A Short Stay in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

By: Kerry

Alcazar de ColonMick and Garth are scheduled to fly out of San Juan in Puerto Rico on April 9, so they’ve decided to jump ship here, where we’re close to the airport, and connect through to PR.

It’s the end of the line for them and we all felt in need of a ‘holiday’, so we booked rooms in a lovely hotel (Boutique Hotel Palacio) in a refurbished colonial building in the Zona Colonial of DR’s capital city, Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the New World, and claims to have the first street, cathedral, university and hospital in the Americas, dating back to the early 16th century.

The Zona Colonial – the old town – has been declared a World Heritage Site and has been meticulously restored: there are impressive churches and official buildings, and cobblestone streets lined with beautiful stone houses that showed architectural links to all the great cities of Latin America. It’s lovely.

We spent a day or so just wandering around the streets – we weren’t really in the mood for museums and such, but happily just snapped photos. Lots of photos.

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Easter in Boca Chica

Boca Chica, Dominican Republic

By: Kerry

Fantazia Caribbean1-8860So we arrived in Boca Chica a bit battered and tired. We were met by Rigo, the dock master at Marina Zar Par, who (of course) had a brother who moonlighted as a taxi driver and it wasn’t long before Eddy the taxi driver had us seated in his favourite Italian restaurant in Boca Chica.

Boca Chica is a tourist town by DR standards. The beachfront is lined with bars and the street running behind it is lined with souvenir shops (as well as more than its fair share of massage parlours). At night, the street is closed and a long row of restaurants sets up tables on the roadway.

The Cruising Guide mentions in passing that BC is “VERY WELL KNOWN for the availability of the opposite sex if you want to party. Be careful!”

Throughout dinner, diners and hookers strolled down the middle of the road between the tightly packed tables, the hookers casually dragging their fingertips across our boys’ shoulders and winking lasciviously at me, the girl with four blokes.

Daylight was a wholly different scene – at least on Easter Sunday. The beach, such as it is, is sheltered by an island and natural reef that form a large lagoon: the marina and port fit inside it, and dozens of pimped up cabin cruisers with monster outboards anchor off, where the adults stand waist deep in the water and use the boats’ swim platforms as wet bars. (An excellent, but under-utilised approach in Australia!).

The narrow beach was crammed with families soaking in the sea or sitting in the shade of the palm trees, eating and shouting over the music. A constant stream of hawkers plied the strip selling a strange assortment of goods, from trays of toffee cherries that looked like miniature toffee apples, to carved wooden tea sets…What the ??

We spent the afternoon sitting in a shady bar watching proceedings and soaking up rum punches. Everyone was in a holiday mood, which meant they were even more social than usual – we’ve found people to be very friendly and inclusive – and being able to speak and have a bit of a joke in Spanish makes a big difference.

Easter, or Semana Santa (literally, Saints’ Week) is the biggest holiday of the year here and the revellers were still making the most of it as we walked home along the beach.

And the music played LOUD well into the night.

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Blow it out your …

Boca Chica, Dominican Republic

By: Kerry

The katabatic wind theory of night sailing is, as far as we’re concerned, a load of bollocks.

In the months leading up to this trip, Woody has researched the different route options between Florida and the Caribbean, a voyage generally known as ‘The Thorny Path to Windward’.

One route has you heading ‘east until the butter melts and then turning south’. The most popular cruising guide, A Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South by the very dapper-looking Bruce van Sant, describes a route that goes along the north side of the Dominican Republic and down through the Mona Passage between the DR and Puerto Rico, which sounds possibly worse than the Windward Passage.

For better or worse, Woody chose the path extolled by an American called Frank Virgintino in his Free Cruising Guide to the Dominican Republic, which tracks, as we have, down the Windward Passage and along the south coast of the Dominican Republic.

Frank poses the credible theory that the on-shore anabatic and trade winds of daytime are mitigated at night by the opposing off-shore katabatic winds generated by the temperature differential between the cooling land and the comparatively warmer sea.

So by travelling at night, you take advantage of lighter winds from a friendlier angle.

