As I approached the secluded Fronton Beach by boat, a little boy’s bright red shirt and cap stood out like a stop sign against the stark white sand. He was staring up at the very top of a wiry palm tree that rose ten times his height.
The scene was framed by dense jungle, a striking contrast against the white beach. I felt a pull towards the island that had more to do with my heart than the motion of my boat. Was this how Christopher Columbus felt when he landed there centuries ago, claiming this land as the first European settlement in the New World?
The boy reminded me of all that had passed since then — if Columbus had spied a boy on the beach while approaching land, that first encounter between two cultures would have been profound. Though the world has become so open since the early days of exploration, there was still something magical in seeing this boy. He was a natural part of this remote and romantic location — the region and its people were still new to my explorer’s heart.
Hundreds of years later, Fronton is still best reached by boat. I couldn’t help but daydream about that romantic age of exploration — the awe of stepping into exotic locales entirely unfamiliar.
When I stepped off the boat, a blaze of red blurred past me. It was the boy, hugging the prize for which he had waited so patiently — a coconut.
I reclined on my beach towel, still lost in the dreams of seafaring explorers. Palm trunks and palm leaves cast their angular shadows on turquoise waters. The sand was bare of any beach bars, chairs or umbrellas.
The destination seemed as virgin as it would have been in those long-gone days. The soothing, repetitive motion of the waves provided the only entertainment. And that was more than enough.
From the ships of conquistadors to a Jurassic landscape
The next day, I boarded another open-top boat to visit Los Haitises National Park, near the Samaná Peninsula. I have been to spectacular national parks before, but I didn’t anticipate the surreal romance of this place.
I felt beckoned to peek into the unknown depths of the jungle behind hanging vegetation along the shore. Floating on the smooth, emerald-coloured bay, my imagination easily stretched further back in time than the age of the conquistadors. I was in a place primordial and prehistoric.
And it wasn’t just my imagination, but something inherent to this place. The producers of Jurassic Park must have also felt it when they chose this location for filming.
Hundreds of turkey vultures cawed and circled the 30-metre-high rocky mounds. I positioned my camera towards the menagerie of bird life, which all seemed within reach. Grey herons, pelicans and swallows flew high, swooping into the ocean and chasing each other in this avian playground — the country’s largest protected area.
I soon stepped onto cays, crossed small wooden footbridges, and maneuvered down jungle-vined paths to explore caves. Through natural ceiling holes, sunlight wavered inside the caves and penetrated their depths.
With a flashlight in hand, I lit up a cave wall, revealing the petroglyphs and pictographs made by the indigenous Taíno people. The images told a story. I saw their ancient daily life — their fishing, hunting, prayers, and celebrations.
As the boat returned to Samaná, I looked back at those quiet isles as they shrank from view. I held in my memory the unexpected birdlife that moved through its canals and twisted mangroves, the etchings in its storied cave dwellings. These pristine and ancient connections to the past will endure, offering similarly moving encounters for any future explorers who wish to penetrate their depths.
I steered Morena, a dark brown horse, over hilly bends on a narrow trail, deeper into El Limón Forest. Tall, skinny palms and leafy plants bent in around me as brilliant bursts of sunlight managed their way down through one of the thickest jungle forests of the Caribbean.
Morena obediently followed Claudia, her owner and my local guide. With her long braids swaying, Claudia skipped ahead on foot over the rocky, uneven path. She clutched a walking stick as she led us into to the heart of the jungle where we would find El Limón Waterfall.
After crossing a shallow sea-green river and experiencing the views from one of the region’s highest peaks, we left Morena for a rest and continued hiking down a narrow-stepped path. At the end, I met the falls up close.The 52-metre-high cascada (waterfall) roared into a vast swimming hole, which spilled into a small river surrounded by harried ferns, mossy rocks, and canopies of green. I lowered myself into the natural pool.
There was nothing else to hear but the waterfall’s roar. There was nothing else to feel but its swirling waters. With a delightful shiver, I climbed out to sit on a smooth, rocky surface. A bold and shocking burst of refreshing mist continued to dance through the morning air.
I closed my eyes, feeling the thrill of that fleeting moment as the unfamiliar became familiar.
Right there, in the heart of a labyrinth jungle, I gave in to one of the most romantic moments a traveller can feel — the unexpected thrill of discovering a new place and falling in love with what is new, exciting, and beautiful.
Text by Marissa Tejada