While well-known for its beaches, golf courses and glorious colonial architecture, the Dominican Republic has a less-exposed side worth exploring: its enviably fertile interior.
A satellite image shows the stark contrast between neighbors: while Haiti’s side of the border is treeless and eroded, the landscape of the Dominican Republic is densely wooded and green. An exciting whitewater rafting adventure at Jarabacoa on the Rio Yaque, one of the longest rivers in the Caribbean, gives me an unconscious lesson in one major underlying reason for the difference: water.
The rain-bearing winds here come from the east, dumping water sucked up from the Atlantic on the Dominican Republic, while the Caribbean’s highest mountains shelter the western third of Hispaniola: Haiti.
The rain falling in the mountains, which rise to more than 3,000 meters, also runs back down into the Dominican side, as I am discovering as the river throws me about forcefully. We pull hard through a series of plunging rapids that catch the boat behind us, spilling its crew into the foaming water to be hauled aboard our raft like floundering fish.
This power has been harnessed for hydro-electricity, while Haitians still cut down trees to make charcoal for fuel. After the rafting, I visit a farm to see how the rich soil throws up equally rich cacao beans. These are dried and crushed in a long process before the addition of sugar releases the chocolate flavor we are all so familiar with. The country is better known for another bean – coffee – as well as exporting bananas, rice and coconuts, among much other produce.
Truly, the Dominican Republic has been blessed by nature.
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