Drifting Through Paradise
Part 5 – The Dominican Republic
March 27, 2000 (Probably Friday)
Luperon, Dominican Republic
We are in the Dominican Republic, town of Luperon! We cleared out of Provo on Friday and got underway to Six Hills Cays on Saturday. Six Hills is about 43 miles east of Provo across the Caicos Banks. We encountered more coral heads on this passage than on any other yet to date. It was quite exhausting to continually watch and then steer around all the coral heads. Just before we got to Six Hills a squall hit. It rained hard for 5 to 10 minutes and we were unable to go any further because we couldn’t see the heads without sunshine. As the first squall passed we got closer to Six Hills and were just about to drop anchor when a second squall came through. Crossing the banks was beautiful, though. The water and sky came together to create the “turquoise sky” - the sky over the Banks turns turquoise in color. September Song had an escort out of Provo – turns out JoJo the Dolphin swam out with them for quite awhile. Dylan loved it!
Sunday proved to be a perfectly lovely day and the passage to the D.R. was very nice. The waves were 5 to 8 feet with an occasional 10 footer with a very long period. The waves subsided by midnight. As the sun rose, we were treated to a spectacular vista of mountains and mist. The trees were so tall and green, it’s so beautiful here! Oh, and we saw small dolphins on Sunday, they were very cool. Cindy called us on the VHF to tell us that she saw Humpback whales – unfortunately we missed them.
So as we approach, it’s like entering a cut with mountains on either side. You can see the waves breaking on the sides of the cliffs and it’s breath taking. Then, just a little ways in and there are mangroves and trees on either side. The water turns brown very quickly. The view is one of the most breath taking we’ve yet to see in our travels. And the birds! We can hear them in the trees and see white egret-like birds nesting in the mangroves.
As we get into the anchorage, we see that September Song has gone aground. They have a few dinghies around helping them get off the soft mud bottom (no coral in here). It’s crowded in the anchorage but since there is no wave action, we’re sitting quite still. It’s very quiet here too. Seems very peaceful.
We hoisted our quarantine flag when we got in this morning and not 2 hours went by when Customs came to clear us in. Freddy is the customs official and Poppo serves as the interpreter. We were advised that Poppo would have a D.R. flag for us to buy and at $15, “it was the best deal around”. Sure enough, we gladly bought the flag and checking in was quick and easy. Hope opted not to buy the flag – they decided to buy one in town for $6. But then again, it took Hope 3 days to get cleared in.
We went into town today. Luperon is very colorful, lots of purple, red, and green – houses, buildings, and boats. It’s third world simple and not at all polished. We had lunch at Poppo’s restaurant. I mistakenly asked for a diet soda and the waitress went out to a local grocery and brought back club soda. Oops. But how nice that she’d do that! Fried chicken, rice and beans for $4 for both of us – what a deal! A more simple meal might cost $2. Why cook on the boat?
Blue Star, Katy, and many other boats we know are here. It’s really neat. We have a lot of exciting things we want to do here: see the waterfalls, go to Puerto Plata or Santiago, even checkout the marina. But for today, we’re glad just to have the hook down and time to relax.
Thursday, March 30th
Luperon, Dominican Republic
Today we went to Puerto Plata. Yesterday we went to the marina to take showers. It felt wonderful to have unlimited hot water slushing down my body. The cost: 15 pesos ($1 US). I also dropped of our laundry. Anna, at the marina, charges 35 pesos to wash and 35 to dry (soap included). I figured we had 3 loads, she managed to do it in two. So that was a good deal!
