By Barbara Spring
Music, colorful paintings and sculpture, gentle brown people, warm breezes playing over a turquoise bay, make Sosua Beach in the Dominican Republic a delight for all the senses.
The Dominican Republic, a green, tropical Caribbean country, covers two thirds of the island of Hispanolia. The other third is Haiti. Some 500 years ago Christopher Columbus discovered this tropical paradise. The island has changed since then, but we were happy to discover the real pleasures of Sosua and its surroundings.
We carried home some treasures from the booths on Sosua Beach: curious carvings, paintings, and jewelry made from amber and a blue colored stone found on the island called larimar.
I bargained with a young man for a mahogany carving of a black woman encircled with fish and birds and a stone carving of a lizard sunning itself on a rock. On the beach we bought a sea turtle carved from petrified wood, typical
of Dominican Republic art. In addition, jewelry made of silver and blue larimar, and a black stone called hematite.
In nearby Puerto Plata, a jewelry factory keeps free lance sellers well stocked.
Everywhere we went we caught the rhythms of the merengue, the country's official music often played by a three piece band on accordion, drum and a metal rasp that looks something like a kitchen cabbage grater. The beat is infectious and people dance the merengue joyfully.
"Our people like to have a good time to forget they are poor," Pedro, a young native of the country told us.
We liked the people we met. Women carrying Carmen Miranda like baskets of fruit on their heads asked us softly if we would like to buy a banana? a
pineapple perhaps? A coconut? Young girls offered to braid our hair with colorful beads. These black women wore their hair in small braided corn rows.
"On you it looks good, but not us," I smiled. We saw tourists sporting little braids with multicolored plastic beads.
While in the Dominican Republic we enjoyed the cuisine, especially the fine desserts for this is a sugar growing economy. The waiters brought us cafe au lait asking "More meelk? Orange juice?"
We found the tropical climate and the natives caused us to slow down and to relax in a way that would not have been possible at home.
We enjoyed the beaches with turquoise colored waters and long rollers people rode on surfboards. A snorkeling trip we were counting on was scrubbed to high waves, and my husband didn't catch any fish on his charter trip out to sea. We didn't care. Bright colored tropical flowers bloomed everywhere and natives walked up and down the beach carrying long silvery fish and machetes.
From our hotel we took a horseback ride into the hilly, forested countryside where the people lived in colorfully painted houses with separate buildings for cooking. Sweet young children offered to sell us flowers along the way. My horse was slow and the guide urged it on with a small switch and shouting" Ariba ariba" as we rode along. Some large rocks near a stream where we swam glittered aqua blue in the sunlight. I believe the rocks contained the semi-precious larimar that I had purchased.
Our guide, who looked a lot like a young Harry Belefonte, was knowledgeable about his country and could speak five languages. On the last day he led us through the streets of Puerto Plata where we had planned on taking a cable car to the top of the mountain. The cable car was not running due to high winds, so we went to the fort and visited the amber museum instead. All the time Pedro chatted with us about his country and found the best places to get refreshments.
The Dominican Republic is a poor country but it is also a gem in the rough with its beaches, forests, flowers and the local people who were unfailingly courteous and good humored. It's a great place to unwind.