa were the most important in their lives, and feared the gathering would be their last. Indeed it was.

Today, Sosúa boasts a throng of tourist hotels that have wrought profound changes on the area, though Sosúa’s main street is virtually unchanged. The Jewish community is small – numbering fewer than 50 – but its impact on the Dominican Republic has been large. The dairy and meat cooperatives created by the refugees employed thousands of Dominicans over the years. The community still treasures the small, wood-frame synagogue where the original settlers married and held bar mitzvah ceremonies. It is still sometimes used for weddings.

After 68 years, few of those settlers remain. Luis Hess, age 100, was the longtime principal of the school that still bears his name. But Dezider Scheer was its first principal and founder. A teacher in Slovakia in 1938, he was told one day he could no longer teach because he was a Jew. He lost seventy family members in the war. After coming to Sosúa, he established the school and left a lifelong mark on its graduates.

We asked Sheer what the legacy of Sosúa was. He replied that he had seen pictures of children who perished in the Holocaust on display at Auschwitz.

“Walk the main street of Sosúa, and you will come to the school. We had sixty children. They lived to become engineers, doctors. All have made their mark. Their happy faces look down at us from pictures, still hanging in the school. They are the same age as those in the pictures at Auschwitz. The children who lived are the legacy of Sosúa.”

By: Myrna & Robert Ulfik / The Jewish Press / Wednesday, December 03 2008

Myrna and Robert Ulfik are award-winning radio, television and print journalists. Their primary interest is reporting unique stories of the Jewish experience around the world.

Nov 2-4: DR Jazz Fest

La Citadelle

La Citadelle
Cap-Haitien, Haiti.- The sun rises slowly over the bay in Cap-Haitien casting a soft golden light over the town as the car trundles laboriously along potholed streets. All around us the city begins to stir, vendors appear on the street corners and groups of schoolchildren, books in hand, shield their eyes against the glare as they walk. Soon we are outside the city and cruising smoothly along empty roads, the mountains looming up ahead enticingly. We are on our way to visit two of Haiti’s most famous sites, the ruined palace of Sans Souci and the fabled Citadelle la Ferriére, both of which are situated in the hills outside Cap-Haitien.

Before long we pull into a small parking lot in the village of Milot and catch our first glimpse of Sans Souci. It sits atop a bluff, halfway up a densely forested valley, an opulent yet anachronistic image of grandeur from another age. The place is nearly empty but for a handful of children doing their homework amongst the ruins. We take our time to explore the intricate series of archways and passages that still stand and marvel at what must once have been a truly spectacular building. Sadly it was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1842, only 29 years after it was completed.

After a while it is time to move on and we take the car on up the mountain along a series of sharp switchbacks affording beautiful glimpses of the valley below us. Five minutes later we reach the end of the road – from here we travel by foot.

The cobbled path leads steeply upwards along the flank of the mountain through groves of banana trees and areas of thick jungle. Wild flowers dot the verges and as we gain in altitude we are rewarded with a truly stunning panorama. Endless ranges of mountains stretch away to the horizon, the emerald green of the nearby slopes melts away gradually into the deep indigo of the distant peaks. Small wooden huts are dotted along the sides of the path and their inhabitants wave to us as we pass. Before long we begin to catch glimpses of the fortress through the trees, perched high up above us on the summit. Even after so many years of neglect and disuse it remains a proud structure. Defiance seems to radiate from its towering walls and batteries of rusting canons.

Eventually we make it to the top and after a quick break to catch our breath and admire the view we enter by a large wooden door. Inside the fortress is a labyrinthine maze of tunnels and passages along which we slowly make our way, past vast piles of cannon balls and artillery, installed by King Henri Christophe to repel a French attack that never materialised. He had the Citadelle constructed in the early nineteenth century as a means of defending the regions around Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti. Reputedly when finished in 1820 the fortress held enough supplies to sustain 5,000 defenders for one year. Its walls are 40 metres high and in total it occupies an area of some 10,000 meters square.

