Friday, February 24, 2006

Cruisers Baseball

Beer after the game

Luperon Week 3 & 4 February 2006

Things are very different in Luperon, at least very different from the Bahamas. First of all, we don't check the weather every morning, because in this harbour it doesn't matter. The fierce fronts we had to prepare for in the Bahamas, rarely have an effect here. If they are strong enough to extend this far south and east, their dreaded west and strong north winds, just cancel out the easterly trades, resulting in the weather window which makes heading easterly much easier. This happens about every week or so, allowing boats to come and go with relative ease. Hopefully this will continue and we will have no difficulty finding a quiet spell when we are ready to leave. When the boats are coming in from the Turks and Caicos, we usually hear them calling on the radio for harbour information and most times Mike from Seacomber goes out to meet and guide them in. Mike provides this valuble service free.
So far, every night has been dead calm, so you get a good night's sleep. It maybe cloudy with a little drizzle, but it isn't enough to stop you from doing anything except dry the laundry. Every afternoon the wind picks up, usually 15-20 kn, but the anchors are all well stuck in the mud. Ross's only complaint is that we aren't getting enough wind power, and the slight cloud cover reduces the effectiveness of the solar panels, so he is having to watch our energy consumption as he hates to start the engine. Another advantage of this protected harbour is that even in the afternoon when the wind is blowing, it is not rough, the distances you need to travel are short, and you don't need to get wet!! We actually changed back to the 4hp, it is lighter to lift up each evening and uses less fuel. Fuel is not cheap $4 a gallon, but we aren't using much.

Most Saturday mornings the cruisers play baseball with the local young men. Baseball in the Dominicans’ national sport, so the cruisers are definitely at a disadvantage….even with the Commodante pitching for our team. But it is a good time, and the local guys try to keep if fun, and the score respectable. After the game, drinks are bought by the losers (US!!). In Canada, kids play road hockey, here it is baseball, using whatever they have. We have seen them playing with a stick, an orange, and a mitt made out of a pizza box. But they love their baseball.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Trip to Waterfalls

El jefe, lower right
Trip to Waterfalls
Originally uploaded by S/V Raft.

Everyone who visits Luperon or Puerto Plata seems to talk about the waterfalls. Either they did the tour, wished they had done the tour, or saw the waterfalls on Jurassic Park. We had talked to many of the boaters in the harbout who definitely recommended going. We booked our tour through Rosa Van Sant (Bruce's wife), a full day tour including the falls, a trip to a coffee farm, a chance to sit on the Brahma bull, tour a soapstone carving factory, lunch and drinks for $30US -- a lot of money here, but apparently worth it. We booked for Thursday with our friends from Island Dreamin', V'jer, and Orion. It rained Tuesday and Wednesday, and we were warned that the water would be high in the river. Some people had cancelled their trip due to the rain, but it wasn't raining Thursday morning, and we thought it would be okay, we figured we were going to get wet anyway!!

We loaded up the truck at the marina, and then went to the hotel and picked up 6 young Dutch people (age: twenty something) before heading off to Imbert and the backcountry. (Un)Fortunately for us the bull was busy in Santa Domingo so we didn't get to sit upon it, missed another photo op. So it was off to the coffee farm, where they didn't show us how it grows, but we did get a re-enactment of how the women ground the beans in days gone by, and how cigars are made (the museum in Puerto Plata was better). One of the antics at the coffee farm was the placing parrots and snakes on volunteers (guests/tourists), and a chance to buy some local "art". The soap stone carving factory was more interesting. Here they mine petrified wood which they call soapstone, and then carve, and polish it into statues and other small handicrafts. The cost was minimal for the manhours that it took. They also gave us a demonstration of a mock cock fight. No blood was spilled. The roosters were wearing tiny boxing gloves on their feet. Lunch was excellent, and then we were off to the FALLS!! Restaurant Kitchen-- Typical

The first indication, that the rain was going to make this "interesting" was the river we had to ford from the parking lot to the start of the waterfall trail. Usually this river is about knee deep, but for us it was waist deep, and we crossed diagonally, holding hands kindergarten style so as not to be swept away in the current. Then we had about a half hour hike through the forest, crossing the stream several times, but the stream was only a few inches deep, and our 2 guides ensured that we did not lose our footing. We approached the first falls. Here we left our camera, because we would be swimming, and climbing around the falls from here on up. There are 21 waterfalls in total, but the guides only do the first seven.
Fording Streams to Get to the Waterfall
At Falls 1 & 2, you swim, climb a ladder and scamper up the rocks, this was fine. We were glad we had worn our wetsuits, they kept us very comfortable, and the helmets and PFD's (rented for $1US) looked after our safety. It was great swimming in the fresh clean water. At Falls 3, you had to swim and pull yourselves along a rope to the base of the falls. At that point, there was a 10 foot climb in the raging falls. But to help us, we had to put our left foot in guide #1's hand, and give "el jefe" (the head guide who spoke English) your left hand and he would pull you up...right!! One of the Dutch girls refused to go on, and Bev was glad that Rhonda from V'jer went ahead of her, because she was thinking about chickening out. But "el jefe" was incredibly strong and pulled us all, even the big guys, up the precipice and had us stand on his feet to steady us, and get us safely on the rocks.

