The Mona

This may sound stupid, but the first thing we did after finally getting our despacho was fall asleep, but we had an hour to leave the harbor and we were the first boat out of three that was planning on taking the same window to get cleared out so we had a few minutes.  Between my climbing fever and the bureaucracy stress we just needed a moment to regroup before starting out on what ended up being a long trip.  We left that afternoon, sailed through the night, sailed all the next day, sailed through the next night, and sailed through the next day until pulling into Boquerón Puerto Rico in the early evening.  The autopilot functioned for about one hour of that whole trip before breaking.  Having to hand steer made the trip seem to take foreeeeevvvveeeerrrrr!!!  The conditions weren’t bad, actually quite good, but parts still felt something like having strapped your home onto the back of a galloping horse. Keith took the majority of the watches and we disregarded a set watch schedule.  When ever one of us naturally woke up from a nap, we took over.  Most of my watches were short, an hour or two.  It was all either of us could do feeling so crappy.  All I wanted was to climb under a mountain of blankets and not come back out.

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As we passed near Samana Bay we kept a look out for whales.  This time of year humpback whales migrate and gather in the shallow waters off of the coast of DR and the mothers birth their calves here. I really didn’t want to spot any. Our boat insurance covers pretty much everything a normal policy covers except it has one very clear exclusion- damage by marine life (whales).  We figure there is good reason.  At first all we saw were fishing nets, in fact we found ourselves surrounded by a large drift net near Samana.  We had to cut the engine and float over it because we couldn’t see either edge of it. Then we heard Antares shout on the VHF- WHALES!!!!!  Off our starboard bow, probably close to a mile away, we saw them.  At first we thought we saw the whole whale breaching then realized it was only its tail.  That is when I really realized how massive they are!  We watched as the whales would lift their huge tails out and slap the surface causing a huge splash.  We also saw them spouting and even a few breaches.  My favorite was watching them roll over-and they did it over and over again.  One gigantic fin would slowly lift out of the water, arc, and splash down thunderously just as the second gigantic fin would lift out and follow.  They put on a non-stop show for about half an hour.  I hadn’t wanted to see them from our boat but it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences.  There we were sitting in our cockpit, in our pajamas, watching a few of only 15000 great humpback whales in the whole world frolic in front of us.  MAGNIFICENT!!!! I didn’t get photos, my camera doesn’t have a good zoom so all that would have come out is a lot of water and sky and a tiny splash.  Instead we just took in the moment.  We didn’t go any closer to them, they were longer and heftier than our boat and they were tossing there massive bodies about like a tantruming child, we stayed well out of their way!!!  It was an absolutely spectacular experience.

The second night of sailing was long and a little bouncy, but completely uneventful as we finally pulled away from the coast of the DR.  The morning found us at the edge of the Hourglass Shoals and the beginning of the Mona Passage.  I could write a paragraph or more on the hows and whys the Mona Passage can be one of the most treacherous passages in the Atlantic.  But we have had enough drama the past week so I will just write that it was flat calm-totally mellow.  Of course, that is specifically why we were so determined to make our weather window out of Luperon on time. The Mona did bring her own surprises though- more whales!!!  At first Keith thought he saw a big log in the water but it was too black and shiny.  When he realized it was a whale, he thought it was a baby humpback and started looking for mama!  It was a pilot whale (we think).  We passed within 20 feet!!!  I was down below and didn’t make it up in time to see it, but it wasn’t my only chance.  From there on, through the whole Mona Passage, we passed pods of them.  These ones were smaller than the boat and were just floating at the surface- not tossing their heft about like the giant humpbacks.  We still didn’t get closer on purpose.  It ended up being a great Mona Passage crossing.  We are becoming great believers in being very selective of weather windows!

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By late afternoon we had pulled into Boqueron, Puerto Rico and dropped hook in the company of our passage-making friends Antares and Blabber.  To clear in Customs we needed to make a phone call which would have entailed launching the dinghy and putting the outboard motor on it- they were both secured away for for the trip.  Instead we raised the Q-flag and were both asleep before dark.

