Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.
Not far from our Luperon anchorage is the site of the very first European settlement in America, La Isabela, founded by Christopher Columbus and named after Queen Isabella de Castile. We stop here for a visit on the sixth day of our road trip across the Dominican Republic.
Set on the rocky cliffs near a small river delta facing the Atlantic Ocean, the place where Columbus and the new settlers built their houses, storerooms, and a Roman Catholic church is today a national historical site. Here visitors can see the remains of a few stone foundations of buildings and a lonely tree still standing on the cliffs where the first New World mass was held. There is a unique feel about this place, a strangeness in the air like ghosts, a sense of struggle, disillusion, death.
After the first unsuccessful attempt to build a permanent settlement in the New World during his first voyage, Columbus returned to the island of Hispaniola in 1493 with seventeen ships bringing more than a thousand settlers: carpenters, stonemasons, and other workers, as well as horses, livestock, wheat, and sugarcane. He also brought priests, soldiers, guns, rats, and a variety of European diseases: measles, smallpox, and typhus. The colonists began the construction of the New World on top of Some Other World that was considered so inferior and insignificant that it could be disregarded and ultimately annihilated. The world of the Taino Indians.
Initially, the Europeans and the Tainos who inhabited the island since many centuries led a life of peaceful coexistence, exchanging goods and knowledge. But it didn’t last long. Columbus had an important mission and it was not merely building a new settlement and bonding with the natives. He was in pursuit of gold. But gold was nowhere to be found and the colonists came up with an alternative plan to make a profit. They enslaved many of the Taino Indians and imposed a heavy tax on those who remained free. The ones who revolted against the injustice were brutally slaughtered. Within twenty years of the arrival of the Europeans, the native Taino population was wiped out completely by murder, slavery, imported diseases, and suicide.
The new settlers did not prosper much either. Within a few years their crops failed, they begun to die of starvation, scurvy and influenza, and their buildings and ships were destroyed by hurricanes. In 1498 Columbus abandoned his settlement project and returned to Spain with a damaged reputation.
Today Isabela Historica is a site worth visiting. The admission fee is about $1.50. Earlier in the day there are no other tourists but us. Apart from the ruins, there is a small museum with some artifacts and miniature models of the ships and the church, as well as lots of information (in Spanish only). It takes us less than an hour to see everything without being in a hurry. On the way out we stop at the souvenir shop to adopt a hand-carved Taino figurine for only about $2.
It is still morning and we have time to explore further. We drive west. This part of the country is dry and desolate. We pass through salt flats and poor small villages populated by Haitians until we arrive in Montecristi, a coastal town near the Haitian border, which was once a prosperous trading center, doing business with pirates. Here Columbus found some gold in the river. It was also the site of the signing of el Manifesto de Montecristi by Maximo Gomez and Jose Marti at Maximo Gomez house on Mella Street.
Today visitors come to Montecristi mainly for the dramatic vistas the rocky shores provide. An 825-foot El Morro suddenly rises from the sea 2 miles north of town. Beneath, Atlantic waves crush onto a small beach of red sand and round stones.
Another beach near the marina closer to town is very popular with the locals who spend their weekends chilling here all day long, to the loud sound of merengue tipico booming from the loudspeakers of cars parked near-by.
Before heading back to Luperon, we stop at a small PicaPollo, a local fast-food place surrounded by stray dogs where a portion of 4 pieces of fried chicken with fried plantains, French fries or rice costs less than $2. It is not the healthiest food but it does miracles for hungry people. You can find a PicaPollo at every street corner in Dominican Republic. The one in Monteristi is the best.Share