Then we were off to Falls 4, where you had to hold the guides hands, and climb up the rock face with your feet, until the guide could pull us to the top. It wasn't pretty, but all of us continued on. We clambered over some rocks and back into the raging stream, clawed our way along the edge to where we could see the base of Falls 5. At that point we sent our strongest swimmer, Jim from Orion, to see if it was possible to continue on. When Jim was unsuccessful at overcoming the current, we retreated.We would make no attempt to get to #7.

We thought that now we had done the tough ascent, going down would be fun "el jefe" told us to hold onto him (he was next to the rock wall) and we would walk down the stream until.we started down but the current was so great that Ross was swept away down Falls 4. Bev was screaming to "el jefe", and he pushed Bev against the wall and went after Ross. Bev could not see where Ross had gotten to, but imagined the worst, just like in the movies. However, Ross had gotten himself stopped at the next level, before the guide had gotten to him, and only had a scaped leg and and lost watershoe to show for his adventure. Meanwhile the other guide had come to rescue Bev, walked her to where you were supposed to jump into the pool below. That first jump was quite an experience, even with a PFD on, you did wonder if you were going to come back up.

We did the remaining jumps but at each level, the guides were extremely careful because the currents and whirlpool action of the falls was increased due to the higher water. It was fun, but we were very apprehensive. Both of us said, they would like to do the falls again, but only when it hadn't rained for a week, hopefully then it would just be fun and not so scary.

When we returned to Luperon, Roy Keith on Renaissance, who had gone to the Falls on Tuesday, not on a daytrip, just with a group and a rented van, wrote and shared this poem when he heard our tales.

The Luperon Waterfall Trip

Last Tuesday some friends and I took a trip to the waterfall.
We waded a stream, strolled and swam - a good time was had by all.

On Thursday other friends went on a trip to the self same place
But the stories we heard regaled by them made my heart absolutely race.

They swore they forged a raging river and stood on death's dark door,
But midst the danger they waved their fists and hollered bring on more.

I gather they had to scale some cliffs using only their fingernails
They suffered from rain and snow and sleet and even a bit of hail.

The ladies said they wouldn't have made it without the guide to push
Their eyes glazed over as they recounted that the push was on their tush.

They talked endlessly about one guide, a Dominican Adonis no doubt,
And how his muscles rippled and how his Speedo filled out.

Our intrepid group finally reached the falls and how their hearts did quiver,
For now they beheld the roaring majesty of the terrible cascading river.

They said the sound was deafening, it rattled their very bones,
The ladies said they began to jiggle, the men lost their cajones.

But big bad Bob rose to the occasion and urged them further on,
He puffed his chest and clenched his fist and looked bad to the bone.

There's some question of just how far they got, one said level seven,
Another said he didn't know but heard angel music from Heaven.

I then got lost in all the tales but at last I think I got 'em,
Something about the head of the Nile and a lost bikini bottom.

National Geographic filming our intrepid group got everything all wrong,
Something about a three headed alien and Elvis in a thong.

I also heard about a deadly python between one person's legs,
And a bird atop another head dropped something that wasn't eggs.

There was also something about an alligator, though that part wasn't clear
And some recounting of buzzards and wolves and even a grizzly bear.

Then to my amazement I discovered their bus served Rum and beer,
And it caused me to wonder about all the tales we'd been caused to hear.

But whether true or whether false or somewhere in between,
I know that their experience had been more than I had seen.

And though we'd enjoyed the company and had fun with our first little troupe
The next time there's a trip, we're damned sure going with this other group.
Jim & his Python

Roy & Wanda are a lot of fun, and he is always writing these great poems. He wrote on in Georgetown, his version of "The Night before Christmas" and one about Mic on Escargot fishing seminars. His latest was about Bruce Van Sant and was read at the Pot luck at Puerto Blanco Marina.

