Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Manabao, Yaque del Norte River, and Cabins--Yes, We're Still on an Island

"Manabao, Yaque del Norte River, and Cabins--
Yes, We're Still on an Island"
Darrel L. Hammon

                Sometimes, we travel to places in the Dominican Republic that do not reflect what one has come to think an island ought to be—beaches, soft white sand, snorkeling, palm trees, cool breeze, the gentle lapping of the water.
                What if I said, think about mountains laden with pine trees, raging white cap water through boulder-infested rivers, mudslides, deep ravines, and cabins nestled against a mountain side. That’s where we went today. It’s called Manabao, just above Jarabacoa and Los Dajaos. Absolutely gorgeous! 
Yaque del Norte River
          On Friday evening, Brother and Sister Almonte who are temple workers, invited us to their cabin in Manaboa. We decided it would be a wonderful idea. This a.m. at 6:50 a.m., several couples were ready to go on our Monday trek: Los Haws, los Hammon, los Dunford, los Rucker, los Despain, los Leavitt, Elder Larsen, and los Trinidad. A bit after 7:00 a.m., four cars rolled out of the Casa de Huéspedes’ parking lot and onto to Bolivar, up to Tiradentes (Alma Mater), and then to Kennedy to Autopista Duarte. We drove up the little gas station that has become a stopping place now, just off the Autopista. Then, we were off to Jarabacoa and beyond.
The sign to Manabao
                Once we hit Jarabacoa, we decided to let our guide, Elder Larsen, have the lead and take us where we needed to go. He led us right to it. The scenery along the way was stunning. The road was winding, narrow at times, and parts of the road sluffed off into the canyon below. On a couple of spots, it appeared parts of the mountain had slid down onto the road and created just one lane. We had thought about how much longer the road would actually be there.
                Soon, we arrive at the gate that led to the cabañas. Slowly, we turned up the driveway and motored down a long winding path, over jagged rocks, and a several holes. Before too long, we ended up passing a beautiful cabin—yes, villa—on our right. It was stunning. We rolled into the driveway and parked. Brother Almonte was there to greet us. 

Bridge over a pond
                 He took us on a tour of his home. Finally, we ended up in the kitchen and dining area, where one of his employees, Eli, had prepared green guineos (green bananas) and fried eggs for a quick breakfast. We sat down and had a delicious breakfast. Green guineos are boiled and then served. They aren’t not necessarily sweet; they taste a little like potatoes.
Green bananas and fried eggs
                After breakfast, we went on a tour of the property and the surrounding area. What was beautiful about it was the serenity. After living in chaotic Santo Domingo, coming to the mountains was incredibly refreshing. From the veranda, we could hear river sounds, just across the road and down a bit. We sauntered that way.
                Just across the street, rows and rows of poinsettia bushes line the road, leading to other cabañas. There crisp reds dazzled even in the bright sunlight. Then, we walked through a literal Garden of Eden. Trees of all types grew a long side the path: avocados, grapefruits, star fruit, oranges, bananas, guava, lime, and others. Flowers and plants dotted every spot. Birds of Paradise flowers hung everywhere. 

Elder and Sister Hammon
                Soon, we reached a covered building overlooking the Yaque del Norte River, which is the longest river in the Dominican Republic. After watching the river’s waters roll passed for several minutes, we walked down a narrow path, across the river on a bridge, and over to the other side. Hermano Almonte took us to another one of the homes there, owned by a former general of the national police force. After admiring the gardens and visiting with the gardener, an 76-year-old man named Juan, we walked down to the river front where we met a family group from the area. They were swimming in the river.

Banana tree
          Upon returning, we were treated to a delicious lunch (almuerzo). Eli had cooked up an incredible array of Dominican favorites: rice with lentils; salad with tomatoes and cucumbers; a wonderful salad dressing (salsa) with oil, lime juice, cilantro, pepper, tomatoes, onions, and few other ingredients; chicken and pork dishes. Plus, some of the sisters brought corn bread salad, macaroni salad, rolls, tortilla roll up and a Dominican banana cake. As you see, we had a feast.

Eli and her lunch
                 After a delightful meal and conversation, we strolled back to the veranda and listened to Hermano Almonte’s conversion story. When he was 28-years-old, the bottom fell out of the market, and he lost most everything. He had run up a huge debt and had to sell off most of his properties to pay for it. At the same time, the missionaries came by. He was never home, but his wife had met them. Finally, one day he met with the missionaries. They asked him to come to Church. He avoided the conversation and thought he could avoid the missionaries. 

Juan, the gardener, and Brother Almonte
                 Early Sunday morning, he heard a noise outside. Apparently, the missionaries had parked their car along side of the big wall around his home, climbed on the hood of the car, and jumped over the fence. He thought they were robbers until he saw the white shirts and ties (that’s why we wear white shirts and ties!). He invited them in. He told them it was a bit early to go to church, and they said they had come to wait for him. He thought they would give up and go home, but they didn’t. So, he felt obligated to go. And he went. From that day on, he never failed to attend a Sacrament meeting. He has been a leader, including being a stake president and a mission president.

Turtles in the pond
                 Just as we were about ready to leave, it began raining. Hermano Almonte said, “Give it a couple of minutes, and it will quit.” Well, two more minutes, and it began to rain harder. We decided it was time to leave before the roads washed out. Some went to the cars to gather up the umbrellas and returned to help others to the car. So, four cars began to weave their way up the wet drive. Brother Trinidad’s car stopped just before it crested and its tires began to spin. Slowly he backed down and started again. With a bit more precarious spinning and sliding, he finally made it to the top. When we arrived back to the main road, we all sighed a sigh of relief and thanked Heavenly Father for the safe journey.

Elder and Sister Leavitt
                 We had an excellent time at the Almonte’s place. Unfortunately, Sister Almonte was away, and we did not get to see her. But Brother Almonte was an incredible host. Thank you!

Sister Hammon and Sister Rucker
Los Trinidad
Los Despain
Los Dunford