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!