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.