I never went on a typical Spring Break in college. For some reason, it was the last thing I had interest in doing, even though I loved traveling so much. The thought of spending all of that time and money just to be surrounded by a bunch of people I barely knew getting drunk all day when I wanted to be exploring just wasn’t appealing to me. It also didn’t help that every single time someone mentioned the idea, I thought of all of those true crime documentaries out there about the girls who went missing on spring break. No thanks. My best friend, Miranda, was the exact same way. We both had zero interest in going on a typical spring break.
It was around December 2016 when our friends began planning out their spring breaks. I was about to graduate from college in a few weeks, Miranda was headed into her final semester, and we both decided maybe it was time to go on spring break but at our own speed. We wanted a relaxing, drama-free week so that is exactly what we planned when we picked the Dominican Republic as our destination. My parents had gone recently and couldn’t stop raving about how amazing it was and we wanted to see for ourselves.
We went to a travel agent, Nicole, at Liberty Travel to ensure we booked the trip as cost effective and as perfect as possible. It was both of our first times planning an international trip without our families and we wanted to have some guidance. While we were planning, Nicole asked us if we would be interested in going on any excursions while we were in the Dominican, and of course we said yes. She gave us a pamphlet with a bunch of options, and after going through it for a few days we decided on the ATV/buggy tour around the island. The same company who would be providing us transportation to and from the airport once we arrived in Punta Cana hosted the excursion.
The day for our excursion had finally arrived. We picked the earliest time slot, so we were up and ready in the hotel lobby nice and early, excited to go on our tour. We checked in with the tour company’s counter in the lobby, and we were directed outside where we were informed we were the only ones from our hotel going on this tour.
A truck pulled up and Miranda looked over at me with a face that could only mean one thing: WTF. The best way I can describe the truck that had arrived for us is as a cattle truck. It was some sort of construction vehicle with metal benches and railings all in the back. We hesitated for a moment and quickly chatted about the fact that Nicole would not sign us up for a tour that would put us in any danger. Still slightly hesitant, we boarded the cattle truck. Just Miranda and me; slightly terrified and silent.
About 10 anxious minutes later we pulled up to another hotel to pick up some more people who would be joining us on the tour. Phew. A bunch of people got on, including one older gentleman and his son. We think he realized we were two young girls on the excursion by ourselves and his dad instincts kicked in. We noticed he was keeping an eye on us all day in a fatherly way not a creepy way. Trust me it is very easy to tell the difference. We stopped at a few more hotels and soon the cattle truck was full with excited tourists ready for their buggy tour throughout the island.
We pulled up to the ranch where we were given a few rules and suggestions as well as options of buying some photo packages. One of the suggestions was to wear a face covering because riding the buggies around the island you can get dirt, mud, and shit in your mouth. Literal shit. They made that very clear. Miranda and I quickly bought some Dominican flag bandanas and wrapped them around our faces. Another suggestion we were given was to buy a bag of candy before we left the ranch. We were told there would be local children who knew this was a tourist route and they tend to wait along the side of the road and ask for money. Giving money to these children is highly discouraged because then the kids would not see the value in staying in school if they knew they could just make money off of tourists riding through every day. The candy is a way to interact and be social with the local children in a positive way while keeping them in school. Who would have thought? Such an amazing idea with the candy in my opinion! It was honestly amazing to see their giant smiles as we handed them candy as we passed by.
After everyone bought our photo packages, bandanas, and candy, we all hopped in our buggies, were given a quick lesson on how to drive them, and we were off. I drove Miranda and myself all day, which I was happy about because I really did want to drive that thing as much as I could. It was so much fun.
We started down the dirt roads and within minutes we were COVERED and dirt, mud, and shit just like the guides at the ranch told us we would be. That bandana saved our mouths and noses from being filled with it all, and I had never been so happy to purchase something in my entire life.
The first stop on the tour was a private beach on the island. Since it was a private beach, it was decently empty, and essentially just filled with the people on our tour and other tours. We walked towards the water and were met with giant crashing waves along the entire shore of this beach. I have never seen waves that big in my entire life. We decided to take turns going into the water so we could watch each other and watch each other’s belongings on the beach. The water was so refreshing and it felt nice to get all of that dirt and shit off of us. Since we bought one of the photo packages, one of the guides took a bunch of cheesy pics of us on the beach so we could remember how amazing it was. After our little photo shoot, we had some time to kill, and started just walking down the beach taking in the views and the sounds of the waves.
