My Christmas wish was to ride a horse on a tranquil white Caribbean beach.
Did you know that Santa Claus sometimes has a layover in the Atlanta airport? On Christmas Day, I bumped into him and Mrs. Claus on the tram between terminals.
The Dominican Republic lies on the Caribbean island known as Hispaniola, between Cuba and Puerto Rico. The island is roughly divided into western and eastern regions by the most significant mountain range in the Caribbean, the Cordillera Central range – also called the Dominican Alps. The Dominican Republic occupies the east side of the island, and Haiti occupies the west.
Hispaniola shares a turbulent history with many of the Caribbean islands. After Columbus landed in 1492, native islanders were subjugated by Spanish and later French colonists. The African slave trade supplied labor for vast sugar cane and tobacco plantations. Colonial oppression, slave revolts and pirate raids all contributed to centuries of violence and turmoil.
But today the Dominican Republic enjoys peaceful self-government and a prosperous and growing economy based on agriculture and tourism. My destination was Punta Cana, a relatively new developed area on the far eastern tip of the island.
Punta Cana is especially popular with European travelers. The resorts buzzed with the sound of mostly Spanish, German and French languages. Indeed, I heard almost no English at all.
I went snorkeling in the crystal clear water. And when I tried para-sailing for the first time, I was blown away by the view and the utter silence while floating high above the breaking waves. But I saved my most anticipated activity for the last day of my trip: an afternoon of horseback riding on the beach.
I caught a ride from my hotel to the stables, but something seemed wrong almost immediately. We were heading in the opposite direction from the beach. Way, way, way in the opposite direction.
I spent the next hour or so on horseback with a Dominican guide, but we never strayed far from the stables. I was disappointed. The driver finally collected me and a group of German tourists and deposited us unceremoniously on a beach. Without horses.
It took me a while to get it. I had signed up for horseback riding and the beach, not horseback riding on the beach. My mistake.
I wasn’t prepared for sunbathing, so I was marooned without a swimsuit or even a beach towel. I think that the Germans were in the same predicament, but they just took off all their clothes and played in the surf.
Unwilling to skinny-dip with the Germans, I found a quiet spot under a palm tree and settled in. So much for my ocean-side horseback ride. Feeling a little sorry for myself, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
This is the point in the story where I get what I deserve for pouting. I woke up covered in sand fleas.
The Dominicans make a potent, local spirit called Mama Juana. It is concocted by soaking tree bark and herbs in rum, red wine and honey – and it tastes like dirty cough syrup. But it’s handy in a pinch when you need to disinfect flea bites on your ankles. And a few slugs of the stuff will make you forget that you’re miserably itchy.
A horseback ride on the beach is still on my bucket list!