It’s Sunday morning and my wife and I decide to visit our wedding present given to us some three years ago by my father in law. A couple of acres of mountain terrain in the Dominican Republic, some 45 miles from Santo Domingo.
After three years we finally found the time to stake out our vacation retreat or possibly retirement homestead. We haven’t made up our mind yet on that, but we decided that a visit was long overdue and harvest time is right around now according to my lovely wife. She spoke about her childhood harvesting coffee, sweet potatoes, limes, lemons, bananas, plantain and oranges. I always thought it a bit overdone but mind you I stand corrected.
Well it’s 7 am and in the company of my mother in law and step daughter, we are heading to the Campo in la Loma (comparable to the wild west in the mountains). The first 20 miles went smooth avoiding the gaps or “government approved potholes” with mucho gusto. Our Toyota Corolla on Gas (not gasoline but cooking gas) did a fine job until we arrived in Cambita in the province of San Cristobal. Cambita is a village town providing most of the necessities for the surrounding mountain people and is the place to go to church to on Sunday. This gets more meaning when you observe the distances and transportation means available to get to church from the rest of the story.
A small well paved road leading out of the village brings us rapidly into the suburbs were vegitation starts to become lush and flowers in abundance. Rainforest bound paradise starts unfolding with Christalis and Birds of Paradise lining the roadside. Yes “Paradise Begins Here”.
Steadily climbing to higher altitudes the houses thin out and nature takes over completely. Traffic almost fades to non-existent with a sporadic motorcycle that passed us with a friendly wave and the paved roads turning into dirt roads were the potholes don’t need government approval anymore and turn into small craters due to the daily tropical showers.
Up and up we go and the air is most certainly cooler and a glance at the outside temperature indicator confirms a rapid drop from 88 degrees to a welcome 76 degrees, and we’re only halfway up the mountain. My father in law’s mountain was acquired by his grandfather well over 100 years ago for 25 pesos. Nature surrounds us and the occasional clearing provides magnificent views of the mountainous terrain and well beyond in the far distance the ocean to the south of San Cristobal.
Almost three quarters up the hill we reach my wife’s family village and the car’s final¬† destination as from here on the rest of our mountain trek can only be done by foot or donkey. Quickly surrounded by family I realize that the word family still has a true meaning in these parts of the world. Guided by the children of the village we go from house to house and are welcomed as long lost relatives.
Most of the conversations go beyond my understanding of Spanish and as such I devour myself in the food offerings and the strong true home roasted mountain coffee spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon and of course loads of sugar. A closer inspection shows that the sugar is obtained from nature’s sugar cane and the molasses adds an additional fragrance and taste to the coffee well beyond delicious. With the loads of sugar consumed on a daily basis by my new family, a casual glance at the people and their children make me realize that obesity even as a word doesn’t exist. Mostly well framed, muscular babies are presented to me since babies and children are their pride and joy. My looming thought is discarded almost the instance it entered my mind thinking back at the Dutch Antillean island of Saba were inbreeding was almost a given, but not a trace to be found here.
Leaving my civilized doubts behind, I come to realize that what we call civilization is in actuality a “raping of mother nature”. The bananas, pineapples and oranges we are offered in this village, may not look like grocery store passing grade, but are far superior in taste. More so the moment I realize that pesticides, fertilizers and additive chemicals are as foreign here as a dessert Bedouin on an ocean going vessel. Like the expression “You should not judge a book by its cover” I dare to state that fruits and vegetables should not be judged by its peel. Only the content is of importance. No grade A, unblemished, pesticide treated, irrigation controlled and fertilizer enhanced looking orange can compete with the first scrawny looking “china” (as the locals call their orange) harvested on the mountain tops of unspoiled Dominican Republic.
After all news is passed and we are well fed, we continue on foot to my father in law’s ‘kingdom’. Starting off in a more vertical than horizontal climb the well defined path leads us through glorious nature were the coffee trees, advocado, mango and orange trees fight for their existence while the undergrowth is an absolute myriad of colors by wild flower beds, yam, sweet potatoes, beans, gwandulae (a pea like pod) compete in their own way for breathing space.
The terrain starts leveling off and a gradual sloping of rainforest is now interrupted with open fields of grazing cows and goats while many other potato like roots show their presence. After about 30 min. we see in the distance just below the hilltop, my wife’s joyous childhood residence were only 2 years ago electricity was introduced as a modern extension to an otherwise very primitive but clean homestead.