In the morning we learned Antares and Blabber were going to take advantage of the favorable weather and keep going, they have already seen Puerto Rico. We have not and we need to take care of some details like repairing our autopilot and getting some mail shipped in from the the US so we said our “until we see you agains” over coffee aboard Blabber.  Then we went ashore and called Customs.  We had the bought the Customs sticker and signed up for the Small Vessel Reporting Program in the States so we expected to just have to make a phone call like when we cleared into Florida from the Bahamas.  That is what all the other US vessels seemed to do when they got here.  Instead we were told that someone would be out to the boat for an inspection within a few hours-just wait on the boat.  That was fine we needed some more time to relax and recover anyway.  We went back to the boat and waited.  And waited.  By 4:00 we got impatient and Keith went in and called again but there was no answer anywhere.  No one ever came out to our boat.  There was a concert going on on the beach in front of the anchorage at night.  We got to enjoy it from the cockpit but the smells of fried and sweet vendor food also floated our way.  If we had been free to, we would have gone ashore and joined in. But we were not free to go.  Again.  Seems to be our story lately!

Boqueron edit

No Dispacho, No Dispacho, Si Dispacho!!!

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Ok, let me see where we left off….we had been denied exit authorization on Monday.  So Tuesday we had planned to keep a low profile and specifically NOT see any of the officials or the Comandante in hopes that over time he would get over his little power trip thing and whatever may have been stirred up by him losing control of his harbor and vessels leaving without authorization the day before.  Unfortunately in the afternoon as we were walking back to the boat from town the Comandante spotted us before we spotted him.  He approached us and after a quick greeting he told us something of which we got out of: GO NOW.  We were not sure if it was that we needed to go now or he wanted us to go now.  Either way the weather window that we wanted to use Monday was closed and gone and there was now a north wind.  Not bad weather- just not the weather we needed or we probably would have just accepted and gone- no questions asked. Instead we told him that, no, we wanted to leave tomorrow (when the wind direction was good again).  He shook his head. No, no…got a phone call….bad weather….can’t go tomorrow-no despacho.  Seriously?!? Here we go again!  I immediately walked over to the bar we’ve been going to everyday and asked for bartender to just translate for us and he did.  We explained the weather was very good tomorrow and we needed to leave then.  After a lot more talking than we asked for to be translated the bartender told us we would be OK tomorrow.  We looked over at the Comandante, said Thank You, and confirmed that we were all good for clearing out tomorrow.  He didn’t look happy and was looking at the ground but said yes.  I am not sure what this has been all about but I know it is not the weather! I also don’t know how much of where we were now standing factored into what had just happened.  Wendy’s bar, the main cruisers hang-out, is run by a local family and also an ex-pat (married into the family).  Norm, the expat, runs the morning VHF cruisers net and always asks for any reports of problems encountered with the locals and asks for new boaters to report any excessive requests  experienced while clearing in and dealing with the officials.  He has been working hard on cleaning up the reputation and improving the experience of the visitors to bring more people back into the town. As we walked back down the street the Comandante offered us a ride in his shiny, chromed-out, decaled-up personal car. Thank goodness we were stepping into one last shop and could politely decline. It was weird  even though we got an OK, we were not feeling that confident that everything was going to go smoothly on Wednesday.

Early Wednesday morning we gathered with our friends on Blabber and Antares and all together headed ashore to hopefully get our despachos. We commented to each other that we saw people working on the Navy boat and they even had the engine room hatches open. Prepping for futures escapees? We also saw the Comandante on the pier.  Together we walked up the hill to the office and once again asked for our despachos.  I know you are going to just as surprised as we were to hear the answer…. “No despacho”.  This time they cited that the Comandante was in Puerto Plata. No despachos today. BS.  He was in the harbor.  We, well our friends that speak better Spanish than us, explained that we were told no problems today by the Comandante himself yesterday-please give him a call. We sat down and waited. I think they knew we were going to stay until we had a resolution.  After a while of politely going back and forth and just smiling while we waited one of the guys had us fill out a piece of paper and they took photos of our passports with their phones (nothing is done on computers).  Then we were told we could meet them on the dock at 12.  They wouldn’t give us a copy of the papers we just filled out.  I got the feeling he had just done it so that we would leave, but since he had given us a time, we hoped we were wrong. Keith took me back to the boat since I was feeling crappy, he had shared his germies with me,  and he went back to the dock to wait just in case they were early. (We wanted no excuses)  By eleven we heard from another boater that they would come out at 2:30.  This was cutting it too tight, we needed to leave in the afternoon to make our whole trip work-besides they didn’t tell any of us that.  At noon no one showed up.

