PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — When we pull up to the 5.5-hectare farm of Maria Del Rosario and her husband Quino Peña, I can smell the coffee beans roasting.
In the farmhouse kitchen, daughter Marleny stirs a bubbling lentil stew. Outside, tiny granddaughter Kiara chases a kitten among the coffee, cocoa, mango, banana and lemon trees.
I have escaped the beach-and-bar scene of a standard Dominican Republic all-inclusive vacation thanks to my friend Javier Ortez Golibart.
“I’ll show you the countryside; you can meet my friends,” he announced when he picked me up from the Gran Bahia Principe Ambar, a 528-room, five-star resort with gardens, pools, restaurants, spa and a golden beach.
Why “escape” from this? For me, it was a desire to see beyond the beaches of Bavaro and Punta Cana, popular, packaged havens where you are elbow to elbow with other Canadians.
In Javier’s pickup truck we headed north along a highway bordered by lush vegetation punctuated by small farms and quiet villages. Soon we turned off to follow a rugged route up Anamuya Mountain, where the scenery was rolling fields and towering trees; rustic fences bordered properties where horses roamed; and children along the road were common.
At the farm I am soon chatting with the Peña family — Maria understands English, but answers in Spanish, and Javier translates.
The tiny house is spotless. A solar panel on the roof is its power source. The kitchen is separate so that it doesn’t overheat the house — the average daily temperature here is 26 degrees Celsius.
Maria pours us samples of coffee and cocoa — the tastes of both are rich and memorable. She offers us snacks from a tray of fruit.
Javier and I indulge in melons, grapefruit, crunchy strips of coconut and sweet lemons. The farm grows both the traditional sour lemon and this sweet one, much tangier than the best oranges.
Also produced here, along with coffee, cocoa, molasses, vanilla, jams and chutneys, is the infamous mamajuana, a blend of rum, red wine, honey and herbs, which Javier says is taken for everything from stomach ailments to joint pain.
An ounce sends your head zooming. It is sold everywhere in the Dominican Republic, but don’t try to bring any home: importing it to Canada is illegal.
With Javier as my personal guide, my stay with Maria and her family was leisurely, but other visitors can have a similar, if shorter, experience through Bavaro Runners, a local adventure company whose day trips include stops at farms and schools.
When Carolos Medrano was planning Bavaro Runners in the 1990s, deciding what to include on his tours, Maria called, insisting that he visit their farm. It was worthwhile for both parties.
Today, some 10,000 Bavaro Runners clients visit Maria and her family annually.
As Javier and I say goodbye to Maria, a Bavaro Runners truck pulls up and more than a dozen tourists disembark. It’s a win-win situation: tourists get a glimpse of local life and the family gets to sell its organic goods. It’s a small but fine example of eco-tourism working well.
For more information on Bavaro Runners visit its website at www.bavarorunners.com.
For information on travel in the Dominican Republic visit the Ministry of Tourism website at www.godominicanrepublic.com.