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Cable car delivers a picture-perfect outing

For impressive views of Puerto Plata, its harbor, sparkling coastline and verdant hillsides, climb aboard the only cable car in the Caribbean and indulge in a panoramic feast.

Puerto Plata cable car. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

Puerto Plata cable car. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

The Teleférico (Spanish for cable car) shuttles passengers up the 782-meter (2,565-foot) Isabele de Torres Mountain, named after the benefactor-queen of Christopher Columbus. An imposing view from most anywhere in Puerto Plata, the mountain has been declared a nature reserve due to its great variety of flora and fauna.

The pleasant, eight-minute ride eases visitors out of the base station and up and over rooftops, schoolyards and playgrounds. Before long only dense, tropical greenery lies ahead, and, as the ascent progresses, a broad, coastal vista unfolds.

As the 20-passenger car steadily climbs, the weather changes, too, with the temperature dropping pleasantly.

Foggy mist may obscure views on the mountain approach, giving travelers an eerie sensation as the cabin glides through a white-cotton blanket. When the station nears, a 10-meter (33-foot) Christ the Redeemer statue comes into a view from its perch at the summit.

The smaller version of Brazil’s famous 30-meter (99-foot) sculpture stands with outstretched arms atop a white dome, built as a small fortress in the days of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Gift shops now pack the space.

In addition to the stunning views of the shimmering Atlantic coast, a lush tropical garden and lagoon also await at the peak, as do a full restaurant and walk-up refreshment stand (soft drinks, cocktails and snacks). Restrooms are available both at the base and peak. Visitors can spend a few minutes or a few hours enjoying the tranquil setting.

Opened in 1975, the Teleférico operates seven days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $10 (USD) for adults; free or reduced admission for children. Visitors can also take a difficult hike to the summit or arrive by car, but there’s nothing like the round trip aboard the cable car.

Find a little of everything on the Malecón

Looking along the scenic Malecón in Puerto Plata. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Ministry of Tourism

The Malecón hugs the coast in Puerto Plata. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

A must-see destination on the North Coast, Puerto Plata’s Malecón is a scenic, three-kilometer (one-mile) promenade hugging the Atlantic Ocean and its golden-sand beaches.

Lined with small, friendly bars, the route begins at La Puntilla park, anchored by the historic San Felipe Fort, a 16th century landmark, and a 24-meter (78-foot) lighthouse, built in 1879. A new amphitheater, which accommodates up to 4,000 patrons, also occupies the site. A sculpture of military hero Gen. Gregorio Luperón on his horse greets arriving visitors.

The Malecón culminates at the stretch of shore known as Long Beach, named by U.S. military occupiers in the early 1900s. A bronze replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David stands at a nearby intersection.

There’s plenty to see along the way. Photo ops include mighty Neptune, Roman god of the sea, who overlooks the city from a rocky perch offshore; colorful fishing boats bobbing in the shallow surf; and the city’s historic fire station, an architectural gem.

Snacks and cold drinks are never out of reach, as small, friendly bars line the wide, breezy walkway. Strolling vendors sell candies, shaved-ice drinks, fresh coconut milk and more.

Under the shade of sea grape and almond trees, locals play spirited games of dominoes while others — Dominicans and expatriates alike — enjoy a peaceful spot to meet and mingle. Joggers and cyclists use a protected lane alongside the malecón.

Soon after sundown, the beachside joints lock their shutters and the activity shifts to the other side of the four-lane highway, where bars, dance clubs and restaurants cater to nighttime crowds.

Planning for the Malecón dates to 1917 but not until 1971 were the broad avenue and ample sidewalk built; the route was remodeled in 2006.

Free music education reaches more than 200 North Coast kids

Previously on the waiting list for free music education, dozens of additional students are taking classes in guitar, drums, piano and violin in FEDUJAZZ’s new center in Cabarete.

FEDUJAZZ, the music education foundation of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, increased enrollment this year by 73 students for a total of nearly 225 North Coast children.

The programs, divided into five age groups for kids 7-18, aim to educate children with structured music programs that enhance their education and increase their opportunities in life.

