Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

February 1

   We moved the boat to the east end of Mayaguana to prepare for our crossing.  The new anchorage turned out to be very rolly.  Our plan was to go to bed early, sleep until about 1am, then leave for Provo so we'd arrive at sunrise during the early morning calm to navigate through the reefs there.  Well, with the boat sloshing back and forth at this anchorage, nobody got much sleep. 

   The sail itself was a marvelous beam reach overnight.  There are no words to describe the brilliant swath of stars overhead out at sea where there is absolutely no pollution of streetlights to blunt it.  Meanwhile, phosphorescent specks flash in the water as we sail along quietly.  Both Kathleen and I have come to love being on watch at night when the weather is good so we can quietly marvel at this beautiful world.  Or listen to music or read or whatever. 

   But this time we were already feeling tired from the rolling boat anchorage.  So after two hours on watch, Kath couldn't keep her eyes open any more so she tagged off to me.   Then we raced along faster than expected and I spent the last couple hours of the passage taking in sail to slow us down and wait for the sun to rise so we could see the reefs. 

   The sun finally came and the reef entrance turned out to be far easier than it looked on the charts.  There was a long motor across a shallow bank that we had to watch for the rare coral head, and then we finally dropped anchor around 10am in Sapodilla Bay, on the island of Providenciales (or "Provo" as the locals call it).  We parked near "Paros" a boat we had met in Georgetown and soon he dingied over to welcome us and chat a while.  After a shower and a brief nap, I took the dinghy around the point to the commercial dock where I cleared customs & immigration.  Then a little homeschool and a little more napping.  Provo can wait.

   My Dad and his friend Faye have been suffering through a cold Minnesota winter, so they decided to take a last minute trip down here to meet us.  They were supposed to arrive tonight, but heavy snows in Chicago cancelled their flight and now they won't be here until tomorrow evening.  As much as we can't wait to see them, it was a relief to find that we can take a day off before getting everything cleaned up and ready for company.




February 2

   Providenciales has a shining, friendly face which she shows to her visitors in the form of a long perfect beach lined with fancy resorts and condos along the northeast coast.  But we were anchored on the opposite end of the island and would learn that Provo also has a grubby ass which is not for the tourist to see.  Day and night the commercial dock near her unloads barge after barge of cement blocks and construction materials to fuel the tremendous development boom taking place here.  Dump trucks rumble down the dusty road from the docks all day long past tank farms, junk yards, and heavy industrial equipment.  This was to be my first view of Provo as Emmett and I took a bike ride.

   Hiding from a brief rain shower, we stood under the awning of a convenience store drinking a soda.  I started chatting with a tugboat captain from the Dominican Republic who was doing the same.  His life is to basically shuttle back and forth from the DR delivering cement blocks as quickly as he can.  We both shook our heads at who could be buying so many million-dollar condominiums here.  Everywhere there is building.  Yet much of what has been already built seems empty.   Beautiful new strip malls seem half full.  The radio is filled with advertisements to lure folks to buy real estate.  A huge bust seems inevitable...yet the cement blocks keep coming. 

   Clearly a car would be needed if we were to enjoy this island, so after giving the boat a good cleaning, I biked to the airport and rented a car while waiting for my Dad's flight.  A few local kids marveled at my folding bicycle.  Avis issued me the keys to a Daihatsu Charade... and indeed it did appear to be only masquerading as a car.  At first glance I thought its make would be "Radio Flyer".  Its tiny size and 16 inch wheels were ill prepared for the roads of Provo.  We literally bottomed out at every speed bump.  Pulling off any pavement, the soil of Provo consists of packed yellow dirt studded with softball sized rocks.  Let's just say I really tried to avoid leaving the pavement. 

     Dad & Faye hadn't eaten yet, so we stopped at a little stand beside the road with a long line...always a sign of good food.  The Chicken Shack, as we came to call it, turned out to be run by some Dominican ladies who served up fried chicken and barbecue that was amazingly good.  Some guy in line must have thought I was pretty rich, driving up in a Daihatsu Charade because he started telling me how he was hungry and didn't have any money and could I maybe help him out with a couple bucks.  "Yet your breath would suggest you have plenty of money for beer.", I replied with a puzzled look on my face.  He moved on to work on Faye and, when that didn't work, my Dad.  Finally, to put an end to the uncomfortable conversation, my Dad handed him one of his barbecued ribs and made his first friend in Provo.



February 4

    Yesterday's island exploration revealed that most things are closed on Sunday in Provo.  The beach was open though, so we spent some time in Grace Bay watching the parasailers go 'round.  The grocery store was also open.  We had been warned in the guide books about how expensive everything was in the Turks & Caicos Islands, but after the prices of the Bahamas, we were amazed to find a fully stocked supermarket with prices little different than in the US.  Things are changing here faster than the guide books can keep up, I guess.

