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People Making a Difference: Bob Hildreth and Lisa Ballantine

In 1991, Bob Hildreth drilled a well for his new home here. Not long after, people lined up at the spigot alongside his house.
Potable water, he’d discovered, was in short supply.

Eighteen years later – the longest time this former US Army aviator has spent in any one place – Mr. Hildreth devotes half his time to his jewelry business, Joyería las Americas, and the other half getting durable, low-tech water filters into the island’s barrios.

(Photograph)
Worldwide, at least 1.1 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization, and 2.4 billion lack basic sanitation. Some 1.8 million people die each year from diarrhea, which has been tied to unsafe drinking water – the majority of them children in developing countries.

Given that these losses are preventable, potable water doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves, says Mark Sobsey, professor of environmental sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Priorities are higher for other development activities than this,” he says. “Sanitation, especially, is not very sexy.”

Even piped-in water isn’t necessarily safe, Hildreth says. In the developed world, constant water pressure keeps whatever’s lurking outside the pipes at bay. In the developing world, however, where power outages are common, water pressure drops and at times even reverses, sucking in raw sewage that’s often outside. When the system begins pumping again, it’s delivering contaminated water.

“Point-of-use water treatment needs to be adopted by all the developing countries in the world,” Hildreth says.

Funded principally by Rotary clubs, his organization – Project las Americas – has delivered 19,000 BioSand filters. One $50 filter cleans 120 gallons of water daily and lasts for decades. In studies, Dr. Sobsey has found that BioSand filters can reduce diarrhea by 47 percent.

“You’re almost certainly reducing mortality,” he says.

Developed in the 1990s by Dr. David Manz, then at the University of Calgary in Alberta, BioSand filters use sand and the bacteria that grow on it to filter water. Users pour water through a diffuser into a gently tapering, belly-high container. (A traditional container made from cement weighs 250 lbs., but a new plastic container weighs just 10 lbs.)

Water passes through 20 inches of sand that comes directly from a quarry. The sand’s tiny cracks and chambers filter out microbes. A layer of “good” bacteria forms at the sand’s surface. This living film feeds on and removes viruses, bacteria, and parasites. “The technology is so robust that you can screw it up, and it will still keep functioning,” Hildreth says.

Two hours inland, in the town of Jarabacoa (pop. 70,000), Lisa Ballantine works on the same problem using a slightly different tool: a ceramic pot filter. Smaller and lighter than the BioSand filter, hers fits into a five-gallon bucket. Pour water into the U-shaped receptacle, and it percolates through porous clay at a rate of two to three quarts per hour. Filters cost $30 to sponsor; Dominicans can buy them directly for $25. “The thing I like about [the] water [problem] is that we can solve it,” she says.

Originally from the Chicago area, Ms. Ballantine came to Jarabacoa as a missionary in 2000. After seeing the poverty surrounding her, she wanted to provide practical help. So after her mission was over, she studied ceramics at Northern Illinois University and, in 2006, she returned with her ceramic pot filter idea.

The basic design is nearly two centuries old. Some 170 years ago, amid concerns about cholera, Queen Victoria asked London’s Royal Doulton china company to design a water filter. Versions of its design are now used in places such as Cambodia and Honduras.

With help from Manny Hernandez, her ceramics mentor at Northern Illinois, Ballantine has improved on the design, she says. Ceramic filters typically are coated with silver particles. The silver’s ionic charge kills microbes on contact. But rather than painting the silver onto the pot, Ballantine mixes it – along with fine sawdust no greater than 1/50th of a human hair in diameter – directly into the clay. The sawdust burns off, leaving minuscule silver-coated chambers. Microbes passing through come into more contact with the silver, and the filter has a much longer life – about five years, she says.

With her partner, Tracy Hawkins, who works in Tanzania, she’s founded Filter Pure. Lifelong potter Radhamés Carela from nearby Moca runs her factory. Their goal: Create a model for making high-quality filters with low-tech equipment that’s exportable anywhere. At full capacity, the factory can produce 1,000 filter per month. So far, she’s given out more than 11,000 filters in the Dominican Republic.

On a sunny March day, Ballantine drives her pickup truck into a muddy, flood-prone neighborhood called “la joya de Jarabacoa.” Today, she’s giving out filters donated by a church in Streamwood, Ill. A jostling crowd of children forms around the truck. Adults emerge from hammered-together shacks to ask for them.

Typically, residents here buy water from passing trucks that sell it in large plastic jugs. The quality of that water can vary greatly.

But with monthly incomes here averaging about $200, buying a $25 filter can still seem too expensive. Resident Estamilado Durán estimates that of the 300 families in the neighborhood, perhaps five or 10 could afford it.

Ballantine is undeterred. The filter may seem expensive, she tells them in Spanish, but if they account for what they spend on bottled water now – $171 per year per family, she estimates – the savings are readily apparent.

By comparison, using a filter would cost a family less than 2 cents per day, she says.

Luxuriating at Villa Castellamonte

My Magical Villa Birthday Bash in the Dominican Republic

I have been coming to the North Coast of the Dominican Republic for more than 15 years and it has come a long way baby! Your North Coast experience can be anything you want it to be. Now being called the Amber Riviera, upscale is the direction in which the whole area is going.

If you fly into the international airport for Puerto Plata (POP), minutes away is the popular Playa Dorada resort. One of the first resort complexes in the country, it put the D.R. on the tourist map with its all-inclusive hotels. There are about a dozen with the exception of the five-star boutique beauty, Casa Colonial. Those dozen are renovating and upgrading to compete with the newer genre of all-inclusives in Punta Cana. The standout, (Casa Colonial) designed by the celebrated architect, Sara Garcia, is pricey but hotels of a comparable quality in the Caribbean, particularly in the French islands, can cost three times more.

When you venture out to more remote areas, the North Country is like Eden. Rich, tropical vegetation grows up the hillsides to the cliffs. The beaches between Rio San Juan and Cabrera are unspoiled, pristine and relatively unpopulated. (Unspoiled beaches and land are becoming a rarity in the Caribbean.) On some, you feel as if you were set adrift from your larger vessel and landed on an undiscovered isle. Play castaways or better yet, Adam and Eve.

Just one hour down the coastal road from the cacophony of Cabarete, (30 minutes from the POP airport) Cabrera is a new “in” destination. The phrase “The Dominican Hamptons” has been coined, and with validity. This area is helping to redefine the D.R. vacation experience and the vacation rental company to help you experience it is North Coast Management (NCM).

Sosua and Cabarete have their fun quotient, but can be too much of a good thing, with the negatives that accompany party towns, not to mention the traffic and diesel fumes and dust. The action is there if you want it, just an hour’s drive to the west over a well-paved highway. More gentile types, well-heeled travelers, baby boomers, and upscale wedding groups prefer the luxurious residences available as rentals in the towns of Cabrera and Abreu, This area now has some of the most high-end holiday homes in the country. Most are within private resort/residential enclaves, many fully staffed and offering the kind of lifestyle pictured in society pages.

These vacation villas were unimaginable even a decade ago in this farming community. This campo (countryside), where most of the land was, and still is, in livestock and agriculture, is becoming a boom-town. Interestingly, el centro, or downtown Cabrera, is still a sleepy, dusty Dominican town with a central square. In a land of warm, hospitable people, Cabrerans are among the nicest.

We had the thrill of staying at Villa Castellamonte in Orchid Bay Estates for my birthday week. I took the experience as a sign that aging was going to be pleasurable! The first time I ever saw Orchid Bay’s beach, the blue dream of the sky and the aquamarine waters, it seemed surreal. Fragrant almond trees dipped sensually to the golden sands. The staggered sea cliffs were colored with wild orchids that bloomed a lipstick shade of hot pink. Villa Castellamonte is the crown jewel of a boutique collection of waterfront estates there.

The Sporting Life

Several sporting options are in easy range of the Cabrera/Abreu area, “beaching it” being the perennial favorite. Among other possibilities are championship golf, scuba diving, atv rides, surfing, horseback riding and the list goes on. A little farther afield, the range goes from mountain biking to kite surfing in Cabarete and even whale watching in Samana.
Beach aficionados rave about the ones in this unspoiled region and Hollywood filmmakers have used Playa Entrada as a set (most recently for Love Wrecked). It is one of the longest stretches of beach on the north coast that is untouched. And in the lens of a movie camera, it looks like it is at the end of the world! Yet you can get a cold beer and a hot empanada at one of the beach shacks. If you are looking for this beach, it is in La Entrada, which is part of Cabrera, at the Km 21 marker on the Rio San Juan – Cabrera Highway.

Playa Grande (Big Beach) is perhaps the most famous of the area beaches, and is where the storied golf course of the same name is. Condé Nast Traveler listed it as one of the top ten beaches in the world. It is an amazing stretch of golden sand, with cliffs on either side. These promontories are punctuated with some of the course’s most celebrated holes.

Preciosa in Spanish, should you not be able to be figure it out, means precious; the beach next to Playa Grande (playa is beach, by the by) is named Playa Preciosa… because it is so very beautiful. Alas, it is excellent for wave surfing…if you are looking for calm, go instead to Playa El Breton, Playa Caleton or Playa Diamonte. Take snorkeling gear as it is lovely under the surface and a bag, for sea shells are there for the picking. BYO in general, for there are no facilities, but that means quiet and no litter, either, which is a good thing.

Simply put, I have always said: Things look different from the back of a horse. This is as true here as anywhere, even more so, because this country is so physically beautiful, from the beaches to the mountains and everywhere in between. The area around Cabrera is ranch country. Ranch country translates to horse country, just like in our western states.

It is well worth abandoning your chaise lounge for a few hours to explore the interior. You go through trails that traverse the countryside and into the rainforests, which is a singular adventure. (You won’t find them in Wyoming!) Rainforests have a preternatural stillness about them, one that all but commands you to hush-up. You listen to the nature noises and watch for wildlife and get into the rhythm of your horse, with the cadence of his hoof steps. Other times you get silly, singing cowboy songs and after a rest stop, repeating such western clichés as “Head ‘em up and move ‘em out!”

