Friday, January 6, 2017

Where the Larimar is Found (plus Los Patos and San Rafael)

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When we were planning this trip I was most excited about our time here in the southwest because there were so many unique things to do! We initially booked the Hotel Panoramica for just 3 nights, but ended up adding on 2 more and I'm so glad we did! It allowed us time to see nearly everything on our list as well as get in plenty of relaxation. On Monday, December 26th, we checked off quite a few, starting with the Larimar mine.
Larimar is a pretty, blue-ish stone that is found in only one place in the entire world, this mine in the Dominican Republic! Discovered in 1974 by a man who named it for his daughter Larissa and the Spanish word for sea, mar, he initially found some of the stones at the beach and followed them up the mountain. The turn off for the mine was very close to our hotel, but we heard it was about an hour's drive on a rough dirt road to get all the way to the mines and that you needed a 4WD vehicle to make it. Luckily Norm and Joyce knew a guy, Jairo, who was willing to take us for a decent price ($100 compared to the $400 some tour companies were charging). He and his friend came to get us in a beat up old pick-up truck and off we went. It was quite an adventure :-), but a beautiful one, making it up to the top of the mountain where the mine was. There were gorgeous views, lots of fruit trees and plenty of ramshackle little homes along the way. A miner even jumped in the back of the truck and hitched a ride up with us adding to the experience haha.
I'm not sure exactly what I had in mind when picturing the mine experience since I knew it was a 3rd world country and we were in one of the least touristy areas of it, but for some reason I figured there was some part of the mine geared to tourists. Well, it was not at all and I was very glad we had come up with someone who was familiar with it all instead of just showing up by ourselves. Jairo walked us around where the miners live (200 work there each day but it was pretty empty when we went since it was the day after Christmas), showed us some of the different mine shaft entrances (80 holes that are 150 feet deep) and then guided us into the main tunnel entrance for a bit (it was pitch black, wet, and dirty...I was getting nervous the further we went and was glad when he said the rest was basically the same and had us turn around). Although it was interesting to see for sure, it was also quite depressing and I felt badly for being there. I felt like we were invading the home of these poor miners and that they were some sort of spectacle to us. Many of them come from Haiti to the mines and the condition of these homes and the area around the mines in general was pretty horrible. I tried to sneak taking a couple pictures, but none of them turned out very well. I wanted to capture it a little but was also trying to not be too invasive so it was difficult. I said to Mike as we were leaving that it really makes you wonder just how bad the conditions are in Haiti that they are sneaking into the DR to live like that instead. I don't even know how they make much money on the larimar honestly. There seems to be tons of it and people sell it cheaply so it doesn't seem worth the risk to go into these dangerous mines to find it, but it must be to them.
After leaving the mines Jairo took us down to the beach where the first larimar was found and we looked around for some. He was much better at it than us and found a few rocks he gave the kids to keep. We bought some of his jewelry for the kids as souvenirs. It is cheaply made stuff, but perfect for them and he was asking hardly anything for it. He also came by our hotel later with a bag full of big rocks with larimar in it...the kids were thrilled! All in all I am glad we went but also glad we won't feel the need to go back again.
From our mine visit we headed to Los Patos which was about 25 minutes south from our hotel. Here a river flows from the mountainside forming a shallow lagoon before going into the ocean. The water was clear and cold and the kids weren't brave enough to stay in very long, but it was beautiful to stand in the middle of the pool of water and look out at the ocean. The locals say it is the shortest river in the world (0.11 miles), starting at the base of the mountain and ending in the ocean. There were quite a few food huts and we ate lunch near the water, enjoying what ended up being my favorite meal at this part of the island! It was served family style and we had beans, rice, fried chicken, beef guisado, shrimp and papas fritas. There was once again plenty of stray cats and dogs around waiting for us to feed them and the kids could concentrate on nothing else :-). Story of our lives in the DR for sure is telling the kids not to talk to or feed the animals until everyone is done eating, including mom and dad.
We caught a gua gua back towards our hotel, hopping off at Playa San Rafael first. This was about 15 minutes south of our hotel and was another beach where a river runs off the mountainside into the ocean. On the opposite side of the road from the ocean here, however, they had created little pools from the fresh mountain water (Balneario de San Rafael) and it was really quite beautiful. It was also very cold though and I'm sure in the summer when the temperatures are high it feels wonderful! We only checked out the pools very briefly before crossing the road and heading down to the beach. The beach was GORGEOUS. One of my favorites for sure. There were huge waves crashing to the shore creating a misting effect with the palm trees and then the mountains as a backdrop. Loved it. The kids had me super stressed playing here, well, mostly Preston. There were some big rocks in the sand and I was so worried about him getting caught in a powerful wave and thrown into a rock. They had a blast running away from the waves though and there was a lot of grumbling when we told them it was time to go.
We went back up to the road again to wait for a gua gua to pass to get us home and the one that stopped was a nicer one taking people from Pedernales (which is practically on the Haitian border) to Santo Domingo...that is one long trek. We squished in next to everyone and Addie and Preston ended up being next to a cute little baby who loved playing with their hats (and they loved the attention). It was back to Don Manuel's for dinner (we started bringing Uno cards with us to play while we waited for our food since it always takes so long here) and then to bed saying goodbye to another day in paradise.
the kids LOVED playing with the dogs while here!
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the view was amazing from up there!
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at Los Patos
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and at Playa San Rafael
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where the river meets the ocean
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