On my return to Santo Domingo, I left a few days to explore Barahona, the ultimate 44 road trip, with limestone cliffs falling to the frothing Caribbean Sea. The landscape exudes a lushness hinting at the presence of the Bahoruco range, whose dry woods, massive evergreens, and tropical cloud forest form part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Five rivers run from the mountains to pebble beaches, some with excellent surf breaks and protected swimming areas formed by inshore reefs.
The river towns of Los Patos and San Rafael are especially festive on weekends as families gather to swim in the freshwater inlets. I passed through another town, Paraíso, on a market day (Sunday and Wednesday), when the streets overflow with vendors selling everything from avocadoes to cellphones.
Second homes of politicians dot the Bahoruco hillsides. Businessman Polibio Schiffino’s grandfather Polibio Díaz summered on his cattle ranch here. Today, his employees’ descendants still work on the property, transformed by the third Schiffino generation into a luxury inn, Casa Bonita ($205 a night), where I enjoyed my first hot shower and artisanal bread in weeks.
On a day trip from here to Cachote ($65), I jolted for 15 miles up the horrid Cienaga Cachote road to 4,250 feet above sea level, hiking literally in the clouds. At the approach to the Canto del Jilguero nature center, an unpleasant smell came from the woods. When I mentioned this to Martiano Moreta Matos, an environmental leader who introduced sustainable farming to the Cachote coffee growers, he knew what I was talking about. “It’s a medicinal plant believed to prevent diabetes,” he said.
The community’s 30 growers take turns guiding visitors on the hiking trails. “We used to cut down trees to grow coffee. Now we preserve them,” Matos said.
Another day I went in search of larimar mines. A Dominican artisan, Miguel Méndez, is said to have discovered bits of semi-precious blue larimar on a Bahoruco beach in the 1970s. The 9-mile trip to the mines ($65), on a road only nominally better than the Cienaga Cachote, leads to Las Chupaderos, where 50 or more holes surround the pueblo. US and European investors finance the drilling, while the miners are paid by the pound for the stones they unearth. Buyers come from as far as China and Japan, purchasing 500 pounds of larimar at a time for as little as $50 a pound. It’s dangerous work, as I saw touring a 75-foot mine shaft. The operations are entirely informal.
“You dig it, you own it,” a foreman explained, showing us some stones. Rinsed, they looked like pieces of the Caribbean. How do they decide where to dig? “They just know,” he said.
On my last day, leaving luxurious Casa Bonita to wait for the guagua back felt a little like being Cinderella after the ball. But on the bus, packed together with Dominicans sharing their cassava chips and rock songs, I felt fine.
Friends who have been to the Dominican resort coasts here say they are in no hurry to return. We had barely pulled out of Barohuco, and I didn’t want to leave.
Patricia Borns can be reached at email@example.com.