Rancho Marabel has horses, and there are others that rent out mounts, but me thinks it is best to take the advice of your villa manager and let him make the arrangements. They will determine if it is better for your group to go with Iguana Mama, the area’s top adventure tour company. This way your transportation is taken care of and you have Spanish-speaking staff to help with translating questions and requests. Usually, you will have at least one English-speaking guide on the trail and the cost is quite reasonable, especially considering the drinks and snacks.

Welcome to a whole other water world! One can snorkel by just walking into the ocean or book passage on a dive boat to a sandy beach and have a look-see at colorful, underwater gardens and offshore reefs. The north coast has numerous walls, wreck and caverns. Ancient sunken galleons are among the lures.

We booked a cavern dive that departs from Gri Gri Lagoon in Rio San Juan. (Inquire in advance if you will be given an underwater flashlight.) Some of us snorkeled while others dove and then entered some sea caves. We then visited an idyllic beach in a quiet cove and were amused by the unexpected sculptures. Our boat glided briefly and quietly through a mangrove swamp, teeming with tropical sea birds, before it docked back in the lagoon.

I advise that you go with a PADI 5-Star dive shop to be assured of quality, dependability and safety. NCM generally phones Northern Coast Diving, based in Sosua. (It’s the only National Geographic Center in the D.R.) If you have rented a car, you can meet them at the Lagoon, or they will transport you by van.

Between the towns of Rio San Juan and Cabrera, Playa Grande Golf Course is described as the Pebble Beach of the Caribbean, with 10 holes along cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The standard remark: “Challenging for the best players, but playable for everybody,” actually applies here. You may have heard tell of this oceanfront course, perhaps from a friend who came last year and tipped you off to the villa possibilities in this area.

Playa Grande carries the signature of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and in fact, was the last course he designed before his death. Greens are huge, varied in shape and steeply sloped, but with few tricky undulations. Since everything grows so well here, fairways are incredibly lush, and the course is naturally landscaped with native flowers. It is less expensive and less crowded than other prominent courses because it is some distance from the major tourist zones. Alas, this noble course is going private but the new Playa Grande Resort with Aman Resorts coming to build one of their own crown jewels will definitely spice up the area.

This course will be closing in early 2009 for renovations and will go private when it reopens, available to members only. Home owners in the area will likely have memberships. Playa Grande Resort is developing a second course in the coming year as well. It will be semi-private and pretty much open to a wide variety of people. Until then, and for the remainder of 2008, villa guests can easily get tee-times at what just may be one of the great golf courses of the world.

The Night Life

Much of what you do at night, like in “The Big Chill,” will take place in the privacy of “your home,” enjoying your lavish surroundings and the pleasure of the company of your housemates, be they family, friends or colleagues.

One lifetime memory was my birthday night at Villa Castellamonte. We had a progressively wonderful dinner starting with yucca fritters and crudités accompanied by Moet Chandon, Pork tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese and spinach atop tamarind sauce followed, accompanied by a sweet potato puree and an arugula salad.

The British pastry chef made a pineapple upside down cake at my request, and after the dinner plates were cleared away, the lights were dimmed. Through the swinging kitchen door, the cake emerged, flaming with candles and followed by the villa staff singing Feliz Cumpleaños. It was dramatic!

We adjourned to the game room for some vintage rum in snifters, some of the men smoking their Fuente cigars outdoors. We had two teenagers amongst us, a 14 and a 17-year-old, and they alternated between playing ping-pong, pool, and shuffleboard.

Three of our gang got involved with the karaoke equipment; with the lyrics coming clear on the wide screen TV. They became addicted and sang their heart out for a solid hour. One of the guys seductively unbuttoned his shirt while crouching low to mouth an Elvis ballad. Another gal was consistently scoring 90s on the karaoke Richter scale, as she belted out one show tune after another. It was really fascinating to watch as who-was-playing-what gradually changed.

The boys abandoned the ping-pong table for the video games and their father, Elvis reincarnated, started to play pong with another guy, who previously was content to smoke his Opus X. His wife joined me as we tried our talents on the karaoke mike, while my niece and the high-ranking soprano wet their tired whistles. And so it went until everyone gave up the ghost and retired to their luxurious suites. For me it had been a glorious birthday, and as the B’Day girl I had the master suite. Looking up from the many, downy pillows to the sensual ceiling painting illuminated by the gas fireplace, I said: “This is the good life!”

That was September and I just received an e-mail from one couple who said they are still talking about my birthday bash. Memories were made of this!

As for other nocturnal adventures, we enjoyed the nights we would make forays into town, particularly right around Happy Hour. You can get a drink to go (para llevar) from one of the bars, like the Town Square, and mingle with locals in the park. They head there after work and always on a Sunday. Later in the night you can safely hit some of the Dominican bars and discos. They can be a fun change of pace and the people are dancers! In a single night, you can learn to merengue and bachata, and discover body rhythms that you never knew you had.

Every town has a patron saint and in Cabrera, the annual Patronales Festival in late September, lasts for nine days. Like everything else here, the action is centered in and around the central park and the whole town comes out. From the makeshift stage, live bands electrify the night. Some years, national recording artists perform.

Food booths serve the favored local snacks, like empanadas, and there are Presidente beer stands. Vendors sell inexpensive souvenirs and jewelry and kids’ stuff. Meanwhile the children of the Dominicans and expats are in a frenzy racing between the carnival rides and the cotton candy stands.

On a normal weekend, “the” thing to do on a Friday night is to go on up to the Hotel La Catalina. Make dinner reservations according to the time the songbird starts to sing. This hillside hideaway has dramatic oceanfront views from its terrace, so go for cocktail hour. The bar is convivial and you can easily make new friends, a diplomat just in from the capital, a French Canadian escaping Montreal’s winter.

Luxury Villas – Another Way to Vacation

Once you are aware of the villa alternative, and then experience it, it is hard to go back. It is like the old adage: Once you have been to Paree, it’s hard to go back to the farm. It takes you no time at all to get used to the good life.

Having had years of all-inclusive experiences, what an incredible difference it is not to have to elbow your way through a throng of strangers to get a cocktail. Often, amidst those strangers there is not anyone you would normally want to party with and the cocktails are substandard, a Dominican brand of liquor and some juice made from a powder.

“At our own villa,” we had an inventory of top-shelf liquors and quality mixers, even coconuts and fresh-squeezed juice. Our butler served it on a silver tray decorated with tropical flowers. This old saying may now be politically incorrect, but one of our gang asked: “I wonder what the poor people are doing?”

Luxury villa rentals are not for your average Joe, this be the facts. They are for savvy travelers who don’t like crowds and who are seeking a personalized vacation experience with privacy a priority, particularly around the pool and in dining areas. Again, if you have ever been to an all-inclusive resort, which has some 2,000 guests and is a low four star or less, you will remember litter and un-bussed tables. You will remember over-populated swimming pools with Dominican music at a deafening decibel and animation boys blowing whistles and aggressively coaxing you into the games people play! Whew!

One of the things we loved was our pool complex, which was beautifully designed with a bubbling hot tub. There is a diving board and my niece has a diving talent and performed tirelessly for us. The teenage boys were like dolphins, in and out, up and down. We had the sound system going but with our choice of music. If we were loud, it was our noise not that of a multi-generational, local family with a half dozen kids out shouting each other.

A favorite recollection was the first night the boys arrived and the older one, always impressed with wealth, said: “You didn’t tell us we were coming to a palace?”

I said: “I told you it was a palazzo, and that means palace in Italian. The name of the villa is Castellamonte, get it?” (little castle on a hill according to the owner)

“Right,” he answered and said: “Let me get a towel, I believe it’s hot-tub time.”

He reemerged in the terry-cloth robe that was in his suite. He had rolled up the sleeves and was wearing a gold chain and walking with a swagger. He had his arm cocked and a beach towel was hanging from it. “Jacuzzi anyone?” he queried. We laughed! Our young Huge Hefner!

In most of the villas that NCM manages, meals are not in the rental price, but must be added for a moderate daily supplement, which includes an allotment of wine and liquor. “At our place,” we enjoyed snacks and meals when we wanted them. The cookie jar was always filled with something homemade and scones were a breakfast favorite. Although, we would give our personal chef an idea of when he should be ready, we weren’t locked into specific time frames, like at a resort. We were able to choose our meals in advance, based on individual preferences. Our well-trained staff really went out of their way to please and pamper, and they were fun…not formal. Several of the key employees spoke English well.

Villa Castellamonte’s philosophy is: “Your vacation is all about you – what you want, how you want it, and when.” That works for me!!

And one of the very best things about one of the greatest vacation weeks ever, was interacting with the Matthews family who owns and operates North Coast Management. A retired self-admitted techno-geek, Jason, and his lovely wife Michelle, started the company to help manage their own vacation home (the very same Villa Castellamonte). They are ultimately efficient, not to mention hip, hospitable, and helpful. A small example: For my birthday dinner they brought fresh arugula from their farm, as I had mentioned in passing I wanted an arugula salad.

Felicita, the villa concierge, can make anything happen in Cabrera, which is her hometown. Once married to an American, she understands our North American mentality, which was a big plus. She also coordinates some dozen, glorious weddings a year at Villa Castellamonte and other nearby ultra-luxury villas overseen by NCM. In all of Orchid Bay, Villa Castellamonte del Mare is one that is most in demand for on-site weddings and is my personal favorite.

Villa Flor de Cabrera, also located in Orchid Bay Estates, is another drop-dead dazzler. We paid it a neighborly visit; the Association of South Carolina Chiropractors had just vacated the 10 bedrooms, leaving behind their positive comments, which were more like rave reviews. The pool with its water sculptures and the view of their pristine beach are dreamy. Excellent taste is exhibited throughout, from the architecture to the contemporary furnishings of this, the newest of the mega-villas.

The kitchen staff is fine-tuned for feeding upscale groups, especially wedding parties. There are two kitchens; one is a huge commercial one. Each of NCM’s villas has its own unique features. Another plus for this one is that there is a separate, master casita, ideal for a bride and groom or the big Kahuna of a corporate group. One of the most costly in the inventory, it is heartwarming to know that after expenses are covered, this villa’s profits all go to local charities benefiting the Dominican people.