Before we got to the DR I had written down the number for the US Embassy in Santo Domingo just in case we got ourselves into something scary while touring. I never envisioned requiring it from the boat.  While technically we were being held without our consent for a bogus reason- I wasn’t ready to call it that yet (nor-do I really believe it was that yet).  The whole situation evoked range of emotions including frustration, confusion, dismay, and sometimes even humor over the last three days-but we never felt fearful or scared. Not even a little.  However, now, humor was long gone and so was the just go-with-the-flow and accept it attitude and we really needed to leave within a few hours for a safe trip. The situation was starting to turn into something else if we missed this opportunity. I started playing out the phone call to the Embassy in my head.  Ben and Keith went to find the Comandante as they had not told us it was going to be later.  Finally by a little after 1:00 we had gathered the officials (we didn’t need to go to Puerto Plata to find them) and loaded them into our dinghies and brought them out to our boats.  We were first.  We filled out the same little piece of paper we filled out in the morning and as we did we handed out cold bottles of water.  The Comandante was not interested- he wanted something better.  Sorry. We had bought several bottles of rum specifically  with the intention of giving them to the officials, but after the past few days of antics I plan on drinking them myself. ( I am glad we bought them nice rum!) We don’t have a problem with giving a tip to make things smooth or show appreciation but not in this scenario. They didn’t ask us for more gifts but they did on the other boats. They, as our friend described perfectly, acted like rotten, rude children while aboard and their talk about the women on the boats in front of and to the husbands was off-the-chart unprofessional and vulgar.

FINALLY!!!! We had our despacho!!!  I was also now the proud owner of a 102.8 fever. Awesome. What a way to start off a 50+ hour sail!

If you read our blog because maybe one day you may want to travel the same path (it is why I have read so many blogs the past few years), I don’t want this one situation to be the take-away of the Dominican Republic.  Please, please don’t let this be the only story that you share when talking about this country.  Just like I don’t want to be judged because of the man that heads the US, it would not be fair to judge the DR on the perversions of their Armada.  Toss a bottle of hand-sanitizer, a roll of toilet paper, and a map in your backpack and enjoy the DR.  It is worth the “troubles”!!!  Really, don’t pass it up just because of a few child-like men.

On that note- instead of writing about our passage (I am typing this post from Boquerón, Puerto Rico), I would rather share two short stories that better wrap up our experience in DR and leave on a happier thought.

One Beer Bottle of Gasoline

One of the days that I was feeling lethargic Keith took the motorcycle out for drive by himself.  We had already learned here that you do not fill up the tank before your return your rented vehicle, you just put in what you use for the day.  (Even if you are renting two days in a row)  He was just riding aimlessly but started to head back to the town when the gas was low- he thought he had put just enough in to last the day.  Not quite.  He ran out on one of the country roads.  He switched to the reserve tank (that had been full the day before) and found it to be empty now too. Whoops! A car stopped immediately and tried to help Keith switch to the empty reserve tank, then a guy from the closest house came out to help, then his brother came out too.  The brother tried to blow through the lines and make sure they were not blocked.  Not much they can do when there was no gas!  They offered to call him a motoconcho, but Keith was just going to push the bike back to town (he had almost made it back). The guys suggested he stop a few houses down first.  Keith stopped when he saw some guys working on a bike, but that was too far.  The guys gave him a “push” back up the hill (They drove on their bike and put their foot on his making it go).  At this house more people came out to help.  One was carrying a  Presidente Grande beer bottle full of gasoline. Love it. The guy filled it up, choked it and even started it for Keith.  Keith could have done it himself but they wanted to assist. Keith made sure to pay for the gas (It is the one very expensive thing here) and give big “gracias-es” all around. Just one more way to make some new friends. He made it into town and bought a few more pesos of gas to finish off playing for the day.