From the dark interior chambers of this monstrous construction we ascend several flights of stone steps before emerging onto the outer walls which offer the chance to get some perspective on the layout of the fort. On all sides the views are spectacular. We gaze down over the mountains to the coastal plains, Cap-Haitien and beyond it the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. It is said that on a clear day you can see all the way to Cuba, some 90 miles away. A pair of eagles soar effortlessly on the thermals rising from the valley floor. They float up past us until they are mere specks against the puffy cotton-wool clouds that dot the sky.

Up here an all-pervading silence dominates. Without a breath of wind, and with few if any people for miles around, it is eerily quiet – a sensation of post-apocalyptic serenity greets the visitor as they bathe in the solitude of this once-bustling fortress. The sun is strong, even up here at over 3,000 feet. It warms the great yellow stones of the castle walls and adds to the sense of lethargy that overwhelms us in this beautiful place.

Sadly it is soon time to leave and we retrace our steps down the mountain, every now and then looking back over our shoulders as the Citadelle fades into the distance. It truly is a special place and it is easy to understand why Haitians have described it as the eighth wonder of the world.

But while the lack of tourists visiting the site makes for a wonderfully peaceful visit, it is also reflective of the fragile state of the Haitian tourism industry and the wider state of deprivation in the country. With 70% percent of the population living on less than two dollars per day Haitians are in dire need of foreign assistance as they fight to drag their country out of poverty. And what better way to do your bit than to spend a few dollars visiting this magnificent symbol of Haitian national pride and achievement.

NOTE: Mr. Trenchard toured several areas of Haiti with the assistance of the Mission of the United Nations for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH).

Luperón: a Hurricane Hole And An Adventure Of A Lifetime

Luperon Bay
You step onto the dinghy dock. Luperon village is out of sight, but not out of mind, as you ascend onto a wharf built and maintained (somewhat) by the government of the Dominican Republic. Saint Dominic was surely the patron saint of amplified sound, and Gen. Gregorio Luperon, the liberator of guitar music: You can’t see the settlement yet, but you most certainly hear the boom boxes. So you march on wobbly sealers toward refrains of love lost, past the mangrove swamp, and into this not-so-sleepy village of 8,000 people.

A building boom is under way, and the open-air welders on the edge of town are busy banging out decorative iron security gratings for homes of the prosperous. A wash dries on barbed-wire fencing, and a local fishmonger scrapes the neon pink scales off that morning’s catch; he’s getting old, and his tan face sports two-day-old white stubble. Naked brown toddlers chase chickens as grandmothers sit on miniscule front porches bemoaning the price of beans. Girls–formidable in styled hair, tight jeans and red lipstick–attend to their errands from the backs of motoconchos, the motorcycle taxis endemic here.

(Holy moly! There goes a family of four on one of those little bikes; blue smoke puffs out the stern.)

You had planned to stay a week or two, but you lose the urge for going. Your boat throws down roots like a mangrove, and your anchor rode grows a coral reef. It happens all the time in Luperon’s harbor. It happened to me. Welcome to the flip side of the Americas. Goodbye, rational exuberance. Hello, magical reality.


Going Native


I arrived in March 1999, and stuck around, fascinated. The place had the transitional feel of Spain in the 1960s, where I’d lived as a child. The D.R. today is transporting itself from the 19th Century directly into the 21st, but it’s a little groggy, having somehow slept through the intervening 10 decades. (There’s a story I love to tell, which says it all: I came across a cane cutter walking to the fields at dawn, machete in his left hand, his right holding a cell phone to his ear, talking to his boss, no doubt.)

By May of ’99, I had a job. For the next year, I lived aboard and commuted to work in a shopworn Opel with three other resident cruisers. My Spanish started coming back, and I traveled the width and breadth of the Dominican Republic, a country about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

During my stay I heard sea stories told by many a skilled mariner as they wet their whistles with fine Dominican pilsners. And I beheld a gaggle of expatriates.

I met a Dutch sea captain who bought a hilltop where he’s building a splendid hacienda. I met a blind British spy, now retired. I met a former anti-Castro saboteur, two English con men and a professional poker player from California (a witty, easygoing, clean-cut fellow without a hint of Damon Runyon in his demeanor).