Kathleen and Faye at Grace Bay

   We returned to Uliad for a dinner of grilled Wahoo with a mango-chipotle glaze.  Yum.  Today I went in to run a few errands in the morning--successfully filled our propane tank but struck out at the marine store in finding any thing on my list.  Then after lunch we went to tour the only conch farm in the world.  Years ago a marine biologist from Connecticut was sailing here and studying the conch.  He wrecked his boat on a reef and ended up staying here and figuring out how to raise conch in captivity.  His operation grew and the farm now ships over a million conch per year to restaurants here and in Florida.  They claim that about 5% of the world conch market comes from here.  And by the way many areas are getting over fished in the Bahamas, I suspect that will only rise.

   The tour was brief, but interesting.  The sheds where the baby conch are hatched look pretty run down...conch must not be too wildly profitable yet.  Emmett enjoyed the graphic explanation of how to tell a boy conch from a girl conch and can now tell you all sorts of interesting trivia about a conch's penis.

The Conch Farm

   We then hit up the bookstore and a few art galleries before heading home.  Too famished to make it, we stopped along the way at the Chicken Shack again for an appetizer.  This was followed by lobster and shrimp cream pesto over angel hair pasta back on board Uliad. To bed soon after that.



February 6:



Yesterday morning we hiked along the beach to a little hill on the east side.  Up a narrow rocky trail we could see the whole port/industrial complex of south Provo on one side and the beautiful beach, anchorage, and coast to the other side.  At the top of this hill are carvings in the rocks left by sailors from the early 1800s.  Despite being listed in the tourist guide, the trail is unmarked, the historical runes unprotected.  "Who were these sailors?" we mused.  Dozens of names, carved in crisp roman letters and fancy scripts listed names, ages, and years. Were they shipwrecked here and waiting on this hill for another ship to pass?  Or was this just an antique graffiti post?  On an island thriving on its tourism, here was a genuine historical attraction.  Completely ignored.  Scattered amongst the carvings lie new additions as more recent amateurs try to leave there own name etched here as well.  Most of the carvings lie on rocks small enough for a motivated bandit to carry off on his back.

   But then, in an island famous for low taxes and developer-friendly laws, who would protect it?  Surely there is no appropriation for history or culture here.  No private agency has stepped up either.  The golden combination of low taxes, pretty beaches, and loose immigration policies has real estate developers climbing all over each other to pack as many condos, hotels, villas, etc. as they can here.  Workers from poorer surrounding islands like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, or Jamaica are also pouring in.  Every day of the week we see them hard at it on job sites, only stopping when the sun goes down. 

   The wealthy of the world can then move in, establish enough residency to move their fortunes to one of the offshore investment banks here, and avoid paying taxes back in the US.  Depending on the size of your fortune, I suppose a million dollar condo here could seem like a pretty good deal.

   Later in the day we drove along the north east coast settlement of Blue Hills.  Where the pavement ends, we turned right along the beach and found modest homes being built and an obvious enclave for "belongers".  If you like quiet, unraked beaches, this is the place to come.  Kathleen stopped at a native market where basket weavers from Middle Caicos island sell their baskets, shells, and stuff.  From what we could tell at the co-op, on the out-islands, many natives still live the quiet near subsistence life relatively untouched by outside influences.  I wonder what they think of all this?  Do they resent the wealthy foreigners coming in and changing everything?  It is a question we ask often, and the polite answer is usually something like, "We like you and want you to come here, have a good time, and spend your money here...but then go home."   The candid islander will often admit to a collective sigh of relief as summer comes and the tourism business quiets down.

   We ended our day parking on the road just outside the Coral Garden Resort on the north shore.  We walked down a narrow path between the resort and the construction site for its new neighboring beachfront condo.  Just offshore here lies a small patch of coral neatly roped and buoyed off to try to keep the tourists from stomping on it any more.  The coral looks like it is recovering, and it is home to a marvelous assortment of good sized grouper, snapper, lobster, jacks, and other pretty little fish.  Eagle rays soar by on the periphery.   We agreed that it was one of the nicest snorkels we've had in the Caribbean.

   There is lots of beauty here, interspersed between all the rebar and concrete blocks.   And so the Turks and Caicos charges blindly forward into the future--trying to become another St. Thomas or South Florida as quickly as possible.  Building itself up with the help of folks from so many different sits atop its green scrub-covered hills like the half-finished Tower of Babel.  Meanwhile its past, like those rocks atop the hill, slowly erodes away, becoming the sugary-white sand foundation upon which this modern place is being built.



February 9:


   We set out across the Caicos Bank Thursday morning.  The Bank is an enormous stretch of shallow waters that extend for 40 miles south of the Caicos Islands.  Much of it is too shallow for us to cross, but by taking a dog-leg course, we were able to stay in over ten feet of water. 