Berklee Global Jazz Institute brings kids to their feet. Photo: Matt Bokor

Berklee Global Jazz Institute leads workshop for kids in 2014

The annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival not only provides five nights of free concerts, many of its performers lead daytime music workshops for children. During the 2015 festival, over 1,500 schoolchildren attended music workshops presented by renowned musicians.

Coming up in November, the 20th anniversary of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival will include a show in Santo Domingo. This will be the first time the event, a North Coast fixture, will be presented in the nation’s capital. Festival dates and cities are:

• Nov. 8, Santo Domingo

• Nov. 9, Santiago

• Nov. 10, Puerto Plata

• Nov. 11 & 12, Cabarete

Since its inception, the festival has presented internationally renowned Latin Grammy and Grammy Award-winning musicians such as Ignacio Berroa, Joe Lovano, Chuck Mangione, Ray Baretto, Nestor Torres, Chucho Valdes, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Arturo Sandoval among many other talents.

The event, the largest of its type in the Caribbean, is presented by FEDUJAZZ and the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.

New port welcomes 5,000 visitors a week to Puerto Plata

Since its first ship docked in October 2015, the Amber Cove Cruise Center has been welcoming more than 5,000 passengers per week to Puerto Plata while adding hundreds of workers to the region’s payroll.

When passengers disembark, their first sight is a verdant mountain range, which provides a scenic backdrop as they make their way into the 30-acre port.

Carnival Valor visits Amber Cove Cruise Center

Carnival Valor visits Amber Cove Cruise Center

Carnival Corporation’s $65 million development was designed with architectural elements that blend the bright and breezy Caribbean style with the North Shore’s colonial heritage, such as distinctive turrets similar to those at nearby San Felipe Fort, a 16th century landmark in Puerto Plata.

Named after the fossilized resin that’s common in the area, Amber Cove offers an extensive shore excursion program with dozens of landside experiences for passengers to enjoy during their daylong stop. Choices include beaches, water sports and special culinary, cultural and adventure options. Ocean World, one of the region’s largest marine adventure parks, offers guests many ways to experience and interact with a variety of marine animals.

Cruise passengers also have easy access to historic Puerto Plata, named by none other than Christopher Columbus, who established the nearby La Isabela settlement in 1493 during his second visit to the island. In Puerto Plata, visitors can check out museums and artist studios; view classic Victorian architecture; experience rum and cigar factories; or stroll along the scenic malecón, a three-mile, beach-side boardwalk dotted with bars, restaurants and shops.

Passengers who remain at Amber Cove are hardly high and dry. One of the central attractions is a 300,000-gallon pool, complete with swim-up bar surrounded by 30 submerged barstools. A spiral waterslide and zipline are also popular at the Aqua Zone.

Visitors can rent kayaks, standup paddleboards and canoes to explore the blue-green waters of the Bay of Maimón. They can also travel via speedboat to Paradise Island, one of the Caribbean’s top spots for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Passengers can rent over-water bungalows. Photo by Matt Bokor

Rental bungalows are available. Photo by Matt Bokor

For a luxury experience, private bungalows are available for six to 20 guests, complete with the services of a personal chef, bartender and staff. Seven pastel-colored, thatch-roof cabanas are perched over the water, linked by a wooden walkway; others are nestled poolside and hillside.

There’s shopping, of course, such as a Dominican artisan market with a dozen booths stocked with locally produced crafts, amber and larimar jewelry, cigars and coffee among the usual selection of souvenir caps, T-shirts and trinkets. Another four kiosks with Dominican products are sprinkled throughout the development. Plus there are freestanding jewelry, apparel and travel stores, a pharmacy, and a tempting duty-free emporium.

Amber Cove’s drinking and dining options include two full-service Coco Caña restaurants, bars and shops; the hilltop Sky Bar, which offers a panoramic view of the bay, port and pier; and pool-side and cabana-side bars.

Even before it opened, Amber Cove represented an economic shot in the arm for the North Coast, starting with three years of construction to revive Puerto Plata as a cruise destination after a 30-year hiatus. Today some 600 people work there — 92 in port operations and management, with 500-plus at the shops, restaurants and attractions.

