When people “visit NY” they usually mean they’re visiting Manhattan. They probably don’t branch out to Brooklyn unless they’re visiting an old college roommate or rich aunt. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t…
Enter Sosua, Dominican Republic.
Chances are if you are flying to the north coast of Dominican Republic, you are staying at the “Manhattans” of DR’s north coast, the more popular Puerto Plata or Cabarete. But right in between Cabarete and Puerto Plato is Sosúa, another great beach town, that just like Brooklyn, is awesome in its own right.
Let me rewind.
A good friend and neighbor invited us to her family’s home in Sosúa. Our kids are her kids’ age and both her and her husband are fabulous so we knew it would be an awesome weekend. To add, we had never been to Sosúa so we were quite stoked about checking out a new spot. Because we were following them, we drove a different way than normal so instead of going the “new highway” route, we went the “through the mountain” route which isn’t entirely through a mountain but is definitely deserving of its name. (Note: I’m sure both of these routes have real names but I couldn’t tell you what they are.) Nervous of the possibility of motion sickness with two kids in the car, we drove in-cre-di-bly slow for the actual through the mountain part, and I was pee-my-pants thrilled to see that even with the reduced speed and the super slow speed I make Husband drive at, we still arrived an hour faster than our regular time.
But the thing I liked even more about the mountain route was this:
A few months back I wrote about how I miss rest stops on road trips. Being from NJ, home of the Turnpike and major road systems, our rest stops are stuffed with places to stop and snack. Rest stops in DR? Not so much… but oh, Miguelina’s. Miguelina’s is one of the best places, if not the best place on the road to the north coast to stop and snack.
They have typical picaderas – tasty little morsels of yum – particular to Dominican Republic. Some are savory like the empanadas, croquetas, and quipes. They make their own bread so they sell different flavored breadsticks and an assortment of fresh breads and dips.
They also sell lots of sweets which DR does well, super well. We got brownies that were to die for (and I consider myself a brownie aficionado) but my favorite were the polvorones. Mmmmmmm…. my mouth is watering just thinking about them. Form the Spanish word for powder (polvo), so good were these nutty, powdery shortbread cookies, that on our way home, at the end of the weekend, I stopped at Miguelina’s to buy two more boxes. But I digress.
* * *
When we arrived at our friends place in Sosúa, we were greeted with her family’s sprawling space of serenity and tranquility, a family compound hidden away behind beautiful palms. Next, we were embraced by her family, the exact kind of welcoming I’ve grown accustomed to on this island, warm and familiar, like we’ve known them our whole life. And then we were greeted by the dogs, the crew, that was as big in numbers as it was in love and licks.
Her family’s story, intertwined with Sosúa’s little known history, is a fascinating one. Living in Austria, her great grandfather, Richard Strauss was sent to Dachau concentration camp and let go – 70 pounds lighter than when he arrived. Eventually moving to Shanghai for 8 years, it was here that he would learn of a New York philanthropist that was giving money to help displaced Jews; the same philanthropist would eventually send his family tickets to Sosúa, a small town, in the Dominican Republic that was, at the time, “just jungle land that Trujillo had established with funding provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.” Richard moved from Shanghai to Sosua when her grandfather, Herman, was 8 years old, and “upon arrival, every new Jewish settler was given 80 acres of land, 10 cows, a mule and a horse.” They made monthly payments to the organization and from here the community built Sosúa Products. Richard Strauss’s son, Herman – the same granddad I met – would be president of the company for a long time until they sold it.*
Their property saluted the beach like a respected general towering over his soldiers. Our friend explained to us that their property used to be level with the sand, but an earthquake, a decade or so earlier, had caused the land to shift, creating a dramatic cliff that now lifts their home above sea level.
On the second afternoon, Husband and I took advantage of our kids’ nap time and the nanny to stroll around the little town of Sosúa. Unlike neighboring Cabarete, it isn’t a long strip of restaurants and bars and shops but rather a few blocks with less volume. A little town park with a cute playground, a bunch of restaurants, a few shops – there was enough to choose from. We stopped at some open-air bar for cold drinks at the bar before heading back to the house.
I would never deny that I love Cabarete but the nice thing about Sosúa was the tranquilo-ness which is sometimes hard to come by in youthful, active Cab.
We spent a lot of time at the pool and playing at the beach which was, also, less wavy than the rough waters of Cabarete that I tend to steer clear of with such small kids.
We spent time with family – theirs and ours – drinking, eating, laughing, playing ping pong, and playing dominoes. Her grandmother was a pistol that drank beer and talked loudly and her grandfather, Herman, reminding me of my own grandfather, spent one evening after dinner retelling stories and jokes, a past-time I loved (and miss) with my Abuelito.
I spent time playing with the dogs and staring out into the open space, taking in our life abroad – gulping it all up – and understanding the luck we have to not only live here but to have gotten the opportunity to meet these people, to know the people we know, to have friends like this that welcome us into their home with generosity.
In contrast to some of our weekends away, when we return home more tired than when we left, this weekend in Sosúa was regenerating.
~ until the next bottle ~
(*For more on the story of Jewish refugees finding haven in Sosua, read here.)