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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Luperon- A Little More

We couldn’t wait to see more of the town of Luperon the next morning so we set off in search of breakfast.  It was actually harder to find than we expected.  It was hard to tell what many of the shops have to offer and we don’t have enough skills to ask a lot of questions.  We finally came across a tiny shop with little tiny tables in it and we asked if they served breakfast. The gentleman waved us in and from there we have no idea what he said or what we ordered.  His wife brought us out two ham and cheese tostadas-and they were perfect.  He helped us work out our Spanish for the items and gave us tastes of his fresh squeezed juices.  It was so good and he was so nice we ended up going  back there the next day too.  By then we were able to place our order using complete sentences.  Woohoo! Two tostadas and two fresh juices is less than $2.50 so why not.  Plus, the owner is so patient and we had fun sharing our Spanish/English book to have a basic conversation.  He liked looking up words in it too.  I think we will become regulars.

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Even though we had just eaten breakfast the smell of the pork and chicken being cooked over a fire drew us to these street vendors.  They gave us samples and Keith bought a 100 pesos worth of pork.  It comes in a plastic bag and no napkin.  (I’ve already learned to go no where without hand sanitizer!)

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^^ This lucky pup got some pork too.

We were standing on some corner, with our still greasy hands, Spanish book, and a piece of paper with notes when a motorcycle stopped and asked if we were finding everything alright.  Might we have looked too obvious? We started talking to him and it was a fellow cruiser anchored two boats away from ours.  He came here seven years ago and fell in love with the place and never left.  He was pointing out where everything was and what to see when he said to just jump on and he would give us a tour- it would be easier.  So we did.  I know, you probably think we are crazy or stupid, but it really felt fine to do. (And, spoiler, it absolutely was) He gave us a tour of the town then drove us out to the beach where there is a cute little beach bar.  We pull up to find Ingrid and Ben (Blabber) had already found the beach bar!

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^^Photo credit to Ingrid (thanks!)

 

We stayed and shared a beer with Bruce (the guy driving us around) and absorbed as much info as we could. He also gave Keith the details on where and how to buy a motorcycle here if we are going to stay for any period of time. Oh boy.  While we were there Hedda, Walewijn, and Quiryijn (Antares) wandered up.  Funny, with no planning we all found the same place!  After our beer we hopped back on the bike with Bruce to finish our tour and went next to the marina.  We met some more cruisers and Bruce’s wife and hung out for a while.  Bruce was staying for lunch and we were still full from our pork so we decided to walk back to town.  Half way up the hill we started second guessing our choice, these hills are steep.  Just then the boat boy, Handy Andy, drove up on his motorcycle and offered to call us a motoconcho but before he could he flagged down a friend of his in a yellow jeep and we had a ride back to town.  It turned out it was another cruiser who also owned land here, we had even met him before in the Abacos!

 

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^^We finished up the day on our boat with Blabber and Antares eating Mahi tacos from the fish we got on our sail here.

 

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^^ I love how the “slips” are made using branches stuck in a line.

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^^We did a little exploring with all the boats we sailed in with one day.  At any one time we would have one conversation going on in English, Dutch, French and Spanish.  I have come home mentally exhausted every night!  Even with out trying our brains are working overtime trying to pick out the familiar and put context to the unfamiliar.  More Advil please!  Really, it is SO much fun.

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We introduced Blabber and Antares to our new breakfast spot, the owner, whose name I still don’t quite have, was sharing a fruit that he juices. None of us had seen or tasted it before.  He calls it Jauga.  It is very sweet and makes a nice juice.

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^^ Vendors like this are common.  We see them selling everything from bananas to shoes.  We haven’t been approached by any of them wanting us to buy something.

