This morning, Paulina obtained a taxi for the day and met us on the road leading out of the marina. It was a seven passenger minivan and we would have nine people total including the driver. I guess we’ll find out just how much we all like each other today.
started us off with a tour of a cacao plantation and factory. Upon seeing these trees with the bizarre pods growing of the trunk and main branches, I would never have guessed you could make chocolate from it. The pods look kind of like a squash from the outside. It was interesting to see the processing of this fruit (?).
First we had to don our stylish new hats, which Greg (Mile High Dream), Francois and Vanessa (Why Knot IV) just rocked. I mean really, look at Vanessa. She is just adorable in anything!
Dave and I, not so much. Inside, the beans were dried and heated.
Then ground up. From here the beans were processed in various ways to make different products.
Some went into a fermenting process to make wine. Some were made into bars for cooking, which made some of the most delicious hot chocolate ever. Some made a balm for healing things like bug bites and scrapes. Some were sold in bean form in jars. These only required a drying and heating process.
After seeing the inside, we toured the outside, where Paulina showed us what a mature pod looked like (pictured at top of page). Cacao trees were everywhere and their fruits plentiful. This women’s organization would certainly keep busy processing these beans!
Our factory guide opened a pod to show us the white fruit that surrounds the cacao beans. This fruit was very similar in look and texture to the mangosteen we tried in Thailand, though I don’t think those beans/seeds are used for anything other than growing more trees. The fruit was sweet, but I didn’t taste a hint of chocolate like Vanessa experienced on a previous tour of another cacao orchard. Next, we purchased a few items and crammed back into our taxi to visit the Twenty-seven Waterfalls.
Let me just start this section by saying that if it were in the United States, the government would shut it down. Because apparently Americans can’t do anything without the government necessarily passing laws to protect us from ourselves. Twenty-Seven Waterfalls (_agua) is a natural water park of rock, creeks, pools, and waterfalls with hiking trails set up to reach the top. These trails are enhanced with hanging bridges and wooden stairs with handrails. You can choose to do 5, 12, or all 27 waterfalls. When we arrived, we really didn’t understand what we were in for. We knew to wear our bathing suits to go in the water, but as we watched sample videos at the kiosk we learned we would do much more than swim. Once you hike up, the way down is via jumping or sliding down the waterfalls. Period. I guess before you do the first one, you could chicken out and follow the trail back, but once you made the initial jump there was only one way down. Of course, we all decided to do all 27, like the dumb Americans (and Canadians) we are. The hike was about one hour fifteen minutes in the heat of the day with 94% humidity.
The first jump was 15 feet and very scary for me because I am afraid of heights (not the jump pictured above). I didn’t pause to think about it, just jumped on the countdown as instructed. “Do a cannonball,” the guide said. I tried, but it was a mistake. If anyone goes, jump straight with your feet first. My bottom smacked with a solid belly-flop sound and was sore for the rest of the day. The water was cold, maybe 65-70 degrees, but after the hot and sweaty hike the cold was a welcomed respite.
Since the rock formations are naturally carved by the water, they are not manufactured slide smooth. Dave also acquired some bumps and bruises along the way, but agreed that they were well worth it. Some of the jumps and slides got your adrenaline pumping. Some were mellow and others just plain fun.
It was a riot watching some of the landings, especially from the slides. The force of the water make push your body unexpectedly and you nearly do a face plant below. There was a good reason we had to wear helmets! No one was seriously injured, despite was the US would suggest would happen. However, this was definitely a grown up water park. A couple families brought their kids aged 12 and under, who were afraid to make the jumps or slides. The friendly and helpful guides would scoop them up and scale the sides of the waterfall and release them from a much lower position. This looked much more dangerous than just making the jumps/slides.
The current decreases as the area opened wider, but as soon as it narrowed again the force of the current could pull your bikini bottoms right off. Trust me, I know. I’m partially down a slide and the guide yells at me to stand up and jump off. “Espera, espera!” (Wait, wait) I yell back as I hastily try to right my errant swimsuit. Once again decently covered, I had no problem standing and jumping. At least I gave everyone in our group a good story to tell. Haha! On the last big jump, I lost my sunglasses and they never surfaced. The waterfall kept the water churning and we could not find them. I informed the guides, but knew they were gone for good. Sunglasses are getting thin, since Dave lost a pair in the Bahamas and is using my sporting pair. These were my non-sporty REI sunglasses, not cheap but not as expensive as my other ones. Time to move on and finish the falls, we started walking. Suddenly a guide appears with my glasses. He dove under the falls and found them somehow in the churning water. Amazing! Big tip earned!
We worked up an appetite and decided to stop for lunch before our next adventure (possibly ziplining). Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture, but we had stopped for snacks at the above mini mercado (market) on the way to the falls for drinks and snacks. It looks like a typical Dominican 7-11. We found that there are no quick meals in the DR. Each meal is on island time and can take a couple hours. Lunch was no exception and, as we sat there visiting and reminiscing over our last adventure, we started to feel the strain of the day in our muscles. The heat once again started to sap our energy and then food coma just finished us off.
We were all wiped out. It was unanimous, the day was done. We needed to stop by the supermercado (super market) for beer and produce, then would just return to the marina. We all (9 including the driver) piled back into the taxi, a mini van, for some final togetherness. We will sleep well tonight!