Our Valentines Date

The night after we were supposed to have left was Valentines Day.  We, in general, don’t do holidays but the town was quite excited about the day and we got excited too.  Red a white balloons were getting stuck on motorcycles and in doorways.  Women were getting their hair done up in big curlers and the men were gathering slabs of meat and collecting vegetables getting ready to cook a big meal.  Wendy’s Bar was hosting a dance and Freddie was making a pot of Sancocho. They were providing lessons for Merengue and Salsa later. It didn’t matter that we both felt completely crappy, we knew this was a night we shouldn’t miss!  I guess for Valentines Day it is customary to cook a huge meal and share it.  All through the streets were large cauldrons of meaty stews over wood fires set on cinderblocks being stirred with long sticks.  We were invited to taste them as we walked by.  The one we had for dinner was green and bubbly.  It looked like a witches brew- complete with bones and everything!  It was the best thing I can remember tasting!  It was like chicken soup- but with three types of meat- and little like split pea soup as it was thick and creamy.  It had lots of vegetables and herbs in it. I’m going to Google it later, but there is no chance I could ever cook it the same.  The bar served it in huge bowls for free.  As we were laughing and enjoying the night Keith said “I’m not ready to leave here yet.”  UmmThat is good-because at the moment we can’t! We wanted to hang around to watch the dancing but didn’t make it that late. We heard the rest of the night was all fun. It was still a very enjoyable date and now we need to go back so we can get those dance lessons we missed!

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DR, you are a happy, welcoming, fantastic, fun, green, tasty country.  We can’t wait to come back!

Denied Exit

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Dominican Republic has been a blast, but it is time to move along. After monitoring all our normal weather sites for a few days and even getting a personalized weather forecast/routing report from Chris Parker (the professional marine weather forecaster/router) we were all a GO for leaving Luperon and headed to Samana, our next port in the DR and about 130 miles away.  Normally we would just up anchor and be underway within ten minutes but here in the DR you not only have to clear in and out of the country, you also have to clear in and out of each port.  You have to do this within an hour of leaving.  This is really, really difficult to do when the officials only keep office hours and most of the sailing around here is done at night or very early morning when the trade winds die down.  Lucky for us we found another great weather window with the winds so light we were afforded the opportunity to sail all the way to Samana without having to make stops along the coast or trying to leave at midnight.

Ready to go, we went to visit the officials.  We waited on the stoop about 20 min for the first of them to show up and unlock the offices, then we made our way through each department filling out papers, checking passports, and, of course, paying money.  It went smoothly though.  Once the paperwork was all done we had to go to their Navy and have the Comandante (the big guy in charge) give us our despacho. The despacho is the piece of paper that allows you to leave the harbor and clear into the next harbor. Before you leave they will also come out to the boat and check things out (or collect gifts- however you might want to look at it).  We walked up to the offices at the top of the hill and showed them our completed paperwork and receipts and asked for our despacho.  No despacho.  We asked as many different ways as we could think of but still only got  “no despacho”. After a while of working out the language differences we figured out that they were not going to give us permission to leave the country because they thought the weather was bad.  We were very confused. The weather was good-not bad. Even though we had spent hours checking the weather the last two days and were confident that we had a good and safe window to travel, we thought maybe they had some valuable local knowledge about something we missed.  Another boater who was also trying to get permission to leave asked what was the concern with the weather.  The officers couldn’t tell us exactly because they have no internet to see for themselves.  It seems like some guy in the city told them the weather was bad.  Awesome.

We were not the only boat trying to leave, at least seven boats that we knew of were asking for permission to leave but no one was allowed to go.  Confusion and frustration was certainly palpable.  We tried to convince ourselves that perhaps they were acting in our best interests and maybe saving us from some unknown dangerous conditions offshore that we couldn’t see despite all of our data, but this was coming from the same people who can not understand why you need to leave the harbor at certain times of the day (or night) in order to either avoid bad weather or to get into the next harbor by a certain time for safety reasons. I won’t even go into the aspect that we all captain our own boats and they are our homes and our decisions on when and where to travel and in what conditions are ones we take seriously and full responsibility for- nor do we leave those decisions for others who do not know our boats or how they travel! To add to our doubts we started hearing from a few locals that perhaps the restaurants did not want the cruisers to leave-they would miss the business. As we were watching our good and safe weather window slip away in front of us, I found this suggestion unsettling. However, we did not get even the slightest impression from the officials that money would have changed the situation.  We gathered with the crews from Antares and Blabber in the local plaza and used the Wi-Fi to try to find the source of this mysterious bad weather. While the group was convening I wandered off to find the ever elusive Dominican Republic toilet.  After a few strikes I found a café that looked promising.  The old man at the counter asked me “just pee-pee?”.   “Si, Senor.” Like most bathrooms here-no water so no flush.  Just a little more weirdness thrown into an already bizarre morning.  We never found why they thought the weather was no good.  Wind was under 10k and seas 2-4. Long period swell. No squalls.

