“My dad has a house in Boca de Yuma in the Dominican Republic. You guys are welcome anytime that you want.”
My ears immediately perked up. I was sitting at happy hour, when one of my co-workers began talking about his summer spent at his father’s house in the Dominican. He captivated us with tales of horse-back riding, cave diving, island hopping, laying on the beach drinking milk from a coconut. He painted a perfect island paradise. And when he said those magic words, “you guys are welcome to visit anytime”, other people smiled politely, while I began making travel plans. A couple months later I think he was surprised to get a text message, asking if his offer still stood. He was happy that someone was actually taking him up on his offer.
So I was off to the Dominican Republic. Not to a typical resort town, but to the small town of Boca de Yuma. At first I was a little bit nervous. My Spanish is elementary at best, and I wouldn’t be staying with lots of other tourists or visiting well-worn travel destinations. But, by a miraculous coincidence, my friend’s dad would be in Boca de Yuma during my stay, and he was more than willing to show me around. And even better, he was fluent in Spanish. Looking back I thank God he was there, because I would have had a difficult time on my own. Only one person in the entire town that I met spoke any English. And I know that I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things that I did without the help of my friend’s dad, Jeff.
My first sight of the Dominican Republic was a small, worn-looking town within ten minutes of the airport, with make-shift roofs and curtains blowing in the night breeze. It was around midnight, and my flight had been delayed. But Jeff and I celebrated my arrival by ordering two big bottles of Presidente, a wonderful light beer, and speeding off towards Boca de Yuma with the radio blaring Spanish music and people dancing in the streets.
The ride to Boca de Yuma was about an hour, but Jeff talked about his sight-seeing itinerary for the next few days, and I was happy to surrender all of my plans to this man. When I got to his home, I was surprised to find the house situated on a wide cliff, with a view of the town below and the ocean just beyond. I woke up to the sun rising over the water, and fell asleep every night to the sounds of the town below.
Each day in Boca de Yuma we did something different. The first day we walked down to the water, where for pennies we crossed the bay and made our way to the ocean. I happily slept on the white-sand beaches, alternatively sleeping, reading, and listening to music. A local family came by with a few coconuts, and for a dollar I was treated to delicious refreshing coconut milk.
The next day we went horseback riding through a national park. We explored underground caves and went swimming in grottoes buried underground. Our horses tip toed precariously along the cliff’s edge in town. It was beautiful.
One day, I splurged and took a sailboat out to an island. This was my first time seeing tourists; our guides would say everything in Spanish, French, and Italian, no English. I could tell the demographic of the tourists quickly. The island itself was something like a postcard, not looking very real at all.
Boca de Yuma itself contained a string of restaurants on the waterfront, each serving up fresh fish caught earlier that day. Every night Jeff and I would pick a different restaurant, sample a different selection of fresh fish, drinking wine, looking at the stars and the ocean, and talking about life.
The pace was beautifully slow in this small town. People smiled at Jeff and I, and Jeff always had short conversations with everyone, introducing me and explaining my visit. There aren’t many Americans that come to visit Boca de Yuma.
Despite the town’s beauty, I still was very much aware that I was not in a resort town. Poverty could be seen everywhere. The houses were slowly falling apart, children ran around, offering to watch your car so someone wouldn’t steal it (for the cost of a dollar its better just to have a child watch the car, at least that is what Jeff told me), store front windows were barred, and I felt very separated from the locals. They were always friendly, but I felt wealthy when I went out at night in town (something that I am not used to feeling in the Us on my ‘meager’ teacher’s salary). I hated myself a little bit when I saw older children walking in the street with nothing on but a white shirt wrapped around their private parts. The divide between the wealthy and the poor was so painstakingly obvious.
I only spent three days in Boca de Yuma, and how much can one really know about a place after three days? It made me happy that I didn’t go to a resort, not that I have anything against them, they bring in much needed money to countries like the Dominican Republic, and offer plenty of employment opportunities. But I loved visiting a more authentic, local town with a guide, even if it did make me feel a little bit sad, and a little bit uncomfortable. Because, traveling is supposed to make you feel that way.
You should feel uncomfortable, you should question your own values and morals, your own country’s way of doing things. We travel to learn and to experience a different way of life. And I certainly did on my visit to Boca de Yuma.