Photos by Geri Murphy & Paul Tzimoulis

Geri Murphy is one of the most published underwater photo journalist's in the world. She is best identified with Skin Diver, which has showcased more than 150 cover photos from 1977 to 1999. During that period, she generated more than 850 travel features and product reports under the Skin Diver banner.

She has spent the past 25 years traveling the world and covering such unique activities as shark tagging contests, congregating Manta Rays, encounters with wild dolphins, live-aboard cruises to exotic locations, shipwreck search and discovery and shark feeding advenures. Murphy is also responsible for photographing and naming Stingray City in Grand Cayman - now one of the world's most famous diving attractions.

Day 1 - Santo Domingo

Carolyn and Vicki on the plane.
I am a night person by nature, and there is nothing I dislike more than getting up early in the morning...except when I am going on a dive trip. So, you can imagine my level of anticipation, when I set the alarm clock for 4:30 am. This better be good.

The Prieto Tours mini van.
We caught the first shuttle bus to the Newark airport where the Skin Diver team had assembled. There are four of us for this mission--Carolyn, our tour leader, Vicki, our underwater model, Paul, who will shoot the digital pictures, and myself.

The Renaissance Jaragua Hotel.
Departure was at 7:30 am, and it is only a little more than three and a half hours to the capital city of Santo Domingo. Before we knew it, we were landing at a modern international airport--much larger than we normally see on a Caribbean island. Passing through Immigration and Customs was quick, and already I like this country.

Suits of armor at the Governor's Palace.
Outside of the terminal, we were greeted by a Prieto Tours mini van--our magic carpet for the next week. We zip into the city of Santo Domingo and check into the Renaissance Jaragua Hotel, a gorgeous high rise with ultra modern architecture and a view of the ocean--not what you normally encounter in a city hotel in the Caribbean.

A bronze statue of Christopher Columbus at the main square.
At 3:00 pm, a personable young man named Franklin showed up at the hotel with our mini van. Our destination for the day was the old Colonial sector of Santo Domingo. Franklin was loaded with historical information, textbook facts and fascinating trivia.

We arrived at the old city gate overlooking the Ozama River and set out on foot for a two-and-a-half-hour walking tour. Let's face it, we could use the exercise after sitting all day in taxis, airports and vans.

Spanish cannons stand guard over old Santo Domingo.
Our first stop was the Governor's Palace where Diego Columbus (son of Christopher) ruled and administrated the New World. The ancient limestone building has been completely restored and fully furnished with incredible artifacts. It felt like we were on a European tour of medieval castles. We moved from room to room, examining suits of armor worn by Conquistadors, 500-year-old paintings, giant tapestries and ancient books. Wow, what an incredible piece of history!

Standing guard over the Eternal Flame at the National Pantheon.
The rest of the tour was equally fascinating as we crossed the Plaza of Spain, strolled along the Street of the Ladies and poked around the flowering courtyards of a dozen historic buildings. As we passed down a narrow stone street, our guide pointed out the original home of the explorer Hernan Cortez.

Next on the tour was a visit to the National Pantheon, which contains the tombs of the D.R.'s national heroes and houses the Eternal Flame. Luckily, we arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard--a sober ceremony done with superb military precision.

Don Juan's white sand beach.
Afterward, we stopped for a cold soda at one of the city's many curio shops. There our guide pointed out the amber gem stones that are mined in the D.R. and fashioned into jewelry. Amber is a form of fossilized resin, rather than stone, and it happens to be central to the plot of the movie Jurassic Park. You can even buy an amber gem stone with a small prehistoric insect trapped inside...just like the movie.

With our tour completed and the sun setting, we headed back to the hotel for a soothing shower, delicious steak dinner and a good night's sleep. Our first day was a revealing look at the history of the Dominican Republic, and I'm anxious to see what tomorrow will bring.

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Making contact in the Dominican Republic

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Coral Costa Caribe Beach Hotel & Sea Pro 800-288-1332

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El Portillo Beach Resort & Samana Dive Center 800-550-1869

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