Defeated, we tried to regroup and make a new plan.  We decided to wait for two more days because we think the weather should be decent enough to sail all the way across the Mona Passage and to Puerto Rico without making any more stops in the DR.  We had already heard there are a lot of problems in Samana with corruption. Like here, we had thought we would just go with an open mind but I am not sure I really want to check in and check back out through one more harbor anymore.  Especially if it is supposed to be much more difficult than here!  I certainly don’t want to deal with another “Hotel California” scenario. We also learned by asking around to the long-timers that refusing despachos citing weather (which, again, was in fact good) is not the norm and we were not the only ones befuddled by the denial.    Oh yay- we were the exception.  Grrrrrrrrrrr. On top of the up-heaved plans for the day we were not sure what to do about all the paperwork we had that was stamped for us leaving the harbor within the hour.  We were assured it would be OK. I will be interested to see if we have to pay again in two days though- if we even get clearance to leave that is!

Update: At least three maybe four of the boats left the harbor after being denied permission today.   I can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind in frustration a time or two today but was quickly dismissed as we still have to sail along the coast of the country for over 150 miles before you even start to make the jump to Puerto Rico. (that takes more than 24 hours by sailboat)  The local military boat doesn’t seem to be in commission at the moment as it has derelict boats tied up to it and it is growing a pretty good reef on its bottom, but it is not like you can out-sail a phone call.  There are other military boats in the fleet. This evening we saw a disgruntled looking Comandante commandeer a go-fast Panga fishing boat with a large outboard motor.  He had a list of all the boats in the harbor and was going around carefully doing a roll-call.  We also heard calls on the VHF to at least two of the escaped boats.  The go-fast boat did not leave the harbor to go after the missing boats after the attendance was taken so I’m not sure what, if any, the repercussions might be. Should be interesting to see what the next few days bring.

Love Sick

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We fell in love with the DR on sight and with every step further into this beautiful country we seemed to fall deeper and harder.  Within a week we had already decided that we wanted to spend hurricane season here instead of Grenada.  Keith picked out which motorcycle he would buy and I was amassing lists of the places to go. Envisioning a much further place in the future our ears perked up when the cost of land was discussed and we have been diligently practicing our Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons in the morning and trying to learn as fast as we can. If your idea of pretty is manicured, you might not see it, but the towns have a beauty to them and the countryside, well, obviously it is breathtaking.  It is the people though, the people, that make us just want to be a part of this place. If I had to pick one description I would say happy. They are happy. And they act happy.  They make us happy.  No doubt, we caught the DR love bug.

Did you sense a “but” coming on”?

While we love almost everything about Luperon, as the days go on and the rush of love chemicals begin to mellow, we have started to miss water-of all sorts. We are missing clean water to swim in and fish in.  The harbor, though pretty, has filthy water.  All the street gutters and sewers lead into it and there is almost always a sheen of diesel on the surface from the old fishing boats.  We also miss fresh water.  Because of the pollution we can not run the water maker so we have to buy bottled water.  I miss our water maker very much.  We also miss running water-as in plumbing in the town.  There seems to be plenty of city water available for the houses, though everyone buys bottles for cooking and drinking, but even so there is a serious lack of sinks and toilets with running water.  Even the places selling food more often than not do not have a working sink.  If there even is a bathroom it is unlikely that water is plumbed to the toilet. Toilet paper or soap? Not happening. I am just going to throw this out there-  If you can’t wash your hands, the person prepping your food can’t either, if the person cooking your food didn’t wash their hands you start to notice that there are also no toilets.  Just saying.  Even beyond food prep the hand washing thing is exhausting.  Keith had someone blow their nose into the street with his fingers and immediately hold out his hand to shake. Unfortunately , the love bug was not the only thing we caught.  We’ve both picked up some cruds.. Me gastro,  Keith respiratory. Now we are just trying not to swap with each other.  After a few days of being feverish and lethargic the lack of hygiene and sanitation all around starts becoming harder to ignore and the desire for clean water more intense.

Yes, we eat just about anything or anywhere.  To be honest the street food sometimes feels safer at least it is coming straight off a hot grill or out of a pot of boiling oil.  They have been safe so far.  It is the sit down places that have pained me.  We also eat non-peelable veggies. A no-no.  I can’t help it the produce here is gorgeous!  It just gets a healthy bleach bath first.

We also learned something else about ourselves that has no reflection on Luperon:  We both seemed to have an infinite attention span for blue water, but a finite attention span for green peaks.  After only three weeks, I only glance at the beautiful mountains surrounding our anchorage where as I could sit and just watch the tide go in and out all day long everyday when the water is pretty.

