ECO CLUB - DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Way beyond the beaches of Punta Cana is the nature camp called Eco Club.
by Anne Dimon
It’s almost dusk when we arrive at Eco Club in the interior of the Dominican Republic. We’re in the mountains of the Monte Plata region about a five-hour drive from the beachfront, all-inclusive resorts of Punta Cana. Santo Domingo, the country's capital city, is another 90-minute drive from here; the Las Americas Airport, just a 45-minute drive. I'm told you can also easily go for the day if you are staying in any of the resorts in Boca Chica, Juan Dolio, La Romana and Bayahibe.
Except for the lone cow grazing in front of the dining gazebo when we arrive, we seem to be the only guests.
The brainchild of Merfry Then (a former Miss Dominican Republic) and her husband, a plastic surgeon practicing in Santa Domingo, Eco Club is a relatively new project.
Merfrey tells me they originally developed the land as a retreat for themselves, their family and friends, but eventually decided to turn it into a business. For the most part, she says, they offer educational outings to schools and team building programs for local corporations.
The Club also been used as an outdoor venue for events like corporate Christmas parties. Now, Merfry is working to attract eco-minded tourists.
One of the disadvantages she acknowledges is the distance from the major tourist areas (primarily Punta Cana and Puerto Plata), so there is some talk of adding a heliport. But even now, helicopters have plenty of room to touch down.
It’s a lovely expanse of property, with a river rushing down from the mountains, a pond for kayaking, a cave for repelling and a nearby waterfall.
Eco Club provides the tents and mattresses, the meals and the activities – which include a rock climbing wall, access to horse-back riding and nature tours.
Of course, there is no television, no Internet and my Blackberry doesn’t work so I’m feeling really cut off from the outside world.
Meals are prepared in a small kitchen and served informally in an open-air gazebo. Breakfast is eggs, bread, coffee, a delicious ginger and honey tea, pineapple and papaya, cream cheese (that looks more like feta) and a plantain "casserole" (a traditional dish called Mangu) – surprisingly tasty, and I have a second helping. For lunch we have deep-fried corn fritters, rice, beans, chicken and a lettuce and tomato salad. Dinner is a flavourful and hearty traditional stew called Sancocho.
It’s about 9:30 in the evening. All around us the sound of crickets and a night so black it seems as it someone has drawn a black velvet curtain just beyond our veranda.
We call it an early night.
Once in bed, sleep comes quickly but doesn’t last long. Beginning somewhere around 2:00 a.m., the resident rooster seems to herald the arrival of morning every thirty minutes. When day finally does break, it’s to a chorus of birds.
Just below our balcony, there are orange trees and to the side, tamarind, grapefruit and others.
Recently, the couple has added two corrugated tin roof cabins (each with private baths and verandas) and hope to add a few more each year – but accommodations remain humble, so don’t go expecting resort-level amenities.
Merfry admits there is still much more they need and want to do but right now this is more about getting back to nature. “Camping, ecology and adventure” is the slogan, she says. Eco Club is rustic and a little difficult to get to but it's ideal for anyone looking for a way to enjoy and experience the country beyond the all-inclusives.
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The web site (www.ecoclubextremo.com) is only in Spanish at the moment but the owner does speak English. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org