Quicker turnaround than usual for the second part, as we resume our story in the seat right behind the pilot on a vinyl-wrapped seat in Santiago, about to head to the 27 Charcos. Nos vamos.
Usually when you’re on a local guagua at a main stop, men with boxes or bags come on to sell their food products or sunglasses; generally fruit, coconut or sesame candy bars, chips, etc. This time there was a guy at the window selling rolls. They looked like wheat rolls and only cost 10 pesos, so I bought 5. Great purchase, as they were pretty filling (breakfast), tasted a bit like coffee cake, and held well as a post-game snack. ‘No’ isn’t always the answer for street vendors. On our way to the charcos, absolutely nothing notable that I can remember happened, which brought my “consecutive bus rides without an issue” streak to a record-shattering three.
Our guide intern directed us to get off at a rocky path off the side of the road, then laughed at us and drove off. Really cool, Caitlin.
Just kidding, she knew where she was going and we took a rocky path off the side of the road to the main site of the waterfall tour guides. It was more organized than I thought it would be, having a full bar, tourism packets, concierge, gift shop, a well-stocked equipment area, and a huge bathroom with many urinals, even outdoor ones (! – I was so excited I used them all). We paid the ticket price (500 pesos) and I bought a disposable waterproof camera. Despite being made by the company, this was not one of those dinosaurs where you instantly could take the slide out and shake it like a polaroid picture. We strolled over to the equipment tent, and got fitted for life jackets, helmets, and water shoes. I picked out a yellow helmet, yet the fact that I was shirtless and had a white life jacket meant that I was unable to pretend like I was on Legends of the Hidden Temple. By the way, I didn’t have to pick out water shoes because of my super-cool 5 Fingers, which did not disappoint in their encore performance. After a few minutes of waiting, we were introduced to our two guides, Gary and “I-Forget”. Sorry, IForget, but you didn’t amuse me enough to have your name imprinted.
Leaving the encampment, we gave our tickets and were led to a pretty large hanging wooden bridge that swayed. I used this time and extensive pop-culture knowledge to say to myself “What is your favorite color? Blue, no yello-ahhhhhhhhhhh”. I’m funny when I pretend to be two characters in a Monty Python movie. Following the bridge, we did a lot of path walking and came to a creek. The guides stopped and proceeded to rub a couple clay rocks together to get a paste. They made awesome war paint markings on each of our faces to get us ready for the battle we were about to enter
while chanting various Illuminati hymns.Continuing on, we came to the first and last waterfall, our starting point. We swam through the first pool and got to a ledge, giving me flashbacks of the last time I tried getting up to a waterfall. The guides were already up there and helped us up, and then we scaled another ladder to start the hike.
Since we had chosen Door Number Hard to do the journey, we would be going through most of the hike up along and in the river, and up the waterfalls we would later jump down. The other option (Door Number Lame) was to hike the mountain path and just meet the river at the top. Much of the travels were pretty easy, mixed with using knotted rope to scale a natural waterslide, a couple ladders, and just plain keeping your balance as you climb places. The scenery was perfect, just the right amount of light in between the canopies on either side of the river. The water was cool but as with anything, we got used to it. Anyways, we climb and repeat for a couple hours, the guides eerily good at imitating bird and nature noises, and able to make the trip with their eyes closed. Eventually, we got to an offshoot which went up at a steep incline for about 15 minutes, taking us to the first waterfall. This was a deep bowl of clear water, with an entrance sloped on either side connecting it to the river, and walls at about 30 feet at the peak. The way to get to a jumping point is swimming to the sloped wall, taking a rope, and walking up using your weight as the counter-balance. You can dive in, roll in, backflip in, however you want it.
Then the trek started down. Other than the usual river-walking, we learned a new word, not necessarily Dominican. You can find that at the bottom. A highlight of the 27 jumps down was one that was in a little bend of a canyon about 6 feet wide. The jump was 30 feet and there was rock jutting out, so you really had to time it. If you were too scared, too bad because you had just scaled with your knees brushing the rock and hands grasping nylon for 15 yards then slid on your ass 10 feet down to the ledge you were at. Another few jumps were actually natural waterslides, one was about 15 feet long with a 7 foot drop at the end, another curved around, and one ended the whole adventure. There was one part where it was a 20 foot drop into a pool, then you climb out to jump another 20 feet into another one, to climb out and go down to a waterslide, no hiking in between.
After the last jump (one where you had to run down the slide halfway then leap off into the great blue yonder, we headed back to camp. After deciding not to spend 200 pesos on lunch, we went up to the road and caught a guagua back, most of us sleeping for the hour and a half journey. I could tell you about the rest of Santiago that night, about the monument and the dinner and the like-dead sleep, but it’s kind of a buzzkill after the 27 charcos. If you’re ever in the Dominican Republic, you have to check it out. If you’re here at the same time I am, I’ll drop everything and go with you.
Listening: Brothers, The Black Keys
Reading: American Theocracy
Learning: Lucky You, Green Eyes, etc.
Dominicanismo: Belibiri (Phonetic like bayleebiree really fast) – Not even close to the official Spanish translation, but Gary said it meant ‘slippery’, and it’s fun to say.