Nature's Great Amusement Park
Mike and his partner, Goetz had just found a new canyon. The one they had been using was running out of water and they needed an alternative to see them through the busy summer months. The canyon of Rio Blanco in the northern mountains between the town of Moca and the coast was perfect. There was plenty of water, multi-level jumps, deep pools, natural slides, glorious scenery, nice picnic spots, and even a 40 meter waterfall down which it was necessary to descend to reach the canyon floor. The only thing missing was an exit.
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Mike was looking for a path which led out of the canyon and rejoined the road not too far from the local brothel. 'This would be perfect,' he said. 'We could spend about five hours in the canyon itself, and when we get back to the road there's a fruit stand where we can have a mango before heading back to Cabarete.' A local fisherman called Adelberto apparently had the answer, and he brought us down into the gorge along a steep, muddy but not impossible path. About 20 minutes later we were at the banks of the Rio Blanco, a further 30 minutes or so downstream from where Mike and Goetz had given up their last, abortive attempt to find an exit. So we walked up the canyon to check out the lie of the land between the new exit and the place where the two Germans had last stopped, then back down again to the path which did, indeed, lead almost to the doorstep of the puteria (brothel) of Saladillo. Mike was jubilant. 'Now I can take my guinea pigs for a walk'.
The ideal canyoning adventure should include a challenging descent, a good mixture of walking and swimming, plenty of easy jumps and some more difficult ones, one or two places to sit, relax and enjoy the nature, and a relatively short and easy way out of the canyon. It now seemed that Mike and Goetz had something to work with, and I was honored to be one of the five people who had been lined up to do the trip from start to finish before it was officially introduced to the tourists. The other guinea pigs were John, an American windsurfer who had come to the Dominican Republic to take part in Cabarete Race Week, Frauke, the German ex-director of one of the leading tour operators on the north coast, Helmut, her Austrian boyfriend, and that redoubtable adventurer, Julius. And then, of course, there were the guides: Mike, an extreme sport veteran whose CV includes a climb up Everest and a 'halo' jump with the US Marines; and Goetz, an expert climber.
So on the morning following the discovery of the exit I was back in the vicinity of Rio Blanco, peering over the ledge of a waterfall into what seemed like a great abyss. Mike was tying a rope to a tree and Goetz was preparing to be the first down. The rest of us, meanwhile, contemplated the drop. Almost all canyoning trips involve at least one rope-assisted descent, and this one was longer than most - although not as difficult as it seemed.
The grip on rock covered by water is deceptively good, and we were able to walk down the waterfall like a veritable procession of Spidermen. The most difficult part of the descent was three meters or so from the bottom, when it was necessary to push off from the wall, let go of the rope, and fall into the first of many deep pools which lay between us and the brothel. The water was irresistible: as blue, icy and profound as the eyes of a Viking princess; and all of us were drawn to it like 'star-crossed lovers'. John, who was experiencing the Dominican countryside for the first time, was particularly smitten, and he was the first to splash into the water and swim down the canyon after Mike. He looked like an actor playing an American GI in a Vietnam War movie as he floated downstream, carefully scrutinizing the steep sides of the canyon and the tropical forest above for possible ambushes. All that was missing were the screeches of monkeys and an M16 rifle. The rest followed (each appearing to the other, no doubt, as John had appeared to me), with Goetz bringing up the rear.
The first jump was at the end of the pool: a modest, three-meter affair which everybody performed without difficulty. If there had been any apprehension - either here or at the top of the descent into the canyon - our guides had succeeded in dispelling it, filling us instead with tremendous energy and confidence. 'Uuuurrrrh!' growled Julius, beating has fists against his chest. 'Now I'm ready for anything' - except for the following jump, that is. For I regret to report that only the doyen of DRpure.com refused the next hurdle - an eight-meter jump - opting to slouch off down a rocky path like a donkey, while the others leaped off the ledge and flew past him like thoroughbred racehorses. Although such cowardice is rare, the faint-hearted are never obliged to jump to get from one part of the canyon to another. There is nearly always an alternative route, although it has to be said that jumping is often the safest option. Moreover, a good guide will never ask you to do something which is not safe.
After a couple more swims and some brief walks over relatively dry ground, we arrived at the designated picnic spot: a flat carpet of limestone (our 'beach') next to a large, lagoon-like pool (the 'ocean'). It was only when we had stopped moving through the canyon and laid back on the warm rock to relax, that we realized how totally and utterly alone we were. In such peaceful moments, you can always rely on a woman to break the silence. 'This is lovely, really lovely,' said ??. 'I've been selling your tours for some time now, Mike, but I'll do it with conviction tomorrow morning'. Touching words, indeed. But little did she know that the best was still to come.
A short way further down the canyon we arrived at a narrow gap between two steep walls of rock. Getting through this gap would have involved a slippery climb along one of the walls had it not been for a sequence of rocks which had formed a natural bridge, allowing us to literally jump through the gap into the water below. And a little further down when we came to an equally tricky passage, we found a subterranean water slide which spurted us out into a bathtub of bubbles and froth. Nature, it seemed, had created its very own amusement park in the middle of nowhere, a place where were there were no queues, no screaming children, no McDonalds and Burger Kings, no stress; just us - and a fisherman. For as we approached the new exit and the end of the trip, Adelberto was spotted hunting for shrimps and crabs in shallow pools of water. This was the first sign of human life that we had seen since leaving the road at the top of the canyon, and it jolted me back to reality. Soon this brief sojourn with Nature would be over, and we would be back in the land of noise, traffic and puterias.