I met a corpulent Canadian banker charged with money laundering; he beat the rap. I met a woman whose ex-husband was the ex-husband of the sister of a former vice-president of the United States; he was a rake and had absconded with the better part of wife No. 2’s inheritance. I met a South African couple raising two children aboard their 41-foot sailboat, whom I dubbed, despite their nationality, the Swiss Family Robinson.

I met old men seeking young women, and pale women in search of dusky gods of the dance floor. I met a gringo lawyer who refused to sit on seat cushions because he thought doing so would cause germs to enter his body–plastic seats only, please.

Former Fortune 500 execs were a dime a dozen.

The lesser of the con men (I say lesser because of his mitigating streak of generosity) became a friend once he disabused himself of the suspicion that I was CIA. Last time I saw him he had concocted a hat trick of scams to finance his cruising. He was hawking pirated electronic charting CDs, advertising D.R. investment “opportunities” over the Internet, and offering to bring together love-hungry foreigners with Dominican beauties.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You are a copyright-infringing, pyramid-scheming pimp.”

“Exactly,” he said.

Calling All Trawlers


I met a few delivery skippers on powerboats, but only one real cruiser under power; only about 35 of the estimated 700 yachts that stop in Luperon annually are power, and most of those are sportfish boats on delivery. The one cruiser I met was French via California. He was solo and on his way back to Florida from Saint Martin on a 26-foot Boston Whaler. He also had spent enough time buzzing around Cuba to be declared persona non grata by the Castro government.

Where were all the trawler jockeys? If a crazy Frenchman in a Whaler–not to mention some kids in sailboats whose engines couldn’t be started since the Exumas–can make it from Florida to Luperon, why can’t you? Your boats are tricked out better than the U.S. Navy of 30 years ago. Regular fuel stops line the route all the way from Fort Lauderdale to Venezuela. Sorry to scold, but why aren’t more of you getting as far as Luperon in particular, and the Caribbean in general? Mom-and-pop retirees are getting there in sailboats by the scores, most of the time using those itsy-bitsy engines–that is, by motorsailing into the contrary trade winds.

Luperon, on the D.R.’s North Coast, is a logical stopover on the “Thorny Path” from Florida to Anguilla, where the Caribbean islands take a turn to the south. Until Anguilla, boats from the United States are eastbound and therefore, dead nuts into the relentless trade winds. Add a few thorns for contrary prevailing currents and seas as well. Northern sailors avoid the Thorny Path to windward by voyaging to the Caribbean via Bermuda, thus making an “easting” in the high latitudes above the trades.

For many of us short-legged diesel-sippers, however, Bermuda is less an option. Besides, cruising the length of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos is great adventure and a fine prelude to a completely different adventure–the Dominican Republic. It is a stunningly beautiful and varied nation; her people are among the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet. Farther down, Caribbean islanders resent your material wealth outwardly, but not in Luperon. In fact, Americans are preferred to Europeans because we tip and because so many Dominicans have family in the U.S.–some of them with well-known names like baseball stars Sammy Sosa and Pedro Martinez.

In the Dominican Republic, I like to say, there’s a surprise around every corner. Sometimes it’s a spectacular vista; sometimes it’s a cattle drive coming right at your car. The earliest promoter of the D.R. was Christopher Columbus, who stopped in Hispaniola on his first voyage. His words, written to Queen Isabella of Spain, are as true today as they were on Jan. 10, 1493, when the Great Navigator himself sailed into Luperon:

“May Your Highness believe that these lands are so greatly good and fertile, and especially those on this island, that there is no one who can tell it; and no one could believe it, had he not seen it.”


Hurricane Hole


Luperon, sometimes referred to as Puerto Blanco, is an extraordinary hurricane hole, made secure by surrounding hills and holding ground of anchor-swallowing gelatinous muck. Thievery happens, but is rare. Many cruisers wait out hurricane season in Luperon because of its shelter, but also because hurricanes avoid this part of the North Coast, tending instead to track through the Bahamas or, like Georges in 1998, pass to the south on the other side of the Septentrional Mountains.

Unlike the Bahamas, the D.R. is a country best seen by land–a truism that affirms and enhances Luperon’s status as a great cruising destination. That’s because Luperon is the best staging area from which mariners can explore the entire D.R.–Santo Domingo included–whether by rental car or guided tour. Leave your prejudices behind, and the Dominican Republic will prove to be immensely amusing, filled with curious contradictions.

