Deciding to “hole” up in Luperon

Republica Dominicana
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!

Arrival in the D.R.

Luperon, Dominican Republic
June 1, 2006

Hola Amigos! We are now in the Dominican Republic! Luperon is a small town/village on the north coast and we are safely anchored in the Bahia Luperon (harbor). We arrived on Monday, May 22 after an overnight sail from Big Sand Cay in the Turks and Caicos.

We are planning to work on our Spanish and see the sights of this beautiful country! Hispaniola, the second largest island (after Cuba) in the Caribbean, is comprised of the Dominican Republic and Haite. It is green and mountainous, featuring the highest mountain peak in the Caribbean islands at over 10,000 feet. Quite a change from the low-lying, dry islands of the Bahamas. There is much to see here, waterfalls, beaches, spanish colonial architecture, and even possibly the bones of Columbus are buried here. Plenty to keep us occupied for a while!

Stay tuned for a more detailed update on our adventures in the D.R.

Hasta luego!

Providenciales, Caicos Islands – Turks and Caicos

Providenciales, Caicos Islands – Turks and Caicos
May 17, 2006

We dropped the hook in Sapodilla Bay on the southern shore of Providenciales (“don’ hurt your tongue, mon, jus say Provo”) at 6 a.m. on Sunday, May 14 after a 49 hour crossing from Rum Cay, Bahamas. Two nights at sea! Our original plan was to sail one overnight and then stop at Mayaguana (eastern most island of the Bahamas), but the conditions along with our spirits and energy were great so we had a team meeting and decided to modify the sail plan and keep going – next stop Provo, another day/night away.

Our course from Rum Cay to Mayaguana was going to be from 121 to 138 degrees true. If you were to consult your compass you would see that is a southeasterly course. Trade winds in these parts blow southeasterly about 90 percent of the time and sailboats can’t sail straight into the wind, at least not this one. So when the forecast reported winds going south and light we knew that was our window. We said goodbye to Greg and Cindy on Day Dreamer – we’d had such a great time together since meeting them at Allan’s Cay in early April. We experienced the Exumas for the first time together; dinghy-pooling to various sites, taking a million pictures of each other at these sites, sharing meals, great conversation and laughter. We were going to miss them on the next leg of our journey. Their course was taking them to Cat Island and then Eleuthera – the opposite direction from our course.

At 9:00 a.m. on a Friday (yeah, we know, we shouldn’t leave on a Friday – but the winds were in our favor!) we were sailing out of the Rum Cay anchorage. The sun was shining, the water was sparkling, and the winds were south at 10 knots! On the cons side of the daily attributes list was the ocean current going against us at about three quarters of a knot. As we settled into our course, pointing a bit higher to the wind to counter the current and leeway, we were close hauled (point of sail very close to the wind direction) and needed Forrest (remember Forrest? He’s our trusty engine – “Run Forrest Run!”) to assist in order to keep our speed up for a daytime landfall (the next day) at Mayaguana. Rum Cay to Mayaguana = 120 miles. Averaging 4 knots of speed this would take us 30 hours. Our first planned overnight passage! (Our last overnight passage was almost a year ago to Key West and was unplanned)

In preparation I had boiled a dozen eggs, made sandwiches, and positioned items in the fridge for easy access while under way. We agreed on a schedule of two hour watches, and settled into that pattern as soon as we were on our course. The seas were calm and the winds were light (actually a bit lighter that we would have preferred) which made for good naps when not on watch.

At 3:30pm, while Rod was below taking his afternoon nap and I was at the helm the fishing line that we were trolling with came alive. FISH ON!!! And it was a big one! Rod’s nap was over. I slowed Lucky Peek down while Rod started reeling in the line (we’re still using the caveman hand line). We could see the flashes of bright blue, green, and yellow in the water about 75 feet behind us and knew that we had a dolphin fish on the line (Mahi Mahi, not Flipper). And then it confirmed its identity and size by flying out of the water, dancing in the air and fighting hard against the pull of the line. What a sight! Rod was reeling it in, then letting some line out, then reeling it in. Meanwhile, my adrenaline is surging while I’m taking the boat out of gear, easing out the main sheet to slow us down, turning the auto-pilot on, getting the gaff out of the starboard lazarette, getting the big net out of the port lazarette, getting the long handle for the big net off the port side of the cabin top, attaching the long handle to the big net – dang it! I can’t get those metal knobby things to push in so the handle can click on! There, I got it! Getting a line and making a slip knot in it so we can tie it to its tail. Slip knot! I’ve just mastered the bowline, can I remember how to make a simple slip knot?! The pressure! There, I got it on the first try! Getting the giant bottle of cheap vodka (not the Ketel One) to use to stun and sedate the fish – I think I need a swig. Rod now has the Mahi Mahi alongside the boat. The colors are stunning and we could now see that we were about to bring aboard a 4 foot female. The male dolphin fish has a very distinct flat forehead and the females, like the one on our line, have a more rounded head. She was getting worn out and was not fighting as hard now. We can tell that she’s definitely not going to fit in the net but we want to try and stop her from swimming about and possibly losing her. She doesn’t like the net. When I put it in the water and try to scoop her head into it she goes crazy and dives deep – yanking the Cuban reel (caveman handline spool-like yo-yo thing) right out of Rod’s hands! Fortunately, one of the things I had done among my other frantic tasks was put the orange rubbery gloves on Rod’s hands earlier on in the reeling, so now he was able to hold directly on to the line. Now I’m using the big net on the long handle to scoop the Cuban reel out of the water! Got it! Rod suggests to me that I turn away as he needs to use the gaff on the fish to get it aboard. I do as he suggests. But then he needs my help – I am to take the line with the slip knot, loop it around the tail, pull it tight and tie the other end to the boat. I somehow manage this in between getting flipped in the head with wild tail flaps. We follow the advice of other fisherman and cover her eyes with a towel so she’ll calm down. She’s on the deck of the boat now. I’m giving her a stiff drink in the gills from the vodka bottle. I’m witnessing with my own eyes now what I’d read about and heard in other fish stories – as the dolphin fish gets anxious its colors actually change, and when they die all the colors fade away to a muted grayish green. As her color started fading my vision becomes severely blurred. I go to the cockpit and sob. (In fact my vision is blurring as I write this.) I may be a sailor but I’ll never be a fisherwoman.

