Friday, March 27, 2009

The true Dominican experience.

The Dominican Republic is a popular vacation destination especially for Canadian. However, if you take a vacation in an all inclusive resort you’ll have a great time and will relax plenty but you’ll never know the Dominican Republic and its inhabitants. We are now in Luperon; a small town on the north side of the Hispaniola Island, the large island on which sit Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Luperon is not wealthy and offers not much to tourists. However, this is by far the preferred stop for sailors. First, it is the best hurricane hole in the Caribbean and the bay is made of a narrow entrance blocking any possible wave from entering and surrounded by hills to eliminate any winds over 10 knots. The place is so protected that once in Luperon you have no idea what the outside weather looks like. Second, the few streets forming the town offer everything you need to stay even for a long period of time; restaurants, bars, laundry services, groceries and since they cannot afford to change the parts when their machines break they can fix pretty much anything for a few dollars. If you are a single man sailing alone you can also find some nice company at a reasonable price here! The island is one of the most fertile places you can see with regular rain and good soil. If you cannot grow it here, you can’t grow it anywhere else! Because of that, fruits and vegetables are very cheap and the general population can eat at satiety. When people are not hungry they don’t steal much and as much as we’ve been able to assess this makes Luperon and the surrounding areas a very safe place. They are poor, no doubt about it but they are very proud and extremely hospitable. They are clean and go a long way to dress properly as much as their revenues allow them. In fact, the many white unshaved sailors who take a shower once a week and wear sandals and shorts are much dirtier and the ones who stink around here!

Our cruising guide book says “You’ll never truly live the Dominican experience unless you use their different modes of transportation.” We took that advice to the letter and bound ourselves to visit Puerto Plata using public transportation. We started our trek from Luperon where we had to take a guagua, a small minivan with seats in it able to seat about 10 people, which would take us to Imbert. Of course if they need to fit 15 you can bet they will though. The 35 minutes ride was obviously cheap; 45 pesos or $1.30 per person. This should be very easy to do but since we didn’t do our homework and didn’t learn to speak Spanish it was interesting to get on the right guagua with only 5 words in our vocabulary. But Dominicans are patient and really helpful so we got on the van and waited a few minutes before the driver came in with another guy who collect the fees and left. The guagua was not too crowded and, unless the popular belief, there were not chickens or pigs on board. In Imbert we were supposed to take a public bus, caro publico, to Puerto Plata and when I asked to driver where that would be he pointed to me a car that just pulled off in front of the guagua. We looked through the window and asked the driver “Puerto Plata?” “Si, si” was his answer. “Cuanto costa?” as we always need to ask how much it cost before getting into a vehicule as the prices could easily be 35 pesos or 300 pesos for the very same ride. He said “trienta y cinco” which we knew meant 35 and was the price we expected. So we got in the taxi, a small Toyota Tercel or something that size and where a lady was already on the passenger seat and another on the back seat. We squeezed ourselves on the back seat with the other lady and although it was pretty tight it was bearable. I mean, when you are paying $1 for a taxi ride you should expect some tradeoffs. Well, that was not exactly the end of the story and we hadn’t cross the intersection that the driver pulls off and calls two other customers to get in. One woman sat on the passenger seat with the other lady already there and the other woman pushed herself on the back seat where we were already three. Including the driver we were now seven people in the small Toyota! Danielle was half seated on my leg and by the time we got to Puerto Plata I could barely feel my blood starved foot! But hey, we got there and it cost us only 160 pesos ($4.60) for both of us!

It was raining in Puerto Plata and we were harassed by the streets vendors so we ate at a restaurant on the beach front, thinking that in a few days we will be sailing just right there past the breaking waves where a surf competition was going on. We walked a bit around but decided to go back to Luperon. We took a taxi to the bus station, then a public bus from Puerto Plata to Imbert and finally the guagua to Luperon. We were a bit squeezed along the way but after the 7 people Toyota, being “hugged” by a fat lady with her T-Shirt not completely covering a huge belly with skin stretches all around it, didn’t seems so bad especially with the incredible scenery of the Dominican country offered to us through the window. No All Inclusive deal can beat that!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dominican Republic

Arrived in Dominican Republic this morning (March 18)

