It was the whole reason for travelling to the Dominican Republic. Having done some research at home I’d read about the trek up to the El Limon waterfall, the lush green vegetation, the jasmine perfumed air and of course the chance to spot some Humpback whales.Yet, despite my homework I was not prepared for what turned out to be one of the most fantastic days I’ve ever spent on holiday.
The bus collected us from the hotel at 6.30am and we headed off to the airport. We paid more, obviously, for travelling by air – but the other option was 5 hours on a bus each way, no waterfall and a much more rushed experience while in Samana, and Samana is not a place to be hurried.
We boarded the small propellered islander and flew over the east coast, admiring the crystal clear blue water and white sandy beaches. 35 minutes later we landed on a palm fringed runway and were welcomed with a rum and coke and the friendly, smiling faces of our guides for the day.
After the introductions we climbed aboard the Caribbean bus to the rhythmical Merengue beat and set off into the mountainous, palm tree lined countryside. Our guide was both informative and entertaining without sounding rehearsed
while we drove through ramshackle villages. The locals would shout and wave at us, some even attempting high fives as we passed by.
Our first short stop was a local’s home, where he and his family would sit and make cigars all day, probably smoking half of what they made during the process while sipping on Mamajuana – a Dominican speciality cocktail.
A friendly little barter later and we were off again, this time with a few cigars in tow and a Mamajuana warming our insides as the sun warmed us on the outside.
The next stop was at El Limon falls.To get to the waterfall you trek on horseback through tropical forest for half an hour, passing through streams and ducking below low hanging branches on your way. Each horse comes with its owner and guide to help you with any questions, run off to get samples of the plants, explaining what they are, and will take any photo you want – although they are not natural David Baileys to be fair.
The track the horses follow are muddy and very rocky, and my guide became invaluable to my partner, Maria. Her horse mis-footed and slipped, collapsing as her legs crumpled beneath her. She went from being 9 foot high, to down on the ground in a split second.
Thankfully Maria managed to slip out of the stirrups and get off the saddle in time, but was on the wrong side of the horse as she rolled around trying to get up. Maria’s bag had also hooked over the pummel on the saddle, leaving her attached to an animal that was only interested in getting up and bolting.
Thanks to her guide, he managed to settle the horse and settle Maria – making sure they were both OK before helping her get back in the saddle. Now, don’t get me wrong, despite this little mishap we thoroughly enjoyed the trek, albeit a little more tentatively, and would absolutely recommend it to anyone.
As you approach the falls you dismount and finish the trek on foot. There is a rather steep section of rocky, slippery steps and again the guides are there to help you every steep step on the way down, and, thankfully, back up again.
The waterfall itself is beautiful, with a big natural, deep pool that you can swim in. I decided to take full advantage of this, the water was bath warm, and I swam under the falls finding myself in untouched caves. A short while later we were back on the horses and making our way back while enjoying the refreshing tropical rainstorm that lasted about 5 minutes. The rain did not dampen our spirits, it merely enhanced the myriad of colours around us and gave a fresh scent to the air.
After a quick and lovely lunch on a secluded beach we set off to find the whales. Gently riding the waves the guide once again enthralled us all with his childhood memories of whale watching while fishing with his father, indulged us with as much information and history we wanted about the area and migration, taught us what to look out for – a plume of water erupting from the sea like a volcano – and told us how Samana protects the whales and waters in the area.
There are only 2 watching boats out at any one time, during the months of December to February, when the whales have their young, NO fishing vessels, NO trade vessels and NO aircraft are allowed in or above the waters during this season, as the whales need their waters to be as free from human intervention as possible.
The watching boats must not get within 50 meters of the whales and each boat has a wildlife protection steward on board to make sure this is adhered to and log the times and sightings of the whales, should there be any.
Suddenly there’s a shout ‘Over there!’ (more accurately ‘la-bas!’ as most others on the trip were French) and its life jackets on and full steam ahead.
Bouncing and crashing as we sped along, getting soaked by the spray and the wind whipping our hair into some kind of frenzied bouffant, the excitement was building faster than our acceleration.
As we approached the whales the speed was cut and we drifted along with the whales swimming alongside.
We were lucky as we had spotted a family of 3. Mum, dad and a 2 week old baby.
Mum kept pushing the baby out of the water, teaching him to breach and all of them were playing, amazing us with body slams, tail splashes and rolls on the surface – almost as if they were waving to us with their enormous flippers.
We stayed with them for an hour before heading back. A full 60 minutes of hushed awe and spontaneous smiles – and yes, maybe even a little bit of teary eyed-ness.
I was perched on the side of the boat – camera poised and clicking away and feet dragging in the warm waters absorbing the moment, fixing the images firmly into my memory as well as my camera.
It was with hope and a heavy heart as we turned the boat round to head back to shore.
Hope for this new family and the trials they face throughout their lives, and the heavy heart knowing what they may have to go through, and of course the fact that I was now leaving and wouldn’t see them again.
The last part of our journey was a chance to relax on the island where the Bacardi adverts were filmed.
I could have been sat in the same chair as George Clooney on the beach!
We stayed in the shade and enjoyed a coke a Coco Loco, served in a freshly chopped coconut. With some help from our amazing guide, Maria managed to purchase the perfect picture from a local artist to remind us of this day and of the holiday as a whole.
The day was over and we made our way through the bustling streets of the town and took our flight back to Punta Cana. The bus journey from the airport to the hotel, Dreams Punta Cana, was quiet, with everyone reflecting on their day.
The sky was a rich, brilliant orange as the sun set, silhouetting the palms against it and on the radio Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars was playing – a song I had never much liked before, but now I found myself listening to the gentle singing from Maria and whenever I hear it now it will take me back to Samana and remind me of the honour I had to spend time with the magnificent whales.
This holiday and flights were provided by Thomson and you will expect to pay around £1300 all inclusive for 7 nights per person but late deals are available and this trip can be Carbon Offset to the sum of £97 per person!
Written By Karl Tullett and Maria Wolens
Pictures by Karl Tullett.