With all of that said, we love the DR.  But maybe in more of a summer fling kind of way and not a soul-mate kind of way.  We will be back, I am sure, but for now I think it is time to head out and there is a good weather window coming up.

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Boat on a Hill

For our next two bouts of touring we forwent the motorcycle and piled into a 4-wheel drive SUV with the crews from Antares and Blabber.  The first order of business was to find the boat on the hill.  We learned about the boat on the hill story from Antares, they had been told about it from a cruiser they met down island a few years ago.  The story went that a cruising couple came to Luperon and, like many cruisers do, decided not to leave.  They tried to sell the boat but when it didn’t sell they decided to just move it up into the mountains and live on it there.  Fast-forward to the last baseball game we went to and Keith and I were talking to yet another ex-cruiser now living in the mountains- he had just come down to see the game. Antares came along and it turns out our new acquaintance was the guy who had told them story about the boat on the hill several years earlier. It was not his boat, he just watched it being trucked up the mountain side.  (Understandably a memorable moment).

Off we went to find it. We didn’t really have good directions and in fact Antares and Blabber had drove around the day before looking for it.  They kept pulling over and asking the locals “boat?”  and pointing up the mountains.  The locals kept laughing and pointing down towards the coast. “No, Puerto Plata!”  This time we found the road- I have no idea how a semi got up it- but there it was. A boat. On a hill. Up a crazy steep, windy road.

We had good timing and the owner was standing by the road and immediately welcomed us to come see.  We spent a few hours talking to him and meeting his wife.  We also got a tour of their home they built further up the hill that is completely off-grid.  Really interesting and welcoming couple.

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After the tour of the boat and house we got led on a walk through the mountainside where we got to search for fruits.  It was like an adult Easter-egg hunt!  We scored a stalk of bananas, several avocados, and some oranges.  We had way more fun than should be expected on a walk. We also got lessons on caterpillars and coffee plants.

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After our walk, we were led on a tour of the very tiny village and were introduced to just about everyone.  We stopped at the one tiny shop and all bought drinks and snacks.  Hopefully that sent the owners profits through the roof for the month.  We bought a sack of avocados from one of the farmers.  The entire sack was less than $3.00. We added these to our already collected finds. Wholly Guacamole!!!!  From there we visited with the other ex-cruising couple we met at the baseball game who also lived nearby.  Their house had amazing views and we enjoyed getting to know them more. By the time all the visiting was done the day was almost gone so we just toured a few of the smaller towns and drove around the countryside.  We then rented the car again a few days later to go to the city of Santiago.

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In Santiago we toured a cigar factory.  Neither Keith or I are cigar fans but it was part of country, it was free, and our friends were really excited about it which made for a very fun time.  The only two facts that really stuck out for me was that they had to make 250 cigars a day and they could smoke what ever cigar they wanted while they worked.

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After the tour we were starving and saw a flood of people in uniforms walking down the street.  We figured they were on siesta so we filed in line.  They were headed into a shoe factory.  They were coming from lunch not going to lunch.  They pointed us in the opposite direction and we found the employee cafeteria down the street.  It was just about empty when we got there but they still had food and were more than happy to serve us.  We got a huge lunch for under $5.00 for the both of us.  And it was the best cafeteria food I’ve ever tasted!

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After lunch we headed downtown.  Santiago is not a tourist city but because of its location in the center of the country and its production it is very affluent in parts.  Other parts not as much.  Both were interesting.  We walked around the arts district.  We were in search of the free museum that displayed the old Carnival Masks.  On the way we found several art galleries, watched a rehearsal for a play, and found that the museum we had been looking for closed for remodeling.

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Just when we had given up the hope of finding the masks, Ben found them.  They were a bright collection to look through.

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I thought nothing would top the driving in Puerto Plata, the traffic in Santiago managed to do that.  Glad we were in a car.  There is certainly so much more to see of the DR, but I think I am good on the cities for right now!

Puerto Plata

We wanted to tour the nearby city of Puerto Plata and since we were planning on making it more of a discovery day than anything else we did just about no research ahead of time figuring we would just find what we found. When we saw something interesting we would stop. Our only real goal was to pull over at all the little roadside shacks and bring home as much fresh produce as we could eat and we also wanted to check out the Wal-Mart-like store, La Sirena, for provisioning later on.