Monday, March 16, 2009

From the Bahamas to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Our last stop before leaving the Bahamas was Mayaguana Island where our main goal was to clear out the custom and wait for the proper weather window to jump to the Turks and Caicos. Mayaguana, like pretty much everywhere else in the Bahamas is quite empty. A huge island but no people and as if it was not unpopulated enough the few people living on the island are split in three settlements. Our passage on the island was then supposed to be pretty boring and without interest. Of course, Danielle and I are pretty good at making situations with nothing at hand! On the day of departure we had to find the custom office of Abraham Bay as mentioned in our cruising guide. The bay is just paradise with its turquoise water populated with scattered coral heads and bounded on one side by the green strip of the island trees and on the other side by the white foam of the waves breaking on the shallower coral reef. No human presence to be seen other than what looks like a peer and a communication tower. In the Bahamas, a communication tower is like a beacon to human life and if there was a government office here it had to be by the tower. So we took our passport and boat papers put them in a water thigh bag, jumped in the dinghy and headed toward the peer. After six month on the water you may think that we would have paid attention to some small details such as the tide! But nooo, while approaching the peer the first thing we know is that we are digging a new trench in the sand with our propeller. Quickly we lifted the motor and Danielle jumped on the oars. Don’t ask me why but Danielle always want to oar the boat so don’t blame me to be unmanly by letting my wife do the hard work! However the wind was pretty strong and we had a hard time making any progress toward the peer. We had about 12 inches of water under the boat, as long as we stay in a very narrow channel of water and by lowering slightly the motor we were able to get some traction with it yet without touching the bottom. Slowly but surely, with Danielle looking ahead for the deeper channel we finally made it to the peer. Well remember, it is low tide so the fix concrete peer is VERY high. We managed to tie the dinghy to the 5 feet wall and I climbed it. Danielle looked a bit overwhelmed by the height of the wall so I told her to put her feet on that rock coming out at mid-height and I’ll put her up. This is when I noticed that she was wearing her stupid flip-flops, nothing better to climb a wall and walk who knows how long to the next settlement. I pulled her anyway and in no time we were both standing on the peer after 20 minutes of struggling in 12 inches of water and on a 5 foot of wall. Then I looked at her and asked “Where is the waterproof bag with the papers in it?”. Yep, we had left the bag in the boat and forgot to take it with us in the dinghy! There was no point being mad so we laugh a good bunch. To make a long story short we walked to the custom office, which was doing all the government business at the same time, to make sure it was opened and then came back to the boat. We waited a few hours for the tide to go up a bit and then went back. Believe it or not, the tide was then even lower! But this time we were experience mind you, and managed like pros to get to the peer using the motor in 8 inches of water, yes sir!

We sailed during the night to get to Providentiales (Provo), in the Turks and Caicos, in the morning when the wind is settled. The first day we just cleared in the customs (sorry no story this time) and slept. The next couple of days we wanted to see the city of course. First we needed to fill up one of our propane tank. The guide book we had tells us that we can get propane near where we anchored. Thus we take the tank in the dinghy and go ashore but no one had any idea of what we were talking about but a guy at the gas station told us we could get some at T.C. gas in the city. What we then realized is that the “city” per say was about 7km from the anchorage. We definitively had a transportation issue. We went back on the road and Danielle, with her legendary patience, said “screw this!” and as a car was passing us she lifted her thumb; the car stopped! Fitzgerald “Shoes” Thompson not only took us with him to T.C. gas with our 20lbs propane tank but waited for us to get it filled and even took us back to the beach! Things are very different here compared to the Bahamas but in both cases people are just plain nice. What we then learned is that on the island you can take a bus or a taxi but since there are no fixed bus routes per say and they are privately operated, we don’t really know the difference between the two yet. A third way to go about is using “jingsies” or something like that. I am not sure of the exact name and spelling but it is basically the normal people offering you a ride for a few dollars. You don’t really have to look for jingsies, they look for you. Being white skinned, every two minutes you get someone honking at us when walking on the street. I don’t understand how they figure out we are not locals! The next day we wanted to go see the “downtown” area, but even though Provo is spread over many kilometers its downtown is basically three streets with buildings scattered in a way to show you that urban planning is just a concept that exists somewhere else. With our new learning from the day before as soon as a car came to pass us I lifted my thumb and sure enough he stopped and off we went for a free ride to downtown. We walked the three streets and stopped at a restaurant selling fried chicken. In the Caribbean people like it fried! Nothing better for the diet but hey, while in Rome … They had more than fried chicken though so I took chicken curry and Danielle took fried fish, which were the expensive meals but while they were preparing our plates at the counter we understood that the cheap stuff here was the fried chicken and that for $2 you get a bag of 6 pieces or the bigger bag for $3. We added a “two dollar chicken” as they call it to our order and had quite a meal, a good thing we were starving. On our way back we stopped at the grocery, which was way cheaper than the Bahamas and took a jingsy back to the boat.We may go back to town later this week but for now we are relaxing while waiting for the next wind window to jump to the Dominican Republic, our next destination. Meanwhile we can enjoy every night a very special phenomena that apparently exists only in the area. Just after sunset and for only about 10-15 minutes on the few days following the full moon there a sort of very small worm coming out for mating. Nothing special here except that these little water bugs are fluorescent and glow a bright green light. Unfortunately they are too small to get a picture of them as they “turn on” only for a few seconds at a time. Just around the boat on one side we can then see 20 of them at a time glowing to their other half. We don’t know if it is the male or the female glowing like this but once it glows it takes about 2-3 seconds and it gets surrounded by 20 members of the other sex that would quickly swim toward it all at the same time but would glow just a flash. You then see all these quick flashes surrounding the poor bastard in the center who quickly turns off probably overwhelmed by the success of its fluorescent sex appeal!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Turks and Caicos