On the practical level, everything you need to continue your voyage is either readily available or, with patient investigation, obtainable. This is crucial to cruisers heading west to Cuba, where supplies are short. For eastbound cruisers, Luperon is the place to hunker down and await a weather window. In these waters, that means a period of diminished trade winds and seas; otherwise you face a head-on bash to Puerto Rico with only one port to break up the trip–Samana, a nest of outboard motor thieves.


(19°57.0N, 70°56.5W is a point two nautical miles north of the harbor entrance.)


Even in the pre-dawn darkness you can see the bold shores of Hispaniola from far at sea, one black mountain ridge dwarfed by a bigger, blacker one behind. After weeks in the salt-scrubbed Bahamas, your noses and tongues will re-acquire a familiar odor. It is the cumulative of soil, grass, trees, manure, cars and charcoal fires, but mainly just damp soil like your garden’s.

As you near the waypoint above, the Hotel Tropical Luperon Beach Resort will stand out as white forms against the terrain. The harbor entrance is just to the east.

Your next waypoint is 19°55.0N, 70°56.5 W, at 1/4 of a mile from the harbor mouth. Inside the mouth, a small headland extends from the eastern shore; from the waypoint, come in toward the tip of that headland on a bearing of 190 degrees magnetic. This will take you between occasionally breaking reefs on either side, which are marked (usually) by red and green balls.

As you enter, the depth should level off at 12 feet then deepen. Before the headland, come right gradually, keeping between green and red stake buoys leading to the westernmost of the harbor’s two pools. Mangroves divide this pool in two parts with Marina Puerto Blanco’s docks to starboard and the government wharf to port. Mind the marks, motor slowly and watch for sandbars.

For local knowledge, put out a call on Channel 68, which is monitored by every cruiser in the harbor. Channel 16, while not restricted to Dominican military use, is nearly useless because no one but the Navy listens to it.

Entry procedures: Anchor anywhere with Q flag hoisted and wait for Dominican entry officials in a skiff; it is customary to offer them a cold soft drink. If they don’t show, dinghy to the government dock and walk into town. At the outskirts, to the left is a path leading to a small bridge and the hilltop naval outpost. The commandante will record your presence, giving you legal permission to wander about on land. The immigration officer will catch up with you later.

Fees are $10 U.S. for the boat, $10 for each passport, a $5 harbor fee and $5 garbage and water fee at the government dock. The passport fee buys you the equivalent of a 90-day (renewable) tourist visa.

As in Mexico, Dominican officialdom enforces an antiquated system of “despachos,” requiring cruisers to check in with the Navy and fill out paperwork at every port. In fact, cruisers are technically forbidden from visiting places that are not ports of entry.

That may change by the time you arrive. As new marinas are developed, the Navy’s top admiral is pushing to establish a system of three-month cruising permits similar to what is done in the Bahamas. Go Navy. Beat bureaucracy.

Charts: Incredible as it may seem, no large-scale government chart of Luperon exsts. Hispaniona 017 by Wavey Line Publishing, available at major chart providers, depicts a small-scale view of the Turks and Caicos, the north coast of the Dominican Republic and western Puerto Rico with several harbor charts on the backside. It’s an excellent chart, which includes waypoints, but again, Luperon is inexplicably omitted. Your solution is in the next paragraph.

Cruising Guides: All the chartlets and waypoints for landfalls between the Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico are included in “The Gentleman’s Guide To Passages South” by Bruce Van Sant. This excellent resource is not a cruising guide per se, but a discussion of passage-making techniques intended to exorcize some of those thorns from the “thorny path to windward.” But because there is no cruising guide to the Dominican Republic–or Puerto Rico, for that matter–Van Sant has devoted substantial portions of his book to shoreside information about these places, including provisioning tips and an amusing section on how to master “Spanglish.”

Van Sant, himself a denizen of Luperon, keeps his Schucker 440 trawler Tidak Apa in the harbor, while he and wife, Rosa, make their home a dozen steps up the hill from Puerto Blanco Marina. Van Sant long ago traded the real world, where he was an aerospace engineer, for the peripatetic life he has led since.