The marina has a nice a nice bar where a rum punch is 20 pesos and a litre of El Presidente beer is 25 pesos. I haven’t tried the beer yet but everyone who has says it’s very good beer. They also have food. Papa Fritas (French fries) are 15 pesos and a good appetizer. There are various ways to get around the D.R. Motorcycles, bus, taxi, or “public car”. I haven’t go them all sorted out yet but today we took a guagua or bus (mini van) to Imbert (pronounced im-bear) and then car pooled a “public car” to Puerto Plata. The guagua’s cost $1 each then the public car was 13 pesos. Anyway, Mitchell, Tom, Cindy, Dylan, and I all got into Puerto Plata for around $8 total. Getting small change, for some reason, is difficult. We never have the correct change, we always seem to have 100 peso bills. So Tom and I come up with a plan to each buy a soda at the Super Mercado (super market) and break those 100 peso bills. Wrong! The grocer charges Tom for both sodas and won’t give me change.
The bus to Imbert was a mini van and as we went through each small town, the driver would honk his horn. We ended up getting 16 adults and 2 children into this mini van! The scenery was breath taking! Mountains and hills and valleys – all so lush and green. All of the houses and farms were painted so colorfully. The pastures were fenced with cactus. The cactus fence was to keep the animals in – donkeys, horses, cows, pigs, goats, chickens – we saw them all.
I wish I could better describe the vista: all green, grasses and palm trees, fig trees 30 feet tall. It’s so odd to see 30’ tall fig trees when where I come from you buy them at the florist probably 3’ tall and they grow indoors to maybe 6’.
Did I mention how comfortable the air/atmosphere is here? Not cool, not hot – exactly comfortable. It’s probably the mountain air flowing down. It’s not humid and it’s not dry – it’s just right.
In Puerto Plata we saw a lot of shops. It’s quite a city – very busy. The buildings weren’t as grand as those we saw in Cuba yet they were reminiscent of them. The people were, to our appearance, much better off. The stores had anything you might want. We didn’t find a grocery but we did find a computer store, stationary/bookstore, clothing stores and “Casa Nelson”. At Casa Nelson they have everything just like Montgomery Wards. The reason I used Montgomery Wards as a comparison is because I was in the house wares section looking at pillow cases. I noticed the price was 12 pesos. 12 pesos! That’s under $1 US! So I look closer. The price tag says Montgomery Wards –it was the Wards tag that said $12! I look closer and see Casa Nelson’s price tag: 200 pesos! Same price – funny, huh? Dylan and Mitch both found new shoes at Casa Nelsons.
The central park is very nice – about 1 block square in size with a gazebo in the center. Approaching siesta time, we started looking for a place to eat. A gentleman saw our questioning glance and recommended is brother (or some relations) restaurant down the street. Then he took us there. This was definitely a tourist restaurant but the prices were good and so was the food.
Afterwards, leaving the restaurant, there were 6 shoeshine boys outside, the all gathered round me and to Mitchell, it looked like they might want to pickpocket me. There was also a woman with a baby who looked very sad and would shake her head while rubbing her baby’s tummy. I think she was trying to tell me her baby was sick. I told here I was very sorry and that the baby was beautiful. I also told her I didn’t have any money. At this she spotted some tourists across the street and sprinted over to them. Health care in the D.R. is free for residents and visitors. In hindsight, she looked a might too old to be the baby’s mother. As the boys moved closer and the woman with the baby moved closer, the gentleman who led us to the restaurant appeared and pushed the boys away. The he led us to a computer store (we asked if he knew where one was). When we got to the door, he held out is hand. Tom handed him 10 pesos. Then he held out his hand at Mitchell and he gave him 10 pesos. After that, he disappeared.
Getting transportation home was an experience. We would ask were to get a public car and got directed to an empty street corner. A few taxi’s came by but they wanted too much to go to Luperon or Imbert. Finally, after much chaos and confusion, our “guide” appeared again and helped us negotiate a care or taxi that would take us all the way to Luperon. Mitchell gave him another 20 pesos and he seemed happy. Mitchell is quite sure the boys at the restaurant were thieves. He told me that our “guide” grabbed him by the hand and said “let’s go”. I think that he got us out of a jam.