Warderick Wells

After our night of sailing we pulled into the Emerald Rock anchorage at Warderick Wells.  Wardrick Wells is the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There are about 25 moorings in the anchorage but the charts say you are allowed to anchor outside of the field.  Our plan was to anchor, sleep, then go into the ranger station to inquire about a mooring in the north field.  The north field is the famous one where you anchor in narrow channels surrounded by shallow pure white sandbanks that go dry at low tide.  If you have ever looked at one of those glossy sailing magazines you have no doubt seen pictures of it.  Gorgeous. I’ve imagined taking a picture of our boat sitting in this idyllic anchorage for about 15-20 years or so.  Finally we were here! However the entrance to the north field is narrow, dotted with a few coral heads, and has a killer current to boot. The winds were in the upper twenties so we definitely didn’t want to do it unseen or while we were very tired.  Didn’t seem smart, besides we were planning on spending several days-hopefully through Christmas here so no hurry either.  We dropped anchor several hundred yards behind and to the side of the completely empty Emerald Rock mooring field and promptly crashed into bed. The pretty would still be there when we woke up.

We were woken up about thirty minutes later with the warden knocking on our boat saying we had to leave.  Apparently you must not only be out of the mooring field but a certain distance from shore too.  We moved back about 300 feet and satisfied the warden.  It wasn’t the most pleasant first impression of the Land and Sea Park but I get it, they want you to use the moorings, the twenty bucks help support the park.  We just didn’t see the benefit of using a mooring ball when we have a perfectly good anchor, wide-open sand anchorage (not harming any coral), and not interfering with other boats.

After a few hours of sleep we got in the dinghy and headed over to the ranger station to see what the Land and Sea Park was all about, where all the trails were, take a walk, and arrange plans for moving into the pretty north mooring field.  There is often a waiting list and we didn’t know if we needed to sign up on it, we could see lots of boats already there. The mooring balls are $20.00 a night or you can volunteer four hours of work for a nights stay.    On the sail over Keith and I decided that we wanted to volunteer our time if they needed something done for one or two of the nights.  He has plenty to offer mechanically and I was was planning on pulling out the Sailrite sewing machine and my supplies if they had covers that needed sewn or repaired.  If they just needed trash picked up or something scrubbed, that would be fine too-we thought it would be a wonderful way to meet some other cruisers and personally support the park too.

There are several beaches on the island to pull the dinghy up on and a dinghy dock at the ranger station.  Since we were headed to talk to the rangers we pulled up to the dock.  Walking up to the office we saw a sign saying it was $10.00 per person to land a dinghy. Huh?  In the office I greeted the ranger (interrupted the ranger from her book) and said it was our first time to the Land and Sea Park.  I was greeted back with a grunty “uh-huh”.  I said we were interested in getting a ball for the next day. I was answered with a grunty “twenty bucks”.  Yes, thank you, and how about the draft, we draw 5’8. “You will fit most places” she said.  Ok, that was vague.  The conversation continued in this difficult way. I was starting lose my motivation, but said that we were also interested in the volunteer program if they had projects that needed done.  “Yeah, you could do that” she said.  Even with more prodding I never really got who we were supposed to see to arrange that.  Then I finally asked about the sign by the dock asking for ten bucks (each), was it just for use of the dock or access to the island itself.  Nope, we were expected to pay $20.00 to come ashore.  Like as in right now. Even after seeing the sign I was a bit dumbfounded by the answer. I asked if that was on top of the mooring fees we were expecting to pay-yep.  I was quite stunned and a bit confused-hadn’t read anything about a landing fee anywhere.  What I was very sure of was that we did not stick a twenty dollar bill in our pockets to come walk on a beach!!! Hell, we didn’t even bring shoes.  Not to mention from where I stood I could see a handful of other islands with beautiful beaches that I did NOT have to pay to walk on.  I thanked her, went outside and told Keith we needed to go back to the boat.  Even if we had our wallets with us, it wasn’t happening.  I get supporting a park, the problem was after my encounter I just didn’t feel like doing so anymore.