Whenever he’s not cruising the Bahamas or Spanish Virgin Islands to update his books, Van Sant holds court–he would hate the phrase–at the marina restaurant, dispensing advice and debating politics. Easy to identify, Don Bruce likes to wear a white Panama hat, white shirt with French cuffs and cargo shorts.

The “Gentleman’s Guide” is available at stateside marine stores or through Cruising Guide Publications at 727.733.5322;

For the Boat


British expatriate Julia Bartlett founded Flutterby Boater Services in association with Puerto Blanco Marina and it’s a clearinghouse of valuable information. She’s a bit of a legend, too, having single-handed across the Atlantic and cruised the Caribbean for years. Don’t worry about having to look for her or her associates; they’ll find you. If Julia’s not off cruising, she’ll be the blonde putt-putting up to your boat wearing butterfly wings, hence Flutterby.

The Flutterbys will boat-sit while you explore the interior, as well as care for your pets. They will deliver your boat to Puerto Rico or provide crew for the sometimes difficult Mona Passage crossing. They will also deliver fresh baked bread to your boat, a small loaf for 25 pesos, larger for 50 (at this writing the exchange rate was 16.5 pesos per U.S. dollar.)

Fuel and water: While there are no gas docks anywhere on the North Coast, quality diesel fuel is available in Luperon. Ask Flutterby to help you arrange a delivery; small amounts will be jugged out to your boat; otherwise you can make an appointment for a fuel truck to meet you at Puerto Blanco Marina or the government dock. Fuel in the D.R. likely will be substantially cheaper than in the Turks and Caicos, your other refueling option thereabouts. Water is available at the government dock and Puerto Blanco marina, but it’s for washing, not drinking. Bottled water in 6-gallon jugs is sold at the marina.

Marinas: Marina Puerto Blanco (809-571-8644) is more than a marina; it is headquarters for the cruising community. Owned by the Fernandez family and managed by Lenin Fernandez, it is a one-stop shop with bar and restaurant, drop-off laundry, garbage facilities, showers, water and car and truck rentals.

The restaurant menu is a balance of Dominican and gringo dishes–cheeseburgers being a favorite. The restaurant/bar puts on film nights, trivia contests, dance nights and, on Sundays, a boater’s flea market in the morning segues into an afternoon barbecue.

Moorings: A couple of years ago the government placed moorings in the harbor, but my correspondents now report that many have broken loose and any remaining are best avoided.

Provisioning: Luperon has three small grocery stores with basic provisions, one of which, Supermecardo El Sol, caters to cruisers by providing free delivery to the dock. A fresh vegetable truck visits the marina regularly, its arrival announced on Channel 68.

Puerto Plata, the North Coast’s biggest city, has three large American-style supermarkets that offer most of the foods you’re used to, including high-quality cuts of frozen meats from the U.S. The inland city of Santiago has a supermarket bigger than I’ve ever seen in the states, but maybe I don’t get around much.

If your vessel runs on beer, this is the place to get it. Presidente and Bohemia are the best in terms of quality and price for a thousand miles in any direction. Aged sipping rums by Brugal and Macorix are as smooth as fine brandy.

A cruising couple, Brian and Margie, have opened a marine store on 27 de Febrero in town, advertising charts, filters, canvas repairs and courtesy flags.

As in Mexico, many drugs sold by prescription in the U.S. are available over-the-counter in the D.R., including Viagra. Luperon’s Danessa pharmacy overlooking the village’s central square is a good place to stock up on antibiotics, seasickness preventatives and painkillers if you are continuing on .

Crew changes: Puerto Plata International Airport is just more than an hour away, with several daily flights to New York, Miami and San Juan. A steady stream of European flights arrive carrying fodder for the area’s all-inclusive resorts. A cab ride from Luperon to the airport costs about $40.

Communications: Codetel on Calle Duarte is the telephone office with direct-dial booths, fax and Internet service. Punto Internet on Independencia also offers email and Internet services as well as a host of computer services and photo developing.