Port encompasses 30 acres

Port encompasses 30 acres

Overseeing it all is Amber Cove General Manager Mouen Al Mawla, better known as Mo, a veteran of the hospitality industry — putting to good use his hospitality degree from Cornell University.

Born in Lebanon, Mo was raised in Aruba and has lived in New York, California and Florida. Before becoming Amber Cove’s first general manager, he was director of operations and food and beverage for the Bristol Hospitality Group in Panama.

His global travels had already taken him to La Romana, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo but not until Mo landed the Amber Cove job had he experienced Puerto Plata.

“I came to work, it was my first visit and I fell in love with the place,” he said.

And that’s how the Dominican tourism industry hopes all Amber Cove visitors will react when they discover the North Coast.

Ungodly ordeal ends for mighty Neptune

NeptuneWith trident at his side, mighty Neptune rules the sea once again from his rocky perch just off the beach in Puerto Plata.

Installed in 1971 under the administration of longtime President Joaquín Balaguer, the 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture became known as the guardian of the harbor, the mascot of the community. Even so, the Roman god of the sea endured decades of indignities, including two falls and several amputations by metal thieves, before his recent return to grandeur.

Regional Tourism Ministry Director Lorenzo Sancassi and Ministry Architect Acalia Kunhardt provided a chronology:

Around 1979, Neptune fell but was soon righted, thanks to a generous expatriate (known only as Mr. Charlie) who footed the bill. It wasn’t long before he started a gradual tilt and in finally toppled again onto the jagged rocks.

The fire department hauled the fallen lord to its yard for storage, but metal thieves picked at the languishing sculpture like buzzards on road kill. Trident? Gone. Two fingers, amputated. The tail of the fish on which he rested a foot also vanished. Someone even lopped off Neptune’s manhood.

He found some respite after his transfer from the fire department to the more-secure police department headquarters. As his adoring public grew impatient for his return, Neptune was trucked up to the foot of Mount Isabel de Torres. There, at the base of the scenic Teleférico (cable lift), the long-awaited repairs began.

Neptune stands 22 feet tall atop his craggy islet off Puerto Plata's malecón. Photo by Matt Bokor

Neptune stands 22 feet tall atop his craggy islet off Puerto Plata’s malecón. Photo by Matt Bokor

Metallurgists from nearby Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, worked for five months to replicate Neptune’s missing parts, patch gouges, fix dents and install durable, spine-like supports (namely, three steel pipes filled with concrete). The Teleférico operators, Tourism Ministry and community donations covered the roughly $30,000 repair bill.

Restored and reinforced, Neptune rode down the mountain by truck to the sprawling seaside resort of Playa Dorada for his triumphal return. At five tons, however, Neptune was too heavy for the military helicopter that was enlisted to whisk him home. After being trucked to the city’s port, he traveled by barge to his craggy islet in September 2013.

Secured by four cables and bolted atop a sturdy mount, Neptune underwent another month of adjustments before a festive lighting ceremony formally ended his ungodly ordeal.

Professional lifeguards from Canada train young Dominicans

In an unprecedented effort, several nonprofit, private and diplomatic organizations joined forces recently to train young men and women from the Puerto Plata region in an intensive life saving and first aid course.

Canadian lifeguards oversee a rescue exercise

Canadian lifeguards oversee a rescue exercise at Cabarete Beach. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Participants were the Canadian Embassy in the Dominican Republic; Asociación de Hoteles, Restaurantes y Empresas Turísticas del Norte (ASHONORTE); the Tourism Ministry; Happy Dolphins Project; Dove Mission; and Mariposa Foundation. The program was coordinated by the Caribbean Lifesaving Society, under Kristian Thomas.

During the four-day program, nearly 20 young men and women, all from the North Shore of the Dominican Republic, were trained extensively by expert instructors Scott Keeling, Andrea Gaudet and Kristian Thomas, all from the Royal Lifesaving Society Canada. The Royal Lifesaving Society Canada works to prevent drowning and water-related injury through its training programs, water smart public education, drowning prevention research, safety management and lifesaving sport. The joint work between the Caribbean and Canadian associations has led to the creation of the Caribbean Lifesaving Society.

The training program took place at the pool and beach of Hotel Viva Wyndham Tangerine Cabarete, which offered its premises for this outstanding initiative.

