Damajaqua Cascades-the last stunt for “Poppy”
“Go for it, Poppy! Just put your hand in the hole and climb up!” It’s bad enough that my Dominican Republic guides, who say they have adopted me as family, have chosen to call me “Poppy”, the old guy. But to make it worse, not only am I in fact the old guy, I have failed to summit the slippery slope above, which, as the guide insists, does feature a laughably small pocket that would be a suitable grip if I were a lemur, but I can’t see that so well since I am climbing, face up, through a waterfall, and my knee, which contains more metal than a Smart car, is telling me that I’m too old for this, or even for walking on most days.
So there I am, hanging by a thread to the face of a wet rock and wanting to cry for Mommy, when I hear a voice say, “Just stand up! You’re already there.” That’s when I realize that I have already managed to squirm up a crevasse into an advantageous position in the most ignominious fashion conceivable, by scooting on my arse like a babe on the floor, or perhaps a dog on grass, but then I think you get the picture, which is one of abject embarrassment for most men, but not for me, because I am used to this kind of humiliation, being as I am gifted with absolutely zero physical skills. That explains why I always hated those corporate retreats where you were supposed to shimmy up a telephone pole like a human squirrel to overcome your natural and, in my mind, quite reasonable fear of heights, yet for some reason going along with this charade was supposed to make you a great team player and the company more money, though I never quite got the connection, which maybe explains why I was branded with the scarlet L for Loner, or maybe Loser, or both, depending on who you asked. Which begs the question, why do I continue this kind of sadomasochistic self-abuse?
The answer, dear reader, is easy: like Humphrey Bogart, who came to Casablanca “for the waters”, “I was misinformed”. What I wanted was a nice drive through the beautiful tropical countryside and quaint villages, a long but easy hike to an overlook, a few snapped pictures, and a return to the resort, refreshed and ready for a White Russian, or maybe even a drink. What I got instead is billed as an adventure tour, and I have to think this is travel agent language for “near death experience” and is an insider joke that they all use to describe some activity that only a lunatic would ever attempt, let alone pay for, but in me they have at last found their easy mark, the guy who never read the fine print in the brochure.
But that was just the beginning of the fun. Upstream from the first fall, a rickety ladder has been positioned (probably before the discovery of the island by white men) in the stream, and we are to climb that to get to tier two, the bonus round, where we can have even more fun and possibly have a chance to die once again.
In the event, I safely surmount the rocking ladder, swim across a small natural pool of bone-chilling water, and on the other side, am confronted with a set of ropes that start in the water and disappear ominously into the mists far above. I am a little disheartened at this. but not surprised, because by now I have come to equate “adventure” with pain, and the guides don’t think they have given me my money’s worth yet.
“Take the rope with both hands and climb, Poppy” Commando (yes, that’s his real name) advises. Being a slow learner, I grab the rope with one hand while trying to grip the mossy wall of limestone with the other, and of course that is the wrong thing to do, so I slip and fall gracelessly back into the roiling water, banging my elbow hard enough to bring stars to my eyes, and, though it still hurts two days later as I write this, at least I provided some comic relief for my group. I know this because, when I resurface, sputtering, I can hear their cackles, which are usually reserved for the antics of the lesser apes at the zoo. Ah, well. Like the Irish say, “There’s not much to laugh about anymore: except for other people’s misfortunes.”
We ascend through 7 tiers of this, and I am amazed that our tour ends unceremoniously at a dead end cavern. But from here, we slide or dive our way back down, and I have to say this is fun. Still, I have one last moment of shame when I see what looks like a 7-year old traipsing back along the same trail as me, and it looks like she managed to make it with her dignity intact, which is more than I can say, but, all in all, this was a worthwhile trip.
It’s only later, after hiking back to the rendezvous point, along swinging bridges, across streams, and through the rain forest, that I learn there are actually 27 such tiers to Damajaqua Falls, and it’s the last emasculating blow. I retreat into a shell of humble defeat for a short while.
That is, until I think I have been robbed. After returning to our tour truck, an open air affair that belongs in the cane fields, I cleverly position two twenty dollar bills under my cap, since my shorts are soaked and everyone knows money disintegrates when wet. A few miles down the road, I have not a care in the world, so much so that I remove my headgear just to enjoy the breeze.
We arrive at our next stop, and while Commando is explaining the intricacies of cigar rolling to the group, I am back at the truck frantically looking for my lost dough, and of course I come up with nothing. I immediately suspect the dastardly Catholic couple from the Czech Republic have seized it, because I saw them suspiciously change positions next to me mid-trip.
I spend the next thirty minutes scowling in their direction and eventually make the man so uncomfortable he asks me what’s wrong. I tell him, and he immediately produces my $40, explaining that, while I was in the vehicle furiously combing for my money, he was asking the group at the cigar “factory” if anyone had lost it.
If you’re a regular reader, you know this is not the first time I’ve made the wrong conclusions about strangers on the road. I couldn’t have been more grateful to him for his honesty, and tried to tell him so in my badly broken Russian since he didn’t speak any English. I’m sure he got the point, and so did I. Don’t be so judgmental. Give people a chance and sometimes they surprise you. Actually they do that a lot, in my experience. I have no real excuse to be cynical.
I highly recommend this tour to anyone that is more agile than I am, which excludes only, as my friend Egerton used to say, “the disabled, the elderly, and women in the last stages of pregnancy.” And even a few of them could make it.
If you go, bring an underwater camera. I didn’t, and you miss out on the best shots. Sure, for $33, they’ll sell you the video. They’ll also rent you water shoes for $2 but wouldn’t you rather wear your own? Other than that, you will be completely underwater. Leave your shades, hat, and money in the truck. They’ll provide you with a life preserver and helmet.
I won’t brag about the outfit I used because, like most of the local businesses, they are very casual about punctuality. I think you could probably do just as well with anyone. The cost should be around $50. That is for an all day excursion to the falls, some of the best coffee you will ever taste lovingly prepared by an old woman at a roadside market, the tour of the cigar factory, and lunch. Such a deal!
If you ever see me writing about this kind of activity again, though, just shake your ahead and say, “Some people never learn”, or “You can’t fix stupid.” That’s me.