There are no cookie cutters amongst the villas of North Coast Management. Each is architecturally designed and individualistic. The unique character of these villas is a key attribute as are the differing staffs, all with wonderful personalities reflective of the villa and the owners.

Another fave of mine, perhaps because of my fond memories of Indonesia, is the multi-unit home that looks like a modern Balinese village. At Sunrise Villa there is the “Manana Bar” where you feel immediately relaxed as you start drinking…an ancient island ritual. A fun, party place, a giant, outdoor chess set stimulates competitiveness. It does not have the elegant furniture such as Castellamonte or Flor de Cabrera, but the casual environment is ideal for golfing buddies or families with kids. Yet it has privacy in that each bedroom suite is in its own building. The on-site manager, Chris, is one of the American owners and is a very cool type. He can boast an 11-handicap and is always willing to play a round of golf with an in-house group.

Sunrise is an earlier design of Sara Garcia, and perhaps because I know and admire her, I am drawn to another nearby residence that she did in Seatree Estates, the newest gated community in the nearby town of Abreu. Villa Cantamar is a contemporary dream house with four-bedrooms and is priced as moderately as $800 a night in low season. Because it is so reasonable and romantic, couples, particularly honeymooners, take it on their own.

Villa Cantamar stirs the blood…its secluded location is dramatic…on a cliffside elevation looking down to the ocean and onto a picture perfect horseshoe bay framed by a rugged coastline. You see no other houses, just raw beauty. A 2.5 acre estate, it is set back on a rolling lawn. Security, like at all the villas, is staunch, yet unobtrusive. The all-night security guards are seldom obvious to guests, but they are there.

I had occasion to visit another ultra-luxurious vacation home managed by NCM, in the well-established enclave of Sea Horse Ranch, between Cabarete and Sosua. Villa Catalina, also known as Numero Uno (its address within the compound) is a jaw-dropper! Once you see this place it is indelibly etched in your memory bank. If you are a lover of expensive modern art, enjoy the whimsy of offbeat sculpture, including life-size cartoon creations, even a Soprano’s pinball machine, you will be dazzled by this seven-bedroom, contemporary mansion. With a rose-colored stucco exterior, it has its own beach, an ocean cavern, 3 1/2 acres of sweeping lawn that drops down to the water, a white-on-white interior, and art, art, art in every room on every floor.

If someone asked me if we would opt for a luxurious villa again, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

Should you?

To begin the decision-making process, you need to consider the type of individualized experience you want, your personal preferences and budget and how important your privacy is to you. Although, initially, the villas, particularly the larger ones, may seem out of reach financially, you have to take into consideration the number of bedrooms and divide the total price by that figure, providing that you will have all of them taken.

Larger villas of eight to ten bedrooms or suites are generally booked by larger travel parties such as family reunions, corporate retreats, wedding groups and those celebrating anniversaries or landmark birthdays. They are perfect for a “Big Chill” gathering. It comes out to be about the same cost as a five-star hotel room – and then you just have a room.

Here in a private vacation villa you have the amenities of the five-star hotel but with the entire facility for your private use along with a personable staff dedicated solely to your pleasure. (The Dominican nannies love children.) Then there is the food supplement, which takes in all of your meals and snacks and yet is about the price of a good dinner.

Not all vacation homes are ultra-luxurious; there are others available that are quite moderate in price. NCM has some that are popular with honeymoon couples, spacious but not mega-houses, with pools and the best attribute — privacy.

Another consideration is that even if a villa is super-posh, it still has a warm, homey environment, especially in comparison to the impersonal and commercial nature of a resort. Cleanliness factors into the equation, as it is a private home and not a heavily trafficked hotel with a high litter quotient.

For me, I loved that there was free broadband WiFi at Villa Castellamonte as well as a dedicated DSL line; long distance calls were easily made and were literally free because they were Internet phones! I could do what work I had to either in the office, if everyone was in the game room, or in that room if the others were outside, spreading out my papers on the oversized coffee table and enjoying the sound system. As opulent as it was, our place was as laid back as the garden hammock, where I would take my afternoon siestas.

Many adults who chose the villa alternative and particularly their children, have never experienced anything like these grand homes. They just may be spoiled forever for any other kind of vacation. It is like that ad campaign for MasterCard that gives the prices of various necessities and luxuries that one can buy and finishes by saying:

The price of a villa vacation? Priceless

For further information please click to North Coast Management

– opens new page




Japan helps relaunch Puerto Plata region’s tourism

 

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.- Dominican Government and Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representatives began to implement a sustainable tourism program in Puerto Plata, with the participation of the public and private sectors, to relaunch the country’s North coast as a tourism destination.

This 4 year program, to be set in motion with a US$3 million contribution by Japan’s Government, aims to benefit the zone’s communities through the development of tourist product and services using local resources, said the Economy Ministry in a statement.

“To combine efforts to motor Puerto Plata’s tourism development and confront the reduction of tourists since the mid 90s is the main joint goal which we must all undertake,” said JICA official Tadashi Ikeshiro.

The sustainable tourism project seeks to have positive impact on that province, benefiting the more than 312,700 residents in the municipalities Altamira, Guananico, Imbert, Los Nobles, Luperón, Sosúa, Villa Isabela and Montellano.

The project looks to provide more opportunities for the zone’s local population to participate in tourism development, in collaboration with the industry.  “This would improve the population’s quality of life and thusly the tourism sector’s sustainable and appropriate development.”

From Dominican Today

Whale season Jan 15 – March 25

SAMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—Kim Beddall left her hometown of Pickering, Canada, in 1983 after answering a newspaper ad looking for someone to teach scuba diving in the Dominican Republic.

“I wanted to live where it was warm and go on ski vacations, instead of doing it in reverse,” she says with a grin.

But Beddall soon found that while the weather was wonderful on the peninsula at the north-eastern end of this popular Canadian destination, the diving was hardly spectacular. It was only in talking to local fishermen that she discovered something else.

“We have whales here,” they told her. “We don’t know why they come or what they are doing here, but we have whales.”

In fact, as Beddall was to discover later, the Dominican Republic is home to a huge number of North Atlantic humpback whales that arrive in late December and leave in mid-March each year, mating and calving in the wide, sheltered bay.

So, after watching and studying the whales for a few years, Beddall bought herself a little fishing boat and started taking tourists out in the bay. There they heard the humpback’s solitary courting song and saw a dramatic display of whales breaching, diving, lob-tailing (smacking the surface of the water with their tail) and flippering (rolling and hitting the water with their flippers).

These days, Beddall’s boat is the 50-foot fibreglass Victoria II which can hold 60 people.

“Over the years the boats got a little bit bigger and better,” Beddall says. “This one is very comfortable and you have 360-degree viewing from both decks.”

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 whales visit Samana Bay throughout the season, alone or in pairs.

“They are eating one ton of small fish in the North Atlantic on a daily basis, so you don’t want to hang out with many friends,” Beddall notes with typical dry humour.

“They maintain that loose social structure, except when there’s fertile female. Then you can get anytwhere from two to 20 males, fighting it out for the right to escort the female.”

And thanks to her pioneering work, whale-watching is now big business in Samana, with eight established companies and about a dozen “independents,” as Beddall calls them. Some of her employees have been with her for 14 years, she says, and others have gone on to found whale-watching companies of their own.

“Technically I suppose I would be considered the founder of whalewatching in Samana,” she say. “It’s been really exciting to see it develop and to see the economic impact on the area.”

Beddall estimates that whalewatching along the whole north coast of the Dominican Republic generates about $8 million (U.S.) a year.

And it is the economic benefits that she stresses in her fight to enforce whale-watching regulations, such as how many boats can watch whales at any one time and how close they can get.

“In developing countries you need to give your resource an economic value — I can buy clothes for my kids, I can fix my roof. And if the whales don’t come back, you lose your income.”

The rate of compliance is about 70 to 75 per cent rate, she says. “Some people are a little less disciplined than others.”

But she’s satisfied with what’s been achieved so far. “Samana Bay is the third most important reproductive area for whales in the North Atlantic and we are considered one of the top ten places in the world to watch whales,” she says with pride in her voice.

But one small regret remains.

“I have taken people from all over the world whale-watching, but very few Canadians,” she says. “I am crazy to have Canadians on board.”

by Robert Crew / Toronto Star

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New route guide highlights the Santiago-Puerto Plata panoramic mountain pass

The Ruta Panoramica between Santiago Puerto Plata crosses the dramatic northern mountain range

PUERTO PLATA — A new eco-tourism option has emerged in Puerto Plata Province with the recent launch of a map-guide that promotes activities and points of interest along the Gregorio Luperon Tourist Highway, a scenic mountain road that connects the Puerto Plata coastal region with Santiago and the Cibao Valley

“From ocean to mountains, enjoy 30 kms of “Pure Nature!” says the guide,  while summarizing the services, attractions and activities available between La Cumbre and Gran Parada, including the amber mines in La Cumbre, the fertile coffee region of Pedro García and the sugarcane traditions of Montellano.

Easy to use, the guide’s information is ordered sequentially and correlates with a series of A-B-C etc marker signs installed every two kilometers along the highway. The signs were installed in conjunction with the initiation of the highway’s re-construction currently underway.

The map-guide promotes day trips along this scenic mountain road to shop (organic produce, local cheese, yogurts, jams, exotic flowers in more than six different nurseries, handmade gifts and furniture); for adventure (zipline, hiking, cascading, horseback riding) and discovery (amber mines, the Mirabal Sisters monument, panoramic views). It also invites you to a novel opportunity, to enjoy an authentic Dominican lunch in selected private homes along the highway.