I forgot to mention TamTam – the café by the sea. We sat outside and watched the boulevard and the sea while sipping espresso and El Presidente’s. It was very nice.
The ride home probably took a while longer than the ride there. Our taxi/car – whatever it was – didn’t have much for brakes. Before we got to the top of a hill, he would let his foot off the gas and coast us up and then down the hill. Getting out in Luperon, which this morning seemed quite bustling and busy, now seemed sleepy and quiet in comparison with Puerto Plata. It was a fun day.
April 4, 2000
Luperon, Dominican Republic
A few days ago we got up one morning and turned on the SSB radio to listen to the Cruiseheimer’s Net. 8:30 east coast time came and went – no net. Then it occurs to us that maybe daylight savings has come to the U.S. So we flip on the computer and sure enough – time had “sprung ahead” without us. It’s a good thing too because the D.R. doesn’t do daylight savings time and Atlantic Time was one hour ahead of EST. Having to calculate – what time is it here, in Florida, and in Minnesota was tedious. So we get to drop one of those calculations.
We’ve just been to Santiago! What a wonderful day. We provisioned at a grocery store called the “Nationale”. A supermarket just like in the States only they didn’t have any instant tea or ready-to-eat canned foods like ravioli or stew. Most prices were just like the States. And, unfortunately, since we’ve been here we’ve been unable to find fat free milk. They only carry 1% with the word “diet” on the label.
Sea Trek, September Song, Viking Rose, and us pooled together to rent a van and driver. What a deal! 800 pesos for the day – among the 4 boats that only came to $12.50US each. Our first stop put us in the wholesale market area of town. I would imagine someplace in China to look like this. Potato’s, garlic, all manner of fruits and vegetables lying in piles on a tarp in the street – along with cars, buses, horses, and donkeys. All of the chickens were either caged or had a string tied around one leg. In all the city streets we’ve been on, Luperon included, the gutters are filled with trash and scary looking water. You have to be careful getting on or off the curb. We also got to browse the Ferrateria (hardware stores) and they had dishware and weird items in them just like in the States. Dylan was able to find a case of Huggies diapers (at, believe it or not, a big Huggies warehouse). Cindy promised to buy them if Dylan promised to be potty trained before they got to Trinidad (typists note: yep, he did keep his promise!). Sea Trek and Hetty Brace scored on a couple of cases of El Presidente. We also went to the farmacia (pharmacy) where we were able to buy medicine that you would need a prescription for in the U.S. Which brings me to the topic of the United States. Butter is so expensive in the U.S. as is hamburger and lamb. And why can other countries manage to sell lean hamburger at a reasonable price when the U.S. does not? And why do you need a prescription for cold sore medication? Or for refills on birth control pills? I’ll bet the answer lies in one word: Money. Somebody in the U.S. has a racket going.
It was really an experience walking the streets with all that mayhem. The way people drive their vehicles is different – they seem to pass on 2 lane roads more often than we do or would think is safe. Sometimes our driver would pass a car and we’d be traveling head on towards oncoming traffic. Some of the turns consist of inching the car into traffic until the oncoming cars have no choice but to stop for you to pass. I really couldn’t drive on these streets. They also honk their horns often. But no one gets angry – there’s none of the gesturing or other anger behavior you see in the States. They just continue on. The other day I saw this food vendor run into a stopped motorcycle. I fully expected them to yell at each other but they just looked at each other and laughed.
From the wholesale district we went to lunch. Many restaurants have many archways around the building or maybe a roof with supporting pillars. It makes for a very cool, comfortable place to eat. Many stores have no doors – or rather the doors are roll up garage type doors that they open in the morning and leave open until they close.
