Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Dominican Republic---Land of Delight

The Best Mate's perspective:
Il a Vache gave us perspective and contrast for our southern journey along Hispaniola’s coast.
Traveling from the Bay of Ferret, Il a Vache, on the southwest corner of Haiti, our eastward journey took a full 26 hours to get to the Bay of Eagles, Baia of Aguilles. Motorsailing the south coast of Haiti we continued to smell the burning fires used to ward off insects. From Great Inaugua, Bahamas through Hispaniola this is a prevailing smell that begins at sundown and ends at sun-up. As we entered the Bay of Eagles, a pristine safe harbor just inside the coast of Dominica Republic, the smell of fresh earth after a spring rain wafted from the mountains. It was a heady change in aroma that had us inhaling deep gulps and marveling at the fresh slightly spicy scent. The mountains of DR are delightfully rich with vegetation. “Aromatico” the Spanish word for the great scent. Because of changing weather, we only spent one night in the Bay of Eagles. It is a harbor that should not be missed. It truly is pristine beauty, that is rarely visited.
As to perspective on traversing the south coast of Hispaniola . . . Virgintino’s guidebook speaks of the gentle Caribbean as opposed to the North Atlantic on the Northern coast of Hispaniola. Well, it has not felt all that gentle. Each stop involves sail repair, massive re-stowing and recuperation. Having never done the north coast, I cannot compare. But I have a great trepidation when entering the Caribbean from safe harbor. Of course we are always heading straight into the wind, never a great idea. We choose our wind and sea forecasts carefully . . . of course they rarely match the reality.
But what Virgintino does express is how much folks miss when they take the northern route. Now that we have been to several ports, we would not trade our route. To have only Luperon as a taste of the Dominican Republic would be sorely limiting. As we traverse the south coast, we are in awe of the demeanor of the culture, the island’s development from west to east, and the unique features of each port.
The Dominican Republic is a nation of happy people who live in the moment. Music and dancing are every day and night. There is no Monday moratorium, every night is party night. And the music is diverse. Our Barahona guide, Fernando, saw me appreciating one type and clarified that it was “romantica”, ballads. They are soo romantic, even without understanding all the words. Fernando got all dreamy eyed whenever Julio Iglesia came on the radio. There are all types of music: rap, techno, hiphop, even a bit of Bahamian Junkanoo.
Next stop---Barahona. Many blow this port off, feeling it is too industrial. As we anchored I commented that I could be looking at Westernport MD if it were coastal, or York, PA. We thoroughly enjoyed our short time there, mostly because of Fernando, a local man who acts as guide to boaters. He not only showed us the best spots, but he was able to navigate the town’s culture, allowing a feeling of safety when with him. As a Gringo to Latin American culture, the machine guns in the market and the sawed off shotgun at the bank would have been far more intimidating without Fernando’s presence. Barahona was a city without a garbage infrastructure, at least none evidenced. The streets were full of refuse, the dogs continued to be poorly fed, un-neutered. Many improvements to life from Haiti—a Mercado that had a good selection—though no cat food or litter. The chicken breasts I could never find in the Bahamas were all I found in Barahona. Even boneless! The motorbike is the primary form of transportation, and there are many motorbikes. The dogs and cats were equally miserable in the DR as they were in Haiti. Starving, homeless, and nursing.
Then we journeyed to Salinas, another gem of a town with no guns in view! Of course it is a small coastal fishing village sporting about six clubs, two bodegos (very small grocery spots), a long peninsula beach that is heavily frequented on the weekends. Hotel Salinas hosts a hospitable dock, good restaurant and an evolving ambience. Lovely homes were interspersed with small tin sheet shacks. Salinas had a garbage infrastructure replete with large lidded bins. We had not seen such technology since the states. Even the Bahamas relied on barrels. The dogs were better fed and fewer. Motorbikes continue to rule. We left Salinas because of a weather window. It was too short of a stay.
Boca Chico. Now we are talking! Trash, some infrastructure. Guns—so far only at the bank. Beach town. Large Italian influence---who knew? English, most Boca Chicans speak some. And the market---Ole. That’s the name as well as the feeling when you realize that you are able to buy not only cat litter but a rotisserie chicken and sliced cheese from the deli! Ole indeed. Dogs—less hungry, still mostly stray, nursing. Puppies did disappear while we were there . . . In order to appreciate Boca Chico, you must use Marina Zarpar, either moor or dock. We moored. Riggo, Marina Zarpar’s harbormaster, was a great friend and assistant to the whole stay. His welcome assistance with mooring along with his English was manna from heaven after a long grueling haul from Barahona. When we had a swimmer board the boat one afternoon, Riggo added security to the docks and was attentive to our concerns. When we next visit Boca Chico, by plane;), Riggo will be on our list for a visit.
Food in Boca Chico . . . Since the Bahamas, I had been teasing Mike asking for a hot chocolate and a fresh croissant in the morning. Well, sure enough Boca Chico had amazing croissants and bread. The Italian food was over the top good, the Italian bread, amazing. This was our first foray into DR pineapples . . . which are the equivalent to chocolate in desirability.
The walk to town from the marina took us past many family businesses focused on handmade chairs and thatched covers for rent. Each family had someone raking the sand and gathering trash from the day before every morning, no matter the day of the week. The beach itself offered hours of entertainment in people watching. Dominicans have a style all their own. There is no shyness in their presentation.
Overall we spent six weeks on the south coast of Hispaniola. Each port was more “civilized”. Every one of them had happy people embracing life one day at a time.
We have come a long way from Madame Bernard’s at Il a Vache. No flies, no wooden table with a meat cleaver-wielding woman. No live chickens being held upside down. Oh to be born in the DR instead of Haiti.
A day trip with Dan and Rose of Exit Strategy took us high in the mountains. You have already seen the pictures. We enjoyed the same “aromatico” in Limon, high in the Central Mountains. We finished our road trip at Samana, a lovely port on the east coast, not to be missed if you cruise the North coast.
Had we journeyed from Mayaguana, southern Bahamas to Luperon and then to Puerto Rico, we would have missed the developing changes of Hispaniola. Reading about Haiti’s bad luck is not the same as seeing people with so little who remain overall happy.

Now as we sit in Boqueron, Puerto Rico, overall ecstatic to be in a US territory, it is as if we have had a time travel experience through the development of countries. It is early days here. The pineapple costs much more but is equally delightful. The dogs are mostly pets. The check in was so civilized, by phone, no dogs, no guns. But the music is quieter, the parties only on the weekends . . .