Hispaniola or Bust   5 comments

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        We did it! Late yesterday morning, after a day and a night of sailing, Lee and I spotted the island of Hispaniola. That afternoon we pulled into the harbor at Luperon and picked up a mooring right next to some of our old cruising buddies from the Bahamas. We were exhausted and sick of the sun but we had definitely made it to someplace different.
        Just approaching the island was a new experience. Hispaniola is huge, especially compared to the tiny Bahamian islands. I watched it change from a green shadow on the horizon to a towering landscape of steep hillsides with waves crashing along the coastline. The only civilization in sight was a beach resort to the right of the entrance to Luperon’s sheltered harbor. Children playing on the beach and the sound of lively music greeted us as we navigated the harbor entrance. The little bay is lined with mangroves and exotic bird calls occasionally echoed from the greenery.

        Our passage to the Dominican Republic was much easier than it could have been. We were prepared for big waves and potentially high wind in the crossing from Turks and Caicos to Luperon but the swells actually diminished and the wind calmed as we got into the channel. The previous day, we passed Turks and Caicos closely enough to see it’s rocky cays. We skirted south of the banks, making as much easting as we could before bearing off on a course to Luperon.
        The nighttime sailing was probably our best experience in that department so far. I slept more than I ever have on a passage – managing to sleep 2.5 hours out of each 3 hour sleep shift. It probably helped that we had just done an overnight earlier that week so we were still kind of sleep-deprived. Sailing two overnight passages in a week also made me feel like I was returning to land from a long time at sea when we got to Luperon.

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A beautiful sunrise. I like having the sunrise watch.

        The Dominican Republic is unlike anyplace I’ve ever been before. I somehow left Southern California without ever visiting Mexico, so I’ve never been to a Spanish-speaking country. Luperon’s dirt streets, shanty houses, tiny markets, foods smells, stray animals, motorbikes, and language were all extremely foreign to me when we first stepped off the dinghy dock. We came ashore to check into customs yesterday and were lucky to find the office open even though Easter-related festivities had overtaken the town. The custom’s officer sat in his half of an air-conditioned shipping container. He asked for our passports and Pirat’s documentation in Spanish. He didn’t seem to speak any English, actually, which came as kind of a shock. We didn’t expect to encounter a complete language barrier with government officials. This would not have mattered, except that we had a little problem with money. Since we didn’t really expect to leave the Bahamas so soon, we were still carrying mostly Bahamian dollars. The D.R. customs office wanted $63 U.S. for us to check in with our boat. Stupidly, we had walked into the office before finding the one ATM in town so Lee had to go out to get cash before we could finish checking in. The customs officer understood this, was fine with it, and even said we could pay in pesos instead of dollars. Fortunately, our friends had told us the exchange rate (37.5 or so pesos to a dollar), so we knew how much to get.
        I waited in the office, attempting to communicate very awkwardly with the official. For some reason, what little Spanish I know was totally escaping me. I couldn’t even remember how to say thank you. Lee returned without cash. He had not found the ATM and we had a difficult time explaining that to the officer. Eventually, he and I both headed out again in search of the cash machine. I got my first taste of Luperon’s streets and started panicking about what would happen if we couldn’t pay our entry fee. Everything seemed chaotic and scary, although most businesses were closed for the religious holiday. Thankfully, we found an ATM quite far down the road, extracted an obscene amount of pesos, and brought our payment back to customs. After speaking at each other in our respective languages for a few minutes, the officer managed to communicate to us that we should come back on Monday between 9 and 10 am to see the Agriculture and Navy officials who would finish our check-in process. It was a relief to know we were off the hook for a few days.
        We wandered the town a little while longer. I bought a pineapple and a few tomatoes from an old man and we bought 5 gallons of water to take back to the boat (we never did get water in Mayaguana – it’s a long story that I’ll tell later). Dinner and much-needed sleep completed our first day in this new country.
        Today dawned hot and still. I did yoga on a very, very stable foredeck for the first time in a long time. That was just what my body needed after days of banging around a bucking, lurching sailboat and sitting in the cockpit for hours on end. Next, I needed to make some muffins. I’ve been neglecting my muffin baking since I started baking all our bread. My bread has been consistently excellent (not to brag about it or anything) and I even came up with my own, surprisingly successful pizza crust recipe the other night). This morning, though, I put together something sweet – orange flavored muffins with dollops of guava paste on top. Guava paste is a ridiculously sweet, gummy substance that comes in a block. I picked it up in the Bahamas and have been trying to figure out how to use it ever since. I think these muffins were a good solution.

        Now Lee and I are sitting at cafe that caters to Luperon’s gringo cruiser population. It has free wifi (our main reason for visiting), food, showers, laundry, and even a swimming pool. The water in the D.R.’s harbors isn’t clean enough for swimming so Lee and I will be bathing on deck or in places like this for the forseeable future. We’ll probably check out the local festivities on the beach tonight. I mostly want to just walk around and absorb every bit of this culture that I can. I love that there are guys with wheelbarrows full of coconuts walking down the street and motorbikes with banana-laden grass saddlebags parked on the sidewalks. Everything is new and strange and I wish more than anything that I spoke more Spanish!

Posted April 23, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized

5 responses to Hispaniola or Bust

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  1. Whoo hoo! Welcome to the land of guava paste! In Brazil, the most common way to eat it is to also buy a block of white cheese (something drier than mozzarella, but not as strong as ricotta), and cut them both into slices and just eat them like that.

    http://www.stockfood.co.th/images-pictures/Guava%20dessert%20with%20soft%20cheese%20(Romeo%20e%20Julieta,%20Brazil)-189682.jpg

    Good luck with the Spanish! xoxo

  2. Mm, guava paste! Makes for good cookies, too, I’ve found.

    Lucky you’ve got the internet to look up useful Spanish phrases. I found when in Spanish-speaking countries other than Mexico the accents and vocabulary are so different that it might as well be another language altogether. Best of luck!

    • Yeah, I’m starting to recognize some of the common words. People talk so fast though!
      I’ll have to try some guava cookies.

  3. Hello Lee and Rachel,
    I am sorry so to not have been able to attend your wedding; but from what I have heard and read, it was absolutely beautiful and wonderful. I am Lee’s first cousin, Patrick. My brother, Jonathan, and mother, Pam, and their respective others, Summer and Ron, attended the wedding. To be married in the Bahamas!!!!! What a wonderful place to have been married! I hope things are well with the two of you and that you are enjoying your round the world tour. It is quite exciting and brave that you are sailing: all the countries, languages, cultures…I too, was an anthropology major at university….what a wonderful experience. I am currently living in New Zealand and working as an elementary teacher to 3rd graders in Auckland. I do enjoy it and have recently applied for residency….not citizenship…it makes applying for jobs and looking for part-time work easier without having to reapply for a new work visa which is a hassle. I am so happy for the two of you and enjoy reading about your travels. It would be fantastic to see more pictures of your wedding (if you can get your hands on them). I heard it was absolutely wonderful. I wish you safe travels, beautiful scenery, and all the best. Congratulations, Patrick

    Patrick Winkelman
    • Thanks so much for stopping by the blog Patrick! I’ve heard so much about you! Lee and I will definitely have to come visit you in New Zealand soon. It’s a place we’ve always wanted to visit and it sounds like you’ve really found your niche there.
      Great to hear from a fellow anthropologist!

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