Shall we take the stairs?

Walk on

I took this photo in a small village along the so-called Ruta Panoramica in central Dominican Republic last summer. We had just spent a night in a wonderful jungle ecolodge called Tubagua, and on the way back to Santo Domingo we stopped in the town of Pedro Garcia to meet with a local Peace Corp volunteer, who was helping farmers convert their land back to coffee after a failed, government-sponsored experiment in raising cattle. Stanley, the Peace Corp kid, was so passionate about his project I couldn’t help but feel inspired, and everywhere we walked with him we were greeted by neighbors inviting him to dinner, joined by teenagers who wanted to practice their English and followed by family dogs that seemed determined to adopt Stanley. Eventually, we came to these stairs, leading up to a ridge where we had a clear, lovely view of the valley below. The photos from the top where nice, of course. But I prefer this one from the bottom of the stairs—where it’s all possibility and anything might be waiting if you just start the climb.

Whoa!

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I can’t remember exactly what provoked this mid-air selfie, but it probably had something to do with the fact that Tovin and I were about to embark on a 10-day road trip across the Dominican Republic that would include jumping off waterfalls, eating giant fish, drinking cocktails out of pineapples and getting brutally lost in a city where the highway entrances looked like back alleys.

To more wide-eyed adventure!

#DogsoftheDR

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A pair of stray dogs enjoy the beach in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic.

In June 2013, Tovin and I spent 10 days traveling around the Dominican Republic by Chevy Aveo and our sometimes flawed sense of direction. Everywhere we went, we met dogs. Some were strays, some had owners, some reveled in our attention, some ignored us completely.

We documented the animals we met, Instagrammed them under the hashtag #dogsofthedr, and now, we share them with you. Enjoy. And don’t forget to pet a stray.

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Tonta, chief greeter at Tubagua Eco Plantation, overlooks the lush hills along the Ruta Panorámica.

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The pint-sized mascot of Vacabar in Cabarete, Chica.

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Fetch on Playa Las Ballenas in Las Terrenas.

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Rico, a four-month-old great dane, lives at cliffside restaurant El Cabito.

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A dog sleeps on Playa Encuentro in Cabarete.

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Muchacha, Las Galeras

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Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

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One-eyed beach bum, Las Terrenas

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Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Falling for a new place, one run at a time

Playa Rincon in Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

Playa Rincon in Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

I fall in love with sneakers on. Not in a kinky shoes-on-in-the-bedroom way. As a relatively recent convert to the cult of running, I find that I see  places differently when I lace up my Mizuno Wave Riders, take a quick look at Google Maps, and head out for a run. I see more. I see differently. And it’s not just the sweat pouring into my eyes that changes the view.

My first experience in travel running (as opposed to running travel, when you go somewhere in order to run), was in Hanoi, Vietnam. I parlayed vicious jet lag and an Old Quarter hotel into early morning jogs around Hoan Kiem Lake. While fruit and vegetable vendors unloaded their wares from bamboo baskets and the neighborhood’s winding side streets sprung to life, I cued up Regina Spektor for slow loops around the central Hanoi lake in perfectly crisp November weather. And far from being alone, I had company in the form of elderly Vietnamese exercise groups who gaped openly at the white girl trotting in circles while they wielded fans and swords in graceful arcs or did aerobics to directions broadcast over loud speakers. By day three, the stares had turned to smiles, waves or total ambivalence. I had become part of the landscape. It was fabulous.

When I returned a year later, it was to the suburbs of Hanoi, where my runs took me through tiny villages on the edge of the ever-expanding city. Just a few blocks from major roads and massive high-rises, people seemed to be holding onto small-town lives. Getting lost on their narrow streets among motorbikes and uniformed school kids (with zero ability to ask for directions) was one of the highlights of my visit.

Just this month I was reminded why I always make room for running shoes in my suitcase, when I laced up for a few miles in Las Galeras, Dominican Republic. A fishing town quite literally at the end of the road on the Samaná Peninsula (park when the pavement ends and get a whole grilled fish from the tía who runs the show at the beachside restaurant), Las Galeras is still relatively free from megaresorts that dominate the country’s more trafficked locales thanks in large part to its distance from just about everywhere. Between dining cliffside and snorkeling over sea urchins the size of basketballs and sunny in front of clear Caribbean waters, I snuck in a morning run.

Playa Fronton, a snorkeling and scuba diving location, in Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

Playa Fronton, a snorkeling and scuba diving location, in Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

I started roadside, passing small hotels and private homes set amid lush tropical landscaping. When the street stopped, a woman manning a small snack stand pointed me up, away from the beach and along a cratered dirt road that narrowed and grew more cratered as it climbed. I passed a construction site, a bed and breakfast and a private home where a woman sang to kids running in the yard. The road disintegrated into dirt and rocks, and a lone motorbike picked through the mess, moving at about my same speed. The vegetation grew thicker and the whine of insects filled the thick air. I started to wonder just how far I was planning to go.

At the top of the hill, the beach just barely visible below, I rounded a curve to find a trio of horses blocking my way. They were healthy, well cared for and free to wander. But they didn’t run. They just stood and stared back as I approached. And then in the grass just off the path, I saw why they stared: a small caramel-colored foal lay in the grass next to its mother.

I turned around shortly after, soaked in sweat, my legs turning to jelly and so elated that the rest of the run passed by in a flash. I didn’t put my running shoes back on the rest of the trip. But it didn’t matter. In four miles I’d fallen in love.

Sunset in the DR

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For seven days, Tovin and I waited for a Dominican sunset. You know, sun melting into the liquid horizon, clouds painting the sky, the kind of moment best appreciated to the tune of lapping waves with an ice-cold Presidente or heavily garnished cocktail in hand. For six nights we were thwarted.

The rainy season’s rolling clouds and sun would put on a show by day, but come evening, banks of heavy cumulo-somethings would take over. From the beaches of Samana Peninsula we’d shrug, Not today, I guess.

Then, on Day Seven, perched on a hill in the tiny town of Tubagua along the rustic Ruta Panoramica “highway,” we were rewarded for our patience. As we sat reading and chatting in our eco plantation’s open-walled restaurant, the Dominican sky finally put on the show we’d been hoping to see. Even without the waves or beer, it was perfect.