   Much of the Caicos Bank sits blankly on the nautical charts, except for the ominous words "incompletely surveyed".  It seems incredible to me that in this day and age there are still uncharted places to explore in this world.  Randomly scattered among the sandy bottom of the Bank sit coral heads--- big sharp rocks that jut up within a foot of the surface just waiting to punch a hole in a boat.  Because of this, the only way to safely cross the Bank is to wait until you have good overhead sunlight, and then keep someone on lookout to dodge the coral heads ahead. 

  So we spent the whole day with Kathleen and I trading off sitting atop the pilothouse roof, looking ahead.  When a dark coral head appeared in our path, the lookout would call back a course adjustment to whoever was on "break" at the helm.  Lest we grow complacent on our watch, there were just enough waves to send a cold spray of salt water on the lookout every once and a while.  As I took my lookout shifts, I was amazed at just how good we've gotten at judging the water depth by the color of the water.  I could tell myself, "this looks about 14 feet deep here", and be right.  And I could also notice the difference when it dropped to 12 feet!   That's what a couple months in the Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos Islands will do for you, I guess.  You learn to notice all the little details of the sea.

   After nine hours of this, we finally got our anchor down off Big Ambergris Cay.  Then after a good night's sleep, we waited for the sun to come up high enough to pick our way through the reefs for another hour until we exited the east side of the bank.  Once again, we were reminded not to get complacent.  Half way through our shallow water passage, we could clearly see the top ten feet of a mast rising out of the water next to a long coral head.  Somebody's cruising dreams came to a sudden end right there when they forgot to watch those little details.

   Deep water finally allowed us to put our feet up and read a book while sailing the last 4 hours to Big Sand Cay.  This island is at the southeastern most point of the Turks Island group.  And yes, there is a lot of sand on the west side.  On the east side, the island acts like a net to collect all the floating junk coming across from Africa or wherever on the North Equatorial Current.  Littered with glass and plastic bottles, and all sorts of flotsam, it is not exactly postcard material.  But Kathleen found it to be a goldmine for adding to her sea glass collection.  She even found some rare blue and violet shards of glass naturally smoothed and frosted by the action of the waves.  After a long stroll and beach comb, we retired to the boat to feast on yet another gigantic lobster I plucked from the reef here.  We'll probably sit here one more day to wait for the weather to improve enough to sail south to the Dominican Republic. 

sea glass from Big Sand Cay8 pound lobster

February 10:


   Here at Big Sand Cay, we have been joined by Windborne and Independence--two other boats with kids on board near Emmett's age.  There are about 7 boats anchored here now...all waiting for the winds to calm down enough to cross to Luperon tonight.  We've also been joined by a 168' mega-yacht named the Lazy Z.  To learn more about this floating Shangri-la, and how you can charter her for only $238,000 per WEEK, click here.

   Anyway, word got out to the crew of the Lazy Z that I was a doctor, and in the afternoon, the bosun from the yacht came by to tell me about one of the deck hands who had a badly infected knee and would I mind coming to take a look.  I combed my hair and put on a clean shirt and motored over a while later.  The knee abscess was drained two days ago in the Dominican Republic, and looked to be healing pretty well to me, but the gaping hole was a bit unnerving to the crew.  So I re-dressed it and served up a healthy dose of reassurance.  For my trouble, Emmett and I were entertained in the crew's quarters and given a tour of the bridge, engine rooms, and foredeck.  The guest spaces were understandably not included in the tour.  If you spend that kind of money for a vacation, you deserve your privacy.

   I turned down some offers of some food stuffs from their ample freezers (we're trying to empty ours so we can defrost it.) but caved in to the offer of a scoop of ice cream.  Now a yacht like this has its own full time chef so I should have known that no self respecting chef would serve a scoop of plain vanilla in a paper cup.  She arrived from the galley with a frilly sculpture of ice cream, whipped cream, meringues and brownies, topped by thin chocolate antennas and sprinkles.  We were in awe. 

   After eating about 2/3 of it, we finally excused ourselves from the Lazy Z and headed back to Uliad.  On our way out, a gift bag was pressed into my hands with a bottle of wine and some Lazy Z t-shirts.  Wow, these guys know how to pump out the hospitality!  At $233,000 per week, I guess they should. 

Emmett on Big Sand Cay



February 12:


   By mid-afternoon, most of the boats at Big Sand Cay had raised their anchor and were heading out.  I rechecked my navigation and confirmed that we really didn't want to go until about 6pm.  It's never a good idea to enter a strange harbor in the dark.  You want to have good light to see landmarks and not run aground.  The entrance into Luperon harbor is, however, best done in the early morning when the wind and seas are calmer.  So the goal is to leave in the evening, and sail overnight to arrive at about 7-8am.  If you get there too early, then you end up bobbing around out in the dark waiting for the sun to come up.  Too late and the winds pick up and knock you around. 