The route guide is available in print along the route at selected points and can be downloaded free at www.RutaPanoramica.com

This project was underwritten by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and the Institute for Professional Formation (INFOTEP), as part of the TURISOPP project for rural tourism development in Puerto Plata Province through private  – public sector cooperation. It is an initiative of the Municipal Unit for Cultural Heritage (UMPC) of Montellano – Yasica Arriba – Pedro García, an NGO constituted to create frameworks for the development and co-management of eco-tourism and cultural activities that contribute to sustainable growth for the region. It coincides with the efforts of US-AID and the Puerto Plata Tourism Cluster to reform the identity of Puerto Plata as a tourism destination.

Download the Panoramic Route Guide

Ocean World, the world’s first fully interactive marine park

by Ron Añejo – The POP Report

PUERTO PLATA- The brand new, $30 million Ocean World located in the exclusive Cofresi resort area isn’t about just sitting around and watching “Flipper” dance on his tail in the water — it’s about jumping in and dancing with him.

And it’s not about strolling past gigantic aquariums teeming with coral reefs and tropical fish and sharks— it’s about actually getting inside the aquarium and swimming with them.

“This is the first park of its kind, where you’re interactive with all the animals sea lions, dolphins, sharks, stingrays, tropical fish and tropical birds,” says Eric Bogden, director of operations.

Eric is an18-year veteran of Sea World parks in the States. He was netted by Ocean World’s owners to manage the design and completion of this unique park’s exhibits.

This is the second park operated by the same owners. Their first one, Dolphin Encounters, is a huge success located on Blue Lagoon Island near Nassau.

Ocean World is brand new and some of the exhibits will open over the next several months. “We’re training the sharks right now. Just this morning I had one sitting on my lap,” says Eric proudly. When the shark pool is ready, your friendly shark will stick his jaws out of the water for a photo op with you.

Open a scant six months, the dolphin swims and encounters are already selling out, attracting more than 100 people per day. Dolphin Swims, the ultimate experience where you actually get towed around the lake by a friendly pair of dolphins, are limited to 10 people twice daily, and are sold out more than a week in advance. And while we had to settle for a Dolphin Encounter, where up to 30 can participate; it turned out to be an unforgettable experience just the same.

“These animals are super sociable and want to have a good time,” explained one of the three trainers who were assigned to our group. “So the more you whoop it up, clap and have fun, the more they will respond and interact with you.”

Indeed, this isn’t about sitting in bleachers and watching animal tricks from a distance. This is about getting into your bathing suit and sitting with just a couple dozen people on a floating deck, with three trainers attending and three dolphins sharing an enclosed pool not much larger than a jacuzzi.

This is about standing in shallow water as a 400-pound dolphin comes up erect in front of you. You hold his fins, and, as the trainers whistle a quick five bars of merengue, you feel the power as he dances in your outstretched arms.

This is about standing in shallow water as Boomer, the newest arrival at Ocean World, comes right up to you for a hug, pressing his body against your chest, head on shoulder. And you feel the strength, the power and the gentle affection of these incredible mammals as they wiggle their snouts against your cheek for a friendly kiss.

“I was amazed with the quality of the whole event,” said Jan Maclean, a veteran diver who has swam with dolphins and whales in the open sea. “It was obvious the trainers were completely wrapped up in what they were doing. They really care about the animals”

“I found the setting to be spectacular,” said Jean Hall on vacation from Montreal. “It looked like a magazine picture of the Caribbean. I’ve never been to a place where the public is invited to touch, dance, stroke and feed the animals. Being that close to such a large animal, standing stomach to stomach with him was incredible.”

Ocean World has become a must-see in Puerto Plata. It’s open every day but you’d do well to reserve in advance.

***

OCEAN WORLD ADVENTURE PARK is the most advanced marine interaction park of its kind.  Boasting the largest man-made dolphin habitat in the world, Ocean World is a must-see attraction for everyone visiting the Dominican Republic.
Guests of Ocean World Adventure Park have the opportunity to touch, pet and feed dolphins, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, exotic tropical birds, meet tigers, walk through a tropical rain forest and much more.
Ocean World Adventure Park emphasizes personal experiences between guests and marine animals through interactive programs.  There are only a handful of such facilities in the world, and none that rival the variety and quality that Ocean World Adventure Park provides.

Sea Lion show & Encounters. The Patagonian Sea Lions featured in this program originated from Uruguay.   Two of them are male and six are female.  Guests are provided with an opportunity to touch, feed, pet and play with these wonderful animals in the Sea Lion Encounter Program. The Sea Lion Show draws great reviews as guests watch the animals perform amazing behaviors and stunts.
Sea Lion Facility Features
•    Total Area 780m2
•    Stadium seating 350 guests
•    Water volume 60,000 gallons in 4 pools
•    Filtration system high rate sand filters, protein skimmers, ozone treatment

Snorkel Reef. In the coral reef aquarium, snorkelers swim in a colorful reef teeming with hundreds of exotic fish.  The snorkeling here is available everyday of the year.  Visitors are most likely to encounter angel fish, puffers, grunts, tangs, jacks, butterfly fish, spade fish, look downs and lobsters.
Snorkel Reef Facility Features
•    Total area 305m2 and 2.0m average depth
•    Water volume 150,000 gallons
•    Estimated number of fish 2,000
•    Filtration system, high-rate sand, protein skimmers, biologic, ozone treatment, temperature controlled
•    Split level underwater viewing panels 1.5m high and 15m long

Dolphin Swims and Encounters. For many guests, the highlight of a visit to Ocean World Adventure Park is the rare opportunity to swim and play with beautiful Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.  The Dolphin Swim experience begins with a brief orientation and educational program.  Then guests enter the water for their introduction to dolphins.  Guests learn about dolphin behavior and discover how Ocean World Adventure Park trainers use hand signals and positive reinforcement to communicate with them.  Taking the experience one step further, guests encounter, kiss, hug, pet, and feed dolphins one on one in their environment.
West Dolphin Lagoon Features
•    Total area 2,400m2
•    Volume 4,000,000 est. gallons, up to 4.5m deep
•    Filtration turnover rate 4 hours
•    Stadium capacity estimate 450 seats
•    Filtration system high rate sand, protein skimmers, ozone treatment
East Dolphin Lagoon Features
•    Total area 24,000m2 average depth 3.5m
•    Water volume 14,000,000 gallons
•    Turnover rate 4 hours, 24,000 gallons per hour
•    Filtration system, protein skimmers, ozone injection, system first of its kind in the world
Ocean World Adventure Park’s dolphin habitat is the largest of its kind in the world.

Shark Encounters. The sharks at Ocean World Adventure Park are an exciting variety of nurse, bonnet head and brown sharks; all indigenous to local waters. This rare award-winning interactive program includes touching, petting, feeding and snorkeling with the sharks.
Shark Pool Features
•    Water volume 200,000 gallons
•    Total area 360m2 and 2.5m deep
•    Filtration system high rate sand, protein skimmers, ozone and U.V., biologic filtration and temperature control
•    Two viewing windows 2m high and 8m long
•    Artificial reef structures decorate the bottom
•    The only shark pool specifically designed for human shark interaction

Stingray Encounters. Guests wade into the Stingray Basin, float and interact with the stingrays.  These fishes, which glide gracefully through the water, will provide you a really unique and memorable experience.
Stingray Basin Features
•    Total area 142m2
•    45,000 gallons of filtered sea water
•    2 separate water falls

Rainforest & Aviary. Ocean World Adventure Park has created the perfect rainforest.  The exotic tropical oasis is complete with waterfalls, sandy beaches and rocky lagoons.  In this area there exists a large free flight aviary, where guests are able to feed, touch and mingle with over one hundred colorful tropical birds.  Aquariums here feature exotic and unusual freshwater fish including arapaima fish.
Rainforest Features
•    Total area 3,650m2
•    Aviary 156m2 walk-through facility with tropical trees and waterfalls
•    Large Amazon fish exhibit of 24,000 gallons, 1.5m high 8m long view panels
•    Small Amazon fish exhibit of 25,000 gallons, demi-tube underwater view 7m long

Tiger Grotto. The highlight of the Tropical Rainforest is the tiger grotto.  Here, guests are invited to take a refreshing dip in the water next to the tiger habitat separated only by glass!  The pool stretches out toward what is reminiscent of ancient ruins overgrown with thick vegetation and waterfalls.
Tiger Grotto Features
•    26,000 gallon pool and total area of 450m2
•    Four rapid flow waterfalls
•    Rainforest stream entry
•    Swim cave

Trainer for a Day. Trainer for a Day will ensure a true dolphin trainer’s experience. From playing animal chef to issuing dolphin commands during a regular program with regular guests!!  Education is a significant and valuable part of this unforgettable day.
Trainer for a Day Features
•    Includes Ocean World T-shirt, hat, Trainer for a Day Certificate
•    Lunch with the Trainer
•    Dolphin Encounter interaction as a guest

SCUBA with the Dolphins or Sharks. New and exciting programs have begun at Ocean World Adventure Park; the fantastic once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to interact with dolphins or sharks underwater.  In these incredible programs visitors put on a wet suit and SCUBA gear then become immersed in an underwater paradise. The staff of Dolphin SCUBA offers instructional programs that prepare guests with the PADI open water SCUBA certification required for these programs.
Depending on experience levels; programs feature 5 different SCUBA adventures.

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE!

Click here to inquire or reserve

Click here for some interesting Facts about Dolphins

Local hotel & restaurant association publishes guide book


Our quest for the ‘right’ cigar

After a year of legwork we discovered an ideal combination of quality, price and consistency from a small, Cuban family-run factory hidden away in the Cibao Valley

At Cafe Cito, we have always enjoyed introducing customers to such discoveries as the Dominican Republic’s premium sipping rums, some of which are close to cognac in their smoothness and flavor. Likewise, we have always wanted to be able to offer a good ‘discovery cigar’; one we could recommend with confidence and sell for a reasonable price. But for the longest time we were reluctant to recommend any particular brand, aware that:

  • Almost all of the famous brand name cigars sold in tourist shops – Cohiba, Davidoff, etc. – are knockoffs or counterfeits: you pay for the name but you don’t get the real thing.
  • Much of the product available is simply unknown to the buyer and sold at prices that don’t necessarily speak for the quality, and with no way to try before you buy.
  • There is nothing worse than buying for a cigar-loving friend back home, only to find out too late that you have bought him a box of junk.