Things To Do


Music and dance: Dominican grandmothers bounce babies on their laps to the rhythm of meringue. Dominican teens dance as if their bones were made of rubber, but the moves are quite elegant compared to the “dirty dancing” you may have witnessed in the Bahamas or Miami.

Mario Vargas Llosa, quoted at the beginning of this article, summarizes the relationship Dominicans have with music, but in his list of musical styles, he makes an all-too-common omission. Vargas Llosa fails to mention Bachata, a musical style enormously popular on the North Coast, though it is looked down upon by urban sophisticates who prefer the relentless dance rhythms of today’s techno-meringue.

Bachata, characterized by plinkity-plink guitars and simple drums, is called the “music of bitterness” and is sometimes compared to North American Country Western. The lyrics bewail love lost, and the Dominican people seem to know every word to every song; they sing along with the boom boxes. It seems so romantic–and so unlike Dominican reality. To me, Dominican courtship is highly adversarial, like watching cats mate. Despite or because of that contradiction, I am a Bachata fan, and my favorite practitioner is Antony Santos, who reminds me of a young Frank Sinatra.

Bachata and meringue can be heard at Luperon’s discos, including one next to the Luperon Beach Resort Hotel, which often features live performers. For a night out in the big city, have dinner at Café Cito (see restaurants), then check out Orion Discoteque, a world-class dance venue. Bring earplugs. And beware: Any establishment calling itself “nightclub” is probably also a whorehouse.

Sights And Tours: Once again Flutterby is a good source of information, and Julia herself organizes regular horseback riding tours from Mario’s Ranch in Luperon. Horses are best for touring the area’s lush and otherwise inaccessible countryside. Mario will find a beast to match your skills as a rider because if you’re up to it, the sand flats are good for galloping.

About 45 minutes down the road to Puerto Plata is the crossroads city of Imbert (which has the nearest ATM). Just outside of town and set back in the forest are falls that will remind you of God’s own waterslide. A hired guide will help you alternately climb and swim up successive levels until you’ve reached your limit (four is usual, seven for the boldest souls). You then slide down granite half-pipes worn as smooth as polished marble by eons of rushing water, and leap into a deep pool at the base of the cliffs. Climb and slide take about a half hour.

About 10 miles west is the seaside village of La Isabella, site of the first European settlement in the New World, founded by Columbus. Himself. There is a museum and ruins of the old Spanish fortress, which was bulldozed by mistake in the 1950s.

(That’s a good story. Dictator Rafael Trujillo, villain of the previously mentioned novel “The Feast of the Goat,” wanted to impress visitors with a tour of the old fort so he phoned ahead to local authorities. “Clean the place up,” he ordered, and when Trujillo wanted clean, by God, you cleaned. They revved up the bulldozers and flattened the place. Trujillo, responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people during his three-decade rule, was ambushed and shot to death by a group of brave young men in 1961.)

There are several good tour guides in the Luperon area that can help you hire a late-model minivan and driver for an overnight trip to the capital or a visit to the mountains. In a day you can traverse lush lowlands, cross a desert and finish the day with mountain views, including Pico Duarte, the highest point in the Caribbean at 10,094 feet. Duarte is one of 20 peaks in the “Dominican Alps” higher than Mount Washington in New Hampshire (6,288 feet) or Mount Mitchell in North Carolina (6,684 feet).

On one of those Dominican mountains, is the village of Arrastrando Tu Pierna, where there is said to exist a gravitational anomaly that allows the villagers to bounce around like squirrels and chickens to roost in treetops.

Shopping: Bruce Van Sant’s wife, Rosa, operates a nifty little gift shop at the marina. Called the Dominican Treasure Shop, it sells high-quality jewelry and clothing. Rosa, who is Dominican, is a reliable source of local knowledge, and her shop has a boater’s directory of local suppliers and services compiled by boaters. The Dominican Republic is a mother lode of amber, some of it complete with an ancient insect inside. Larimar, another semi-precious gem, is found only in the D.R. It comes in colors ranging from sky blue to blue-green. This is nice stuff and looks great set in gold and silver.