We had grilled Mahi Mahi fillets for dinner our first night at sea. They were delicious. We have more fish than we’ll be able to eat in a week, so we’ve been sharing the fillets with others. I’m so glad that we won’t be putting the fishing line in the water again for another 7 days or so.

As the sun set on our first night out the water looked like liquid silver. It was so calm and the slow movement of the darkening sea made it look heavy, like it was molten. The winds had gone even lighter so we were still using Forrest on low RPMs. The full moon was rising in the east to light our way through the night. After we cleaned up from dinner I took the first watch: 8pm – 10pm. I relaxed at the helm, letting Otto (auto-pilot) keep us on course. I identified constellations in the sky – it’s always oddly comforting to me to spot the big dipper. Like a friend I’ve known since childhood. And then at 9:30pm I thought I heard a helicopter. It sounded close but I didn’t see any lights in the sky. Just as I was leaning back to look above us – there it was, making me jump! A stealth coast guard chopper with no lights on flying low, about 100 feet off the water, to get a look at us. He must have been satisfied that we weren’t transporting any ganja or Haitians as he kept on going and quickly disappeared into the darkness. Probably laughing at seeing the whites of my eyes shining as big as saucers when I looked up at him.

Other than the stealth helicopter fly-by, the night watch was, well, boring. On my second watch, which we agreed to extend to three hours from 1am to 4am, I did exercises in the cockpit, sang an extended medley of songs – Margaritaville, Me and Bobby McGee, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, etc., ending the medley, of course, with Amazing Grace – in several different keys. Who needs a karaoke machine!

As we approached Mayaguana the following morning we calculated the distance to continue to Provo and decided to stay the course without a stopover. It meant another day/night on the water but we were game. The seas continued to lay flat and the wind was barely a breeze. Forrest was still humming along and helping out the sailing. All was well. We only needed to average 3.5 knots to make an early morning we weren’t in any hurry. We enjoyed the sunset, reminisced over our crazy experiences thus far on this adventure, and marveled at the beauty of the water – which was again taking on the quality of liquid metal. Our second night at sea, once we went on watches and didn’t have each others company was even more boring than the first.

Provo’s northern shore has an extensive outer reef providing world class snorkeling/diving. That beach is lined with 5 star resorts intermixed with more resorts being rapidly constructed. There is a ton of money being pumped into this island. Lots of speculation and land prices are skyrocketing. Culturally, it is very, very different from the Bahamas. Here there is a large mix of ethnicities – people from Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philipines, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Trinidad, and a few people originally from the Caicos. We anchored on the southern shore, which is beautiful but is not where the resorts are. It still has a third world feel on this side of the island. Pretty wild. The island is relatively large so we rented a car for a day to do some land touring. They drive on the wrong side of the road here! Ok, not to offend some of our potential British readers (James) – they drive on the left side of the road here! One of the guide books on the island gave the impression that the island was quaint by stating that there were no stoplights. Not quaint. No stoplights, but instead there are crazy round-a-bouts – like leaping onto a moving merry-go-round while some of the riders are jumping off in your direction. And if you don’t jump in quick enough you get honked at from behind! Rod was the driver and my job was to frequently remind him to “Stay Left!” while I consulted the map of the island.

Provo is a popular destination but for us it is just a stopover. We did have to check in with customs/immigration upon arrival and we checked out today. If the forecast holds we are leaving here first thing in the morning. We will stop for the night at Ambergris Cays, on the southeastern side of the Caicos Banks, and then the following morning we will set a course for Luperon, Dominican Republic. Hasta luego!