We concluded that there must exist in the Dominican Republic a cottage industry of highly talented cigar makers who can make an excellent cigar and whose prices reflect the fact that they are not well known. After all, there are dozens of cigar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic. Many have come from Cuba, others have been professionally trained in factories located near Puerto Plata that produce some of the world’s most famous cigars. So we set out to try to find one of these unknown talents.

As for the quality of the ‘smoke,’ our criteria was simple: the cigar would have to be a comfortable smoke, meaning an easy draw, a good burn and a flavor that wouldn’t knock the bejeezus out of your taste buds. In short, we were looking for a decent cigar at a decent price that would be both satisfying for the beginner and respectable to the connaisseur – something you take home to father-in-law and he actually thanks you for it.

The final criterion for us was consistency in product. One problem with cottage industries is that a well-meaning beginner might put out a good product one day, yet prove unable to keep up with his own success. We wanted a source that could provide reasonable assurance that next month, next year, we could buy the same cigar we enjoyed before.

As it turns out we didn’t have to go out looking for this because it ended up coming to us. One Sunday a regular client of Café Cito, Robert Daoust, showed up for a leisurely afternoon lunch with an associate of his, Don Luis Cuevas.

Robert is a Canadian businessman who over the last few years has developed his own brand name, ‘Don Roberto,’ and started a distributorship out of Montreal that today spans the country. While operating on a much larger scale than us, he had the same objectives; a good smoke, a good price, consistent quality. Several years ago and after a few false starts, he found what he was looking for in Don Luis, a virtual walking cigar encyclopedia who heralds from the famed tobacco region of Pinar Del Rio, in Cuba, where his family’s tobacco plantation traditions go back three generations.

“The first thing I remember as a kid is tobacco,” says Don Luis. “I don’t know anything else. When we were kids my mother used to roll us little baby cigars before anybody even knew about cancer and all that.”

Don Luis has been producing cigars in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic for the last twenty years. He found his niche in the anonymous side of the business, that of running a factory and making cigars for other people who have their own brand names and distributorships in different parts the world. Along the way he also developed his own line under the name Cuevas Hermanos.

Some very respectable brand names come out of the Cuevas Hermanos cigar factory, brands that are well known throughout Europe, North America and The United Kingdom. During a visit to Luis’ factory, we leafed through a couple of issues of Cigar Aficionado Magazine. In each issue, they publish a rating of different cigar brands in a single category or size. In this rating system, anything from 90 to 100 is considered outstanding, 80 to 89 is considered very good to excellent. Below seventy means not recommended. In the issues we looked at, we found at least a half dozen of the brands produced at the Cuevas factory; many scored in the high 80’s – excellent.

“We have been coming out on those lists ever since 1994,” he says.

Considering that cigars that rate in the 90’s are either impossible to find or tremendously expensive, Don Luis’ high-eighties ratings convinced us that indeed he had a product that promises consistently high quality.

All this of course was merely confirmation of what our own experience had told us when smoking his cigars. Over a year of Don Luis’ occasional visits to Café Cito, we had tried a variety of his cigars and also gave several dozen away to our cigar-smoking clients. Everyone agreed that Don Luis’ cigars were very well made, burn evenly and draw nicely. Even people who weren’t veteran cigar smokers found themselves, not with a half-smoked cigar in the ashtray, but puffing away right to the very end.

Click here to purchase Cuevas cigars online

Carnival announces $65 million cruise port for Maimon Bay

Carnival Corp. is turning its sights on the Dominican Republic. The cruise company confirmed it has signed a memorandum of understanding to finance a $65 million port facility and retail/restaurant/recreation complex geared towards cruise passengers just west of Puerto Plata on the country’s north coast.

Carnival is partnering with the Rannik family – which has shipping operations in the DR – on the project, which includes a docking facility at Maimon Bay that will be able to accommodate two post-Panamax (over 1,000-feet) ships.

In addition to retail and recreation, the space will also include a transportation hub, Carnival said. The facility is expected to open in Fall 2013.

Carnival Corp. already has a long-term deal with the Dominican government to rent a small island, Catalina, about five miles off La Romana, which serves as a private island for its Costa Cruises (and where topless sunbathing is allowed on some quiet beaches).

The company did not say which ships or brands – which also include Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Cunard and Seabourn – might visit the new Puerto Plata facility.

Additional details will be announced at a later time, a spokeswoman said.

The new deal follows Carnival’s pattern of investing in ports when it needs more places to put its growing fleet of ships. Carnival opened port facilities with retail complexes in Grand Turk in 2006; Cozumel, Mexico, in 2008; and $62 million Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Honduras.

Grand Turk was originally opened for Holland America ships but is now visited by seven brands and has become the third most popular of Carnival Corp.’s Caribbean ports after Nassau and Cozumel, according to Carnival officials. Facilities include the Caribbean’s largest Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville bar.

From: Fran Golden, USA Today

Timeline: Dominican Republic

A chronology of key events:

1492 – Christopher Columbus visits the island, which he names Hispaniola, or “Little Spain”.

1496 – Spaniards set up first Spanish colony in Western hemisphere at Santo Domingo, which subsequently serves as capital of all Spanish colonies in America.

1697 – Treaty of Ryswick gives western part of Hispaniola island (Haiti) to France and eastern part (Santo Domingo – the present Dominican Republic) to Spain.

1795 – Spain cedes its portion of Hispaniola island to France.

1808 – Spain retakes Santo Domingo following revolt by Spanish Creoles.

1821 – Uprising against Spanish rules is followed by brief period of independence.

1822 – Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer marches his troops into Santo Domingo and annexes it.

Republic is born

1844 – Boyer overthrown; Santo Domingo declares its independence and becomes the Dominican Republic.

1861-63 – President Pedro Santana returns the Dominican Republic to Spanish rule.

1863-64 – Spain withdraws from, and annuls its annexation of, the Dominican Republic following a popular revolt.

1865 – The second Dominican Republic proclaimed.

1906 – Dominican Republic and US sign 50-year treaty according to which the US takes over the republic’s customs department in return for buying its debts.

1916-24 – US forces occupy the Dominican Republic following internal disorder.

1924 – Constitutional government assumes control; US forces withdraw.

Trujillo dictatorship

1930 – General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina establishes personal dictatorship following the overthrow of President Horacio Vazquez.

1937 – Army massacres 19,000-20,000 Haitians living in areas of the Dominican Republic adjacent to Haiti.

1960 – Organisation of American States adopts resolution calling for severance of diplomatic ties with the Dominican Republic.

1961 – Trujillo assassinated.

US invades

1962 – Juan Bosch, founder of the leftist Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) elected president in the first democratic elections for nearly four decades.

1963 – Bosch deposed in military coup and replaced by a three-man civilian junta.

1965 – Some 30,000 US troops invade the Dominican Republic following a pro-Bosch uprising.

Return to democracy

1966 – Joaquin Balaguer, a Trujillo protege and former leader of the Reformist Party (later to become the centre-right Christian Social Reform Party (PRSC)), is elected president.

1978 – Silvestre Antonio Guzman (PRD) is elected president and proceeds to release some 200 political prisoners, ease media censorship and purge the armed forces of Balaguer supporters.

1979 – Two hurricanes leave more than 200,0000 people homeless and cause damage worth 1 billion dollars as the economy continues to deteriorate due to high fuel prices and low sugar prices.

1982 – Another PRD candidate, Jorge Blanco, elected president.

Austerity, unrest

1985 – IMF-prescribed austerity measures, including price rises for basic foods and petrol, lead to widespread riots.

1986 – Balaguer (PRSC) re-elected president.

1988 – Jorge Blanco tried in absentia and found guilty of corruption during his presidential tenure.

1990 – Balaguer re-elected, defeating Bosch by a small majority.

1994 – Balaguer re-elected, but agrees to serve only a two-year term after being accused of fraud.

1996 – Leonel Fernandez Reyna of the leftist Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) elected president.

1998 – Hurricane George causes widespread devastation.

2000 – PRD returned to power with Hipolito Mejia as president.

2001 May – Appeals court quashes a conviction against former president, Salvador Jorge Blanco, on charges of corruption.

2001 November – US jet bound for Santo Domingo crashes in New York killing all 255 people on board. Three days of national mourning declared.

2002 July – Former president Joaquin Balaguer dies aged 95; thousands pay their last respects to a man who dominated politics for more than 50 years.

2003 November – Deadly clashes between police and protesters during demonstrations against high prices, power cuts. Two months later, demonstrations about economic policies leave at least five dead.

Fernandez electedA chronology of key events:

1492 – Christopher Columbus visits the island, which he names Hispaniola, or “Little Spain”.

1496 – Spaniards set up first Spanish colony in Western hemisphere at Santo Domingo, which subsequently serves as capital of all Spanish colonies in America.

1697 – Treaty of Ryswick gives western part of Hispaniola island (Haiti) to France and eastern part (Santo Domingo – the present Dominican Republic) to Spain.

1795 – Spain cedes its portion of Hispaniola island to France.

1808 – Spain retakes Santo Domingo following revolt by Spanish Creoles.

1821 – Uprising against Spanish rules is followed by brief period of independence.

1822 – Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer marches his troops into Santo Domingo and annexes it.

Republic is born

1844 – Boyer overthrown; Santo Domingo declares its independence and becomes the Dominican Republic.

1861-63 – President Pedro Santana returns the Dominican Republic to Spanish rule.

1863-64 – Spain withdraws from, and annuls its annexation of, the Dominican Republic following a popular revolt.

1865 – The second Dominican Republic proclaimed.

1906 – Dominican Republic and US sign 50-year treaty according to which the US takes over the republic’s customs department in return for buying its debts.

1916-24 – US forces occupy the Dominican Republic following internal disorder.

1924 – Constitutional government assumes control; US forces withdraw.

Trujillo dictatorship

1930 – General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina establishes personal dictatorship following the overthrow of President Horacio Vazquez.

1937 – Army massacres 19,000-20,000 Haitians living in areas of the Dominican Republic adjacent to Haiti.

