The last four weeks have whizzed by in a blur of washing, catching up on Coffeesh0p and yet more wedding parties (you can never have enough!) but I’ve finally found time to sit down and write about our honeymoon. Now I just have to hope that some of you out there are still interested and that I can remember anything about it!
We went to Bayahibe, a pretty touristy resort on the south east coast of the Dominican Republic. Our hotel was frickin’ sweet, 5* all inclusive and right on the beach, with only one more hotel along the coastline between us and the completely uninhabited south east tip of the island, which is a huge nature reserve.
Just off this coast is the island of Saona, and our visit to there was quite possibly the best day of our lives and the highlight of the holiday. We had heard that the reefs there were the second best in the world (after the Great Barrier reef) so we just had to check it out and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The trip itself was brilliant, the staff were fantastic and we downed rum after rum on the boat while listening to (would you believe it?) the Trentmøller remix of Go by Moby – one of our favourite tracks. John had a good old boogie on the boat before realising he was being filmed and promptly stopping, but we bought a DVD of the trip so it’s now immortalised on film forever, no doubt to resurface for embarrassment purposes at some future birthday party or to show to the kids to prove we were young and cool once. We saw eagle rays and moray eels and other, much prettier sea creatures like enormous starfish, angel fish and sea urchins.
Lunch was on the breathtaking Saona Island – filming location of the iconic Bounty ads – and was delicious, ate overlooking the Caribbean Sea and covered in butterflies! The afternoon was spent in the amazing ‘natural swimming pool’ – a football pitch sized patch of shallow water, far out from the coast. Ironically, being miles from anywhere, this was probably the busiest place we went during the entire honeymoon! The water was clear and beautiful, about chest height (on me, but I’m a short arse) and the bottom was covered in huge, hard starfish – not like the crap squidgy ones we get in this country. Here, the staff on the boat turned the music up loud and we drank rum and coke and ate fresh coconuts that had been picked on Saona Island earlier. It’s safe to say it couldn’t have got much more Caribbean than that! Later on in this trip we’d break our camera, get incredibly pissed and emotional and a little bit sunburnt, and when we got home I spent an hour sobbing and exclaiming ‘that was the best day of my life!’…but the less said about that part, the better.
There was also some amazing sights to be seen in the sea just off the hotel’s beach – we saw a sting ray about 6 foot out from the beach, followed it round for a bit and made a large and rather obnoxious British family shit their pants and drag their kids back on to dry land when their nosiness got the better of them and they asked what we were looking at. Another amazing experience was feeding the fish just off the beach – turns out they eat bread (who knew?) and wading into the water with a roll or two causes hundreds of beautiful fish to swarm around you, jumping out of the water and stuff, it was absolutely incredible and we even borrowed snorkels so we could get underwater and in on the action.
Another awesome trip was to the capital city, Santo Domingo. We had the most fantastic tour guide called José who referred to his wife as ‘Fidellia Castro’ the entire day and talked about how wives were the bosses of the households in the Dominican Republic just like everywhere else in the world – all in the most good humoured and loving way possible of course! We were embarrassingly clueless about the place before we went on this trip, so here’s the history lesson: Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus and was the first place to be settled in the Americas. It boasts the first cathedral, chapel, hotel and just about everything in the New World. The Catedral Santa María La Menor, for example, is older than ANYTHING in the USA. The city’s modern history has been pretty turbulent, and it even had a different name from 1930-61 – “Ciudad Trujillo”, after the country’s dictator. He was eventually assassinated, but not before much bloodshed and 30 years of an oppressive and unpopular regime. To put this guy in a bit of context, there were extravagant gifts in the old mausoleum that had been sent to Trujillo from Hitler and Mussolini…so not a nice dude. That this period is still in living memory seems obvious, as does the rest of their history with links to Christopher Columbus, the slave trade and so on. In our experience, Dominicans are SUPER proud of their country, their heritage and their past, warts and all. It’s a very refreshing attitude and we enjoyed finding out all about it in an open and matter-of-fact way. The ancestors of a lot of the population, for example, arrived as slaves – and whilst we all know that this was a terrible time in history and many abhorrent acts were carried out towards these people, that is how they ended up there and that’s that. That something isn’t pleasant doesn’t make it any less true, and I really liked that quality that we found in so many of the people there. They were also very patriotic but not in the mental, nationalistic way you seem to get in the US and UK – they said things like ‘my capital city’ even if they didn’t live there, and thanked tourists for visiting ‘my beautiful country’. Overall, people were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and often even seemed grateful to the tourists for even going there in the first place. But then, it’s not long ago that Dominican Republic was a third world country, and thanks to the recent earthquake we’ve all seen on the news that it’s neighbour, Haiti, most definitely still is. Tourism has transformed the country and they seem thankful and proud to show it off – as well they should, because it’s so beautiful. It has the typical breathtaking Caribbean beaches as well as jungles, rainforests, coral reefs, bustling cities and Western style shopping precincts for the rich and famous – a bit of everything. I really don’t know why it’s not as popular as some of the other Caribbean Islands which, as far as I can tell, tend to be less diverse in their ecosystems and landscapes.
