(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
In October 2009, Walt and I were on a cruise through the Caribbean that made a stop at Samaná, Dominican Republic. We were traveling with another couple with whom we enjoy going dancing. The four of us wanted an excursion from the ship that would let us do something more than view things from a bus window and wander a few shops. After much deliberation we had decided on one that took us to Salto del Limon in the mountains of the north peninsula where we could play in a pool under the waterfall. In the booklet describing the trip, they mentioned that there would be a horse ride to the falls with a skilled horse handler for each rider then a walk to the falls. The picture showed a young man leading a horse with a young girl in shorts and a T-shirt going down a shady lane. Just our speed: a gentle ride in the fresh air with lovely scenery and the opportunity to play under a waterfall at our destination.
We approached the island at dawn about the same time as a squall line which produced a double rainbow as we entered the bay. We were tendered into the port. For those who haven’t had the opportunity, that means the port is too shallow for the ship so you are escorted through a side port of the ship onto a smaller boat, often one of the life boats of your ship. You then have from about five minutes to maybe half an hour ride to observe your port of call as you ride to the dock. On this one you could sit below where you and your fellow passengers were packed like sardines, or on top where you were in the breeze and the rain as the squall line passed over us. Our friends went below, while we opted for the ride though the early morning light, and the rain, on the upper deck.
Our bus was waiting and we left just as soon as our group was sorted from passengers going on other excursions. We passed through the town of Samaná and began to climb immediately. It soon became more rural with lush vegetation. We made one stop at a gift shop on our way to Parada La Manzana Ranch where we would begin our trek to the falls. At the gift shop we were offered a taste of the local restorative, Mama Juana. It was a real kick at 9:30 in the morning.
The ranch was at the edge of a small village. The guide and people at the ranch explained how they made their living off the locally grown sugar and cocoa beans. A lady ground fresh beans and mixed it with local sugar then poured a bit in everyone’s hand. What was left was given to the little girl who appeared to be the daughter of the lady doing the mixing. It was then time to mount up. We were guided to a spot under the trees where the beginning of the single file line of horses was staged. The lead horse was next to a broad stone about 18 inches high. The guide explained that when the horse went uphill we were to lean forward to help the animal and going down we were to lean back. One of the handlers stood on the stone and began surveying the group. He began matching us with an animal and handler depending on our size and that of the animal in line. It seemed that every four-legged beast in town had been gathered. Our friends ended up on matching burros, and were led to the start of the road for a photo. Walt and I were the last to be seated as my handler turned out to be the lad who was sorting everyone. Our animals did not want to eat any other rider’s dust and began passing the animals ahead of us. We soon left the built up area and any semblance of a smoothed road. Stones and tree roots crossed the gullied trail. This was a tropical rain forest, and surprise, it had rained that morning. Some small rivulets still ran in some of the gullies. The trail was very muddy. Shortly, we came to a stream and my horse didn’t hesitate. We ran right through and up the opposite bank, across a finger of land and into the water again on the other side of the oxbow. Then we began climbing. Time to remember to lean forward. We just hoped the animals were sure footed because on the one hand was the mountain side going up and on the other it dropped off rather well. Our handlers had to run to keep up so the guiding was vocal, not a gentle lead of the reins. At the top of the hill the trees parted onto a beautiful vista of mountains and valleys. We were carefully guided to the edge of the plateau for another photo opportunity then forward into the tree canopy. We soon reached a copse where a building with restrooms, a snack bar with chairs and some tables. The animals were set under the trees to graze. We were told that it was now too steep for the animals and we would hike down the ravine and partially back up to the falls. We now got to experience first hand the mud the animals had been running through and learned just how slick it was. There were no guard rail or steps. We were not in the US of A, and the trail had not been federally approved for safety. The treads in our shoes were soon clogged with mud. The handlers were not just for the animals. They handled us down the mud slick hill as well. At the bottom of the ravine we got to ford the stream. It was knee deep if you could walk on the water slickened stones, or hip deep if you just forged ahead. Walt and I took our turns at wading our way across. On the opposite bank Walt said to the lady we were traveling with, “How did you get across before I did? Did your guide carry you?” “Why, yes, he did.” she smiled back at Walt, then walked further up the trail.
A short ways up the other side the path broadened and we saw our goal: Salto del Limon with its natural pool. We all stripped down to our swim suits and began wading into the pool. Our handlers were more impatient and began diving between the boulders that provided footing and seats in the natural pool. It was a lovely setting. Soon, however, we began to realize that in order to return to the bus we needed to go out the same way we had come in. The smaller hill back down to the stream wasn’t very bad, the stream was fun, then up the steep side of the ravine. Back on the horses. They were now ready to go home and rest and so they took off at a nice clip. We now spent most of our time leaning back toward the animal’s rump. Upon our dismounting the handlers took off like school boys at the dismissal bell. None were much older than school boys.
On the return bus ride our guide entertained us with tales of school and community in that region. He reminisced fondly about the fresh yeast bread his mother would make using the milk from the coconuts that grew in the area. He mentioned that a relative was using that recipe to make the bread in a shop we were about to reach. He had the driver stop long enough for him to run in a get a couple of loaves. These he passed around the bus so we could all tear off a chunk of this delightfully fragrant bread that was still hot from the oven. After we got home I began playing around with my bread recipes and came up with a facsimile. I make no claim to authenticity, but it looks, smells, and tastes much like what we enjoyed.
1-1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1 cup coconut milk
3 to 3-1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon honey
Shake the coconut milk to redistribute solids before opening the container. Warm the milk and honey. Mix in the yeast. Mix salt and flour and slowly add it to the yeast mixture until you have a stiff dough. Finish kneading on a floured surface another 8 to 10 minutes. Or, if you are always in a hurry, like me, put the liquids in your food processor, slowly add the flour mix and process until it forms a ball that rolls around the inside of the processor. Either way, the next step is to place the dough in a greased bowl, set it in a warm spot and allow it to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Be patient. In a cool room it will take even longer.
Punch the dough down and shape into a loaf. In order to get a good crust I prefer to use a covered, stone baker. You could use a flat stone or even a cookie sheet. Sprinkle the cornmeal on the bottom of the baker, stone, or cookie sheet and set your loaf on top. Cover either with the stone lid or a sheet of plastic wrap and allow to rise a second time for about 1 hour.
Remove cover and, with a sharp knife, cut 2 or 3 slashes on the top of the loaf. Brush or spray the top with cold water. If using a closed baker, replace the lid. Place your bread in a cold oven. Set it for 400° and bake 30 to 40 minutes. If using a closed baker remove the lid for the last 10 minutes or so. The loaf should take on a golden brown color and sound hollow when tapped.
Fresh loaves often disappear with dinner. If you do have any left over it makes nice slices for tuna, egg, or chicken salad sandwiches. It also does well for French toast. Soak it in an egg and milk custard. After frying, sprinkle it with vanilla sugar or your favorite syrup.
The last word:
It’s really good.
Keep your sense of humor.