Luperon Weeks 1 & 2 Feb 1st-15th

Now that we are all checked in, we are learning the ins and out of Luperon. There is quite a cruising community here, over 100 boats, and at times 150. Of that, about half have been in Luperon for a year or longer. This harbour is as good a hurricane hole, affordable and safe as anywhere in the Caribbean, so has become another "velcro beach". But it is different than Georgetown and the long term cruisers want it to be that way!!
El Commandate's House
There is a cruiser's net, twice a week, where the usual boat problems, social activities and commercial ventures are discussed. The harbour monitors 68 and any other channel that has been mentioned on 68.

Because eating and drinking "off the boats" is so inexpensive, most cruisers spend more time off their boats, than on them. Current exchange rate 34 pesos for $1 (at this point we don't care if US or Cdn) Daily activities include the trip to the local bakery for fresh bread (10 pesos for large submarine roll), finding the fruit/vegetable truck for whatever is in season, walkabout town to find somewhere for lunch (100 pesos or less), then back to the yacht club for happy hour (grande Bohemia 40 pesos and free popcorn). Sometime in there you might find time to take your laundry to be done (200 pesos for couple weeks of stuff), go to the internet café (30 pesos an hour), and sit in the park and talk to the other cruisers as they do the same. The availability of fruits and vegetables is such a change from the Bahamas. Right now in season are pineapples, oranges, tangerines, eggplant, squashes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce and whatever we buy costs about 100-200 pesos and will do for a couple of days.

We have met back up with Joe and Wendy (Off Call) whom we met on our trip down the US intercoastal, and in the Bahamas last year. They have been here since last April and have taken us and a couple other boats (Bohemian 2 and Equinox) under their wing to show us around. Our first adventure was to Puerto Plata. Wendy and Joe go there about once a month primarily to get money. There is an ATM in Luperon, it rarely works for Canadians and even some Americans can't get money from it. (Verizon will change US into pesos in Luperon and will do cash advances). There also is an ATM in Imbert but it often "eats" cards, so Joe and Wendy go to Puerto Plata and we will follow their example.

Puerto Plata is about 20 miles east of Luperon, along the northern coast of the DR, but to get there you have to go to Imbert (inland) and then back to the coast. As described in Bruce Van Sant's book (we are trying not to call him God, since he lives here), we walked in town to the guagua park, got into a guagua (van), which took us to Imbert (35 pesos), where we crossed the road to get on the bus (really a minibus) to Puerto Plata (20 pesos). The entire trip took about an hour through beautiful hilly countryside. The roads are paved, and just wide enough for two trucks to pass, and used by large commercial trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, horses and donkeys with riders, and cows, chickens, goats, dogs, and pedestrians. There is no way we would be driving on those roads, but the guagua and bus drivers are used to the congestion, pass with care and use their horns liberally.

In Puerto Plata, we found the Scotia Bank and our card gave us pesos, toured a couple of good sized grocery stores, saw where we could get fabrics and craft supplies, walked a bit, had great ice cream, before reversing the transit process back to Luperon. We didn't have time to do any of the touristy things, like check out the Fort, the beaches, cruiser docks, amber museum but there will be another trip.

Over the next week, we had water, diesel, and propane delivered to RAFT. Again, it is very affordable and easier on Ross's back to have Handy Andy bring everything out to us!! Luperon Harbour Looking North to Turks & Caicos
Luperon Harbour Looking South to Imbert

There are lots of places to walk around Luperon. From behind the yacht club (or marina), we walked through the partially developed "estate" area. More livestock than homes at this point Downtown Luperonand up the hill to enjoy a fantastic view of the harbour, the reefs we had passed at the entrance, and beach along the north shore where the all inclusive hotel sits. The beach did not compete with what we had enjoyed in the Bahamas, but the hills, trees and flowers are a nice change. Then we walked down to the beach, apparently the beach is public, despite the hotel's efforts to control access. We also explored the small beach at the harbour entrance. Here we had a weiner roast, organized by one of the cruisers, a good chance to meet more of the crowd here.

The only negative that we have discovered so far about Luperon, is the water in the harbour. It is not the beautiful, clear blue we had in the Bahamas. It is green, turbid, polluted and after rain, it gets worse with the runoff. Somedays, you can see the mud shoals, but most times even our depth sounder has problems knowing what is below RAFT.

