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Nice And Leisurely

Later, back at our resort near Punta Cana, we’re enjoying the amenities of our all-inclusive resort. The white-powder beach slips under lapping waves, and Kat and I lose track of time lounging under coconut trees. We stroll the beach, admiring Haitian paintings for sale at a stall, before enjoying predinner cocktails as we try to decide which of the resort’s restaurants we should try tonight. After dinner, we briefly consider catching a Dominican-themed show, but we have a long drive tomorrow, so we retire to our room.

A Tale Of Two Yumas

Kat and I have packed our bags, and we’re ready to trade our home base on the east coast for one in Puerto Plata. We have a 250-mile ride ahead of us and many places to see along the way. La Niña heads south toward San Rafael del Yuma, near the home of Juan Ponce de León, who arrived on Hispaniola in 1493, after Columbus’ second voyage. An experienced soldier, he put down Taíno rebellions, gained favor with the Spanish Crown, and mined for gold in Puerto Rico. In 1513, Ponce de León set sail, landing in what he would name Florida. His main mission was to find gold, but legend has him searching in vain for the Fountain of Youth.

The Fountain of Youth might be easier to find than his house. We’re expecting billboards pointing to what we’re sure is a major tourist draw, but there’s nothing along quiet Highway 4 but fields of sugar cane. Our GPS shows we’re near the area, so we begin asking residents of San Rafael del Yuma for directions. After a right and a left, we pass a cemetery, then we come to a dirt road that rises toward the Río Duey. We perk up as we notice an open wooden gate with the hours of operation hand-painted on it. Past the gate, we’re elated to discover Ponce de León’s stately two-story home, a fortress of a structure. A guide greets us and unchains the massive front doors. We pay 30 pesos (less than $1) each and explore the explorer’s home, which he shared with his wife and children.

Original furniture, including his bed, as well as his armor and artifacts found on the grounds provide us with a glimpse at life here in the 16th century. (In case you have trouble finding the home, the GPS coordinates we recorded for the house are N 18º26.482, W 068º40.752.)

Continuing south a few miles, we arrive at Boca de Yuma, a fishing village just north of the Parque Nacional del Este and Isla Saona, which is an island nature preserve. Again, we’re surprised that this gorgeous piece of oceanfront property isn’t overrun with tourists and hotels. We stop at Brújula Restaurant, where a man named Rafael introduces us to the popular santo libre — rum and Sprite. We dine on seafood that must have been swimming an hour ago, and watch locals play dominos on their lunch break. After lunch, we stroll down the main street, passing by a woman selling freshly caught lobster. After learning that we’re turistas, the woman asks us why we’re here. “Porque es bonito” (“Because it’s pretty”), we respond. The woman puts down her lobster and takes us by the hand, leading us around a corner to the ruins of a Spanish fort with rusty cannons overlooking the bay. Men cast nets from brightly painted boats bobbing in the turquoise water. Scanning for dolphins per her instructions, and sipping Presidente beer, we begin to wonder how much a house would cost here