It’s funny how things sometimes turn out. You’re expecting something to happen in a certain way, and then the bottom falls out…
It was my second day of vacation, and I had read in a travel guide about a great waterfall in the mountains. I learned it was only about a half- hour away on a motorbike from my hotel on the beach to a small town in the hills, and then a 45-minute hike up to the falls.
This was my first visit to The Dominican Republic. I was already impressed with the varied landscape of the country, and I was excited to make a visit to the cascade. I was hoping for a jungle swim, like I’d imagined at home when I would daydream about another adventure. I easily arranged transportation from a young man I met in the street to give me a ride on the back of his motorcycle, and to pick me up again after a couple of hours of exploring.
After a wild 20-minute ride, we passed through the mountain hamlet and slowed as we approached a colorful hand-painted sign. In large red letters it read "Offical Enrtrince", the misspelling only adding to the charm. Below was drawn a spectacular rendering of an immense waterfall raining down upon a group of very happy-looking visitors. Before the bike even stopped rolling, a smiling middle-aged man called out to me. "Â¡Hola amigo, quiere Ud.! Visitar la cascada?"
"Yes, I came to visit the waterfall," I attempted in my less than adequate Spanish. "Do you speak English?" I asked.
"Yes, a little, my friend," he answered. I surveyed the scene. A young black man sat in one of a few old chairs, in the shade of a tree in the man’s yard. A haggard mule was hanging his sorry head, no doubt regretting my arrival. A braided rope tethered him to one of the lower branches of the tree; a worn homemade saddle of sorts lay on the ground beside the animal.
"My name is Jim," I said offering the man my hand.
"Santiago," he said, lightly grasping my hand.
"We have the same name," I observed. "Jim is short for James, which is Santiago in Spanish," I explained.
Old Jimbo was uninterested. He had other matters on his mind. "You must rent my horse and guide," he informed me. His was the only animal in sight. I pondered the situation.
"I had hoped to walk by myself," I told him. He quickly shook his head.
"No, you can’t do that. It is very far and there are many trails; you don’t know the way." I wondered if he was hustling me. I looked skeptical. He continued, "You must cross the river three times, and the path is steep and muddy. And there may be robbers." The mules’ hooves and forelocks were covered in dried mud, and I noticed a dirty old pair of high rubber boots alongside of one of the chairs. Hmmm… robbers too.
"How much would I have to pay?" I asked.
A big smile. "A special rate for you today, my friend. Two hundred pesos for two hours."
"How long will the trip take?" I inquired.
"You can be back in two hours," He promised.
"So I can go to the waterfall and back on your horse in two hours, and I will pay two hundred pesos, right?" I wanted to be clear, especially after what happened yesterday with the cab ride from the airport…
"Sí, but if you stay at the water too long it can cost you more," he warned me. Fair enough.
"Okay," I told him. He immediately told the man in the chair to saddle up the animal. I calculated in my head as the young man went to work. "Two hundred pesos at around 15 to the dollar… 150 is $10, so 50 is about $3.33 – 13 bucks or so." More than I wanted to spend, since I was sure to go over my $30-a-day budget today, but I was here and wasn’t going back without seeing the falls. I was soon astride my mount, and the guide was tugging mercilessly on the rope in hopes of getting the beast to take even a single step. I was thinking that at this rate I’d have to come up with a million pesos.
"Â¿Que hora es?" the owner called out to someone in the house as we slowly began our journey.
"Tres menos quincey," a female voice answered. Quarter to three. Have to be back well before five in order for my "special rate." I made a mental note.