By the time we reach the top of the mountain, the sun has nestled comfortably in the middle of the sky. It’s been following us since we left, trailing behind the truck as if we had slung a rope around it and tethered it to the back bumper. I’m glad it has hitched a ride.
The world is still wrapped in a blanket of pale pink and yellow when we set out. We pile into the truck excitedly, but conversation fades away under the weight of the quiet morning, and soon the only thing left breaking the silence is the rumble of our vehicle. Terracotta roofs and bright fuchsia bougainvillea bushes give way to open road as the scenery of a past I haven’t yet parted with melts into an indistinguishable blur. The farther east we go, the more I taste salt on the breeze. I roll down the window and hold out my head, and in the bed of the truck, our dog does the same. We want to taste the sea.
Impenetrable green surrounds us on all sides, interrupted only by dashes of colored awnings above vendors selling fresh mangoes, bananas, and glistening jugs of coconut water for less than the value of a toothbrush. We turn toward Miches, a rural town burrowed between the folds of the eastern Dominican mountain range, Sierra del Seibo, and the southernmost shore of the Samaná Bay. But it isn’t the stretch of powdered beaches we’re searching for today. We’re heading upward — to Montaña Redonda — to drink in the clouds.
Asphalt turns to dirt, winding up through a vibrant assembly of wooden houses with hand-carved verandas and tin roofs. Doñas in worn-out sandals and billowing skirts sit in their rockers and watch the countryside melt as the soft morning sun begins to amplify. These are the gate-keepers of Miches, and as we drive past, I resolve to burn their deep-rutted faces and toothless smiles into my memory — a postcard for a rainy day.
The roadside corner stores are empty at this hour, save for a young girl wearing a hairnet and a pale-pink camisole. She has come for a bag of sugar, and as she heads home, I know the smell of brewing coffee will soon seep through the cracks in her door. The shopkeeper readies himself for the day, laying out tables on the cracked pavement while the beer bottles glimmer in the freezer, waiting for the arrival of the Domino infantry that will march in after their midday sancocho. A rooster calls out in the distance, his unhurried kikirikí echoing through the valley, unfazed by the fact that it is well past the break of dawn.
The top of the mountain comes into view just as the playlist begins to falter and our legs begin to cramp. A watchman standing under the shade of a banana tree waves us over and signals where to park. Scrambling out of the truck in a tangle of arms, legs, and wagging tail, we make the final ascent to the hilltop on foot.
It is called Montaña Redonda, or Round Mountain, because of its unusually curved peak. The locals have built a lookout there — a sprawling panorama that goes on for miles — but the real treat is the swings perched on the edges of the hill that offer momentary flight over the valley of El Seibo — a chance to dip your toes in the Dominican sky.
I stop when I reach the summit and let the view wash over me in waves. In all the time that I’ve lived in the Dominican Republic, I have never been here. I’ve surfed the waves at the beach town only a few kilometers away for years, never bothering to venture into the emerald mountains looming in the distance. But I’m leaving tomorrow, so I’ve come to whisper my goodbyes from the highest peak in reach — to look this place in the eye and offer my thanks.
Quisqueya, the land of the ancient taínos and my home for the last 10 years, surrounds me on all sides. I fill my lungs to the brim, willing the lightness of the air, the warmth of the sun, and the burning colors to seep into every pore in my body.
This land is alive — not in the way that cities are with the buzz of people, but in a way that suggests centuries of hardship and triumph that have been compacted into soil by the footfall of every person that has come and gone to form the mountain that now holds me up.
On our descent, a group of children run after us, fascinated by the big blue truck and its jostling cargo. They are a small army of patchwork, dressed in mismatched garments that have already been discarded once or twice. As I turn in my seat to look back at them, I see that I am patchwork too: a jumble of cultures, experiences, and desires. Still unfinished. Still undefined. But for the first time, I am truly grateful to carry the stitch work of this land on my soul. The little army is fading now, their flailing, brown arms moving like reeds in the wind. They wave their final goodbye as they become swallowed by the dust we leave in our wake.