After an early breakfast of French toast and cereal, we finished cleaning, packing, and loading up the car for the return trip to the Duncans’ home in Esperanza. The winding ride back through the mountains differed greatly from our previous excursion. Oh, the vast expanses of scenery that met our view! Oh, the beauty of craggy peak and verdant vale! Oh, the glorious sunshine that illuminated it all! And oooohhhhhhhhh, the motion sickness…
Thankfully, we had already planned to make several stops along the way. At the parking area of a nature trail in Jarabacoa, we spent several minutes just recuperating, thankful that neither the 1,037-mile-per-hour rotation nor the 66,000-mile-per-hour revolution of the ground beneath our feet was having any effect on our inner-ear fluid. Earlier, driving through the nauseating twists, we had passed a cargo truck that contained 3 men standing in the back clinging to a metal grate behind the cab. How do they manage?!
When we finally felt up to it, we started walking along the concrete path that we later recognized as actually being the cover of an aqueduct. To our right, the side of a cliff, displaying sheets of mineral in some places and curtained with clusters of foliage and vines in others, provided shade for the majority of the way. To our left, breaks in the tangled jungle revealed glimpses of rushing water leap-frogging over rocks far below.
The trail divided into two options. On one side, the cover of the aqueduct began an upward climb; on the other side, stone steps descended the side of the cliff. We decided to ascend first. The walkway morphed into a staircase, which led to a dam at the top of a waterfall. Perched high atop the concrete barrier, hands resting on the warm metal wheel of a delightfully mechanical contraption, eyes following the line of the stairs buried in the raw rock jutting from the earth, conscious of the exotic plants and sounds surrounding us in every direction, I experienced the surrealistic sense that we had been transported to an ancient world of the Myst universe. I gave the rusted wheel an experimental tug and was almost surprised when it didn’t yield with the squealing sound effect that Ben and I have heard so often!
I think one of the contributing factors of the illusion was the complete lack of guardrails, handholds, warning signs, or other safety features that are irrelevant, therefore often non-existent, in a computer game but ubiquitous in the United States!
Next, we backtracked to the fork in the trail and descended the stone steps. My trepidation rose in inverse proportion to our falling altitude – in this case, I knew that what goes down must come back up! When we reached the bottom, I discovered that the side of the cliff prevented us from actually seeing the waterfall. Piles of bags and shoes suddenly sprouted at the water’s edge as everyone else waded into the muddy brown water for a better view.
I considered following them, but when I thought about legs and feet without DEET or sunscreen exposed to mosquitoes and UV rays; followed by water, mud, and who knows what else; followed by the question of wet, dirty feet in shoes vs barefoot trek back to the car… on the other hand, though, I could actually see the spray from the waterfall blowing past the edge of the cliff, tantalizing me with the proximity of what was meant to be the highlight of our hike.
I turned to look in the other direction, and found a section of land strewn with boulders that extended into the water quite possibly far enough to remove the obstructing wall of rock from my line of sight. I tackled the obstacle course one-handed, clutching our camera, and my persistence received rich reward.
I returned to the foot of the steps before anyone noticed that I was missing. There I contented myself with watching the others and taking a closer look at my surroundings. Jessica gave up trying to roll her pant legs high enough and came back soaked from the knees down; Arianna sat in the water. (The two of them made a soggy pile of themselves in the middle of the back seat later!)
The rich colors and uniformly uneven surface of the huge masses of rock jutting from the cliff and from the ground captured my attention. I leaned closer and reached out, letting my fingertips explore the unending mountain range beneath them. Amusement parks in the US will mimic such formations in plastic to create an ambiance of rugged wilderness; I marveled as the real thing delighted my senses.
Ben had noticed the rocks, too, so we admired them together. “Can’t you see this one in our front yard?” I quipped. “It would be the perfect basking spot for my Komodo dragon!” I pictured one of the huge monitor lizards on the boulder by our house, head alert, gazing into the eyes of would-be trespassers. Yep, there certainly was enough room up there for him. In fact…
Eventually, we had to tackle the return climb. Just the thought of trying to charge straight up by sheer tenacity made my legs burn! Eying the greater-than-usual width of the steps, I decided on a different approach. While Celia encouraged Arianna ahead of me step by step, I planted my feet a bit more than shoulder width apart, bent my knees, and slowly but steadily threw my weight from one side to the next, from one stair to the next. I probably looked ridiculous waddling up the side of the cliff like that, but it worked! I made it to the top with no burning, no hyperventilating, and no tunnel vision. Score!
To appreciate the account of our next few hours requires some background information: 1. our pastor loves Latin American coffee, 2. we love our pastor, and 3. we had agreed to bring back 10 pounds of Latin American coffee for him. Now, while he did say that anything sold on the island would be better than anything sold in America, I refer you to point 2 above. I didn’t ask Celia where we could get coffee, I asked Celia where we could get the best coffee. Hence our stop at a little restaurant in Jarabacoa that sells vacuum-sealed packages of organic, locally-grown coffee beans.
When we told the proprietor what we were looking for, she handed us over to one of her workers. That’s when we encountered the unique cultural experience of being Americans in the Dominican Republic carrying on a conversation in English with a young Scandinavian lady from Germany! She brought us sample bags of what they had available, and we made a selection and requested 13 pounds, ground. (Eric and Donna, overhearing our conversation with Celia earlier, had asked us to bring back 3 pounds for them.)
With a noticeable air of distressed apology, our coffee sales representative informed us that at the moment, they only had 4 bags prepared (only 12 ounces each) of roasted and ground beans of any kind. And that their roaster had broken recently, leaving them only a small stash of roasted beans. And that since they were currently without electricity, they wouldn’t even be able to grind what they did have in stock! We could, however, ask at the public cafe at the school next door, which sold their brand of coffee by the bag…
We left the restaurant with 3 pounds down and 10 pounds to go. At the cafe, we spotted 7 more bags, but then realized – thankfully, before we paid for them all – that only 2 of them contained ground beans. We pulled out of Jarabacoa that day with 8.5 pounds remaining in The Great Coffee Quest, engaged in a lively strategy session about when and where to continue the search.
In the parking lot at the school, we ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for lunch. Then, as we drove, Celia passed dessert around: cream-filled chocolate cookies and a chocolate candy bar that contained cacao nibs. I particularly liked the candy bar; the rich cacao nibs made a delicious contrast with the milder milk chocolate.
Next, we stopped at a hardware store to buy more parts for the water heater installation. I went inside with Jared and Ben to use the restroom and ended up trailing along behind them through the store, helping to carry things. As I listened to the guys participate in a multilingual discussion with an employee about the objects piling up in, and sometimes leaving, my hands, I felt a keen awareness of the great distance between me and my usual realm of experience – even in English, I don’t speak plumber!
We arrived at the Duncans’ home in the evening and spent some time unloading the car and putting things away. We didn’t start talking about dinner until late. By that point, the idea of buying a meal from a local restaurant and bringing it back to the house appealed to all of us, but Jared still felt unwell after the day’s driving and wondered if he was coming down with an illness. We didn’t want him to have to go anywhere else.
Therefore, Jessica and I helped Celia make dinner: turkey burger, green beans amandine, and garlic mashed potatoes. Delicious. Even in the middle of the Dominican Republic winter season, the open flame of the gas stove heated the immediate vicinity to an uncomfortable degree. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in a kitchen there in the soaring temperatures of summer.
Although we had thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn in the mountains of Constanza, I noticed how glad I felt to be back in Esperanza. There were more people around us…