Adventures with Manchita the Donkey

Oof dah. What a whirlwind the past two weeks have been. Last week I was traveling for work in Samaná, Dominican Republic. I was the social media attaché on a press trip that escorted travel writers around the region. And 12 hours after I got home, I signed a lease on a new apartment. Five days later, I’m all moved in. Whew.

As part of the press trip, we went on several excursions, including cave swimming in a national park, whale watching and riding horseback to a secluded waterfall. (Yeah, it was a cool trip.)

For obvious reasons, I was really looking forward to horseback riding to the hidden waterfall. What’s really neat about this particular excursion is that it is not run by a single farm – instead, a whole town puts it together. Basilio and Ramona run the operation in general, but they don’t own a whole herd of horses. When there are people coming to visit the waterfall, different families from the town contribute one or two horses, and they also act as the guide for the visitor who rides their horse. They walk alongside, showing different plants, guiding the horse and even taking your picture. Afterward ride, Ramona cooks a meal for the visitors. It’s pretty neat.

Samana, Dominican Republic

We arrived and walked through the town to where the horses were. It was very picturesque. The area is very rural and mountainous, with coconut palms everywhere. There were around 13 in our group, and immediately everyone noticed there was one donkey amongst the line of horses. A few jokes were cracked. Long story short, guess who ended up on the donkey? You got it – me!

Me & Manchita

Her name was Manchita, and my guide was named Mayo. Off we went up the mountain. And I do mean, “up the mountain.” It was very rocky, uphill terrain. We splashed through some rivers, too. It was about a 25 minute ride, mostly uphill. Mayo pointed out some wild pineapples growing alongside the path. For the most part, it was pretty quiet, other than Mayo reminding Manchita to keep going.

Splashing through the river

And then, the path opened up. All of a sudden, the trees on one cleared and there was a very steep drop on that side. Suddenly I was a bit more grateful that I ended up on the sure-footed donkey. (Nothing against the hardy mountain ponies. But it was steep.) There was nothing between the edge of the path and the drop but a barbed wire fence made with sticks stuck in the ground…which is exactly what I’d like to catch me were I to fall! The photo doesn’t quite do it justice, but the ground really just fell away on one side.

Another group riding on the edge

But then the trees completely cleared, and there was a fabulous view down the green mountains to the Bay of Samaná. It was truly a moment that took my breath away. And it was totally worth the 15 seconds of nervousness.

Would you believe me when I say that that wasn’t even the coolest part?

We made our way to a shady grove where we left the horses. There was a little open-air cabin with picnic tables, chairs, and drinks for sale. The group congregated there, and made our way to the other side where – yet again – I caught my breath. Down below us was El Limon Waterfall.

Above El Limon Waterfall

See those stairs curving around by the people? That’s the start of a looooong walk down to the falls. It’s all makeshift stairs, which is nice on the way down but a killer on the way up. That being said, the trek is completely worth it!

In small groups, we made our way down. First you get to a smaller waterfall, where you cross the river on a bridge of sorts made of stones in water. Then you hike up a few big stairs and suddenly you’re practically underneath the big waterfall. And it is tall.

El Limon Waterfall

See that little person standing on the wall? I’ll give you a minute to find him.

See him now? Yeah, that’s Mayo. My guide. Just casually hanging out on the side of a waterfall. A few moments after I took this picture, he jumped off into the pool below.

While I did not get quite that adventurous, I did swim. I wasn’t going to at first – doing that long trek and riding back in a wet swimsuit just didn’t sound so great. But then it occurred to me that I could go swimming in a waterfall. And not just any waterfall, but one that can only be reached on foot or on horseback. In I went!

You can go all the way under the actual falls. Behind the water is a kind of ledge that is nice to hang onto while you can relax inside the waterfall. But the absolute best part of the whole experience was floating on my back looking up at the water falling down toward me. I wish I had a waterproof camera so I could have captured the view – the bright green moss, the clear water, the sunbursts through the trees far above…but it was a really special moment that might have been even more so because I couldn’t whip out my camera. It only lives in my memory.

And what a good memory it is! Not even the death-climb back to the cabin at the top could dampen it. And by the time we rode back, I was pretty much dry, anyway. It was a fantastic experience, and certainly something I will remember forever.

Manchita

Hasta luego, Manchita!

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5 thoughts on “Adventures with Manchita the Donkey

  1. You. Are. Remarkable. Not only did your writing transport me there, but the kind of person you are is revealed by your decision to go into the waterfall, and your realization that the beauty of the moment is intensified by the fact that it will only be captured by your memory. Wow.

    Like

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