No Dispacho, No Dispacho, Si Dispacho!!!

DSCN9781

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!

DSCN9795eDSCN9806DSCN9816DSCN9819e

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

Dominican Republic Customs and Immigration

Luperon, and maybe all of the Dominican Republic, but especially Luperon, has a bit of a reputation about bribes/made up fees/requested tips when dealing with the officials and clearing into and out of the country.  We read it all but decided to just keep an open mind and see for ourselves.

It cost us $140.00, one cold beer, two cold sodas, two warm sodas, and another four dollars to clear in and here was our experience:

DSCN8492

 

The first local we encountered was one of the boat boys, Papo.  He was actually very grandfatherly.  He approached us in his boat as we entered the harbor and politely welcomed us.  He told us we could get a mooring for two dollars a day.  We told him we wanted to anchor and he said we could anchor anywhere we wanted. He also told us about the services he offered but he wasn’t pushy at all.  We were surprised by how professional he seemed.

 

We anchored and the second boat boy (also a grown man), Handy Andy, came by and welcomed us to the harbor and told us about the services he offered.  He was also very professional in his approach and was helpful in learning the basics of where things were. We read that the officials will come out to the boat, but he said we could go to them- it was easier.

 

We had read both positive and cautionary reports about both of these men, first introductions were refreshingly friendly.

 

We collected our papers and put on our “customs” outfits and headed into town.  Blabber and Antares  were also headed in.  The offices of the assorted officials was at the end of the large concrete warf and there is a gate between them and the town. There were several men sitting around in plastic chairs by the trailers housing the offices-these turned out to be the officials.  A sign was posted on the wall with the fees and we easily found the door to the Immigration Office.  Antares went first.  While we were waiting our turn we were approached by a man in gym shorts and flip-flops.  He told us we needed to buy a tourist card from him.  We had read that this was a scam in some reports, it was only for people arriving by plane and to ignore him and just clear in without him, other reports said you simply had to pay it. We said we would see him later, after we finished the other paperwork.  He was bordering on being pushy and kept saying him first.  The fee was on the poster and the guy stamping the passport said we needed to buy the tourist card so in the end we did buy it.  Official fee or not, it seemed we needed to purchase it to finish the process.  It was ten dollars per person and it wasn’t worth any confrontation as this won’t be our last interaction with the officials while we are here.

 

After getting the possibly unnecessary tourist card, we visited with the Immigration Officer.  He was also dressed in plain clothes with no name tag or any identification.  He was very pleasant and patient as we tried out our Spanish for the very first time.  With lots of pointing and looking up words in our translation book we completed the process and were asked for ninety dollars and given a receipt for 4000 pesos.  Next stop was the Port Authority.  He was also in plain clothes with no identification.  He was very polite and filled out the paperwork for us.  His charge was ten dollars.  I don’t know who the next official we visited was (again no name tag or uniform).  He was just as friendly and also filled out the form for us.  There was no fee for him.  Next we went to Agriculture. The woman was friendly, filled out the short form that had no questions about anything regarding fruits, vegetables, or animals for us. We paid her twenty dollars. She told us she had a laundry service. The fees were what we were expecting or at least in the ballpark and overall it was painless experience, we may have even had fun through it all.

 

As soon as we were done with the last official we were told to go back to our boat as the Comandante and other officials would be there to inspect it.  We had been told while we were filling out the forms that they would bring a dog, I was wondering what Kai would think of a dog sniffing around his toy box.  Antares and Blabber had finished ahead of us and when we got out to our boat we could see that they were just finishing up with their inspections.  One of the boat boys had brought out the Comandante and four other officials.  I think they were the M2/Intelligence and maybe someone from the Agriculture department.  They also brought a translator.  Only the Comandante was in uniform.  They all boarded the boat.  The translator said he didn’t bring the dog because we had a dog on the boat, I don’t think they ever planned on bringing a dog and I never saw one. We thought Kai was going to bark like crazy with everyone coming on the boat but as soon as he saw all the men in the cockpit he froze, I think I even saw him gulp. He was silent and sat tucked into Keith’s arms the whole time. So much for our ferocious watch dog, we had thought maybe he would be loud and obnoxious and make the process move along faster.  No luck.  The translator quickly explained that we would not be paying anymore fees, but if we would like to make a contribution to them it would gladly be accepted.  I had planned on serving cold water in glasses with lime slices, but they asked for soda or beers.  We only had one beer in the fridge, Keith was looking forward to having his last Bahamian Guinness  later.  We gave them the beer and the two cold sodas we had in the fridge, they chose warm sodas over cold water since we didn’t have enough for everyone and they didn’t want to share the cold ones.  I think they asked for tequila but I’m not sure and I didn’t ask for clarification.  Beyond getting the sodas and beer, I am not sure why they came out to the boat.  The Comandante wrote down our boat name and that the boat was white in notebook.  He asked for our checkout papers from the Bahamas but then never looked at them.  They never went inside the boat.  No one cared that we had a dog on board and we never showed his papers.  The translator did ask two more times for contributions and that we should give what ever we were going to give directly to the Comandante.  I didn’t feel like anything bad would have transpired if we had politely declined but Keith gave the Comandante four dollars since one of the other guys had taken the beer.  The Comandante didn’t look overwhelmed.  Interestingly, they did want to see the receipts from the other officials and asked how much we paid each of them,  they confirmed that we did in fact need the tourist cards, but took photos of the receipt for 4000 pesos, the paperwork for clearing in the boat.  They did the same on the other boats and told them it should have only been 3000 pesos.  We are not going to get upset about it.

The whole process took about two hours, was within the ballpark of what we were expecting to pay, and honestly was not intimidating at all.

We were now free to go past the gate and wander the streets of Luperon! First order of business was to find cold drinks since we no longer had any for ourselves.

DSCN8487

^^The crew of Antares and Blabber on their way to clear in too.DSCN8488

^^The Luperon dock

DSCN8489DSCN8490DSCN8491

^^ Everyone has their arms crossed because we had just paid the questionable fee and were still trying to figure out if we should have so it is not the best photo to depict the experience.