I had the pleasure this past week of taking a friend around Puerto Plata. She was on a Carnival cruise that had a day in the (relatively) new Amber Cove port. I knew where the port was, of course, but I had never entered there. And in fact, you can’t enter! The highway around the port has been redone and the entrance is very clearly marked. But it is gated in two places. First, right after you exit the highway, you need to explain to a guard what your business there is. He instructed me that I had to park in the adjoining parking lot and wait for my friend.

Well, I drove right past the entrance to the parking lot. It was a dirt lot with a few trees, and there was a metal grate ramp over a sidewalk, which I didn’t see. Once I got near the second gate, I realized I must have missed the entrance, plus I was worried about how to make a connection with my friend.

Well, the second set of guards very helpfully told me to go back to the entrance to the parking lot. Once there, I saw my friend sitting under the tree waiting! So that ended well.

Off we went, first to Forteleza San Felipe, a Spanish fort that was constructed in the mid-1500s. They have a small museum there and lots of vendors outside to hassle you. We were greeted by Rafael, who first asked me to move my car, because that was where the bus from the cruise would be parking. No problemo! Then he kindly directed us to his table of wares, and after learning that my friend, Katherine was the tourist, gifted her with a ring, implying that it was silver and conch shell.

On closer inspection the whole thing was plastic. A good gift for her niece, and something she didn’t have to declare on re-entering the U.S.!

Next we were going to visit the Amber Museum. Let me start by saying that driving around Puerto Plata is a challenge. Even though I have lived here for 12 — almost 13 — years and have been coming here for 20, I still get lost! But Katherine enjoyed seeing the heart of Puerto Plata, though I am not sure she enjoyed the crazy traffic and my Dominican driving that much!

After we had exhausted the entertainment of seeing the City, I decided to use Dominican GPS to get us to the museum. That involves flagging down a moto concho (motorcycle taxi) and asking him to lead us there, for a tip at the end of the journey. Works great! And there was free parking at the museum.

The attendant very kindly personally escorted us to the museum, insisting that we couldn’t go through the main entrance but had to use a side one … the entrance that takes you directly into the museum’s store. The deal is, if we bought something there, because he escorted us in, he would get a commission. It’s the custom here. We chose to proceed to the museum.

It’s not much really, although you do learn quite a bit about amber and how amber is different here than, say, in Europe, including unique blue amber, only found in the Dominican Republic. According to our helpful guide, this is due to the fact that it contains volcanic ash. When viewed in normal light, it doesn’t look that much different than normal amber. But under a black light, an intense blue fluorescence is revealed. Very cool. At the museum, you also learn how to tell real from fake amber. There’s a lot of plastic amber for sale on the streets!  Real amber will float in salt water (or Coke — but not Diet Coke for some reason). Plastic will sink. Also, all amber changes color under black light while plastic doesn’t; i.e., real amber fluoresces, though not always as brilliantly as blue amber.

So there you go! Regardless of where you are in the world, if you are thinking about buying amber, you now know how to tell real from fake! The guide tells us that the trees that produced the sap that resulted in Amber are now extinct, but the museum has a nice backdrop of those trees, so Katherine could feel she was back in Jurassic Park — which, by the way, was partly filmed in the Dominican Republic.

Back at the fort, she also got to take a turn at being Jack Sparrow — something new that wasn’t there the last time I visited the fort about a year ago.

Next stop, and sadly, our last, was Aguaceros, a lovely café on the Malecón (the boulevard by the ocean) that I have been going to for years. It used to be very Dominican, but since the cruise port was put in, it has been completely upgraded and is quite modern looking. I preferred the older version. But the food is still good. As is the Presidente, the national beer! It is also one of the few restaurants I have found that serves cherry juice made from a yellow-ish Dominican cherry. Probably from concentrate, but it is still good!

That’s our waiter in the background!

So all in all, a great day. Katherine appreciated having a personal tour guide, and I always love showing people around and having them experience my adopted country. Plus, it was so great to see Katherine, who I hadn’t seen in a couple years!