Day 6 of 7 in the Dominican Republic: Just a bunch of monkeys and epic tuna

I may need to come back to the Dominican Republic in the winter.

This morning we rode the Puerto Plata Teleferico cable car some 2,600 feet to the summit of Mount Isabel de Torres, the highest elevation in the region. The moment I pictured looking at the Caribbean from this vantage with a north swell running was when I decided I need to get back to this country in the winter time.

The cable car was worth the ride in its own right. We ascended in the first car of the day to the summit, which boasts the impressive statue of Christ the Redeemer to remind you who is el jefe in Latin America, as well as a collection of botanical gardens.

We watched a pack of hawks cruising the thermals, looking for prey. But the real motivation to get to this peak is the view. We scored with the weather (in actuality, this is the “rainy” season and we didn’t see a single shower this week until this afternoon) as we took in an incredible vista of the entire North Coast under clear skies.

Chris Columbus apparently noted the sea shimmering like a silver from here and therefor named Puerto Plata (Silver Port) as such.

After returning to the coastal altitude, we took a quick spin into Puerto Plata to see El Fortazella San Felipe, which was completed by the Spanish in 1577, because, you know … pirates.

The port itself is a well protected horseshoe shaped bay with a narrow mouth, one that makes perfect sense as to why Europeans would set up shop here to spread their smallpox. From there, we made a short stop in the plaza, which was buzzing with activity and handmade artistry. Puerto Plata has retained much of its colonial architecture making it a worthwhile stop.

From downtown, we headed east again toward Cabarete, but veered north into the hills again, arriving an hour later at Monkey Jungle, the noted zip line, primate sanctuary and working farm in the area.

Just a couple of monkeys. Chicago freelance photog, Jim Vondruska making friends in the Dominican Republic. Photo: NickAgires.com

Just a couple of monkeys. Chicago freelance photog, Jim Vondruska making friends in the Dominican Republic. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Argires

The story behind Monkey Jungle is nothing short of awesome. Ex pat Chuck Ritzen, retired to the Dominican Republic. Once he was there, he opened the free Leon-Laroche Clinics for locals in need, many of whom in this rural valley don’t see doctors and dentists on a regular basis, if at all.

It’s the kind of place that reminds you of the challenges of the developing world, but is uplifting to see in your travels. The clinic treats people and animals, but unlike most missions, this medical outpost doesn’t have any religious affiliation.

“When people are sick, they’ll believe whatever they want to believe to get healthy,” said Ritzen, “Our clinic isn’t run with any one particular belief.”

The monkeys interaction and the zipline were built to fund the clinic. In addition to the 4,400-foot, seven-station, ACCT certified zipline is the 2.5-acre Monkey Jungle, home to 40-something squirrel monkeys that are free to come and go as they please.

But at feeding time, they’re happy to come down to the deck to party. And hey, who doesn’t love nimble little furry guys with tiny hands jumping around on them? There is also a facility where rescued Capuchin monkeys live — much bigger, smarter and often more aggressive primates. While the squirrel monkeys are living free, the Capuchin monkeys have to be caged for their own safety and the safety of the community and visitors.

Ahi tuna tartare with echoes of Hawaiian poke, sweet chili sauce, sesame, over cakes with a lime-wasabi sorbet. Photo: Jon Coen.

Ahi tuna tartare with echoes of Hawaiian poke, sweet chili sauce, sesame, over cakes with a lime-wasabi sorbet. Photo: Jon Coen

Once back at Casa Colonial, we gathered again for dinner. I’m not sure how he did it, but the chef managed to outdo himself from the night before, especially with the tartare appetizer, an insanely flavorful plate of fresh tuna and sesame that could best be described as an insane Hawaiian poke with a hint of brown sugar (this is the Caribbean after all) and a lime/wasabi sorbet (that may have just been the most delicious sentence I have ever written).

But the day was not finished, not until we all dove into the warm Caribbean and got a last swim under the stars. Yeah, I may be returning this winter.

More from 7 Days in the Dominican Republic

Day 1 of 7 in the Dominican Republic: A love for the beisbol

Day 2 of 7 in the Dominican Republic: The open road

Day 3 of 7 in the Dominican Republic: No shortage of small waves

Day 4 of 7 in the Dominican Republic: From ATV excursions to fine dining

Day 5 of 7 in the Dominican Republic: Leaping from waterfalls

Day 7 of 7 in the Dominican Republic: Muchas gracias