As I walked down the stairs to the dinghy I could feel my eyes stinging with a huge wave of disappointment.  I thought I had learned my lesson on the danger of expectation, I obviously I hadn’t.  The long dreamt of photo of our boat in that anchorage was not going to happen, the days of walking the highly recommended trails wasn’t going to happen, the Saturday sandbar pot luck wasn’t going to happen, the famous cruisers Christmas dinner at the wardens house wasn’t going to happen, snorkeling the coral gardens wasn’t going to happen.   In a matter of moments I had gone from excited to crushed. My views on the park soured in just minutes of being in the headquarters.  Before we got to the dinghy the ranger called after us and gave us permission to take a walk-for today.  I said we didn’t have any money on us, we were just going back to the boat.  She said it was OK, go for a walk.  We got in the dinghy and headed back to the boat anyway, but Keith knows me well and knows how much I had looked forward to walking up to Boo-Boo Hill at least and realized I might regret not going when we had the chance.  We decided to go ahead a take a short walk, as we both knew, even with out discussion, we were unlikely to come back here. 

^^ The north mooring field.

^^ a picture of some else’s boat in Warderick Wells.

We anchored the dinghy on the beach and walked up what we thought was a trail but when we passed the back of a sign we turned around and saw that we had just come from a restricted area. S#it.  Now we are not only that jerky boat that anchored instead of picking up a mooring and the cheapskates that didn’t pay the ten bucks (each) to land, we were now the A-holes that just stomped through the protected bird nesting area. (Which I would never have done on purpose!) We made it to Boo-Boo Hill, snapped a few picks of the boat names  on driftwood, and even took a few minutes to try and find names of ones we knew or recognized from the radio. Neither of us much in the mood, more just checking the box. Obviously many (everyone else?) has had a different experience with Warderick Wells than us.  This gem, not-to-be-missed, highlight-of-the-cruise, island just completely missed the mark for us. We started talking about all the other islands that had been such a more pleasant experience and just as beautiful.  It was therapeutic and by the end of the short walk (we did find the real path back to the beach) we put it into perspective.  It’s just one island, so what if we were the only ones who didn’t fall in love with it, there were plenty more that we had. We find the Bahamians lovely and friendly, the rangers were sadly the very rare exception and hopefully we just caught them on a rough day as we had heard they were terrific. We dinghied away form the bustling main mooring field filled with boat loads of people having fun and headed back to our lone little boat way, waaayyy, out on the other side.  We laughed and kind of felt like Emerald Rock should have been name Exile Rock.

 

^^ Mark and Cindy (Cream Puff) you were easy to find!

^^ Jesse and Stacy (Smitty) you were a little harder to find! Love the crab.

^^ If you look very, very hard-out past that little island (Emerald Rock)- you can see where we anchored.  It probably looks like a spec of dust on your screen. So glad we had to wake up and move back another 300 feet immediately.

I do hesitate to even post this as I think our experience was far different than most and I don’t want to taint it for someone behind us.  That, and the whole if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all thing. Perhaps if we had just called ahead and paid for a mooring ahead of time it would have gone differently, I don’t know.  For now, we are off to find any other beach that doesn’t cost $10.00 per person to walk on.  Yes, I’m a little stuck on that-kind of blew my mind I guess. However, when you can’t find the differences between a national park and a club, maybe something isn’t right.  

 

 

From Moonset to Sunset, I Loved This Day

I woke up this morning to the moon setting into an invisible horizon.  Not a bad way to start the day….and it got better from there.  We were escorted from the anchorage by two mama dolphins and their babies.  Not as baby as we saw last week, but still young.  They swam with the boat for a long time taking turns rolling on their sides to get a better look up at us.  The mom with the smaller baby kept it a little farther away from the boat while the other pair played under our bow. 

^^ It was a no wind day, our favorite kind.  Never did see the horizon out to the west. 