After lunch we did the shopping. La Sirena is like a Target or Wal-Mart. And on either side are many clothing stores. Many street vendors also line the sidewalk to sell sunglasses, barrettes for hair, purses, cassette tapes, and hats. Sometimes Santiago would look like Chicago – other times it reminded me of Havana. It was quite a city and the surrounding countryside is incredible. When we drove into Santiago in the morning, the air pollution was very visible. But outside the city, the green jungles, mountains, valleys, and small towns were such a delight to see.
April 5, 2000
Luperon, Dominican Republic
Today is our three-year wedding anniversary! What a wonderful place to spend it! We rented a motorcycle and wandered the countryside to La Isabella. La Isabella is where Columbus landed in 1492-93. We went to a national park that is the original site of his house and the first Spanish settlement in the New World. Near as I can tell (all the museum information was in Spanish) this settlement managed to wipe out the native Indians who lived here previously. The Tuanos, they were called.
Mitchell and I both agree that we must learn Spanish before our next trip. We also want to dig up history of places we visit so we can better understand what we’ve seen and where we’ve been.
They also had a skeleton of some Spanish boy that dated back 500 years. The display consisted of a low wall around the skeleton with chicken wire covering the top. I would imagine U.S. archeologists cringing at the thought of this old skeleton sitting here open to the elements.
A guide walked through the park with us although we didn’t realize it until a small bit of time had passed and he didn’t go away. His English was about as good as my Spanish. He could speak a bit but didn’t understand very much. I asked, how old are these pottery fragments and he would reply “Yes!”.
At the end of the tour, he showed us some woodcarvings the locals make. The replicate the statues the Tuanos carved. They even use the same special wood and the exact same carving processes. The tree they use for the wood looks like a bonsai tree. The tree our guided showed us was over 500 years old – the wood is fossilized and very heavy. It’s amazing to look at the wood and see the carvings and imagine that anyone could create such beautiful carvings from such hard ugly wood.
After the national park we rode by Los Americas Temple – I think it was the first church in the New World.
The restaurant we had lunch in was at the top of a mountain with a fantastic view of the beautiful countryside and ocean. Lunch was fantastic too – 5 grilled snapper caught fresh that morning and salad and Papa Fritas.
We didn’t encounter the traffic on this road like the busier roads to Puerto Plata or Santiago. We did encounter a lot of cattle being moved down the road, many boys on donkeys, a mother pig and her piglets, and turkeys. Your eyes continually soak up the beauty of the lush green of the hillside and the slower paced lifestyle of the villages. Everyone is so nice and everyone says “hola” as you pass.
April 9, 2000
Luperon, Dominican Republic
We’re still in Luperon, waiting for a weather window. A large, nasty cold front is bearing down on us. It should be here tomorrow, then a high pressure system will fill in and blow hard on Tuesday. Then we wait for the seas to settle before heading out.
This is probably my favorite place. You can’t swim here (in the harbor) but the mountains are so beautiful and there are birds and fish to watch and the town is so lively. We went into town today and had lunch at Los Almadros. It’s located at the center of town and has a second story patio. So we sat on the patio and watched the hub-bub below. Everything you need is here and it’s not too expensive. There’s a pescadara on the way into town. We sometimes pick up a snapper for 20 pesos. We’ve seen them cutting bigger fish too.
We’re torn as to which way to head north. Sometimes we think we’ll take the Old Bahama Channel – it’s a straight shot to the Keys in Florida – 600+ miles. The problem is there’s no place to bail out if the weather gets bad. Bit it has a strong current that could give us an extra knot of speed. The down side is, we would rush our trip and we wouldn’t get to see the clear waters of the Bahamas. So if we can get out before Saturday, we’re heading back to the Exumas. Hopefully the water will be warm enough to snorkel. If we can’t get out by Saturday, we’ll have to re-think.
Right now I’m sitting in the cockpit – it’s neither too cold nor too hot. The air is not too humid or too dry. The crickets are all chirping and the water is as still as glass. Every now and then I can hear a fish splash in the water. It’s perfect and it’s so relaxing. Oh, a two knot breeze has come up. And you know what? It’s perfect too.