   I confirmed our 6pm departure just as the last boat left at about 5pm.  We ended up leaving on schedule and racing along at 8 knots, hearing other boats on the radio talking about how they were thinking about taking in sail to slow down.  It was a bit choppy, but we ended up having a fast sail and passing almost all the early departure boats overnight.  By dawn, we were right on the mark, in calm seas, and one of the first boats to enter the harbor.  By the time we had our anchor down, I was feeling quite proud of us.

   In a fine display of third world free market ingenuity, we were immediately met by "Handy Andy" and Pabo who came along side in their little wooden skiff.  Having noticed that we didn't have a courtesy flag for the Dominican Republic flying yet, he sold us a nice one for $10, and assured us that ANYTHING we might need he could arrange for us...fuel delivery, water, boat washing, inland excursions, ANYTHING.  I was a bit tempted to ask for two 10 year old prostitutes and a human head just to see what he meant by ANYTHING, but thought better of it.  (What if he came through.) 

   We were pretty exhausted from the crossing, but still had to complete a long gauntlet of bureaucracy to be officially admitted to the country.  First came the port captain in his boat, along with 3 other guys.  One was the interpreter, but we're not sure what the other two were there for.  After completing his paperwork, the interpreter mumbled something about there being no charge for the port captain's services this morning but some boats like to tip.  Now I understood why there were four smiling guys here to fill out one sheet of paper.  We played dumb and nobody asked a second time.

   Then we were instructed to report to the customs & immigration office on shore.  After straightening up and taking a short nap, we went in and found customs in a little trailer next to the dock.  His partner from immigration was out to lunch, so we were asked to come back in 20 minutes for that part.  So we wandered the town, found an ATM and got some local currency.  I could choose from 50 to 1500 pesos on the screen.  300 pesos sounded like plenty, until Kathleen informed me that a peso is worth about 3 cents.  So I had just taken out about $14.  That tells you something about the can take your money out of the ATM 50 pesos (about $1.50) at a time.

   We got some cold cokes with our new wealth of pesos and wandered back to Immigration.  He was there as predicted and after more forms in a stifling hot little office, we got our passports stamped but were asked to come back again tomorrow to get our "tourist cards".  As of this writing, I still don't know what that is or why we had to wait a day for it.  Hey, he was talking Spanish!

   Back to the boat.  We were ready for a good cultural experience--by having a nice siesta.  Unfortunately the Agriculture officer showed up with his two colleagues about that time, needing to complete more forms and collect more money.  He took a brief glance at the three limes, one lemon, and garlic remaining in our larder and completed the papers.  Kathleen offered a round of cold drinks to all and this seemed much appreciated. 

   A quick dinner of leftover lobster made into a curried pate was served on crackers, then early to bed for all. 



February 14:

   If instead of all our decades of segregation and racism in America, White and Black Americans could have decided about 200 years ago to simply commingle and intermarry, I think by now we would have become a single race looking much like the people of the Dominican Republic.  With their cappuccino skin, wiry black hair, and gregarious warm personalities they seem not quite of African heritage, not quite European, but certainly somewhere in the middle.

   The pace of life moves slower here.  (But doesn't everyone else live more slowly than Norte Americanos?) Yet we also see folks working long hard hours in their trades, and playing hard, too, out on the baseball field.  The contrasts can be striking just to walk across town.  One minute you are walking past a quiet old woman sitting in the shade and watching the chickens.  Next block an un-mufflered motor bike competes with the meringue music blaring out from the speakers behind a bar.  In one city block you can contain find a modern, sprawling villa home complete with rooftop verandas and a tiled and gated driveway.  A little further down the very same block sits a tin-roofed, dirt floor shack with an open sewer stream running along side.

   We rang in Valentine's Day this year by staying out way too late at a cocktail party on Independence.  As we took the dinghy back to Uliad and realized that it was 3 am, we decided to shelve our plans to get up early and catch the bus to Puerto Plata.  Instead we slept in and had a late brunch--cleaning up just in time for siesta.

   Later in the afternoon, I ferried Emmett around to all the other kid boats in the harbor so he could deliver valentines.  Two nights ago he had hosted them all in Uliad's cockpit for popcorn and movies.  He's become quite the social butterfly.  This led to an invitation to stay and play with one of his new friends for a while, so I dinghied home alone.

   45 minutes later, we picked Em up again and went into town.  Kathleen found a salon and made some inquiries about getting her hair done.  I ended up buying her a pedicure for Valentines Day and she got some pampering while I took Emmett down to the baseball field.  Em quickly hooked up with some other kids his size and played a few innings of pick-up ball while waiting on Mom.

   We had dinner at the restaurant recommended by the Agriculture Officers who had visited our boat.  This was the place to get a good Dominican meal, according to them.  With our limited Spanish skills, we could pick out only that our choice tonight was either fish or chicken.  We chose one of each.  The fish turned out to be a whole Queen Triggerfish, deep fried with a deliciously seasoned light batter.  This was served with rice, beans, tostones, and a salad.  Best of all, with drinks, tip, and a dessert of Dulce de Leche, the whole thing ended up costing less than $15 for all of us.  We'll be eating out a lot here.