1960 – Organisation of American States adopts resolution calling for severance of diplomatic ties with the Dominican Republic.

1961 – Trujillo assassinated.

US invades

1962 – Juan Bosch, founder of the leftist Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) elected president in the first democratic elections for nearly four decades.

1963 – Bosch deposed in military coup and replaced by a three-man civilian junta.

1965 – Some 30,000 US troops invade the Dominican Republic following a pro-Bosch uprising.

Return to democracy

1966 – Joaquin Balaguer, a Trujillo protege and former leader of the Reformist Party (later to become the centre-right Christian Social Reform Party (PRSC)), is elected president.

1978 – Silvestre Antonio Guzman (PRD) is elected president and proceeds to release some 200 political prisoners, ease media censorship and purge the armed forces of Balaguer supporters.

1979 – Two hurricanes leave more than 200,0000 people homeless and cause damage worth 1 billion dollars as the economy continues to deteriorate due to high fuel prices and low sugar prices.

1982 – Another PRD candidate, Jorge Blanco, elected president.

Austerity, unrest

1985 – IMF-prescribed austerity measures, including price rises for basic foods and petrol, lead to widespread riots.

1986 – Balaguer (PRSC) re-elected president.

1988 – Jorge Blanco tried in absentia and found guilty of corruption during his presidential tenure.

1990 – Balaguer re-elected, defeating Bosch by a small majority.

1994 – Balaguer re-elected, but agrees to serve only a two-year term after being accused of fraud.

1996 – Leonel Fernandez Reyna of the leftist Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) elected president.

1998 – Hurricane George causes widespread devastation.

2000 – PRD returned to power with Hipolito Mejia as president.

2001 May – Appeals court quashes a conviction against former president, Salvador Jorge Blanco, on charges of corruption.

2001 November – US jet bound for Santo Domingo crashes in New York killing all 255 people on board. Three days of national mourning declared.

2002 July – Former president Joaquin Balaguer dies aged 95; thousands pay their last respects to a man who dominated politics for more than 50 years.

2003 November – Deadly clashes between police and protesters during demonstrations against high prices, power cuts. Two months later, demonstrations about economic policies leave at least five dead.

Fernandez elected

2004 May – Elections: Former head of state Leonel Fernandez defeats incumbent president, Hipolito Mejia.

Severe floods in the south-west, and in parts of neighbouring Haiti, leave more than 2,000 dead or disappeared.

2005 March – More than 130 inmates die in a prison fire. The blaze followed a riot at the jail, in the eastern town of Higuey.

2005 September – Congress approves a proposed free trade agreement with the US and Central American nations. The DR enters the accord in March 2007.

2008 May – President Leonel Fernandez is re-elected.

2010 May – Congressional elections. Ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) retains firm grip on power.

2010 October – Dominican Republic tightens border restrictions to prevent cholera spreading from Haiti.

Source: BBC News

Air Turks & Caicos to fly Puerto Plata – San Juan PR

Turk and Caicos announced that it will start daily flights from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to the popular Caribbean hub of San Juan, Puerto Rico from April 15th, subject to regulatory approvals.   The announcement was made at a lavish reception hosted for the airline by the Dominican Tourism Authorities at the upscale Hemingway’s Cafe in Puerto Plata on Monday, January 17th, and was attended by the Deputy Minister of Tourism, César José de los Santos, the Chamber of Commerce as well as representatives from local hotel and tourism organizations.
The airline was represented by its top executives, Chairman Lyndon Gardiner, CEO Darrell Richardson,  VP, Business Development Deborah Aharon and VP of Flight Standards Capt. Harold Williams.
Deputy Minister De los Santos thanked the airline executives for choosing Puerto Plata as their new gateway to San Juan and assured them that the initiative would have the full support of the Minister of Tourism Sr. Francisco Javier Garcia and his Ministry.
President of the Puerto Plata Chamber of Commerce Amaurys Plá also welcomed the company and noted that with the opening of the new route would also come new business opportunities for trading of goods and services as well as tourism, and reiterated his organization’s support.
Max Iglesias, president of the Northern Hotel Association, thanked the executives of Air Turksand Caicos and said that he was pleased that the route would open up many potential connections with other Caribbean islands, and President of the Hotel Association for the popular  Playa Dorada region Roberto Casoni said that the daily flights would offer more flexibility and convenience that he expected would result in longer stays by visitors.
After the welcoming speeches by the local authorities, Chairman of Air Turks and CaicosLyndon R. Gardiner surprised and delighted the crowd by addressing them in their native Spanish, explaining the history of the airline, which started with a single piston aircraft in 1992 as InterIsland Airways.  After changing the name to Air Turks and Caicos to better reflect this country’s identity and national pride, the airline continued to grow and now has a fleet of 15 mainly turbine aircraft, ranging in size from 9 to 30 passengers.
He also spoke about the long history of friendship and trade between the two countries, recalling the days of old when folks often sailed from North Caicos to the Dominican Republic in fishing boats to trade dried conch for produce and rum.
Gardiner told the crowd to much applause that this new route was an important step in realizing his dream to unite the Caribbean Islands through more convenient  and expanded connections that promoted trade and tourism.  He expressed his wish that the separate Caribbean nations would focus more closely on cooperative marketing for the benefit of the entire region.
The Air Turks and Caicos flights would all originate in Providenciales, thereby offering connections between Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico and points beyond in the Eastern Caribbean.

From: The Turks & Caicos Sun

AAAS raises funds for animal neutering and care

The  AAAS (Association of Friends of Animals in Sosua) is a non-profit organization that provides surgical neutering and rehabilitation to animals in need, promotes humane care and concern for all animals by educating the public and by working to end pet overpopulation. Their goal is to work toward a safe and healthy environment in the community.

AAAS works to raise funds to meet this mission and to provide affordable means for members of the community to properly care for their animals.

For more information about this important cause, visit their website

New arrival at Ocean World, a baby sea lion

PUERTO PLATA—Ocean World Adventure Park executives announced the birth of a baby sea lion, born July 24 during the day, after a labor of about an hour. Parents are named Chacha and Jefe , both 9 years old and originally from Uruguay. The pup is a male who, at birth, weighed 25 pounds. The delivery occurred in breech position (fins first), contrary to the usual head first

This is the second event of its kind to be recorded at the site, as in 2006 a bottlenose dolphin “Lili.” was born under human care at the park.

Chacha, the pup’s mother, nursed him after 8 hours of birth. He swam for the first time at 11 days old and is already a confident swimmer. “Like all babies, is very playful and loves to play with pieces of ice, hoses and other toys made by the coaches,” said Diego Tripaldi, General Director of the company.

“We are very happy to share this important news to the media, society and all Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, since the birth of this new baby sea lion symbolizes our commitment to preserving the environment, diversity of life, care and respect for all animal species that inhabit Ocean World,” said

Chacha's baby sea lion was born July 24th at Ocean World

Tripaldi.

This species of sea lions, whose scientific name is “Otaria flavescens”, also known as “Otaria byronia” are born after 11 months of gestation. This species is not endangered. The breast milk of these mammals has a high fat content, which is why the young gain weight rapidly. Adult females average 6 feet long with a weight of 330 pounds, while adult males average 8 feet long with a weight of 650 pounds.

The training of the new baby will start from the time when he can eat solid food (fish). Among the initial behaviors he will learn will be relaxation techniques to allow the veterinarians to perform routine checks, which ensure a long and healthy life.

From the first moment that the team of experts at the park were aware of the state of gestation of the sea lion Chacha, all necessary care was taken to ensure the well being of both mother and the baby.

Details of this event were announced during a cocktail held in the park’s facilities along with representatives of the media, authorities and society personalities of Puerto Plata. The event was led by Diego Tripaldi, general director of the park, along with marketing and sales executives and staff responsible for the care of the pup.

The executives stressed the satisfaction that Ocean World has to have successfully nurtured the second birth of an exotic animal in their facilities. As evidence that these species under human care can live long, healthy and safe lives.

Since last summer the park has developing an educational campaign aimed at children to create awareness about important issues such as the care and protection of animals and the preservation of our planet’s natural resources.

Ocean World Adventure Park, Marina & Casino, is one of the most important and complete entertainment centers in the Dominican Republic and Caribbean region. Located on Cofresi Beach in Puerto Plata this unique park stands along with a majestic building which houses it’s restaurants, casino, bar, theater with live shows, disco and an elegant marina.

Lifestyles: a visit to Rancho Nazdrovie

Ocean World Fact Sheet

Ocean World Adventure Park, Marina & Casino is the most complete entertainment complex of the Dominican Republic, located in Cofresi Beach, just 3 miles west from the town of Puerto Plata. Is made of an elegant Marina, a unique adventure park and the outstanding building where our clients will have the opportunity to enjoy restaurants, bars, a theatre with live dance show, casino and a disco-lounge.

OCEAN WORLD MARINA is the only full service marina located in the north coast of the Dominican Republic that features 104-slips, to accommodate vessels up to 250-ft length overall. Each slip is completely serviced with electricity, water, cable TV, Wi-Fi internet access, 24-hour security. Additional on-site services include laundry, shower facilities, spa/salon, gift shop, food/liquor delivery services, car rental service and gym. The controlling depth in the basin is 12-ft in mean low tide. We have available a roofed Dry Rack Storage for 200 vessels up to 32-ft in length. The government of the Dominican Republic officially appointed Ocean World Marina as a port of entry complete with navy, customs and immigration facilities on site. Our fuel station counts with gasoline and diesel and supplies lube oils, potable water, ice, sewage pump-out and oily waste disposal facilities.

Ocean World Marina guests enjoy a wide variety of services and truly unique experiences unmatched in the region. In our facility visitors may swim with dolphins and other marine life, have a sunset dinner overlooking spectacular ocean view in several restaurants and bars, enjoy a Vegas-style tropical show, or try one’s luck in the Caribbean’s most glamorous new themed casino.

Ocean World Casino

Overlooking the Marina is the most exclusive Casino in the Dominican Republic. Guests experience Las Vegas gaming in the setting of a true Caribbean paradise.

