Random Rendezvous Part Two, Dominican Republic

The bus from Santo Domingo to Santiago was a high jump from the rolling shells of rusted steel I encountered while backpacking Central America. Justin and I made it safe and sound to Santiago, and Justin’s Tio Ada met us just as we were retrieving our bags. We crossed the street to Vinoteca for a quick round of red wine and cerveza, where Tio Ada informed us we would be driving straight into the mountains. To Jarabacoa. We piled into an SUV and made the hour drive to Alta Vista, a mountain lounge mecca overlooking La Vega. Salmon filet, four cheese pasta, a platter of veggies and fried cheese eggplant in a setting that makes me smile still. The winding mountain roads were stripped of electricity as Tio Ada barreled through the darkness. We climbed higher, Ada drove faster, and merengue music escaped into the night as I lowered my window to feel the rain.

We reached Jarabacoa sometime after nine, and entered through a gate markedLa Casa Del Rio. The house seemed more like a mini resort than a residence. From the entrance, we followed a stone path through the high-vaulted living room and right down to the river. Tio Ada showed us to our bedroom in the left wing of the house, where one stairwell climbed to a cedar wood loft and another led to the second level. A man named Chino looked up from the T.V. to say hello while his wife Isabella twirled around in the kitchen, passing from one counter to another in the high-vaulted space adjacent to ours. The kitchen was simple in design and spacious, with attached maid quarters and a few white cats pawing around.

We were leaning far over the railing, staring out into the river and the forest lining its banks when Luis came to greet us. A man in his early sixties, he immediately struck me as the sort of man who loved life and whom life loved in return. He hugged us both and announced his house had just one rule: never stand in the way of a good time. I liked him. We pulled up four wooden chairs and kicked back beneath the palm tree awning as the sound of rain pounded all around us. Luis disappeared in search of some rum and red wine, but re-emerged instead with a platter of pesto drizzled tapas and enough alcohol to go round. Spanish music was playing, rain was falling and red wine was flowing. There, in the middle of nowhere, I felt as though we had arrived at the heart of it all.

We retired with the rain, and awoke with it still. We found Isabella courting the kitchen counters while moving steel pots filled with boiled yuka, scrambled eggs and plantains. She poured us coffee from the same Italian press I had grown accustomed to while living overseas, and I felt strangely at home. We sat down to breakfast with Ada and Luis before they drove to Santiago for the day, and sampled some crème de leche at a Sunday pace. Chino rode off on his motorcycle while Justin and I walked next door to saddle up for a ride through the countryside at rancho Jarabacoa. Back at La Casa Del Rio, Isabella prepared us a table and asopao, a traditional rice and tomato-based soup seasoned with poultry. We filled our soup bowls once, twice, three times on the balcony overlooking the river, until there was nothing left to do but nap.

Tio Ada returned two days later. Together we drove through mountain villages and seas of grain, refueling just once with a Coca Cola bottle full of petrol purchased from a young boy. We found ourselves in Punta Rucia, eating grilled fish and fried plantains from paper plates while watching the sunset over the sea. It was late December, and our last day in Republica Dominicana. We weren't ready to leave.