When it comes to welcome parties, the Dominican Republic could write a book on the subject.
They even go so far as to welcome an airplane pulling into their airports. Last November, when we traveled with JetBlue as it made its inaugural flight from JFK Airport in New York to El Catey International Airport in the northeast coast Samana peninsula, they were ready for our arrival. Fireboats pulled up to the plane, and just before we all began to think this meant some sort of emergency, they gave us a "water cannon salute," an arc of water jetting over our plane in a spectacular welcome spray.
Following this, as we taxied toward the terminal, our pilots waved both Dominican and American flags. JetBlue, it turns out, is the official airline for the Dominican Republic, now landing at no fewer than six different airports in that country. Samana was just their newest port, where they'll be flying directly from JFK every Wednesday and Saturday now, and what a wonderful unspoiled nature haven it is, boasting mountains, waterfalls and unspoiled beaches throughout the region. Samana is where the Cominicans themselves go for vacation.
Dominicans in costume began singing and dancing as we entered the terminal and we began to see that God has given these people the DNA to make the smooth, serpentine movements of the merengue and bachata without dance lessons; it comes naturally, it seems to each and every one of them. A ceremonial cake, champagne and more refreshments followed inside the airport whie the singing and dancing continued. would that every country welcomed its visitors in such a warm way!
We were headed to the Puerto Bahia, a luxury Bannister Hotel. It sits so close to its marina that the front lobby is entirely open to the water, no window or wall separating us from the boats or, in our case, the small American movie company that was in the process of filming "Cabin Fever," an action story replacing char chases with boat chases. It's a full service marina, and we met sailors from around the world here who were stopping on their way from Caribbean ports to the U.S. and Canada.
From the front of the hotel, you can jump into a motorboat that takes you across Samana Bay into the most important mangrove estuaries in the country, and on to the caves of Los Haitises National Park, where you can stop out into a series of limestone caves revealing pre-Colombian Taino Indian art, bats, picographs and petroglyphs, and more than 100 species of birds. Bromeliad orchids are everywhere.
This was just one of the treasures of this region which is not (yet) as well known to American travelers as are the golf courses of Punta Cana and the caital city of Santo Domingo. But golf courses are coming to Samana, too, not that this region needs any more attractions than it already has. The Balcones Del Atlantico Hotel boasts Samana's first golf course, of nine holes.
We were advised by Tomas Hungria of the pretty Vista Mare Samana after dinner and Cominican cigars at his hotel, that "everyone who visits the DR must do three things:
Learn a little Spanish,
Have Presidente beer, and
Do the merengue."
We did, we did, we did. You should, too.