Out of the original group of students, seven were selected for an advanced training session. Members of the Happy Dolphin team, as they were named, met the required standards and were certified in advanced life saving and first aid. This will allow them later to attend the life saving instructor course, as well as the professional lifeguard programs.

All young students received lifesaving certificates in an award ceremony, where several representatives of the participating organizations were present. These included Lorenzo Sancassani, regional tourism director; Ambra Attus, executive director of ASHONORTE; Tim Hall, Honorary Consul of Canada for the North Shore; José Luis Mejía, Viva Wyndham Tangerine manager; Patricia Hiraldo, director of Happy Dolphins Project; and Thomas, president of the Caribbean Lifesaving Association.

“We have established this organization in order to train Dominican youth to become life savers and first responders. This will give them in turn the opportunity to train others,” Thomas said. “We are seeking the support and sponsorship of the International Life Saving Federation. Once we have reached this goal, our joint efforts will have international recognition. We hope to continue with these training courses so that more young instructors will spread the program and keep our coasts and rivers safe.”

Hiraldo said there are well over 300 drowning deaths reported each year at beaches and rivers (other estimates place the number at closer to 1,000). An estimated 70 percent of Dominicans do not know how to swim, even though the country is mostly surrounded by water. Also, these training programs are a powerful platform to turn these young underprivileged women and men into proud community leaders for future generations.

Finally, the initiative seeks to create new job opportunities in hotels and beaches of this beautiful Caribbean naation, which is already one of the top tourist destinations on the planet, especially when it comes to watersports and beach lovers. It is therefore crucial to maintain high safety levels in accordance with international standards.

Student lifesavers celebrate with their Canadian instructors. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Student lifesavers celebrate with their Canadian instructors. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Columbus’ cursed colony 500+ years later

By Matt Bokor

Located on the northwest coast of the Dominican Republic, remnants of the first European town in the Americas tell the story of how Christopher Columbus and his large entourage lived—or tried to—after the Spaniards’ second arrival in 1493.

Cemetery at La Isabela

Cemetery at La Isabela. Photo by Matt Bokor

The admiral named the settlement La Isabela, after his benefactor, Queen Isabela of Spain. However, the seaside spot about 30 miles west of modern-day Puerto Plata didn’t last long.

Visitors to sun-baked La Española National Park, which encompasses the settlement’s relics, will find excavated foundations of homes, a church, storage buildings and several other structures, including Columbus’ citadel and portions of the wall that surrounded the roughly five-acre outpost overlooking the Bay of Isabela.

Perhaps most striking for tourists today are the many gravesites, including one with the skeleton fully exposed.

The informative La Isabela Museum onsite exhibits numerous artifacts and narratives about the settlement’s turbulent, five-year history, which goes like this:

With goals of establishing a Spanish base in the Americas and finding gold and other precious metals, Columbus arrived with a fleet at 17 ships and some 1,500 men, along with horses, pigs, seeds, tools and other materials for carving out a community.

The explorers also introduced rats and diseases—smallpox, measles and typhus—which with warfare and enslavement doomed the native Taino population.

The Spaniards grew increasingly hungry, sick, disillusioned and even mutinous as their crops failed and their gold expeditions proved fruitless; hurricanes in 1494 and 1495 sunk several ships.

By 1498 the settlement had been abandoned in favor of a new location on the south coast—Santo Domingo.

Historical archaeologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History collaborated with the Dirección Nacional de Parques de la República Dominicana and the Universidad Nacional e Experimental Francisco de Miranda in Venezuela to excavate and study La Isabela between 1989 and 1999.

The results of that work can be seen onsite at the La Isabela museum and online at … just type La Isabela in the search field.

National Geographic Television produced the documentary “Columbus’ Cursed Colony” about the debacle at La Isabela in late 2011.

La Española National Park is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; admission is 100 pesos (about $2.50 USD). Guided tours (in Spanish) are available for an additional fee.

Although La Isabela is relatively close to Puerto Plata, the drive takes about 1.5 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

Sosua’s beginnings: a haven for Jews fleeing Hitler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.


Click here to inquire or reserve

Click here for some interesting Facts about Dolphins