fish and ships
Fish and Ships (and a swim if you like)
If you found yourself in Puerto Plata on a two week holiday and you wanted to try to go a bit native without going too crazy, if you love seafood but wouldn’t know where to start, if you would like something to do if the weather looked a bit grey, or even if you’ve got a bit stuck-on-the-couch and need a day out then it’s time to go to Johans’ in Don Gregorio. I'm sure there are even some Sosua expats that have lived on the North Coast for years but still haven't been....
Getting there couldn’t be easier, the new section of main road out of Puerto Plata makes the journey time short and if you know Puerto Plata then you can cut out the entire length of the main road around Puerto Plata by taking the Malecon road when you reach the court house and then skirting the port bringing you out onto the main road with just one set of traffic lights to endure. Once on the main road simply drive out towards the Amber Cove dock, marvel at the size of the ships (in non-covid times), and probably mutter under your breath that it might be busy if there is a ship in and then drive for about another mile or so into the first village you run in to (Don Gregorio) . Johans’ restaurant is on the right hand side with parking off-road just before the restaurant. The picture was taken looking back towards the port.
Like all things Dominican and food orientated (although things are a bit different at the time of writing due to Covid), first glances for a newbie can be a bit daunting, but don't let that put you off and don’t worry. The staff are very friendly and will explain how it all works to you. Basically, the usual scenario is get in the queue, pick out a fish, (they weight it for you), they cook it for you and then pop it on a plate for you or into a take-away box. Add some salad etc. pay for it, then sit and eat it or (and my preference) go upstairs to the restaurant, find a table and ask for a full menu and then it will all get arranged for you. Unfortunately at the time of writing we noticed that they were serving parrot fish. Please don’t buy parrot fish whether it’s allowable or not. These fish need to remain in the ocean doing their fishy business and not on a dinner plate.
The food is cooked street side (of course) by chefs who love to have their picture taken and that will even let you have a go at stirring a few pots (if they're not too busy) - be prepared to lose a few eyebrows because it is seriously hot in the kitchen area.
Trying to explain the scene even with the help of a photograph is quite tricky but if you've never been you're not going to forget in hurry. Basically, there are four or five cauldrons, (some with rolling, boiling fat in them) precariously propped up above an open pit fire that is hot enough to melt steel.
Personally, I would never dream of going to the restaurant over the weekend. I’ve heard it gets very busy, with the staff having to deal with very large tables so service can be properly Dominican slow. I might be wrong, why take the chance?
I have to say, I love the experience. The lunch time rush is just an amazing thing to watch, the dust and dirt from the street mingled with the smoke from the fires and the fact that it is so freshly cooked must all go to add a little something different to the flavour. I've never been disappointed.
So what to do after lunch? It’s time to hit the beach! Drive out of the restaurant in the direction away from Puerto Plata and a few hundred meters down the road on the right hand side is a road signposted Guzmancito. The road is unmade but well graded and you don’t need to drive too far before you reach a few nice beaches all with direct access from the road. In order they are Playa Teco, Playa Remy and Maimon. Personal preference leads us to Maimon because there’s much more space to spread around especially if you head further west along the beach.
The water is clear and usually blue / turquoise offering up some very nice pictures. The last time we went we walked as far as you can along the beach and ran into a local lad with a harpoon gun who had caught a few octopus (slightly too small for my liking, but at least he was clearly going to eat them). He told me that the reef was about 50 meters from the shore and that obviously means clear and clean water with good visibility. I will definitely go back with my snorkel; hopefully there will still be a few octopus to admire rather than for the plate.
Things to look out for… The last time we went was on a Wednesday. It wasn’t a public holiday but the beach was crammed with people and several cars with immense sound systems that you could hear from over half a mile away. On most week days it is much quieter.
Beware of the soft sand in the car parking area. You might well get very stuck. The trick to remember (if there’s no helping hands around) is to take the floor mats out of the car and put them under the front wheels.
Beyond Maimon… There are many beaches further up the road and some are really quite lovely but the road isn’t the best. Some have bad access, a few have parking. We will list them very soon on later blogs so you don't have to follow as many dead-ends and closed gates as we have.
While you're in the area it's definitely worth taking a short drive (just a mile or so further up the road) to admire the new windmills. They are truly colossus.
Bucket says: I love Maimon beach, the sand is soft, the sea is clear and colourful and you can even "walk on water". There is a relaxed vibe about this place, even when there is a "fiesta" going on. I find it a great spot for people watching and making friends with the locals if you want to. There are places to buy food and drink but its also fun to take a picnic. You dont have to carry the cooler and picnic basket very far to your perfect spot on the beach. There are staff watching the cars and they will also lend a hand if you get stuck and dont have 4 wheel drive.
Spade says: For an impromptu day out and a bite to eat there's not much better than this very easy little adventure. If you're lucky, the beach will be quiet and the sea a multitude of colours from deep turquoise to pale blue. Clearly there's more adventuring for me to do here - the sight of the lad with a number of octopus has to make me think that there's excellent snorkeling to enjoy. And if you go to the restaurant because the weather isn't that great then there's always a lazy afternoon to enjoy in Puerto Plata whether it's a trolley stack at Jumbo or a delicious desert at Kaffe .