Dominican Republic- A country of extreme contrasts!
Samana, Dominican Republic
Getting there- This crossing would involve the notorious Mona Passage- one of the toughest in the Caribbean. Sea depths, waves, winds and currents can be challenging. We were heading northwest which is much better than sailors going the opposite direction so we were positive it was going to be OK. We left at noon on February 27th and arrived in Samana, Dominican Republic the following day around 2:00. We motored during the first and last thirds of the passage and sailed the middle third. We did similar watches but I had to wake Kevin up a couple of times to adjust and help bring down the sails. Getting close to Samana, we had to dodge several fish traps which consist of bleach containers or soda bottles tied to a floating rope just offshore. We had to avoid a couple of freighters during the night and heard on the VHF a sailor in trouble who got one of these fish traps caught in his prop. Once we got close to the bay, the fishing lines squealed and we reeled in two blackfin tuna. We were also greeted by two Humpback whales! From January to March, whales congregate here in Samana Bay to breed and nourish their young. The males breach to attract females. We saw the tail slap, the side of a whale and one breaching. Too bad we don’t have pics but it happens so fast, you can’t catch it unless you were right next to the whale.
Once inside Samana Bay, we headed to Puerto Bahia Marina to stay for the next week while touring the area. We tied up to a long concrete wall in the Marina and had to immediately check in with customs and immigration which involves seeing customs and immigration officials and the navy comandante and a marina official. It went smoothly but after being up all night it is difficult putting two sentences together sometimes, especially conversing in Spanish. Basically, you feel like crap. I think Kevin feels some gratification that I now know how he felt every time he worked an overnight in the ED. I now feel his pain!
Puerto Bahia Marina is a modern facility with a marina, villas, and a hotel. We enjoyed the infinity pool facing the bay but the marina- not so much.
The first two nights were spent side tied to a concrete wall which meant battling chafed lines and the boat surging forward and backward. It also meant we had to sleep in the front port berth because of the continuous noise. We then were able to move to a slip which was better but we had to continually adjust our lines to figure out the best way to be tied up. After two days, we decided to head into Santa Barbara, the town of Samana. It was Sunday and as we began walking up a 2 kilometer hill to catch a motoconcho, a couple stopped to give us a ride in their BMW SUV. Thank God they did. This hill would have been a killer. They were from Santa Domingo and he had been the contractor for building Puerto Bahia. They went out of their way to take us into town. It was raining off and on and the town was fairly quiet given it was Sunday. Still, motorcycles are zooming around and you are hassled a little bit from people who want your business. After much back and forth, we picked a place to eat given the number of people there and enjoyed grouper with coconut curry and creole sauce with a giant Presidente. Then took a ride on a motoconcho with cart attached.
The Dominican Republic is a country of stark contrasts. The mountains and hillsides covered with tropical rain forest and endless palm trees and the cattle ranches and sugar cane and coffee plantations are beautiful. But the poverty and filth here is nothing like we have ever seen. People live in one room concrete buildings with no running water with chickens and emaciated dogs everywhere. People walk pigs and goats and sometimes you see people riding horses and donkeys down the street. Trash and dirt builds up in the streets and the ear piercing noise of so many motorcycles gunning their engines is a bit much at times. People socialize a lot and smile and no one seems that unhappy but being exposed to all of this is unsettling. We can escape most of this on the boat which has become our sanctuary at times and feel so grateful to have been born in the US.
On Monday, we rented a car for three days. We wanted to visit the market, get pesos at the ATM and go to Playa Rincon, a beautiful beach. Heading into town, the number of motorcycles was 10 fold from Sunday. They zip in and out. You will have four on either side of you and you try to weave through the traffic. Not for the faint of heart. Kevin did great! He just stared straight ahead and kept plowing on through. Google Maps saved us.
The market was an experience. Tables full of fruits and vegetables, and spices. Flanks of meat being cut up in the open along with chickens and fish. It is loud and noisy and a bit overwhelming to the senses. We bought a pineapple. I couldn’t handle much more than that.
Then off to the bank. There are lines for the ATM. We stood in line about a half hour and had to carry out a couple of transactions due to the small amount of money you can take out at a time. Then it was off to Rincon! Driving in the countryside was much easier. Rincon was a pretty beach however the rain moved in so it wasn’t as calm or blue as it could have been. We walked it and bought some coconut bread from a vendor. We headed back and took a detour to El Valle, another beach or anchorage we were scoping out but the weather made a turn for the worse so we headed back to the hotel.
The next day our intentions were to hike to the El Limon waterfall. Again, more rain so we headed to Las Terrenas, a beach town on the north shore where lots of expats, especially Canadians come to ride out the winter months and to scope out the two grocery stores where we would reprovision. Las Terrenas was a zoo. Worse than Samana with the number of motorcycles. Once we got parked at one grocery we walked to the other. There are barber shops on every corner and twice now Kevin has been approached to cut his hair. Go figure! In the grocery store, everyone was speaking either Spanish or French and the meats were quite different from what we are used to. Also, $6.00 for a brick of Kraft cheese. We were thrilled to find diet coke (almost impossible to find) and packaged romaine lettuce. Sometimes, it’s the little things.
Our last day with the car, the weather was better so we set out to hike to El Limon. You can hire a guide and ride a horse most of the way or hike the trail. The horses are really thin and don’t look well taken care of plus we had read the guides whip the horses the whole way so we decided to walk it. We were warned and knew it would be muddy but it was more than muddy. Basically, you walk through this beautiful rainforest alongside a river in mud mixed with horse shit. Once you get to the waterfall it is incredible. One of the best we have seen. Was it worth it? Yes! But, good thing we had brought a change of shoes and clothes. Then it was off to reprovision and back to the marina for one more day before heading to Los Haitises National Park.