   After stuffing ourselves on dinner, we practiced our Spanish vocabulary words like "terrifico", "delicioso" and "muy bueno" on the owner of the place.  We got to talking and learned that he also has a photography studio.  His wife is a physician and works in her clinic from 8 until 3, then she rests for an hour or two before coming to the restaurant to cook!   

   It is a land of striking contrasts:  A doctor who moonlights as a cook.  A family that clearly works their asses off, yet still has plenty of time to stand around and chat for a while with some new customers who couldn't even speak their language.  Streets filled with folks looking so content, yet obviously so poor.  Every excursion ashore leaves us all atwitter to go back tomorrow and discover more.



February 15:


     We made a second attempt to get ourselves to Puerto Plata today.  I set my alarm early to get some routine maintenance work done down in the engine room.  Then we all got cleaned up and were on our way into town...just as the rain started to fall.   The raindrops were nothing, however, compared to the irate words raining down on my head from my wife whom I had earlier talked out of bringing along raincoats in our backpack for the day.  Fortunately it turned out to be another brief tropical sprinkle, and by the time we walked up to the bus stop our clothes were dry again and Kathleen's sunny disposition returned.

   Public transportation in the DR consists of taxis, motoconchos, and gua-guas.  Taxis you are familiar with:  tell the driver and he'll take you there for a price.  Motoconchos are the same thing, except by motorcycle.  These guys hang out on certain corners in town and for a few pesos you climb aboard and hold on while you zip through harrowing traffic on the back of a tiny motorcycle.  A gua-gua is basically a van which runs a set route.  They park in a different part of town and we asked around until we found the one heading our direction.  Unlike a city bus or a Greyhound in the USA, though, the gua-gua doesn't leave until its full.  And I do mean FULL.  Anyone with halitosis or claustrophobia should not ride a gua-gua. 

   So we found the GuaGua heading to Imbert, which is the next town on the way to Puerto Plata.  The conductor wedged us all in with Emmett on my lap and off we went through the lush green countryside, passing jungles and pastures and sugar cane fields as we went.  At about half way, we stopped to pick up two more folks on the side of the road who I was sure were going to have to ride of the roof.  But somehow the conductor wedged them in behind the driver's seat and soon we were in Imbert.  There a friendly Dominican (a redundant term here) walked us to the GuaGua for Puerto Plata.  This bus was bigger and more comfy--same low price (about a dollar each to go 15 or 20 miles). 

   In the city of Puerto Plata we toured "The Amber Gallery" which was a small museum dedicated to the natural resources of the Dominican Republic.  In addition to learning about the amber that is mined here, we learned about the semi-precious blue stone "larimar" that is also mined.  Then we saw how cigars are rolled, how coffee and cocoa are farmed, and finally on to the rum stand to learn about the rums brewed here.  We also got a short lesson on "Mama juana Don Ramon".  Mama juana is an empty bottle filled with wood chips.  Special wood chips and herbs mixed by an old man named Don Ramon who guards the secret recipe.  The trick is, you fill the bottle with wine, rum and some honey.  Then let it steep for a couple weeks and the result is a patent medicine that our guide insisted can treat rheumatism, stomachache, hemorrhoids, and impotence.  And its an aphrodisiac.  The bottle lists 8 ingredients, and states in 4 languages that "This product increases man's vitality".  Eager to study this medical breakthrough further, I accepted a free sample and found it actually rather tasty.  Sort of like cheap fortified wine with an herbal infusion.  Then I warned Kathleen to be ready for the after effects!

   We worked our way down to the Malecon (boardwalk) along the waterfront and had a look at the old Spanish fort there.  Then on to lunch at a breezy restaurant on the second story of an old mansion.  I had a surprisingly tasty plate of curried goat stew with beans and rice washed down with a giant bottle of Presidente beer.  What the DR beer lacks in flavor, it more than makes up for in coldness (always served icy) and in volume (always served in an enormous 20 oz bottle).

The fort in Puerto Plata

   The final stop on our agenda for the day was the cable car ride to the top of the mountain.  I admit I was a little nervous about riding a third world funicular...but Kathleen assured us it would be cool up there and the view would be grand.  My safety concerns were confirmed when we arrived to find that the cable car had broken the day before and was not yet repaired.  Oh well, better than having it break while we were on it!  We had to settle for hiking up a muddy trail with a couple of the employees to the base of the first tower--where we had a modest view and no coolness whatsoever.  By then it was getting late, so we reversed our gua-gua trips back to Luperon just in time to change and go to the pig roast at the marina here.   

   Dan & Derek are cruisers we had met a few days earlier here.  These two twentysomethings are also out to travel the globe by sailboat, but also make a point of giving back along the way.  "See the world, change the world" is their motto.  Anyway, they had just finished using some donations to help support a local orphanage and had money left over.  So they planned to get up at the cruisers dinner and banter about some ideas about what all the boaters in the harbor could do to give back to the people of Luperon.  Before the night was over and the hat was passed, we ended up collecting enough money to buy an artificial limb for the husband of the lady who does laundry here for boaters. 