We have decided to remain in Luperon until we go home in March. That means we can space out our sightseeing trips, just doing one a week. We did Puerto Plata last week, and Joe and Wendy were going to Santiago in our second week , so we tagged along. This time we hired a guagua and driver for the day. Split between 4 boats, the cost including the drivers lunch and tip was 500 pesos ($15). Santiago is a large city (think over a million people), about 30 miles away as the crow flies, but of course the roads don't go that way. It is a really pretty trip through the mountains, tobacco and fruit farms, rushing streams and small villages. Fruit, food and beverages are readily available along the way if you dare to pull off the road. The main reason you go to Santiago is for engine parts and groceries, 8A called ochaA is like a Home Depot, and PriceMart just like home! Of course there is a Scotia Bank, so we topped up our cash reserves. We lunched at a North American styled food court in a mall (Burger King US prices) and toured the cigar museum which was really interesting. Trip back at rush hour, and we were all glad we had hired Umberto, our careful driver!! Stray animals seem to jump out from around every bend. Weaving between the goats, cows, donkeys and horses coupled with potholes while sight seeing is more than we can handle.

After being here almost a week, El Commodante came and told us we had to move. They had decided that we were anchored in the channel and interfering with access to the government dock. We also heard that one of the salvage boats was carrying explosives, and that would be a good reason to keep out of their way. Regardless of the reason, we upped anchor and moved over closer to the yacht club. This is better, since we seem to be at the club every evening for happy hour.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Off to Luperon (Jan 28- Feb 2)

We are anchored in Cockburn Harbour, touted by Steve Pavlidis to be the best natural harbour in the Turks and Caicos. South Caicos protects from the north, Long Cay to the east, and the Caicos banks stops the waves from the south and west. This is a small village, population 1200, not touristy, as most of its inhabitants work in the fishing industry, either fishing or at the processing plant, or building the airport on Ambergis, the island about 10 miles to the south. Ambergis, is a private island, and apparently Canadians are building a resort there. This morning being Monday, there were a flurry of small boats heading south, taking the workers to work, and on Friday afternoon they return to the village, we saw the pontoon boat bring them back.

It looks like the windy weather we have been experiencing since Friday is going to break tomorrow, so we hope to leave here for the 110 mile south to the Dominican Republic tomorrow. It should take us about 20-24 hours for the trip, and we want to arrive in Luperon in the early morning.

So today, is a get ready day. Ross is running back and forth to the fuel dock, refilling the diesel and the dinghy. We mainly motored all the way from Georgetown, and we expect the trip to the DR will be all motoring so we need to fill up. Bev is baking bread, and making spaghetti sauce so we will have some quick meals for the trip. There are lots of stores in the village, seems like on every block there is a store in someone's living room. Not that they have much to sell, we have yet to see a supply boat to come in yet, and have only seen one plane a day coming into the airport.
Streets of Cockburn HarbourOne of the many in house bars
Yesterday, we went for a nice walk with George and Mary, off Avalon V. We walked around the salt flats, saw a flock of pink flamingo, walked the beach, not as long or nice as GT. On the return to village, we stopped at one of the little stores (size 6' x 15') asked if they had cold beer, which they did and would sell to us on a Sunday. So we walked around the village, green Heiniken bottles in hand. Then we saw another bar open, and we checked it out, and were the only patrons there enjoying a second green bottle. But there isn't much else in Cockburn Harbour.

We left mid morning, after the winds had finally died down some and clocked a little to the south. We had a fantastic sail to Great Sand Cay, toured the anchorage from offshore, it looked really nice. Another beach to explore another day...and kept sailing south to Luperon. By early evening, the winds had died down and we had to use the engine to assist. We had loads of time, as we didn't want to arrive at Luperon until first light, so only needed to average 4.5 knots. So we adjusted sails and motor to the wind and had a very leisurely trip. By midnight, the seas were so calm, you could see the reflections of the stars, it was quite spectacular. A few fishing boats, and two freighters showed up on the radar. We knew from radio conversations that there were a number of boats taking advantage of the weather window. As we arrived at Luperon, we found out we were first, of about a eight boats, and even though we had never entered the harbour before, we were given the honour of being the scout. We had the new Wavy Line Charts, and used their way points as well as Van Sant's range, and it really wasn't that difficult. Another plus, is that there was no winds, currents, or white water to create further excitement.

Rounding the corner into the harbour, it looked like another Georgetown, on a smaller scale, boats anchored everywhere and where were we to go. A couple helpful boaters pointed out the mud shoals, and without incident we got the hook down. We had made another milestone!!

We had barely settled, when Wendy from Off Call, knocked on the boat and welcomed us and very soon after the Port Commodante and his "Intelligent" man came out to inspect RAFT and our documents, and gave us permission to stay in the harbour. We rested a little, and after noon went into town to check in with the other officials. It took about an hour, with 5 different officials handwritting out forms and collected money. Then we had to return to RAFT for the Agriculture and Animal officers to come out. They filled out some more forms and we paid a little more. ($76US in total) All of the officials were very pleasant, and most spoke some English and with our limited Spanish we go by. We were checked in and ready to explore the DR. Dinghy Dock in LuperonCustoms & Immigration Office