Sun-burned tourists ride atop ATVs or horses, casually passing through Las Terrenas' busy, bustling roads. At the former fishing village, both methods of transport coexist naturally, blurring a sense of magical realism within its tropical surrounding and somewhat urban experience.
It suffices to say that Las Terrenas doesn't boast the usual symptoms of a hectic town. There are no rushing buses, screeching taxis or angry pedestrians. This village is hectic in a different way, with swarming motorcyclists, blaring bachata tunes and barking stray dogs. Occasionally, "Only in Dominican Republic" moments occur, like when we looked past the ATVs and spotted an overzealous motorcyclist balancing a trunk of wood with his spare hand.
But, in the middle of all the chaos, I found myself loving this lively village. The only problem was that finding a dose of my beloved typical, comida criolla wasn't as easy as I had originally thought.
The challenge in finding typical Dominican food could partially be due to a recent fire that burnt down the quaint Pueblo de los Pescadores, a block of local restaurants that were built completely of wood. The neighborhood is currently being rebuilt but, in the meantime, many of those restaurants have not re-located and have mostly closed.
So, I temporarily set aside my craving for moro de guandules, and began to open up to the pueblo's more international offerings with spots like La Yuca Caliente (The Hot Yucca). Though the name indicates otherwise, this beach front pizzeria is owned by a relocated Roman chef, offering a wide range of local seafood and Italian dishes - all finished in the wood burning oven -- for about $10 to $15 dollars per person. Presidente beers included. My favorite featured a roasted mahi-mahi with a side of fried yucca, celebrating a hint of Dominican flare.
The men accompanying me on my trip -- my father, my friend and his brother -- all united on one front, constantly demanding pain au chocolat from Boulangerie Française at Plaza Taina. Set right in the center of the beach side town, this boulangerie is tiny, busy and full of locals speaking rapid French.
It's hard to believe that a bakery in the humid Caribbean could accomplish even a mediocre pain au chocolat. To accomplish a delicious rendition is even more surprising. But this is also probably why we never had a chance to get a second taste of the sweet rolls. Because the owners of the boulangerie bake the same amounts of croissants and pain au chocolat every morning. Shockingly, they consistently run out of bread by 9 am. Does it ever occur to them to perhaps add a couple dozen more to their early morning baking list? No, it does not. Which means, quite simply, that we left Boulangerie Française - and Las Terrenas - with too little pain au chocolat.
During another visit to a local restaurant, we realized that all the other guests were speaking rapid Italian. We asked our waitress if the owner of the place is, indeed, Italian. She had already spoken to us in Spanish, and I knew from her accent that she was definitely Dominican.
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Her response? "Taka, taka, taka. That's all I hear every day from these Italians". She laughed to herself, then quickly retorted, afraid that she might have offended the blue-eyed girl asking her all the questions, "Wait, you aren't Italian right?" she asked.
I laughed and assured her that I found no harm in her joke. After all, I am Dominican and the mixture of foreign languages spoken at Las Terrenas is always surprising. The same actually applies to the food.
With that in mind, I flew back to Miami. Even on the plane ride back, I started thinking about returning to visit the beach side town, hopefully to explore more of what it has to offer. Hopefully grab a taste of some pescado con coco, or other Dominican staples. But, most of all, I wondered whether I was coming back home to Miami, or, actually, coming back from home. A couple days later, I'm still trying to figure it out.