Here one can enjoy a choice of the most popular table games and slot machines in luxurious surroundings.

This glamorous building is adjacent to the famous Ocean World Adventure Park, the largest marine park attraction in the Caribbean. Ocean World Casino Features

  • Open daily starting from 7pm
  • Complimentary national drinks, snacks and cigarettes while playing
  • Valet parking
  • Slot Machines and Table Games (Black Jack, Caribbean Stud Poker, Roulette, 3 Card Poker, Craps, Texas Hold’Em, Baccarat)
  • Scheduled Tournaments every Tuesday and Saturday at 7pm

POSEIDON TERRACE the restaurant overlooking the Ocean World Marina is specialized on light and grilled snacks. Serving premium beverages and variety of premium drinks and refreshing cocktails, this is the perfect place to enjoy drinks with friends.

Poseidon Terrace Features

  • Terrace sitting area
  • Pool facilities
  • Swim-up bar
  • Plasma TV

POSEIDON ‘A-LA-CARTE’ RESTAURANT. This stylish modern setting combines sleek architectural features with a fusion of oceanic artifacts, creating an incredible ambiance. This different hot new concept in dining features various mouth-watering international cuisine favorites with a special focus on succulent seafood choices.

Poseidon A-la-Carte Restaurant Features

  • Open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 6 pm until 12 am.
  • 102 seats inside
  • Air conditioning
  • International cuisine specialized in seafood
  • Scheduled culinary activities

BRAVISSIMO SHOW

BRAVISSIMO SHOW is a Las Vegas style dance show with a tropical flair.  Gorgeous performers take guests on an enchanted journey throughout the Caribbean by presenting their interpretive dance collection from throughout the destination, with 120 costumes that will leave you breathless.

Bravissimo Features

  • Wednesday, Friday & Saturdays at 9pm
  • 26 dancers
  • Pictures/filming permitted at the end of the show.
  • Souvenir Photo of the dancers.

LIGHTHOUSE LOUNGE & DISCO is with no doubt the most spectacular and classy Lounge & Disco Bar of the island, completely dressed in white, with comfortable leather sofas where you can relax and enjoy the unparalleled view of the marina and the best music.

Lighthouse Lounge Features

  • Open Wednesday to Saturday from 10.00 p.m until sunrise
  • Spectacular ocean view
  • Tuesdays: 2X1 in drinks
  • Wednesdays: Karaoke Night
  • Fridays: Ladies Night
  • Saturdays: Party Night
  • Also available for private events

OCEAN WORLD ADVENTURE PARK

Is the most advanced marine interaction park of its kind.  Boasting the largest man-made dolphin habitat in the world, Ocean World is a must-see attraction for everyone visiting the Dominican Republic.

Guests of Ocean World Adventure Park have the opportunity to touch, pet and feed dolphins, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, exotic tropical birds, meet tigers, walk through a tropical rain forest and much more.

Ocean World Adventure Park emphasizes personal experiences between guests and marine animals through interactive programs.  There are only a handful of such facilities in the world, and none that rival the variety and quality that Ocean World Adventure Park provides.

Royal Swim, Dolphin Swim & Dolphin Encounter. For many guests, the highlight of a visit to Ocean World Adventure Park is the rare opportunity to swim and play with beautiful Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.  The Dolphin experience begins with a brief orientation and educational program.  Then guests enter the water for their introduction to dolphins.  Guests learn about dolphin behavior and discover how Ocean World Adventure Park trainers use hand signals and positive reinforcement to communicate with them.  Taking the experience one step further, guests encounter, kiss, hug, pet, and feed dolphins one on one in their environment.

Small Dolphin Lagoon Features

  • Total area 2,400m2
  • Volume 4,000,000 est. gallons, up to 4.5m deep
  • Filtration turnover rate 4 hours
  • Stadium capacity estimate 450 seats
  • Filtration system high rate sand, protein skimmers, ozone treatment

Big Dolphin Lagoon Features

  • Total area 24,000m2 average depth 3.5m
  • Water volume 14,000,000 gallons
  • Turnover rate 4 hours, 24,000 gallons per hour
  • Filtration system, protein skimmers, ozone injection, system first of its kind in the world

Ocean World Adventure Park’s dolphin habitat is the largest of its kind in the world.

Sea Lion Show & Encounter. The South American Sea Lions featured in this program originated from Uruguay.   Two of them are male and six are female.  Guests are provided with an opportunity to touch, feed, pet and play with these wonderful animals in the Sea Lion Encounter Program. The Sea Lion Show draws great reviews as guests watch the animals perform amazing behaviors and stunts.

Sea Lion Facility Features

  • Total Area 780m2
  • Stadium seating 350 guests
  • Water volume 60,000 gallons in 4 pools
  • Filtration system high rate sand filters, protein skimmers, ozone treatment

Snorkel Reef. In the coral reef aquarium, snorkelers swim in a colorful reef teeming with hundreds of exotic fish.  The snorkeling here is available everyday of the year.  Visitors are most likely to encounter angel fish, puffers, grunts, tangs, jacks, butterfly fish, spade fish, look downs and lobsters.

Snorkel Reef Facility Features

  • Total area 305m2 and 2.0m average depth
  • Water volume 150,000 gallons
  • Estimated number of fish 2,000
  • Filtration system, high-rate sand, protein skimmers, biologic, ozone treatment, temperature controlled
  • Split level underwater viewing panels 1.5m high and 15m long

Shark Encounter. The sharks at Ocean World Adventure Park are an exciting variety of nurse, bonnet head and brown sharks; all indigenous to local waters. This rare award-winning interactive program includes touching, petting, feeding and snorkeling with the sharks.

Shark Pool Features

  • Water volume 200,000 gallons
  • Total area 360m2 and 2.5m deep
  • Filtration system high rate sand, protein skimmers, ozone and U.V., biologic filtration and temperature control
  • Two viewing windows 2m high and 8m long
  • Artificial reef structures decorate the bottom
  • The only shark pool specifically designed for human shark interaction

Stingray Encounter. Guests wade into the Stingray Basin, float and interact with the stingrays.  These fishes, which glide gracefully through the water, will provide you a really unique and memorable experience.

Stingray Basin Features

  • Total area 142m2
  • 45,000 gallons of filtered sea water
  • 2 separate water falls

Rainforest & Aviary. Ocean World Adventure Park has created the perfect rainforest.  The exotic tropical oasis is complete with waterfalls, sandy beaches and rocky lagoons.  In this area there exists a large free flight aviary, where guests are able to feed, touch and mingle with over one hundred colorful tropical birds.  Aquariums here feature exotic and unusual freshwater fish including arapaima fish.

Rainforest Features

  • Total area 3,650m2
  • Aviary 156m2 walk-through facility with tropical trees and waterfalls
  • Large Amazon fish exhibit of 24,000 gallons, 1.5m high 8m long view panels
  • Small Amazon fish exhibit of 25,000 gallons, demi-tube underwater view 7m long

Tiger Grotto. The highlight of the Tropical Rainforest is the tiger grotto.  Here, guests are invited to take a refreshing dip in the water next to the tigers habitat separated only by glass!

Swim face to face with Bravo and Blanco, our 5 years old Bengal tigers, and enjoy a unique photo and feeding opportunity.

The pool stretches out toward what is reminiscent of ancient ruins overgrown with thick vegetation and waterfalls.

Tiger Grotto Features

  • 26,000 gallon pool and total area of 450m2
  • Four rapid flow waterfalls
  • Rainforest stream entry
  • Swim cave

Trainer for a Day. Trainer for a Day will ensure a true dolphin trainer’s experience. From playing animal chef to issuing dolphin commands during a regular program with regular guests!!  Education is a significant and valuable part of this unforgettable day.

Trainer for a Day Features

  • Includes Ocean World T-shirt, hat, Trainer for a Day Certificate
  • Lunch with the Trainer
  • Dolphin Encounter interaction as a guest

SCUBA Diving with the Dolphins or Sharks. New and exciting programs have begun at Ocean World Adventure Park; the fantastic once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to interact with dolphins or sharks underwater.  In these incredible programs visitors put on a wet suit and SCUBA gear then become immersed in an underwater paradise. The staff of Dolphin SCUBA offers instructional programs that prepare guests with the PADI open water SCUBA certification required for these programs.

Depending on experience levels; programs feature 5 different SCUBA adventures.

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE!

A family trip to Cabrera

My family and I started going to Cabrera, a quiet surfing area in the Dominican Republic, when friends took us there four years ago—right before my second daughter, Gigi, was born. We’ve been back 10 times since. Cabrera has always felt like our own secret spot, and part of me wants it to stay that way—even now, I’m not sure why I’m writing about it in a national magazine. On the other hand, it’s one of those places that’s so uncommonly special, you want other people to enjoy it, too.

Located in the northern part of the country, Cabrera is paradise—but you have to appreciate that it’s not swanky St. Barths. It’s a more rustic, wild kind of paradise, and for me; my husband, Bill; and my daughters, Kit, 10, and Gigi, 4, that’s exactly the appeal. In New York City, we have a polished urban lifestyle, so a real getaway for us means something completely different.

Generally we spend just four days on the island, Thursday through Sunday, but those days are action-packed—as in dawn-to-dusk action-packed. As nice as Cabrera’s Hotel La Catalina is (it’s a bargain, too, by the way, starting at $82 a night), we don’t spend much time there. Maybe we’ll take a dip in the pool or walk around the garden, but hanging out at a hotel all day feels too quiet, too normal for us. We’ve never been the relax-by-the-pool type of family anyway.

Instead, we explore. On a typical trip, after arriving in the early evening on the four-hour flight from New York, we drop off our stuff at the hotel and head right to Playa Diamante. There, the girls and I cover ourselves head-to-toe in the claylike volcanic sand, which I swear has special beautifying minerals. (Bill thinks the whole thing is ridiculous.) Then we wade out into the shallow water to rinse off before heading to our favorite roadside stand for pineapple yogurt.

