Juan Bautista: “I was born in the jungle of Bavaro”
In this edition of BOP faces, we take you back into time. Juan Bautista was born in Bavaro, Punta Cana and saw it develop from a young age. No schools, no roads, no hotels, no buildings, just jungle.
“Sometimes I did not see money for years. Not one single peso. Nothing. Or I would not see a single person for years other than my family.”
Juan Bautista (55), proudly stands in the little shop where he works in Bibijagua. He is surrounded by bottles of Mamajuana, organic Cocoa butter, and cigars. It is the place he has been working for 18 years. Here everyone calls him Cigolo and he is also known as the Mamajuana man since he makes this local drink himself. His friend Gringo, an American that has been living in the Dominican Republic selling tours, is there with him. “We are the smart ones. Because we come in early, we catch the tourists on the beach”, Gringo explains. Cigolo agrees. “Yes, we come early.” He nods his head.
At the same time, the noise of a roll down shutter door sounds. The neighbor next door, sticks his head around the corner, to see what is going on. “Oh, she is asking me questions about me growing up here!” Cigolo explains.
Bavaro an untouched jungle
“It was just a jungle. I grew up over there.” Cigolo points in the righthand direction of the beach in front of Bibijagua.”
In 1962 when Cigolo was born there was nothing in the area. No roads, no busses, and no apartments. The first hotel in Punta Cana was located on the other side, but in Bavaro, there were no resorts and no construction. There, Cigolo grew up with his mother, father, two brothers and a sister. He recalls the time vividly.
“My father had a piece of land. We lived very privately because we only had 5 neighbors. Everything we ate came from the land. The earth was very fertile, which made it grow sweet potato, yuca, corn, plantain, and different fruit trees, like papaya, and maracuja. We also fished.”
“Growing up like this was fun. As a kid, I would take a horse, donkey, or mule through the jungle to get to the Encino in Bavaro to play with other kids who lived there. We played baseball between the trees, by using a piece of wood to resemble a baseball bat. The area was already called Bavaro, Playa Cortecito. To go to Higuey we took a horse and would ride for more than four hours to get there!”
A smile appears on Cigolo’s face. But the memory of his father turns it into a faint one. His dad died years ago, but not before selling his land to a big company.
“Around 35 years ago they started with the development of Bavaro. At that time, I just watched them start to build hotels. I did not feel bad, but good. Everything was new for us. With tourists came more income. My father needed money and when a developer came he sold our land for very cheap. He could not foresee what the future would look like. I do not feel bad about it. I am a Christian and do not hold a grudge.”
“We moved to Friusa. It was different back then. We lived in a private area that my brother-in-law owned. It did not have as many vegetation as the place where we lived before. But we were doing fine. I still live there with my mother, sister, and brothers. Other neighbors sold their land too. They moved to places like Higuey, but also to Santiago.”
Cigolo never went to school. He does not read nor write. Still, he managed to learn English, some French and Russian because of the many customers from different nationalities he sees every day. He started out selling souvenirs at Captain Cook and afterward, he started working on Bibijagua 18 years ago.
“Did you know Bibijagua moved a few times. First, it was more to the left side, but then a hotel came forcing us to move. It has also been more over there.” Cigolo points to the back.
“There also used to be a road here in front of the beach where the bus passed. It had to move too because resorts did not want a bus running on the beach side of their place.”
Cigolo reaches underneath a wooden table. A bottle filled with dark red little branches and herbs appears. It’s homemade Mamajuana, a recipe he shares with no one. “The only thing I can tell you is that I use more wine than rum.”
Pouring out Mamajuana in 2 little plastic shot cups Cigolo explains how he feels about how Bavaro is today. “I have the childhood memories that I can turn to. The developments brought work and income to the area and that makes it a good thing.”
“My favorite secret spot is called Punto Los Niños.” How to find this place? “Stand on the beach in front of Bibijagua. Then you look to the right very far down, you see the coastline form in a point. That is Punto Los Niños.”
To taste Cigolo’s famous Mamajuana, visit him at Bibijagua at the Poncho Villo shop number 3!
Read our article on the history of Punta Cana to have more knowledge on how the place developed.