We rented our trusty blue motorcycle- the one that has NO suspension on it and off we went.  As we got closer to the city we started to see more and more of the road side stands we were looking forward to stopping at on the way home-so many so that we thought “how do they make money being so close together?”.  Then we drove right by a huge cruise ship. We didn’t even know we were near the water yet-it looked like the giant ship was nestled between two mountains!  All of a sudden the plethora of fruit stands made sense.  Darn- there went that plan for cheap fruit!

We were expecting some crazy city driving.  Crazy city driving has a whole new definition for me now-Holy crap!  There were trucks driving down the wrong side of four-lane roads, vehicles driving in reverse, buses going the wrong way on one-way streets, and three lanes of cars on a two lane road and all the while motorcycles are weaving in and out everywhere. And, of course, there was still the sampling of horses, donkeys, chickens, and goats sharing the roads. Everybody honks for everything which just adds to the craziness. It was an experience! I have never seen driving like it!  We made it through without any crashes, but not necessarily unscathed.  Keith has long red scratches on his stomach from me digging into him with my nails in a death grip just trying to stay on the back of the bike.

To escape the worst of the city driving we got down to the Malecon (road along the water).  It was a little more touristy than we like but we found the “yellow Wal-Mart”.  What can I say- it was just like Wal-Mart, but yellow.  The prices were not great-more like American prices even on the non-imported stuff.  We only bought crackers, butter, and tortilla chips (to go with all those avocados we planned on getting on the way home).  What I was really looking for was a pair of shoes.  My only non-flip-flop style shoes floated away back when we were in the Bahamas.  I didn’t find anything worth buying so it was a quick stop. For lunch we knew we had to get away from the tourist track so we headed up the mountain side until we passed a place that had a line of locals trailing from it’s patio.  Another great lunch for two people under $6.00.

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From there we drove randomly but quickly decided that we couldn’t see the city at all because you had to focus entirely on the traffic.  For sure, it would have been a better choice to take the bus and walk around.  Plus, you get to interact with the city if walking.  Lesson learned. We passed a large open-air alley market that had tables and tables of shoes.  We turned around and gave it a shot.  I found a pair I liked but we had a translation error.  We thought they were 340 pesos (not unrealistic- there were signs for shoes for 200 pesos nearby).  They were 3400 pesos-almost $70.00!  I thought there would be a problem when we changed our mind but the seller just chuckled at us and told us to have a good day.  Silly gringos.  We wandered through some more of the market. This was certainly the local market.  They were selling underwear by the mound-full  and mops by the bucket load, not jewelry and trinkets. It was a little claustrophobic but the vendors were not overly pushy. Well, except for the one who wanted to sell Keith a pair of boat shoes. He wouldn’t let go of Keith’s hand after he shook it.  I guess we had a “boater” look to us.  It was fun and not at all like my traumatic experience at the Straw Market in Nassau many, many years ago.  Thank goodness!

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We decided to not push our luck with the city driving and headed home.  The roadside stands were a bust- too close to the cruise ship as we expected.  They wanted wanted $3.00 for a pineapple and they asked for it both in English and in US currency right away.  Nope, not what we were looking for. We stopped at a few stands/family homes way outside of the city, the prices were normal again. At one a man was making fresh peanut butter in his shack and used his fork (that he had been eating from) to scoop out some of his new batch for me to try.  Please tell me…what is the proper response to that?!??  I picked the blob off with my fingers and licked the non-fork-touching side but not enough to actually get any on my tongue. I bought two plantains and we escaped as quickly and politely as we could!  We didn’t buy any peanut butter.

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The last stop of the day was at the cheese factory right outside Luperon.  We were led into the only door which led to the human resources office. There were the of the remains of a big sheet-cake, half-full bottles of warm soda, and lots of paper plates- the universal picture of an office birthday party. We thought we were in the wrong place but there was a scale on the desk and we weighed out a big ball of cheese for less than $2.00. It was the score of the day. Keith was a happy boy.

Cheese to go with our crackers and avocados to go with our chips.  It was a successful day despite our non-existent planning. We came home exhausted.

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^^ I thought that maybe in the city we wouldn’t see as much of the friendly faces or receive the warm greetings that we love so much about the people of Luperon and the small surrounding villages we have been to.  I was so wrong.  Everywhere we have gone people are happy and so friendly. We like it here (even if the driving is scary).