Written by Jose Kevo on 29 Mar, 2005
During any given week, thousands of tourists from around the country enjoy a day at Saona Island, sometimes with other water excursions that launch from the village of Bayahibe. Most have pre-booked trips through resort activity coordinators, while independent travelers make up a small…Read More
During any given week, thousands of tourists from around the country enjoy a day at Saona Island, sometimes with other water excursions that launch from the village of Bayahibe. Most have pre-booked trips through resort activity coordinators, while independent travelers make up a small percentage; they show up and must shop around for availabilities. The local boat companies, now numbering almost a dozen, have formed an association that monitors efforts regarding prices and safety factors. Services provided have continued improving across the board, but there are still potential concerns that travelers should be aware of.
A few years back, a snorkeler drowned off the coast, which spurred many of the current changes. Unfortunately, this tragedy was what Lonely Planet chose to zero in on with their newest Dominican guidebook edition, and I've received messages from readers asking about risks. The incident occurred with a smaller private rental company, and this is what travelers need to know - independent boat operators cluster around the tree at the edge of the luxury bus parking lot. Anyone looking to book private charters for boat rides, snorkeling, or fishing opportunities will need to negotiate with one of these captains.
Before agreeing on anything, ask to see the boat and make sure it's carrying appropriate life jackets, usable gear, and necessary equipment. Chances are that the boat captain will only speak Spanish, but a bad-vibe feeling transcends all language barriers. I know many of these local entrepreneurs, and their genuine concern will usually more than provide a safe and memorable experience. However, travelers also need to be aware that what Dominicans consider safe and acceptable are very different than most peoples’ expectations.
Unless there are tropical storms within the vicinity, water excursions and trips to Saona depart daily rain or shine. During my first trip to Saona years ago, what was initially perceived as a major water safety violation turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences from all my Dominican travels. Overcast skies had been threatening rain the entire day, but absence of sun had done little for prohibiting the tropical festivities that are well rehearsed on a daily basis. All had been pleasing until time for the 4pm departure for returning to the village.
Afternoon humidity levels were obviously brewing up a cloudburst, but concern for the situation didn't register until rounding the island's Punta Gorda and getting a head-on view of the mainland. The northern skies were blackened, with dense banks of storm clouds pushing towards the south and gobbling up what little daylight remained. There was an additional frenzy in the air as catamarans and speedboats careened through the choppy waters of Paseo de Catuán, racing towards Bayahibe as if trying to beat the storm. Lightning was now ripping through the distant skies, the clear turquoise waters magnified into a whole new matrix of marine colors.
Hugging the coastline, watercraft ahead of us began cutting towards Las Piscinas Naturales, the tranquil area of natural pools sheltered aside the sea. With no way for beating the storm, landfall was in order until things blew over, or so I thought. Boat captains began cutting their engines and tossing anchors for indulging the 30-minute cocktail and snorkel break, part of every return trip and obviously done regardless!
Tourists began diving off the boats, others hoisting cups for a rum-punch refill. While nothing was actually said, I had to have looked as extremely uncomfortable as I felt. Pondering the common-sense rules of how water and electricity just don't mix, no one else seemed to care, merengue blasting loud enough to vibrate the pending rains from above. At this point, nothing was going to interrupt the typical fiesta break.
The happiness of my new local friends was soothing, pleasures taken in their daily work routine. They had peace in the midst of a storm they'd undoubtedly seen many times before. Consciously liberating my mind, I determined that if it was my time to go, what better place or way could it ever happen? Eventually, refilling my cup was surrendering last of the defenses before also taking the plunge. Snorkeling the clear waters was as magical as night diving, and after so much initial panic, the break ended all too soon.
Once everyone boarded and the race home persevered, it was painfully exhilarating heading into the sweeping wind gusts that were driving raindrops into my face hard as nails. The temperatures had fallen dramatically, leaving everyone hunkered down for warmth, but I chose to stay seated erect, as if challenging Mother Nature head on. As the boat slowed for cutting into Bayahibe's lagoon, the wind-driven rain slowly succumbed into gentle tropical showers. I turned to look and saw my local host watching and warmly smiling as if to indicate that I, too, a visiting uptight and white city boy, had momentarily melted into the happiness, peace, and joy they live 24/7.
The soggy tourists headed for their resorts buses while the boat crews began unloading and cleaning signaling end to the workday, a day's wages often less than $20. After quick good-byes, we left everyone to their work and slowly headed back towards home, ready for a shower and a nap. Junior asked if I'd had a good day; my response was the answer he already knew. From there, aside from the splattering of rain drops and the occasional screeching of wild parrots, the rest of the walk was made in contemplative silence - one of life's deeply stirring experiences that should be captured in a bottle and kept forever.