Although it is technically a private beach, there are people wandering around trying to sell photos and jewelry. While Miranda and I were walking along the shore a man with an iguana thing approached us and just plopped this thing on my shoulder. I am not the biggest fan of reptiles, so you could imagine how much I loved this. After he realized how freaked out I was he said he was going to take it off, and then plopped him right on my head. I wanted to cry. We took a few pictures, got a few laughs, and made our way back to the tour group getting ready to leave the beach.
We jumped back in our dirt-covered buggies and started en route to our second stop: a plantation. We were driving back through dirt, mud, and shit, so we arrived covered in all of the above. It felt strange walking into the plantation so dirty, but I assume that is business as usual for the people who work there. They see a ton of tourist groups per day all covered in filth. After we were seated in a tasting area, the owners of the plantation explained the processes and their day-to-day schedules. They mainly grew cacao and coffee here, and lucky us we got to sample a few things! The chocolate was to die for. I never considered what “fresh” chocolate would taste like.
After we indulged in all of the yummy tastings they had to offer, it was time to get on the road and get to our final destination: a natural cave. We hopped back in our buggies and hit the road and were immediately covered in more dirt, mud, and shit.
We pulled up to a local village and my heart immediately sank. There were a bunch of tiny buildings and little shacks set up selling clothing and jewelry. One of them even had a hand painted sign that said “Wal-Mart” on it. It was so humbling to see the locals smiling and happily selling all of their handmade goods. There were a bunch of local men sitting in lawn chairs surrounding what I assume was the local pub. They started shouting in our direction, but neither Miranda nor myself spoke Spanish, so we weren’t sure what they were saying but we could tell they were not sober so we kept walking. This is one of those moments when we noticed the father and his son standing close by to use to make sure we were okay.
The natural cave was in the middle of this little village. It was really amazing to see. We walked down the steps carved into the side of the cave and waited for our turn to jump in that beautiful fresh cave water. When it was our turn, Miranda jumped first and I quickly followed. The guides were there to take pictures for us again so we’ll never forget this experience! I jumped in with my GoPro on my head to film the cave as I jumped and of course, it flew off of my head as soon as I hit the water. After scrambling to find it and calming myself down, Miranda and me floated for a minute taking a few more pictures with the GoPro since I didn’t lose it to the cave.
As I was taking pictures of Miranda floating around, I noticed a man standing behind her that wasn’t a part of our tour group. I quickly realized it was a local man in his tighty whities bathing; yes bathing, in this cave; bar of soap and all. I didn’t want to cause a scene but I wanted out of this man’s bath water immediately. I swam over to Miranda as quickly as I could to tell her and the two of us raced out of the water. After we were out of the cave we could not stop laughing. Here we were two dumb tourists thinking this is some sort of untouched, magical cave; meanwhile, it is a convenient fresh water spot for the locals to clean off in. If we weren’t about to get covered in dirt, mud, and shit I think we would have been a bit more disgusted. We giggled our way back to the buggy and made our way back to the ranch to surrender our buggies over and board the cattle truck again.
The day was exhausting but so fulfilling and honestly life changing. We were two college girls from the United States who never experienced a third-world country so intimately before. Seeing all of the children on the sides of the road asking for money/candy, the women carrying baskets of fruit over their heads as they walked home, and the men walking down the street carrying machetes to gather coconuts from the trees really changed our perspective of the world and reminded us of the differences and all of our privileges back home. Even though we started out the day a little sketched out, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this experience, even swimming in the local man’s bath water. It will always be one of my favorite days abroad to talk and reminisce about, and I’m lucky enough to have spent it with my best friend.
If you ever take a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, do yourself a favor and take an ATV/buggy tour of the island. I promise it will be one of the most humbling experiences you’ll ever have, change your life, and your world perspectives.
Where has your favorite excursion been? Tell me all about it in the comments below!