Exploring Samana City,
Most people visit to have lunch offshore
For most visitors, Samana city is only a jumping off place to board a boat and go elsewhere.
After the whales depart for the season, smaller numbers of daytrippers will come to visit Cayo Levantado, just 20 minutes offshore, for a beach picnic.
Or people may come for a day excursion to see the Taino caves and mangrove swamps in the Parque Nacional de los Haitises on the other side of the bay. Los Haitises is usually reached by boat from the town of Sanchez, situated well before Samana city.
Los Haitises contains a humid subtropical forest that receives as much as 90 inches of rain annually. Several of its offshore limestone islands are important nesting sites for brown pelicans and frigates. Besides the birds, the park is noted for 3 large caves with Taino petroglyphs and pictographs.
But whale watchers and park visitors tend to be alike. They come and they go with virtually no contact with anyone or anything on the Samana Peninsula.
I'm staying on the peninsula, not commuting, which allowed me to spend the afternoon at the Salto (waterfall) de Limon, the peninsula's most popular land attraction.
I'd been warned the road was a real kidney buster, but I found a new hardtop surface all the way to the Rancho La Cascada where I mount a horse for the hour-long jaunt to the 150-foot high falls.
Now I'm ready for another tour, but of a very different sort. Although I have a rental car, I want to ride in a Samana taxi, a taxi that is unlike any other in the Dominican Republic.
Motorbikes with seats for one or two passengers are the most common taxis throughout the country, but in Samana they do it differently: The motorbikes pull a small wooden or metal carriage equipped with two bench seats and a roof.
There's a reason this mechanized surrey is found only in Samana explains a taxi driver named Richard who speaks English as badly as I do Spanish.
“For 18 years Samana is the only place with these taxis. The big taxi unions keep them out everywhere else.”
I climb into the cramped carriage and tell Richard to take me to “La Churcha,” Samana's best-known landmark. When Richard starts up, thick oily fumes blast out of his engine and I consider getting out and walking. But no, I want this taxi ride.
I end up traveling with my head stuck far outside the carriage window, which makes me think of a dog I once owned.
Richard's taxi, which is outlawed everywhere else, represents to me some of the individuality that Samana may lose when it becomes more like other tourist-oriented parts of the country.
That shift will begin soon, when Arroyo Barril airport, about 5 miles from town, is able to handle direct international flights. Expansion of the airport has been going on for some time, and it has not proceeded smoothly. When construction bogged down several years ago, a number of locals formed Comite Samana Se Canso de Esperar (“Samana Got Tired of Waiting Committee”) to kick officials in their posteriors to things moving.