Tasting nature's bounty in Dominican Republic's Samana province

Segundo de La Cruz made a small cut in the trunk of a rubber trees with his penknife. The white sap started to ooze immediately.This is the base of shoes and tires. He said that sap is produced by one tree every seven years.I glanced at the large, starched dish towels hanging on clotheslines strung between tall rubber trees."Is it rubber?" I was curious."That's what happens after the sap hardens inside the collection pans. These rubber sheets are now drying in the sunlight. De la Cruz explained that these rubber sheets will be rolled and sent to factories for use in the soles of sneakers and other products.I was in Samana Province, a peninsula that juts out of the Dominican Republic's northeastern coast creating Samana Bay. This opens onto the Atlantic Ocean.One of the 31 provinces in the country, it is home to a natural haven with palm-filled forests and isolated beaches, as well as coconut and rubber plantations, rainforests, tropical rainforests and rolling mountains, and stunning waterfalls.The country's Humpback Whales number approximately 2,500 during the January-March season. They return every year to this area to mat, birth, and bask among the tropical scenery.Columbus discovered it in 1492 on his last stop on his first voyage to Americas. The explorer claimed that it was "the fairest country on the face the earth."It was home to pirates who hid among its lush foliage, while European and Haitian troops fought for the deep-water protected bay in the 16th century.The river water provides a swimming hole that allows for cooling off. Photo credit: Gay Nagle MyersThe province of Samana today is based on tourism, fishing, and farming.I had a brief, but memorable, visit to the area. There, I enjoyed freshly caught fish and walked through a rubber tree forest. I also sipped coffee that had been grown, harvested and dried in fertile soil behind a small leanto. The best cup of coffee ever!The D.R. offers a variety of cigars and chocolates.Another stop on my half day tour was in an open-air safari bus (masks required). I was accompanied by Samana Runners Adventures based in Samana. There, I tried chocolate made from the cacao tree's seeds.Cigar House Las Ballenas, Rancho Espanol was our last stop on the way to Samana with its markets and churches.This small cigar factory's symbol is the whale (ballena), which is frequent during peak mating season in the waters around Samana Bay.Raol Vosters is the manager and owner of the D.R. Raol Vosters, a former American Field Service student, fell in love the country 12 years ago.Vosters stated that it has been a difficult year with Covid closing down everything. We used to receive hundreds of tourists and cruise passengers each week. They would come from Russia, the U.S. and Eastern Europe. But last year, we had to close and were closed for 11 months.Although his usual staff of 17 people is now down to five, he believes that tourism will increase as regulations are relaxed and the number of vaccinations increases. Four million people in the D.R. The 10 million inhabitants of the D.R. have been vaccinated, which includes many of the 140,000 residents of Samana.As Franklin, the cigar roll, guided me through the entire process, from the leaf to the finished product, I was captivated."Dominican tobacco has a reputation for being so high that Cubans often buy a lot of their tobacco from us. Our cigars contain a mix of Dominican and Cuban tobacco. Vosters stated that our cigars are more mild and larger, while Cubans are stronger and shorter.Franklin gave me the finished product just a few minutes later. Vosters lit it. I puffed, coughed and puffed. They wrapped my half-smoked tobacco cigar in protective sleeves so that I could take it home. This is a great souvenir from this trip.Segundo de La Cruz, a Samana guide, stands in a tropical forest. Photo credit: Gay Nagle MyersThe Bahia Principe Grand El Portillo de la Cruz informed me on the return journey to my hotel that he was from a six-generation family and was called Segundo because he is the "second son."The 48-year old, who was born in Samana and still lives there, has been a guide for ten years."I received six months of training. I learned English by myself. I can also speak French. He pointed to his khaki safari shirt and shorts, saying that he loves his job and his uniform.He said, "I also love baseball and especially the Boston Red Sox."We saw beautiful views of Samana Bay from the distance, as well as close-ups of sad, neglected shacks that were destroyed by hurricanes and never rebuilt.De la Cruz stated, "When people have the money to rebuild, they use the cinder blocks which are strong and can withstand the storms."I saw many other sights, including mansions perched on hillsides, horses, cows, and grazing in the pastures. There was also a river-fed swimming spot and hundreds of scooters racing in and out of traffic along the two-lane road.Many people had passengers, including children and chickens. De la Cruz said that he began driving a scooter at the age of 10 years."No one requires a license here. This is the cheapest and most convenient way to travel. Gas is very expensive. He said that one liter of gas costs one Dominican Dollar or 100 pesos, which is equivalent to 57 cents in U.S. dollars.The area is rich in nature and friendly people. There is still so much I want to see, and I will be back.