   While heading back to the boat, I looked up at a big starry sky and felt thankful that we still can believe in the dreams of a couple young idealists--that we can change the world one small act at a time.  If you'd like to read more about Dan & Derek's adventures, their website is here.  




February 16:

   The Dominican Republic supplies more major league baseball players to the US than any other foreign country.  Nearly every big league club has a training center down here to find talent.  And find it they do.  Dominicans LOVE baseball.  Kids make cardboard gloves out of milk cartons and bats out of sticks to play.  Every day after school kids from Emmett's age to older teens are practicing their baseball at the local stadium.  They play until dark, interrupted only by the occasional errant motorcycle taking a shortcut across the infield.  So Em has been joining in with some kids his age to play ball.

Emmett playing baseball in Luperon

   Every Saturday morning, the local team takes on the gringos here at 10am.  Perhaps it was the "Mama juana" from yesterday talkin', but I was ready!  Kathleen, Emmett, and I packed up our gloves and headed down to the ball field.  I was assigned to 3rd base where I managed not to embarrass myself too much.  Kathleen played center field and scored a couple RBIs.  We ended up losing 13-6.  This was reportedly a very good showing for the gringo team.  Double rations of Mama juana for everyone next Saturday!

   After the game, our friends Otis and Jennifer from Independence had organized a weenie roast at the bar across the street.  So we spent the better part of the afternoon sitting in plastic chairs in the shade with our new Dominican friends, drinking those big cold beers, talkin baseball, and loving life.

After the ball gameThe ball field in Luperon


February 19:


  We are settling into Dominican life pretty well here.  School takes place on the boat in the morning, as usual.  Then we usually follow lunch with a siesta during the heat of the day.  By late afternoon, Emmett is begging me to go to town to play baseball with his new friends.  We putter into town and tie up on the wobbly floating dinghy dock, then walk past the Luperon fishing fleet.  This consists of a row of hand built wooden rowboats that go out each day with the morning calm to fish the reefs. 

    I think most of the boys in town turn out at 6 o'clock to play ball and Emmett has joined right in.    The older boys play up until then, while the little kids play around the edges of the field.  For my part, I sit in the concrete bleachers and watch the action.  If it's too hot, I can always grab a Presidente at the bar across the street.  And once and a while, someone comes by with a cooler full of what could only be described as a "condom-cicle".  It appears to be some green kool-aid frozen inside of a long round plastic baggie about the same dimensions as--yes, a condom.  I haven't gathered up the courage yet to try one.

   This is my favorite time to wander the streets of Luperon.  As the sun goes down, folks sit out on the sidewalk in front of there homes and chat with the neighbors.  Old men gather under trees to play boisterous games of dominoes.  Little kids run around in their undies in the street while stern grannies keep a watchful eye.  Everywhere there is chatter and smiles.  The beer flows as freely as the gossip.  This is how everyone wishes their neighborhood could be.  It is a community, and nothing like the places I have lived.  In America, we close our doors to keep the air conditioning in, turn on the TV, and sit by ourselves in the dark.  Wandering the evening streets here, I feel as if I had been living in a tomb.

   The baseball is finally broken up by the dark.  A stray dog, named "Smiley" by Kathleen for his unusual friendliness toward gringos, leads us back down the pier to the dinghy.  Then back home to Uliad for dinner, bed time routines, and perhaps some stargazing on deck.  Dominican life suits us well.



February 20:

     A little further down the north coast beyond Puerto Plata lies the little town of Cabarete.  The broad bay protected by an offshore reef has long had a reputation for perfect windsurfing conditions.  Lately, the biggest sport here has shifted to kite boarding.  We took the busses here with our new friends Andre, Josie, and Audrey from "Eaudree".  Surfer types from around the world wander the streets here, waiting for the afternoon trade winds to pick up.  We ate a hearty breakfast and then wandered out to the beach to body surf and watch the amazing aerial stunts of the kite boarders.

   Apparently there is some sort of world championship competition coming up this weekend, so there were lots of hotshots out on the water jumping 20 feet in the air and flying across the water at outrageous speeds.  By mid afternoon I counted about 70 kites on the water.  Just as amazing as the kite boarding itself was the fact that nobody ran into each other out there. 

   By late afternoon, we'd had our fill of sun.  We headed back to the street and caught a gua-gua to the town of Sosua.  There our friends showed us an amazing old hotel perched on the cliffs over the sea.  We sat on the romantic terrace drinking coffee and admiring the view for a while.  Then back to the bus to go home. 