Upon reaching the square wooden structure we are greeted by the property guard, Pompeo, the ultimate friendly cross breed Rottweiler and Chow Chow, happy to find new victims to play with. It’s rather strange to see a Rottweiler with a curly tail, but Pompeo doesn’t seem to mind since his tail never stopped spinning in circles.
With all commotion going on dad steps out of his casa and in total surprise greets his daughter and the rest of us. He was taking a nap and who can blame him as he’s going on strong in his mid seventies (that’s my guess) while everyday he gets up with the roosters to do his rounds checking on and harvesting his fruits, vegetables and taking care of his livestock mostly joined by my wife’s step-brother Ramon. Barely reaching my shoulder height seventy years of hard labor has taken its toll on his posture yet his viselike embrace leaves the impression that he could snap my spine without even trying. A jolly man with a twinkle in his eyes showing that he’s ready for another seventy years on his mountain, living in his makeshift wooden structure that also serves as the storage area for coffee, yams and potatoes. He prefers this far beyond his comfortable home in the village.
To appreciate the generosity of our wedding present is understanding his undying love for nature, respect towards mother earth and all that she bestowed upon him, whereas every piece of fruit or dug-up potato is an artist’s creation like a piece of himself and parting from it is like losing a child.
After the customary news exchanges, the mountain coffee and some more fruits I’m totally unfamiliar with, we set out on an hour’s hike mostly downhill showing us nature’s beauty and phenomenal vistas of the countryside below us. Although taking the high pass over the mountain ridge the descent is rather rapid. We finally reach a small valley that is dominated by majestic Mango trees, orange trees, Avocado, and many more fruits and in its center a small mountain stream with little rapids making a gurgling sound splashing in small crystal clear pools. My wife’s dad says:”your piece of paradise and the main road is just below us some 400 yards beyond the village” were we started our ascend. A stunning piece of property with such an abundance of fruit trees I barely dare to ask how many orange trees are on the property. At first I thought I misheard but his answer was that he never really counted them but most certainly more than 1,000 and it’s harvest time now.
The next 30 min. we tackled just 2 orange trees and the two industrial one hundred pound sacks filled to the brim rather quickly and it looked like we did not even make a dent in the massive amount of green-orange tennisball size fruits dangling down from bending tree branches. Me, always the practical and logistical one, was wondering how we would get them to the car when Ramon, showed up with a donkey answering the logistical part. The practical part of what to do with this avalanche of oranges, remained a mystery. While Ramon and donkey carried the fruits to the village, we set-out to survey the rest of our little piece of paradise making preliminary plans on what we could construct and how to go about it without destroying the century old mango trees while maximizing the use of one of the beautiful waterfalls splashing in the pool some 50 feet below.
Although not yet certain on the viability we came up with an open V shape (\_/) house design, connecting via a bridge over the stream as the most appealing rough design, while preserving all of the towering mango trees while ensuring that sufficient sun light would prevent mold build-up on the structure.
My father in law had been looking on from a distance when we were discussing the design of our casa and after my wife explained our plans I got a second even more “breathtaking” bear hug knowing I made a friend for life by not harming his “tree children”. After we said our goodbyes Papa returned with Ramon to his mountain casa while we walked back to the village to find our car not only lined with the oranges we harvested, but 4 additional sacks with Yams, potatoes, pineapple, avocadoes and more. Our real ordeal had only just begun.
How many ways can you dream up to consume 255 lbs. of deliciously sweet oranges?
Of course you can make freshly squeezed orange juice and we made gallons. You can eat them of course. I know several recipes that require large quantities of oranges such as “Coq a la orange”, “Duck a l’ orange”, Orange Mousse cake, Orange preservatives, Orange juice to substitute the Coke in my Rum at night (and I had plentiful of those) and we stlll have 150 lbs left and some 998 trees waiting to be harvested.
Christmas dinner is going to be Turkey and you guessed it, stuffed with oranges and pineapple…
All in all my naturally instilled respect for nature only got boosted with the realization that in the billions of years the creation of nature has provided sufficient produce for man and all living creatures, it created a balance for us to learn from.¬† All of nature’s functions are fulfilled in the chain called balance, while man has not added one single improvement to the same balance that maintains mankind’s sustainability.
And of course I still need additional orange ideas desperately.