Just arrived in another country Turks and Caicos

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rum Cay

Rum Cay used to be prosper with its salt pond. The island was populated with about 5,000 people. They could provide salt for the entire Bahamas islands. In around 1926, a huge hurricane destroyed the dam and it could not be fixed stopping the operation and the exportation. The population then dropped from 5,000 to 60. Today, there is not much there. Close to the island there is the HMS Conqueror, which sank in about 30 feet down in the water. We tried to make it to her in our dingy but reefs and wakes were too big. You need to have a no wind day to make it. The ship that was from the Royal Navy fleet sank in 1861 after only 6 years of service.
One activity now from people on the Rum Cay Island is to go at the bar to watch the television. The floor inside the bar is cover with sand as you can see on the picture.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Island hopping.

We continue our trip south by hopping from one island to another along the Exumas chain and reached George Town. From there, we sailed East through Cape Santa-Maria, in Long Island, to Rum Cay. We’ve been lucky so far with the wind and were able to sail most of the way for the past two weeks. Especially the leg from Cape Santa-Maria to Rum Cay was quite exciting. Strong wind and decent waves made us wonder why people pay for rides in an amusement park when you can have a boat. Fortunately, having strong winds means going fast. The 37 miles trip was over in just a few hours and we were then safe and sheltered in Rum Cay where we plan to spend the next few days until the winds calm down a bit.

Each island has its own small town where we can walk or take a beer. Here you can see Danielle at Black Point where we stopped to wait for the wind to calm down. The place was very calm and pleasant. We stopped at Lorrain’s for a Bahamian meal. In this case it was breaded fish for Danielle and fried chicken for me. Bahamians really love frying oil! In George Town Danielle got acquainted with the local beer. Here you can see her trying to pose for an ad to promote the beer. Wouldn’t you be tempted by the beer with a babe like this on the picture? George Town is a bit bigger than the usual town we visited since Nassau and offers real grocery stores, hair salons where I got a good hair cut and hardware stores. We did some shopping but we mainly bought fresh food. Among other things we needed green onions but in George Town one was enough! It’s not in Canada that we grow green onions like that hey?

While Danielle drinks beer and go green onions hunting, I do some fishing. Nothing too complicated here. We caught two nice and delicious fishes just by letting a line in the water by the boat with a piece of chicken or fish on the hook. The two fishes you see here are the ones that let themselves being caught because in two days I lost three sets of hooks, leaders and floats that a certain underwater beast decided to take with it leaving me a sharply cut line. In George Town we bought stronger tackles and we’ll see who is going to have the last word. After all this is not spear fishes that are eating my hooks when there is less than ten feet of water in the bay! Of course, like all other sailors living on their boat, I had a lot of “Boat Repairs in Exotic Places”. Repairing the boat isn’t nice but with scenery like this it helps a bit. By the way, the problem here was just a small problem with the water pump of the genset that I fixed in a jiffy. After six month living aboard and maintaining the boat in working conditions I get a bit better.

Here are some pictures of George Town, the Mecca of sailors (especially the retired ones). From George Town the geography of the region makes navigation more serious and many people decide to stop here to spend the winter and come back home in spring. The first picture shows boats at anchors in George Town but the fact is that you don’t see even half of the boats that were there during our visit. A particular aspect of the harbor is that the water is milky instead of crystal clear like the rest of the Bahamas. One suggested to us that it was caused by what is “rejected” by all the boats in the area however I have some reservations about that theory. Although, 300-400 boats along with the city sewers, that are likely sent directly in the water with no treatments, that can make the water milky! In any cases, you can bet that the watermaker stayed OFF the whole time we were in George Town. Since the area is used seasonally by many retired people, the whole place looks like a camping site with activities such as beach volleyball or people just hang out with others to talk and have a drink.
Presently we are in Rum Cay and continue our route toward the Turks and Caicos where we hope to arrive in a week or two. Our next passage should be quite long and would likely require sailing overnight.