Saturday, August 29, 2015

Motorcycle Ride to La Isabella


Renting a motorcycle is a cheap mode of transportation here so we decided we should learn how to ride one. David had a quick one hour lesson the first week we got here, and the next step was a taking a short ride. We were told La Isabella would be the perfect beginners trip, which is 10 miles from Luperon. It can get a little crazy driving in the DR since you have to dodge cows, donkeys, pot holes, and rocks and watch out for cars driving in the middle of the road as you round a bend. So we were a little apprehensive when we started out.

At first we both were going to drive our own motorcycle, but after getting a run down on how to operate the manual bike, I quickly changed my mind. Too much to learn in too short a time. Plus, my brothers tried teaching me to ride their dirt bikes when I was younger and that didn't go so well. (Phillip and Ted, if you are reading this, maybe you'll remember the bike taking off out from under me and I'm just standing there watching it ride away. LOL.) 

As I mentioned, this was only the second time David had driven a bike so we weren't sure how it would go with me being a passenger.  After I climbed on behind David, we took off and immediately started to wobble, which was not a good feeling! David pulled the bike over to the side of the road, and we almost called it a day. Two inexperienced riders going someplace they've never been and not being able to speak the native language - maybe we didn't think this out as much as we should have. However, being the determined couple we are we gave it another try, which went much more smoothly. Originally we were going to follow one of our friends from the harbor, but he was a no show so we set off by ourselves. I started off holding on for dear life but was able to relax after a few minutes and enjoy the view, which included sweeping valleys and tall mountains.

After a few wrong turns, we finally made it to the beach and did a quick walk around before getting something to eat. Carabella’s, which is a small food shack right on the beach, is the place most of the cruisers hit up, but it was closed for the day so we went to the restaurant situated atop the hill. Just as we sat down, we saw Pollux and Wypex pull up (the guys we were going to follow) so they joined us. After a delicious meal of fish and fried chicken, we jumped in the water to cool off and enjoyed some cold drinks. It was a great day, and now we are ready for the next adventure, which is a trip to the 27 waterfalls. 


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Trip to Puerto Plata: Cable Car to Isabel Del Torres and Tour of Brugal Rum Factory

Last week we ventured outside of Luperon and went to Puerto Plata for some sightseeing and shopping. On the advice of several people, we booked Nino to drive us in his Camry the short 30 mile distance. We had several options for getting there: guagua (bus), rent a car, rent a motorcycle, or get a motoconcho (motorcycle taxi), but it was much easier with Nino since he knows his way around the city and could translate things for us if needed.
We headed out in the morning and our first stop was the Brugal rum factory. There was a quick introduction by the tour guide and then he led us into the factory, where the tour lasted all of two minutes. We watched bottles go whizzing by on the conveyor belt and went back outside. Not much of a tour in my opinion, but hey we got free shots of rum before we left so I’m not complaining.

After that, we went to Isabel del Torres. It wasn’t a normal car ride to the top of a mountain however. The government built a cable car system that transports people up 2,555 feet to the top, where there is a Christ the Redeemer statue, botanical garden, restaurant, and souvenir shops. We waited a few minutes for the car to fill up and then we were on our way, gliding over the lush green tree tops. The first thing you notice when you step out of the car is the nice cool, breezy air and spectacular views of the city, surrounding mountains, and the ocean. After spending six months at sea level, it felt surreal being up that high with clouds floating by just out of reach. We snapped a few photos, walked down a short path to a small cave, and then headed back down the mountain. If we weren’t starving, we would have stayed a little longer to walk around the entire park, but our stomachs won out.




We told Nino that we wanted to eat at a restaurant that served Dominican food since we still hadn’t eaten any since arriving two weeks ago so he took us to a buffet-type place. I had beef stew, rice with veggies, and yuca, which is kind of like a potato. Everything was delicious, except the fried yuca patty. It was prepared with anise, which I’m not a fan of.
We stopped at a few places trying to find some marine parts and an external hard drive and then hit up the first Wal-mart type grocery store we’ve been to since leaving the States. Of course all of the packaging is in Spanish so it took us a little longer to shop than normal, but we figured out what most things were just by looking at it. 

Puerto Plata is the biggest city closest to Luperon so I’m sure we’ll be back there several of times before we depart.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Luperon: Settling in

On August 7th, David wakes me up in the twilight hours so I can take my turn at the helm while he gets some sleep. As I stand behind the wheel, I am rubbing my eyes and trying to get my bearings straight after a few fitful hours of rest. I look around in the dark and see stars, a sickle shaped moon, dark water all around me, and distant lights on land. It’s quiet except for the sound of the waves slapping the boat and the hiss of foam forming in our wake. There is also this earthy smell of smoke and trees carried from land by the wind. All of these sensations create a unique experience for me – one that I hope I remember years from now. As the sun starts to rise, I slowly start to make out the outlines of the mountains. It’s a stark contrast from the flat, sandy islands we experienced in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. David wakes up around seven, climbs up from the cabin, and says, “This is pretty awesome.” I look at him, smile, and wholeheartedly agree with him. As we get close to Luperon harbor, we see two small boats with fishermen trying to get their daily catch. From the harbor entrance, we turn right and see forty or fifty sailboats anchored or tied to mooring balls, and we start trying to find our own spot to anchor. As we find one, we pass a boat with a couple on it, and they give us a very friendly greeting and welcome us to Luperon. At that moment I was thinking to myself that we are going to love it here.

