The people you meet when you visit a destination can really transform your travel experiences. They often find their way into your memories, and give you a sense of the real side of where you have visited. That's what happened to me when I went to the Dominican Republic.
Before I went, I had heard from fellow travellers and friends who regularly visit this Caribbean country that the people are really friendly. Well, that's an understatement. They are not just friendly, they have these infectious sense of joy that seems to radiate directly from their soul.
I'm not just talking about the tour guides here, I'm talking about the local family we met near Puerto Plata, and pretty much everyone you come into contact with. There's lots of places you can go where the people are really friendly, but somehow with the Dominicans it's more than that.
Sometimes us Brits are guilty of having a bit of a moan, and perhaps even being a little grumpy. We can certainly learn a lot from the attitude of the people here. Their outlook on life is really refreshing. Thankfully, we had a lot of chances to chat to people, listen to their stories and learn about this mesmerising country.
An overdue family visit
One of the tour guides who was perhaps our favourite of the lot, was an excellent example of the type of people you will meet here. We spent a fair bit of time with him, because he took us on two six hour car journeys, and was happy to answer all my questions along the way.
We found out his wife had just had a baby, who was less than a month old. His trip with us was the first time away from his young baby. I felt bad being the reason he was away from his baby, but he said he was actually really pleased about the trip, because it gave him the opportunity to visit his mother, who he hadn't seen in a few years. Whilst we stayed in Puerto Plata for a few days, he spent some quality time with his mum, and then brought us back to La Romana.
You could tell he really enjoyed his job, and was proud to work for a company such as Amstar. As we drove through different scenery, he told us facts about the different areas and explained how and why the scenery differs so much.
I remember we drove through one area near Puerto Plata, and he said, whenever we drive on this section of the road, it's always raining. Everywhere else was sunny, so it was odd when we seemed to pass through a rainstorm, and the exact same thing happened on the way back.
A Dominican family living a basic but happy life
They say money can't buy happiness, and on this trip, I found this to be very true. On the Outback Safari excursion, we stopped off in a very small village and visited a local family.
We were shown inside their very modest but quirky home, and met some of the family members, including the matriarch of the family. She was sitting on the bed while we were looking round, looking completely content.
The guide told us that the people here don't have many possessions or much money, yet they live a very long and happy life. Why? The answer appears to be because they don't have any stress, at least not the kind of stress you and I may experience on a daily basis.
We worry about what we posted on social media, whether we put enough hours in at the office, or if we will get stuck in traffic or the train will be delayed on the way to work. They simply don't have these modern stresses. They might occasionally worry about how to put food on the table, but mostly they seem to live off the land, and appear very self-sufficient.
We saw how they make coffee and hot chocolate from fresh beans, and ate some colourful fruit which had probably been picked within metres of where we were standing. It was a humbling experience and a reminder to make the most of life, no matter what material possessions and opportunities you have.
Sometimes the simpler your life is, the happier you are. That's what I learned from these people. Click here to read about all the adventures I got up to on my trip and find out why the Dominican Republic should be on your travel to do list.