Dia de las Maravillas

Trip Start Apr 06, 2007
Trip End Apr 14, 2007

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wednesday is usually my aunt Gail's excursion day, so one of her friends, Lynda went with us on our day trip to the Cueva de las Maravillas, an underground cave east of San Pedro on the Southern coast and to the faux Italian village of Altos de Chavon near the fancy resort, Casa de Campo in La Romana, where many famous people have houses.

We drove about an hour and a half before arriving that the "Marvellous Caves" near the city of San Pedro. My aunt recommended we take the tour in Spanish, since she had already been down in the caves and thought we might get more out of the tour if it were in Spanish. Gail's friend, Lynda speaks very good Spanish as well. We took the tour with a group of women, 2 from El Salvador and one from Puerto Rico, but all living in Boston. It was amazing as we entered because initially it was a lot cooler inside the caves, but as we walked around, we started to feel the humidity from above seeping through. We all felt like we were in one of the Indiana Jones movies because it was incredible down there. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos but it's for the preservation of the caves because the flash from our cameras could heat them up too much. We also saw cave drawings from the Taino people who lived on the island before being killed by the Spaniards, either in war or by disease. Our tour guide explained that the Taino people went down to this series of caves during hurricanes or earthquakes because they were safe here. She said that because there is a big hole at the bottom of the caves that opens up into an underground river system, you can't feel earthquakes here. It was pretty surreal.

After buying a photo of the caves from the same people who sold us our tickets--there isn't a museum at this site yet but they are working on it and just a month ago, had a huge opera event in one of the above ground caves that raises tons of money for the preservation of the caves--we headed further east to Altos de Chavon. My aunt told me the story, which she isn't sure if it's really a legend, of a father who built an entire Italian village for his daughter who was turning 15 after she fell in love with Italy when she travelled there. Altos de Chavon is this Italian village. When we arrived at the entrance, there was a closed sign due to construction and it instructed to use the main entrance. Gail thought she was at the main entrance, so she said the only other way to get in is through the fancy resort, Casa de Campo.

You technically can't get into Casa de Campo without actually having reservations to stay there, but we decided to tell the guards we were meeting some friends at the Marina for lunch. My aunt spoke in English when we arrived at the gate and they were a little confused but let us pass. We were excited to see this famous resort that we had heard so much. My aunt showed us some enormous golf courses and Oscar de la Renta's private house. We then drove to a gorgeous beach to take pictures. The water was so blue! My aunt said that this sandy beach is actually artificial and that they made it for the guests and residents of Casa de Campo. After hitting the beach, we continued onto the Portofino Marina. Gail said that seeing this amazing marina made her skeptical of the validity of the story that a father built Altos de Chavon, because the Portofino Marina looks just like Portofino in Italy. I loved it! It looked like a little semi-circle village with cute shops and restaurants and a beautiful view of the water and all the fancy yachts. We walked around to see the lighthouse, which my aunt said is a very popular romantic site to have cocktails up top at sunset.

By this time, we were getting pretty hungry so we headed off to Altos de Chavon, but first got a little lost because the signs weren't very clear. As we climbed the hill, we looked back and saw amazing views of Portofino and Casa de Campo with the Caribbean backdrop. We finally arrived at the gates of Altos de Chavon and parked near some art student dormitories. My aunt explained that this village has become a wonderful mecca for art students in the Dominican Republic and there are impressive galleries here and a renowned art school. We walked past a huge open theater, where many concerts are held and just last week, Diego Torres performed. Then we entered the little village and started taking pictures. It was very picturesque. Since I haven't been to Italy yet, I didn't think it was corny like some tourists complain. Altos de Chavon reminded me a little of Leavenworth, a small German village in the Cascade Mountains of Washington--not the real thing but fun to visit. It didn't have a lot of stores or galleries open though unfortunately because we went mid-week in the afternoon and things are more lively on the weekend or in the evening.

We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant with a gorgeous view of the River Chavon below. My uncle had told us beforehand that this area was filmed in the 1970s movie, Apocalypse Now, supposedly to portray Vietnam. He pointed out that it looks very different now and not as much jungle remains due to some hurricanes in the 1990s. It was still a spectacular sight. After finishing our lunch, we walked around town a little bit and bought some souvenirs. We didn't have quite enough time to really look around and explore the art galleries, but it was starting to get late and we had a two hour drive ahead of us. Altos de Chavon really made me want to see the real thing in Italy! It was beautiful there.
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