It takes a certain amount of bravery to get into a car with people you don’t know and drive across an unknown country to several unknown destinations. But that’s exactly what I did recently on a weekend trip to Santiago, Cayo Arena and Cabarete, three distinct and unforgettable places in the Dominican Republic.
As usual, I was accompanied by my sister and our two Airbnb hosts, whose friends had planned the trip. Knowing our preference to have control over things, our hosts had given us fair warning that we wouldn’t have the luxury of being in charge. “You’ll just have to relax and let things happen,” they said.
You’ll just have to relax
and let things happen.
Before agreeing to it, we gave it some good thought, weighed our options, and decided there was no way in hell we were not going to go on this amazing beach trip, even though we were given very few details and we knew that we would probably be in the dark on most things through the whole trip. Language was one reason (for me, at least), but here’s another crucial factor: The trip was being entirely planned and executed by the men in the group, meaning the ladies would be spared the details (whether they wanted to be or not).
I’m resisting the urge to tell you every little thing about the trip, starting from the day we stood outside of the colmado sipping cold Presidentes, waiting for the whole caravan of weekend beachgoers to show up. There were countless mini-adventures and mishaps in each leg of the trip, but for now I just want to focus on the destination that I found most fascinating: Cayo Arena.
After Friday’s nearly sleepless night in Santiago, thanks to our inability to find a fair-priced motel (I’ll spare you the details of that fiasco, though there’s so much more I could say), we starting out Saturday by driving for a few hours to a little dusty Dominican town, where we signed up for a quick boat excursion out to Cayo Arena. Just off the coast of Puerto Plata, Cayo Arena is a teensy coral island, also known as a cay. I have to admit that due to my poor Spanish skills, I still really had no idea where we were going when all 15 of us climbed into the beat-up motorboat and scrambled to fasten our lifejackets.
I still really had no idea
where we were going…
A wet, bumpy ride later (infused with rum, thanks to fellow travelers), we arrived at what looked like no more than a bump of sand surrounded by gorgeous blue water, which was filled to the brim with European tourists milling about. Right away our new friends secured an empty thatched hut, and the hardcore drinking and snacking continued. When everyone in the troupe felt a nice buzz, we stripped down to our suits and headed out for the clear, warm waters, to spot the tropical fish swarming near to the shore.
Shallow water surrounds Cayo Arena, making it great for swimming and wading. Feeling adventurous, my sister and I waded out as far as we could away from the cay. The water never went above our chests, and was never anything less than as clear as glass. From out there, we watched a few party boats come and go, loading and unloading tourists who, like us, probably didn’t lay claim to anything near as cool as Cayo Arena in their home countries, and seemed a little dazed to behold it.
Cayo Arena is a gift, but not one
you can hold onto forever.
I fell hard for this place, and even as I stood enjoying the heavenly warmth of the water, I started to dread leaving, though I knew we couldn’t stay long. Cayo Arena is a gift, but not one you can hold onto forever. All in all, we only stayed on this mini-island for about an hour or so.
The trip back to the main island was an exhilarating one. The young man (teenager?) driving our boat must have sensed the adventurous mood of our party; he floored it and before I could question what the hell he was thinking, we were speeding toward a thick patch of mangroves, which I saw (at the last moment) had a narrow opening. Once inside, we slowed down a bit and everyone got quiet, admiring the strange, tangled flora rising out of the water.
Back onshore, we were wet, overly sunned and hungry, with messy hair and sand in our suits. We all climbed back into the respective cars of our caravan, and headed out to the next destination, which I will have to tell you more about at a later time.
In the meantime, check out this video I made from various clips of that trip, taken by different members of the caravan. The music is a remix by EasyGirl of a Grimes song called “Genesis.” I hope it gives you the basic feel of the trip, though it can be hard to wrap up a whole amazing weekend in just a few minutes. Enjoy!