Cigars: Tim Hall is an expatriate Montrealer, a long-time refugee from the frozen north who wears several hats. By day, he operates a Canadian consulate from a sidestreet in Puerto Plata. By night, he moves to the second floor where he runs Café Cito (a restaurant to be discussed later). Behind the consulate he maintains a well-humidified room filled with Cuevas Hermanos cigars.

Hall took me on a tour of the Cuevas Hermanos factory on my last trip to the D.R., explaining in his gravelly voice that most Cuevas production is bought by famous brands and resold under their labels. As dozens of workers rolled the aromatic brown leaf, light skinned, well-dressed caballeros walked the floor puffing puros. I was warned not to take their pictures lest some reader make the connection between this factory and whichever name-brand these gentlemen represented. Secretive bunch, these stogie-mongers.

Hall led me through the stages of cigarmaking, culminating with a puffing machine, which sends a measured blast of air through each cigar to ensure a good draw. Cigar Aficionado in its April 2001 issue called the factory “one of the best examples of the boutique manufacturer’s art.”

The D.R. is one of the biggest cigar producers in the world, so you can expect to find cigars for sale around every corner–the good, the bad, the indifferent–often at disproportionate prices. Hall, in his effort to create a “cigar culture” for his restaurant, has honed in on the Cuevas house brands to ensure consistent quality.

Because I don’t smoke, I’ve relied on correspondents to whom I provided a Christmas supply of Cuevas smokes for testing.

“The Cuevas Habanos was a surprisingly good cigar, well-rolled with an even cool draw. Mild to medium bodied in flavor, it was an unexpected pleasure. The 1492 with its slightly darker wrapper turned out to be a top-notch smoke with perfect draw, great white ash and again, a mild to medium bodied punch,” wrote Wayne Chick, a New Hampshire newspaperman. “Good and smooth,” commented Ray Kucklinka, a New Jersey high school teacher.

Hall wears a fourth hat. He operates an excellent website providing information on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic:

Restaurants: Unlike Mexico, the D.R. is no dining destination. Dominicans eat a healthy, if monotonous diet of beans and rice, salad and small portions of fried chicken, pork chops, stewed beef or occasional fish. So popular is chicken with beans and rice, in fact, that it’s called La Bandera Dominicana, the Dominican Flag.

Dominican food is OK as far as it goes, but what saves the cruising palate from certain boredom is the institution of mixed marriages. Several restaurants in the Luperon area are Belgian-Dominican or German-Dominican husband-and-wife teams. This includes El Belga, Pequeno Mundo and La Casa Del Sol.

Just Go

Conversations with boatbuilders suggest that most power cruisers, at least on the East Coast, aspire not so much to bluewater passages as those comfortable slides down the archipelagoes that lead step-by-step from the Florida peninsula to shores of South America. Island hoppers take a left at Luperon for the Lesser Antilles; a right for Cuba and the Yucatan.

Luperon’s strategic position opposite the Turks and Caicos on the D.R.’s North Coast makes it an obvious component of any southbound cruising plans. The bonuses of such a layover are manifold, not the least of which is the potential for a rich cargo of memories, which in the end are all we have left worth a damn.

Two paragraphs above I used the word “aspire” because as a community our potential for great adventure is largely unrealized. You’ve got the dream. You’ve got the boats. The path lies before you. Luperon awaits

by Peter Swanson
photography by the author

Perla de Sosua

Published 25 Nov / 12 for 1 year 60$

Well appointed private villa in Lomas Mironas

First posted November 25 2012 / 1 year contract / 60$

Retired teacher organizes “Helping Hand Vacations” for youth

There’s something about the Dominican Republic that’s hooked Judy Warrington.

In April, Warrington returned from her 18th trip to the impoverished Caribbean nation, which shares its island landmass with Haiti.

Dominican Republic may be a great spot for a vacation, but that hasn’t been its draw for Warrington.

“Despite the challenges of the rains, roads, lack of infrastructure, lack of hydro, running water, access to medical care, high costs, devaluing peso, they [the people there] still have a joy about them, a spirit about them, and a love of life. A happiness that really extends the warmest welcome to visitors,” she said glowingly.

“We teach our children not to speak to strangers. In the Dominican Republic, it’s the opposite.”

