Andre Smith, his face weathered into a road map of wrinkles, sits in the shade of a tin-roofed shack rolling a stout cigar the width of two fingers.
He’s a yam farmer, working plots of land in the rolling high country above the town of Samana. There are holes in his smile where teeth used to be.
Although he looks 70 years old, he might be 50. It’s hard to say.
When he learns that I’m Anglophone, he speaks with an accent that is surprisingly, well English—old country English.
Smith’s accent is like a linguistic time capsule, a lilt that resonates of a time more than 150 years ago when freed American slaves left America for opportunity and new lives in the Dominican Republic.
Some of them, like the ancestors of Smith and my 36-year-old guide Wilfredo Benjamin Kelly, eventually made their way to the Samana Peninsula where land was plenty and people were few.
“My family name used to be ‘de Kelly,’ meaning we belonged to Kelly. Now it’s just ‘Kelly,’” he says proudly, as we hop back on our mountain bikes and leave Mr. Smith to enjoy his cigar.
Travelling with Coco Bikes
Kelly recently acquired 10 mountain bikes, enough to launch his outdoor company, Coco MTB Adventures. Based in Samana, Kelly’s company is the peninsula’s first mountain bike guide outfitter.
It’s 2:00 in the afternoon. The sun burns with a ruthless intensity and it feels positively “loco” to be exercising anything but arm muscles for raising cold beverages.
A mockingbird chirps its approval of this notion from the branch of an overhanging acacia tree that lines the bumpy country road we’re following.
A scratchy hill of loose gravel is our final obstacle before we arrive at our salvation, El Mirador Restaurant and Bar.
Chairs are stacked in the restaurant, empty of people except for a shirtless elderly man with a medicine ball for a stomach who snores on a hammock and two young women hanging laundry and sweeping the patio.
They tell us the restaurant is closed but happily agree to sell us a round of El Presidente beers. And that’s why we’re here to quench a thirst acquired during our two-hour pedal through the Samana backcountry with Kelly.
Taking a Break
There must be ten thousand “El Miradors” in the Spanish speaking world, each one living up to its advance billing in a unique way.
This one sits alone next to the highway south of Samana, perched on a hillside that cascades in a green quilt of palm trees and Yucca plantations to the shore of Bahia de Samana, the broad bay that separates the peninsula from the main body of the Dominican Republic.
Bottles clink together, Kelly beams a brilliant white smile, like we’re his first guests ever.
Perhaps we are, but we won’t be the last to finish a Coco Ride at El Mirador. The fat man in the hammock snores, the women chatter and work, and we soak in the view.
To find out more things to do in Samana, check out our Samana Adventure Guide and Video.