We were anchored near an abandoned US Naval Base so we went for a walk. You know we love abandoned things. I also wanted to go see the pink beaches again and the base was apparently overlooking one.  The base was built in the 50’s and deserted in the 80’s.  Not much is left, nature is doing a good job of reclaiming the territory. 

^^ I’m not usually inspired by resorts but this one looked inviting and we were anchored right in front of it so I thought I’d check it out, it wasn’t open helping make today a free day.

^^ This bulldozer was not part of the naval base, we just found it on the side of the road on the way.  Keith could not control his inner child and just had to sit on it.

^^ The guard post.  I suppose they are not supposed to look cute, but I thought it did.

^^ this building was one of the better conditioned ones.

^^ the Bahamians are trying to salvage and use these old water tanks.  I don’t think you can see from the picture, but they have leaks everywhere-even under the duct tape.

The real star of the walk, sorry navy base, was the pink sand beach on the other side. 

^^ I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed by how clear the water is. If we had brought more than one bottle of water I could have stayed on that beach all day.

With the island being only 1/2 mile wide at this point, I didn’t understand when the chart said it was a 2 1/2 mile walk to the beach and dismissed it as an error.  I don’t think it was.  The roads were not straight and looped around a pond.  Add in two wrong turns, exploring the base, walking the beach and we were pretty tired by the time we got back to the boat.  We took a swim to cool off and lounged for the afternoon.

^^ In the evening we took a dinghy ride and let Kai play on the beach. Still looking for the missing western horizon.

We came home and the topped off a perfect day with a perfect sunset from the cockpit.  And finally found the missing horizon.

Eleuthera, you are beautiful and we are thankful.  We couldn’t have enjoyed today any more! 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleuthera Coast Tour

We decided to take the scenic route down the coast of Eleuthera today.  The water is deep enough to sail just yards off the coast.  It was kind of like taking a slow Sunday drive.  First pit-stop was the Glass Window Bridge.  It used to be a natural rock bridge spanning the narrowest section of Eleuthera.  A hurricane destroyed it and now it is a man-made, architecturally plain bridge.  The draw is seeing the dark blue of the Atlantic Ocean and the light turquoise of the sound next to each other.  I couldn’t really capture it.  Keith and I were more impressed with the two fishermen on cliff.  I don’t know how you manage to get your fish all the way up there after you hook it!

 

^^Two fishermen hand lining 

On the walk back Kai got the bejeezus scared out of him by a tiny blowhole we didn’t see. Poor guy.  He finally worked up the courage to go back up to it. 

We got back underway and coasted down the coast, passing little anchorages with sandy beaches, resorts, and houses speckling the cliffs.

We had thought about making a lunch stop at Gregory Town.  Last time we were here it was for Pinapple Festival, the main event of the year for this island.  At that time it had been packed with people and stalls selling pineapples and pinapple slushies (without liquor) and the music had been coming from everywhere and everyone was dancing. It was a great time.  Today we didn’t even see one person! We ended up just doing a slow drive by from Pittman Cove.

^^ Kai, placing his vote for stopping and going ashore. 

^^ We sailed past the narrow rock entrance of Hatchet Bay but didn’t go in.  No hidey-hole needed today!  Yay!

We ended up about half way down the island and found a sweet deserted anchorage we had all to our selves.  We got there early enough that I was determined to find a way across to the Atlantic side.  The chart said there were pink-sand beaches directly across from us.  Keith dropped me off on the shore and wished me luck. I found a rutted out dirt road that led across.  At the end it branched, to the left led to a calm cove with a wide clean pink beach, to the right led to a “treasure” beach.  That is what I call the ones where all the trash washes up.  They were both a delight to find.  Now, when I say pink-it’s not Peptobismol pink.  Just not exactly white or yellow either. There are definitely pink grains though and in the right light you can see it.  

 

 

^^ The rest of the afternoon we let Kai play on one of the tiny islands in the anchorage.