IntroductionA few years ago, there was a huge fire that destroyed most of the forests in the national park that includes Pico Duarte. Even the forests in and around Valle Tetero were burnt out. For this reason, the views were disappointing. I was also disappointed because no one on the Internet travel blogs had mentioned this beforehand. So I’m telling you now. For me, the mountains themselves supplied the personal gratification. But for scenic views and splendid pictures and green forests, forget it. These forests will not grow fully back for another 15-20 years. Burnt wood and rocks are more than plentiful in these mountains.
ArrivalTuesday: Fly into S.D. late (A.A. has 2 flight delays and lost my backpack in Miami) (Note: Taxi’s charge 30US to city. Just hanging around the café area, I met a guy who offered to take me in for 20US). I checked into a cheap hotel in the colonial section of the city for the night.
Wednesday: Took bus to Jarabocoa (Note: Cost-6US. Caribe Tours has service directly, but not every day. Espinal leaves for La Vega daily—from there take a gua-gua to Jarabacoa). There are many motorcycle dudes who act as taxis. So instead of waiting for the gua-gua, I hoped one of these. Quite adventerous! I hung on the back with a 60 pound backpack on me. In Jarabacoa, I asked around for a gua-gua to La Cienaga—found one in 5 minutes. Cost-9US). Once in La Cienega, I gout out and stood for a bout 5 minutes before people ask what you need. Just tell someone about needing a guide for the mountains—you’ll have one within the hour—a bunch of them live there, so don’t worry about getting one. In case this turns out wrong, there are guides in the next town up the road. A guide came and we talked about what I wanted tot do. I hired him and we went to his house for a while to get his stuff and eat. (Note: My guide wanted 25US/day for his service and a mule. Since I was alone, I told him 20US—take it or I’d find someone else. He accepted. I also had to pay for his food. I had my own supply-Don’t give him money to go buy the food. Go with him and itemize everything you buy and measure it out. The cashier will still stiff you, but it will be less than if you handed your “stranger guide” a wad of money. I refused to pay for a second mule, but you have to accept the risk if you’re not a strong hiker. I saw some tourists who never made it to La Compatacion who had to “mule it” back down”). My guide and I walked over to the park entrance and told the rangers who I was and that we would hike the next AM. I slept in my bivy-tent at park entrance for the night. There is a lot of room to do so, and it's free.
The HikeThursday: Started hiking at 730AM (Note: I would start earlier—maybe 5AM-- if I did this again. Hike from La Cienaga and made it to La Compatacion by 530PM.
Note: This was a long day, and we made small stops to drink. The skinny mule carried our stuff the entire way. Because of the rocky trails, it would have taken me 2 days solo. The hike is relatively easy until Aguita Fria where the “rock trail” rises and falls. We passed a spot where the main river for the country begins. We continued hiking and made it to La Compatacion. It has newly constructed shelters, but they were locked up. The area has very little space to pitch a tent--land slopes and donkey crap covers the place (This is because 3 months previous, they used donkey trains to carry up the construction materials to build the new shelters. I pitched my bivy behind one of the kitchens-my guide slept in the old shelter
Note: Even in July, the valley wind blows through the area, so it does get chilly at night. There is a small water spicket a short walk into the woods next to a stream for water.
SummitFriday: We began our hike to Pico Duarte summit, but without the donkey. It takes 3 hours to walk—I bring my backpack with amenities. When we reach the summit, we sat on the rocks for a good hour. I took pictures, reflected, closed my eyes and rested. Spend some time up here if the weather is nice. I could tell me guide was bored, so we went back down to La Compartacion—only 2 hours. That day I napped and laid around. In the evening, the guide made a fire and cooked his food; I had a Mountain House meal. We chatted for a few hours before splitting up to bed.
Saturday: Rested, we hike summit again in AM Note: The guide did not want to go up again, but had to go. Apparently, they are responsible for you. Also, I noticed that the AM turned out to be the best time to summit. Mist and Clouds covered the summit by afternoon. Back down to La Compatacion for the second day and evening. In the afternoon, three European hikers and their guides and donkeys made it up to camp. They paid for the shelter and invited us to share the floor to sleep.
Valle TeteroSunday: Hiked from La Compartacion to Valle Tetero.
Note: Guide took a shorter route but it was very slippery). This route zigzags down a finger from the high trail down to the valley. Go slow as the scree is plenty. After 1:45 hours, we made it to The Valle. When we got close, there were newly constructed shelters that were filled with local tourists. I didn't want any part of loud civilization, so I set up my bivy back in the valley.
(My guide set up in the shelter. This place was also covered in donkey crap—I mean all over, along with horses. I cleared an area next to some shrubs and had a great view across the valley floor. There is a river in front of the shelters that was refreshing. I bathed and washed my clothes.
The tourists were very kind and invited me for a meal. We spent the evening chatting and drinking. I went back to my bivy and spent the evening in the valle.
DescendingMonday: Hiked from Valle Tetero to La Cienaga (Note: The route back to the main trial was not the same one we took down. This one, because it had rained the previous evening, was soaked and muddy. When we made it up to the main trail, hiking down was quick. After a drink I paid my guide. He tried to get more money out of me than agreed upon, but I told him to get lost). Fortunately, there were other tourists there who had rented a jeep, so I hitched a ride with them to Jarabocoa.
That evening, I checked in to a hotel because I wanted to try parasailing the next day. Unfortunately, later on, the company said it was too windy. Washed my clothes, ate, and slept in a comfortable bed.
Tuesday: Took a Caribe Tours bus to S.D. Cost—6US. Checked into hotel in Colonial District for evening. I walked around the city centro, popped into a few local bars, and enjoyed the setting. I decided to hike the mountains on the southwestern border the next day.
Attempted Border HikeWednesday: Took Caribe Tours bus to Barahona-6US. I walked a few blocks to transfer for a gua-gua. Had an hour, so I got a meal. Took gua-gua to Pedernales-6US. This took time, but finally got to the bus stop in Pedernales. I told the taxis I wanted to head up into the mountains. They said only a motorcycle taxi would make it because of the pot holes and mud. So I hired a moto-dude like the one Jaracoba. Told him to take me up to mountains, but the idiot took the wrong route--he thought I wanted to go to the beach area Playa de Aguilas. After a frustrating 30 minutes of talk, and because it was late in the afternoon to go back and try again, I decided to spend day and night there. There was a seafood restaurant on the beach where I ate. Slept on a lounge chair on the beach 20 feet from the waves under a moonlit, stary sky.
Thursday: Moto-dude came back and picked me up. I asked him if he could take me across the border to Haiti (only 10 minutes from the town). At the crossing, the immigration guy charged me $25US to go in and come back out the same day (Note: These small crossing points are notorious for pay-offs if you want to cross). We walked in and met a guy who took me around for the day. Later on, my moto-dude took me to the gua-gua stop.
Note: I had originally agreed to pay the moto-dude 30US to take me to the mountains and to come and pick me up. Since he screwed up my day, I told him I would pay him 20US for everywhere he took me. Took gua-gua all the way back to S.D--15US (Note: There was no bus transfer from Pedernales to S.D. and this is a long-ass haul—not for the wary traveler). There were 4 times we we were stopped by the military police who were checking for illegals from Haiti. By 8PM, I check into the same hotel in Colonial District for the evening. After washing up, I decide to tool around the colonial part of the city again--really nice!
Friday: Leave for home (Note: I got the hotel receptionist to arrange a taxi for 18US to the airport). AA late again. S.D. to Miami. I hate them.
I loved the D.R. Would go back again to hike other routes and explore other areas. People were super friendly and helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me.