Ship's Log

August 13th, 2009- Luperon, Dominican Republic:

Look!  It's a 360 degree rainbow!  This ring around the sun was visible for a whole 30 minutes.  
Apparently these rare babies are known as "whirling" rainbows.

SARABANDE’s been floating at anchor for well over 2 months now, and we’ve been doing our roaming by land instead of sea.  We're all over the place, as a matter of fact!  We’re babysitting the wonderful, air-conditioned car of some friends who have left town for a few weeks and taking full advantage of their gracious loan.  When we need a break from the usual routine on the boat, we pack up some snacks and the camera and take off on long, winding drives that sometimes end at a beach, sometimes in a cow pasture.  It’s so beautiful here that it hardly even matters where we go.  

Dominican roads, just like everything else in this country, are alive.  In the small towns, old people and kids hang out in front of speed bumps all day to watch the cars slow down and wave at the passengers.  Herds of cows, scrubby rogue horses and chickens with a death wish lurk around every bend.  Oftentimes where smaller roads connect to busier ones, the shoulders are packed with little shacks selling fruit, goats, rag rugs, wood carvings, and our favorite:  coco fria.  These are simply iced-down immature coconuts gathered from the palms that grow wild here.  You pay a few pesos and the vendor lops off the top of the coconut with a machete and pops in a straw.  The silky, delicate water inside is full of nutrients and electrolytes, and it’s completely addictive.  When you’re done drinking the water, you can crack open the nut and eat the soft young coconut meat.  It’s a struggle not to pull over at every little stand we pass for one of these!  The boat may be packed full of green coconuts when it’s finally time to raise anchor.

Brian with some coconutty goodness.

If we feel like doing something a little more hectic and expensive, we venture out to Puerto Plata or Santiago, large towns that boast big, American-style supermarkets, department stores and hardware stores.  We stock up on “fancy stuff” that isn’t sold here in Luperon and marvel at the chaos on wheels that is a busy Dominican highway. It’s always a relief when the highway portion of the trip is over, when whoever’s driving can loosen their death grip on the wheel, and whoever’s riding shotgun can lay off stomping the imaginary brake on the floor. 

It's OK to drive on the shoulder against traffic at top speed if you're only going a short distance.

Our most extensive inland jaunt thusfar has been the five hour drive to the capitol city, Santo Domingo.  It’s the oldest European settlement in the New World, with a checkered history starring well-known troublemakers like Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, and France. 
We left the boat all by herself for the first time in 10 months, and spent four days visiting.

Columbus' first contacts with the indigenous Tainos, just before he proceeded to drink everybody's milkshake.

Mostly we roamed around the Colonial Zone (a UNESCO world heritage site) being unabashed tourists: photographing the oldest cathedral, the oldest fortress, the oldest this and the oldest that, visiting museums, shopping for Christmas gifts, and eating great food.  It was a nice change of pace to be in a city again.

Here's a park in the Colonial Zone, with the oldest cathedral in the Americas behind it.

Is that guy pointing at me, or someone behind me?  Do I know him?  I guess I'll wave to be polite.

Our hotel room was very bare bones, but we were captivated by its powerful air conditioner and cable TV with several American channels.  In the evenings, we came home to our freezing cold room, scrubbed off the city dirt with wastefully long showers, and curled up in bed to watch David Letterman.  Just like normal people!  We felt so decadent.

Louie came with us, and captured the hearts of many cosmopolitan latin ladies as we strolled around.  One admirer dubbed him “El Perro Marinero” when she learned he’d sailed to the Dominican Republic in his own private yacht.  We let him bask in the praise, and didn’t mention to anyone that brave Sailor Dog gets clingy and nervous when swimming in water more than belly-deep.

Click here for a little sampling of our photos from the rambling drives and our Santo Domingo excursion.

Louie on the drive back to Luperon.

Without a doubt, the most spectacular moments we’ve had thus far have taken place less than an hour’s trip from the harbor.  Known as the “27 Charcos”, it’s a series of (yes) 27 spectacular waterfalls that cascade through the mountains as the Damajagua river flows down to the ocean.  We've gone twice now, first only climbing the first seven falls with our good friends on GAIA and ELLIDA.  But when our friends on BEANNACHT sailed back into town from the Virgin Islands, they would settle for nothing less than all twenty-seven.  We couldn't wait to go back, so we all went together.

To get to this attraction, you make your way through the giant sugarcane field to a hut with a cash register, and plunk down fifteen bucks.  This secures you a helmet, a lifejacket and two strapping, good-natured guides to show you the way up the mountain.  