As well as the cathedral, we visited numerous significant buildings and places, including the first road to be built in the New World, the palace of Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego, and some stunning caves known as ‘the three eyes’ which featured beautiful, turquoise underground lakes (unfortunately this was post-camera-breakage so we don’t have any good photos of these. Boo!) We also bought the tiniest, most expensive piece of rock ever but it was totally worth it – a teardrop shaped chunk of amber (a Dominican specialty) with a 60 million year old bug in it. It set us back nearly £300 but still, there can’t be that many 60 million year old bugs floating around. Other purchases worth noting are of course the ubiquitous rum and cigars, which were so frickin’ cheap we ended up buying about double our customs limit and having to squeeze it all in our cases for the journey back. We had no trouble there, thank goodness, although we did see an hilarious stereotypical indignant American couple arguing with customs. They appeared to be the only people in the whole world who haven’t heard of the ‘no liquid in your hand luggage’ thing and loudly failed to grasp why their litres and litres of rum were being thrown away. Just as an indication of price, some pretty awesome 40-odd % rum was around £5 for a 70cl bottle – bargain! We drank plenty while we were there and also discovered some crazy Dominican aphrodisiac called Mamajuana, which John has since christened as ‘rum-hypnol’ (not because of anything rude, you filthy buggers…but because the only time I drank some was when I was already horribly drunk and I basically lost around 3 hours then passed out. The next day I actually thought I was dying of some tropical disease because the hangover was so bad). Basically mamajuana seems to be a mixture of herbs which are soaked in red wine, then honey and rum, then drained – this leaves you with the sex rum which you then drink. Or something like that. It’s delicious so keep your eyes peeled on Coffeesh0p as we’re hoping to source some of the herbs from somewhere at some point soon as no one sells them in the UK at the moment. Oh and John bought a SINGLE cigar for £20. That had better be one awesome cigar.
Last but not least, our other trip worth mentioning was to go and swim with dolphins! The place itself was a complete rip off and the staff were the most miserable shits we had ever come across – but once we were in the water with the dolphins those feelings just evaporated and it really was all the clichés you can imagine. We’ve never been that interested – as in, we’re not one of the many people to whom swimming with dolphins is the absolute pinnacle of being – so more than anything we got the opportunity to do it and we just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And would you believe it, Mr and Mrs cynic here just totally “got it”. It was incredible, and I’m now totally a dolphin convert. Do it if you ever get the chance.
Other than that, we spent a fortnight lazing on the beach, drinking so much rum it’s a wonder we’re still alive, eating amazing food, swimming every day in the sea and the huge pool (which happened to have a bar in it), and generally just relaxing. It was the most fantastic two weeks we could have hoped for (apart from the bastard camera breaking) and we’re incredibly glad that our ‘ah, fuck it, it’s our honeymoon’ attitude won out over our tight-fisted, sensible attitude. After all, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity…although having said that, you are all heartily encouraged to buy plenty from us in order to help us afford to go again 😉