The passage from Provo to Luperon took three days. We weighed anchor at 7 a.m. on August 7th and made our way to Ambergis Cay. We originally planned to go to Long Cay to anchor for the night, but we were running out of daylight. The Exuma banks are shallow, 6 to 12 feet, and there are a lot of uncharted coral heads, which means you do not want to be out there during the night. The next day we sailed to Big Sand Cay, which was 25 miles as the crow files. If we had been able to go straight there, it would only have taken us about five hours. However, we had to go north several miles to avoid large fields of coral and tack our way up wind and up current to get to our destination.  It ended up taking us twelve hours, and we anchored in the dark. Usually it’s quiet in the places that we anchor, but about a ½ mile out, we heard a lot of commotion and loud squawking. It sounded like there were hundreds of birds on shore, and in the morning, we had a few curious birds flying circles around the boat.

The last leg of our journey was 80 miles, and it took us twenty-four hours. It was uneventful except for an incident where the sheets somehow ended up on the wrong side of the sail. I thought I had turned on the autopilot and went to turn off the depth sounder since it was beeping (it does this when we are in deep water and it can’t read the depth). Long story short the boat turned, and the sheets somehow got twisted. It took David 45 minutes to sort everything out, and we were back on our way.

For the record, I do not like long passages, and for this particular trip I was cranky and in a bad mood a lot of the time. I just don’t like being at the helm for more than a few hours, especially when the autopilot won’t keep a good course and I have to steer. In strong wind, it puts a lot of strain on my neck and back, and they start to hurt. If you add in the stress of being on the constant look out for coral that could sink your boat if you hit it and the constant heeling that makes doing anything below 10 times harder than normal and makes me seasick, you might understand why I don’t like it. I do, however, absolutely love getting to new destinations, getting off the boat, and exploring. I always forget why I don’t like long sails….at least until the next one starts.

So why did we chose Luperon as our hurricane hole? Well its harbor is protected on all sides, and since it is situated on the north coast, it has never been taken a direct hit by a full strength hurricane. Plus things like food and supplies are cheap here, it has a good cruisers community, it’s a big island and there are tons of things to do here, it’s a short easy walk to town, and there is cheap public transportation. And it will give us a chance to learn Spanish. As we were checking in yesterday, we sorely wished we already had a working knowledge of it.

Checking in wasn’t as easy as it has been in the previous two countries. Before we even anchored yesterday, a boat pulled up next us, and the man in the boat, Papo, told us to come to him if we needed anything….gas, water, laundry, someone to watch the boat,etc. After we anchored and got things squared away, Papo came back with two other guys, the Comandante and another guy who took down our passport and boat registration details. Only Papo knew English so he translated for us. It took about fifteen minutes, and they left with a two liter of Diet Coke and a “donation” of $10 each. We were told by Papo that isn’t obligatory to make the donation, but we told by other cruisers that we should.

Next David had to go to town and jump thru several hoops with different government agencies to get us checked in. First, he walked to the end of the pier where a couple of small buildings stood with officials sitting around in various uniforms. He went to Immigration first. The guy there spoke a little English, and David managed to get the necessary forms filled out and paid $93. They wanted copies of our passports and tried telling David in Spanish where he could to get some made, which of course David didn’t understand. Then he went next door to the Port Authority and was told to pay $10. He didn’t have change at this point so he was told to come back later. Next up was the Agriculture department, and he paid them $20.  Lastly he paid a guy $20 for tourist cards. This guy spoke the best English so far, and David asked where he could get copies of the passports made. With his direction, David set off to find the place and also get change. The guy that gave the directions ended up pulling up on a motorcycle and told David to hop on.  So David hopped on with no helmet and nowhere to hang onto hoping he doesn’t go flying headfirst onto the pavement. After stopping at a couple of places, he accomplished his tasks, and they headed back to the pier. Then the agriculture guy said he needed to come inspect boat, and David gets another bike ride back to the dinghy dock. Once they get to our boat, the agri guy says to show him our veggies and fruit. I go below with him and start to pull them out of the storage cabinet, but he shakes his head like he doesn’t want to see them. We go back up, muddle our way through some questions, and then they leave the boat. That was definitely an interesting check-in process, and I’m glad I didn’t have to do it! We did learn a lesson though...we need to learn Spanish ASAP.

After being checked in, I was able to leave the boat so we decided to go explore the town and get some food. At the dinghy dock we met Elise on s/v Tulum, and she gave us some recommendations for food. She said there probably wouldn’t be any Dominican type food left since they sell out around lunch so we opted for a pizza joint. Next we stopped by Wendy’s to get a drink and mingle. Wendy’s is the IT place for cruisers. We saw Elise again with a group of her friends. Two of the ladies are part of a nonprofit organization called Dogs and Cats of the Dominican Republic and had brought two adorable puppies that they are trying to find homes for. I couldn’t resist holding them. I offered my help to them if they needed anything, and they readily accepted. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time here than volunteering to help take care of animals. We also got the low down on all of the activities that go on during the week. There are movie nights, baseball games (cruisers vs. the Dominicans), yoga, poker games, and karaoke nights. I’m excited to get know everyone here and can’t wait to venture out past Luperon to see what this island has to offer.

Who can resist a face like his

Walking into town from the pier
The not so safe looking dinghy dock

Monday, August 10, 2015

Arrived in the Dominican Republic

After two twelve hour days and one twenty-four hour day of sailing, we are finally in Luperon, which we will call home for the next two months. We arrived this morning just as the sun was rising and couldn't take our eyes off the lush mountainous landscape. More to come on the passage, check-in process, and our first day after we get some shut-eye. It's been a long three days!

I created a Facebook page for our adventures a few days ago so check it out and Like the page if you're interested in it!