The first waterfall at the foot of the mountain.

Off we went into the woods.  Jumping down twenty seven waterfalls is a wonderful thing to do with your time, of course, but before the jumping can start, there’s a stunning two hour hike to get under your belt.  We picked our way upwards along the river as it flowed ever downwards, marveling all the while at the incredible scenery along the trail.  Seriously, you could blindly point a camera in any direction, at any time on this hike and take a postcard-quality photo! 

Why can't we just live right here?

Finally, the path steepened and narrowed until we found ourselves at a precipice looming over a limestone pool of deep turquoise water.  The younger of our two guides let out a whoop and swan-dived into the water below.  Then we all took flying leaps and cannonballs of our own, crashing down into the basin of impossibly refreshing coolness! 

Andrew watches Alicia take her turn.

Nothing refreshes like a waterfall to the face!

And so the rest of the afternoon went.  We jumped and slid our way down the mountain, pausing to float and play in the natural jacuzzi under each waterfall.  Our guides knew every inch of the trek by heart, and amazed us with their graceful flips and trick dives.  We tried our best to soak in every detail and wished the afternoon would never have to end.  

Swimming from fall to fall.

A few of the waterfalls were actually pretty high up (30 feet or so), allowing several seconds of falling time between jump and splash.  Enough time for a quick ideological crisis to take place in one’s mind!  Hurling yourself off the slippery cliff, the Nervous Nellie in you calculates the many ways to be maimed and broken doing exactly this very thing, and you wonder to yourself, “Is this really something I should be doing?” 

Then you splash down into the beautiful fresh water, gurgle your way to the surface and pop up to see the bobbing faces of your friends smiling and giggling at you.  As shafts of sunlight peek through the treetops and an electric blue butterfly loops around your head, you grin and answer your worrywart self, “Yes, this is absolutely something I should be doing.”  The afternoon was over all too quickly.

Brian drops into frame.

Beyond the roaming and the usual boat projects, we've also made good our threat to hire a guard to protect our home.  There's an adolescent Dominican cat named Steve living here with us now, and his only job is to keep snakes, rats and other undesirables at bay
.  Ship’s cats are one of sailing’s oldest traditions, and have crossed the seas in everything from reed boats to aircraft carriers.  Boats embarking for long hauls at sea cannot afford to have their food stores or cargo ruined by rats, so a good mouser is a valuable crew member.  It's an old sailing superstition that cats bring a ship good luck, and they even function as crude barometers, since they tend to go a little bonkers when atmospheric pressure begins to drop.  SARABANDE has had several ship's cats throughout her history.  Since felines were not native to Hispaniola, Steve is likely descended from the cats who crossed the Atlantic from Spain hundreds of years ago, killing rats and predicting storms all the way over.  We created a short powerpoint presentation to show him on his first day, detailing his onboard duties so there would be no confusion.

Meeting adjourned.

We worried a little about how Louie and Steve would get along, but apparently they are brothers under the skin.  At first glance, it was as if violin music swelled and everything moved in slow motion.  They rushed to each other, sniffed noses, and immediately the cat began purring and delightedly burying his face in Louie’s fur.  Louie proceeded to happily slobber all over his new friend, and they've been BFFs every since.  It’s been years since he lived with a cat that did anything more than barely tolerate him, and suddenly he’s got a nap buddy, a wrestling partner, and a fan club president all in one package.   They had each other at 'hello'.

Louie and Steve enjoy the siesta together daily.

In an attempt to better ourselves, we enrolled in a twice-weekly Spanish class.  So far, we've learned just enough to compose our own completely incomprehensible sentences, as opposed to just memorizing pre-planned phrases. Our combined Spanish skills have been enough for us to get by on, but when a conversation progresses beyond the usual pleasantries, we get lost quickly.  It’s frustrating, and we’re tired of playing the Dumb, Insensitive Gringos who only want to know how much those oranges cost or where the bathrooms are!  So our goal in the class is to become better conversationalists.  And we want to be able to tell one good, slightly dirty joke en Espanol by the time we leave here.

We’ve been spoiled so far here in Luperon with a wealth of good friends around us and a very quiet storm season.  It looks as though things are currently getting a little livelier out there in the Atlantic, and we’re doing everything we can to keep SARABANDE ready for a hit.  In the meantime, we’re plugging away on our projects and enjoying our surroundings. 

Congratulations to our friends Randy and Theresa on their beautiful new baby boy!  And to George and Donna keeping the faith in Oriental, NC, we wish a swift comeback for ROCINANTE.

Your friends,
Alicia & Brian

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