Dominican Republic: January 20-January 27, 2007


As we mentioned in the previous post, we arrived at Luperon, Dominican Republic, after an overnight passage from Long Island, Turks and Caicos.  We had departed a little too early, and had to lollygag for most of the trip as conditions were so mild and we made such good time.   Toward the end, we were cruising at only 1200 RPM, and we still arrived too early.   So we did three large circles on the outside before entering the harbor shortly after 6 AM.

"Checking in" at each country is different.   In the DR, we dealt with no fewer than five different agencies, each of which exacted a fee, although one of them (the Navy) was phrased as a "donation".

Luperon is a busy, noisy, messy, friendly little village.   It is a third-world town in a third-world country.  Surprisingly, and unlike some of the other coastal anchorages along the northern coast of the DR, in Luperon crime against cruisers is virtually non-existent.   The anchorage is large, and crowded with vessels.   We are one of only several motor vessels; the vast majority are sailboats.   There is a large and friendly support system for cruisers in Luperon.   There are several "boat boys" offering their services; the best (and best-known) goes by "Handy Andy".   He is no boy.   Handsome, broad shouldered, personable, and dependable, he is said to have been a boxer in a former life.  He apparently lived for a  time in New York City, and so he can speak some English.  A former Miamian has also settled in Luperon, married a local, and runs a restaurant that is very popular with the cruisers:  "Steve's".  He also rents motor bikes and sells vegetables and can patch together tours.   But vegetables are best purchased directly from the farmers who bring their produce into town.   They park their pickups along the main street, and sell their goods directly.  Bananas and green peppers and carrots and oranges and pineapples and papaya -- all for surprisingly small prices, and consistent with the general attitude toward and treatment of cruisers, at the same price for cruisers and locals.   Motor bikes are perhaps best rented from Jose, next to Puerto Blanco marina, who can also do a better job of providing tours.   Perhaps the best known provider of tours, however, is Rosa Van Sant, wife of the "famous" (among Caribbean cruisers) Bruce Van Sant, author of the guide book that describes how best to travel down through the Bahamas and Caribbean to Venezuela.  She is quite a business woman and also sells jewelry.   Bruce has his trawler up for sale, and lives with Rosa in a large house up on the side of the hill overlooking the harbor.  He is a frequent patron of the bar and restaurant at the Puerto Blanco marina.  Sunday mornings at 10 AM there is a "swap shop" event at the marina.  Cruisers bring things they wish to sell or trade, and locals set up stands with their wares:  paintings and jewelry and baked goods and T-shirts, etc.   Don't be late if you want a taste of the delicious sticky buns!   Later on Sunday (around 4:30 PM) a local band sets up and plays Latino-style music.   Last Sunday the place was packed with both cruisers and a large group of young local families:  husbands and wives and children.   All exceedingly handsome.   Something about the mix of Indian and Black and White has resulted in a very good-looking population.   The DR is not in Central America, but it seems to think  and act like it is.  I wish I had the country's franchise on spandex and push-up bras!

We ate our first meal out at Steve's but thereafter realized that we didn't want to just hang around a place that was almost entirely frequented by other cruisers.   And so we've done some exploring, and have discovered some marvelous places for lunch:  Laisa's Pica Pollo, on the main street, and El Belga, out a little further and one block north of main.   Our explorations have been greatly facilitated by having along Roger and Andy from Oma and Opa, since Roger is fluent in Spanish.   (A native of Germany, he also speaks Norwegian, having served as an interpreter in a former life.  So Chuck and Roger "snakker norsk noen ganger."

Van Sant says that when we leave Luperon, we should take along provisions for six months, since prices are so cheap in the DR.   We have been buying oranges and squeezing them ourselves to make juice for breakfast (and our rum drinks).   Typical prices might be 3 or 4 pesos per orange.   (There are 33 pesos in one dollar!)  

We are trying to speak Spanish, but that is going very slowly.   Hard to learn a language a few words at a time.   Hard to learn a language when one is as old as the hills.   Hard to learn a language when Roger can do the translating for us.   But we try.

Luperon Photos

Chuck clearing in at Immigration in Luperon

Agriculture officials who visited our boat

Barb on the government dock outside of Luperon

Luperon Main street

Beer bottle repository at end of Main near government dock

Name of cafe has special meaning for Barb & Chuck

On main street

Also on the main street

Roger just bought a chicken

Scene on street of Luperon

Band at Puerto Blanco marina on Sunday afternoon

Lunch at El Belga restaurant -- yummy!

Luperon Harbor anchorage

Another view

Typical country road scene - Chuck has to dodge them while out running

Dinghy from Oma and Opa approaching TT II

Roger and Andy and their very wounded dinghy

The wound

"Interesting" beer cozy

Usual bamboo cozy (left) and special cozy (right) in "empty" signal position

Laundry establishment on main street of Luperon

"Pica Pollo" (left) one of our favorite places for lunch and clothing store (right) selling items that were donated to Haiti, sold to DR & resold

Potluck at Puerto Blanco marina

"Interesting" ramp at Puerto Blanco marina

"Interesting" wiring at foot of street lamp on Gov't Dock

La Isabela

There are relatively few automobiles in Luperon.   Most folks use motor bikes.   That includes young families.   It is not at all unusual to see a family consisting of a husband, a wife and one or two little children all piled onto a single bike.   The wife carrying a large sack of produce.   We've seen construction workers biking down the highway, one driving and one passenger carrying several large and long wooden beams on a shoulder. 