Makes sense. But we haven’t found it to actually happen…

So we had another shitty night and day (16 hours to do 100 miles) of windward motoring to reach Boca Chica, where we actually met Frank of the Free Cruising Guide. Turns out that Frank has an interest in the Boca Chica marina…

Nice man, very helpful in putting us in touch with marina contacts in Puerto Rico. Swears by the theory based on 28 years of cruising.

Maybe we’ve just been short on luck or patience…

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A Few Days in the DR

Boca Chica, Dominican Republic By: Kerry

Da Boyz: Mick, Garth, Damian

Da Boyz: Mick, Garth, Damian

The Dominican Republic is LOUD. Salsa, merengue, bachata and reggaeton blast you sideways all day long. Every shop, bar, car – wherever two or more people gather – the music is dialled to ear-splitting.

On our first afternoon in Barahona, we came face to ear with this local phenomenon, and also with Iban: the quintessential fixer. In a country where the average monthly wage is $400, nearly everyone is moonlighting at something, and propinas, or tips, are an integral part of business.

Iban is second-in-charge of Immigration at Barahona, but with only around three boats a week dropping by, he has time on his very enterprising and well-connected hands. With Customs and Immigration cleared (expedited by Iban), he whisked Garth and me into town in his beaten-up Toyota, took us to the ATM, negotiated on our behalf to buy a local SIM card and drove us around trying to find ice, which was in short supply. We eventually found it at a bar of er, questionable repute where the music was a solid wall of noise, negating the need for the patrons to talk to one another.

He didn’t ask us for money for helping us, but graciously accepted a propina when Garth offered it.

Iban doesn’t speak English – few people in the DR do – but he speaks Spanish clearly and slowly enough that I can understand him. (I am suddenly official Fantazia translator and trying to dredge Spanish out of the dim recesses of my brain). We were interested in doing an excursion to Lago Enriquillo – a sub-sea-level lake with crocodiles and iguanas – a few hours’ drive away.

Of course! Iban would take us on a full-day excursion, incorporating the hot springs and ‘Indian carvings’. He would drive us in his Toyota.

The Toyota didn’t look like it was up to a 300km round trip with five big men and me in it, and our crew definitely weren’t up to a full day crammed in like sardines.

No problem. Iban had a friend with a mini-van. But it would cost an extra $50… He also arranged for a colleague from the Immigration Dept to mind the boat for the day – for a small propina.

We were off at 7.00 next morning but, after a fuel stop (“can you please give the driver some money so he can pay for the petrol?”), we blew a tire. It was early, but not too early to break out a beer…

We drove through nondescript, scrubby hills and small towns of ramshackle weatherboard buildings in faded shades of gelato. Most of the vehicles on the road were pretty dilapidated, too, and motorcycles carried improbable loads, including 40kg gas cylinders almost two metres long, held athwart the pillion seat by the driver.

We stopped for fried chicken and to resupply the esky (600ml bottles of Presidente beer for a buck) as everyone – especially, it seemed, Iban and the driver – was thirsty in the heat.

A young guy was doing blockies: the front passenger seat of his clapped out ute was totally taken over by a massive speaker and the bass decibels were shaking up the dust all over town.

Even louder was the flat-bed truckload of speakers blaring at the natural spring baths. Family groups, teenagers and groups of gangsta-imitating youths splashed in the pools and shouted at one another to be heard over the Latin beats. Large people ate large plates of rice and beans and fried chicken.

It seems no-one in this country, no matter their size or shape, is afraid of lycra: a couple of sizes too small is good, fluoro is de rigueur.

We eventually pulled in to the lakeside car park, which had been taken over by lizards. A gang of metre-long Rhinoceros-horned iguanas stared us down, their chins jutting and their front elbows turned out in apparent indignation. They were happy to pose for photos, but I thought they looked a bit disappointed not to be given a propina.

In a case of ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’, the lake itself was underwhelming. The waters have been inexplicably rising for the past few years, which is forcing the relocation of shore-side settlements and accounts for the dead trees protruding from the water.