   A good public transportation system is always a pleasure for a traveler.  Here in the DR, the system is both tremendously chaotic and efficient at the same time.  In every town there is a place where the "gua-gua" stops.  A gua-gua is a beat up car or minivan that shuttles back and forth between the next town.  It waits until the bus is full and then makes its run.  Or if you've been waiting more than 10 minutes, they often go anyway, even if not full.  Along the way, a few more passengers often get on and off, making for some pretty tight quarters at times.  My record so far on a gua-gua is 9 people riding in a car about the size of a Toyota Camry.  We started off with 6 (3 across the back seat, one girl on mom's lap in the back, and three men across the front.  When two more guys along the road wanted a lift, one guy went in front and one in back.  Then one woman was moved into the drivers seat and the driver basically sat on his door's armrest and he reached over the woman's lap to shift.  All the while he was also collecting fares and counting out change as he drove!  The big cities have a similar system with "publicos".  These are cars that drive up and down the same street all day, letting people on and off wherever they want for a set fare. 

   If that sounds too cozy for you, there are also private taxis doing the same thing and for the extra fare, they won't accept any other passengers than you.  There are also "motoconchos" which are little one cylinder motorcycle taxis.  They're cheaper still, but they mostly stick to shorter trips within the city.  Which is not to say that the Dominicans don't overcrowd the motoconchos also.  I've seen three passengers piling onto the little seat behind the driver.

   And then there are air conditioned motor coaches plying the longer routes between major cities.  And somehow by using some combination of these, we always seem to get where we're going and never have to wait.  We almost always hop off one bus, walk across the street and get on another just as it is getting ready to go. 

   To top it all off, there seems to be a law in the Dominican Republic requiring all gua-guas and publicos to play meringue music at maximum volume whenever the vehicle is in motion.  It's kind of like a horn that never turns off.  The noise, chaos, and questionable driving tactics must certainly send a lot of tourists fleeing back to their all inclusive beachfront resorts.  But if you're the adventurous sort, getting there in the DR is truly half the fun.


February 22


    Fleeing a long Colorado winter, my brother Mike flew down to visit us yesterday.  So to meet him I braved the busses to Santiago.  This is a city of a million people in the center of the country.  It was a scenic drive up over the mountains and through tobacco and sugar cane farms.  Everything is green and lush.  The first thing I did on arrival in Santiago was check on the bus schedule to get home again.  The last express bus back was at 8pm and Mike's flight didn't land until 8:30, so I found a hotel near the bus stop and reserved a room for us.  Clean, air conditioned, running water, and a hundred channels of cable (including a few in English!) for 45 bucks a night. 

    After a lunch of fried chicken, plantains, and a cold Presidente beer, (Dominicans love their fried chicken, there's a hole in the wall chicken stand on every street here), I recalled that Kathleen had gently suggested that I get a haircut in Santiago or don't come back at all.  Fortunately I found two peluquerias on the same street as my hotel.  Being the savvy traveler, I wandered into the barber shop and in broken Spanish asked if someone could cut my hair and what would that cost.  Then I asked the barber to repeat himself to make sure I was hearing correctly.  100 pesos.  That's three bucks.  Not even Cost Cutters can match that.

   I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into, but I remembered my wife's ultimatum and sat down to begin 45 minutes of extremely careful snipping.  I think each individual hair was cropped to optimum length.  Attention was given to any wayward nose, ear, or eyebrow hairs.  Then a fresh disposable straight razor blade was loaded up into one of those old fashioned razors that looks like one sneeze could slaughter you like a Passover lamb.  I managed not to tremble and the old barber managed to give a final precise shave to the sideburns and neck.  Then came the talcum powdered brush to flick off all the disembodied hairs, followed by some sort of hair oil to paste everything down to my scalp as flat as a skull cap.  I looked like I had walked straight out of 1925.   But after the straight razor, I was just glad to be alive.  "Mucho gusto!", I declared.  The barber smiled a big smile and took my hundred pesos gratefully.  After washing out the oily paste, the haircut actually looks pretty darned good! 

   After a combination of a motoconcho and a taxi ride, I fetched Mike at the airport, treated him to his first Presidente, and then subjected him to his first gua-gua ride back to Uliad.  We're now making plans to rent a car (aah-the luxurious room we'll have!) and tour the countryside some more. 



February 23:

     With Mike here to entertain, we thought we'd get around to visiting the waterfalls today.  Just a short gua-gua ride away from Luperon is a jungle canyon with a series of 27 waterfalls that you can climb up and explore.  We got an early start, having heard that the tour busses from the resorts usually show up in the afternoon.  Emmett brought along his friend Audree who has been anchored next to us.

     We pulled off the highway and went down a long dirt road through a sugar cane field to end up in a small parking lot.  Next to it stood the same evil trio that seems to accompany all Dominican tourist attractions:  the overpriced gift shop full of tacky junk, the overpriced bar, and the "cigar factory" which I have not even bothered to price out.  We were then informed that as of a year ago, all visitors to the waterfalls must pay for a guide, rent a helmet, and wear a life jacket.  Yes, there were lots of people up on the falls already, we were told.  I had reached tourist hell.

