June 11, 2006
Last night as we sat in the cockpit of Lucky Peek watching the full moon make it’s slow arc over us we reflected on last month’s full moon that provided the light for our two night crossing from Rum Cay, Bahamas to Providenciales, Caicos. It’s hard to believe that we arrived here three weeks ago already with tomorrow marking the beginning of our fourth week in the Dominican Republic!
We have made the decision to stay put in this protected harbor of Bahia Luperon as the “H” season officially began on June 1. Others planning to continue south have made the same call while some still plan to play with the weather windows and continue on. Old timers here say that there’s still plenty of time to get south to Trinidad or Venezuela; both popular destinations due to their latitudinal position for statistically hurricane safe waters. Our sights were set on Venezuela as well, but after a team meeting we arrived at a consensus (some habits die hard, or don’t die at all) – we would stay here and enjoy this beautiful country and take advantage of the opportunity to learn Spanish by immersing ourselves.
The people of Luperon are very welcoming and friendly. Since most of them don’t speak a lick of English we’ve been trying to refresh our Spanish from high school and college classes to make ourselves understood. Of course I remember some of the basics from those high school dialogue practice sessions. “Hola! Como estas? Muy bien, gracias, Y tu? Tango tu madre por la classe de salud!” That last one always throws people. Translation: “I have your mother for health class”. I try not to use it very often but it just rolls off my tongue so smoothly it’s hard to resist. Rod often surprises me with his ability to seemingly pull the right word for the moment out of thin air. How did he know that word? I ask myself, and then him later. He’s not sure but he has somehow retained some odd vocabulary words that he’s now able to put to use. We enjoy the practice of going into the local businesses and using our CaveMan Spanish to communicate, and the locals seem to enjoy it as well. They laugh heartily and then sincerely correct us when needed, which is often.
Luperon, as a town, is very third world. While the good-natured residents are very conscientious about their personal cleanliness they don’t seem to mind the garbage that is everywhere on the streets, in the gutters, on the sidewalks, in open lots. It’s a confusing combination to me. Walking into town from the government dock, which is where we tie up our dinghy, involves strolling past litter so thick in places that it appears to be piled that way for removal. But it never gets removed. It’s normal to witness someone (local) simply pitch their empty plastic cup wherever they are standing – on the sidewalk, in the road. If there’s a Spanish word for “littering” I don’t think it’s in the local vocabulary. We would suggest a national campaign involving a crying Indian – the local equivalent would be a Taino Indian, which was the original inhabitant on Hispaniola. Only problem with that is there are no Tainos left.
The Spaniards that took over the island after Columbus’ discovery in 1492 were ruthless and managed to reduce the indigenous Taino population from 400,000 to less than 3000 in less than 30 years. Once the Tainos were completely wiped out, the Spanish turned to the west coast of Africa to import their slaves. An estimated 500,000 Africans were brought to Hispaniola as slaves between 1518 and 1801. Centuries of political unrest and war lead to the island being divided into two nations: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has actually declared its independence three times, twice from Spain and once from Haiti in 1844 after 22 years of occupation.
Of the roughly nine million residents, most Dominicans are classified as “mixed race” given their mixed ancestry of European, African, and some indigenous descent. The official poverty level is US$400/month and more than one third earn less than that. In 2005 the minimum wage (as we know it in the States) was US208 per month. Walking through Luperon the poverty is obvious. Rudimentary houses/shacks line most streets while more modern homes line another. Very nice homes are being built on “Gringo Hill” which overlooks the harbor and the ocean. Given the name, you can surmise where the occupants hail from.
Eating at the local comidors in Luperon is cheap and usually delicious. At the Pica Pollo (gringos refer to it as the Chicken Shack), you can get a chicken dinner of 3-4 pieces of chicken, delectably fried, rice and beans or cassava for 70 pesos. Right now the exchange rate is 32 pesos to $1. You do the math. A number of local establishments offer a daily happy hour where a grande Presidente’ or Bohemia beer (large bottle which can be shared between two) is 40 pesos. No wonder we’ve been here for three weeks already!
At the beginning of our second week here we took a land excursion to Santo Domingo with William and Terra on “Maja”. To get there we first negotiated a taxi to take us to Imbert where we then got on an Express bus to Santiago where we then took a nice air-conditioned modern bus to Santo Domingo. After about 4 hours of travel we arrived in the bustling capital. One more taxi ride and we secured a room for the night at the Duque de Wellington before setting out on a walking tour of the Zona Colonial, the old city – the Colonial Zone. In the day and a half that we were there, we toured the New World’s first hospital (what’s left of it), the oldest working church in the New World, the oldest monastery, and Christopher Columbus’ son’s house. We had an impromptu dinner the first night in the most amazing historical building with an expansive courtyard. Ferns sprouting out of the ancient stone walls in the courtyard provided the perfect ambiance after a day walking the hot sidewalks. Obviously a day and a half is too little time to see everything so we definitely plan a follow-up trip.
Tomorrow we are leaving for a week long land tour. This time we will travel by rental car with William and Terra (we liked traveling together the first time so we’re doing it again!) and we plan to tour the countryside of the interior and then visit the southern coast. We are anxious to see the waterfalls that are listed as a “must see” in the guide books and to get up into the mountains. It has been very hot the last couple of weeks so we look forward to the cooler temperatures in the higher altitudes. As we pass through the small interior towns that don’t get a lot of English speaking visitors we will have plenty of opportunity to practice and hopefully improve upon our CaveMan Spanish.
Hasta luego, amigos!