The boat to the island in the lake where the crocodiles reside wasn’t operating, but we weren’t that fussed: we have them bigger and better back home!

We stopped briefly to climb some slippery stairs to see some ‘Indian rock petroglyphs’ that looked remarkably like recently-etched smiley faces, but didn’t linger as the sun’s heat on the top of our heads was so intense it hurt.

By then, everyone was feeling a little drowsy after beers and heat, so it was a fairly quiet trip around the remaining perimeter of the lake and back to Barahona.

The following day was Good Friday. So we were told, it’s supposed to be a day for reflection and respect. Most notably, you’re supposed to turn your music down and play ‘classical’ instead of raunchy Latino. Mostly, this held true: we wandered the deserted centre and backstreets of town, which looked like a movie set, with all the weather-beaten weatherboard houses (very Boo Radley).

The streets were pleasantly devoid of litter which added to the movie set feel, in stark contrast to the ‘beach’ where hordes of picnickers were congregating to eat rice and beans and fried chicken, drink beer and listen to loud music (just for a change).

The pebble beach looked like it was strewn with confetti: in fact it was tiny shards of multi-coloured plastic flotsam washed ashore.

Everyone was strutting their lycra-clad booty and having a fat old time. We hung around for a bit, briefly watched the girls’ boxing (!) and then it was time to check out: by law, we have to obtain a ‘Dispacho’ from Customs each time we leave one port for another in the DR.

Cruiser lore has it that the katabatic winds coming down from the mountains at night override the trade winds, making for a more comfortable trip. So we’re testing the theory and leaving tonight to do the passage to Boca Chica overnight. Trouble is, we aren’t supposed to leave port after 6.00pm.

We found Iban lounging in the shade under a tree. He’d ‘fixed’ it with Customs to allow us to leave any time we liked. There was a minor hitch when I came up against the Jefe – the Chief of Customs – who wasn’t aware of the ‘arrangement’. But a small propina soon sorted things out.

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The Windward Passage

Barahona, Dominican Republic

By: Kerry

This famously cantankerous, 80km-wide strait separates Cuba from Haiti (east-west), and the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea (north-south). The prevailing easterly trade winds, blowing in straight off the Atlantic, can kick up big swells and make for a very uncomfortable voyage.

As it turned out, on our first day we raised sails and actually turned the engines off. But it wasn’t long before it got windy and lumpy and we were back to motoring into headwinds. The first night was the worst: on Damian and my watch we were battering into 25-28 knots, rough seas and waves hitting the stern were splashing us at the helm station amidships.

The two nights, three days and 567 nautical miles of the trip are a bit of a blur: it was rough and windy. Enough said. We aimed to stay in international waters in the middle of the strait – to starboard lay Cuba (we passed close to Guantanamo Bay) and to port lay Haiti (cruiser scuttlebutt mutters about pirates and recent assaults on yachties).

We had a brief respite from the wind one hot midday, when we found ourselves in a field of fish traps – plastic water bottle buoys all over the place – tended by lone fishermen in tiny wooden skiffs powered by huge amounts of sail area relative to their size: they reminded me of the old 18-foot skiffs that sail on Sydney Harbour.

The contrast between the skiffs and the multi-million dollar gin palaces we’d been surrounded by a week previously; between the one of the world’s richest nations and one of its poorest, couldn’t have been more extreme.

Haiti’s western coastline is shaped like a huge fish tail: we rounded its southern point and motored straight into the teeth of the trade winds along the coast of Haiti until we crossed the border into the Dominican Republic and dropped anchor off the beach at the first available port of entry, Isla Beata.

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Isla Beata, Dominican Republic

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Customs commandeered a local fishing boat to come and clear us in.

Next day saw the worst leg of the trip so far: it took us 10 hours to cover 56 miles to Barahona on the coast of the Dominican Republic ‘mainland’, with strong headwinds and a nasty chop that kept thumping up under the bridge deck hard enough to make your teeth rattle.

Just on 1000 miles since Florida…

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