Warrington has always been interested in the service of others, which is why she founded Power Trips, a volunteer-run organization devoted to Dominican Republic’s development. She left her home in Oakville on Good Friday and stayed in the Dominican Republic for more than a month to lead two 14-day trips. The first one consisted of 80 people – 63 of which were students, and the rest, mostly teachers. The second trip attracted 30 participants from Strathscona-Tweedsmuir School in Calgary and Collingwood School in Vancouver.

It was the way the students preferred to spend their March Break.

“I considered coming on this project because I wanted to experience a challenge and make a change. I also felt like it was time to do something useful during my March Break instead of being a tourist in some country,” wrote student Andy Doyle in his assessment of the trip.

It’s a win-win situation.

When Warrington isn’t on the island, she is sending as much as she can in the way of school supplies and medical equipment. With the help of local schools, she’s sent two 40-foot containers. Nothing is too big (or too small)- Warrington will even accept teacher’s desks.

Warrington was introduced to international service opportunities at Appleby College, a member school of the Round Square. Round Square is an organization that leads students on the path to self discovery in ways that extend beyond the walls of the classroom. Warrington went on to lead students on trips to Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Costa Rica.

In 2004, she created Power Trips as a legal entity. She says she chose Dominican Republic because of its closeness, and “the fact that it has as much poverty in some areas as I know there is in Africa.”

“What differentiates us from many other organizations is our interest in empowerment. We don’t want to create dependency on us,” she said.

“We do service that is smart, sensible, and sensible to the local community and its needs, that is going to lead to self-sustainability.”

Warrington is partnered with the Rotary Club of Oakville, as well as local organizations.

“They act as our guides, friends, direct line.”

During her last visit, the teams worked on four extreme school makeovers, including a women’s training centre, which entailed purchasing material locally, renovations, installing security bars and roofs, fixing “banyos” (bathrooms), making blackboards, shelving, painting, decorating, and hiring people to pour concrete floors. Sounds tiring, yes, but for Warrington, a retired teacher, it’s a typical day in the life.

With classes still running in March in the Dominican Republic, she and her volunteers ran tutorials for the children, and created safe children’s play areas – mud playgrounds was all they had.

She also partnered with two leading childcare health providers – The Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI) and The National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI) – to run health clinics. Dominicans were given free medicine, and thousands of toothbrushes and toothpaste were handed out. There was HIV testing, and workshops on the environment, garbage (a problem there) and sexual disease. An eye clinic was set up to identify children with clinical needs, and eyeglasses were distributed.

Dominicans were also given thousands of used soccer balls and uniforms.

Warrington was a teacher for 35 years, mostly in Halton and Peel. She’s taught at elementary school, secondary school, and a commercial re-training program at Sheridan College.

She’s been married for 43 years, and says she’s always been comfortable and privileged.

Her husband, an accountant with his own business, is also involved in her pursuits. He participated in the August project. Her daughter-in-law teaches at the University of Calgary and is hoping to develop a professional education program in the Dominican Republic, in conjunction with the University of Calgary.

Her projects have been a success with students, who accompany her on the trips. They visited a cigar factory, hospital, seniors’ centre, deaf children’s school, clinic and Mirabal Museum, and walked with a refreshed outlook on life.

Warrington no longer stays in hotels with her volunteers. The students weren’t comfortable in the kind of accommodation hotels provide.

“It didn’t fit,” said Warrington. Instead, they stayed at a retreat centre with basic and rustic lodgings. The views, however, were incredible – it’s located on the top of a mountain between Puerto Plata and Sosua.

Local cooks prepared Dominican cuisine during the trip.

“We are very careful about what we eat,” said Warrington.

Perhaps the only complaint the students really had in their evaluations was there weren’t enough vegetables.

Besides that, they walked away with a refreshed outlook on life.

“After this trip, I have a much greater appreciation for how much a small action can affect someone so much. I will also be much more willing to live in the moment and “go with the flow.” I have a feeling that these lessons will stay with me forever,” wrote Elizabeth Watt from St. Clement’s School.

Visit Judy’s PowerTripsInc. web site

Visit the Tubagua retreat centre web site

From The Oakville Beaver, Ontario, Canada
By Joanna Phillips
May 14, 2008