Since Bill and I are avid surfers, we tend to spend at least one afternoon at Playa Grande, known for its waves. The water is usually too rough for the kids, so he and I take turns on the shore with Kit and Gigi doing, basically, circus tricks: cartwheels, human pyramids, swinging someone around in a towel. Maybe we’ll dig a hole.

Beyond that, the activities vary. We’ve visited a fresh­water lake known as Lake Dudu (you can imagine the joke mileage the kids get out of that name), where we rope-swing out and splash into the water. We’ve hiked through a jungle, following a guide who hacks through it with a machete, to reach a fairy-tale cave with stalagmites inside and a banyan tree growing atop it. And on our most recent trip, we ended up at a restaurant called Babunuco, which an eccentric artist runs out of his house. You eat whatever he’s cooking that day and sit among the strange, beautiful objects he’s made—a whale-vertebrae stool, a bar made out of a surfboard.

The restaurant is raw and magical—just like Cabrera itself. Lately we’ve started inviting friends and other families along, and everyone falls in love with the place. In fact, one friend who came with us last year loved it so much, she still hasn’t left.

What to Eat

Babunuco

Run by artist (and cigar maker) Juan Alberto Garcia in a building next door to his home, this restaurant has unpredictable hours, so call ahead to make sure he’s cooking that night. The menu typically consists of delicious, simply prepared fish or meat, and there’s usually jazz playing on an old jukebox in the background. Camino de Saltadero, (829) 338-8707.

Playa Grande Casitas

At the 15 food shacks on the beach, you can order a fresh pineapple or coconut with a straw in it any time of day. At lunch, they’ll let you choose your fish or lobster, then serve it with a salad and rice and beans. (Kids—my kids, at least—will eat anything mixed with rice and beans.) The casitas are set among palm trees about 50 yards from the beach, but if you want to have a picnic lunch even closer to the water, they’ll bring your food and table setup there, too.

Don Bululu

A big part of a great food experience is the setting. I would never think to get pineapple yogurt at the grocery store back home, but at this roadside stand a short drive from Playa Diamante, it is just about the purest, most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. Highway 5, La Entrada, (809) 669-2942.

Getting Around

Fly into Puerta Plata (nonstops are available from New York, Miami, and Atlanta). Arrange through Hotel La Catalina for a taxi from the airport ($96 round-trip)—you won’t want to navigate the 90-minute winding drive yourself. To get around during your stay, book a rental car through the hotel—the car will be waiting for you there—or take its shuttle service to most major sites. (Car seats are rare, so bring your own.)

When to Stay

Hotel la Catalina

This well-run family-owned hotel consists of 36 rooms and condominiums. We usually stay in a one-bedroom condo, which is basic but comfortable: a simple kitchen and charming painted rattan furniture that reminds me of my ’70s childhood. The hotel is less than 10 minutes’ drive from the nearest beach and has beautiful gardens, two pools, a pond with turtles, and fantastic food—we always fuel up on the fresh juices and crepes for breakfast before setting out. From $82 a night for two adults and a child in a double in low season (June through October) to $168 a night for a two-bedroom condo in high season (November through May).

Beaches

Head to Diamante or Caleton for calm, shallow water; for surfing, try Playa Grande. (You can rent boards on the beach.) All the beaches are a drive of 20 minutes or less from the hotel, but be warned: Only Caleton has public restrooms.

Lake Dudu

At the larger of the two swimming holes here, local teens dive from great heights (while we all scream, “Don’t do it, don’t do it!”). Our family often has the smaller one, sheltered by a cave, to ourselves. $2 admission fee; off Highway 5, La Entrada.

Horseback Riding

A guide named Junior will bring horses right to the hotel and lead you on different paths. It’s very informal: Helmets are available, but there are no waivers or age requirements, so you ride at your own risk; Bill and I each double up with one of the kids. $20 a person for a one-hour ride; book through Hotel La Catalina.

Laguna Gri Gri Rides

You can book an official tour at the dock, which is about a 30-minute drive from the hotel, but we just hired one of the fishermen by the water to take us on a ride. The lagoon is amazing, full of wild tangles of mangroves and the biggest vultures you’ve ever seen. Calle Duarte, Rio San Juan.

Rowley’s trip tips

The designer’s strategies for making any family vacation smooth sailing.

1. Start with the flight. When we were trying to find a warm-weather place for a long-weekend getaway, we first narrowed down our options by looking at flight schedules: Where could we fly directly and arrive by the afternoon? That’s how we initially homed in on the Dominican Republic.

2. Stay in the zone. We’ve taken big family trips to Japan and China, and I have to say, it’s always better to travel as close to your own time zone as possible. Otherwise the kids are up all night and sleep all day—which, of course, means the same goes for the parents.

3. Pack lightly (and creatively). To save time and avoid baggage claim, no one is allowed to check luggage, and everyone, even 4-year-old Gigi, has to carry his or her own stuff. We make a game out of trying to pack things that can be used several ways—I bring a top that Kit can wear as a dress; Kit brings a shirt that Gigi can wear as a dress; we all share sun hats … that kind of thing.

4. BYO fun. I always bring little notebooks and crayons, which keep Kit and Gigi entertained the whole time we’re away. It’s also a ritual that we let the girls pick out something special at an airport gift shop before each flight. It keeps them excited both as we wait to board and once we’re on the plane.

5. Let everyone call the shots. On the first morning of each trip to Cabrera, we sit down at breakfast and make a big plan—some activity, like fishing or horseback riding, that’s been on our wish list. Then we make the smaller plans: Gigi picks an activity, Kit picks an activity, and the grown-ups pick an activity.

By Cynthia Rowley http://www.cookiemag.com

For Sale: Prime Real Estate

Special Offers:

• 63,000 m2 (15.7 acres) on the Santiago Tourist Highway. Highest point on the mountainside offering incredible views of the north coast. US $249,000 ($4.00/meter)

• Three lots on the Sosuamar ridge (past HispanIola Subdivision). Lots are adjoining and sold together. Beautiful view overlooking Sosua. Total of 3286 m2 at $40.00/m2 – Total US$ 132,000.

• Condo Building Site in Vista del Caribe (next to Coconut Palms). Highest point on the ocean side of the highway between Sosua and Cabarete. Outstanding view. Zoned for 4 floors. 7400 m2 at $80.00/m2. US $592,000.

• Commercial Building on the highway, ½ km east of Sosua. Lot 2110 m2 and 420 m2 construction. Price US$ 359,000. Current furniture business can also be purchased.

For more information: 809-571-4547, 809-864-6624

Trip Planning: how much should you spend?

The cost of travel varies greatly between countries; even such indicators as star ratings can be misleading as to what you can get for your money. You’ll find an informative overview of what to expect cost-wise in the Dominican Republic, along with many other informative resources at  www.DominicanRepublic-guide.info

Canadian publisher honored for cultural contribution

img_89101jpgPUERTO PLATA—Mayor Juan Musa and the City Council awarded honors to a Canadian expatriate residing in Puerto Plata, for his contribution to culture in Puerto Plata as a past director of the city’s El Faro newspaper.

Tim Hall, a journalist from Montreal and currently the publisher of The Puerto Plata Report online newsmagazine, was instrumental in the growth of El Faro (The Beacon) as a bilingual weekly newspaper during mid-eighties tourism boom that transformed the region into a key Caribbean tourism destination.

The ceremony, held last week at City Hall, commemorated El Faro’s 40th year in circulation and marked the paper’s formal designation as part of the city’s Cultural & Historical Patrimony. Five other past and present Directors were also honored.

Last May, the mayor honored Hall with the city’s Distinguished Citizen Award, in recognition of 20 years of community service as Canadian Honorary Consul on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic.

Flash floods damage homes in Puerto Plata, one dead

flooding2010More than 20,000 people were affected by the floods in at least 18 districts of the municipality Puerto Plata, as rivers and gorges overflowed their bank since early morning yesterday.

Moreover, José Rafael Santana  died when a wall fell on him in the sector Los Bordas.

Civil Defense director Hugo González said flash floods damaged 34 houses totally, and 850 partially, whereas 635 families lost their belongings and 6,435 others had partial losses.

He said ready-meals were distributed among the victims, while they await the arrival of home appliances and mobile cafeterias, as well as construction crews and equipment.

Between the affected districts are the Las Flores, Padre Granero, Bello Costero, Urbanización General Gregorio Luperón, Ensanche Dubocq (Los Callejones); Playa Oeste, Aguas Negras, Padre Las Casas and Los Domínguez.

From DominicanToday.com

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Spanish Galleon That Sank Around 1700 Found near Nagua

SANTO DOMINGO – A research team has discovered off Nagua, a city in the northeastern Dominican Republic, a Spanish galleon that apparently sank in the area between 1690-1700, the press reported Monday.

The galleon, whose name is unknown, was found in October, allowing pieces of “incalculable historical value” to be recovered, the daily Listin Diario said.

Among the objects discovered was a bell made in 1693, while on the deck is the Latin phrase “Soli Deo Gloria” (Glory Only to God), which could be the ship’s name, though that has yet to be confirmed by the experts.

Also found on the galleon were navigation compasses and plumb lines for measuring depth, silver coins, a pistol, sword sheaths and other military items, as well as ornaments and several jewels, notably a ring set with eight diamonds, Listin Diario said.

Other discoveries included plates with makers’ marks (castles, lions and fleurs-de-lis), silverware, buckles, bronze candlesticks, sword handles, and a device for measuring the ship’s speed in knots.

The technical director of the Dominican Underwater Heritage office, Francis Soto, told the newspaper that the wreck was a “great discovery” because of the “variety of pieces” that were found.

The research team is headed by Penny Stock Chaser of Marine Exploration, a U.S. company specializing in underwater archaeological exploration and which was contracted by the Underwater Heritage office to trace the galleon’s origin.

The shipwreck occurred in the Atlantic Ocean near the estuary of the Boba River in the northeastern Dominican province of Maria Trinidad Sanchez between 1690-1700, and the recovery of the first object, a bell, took place in 1983 when Burt Webber, director of operations for the same company, was exploring the area, the daily said.

The explorations were resumed this year, and in October and November the first objects were recovered.

EFE

From EFE and Latin American Herald Tribune