Dominican amber is mostly transparent and often contains a high number of fossils up to 40 million years old. Although all Dominican amber is fluorescent, the rarest is blue. Only about 100 kilos of this fossilized tree is found per year, which makes it valuable and expensive. Amber is mined through bell pitting, dangerous for workers due to the risk of excavation walls collapsing on them. It's basically a hole dug with whatever tools are available: machetes, shovels, picks and hammers. The pit is dug as deep as possible and often snakes into hillsides. The most common use for amber is as ornaments and jewellery.
Exploring the "Amber Coast," so named due to the large amount of amber mined near its shores, and enjoying the lush countryside dotted with sugarcane fields, our guide, Juan, declared, "We are now in Sosúa." We stopped to view Sosúa's main beach with clear blue waters lapping the soft white sands. One of the finest in the Dominican Republic, it is a 3/4 km (1/2 m) strip of enticing sand sheltered by coral cliffs. Most of its perimeter is crowded with bars, food stalls and shops selling handicrafts and endless other products intermixed with stands featuring paintings produced by amateur artists. The town is also the centre of the dairy industry in the country, and especially the production of cheese.
Eastward, we continued through sugarcane fields, the main agricultural product of the Dominican. In Cabarete, known as the 'windsurfing capital of the world,' where annual windsurfing competitions draw visitors worldwide, we left the bus to take a walk in this clean, North American-looking town. Tourism is encouraged and resort areas are now much cleaner than in the past. Cleaning up the beaches, roadsides and streets has brought positive results. As well, tourist police units give erring visitors a great deal of leeway, but gently remind them of the laws. Vacationers visiting the country now number some 4.5 million.
Eastward from Cabarete, we traversed a thick jungle-like landscape sprinkled with fruit plantations. "The countryside is so similar to that in Vietnam that the movie 'Rambo' was filmed here," Juan proudly announced as we left Gaspar-Hermandez behind.
Past Río San Juan, we stopped at Playa Grande, a favourite destination of many tours. Playa Grande is about a 90-minute drive from Puerto Plata's
airport. Due to the enticing beauty, various commercials have been filmed on this beach. Golden sands gently embraced by deep blue waters are edged by
cliffs and lined with palm trees. It was rated as 'one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world' by Condé Nast travel magazine.
Here, we enjoyed two hours romping in the huge ocean waves to finally rest on the powdery golden sands. If so desired, we could have played a little golf at the luxurious and challenging 18-hole Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course, the best golf course on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.
On our return journey, a never-ending stream of merengue music emitted from the van radio inspired both driver and guide to sway and tap their toes. Our guide smiled, "We Dominicans know how to live and have fun. At parties, we have a saying: 'A gozar!' (Let's have fun!)."
In fact, music is omnipresent in this Caribbean country. Rhythms of the merengue, bachata and salsa fill the air in hotels, restaurants and streets. Sipping on a tropical drink while watching the young dance the night away, provided fond memories of my visits to the Dominican Republic.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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