There’s a boat in the harbor named “Experience Mitchell”. We’re going to try to get a picture of it. Why do you think they chose “Experience Mitchell” for a boat name?
April 10, 2000
Luperon, Dominican Republic
I may have mentioned, there are many things to do in the Republica Dominica. Many daily tours. As soon as you get into port, the other boaters have had such a good time on these trips, they are compelled to tell you about them. All about them. In great detail. Again and again and again. And all of them tell of the exact same phenomenal experience. We’ve heard about the “waterfall trip” and the “horseback riding trip” so much that we felt that we’ve done them ourselves. So now we’ve decided to tell the other boaters about some new tours: “The Porcupine Jungle Walk” and the “Horseback Waterfall Combo” where instead of getting a guide who pulls you up through the waterfall, you get to pull your horse up the waterfall.
We won’t go into great detail, though. We’ll just gush about the phenomenal experience and how “you have to do this tour!”.
We are “IN” with Herb now. Herb says we should probably wait until Saturday to move. So we’re playing it day by day. All the boats in the harbor are ready to travel so hearing that the weather won’t be good for 4 plus days makes some of them desperate. In the harbor we all share our weather forecasts. We have Herb, weatherfax and David on Misstine. We do the 2 former as we don’t really know David and we’ve heard you must “subscribe” in order for him to give you a forecast. Well today David said it was fine to leave on Tuesday or Wednesday. Herb said no and our weatherfax said no. We decided to stay put. Oddly, the folks who insist David is right are still here too. Some folks will grasp at any information that indicates they can move. We know and have been told many times by others that weather information is rarely “wrong”. It’s a talent to pool 4 or more sources of weather and get a good picture of how the weather will be in your area. The error that will make your trip miserable is selecting 1 of 4 sources and deciding that 1 of 4 is correct while the other 3 are wrong.
We heard many people report into Herb saying they ignored his advice, traveled anyway and got beat up. We’ve yet to hear anyone who did follow his advice and get beat up. So we wait until later in the week. Meanwhile we’ll get everyone talking about the phenomenal “Porcupine Jungle Walk” tour.
April 13, 2000
Luperon, Dominican Republic
We climbed a mountain today! Tom, Mitchell and I just walked through town and up the nearby mountain. First we had to walk through some fields with cows in them. Then we found a cow trail. The trail was covered in areas with trees and cacti growing overhead. In the morning it was cool, like walking into air conditioning. The breeze smelled rich with the vegetation growing all around. ON the trail, we ran into Ramon. Ramon was a farmer and he was riding a donkey. He was very friendly and he had a sack of papayas – he gave us some for breakfast. They were good – very sweet. He said it was fine to continue walking through his land up to the top of the mountain. The cows were encountered we’re so close that I could have reached out and touched them (typists note: Michelle grew up in the city and saw her first cow when she was 15. She was pretty sure that these cows could’ve attacked if they so decided). They are pretty skittish though – we encountered them on the trail and they would stop in their tracks. They didn’t want to walk past us (typists note: they didn’t want to attack us, either).
We saw cow patties all the way to the summit. That was really surprising because it was not an easy climb in some spots. I can’t imagine that it would be easy to climb up if I were a cow. Some areas were very steep. When we made it to the top, we called Cindy on our handheld VHF radio and asked her to look through the binoculars to see if she could see us. At first she couldn’t, then Mitchell signaled with the blade of his Swiss Army Knife in the sun -then she saw us.
On the way down, we ran into Ramon again. He showed us his chickens and all of the eggs. He also let me ride his burro. It wasn’t easy getting on or off but it was really neat riding a burro with a saddle made of straw and goat hide.
Now we’re all pretty worn out from the day’s events. I think that we may have a few stiff muscles tomorrow. We may try to clear out tomorrow in preparation for leaving this weekend. We’ll have to see what the weather looks like…