Well my friends, we've got our trip to the Dominican Republic booked, and so commences our more in-depth research of what we'll do while we're there. Of course snorkeling and sitting on the beach top that list, but we're trying to find other forms of entertainment as well. It was while hunting around for activities being offered outside of our resort that Graydyn came across tales of Damajagua. This is a river outside of Puerto Plata with a series of waterfalls that people like to hike up and then swim down. Many tour companies will take you to this area so that you can enjoy the adventure of jumping off waterfalls. However, they also do their best to downplay the danger in this activity, and I feel that it's my civic duty as someone with a public forum to pass on the warnings that we were coming across in our search for information on Damajagua. I need not repeat the details, but will simply direct you all to a page created by the bereaved parents of an 11-year old boy who died at these falls in 2005:
That page lists another, more recent death, and the Trip Advisor forums are filled with tales of struggles, injuries, and terrifying close calls.
So, what's the point of all this, aside from giving fair warning to any of you that may find yourselves in the Dominican Republic? I think that there are two very strong lessons we can take away from here. The first is the value of research. This exactly the kind of activity that appeals to people like me, and had I found myself at my resort looking at a brochure of smiling people leaping from waterfalls into the turquoise waters below I would have signed up in a heartbeat! It's always a good idea to know the area you're visiting, and if at all possible have a good grasp on the activities you want to do before you ever leave home.
The second point that I see here is to keep in mind the economic situation of where you are going. We've become very accustomed to the fact that we live in a sanitized, bubble-wrapped world where attempts are constantly made to mitigate the smallest risk. Some might say that this has made us safe, but I think that it has also made us complacent. We have to remember that as we travel to areas hit hard by poverty that we can't count on local governments to monitor and regulate all dangerous activities. We also have to remember that in a 3rd world country our tour guides are probably desperate for the money, and that's never a safe situation. In the case of Damajagua I've notice a trend amongst people who have run into trouble; it was raining heavily for days before they went. An easy trend to spot, and so you would think that the tour operators would simply not allow people to go if the river was running at dangerously high levels, but that will not be the case if you're in a part of the world where those tour operators are relying on you going on this tour in order to feed their families that evening.
So where does that put us? In a dangerous situation to be sure. That's not to say though that we need to remain in our safe little Canadian bubble, it just means that we have to adjust our thinking a little bit. Learn from the tragedies of others that we can't always count on guides and tour operators to watch out for our safety, and remember that if you don't watch out for #1 nobody else will. If you find yourself half way through a tour staring at a raging torrent of a river, don't be afraid to say "No, this is as far as I go." You may be chided for turning back, but it's safety first, and you are always responsible for your own safety.
I know that was a bit of a grim post today folks, and I'll try to be a little more upbeat next week, but the lessons of others hit me hard this week and I felt the need to pass on those experiences. Have a good week everyone, and be safe.