Traffic rules seem to be more than a little loose and ad hoc.   And so, when we decided to go to the neighboring village of La Isabela to see the site of Columbus' first permanent settlement, I didn't hesitate.   I rented a motorcycle, even though I have never really driven one.  (Well, my son gave me a lesson once in the parking lot of a church, but I never got out of second gear, and that was a long time ago.)   Jose seemed a little nonplussed by my questions about how to start and shift and stop, etc, but in the end consented to the transaction.   Barb was a little nonplussed, too, at the thought of being a passenger in such a situation.   I'd like to say that my performance was so smooth that she soon relaxed.   I'd like to say that she now looks forward to our next expedition.  I'd like to, but I must report that she is actually talking about using a scooter on any future trip.   How humiliating!   A scooter!   Any chance I had to talk her into another go on a motorcycle had probably been permanently scotched by the experience of cruising friends, who, two days after our expedition, also rented a motorcycle and also visited La Isabela.   When they arrived at the sloping intersection near the historic site, they hit, at too great a speed, a wet, gravely, pothole and took a tumble.   Gene cut up his face, banged up his knee, and thinks he broke several ribs.   Nope, I don't think I'll get Barb back onto the motorcycle!

Barb and I were joined on our expedition to La Isabela by Roger and Andy from Oma & Opa and Jim and Amanda from Adventure Bound.   Our bike had some problems at the start -- I got down the rode a ways and the darn thing wouldn't shift gears.   I was feeling like a really incompetent idiot when a local going by on his bike stopped to see if he could help.   He didn't speak any English, I didn't speak any useful Spanish, and Roger was on his way from a different site, so we communicated with our hands and each spoke in our native tongue.   He didn't have any more luck than I did, which strangely enough I found comforting.   Along came another friendly biker, and he thought to check the transmission fluid.  Empty or very low -- I am not sure which.  "Un momento," he said, and sped off.  Came back with some fluid, put it in, took it for a test ride, and came back and said that it still wasn't working right.   (He said it in Spanish, but by this time Roger had arrived so I know what he said.)   He also told Roger that he would take it back to Jose and get another bike.   So he left us with his bike, sitting along the side of the highway, and sped on back to Jose.  Five minutes later he reappeared, but stopped only briefly to say that he needed to take it into town to get some gas in it.   Ten minutes later he reappeared, and I gave him 100 pesos for his help (slightly more than enough for one large El Presidente, the "muy delicioso" beer of the DR.)

And so, off we went, through the beautiful green countryside, past fields and pastures and up and down hills and through tiny settlements with houses crowded right up to the highway, past friendly folks walking along the highway or sitting in front of their homes.

We had a tour guide at the historic site, but his English wasn't very good, and his pronunciation was worse, so it was good to have Roger along.   The guide soon gave up on English, and Roger became our de facto guide.  The harbor at La Isabela is absolutely stunning.   One can see why Columbus chose it as the site for his first settlement.   Alas, the river flowing into the harbor has over the years caused it to silt in, so that most of the harbor is no longer suitable for anchoring.   What a pity, the place is so beautiful.   We also visited a nearby church, which is a reconstruction of the original served the settlement.   It was rebuilt to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first Mass in the New World.  The Pope came for the anniversary, and presented what I have been told is the original stature that Columbus knelt to when he arrived here.   Hard to believe that it could have survived that long, stuck back in some archive someplace at the Vatican, presumably.   But that's what I've been told, and I'm sticking to the story.

On the way back to Luperon we saw a "Cheese for sale" (in Spanish) sign in front of a farm house.   We stopped and each couple bought a ball of white cheese.  Very mild, but good in salads.   We also bought what we thought were juice oranges, but they turned out to be the sour variety.  We should have guessed they were sour when the proprietor was willing to give them to us, but we all insisted on paying for them.  I gather that there are many types of oranges, but for my purposes, they divide into roughly two categories:  the sweet ones, like one buys in American supermarkets, and the sour ones, which are as sour as lemons, and are used in the Bahamas and Caribbean in much the same way as lemons are used in America.

La Isabela Photos

Motorcycle we rented had no transmission fluid

Roger & Andy's decrepit scooter

Roger trying out his scooter

Made it to La Isabela - Christopher Columbus' first settlement

Barb and Chuck

Jim and Amanda from Adventure Bound

Ground keeper makes her own brooms

Sign in the grounds of the original settlement

Folks from Oma & Opa and Adventure Bound taking the tour with us

Five hundred year old tree on settlement grounds

Columbus' cannons at La Isabela

Cemetery from 1490s

One of the skeletons found

Lime on tree

Crown of Thorns plant

Coffee husker in display of bygone days

Earthen oven in display

Church built to commemorate 500th anniversary of first Mass in the New World

Interior of Church

Display in Church

Painting from one of the stations of the cross in church

Alledgedly the original statue at which Columbus knelt when arriving in the New World -- presented by the Pope to DR at anniversary celebration

Ground in the front of Church

Man of the house relaxing next to restaurant on beach where we had lunch

Returning from La Isabela

Bought cheese here

Farmer/Cheese shop proprietor

Flag courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.