    Perhaps too many tourists have been killed?" I pondered aloud as to the need for such safety measures.

   "No, only a few Dominicans who did not follow the rules," the ticket man said reassuringly.  So we payed up and suited up.  Our guide George (who I noted was sporting a fetching uniform but not even shoes, much less a helmet and life jacket) herded us together and started marching us down the trail to the waterfalls.  We must have looked like a group of "special" kids on their way to McDonalds.

   I admit that my attitude was such that, by now, I was going to be one tough customer to please.  But let me tell you, the waterfalls are absolutely spectacular.  We swam through deep pools, and clambered up-current through rushing chutes of water.  Occasionally a rope, a wooden ladder, or the brute force of a strapping young guide was required to move us upward through each new level.  And the deep canyons we travelled through were surely the inspiration for several Disney boat rides.  But it was all real, natural beauty around us.

   At the top we peeled off the safety gear and lay in a shaft of sunlight coming down through the canopy above, warming our bones and listening to the waters flowing by.  And after a while we began our descent.  This direction was assisted by gravity.  George pointed out which chutes were slick and smooth enough to slide down like a natural waterslide.  He also pointed out the pools which were deep enough to jump down into (and more importantly, which ones were not!).  So after some exhilarating leaps and slides, we were back at waterfall number one, ready to head home just as the first big crowd of obese, sunburned tourists arrived.  I wanted to hang around and watch the guides huff and shove these folks up those chutes, but Kathleen didn't think that would be very nice.  But I did get George to admit that he was glad he wasn't guiding that group today.

Mike climbing up

   Back at the boat, we ate the last of our wahoo in an attempt to empty out the freezer.  We're going to be renting a car and taking some trips inland for the next few days, so we thought it would be a good time to defrost the freezer.  So I'll probably be off-line for the next week or so, but I'm sure I'll have a lot more good stories to tell if and when I return!

   By the way, for those of you who are suffering through election season in the USA-- the Dominicans are also getting ready for a presidential election this May.  If the volume of banners is any judge, the incumbent Leonel should win a comfortable victory over his three opponents.  Since everyone sits out on their stoop in the evening in stead of watching the news, the candidates get their word out a bit differently.  The political banners all show a picture of the guy and a unique color due to the high illiteracy rate. 

   Yesterday we walked across a parade in town for Leonel.  About a hundred supporters lined the street with purple flags.  Then they started marching around town.  I was trying to run an errand so I went a block over to get past it.  When I turned back, I could see that the parade was led by a guy holding two large bottles of rum and sharing it with Leonel supporters as they marched along.  Following him was a large truck with enormous speakers belting out meringue music at top volume.  So you see, all over the world the politicians try to buy elections.  Here in the DR, they do it with rum and music! 



February 25:


    Our next adventure was to rent a car and drive inland and down the coast to explore more of the country.  We knew this would be and adventure because, as best we can tell, the Dominican Republic doesn't really appear to have any traffic laws.  Or rather, what we might think of as a traffic law in the US is considered here to be merely a "traffic suggestion."  Right of way is determined primarily by size--the little mopeds cower along the edges of the road while the big trucks pretty much drive wherever they want.  Stop lights are obeyed unless no cross traffic is present.  Speed is limited primarily by the size of ones engine and the number of potholes in the road.  (And there are enough very large potholes to present a very effective deterrent to speeding in most places!)

    Through this landscape, we managed to successfully drive about 5 hours down the beautiful north coast to the little town of Samana.  On arrival, we could see a large cruise ship docked in the bay.  Kathleen, Mike, and I let out a collective groan.  Everything we have learned about cruise ship ports in the Caribbean proved to be true here as well:  The town was swarming with rude tourists.  The locals, tired of being treated rudely, were notably more unfriendly toward us gringos, and everything was more expensive.

   After three tries, we found a hotel that appeared clean enough to sleep in and had a nice dinner up on the hill with a gorgeous view of Samana Bay.  The next morning, we noted that the cruise ship had left, the "native market" had closed up shop, and most of the restaurants and bars lining the waterfront appeared to be closed until the next cruise ship comes.  Samana had once again become a sleepy little town.  We went to a little stand and ordered a traditional Dominican breakfast:  sausages, fried plantains, and eggs.  All four of us got our fill for about $5. 

   We strolled down the waterfront and booked ourselves on a whale watching excursion.  It turns out we wouldn't have the whole town to ourselves after all.  A big group of Russian tourists were already aboard and outfitted with yellow slickers and life jackets.  One look with my mariner's eye at the calm waters and clear blue sky led us to forgo these amenities and we took our seats.

   Humpback whales migrate to this area every year to mate and their subsequent lusty frolicking makes for quite a display.  We followed along with several different pods for a few hours while they swam along.  It was definitely mating season...they had their flipper all over each other!  We could have stayed all day watching them play, but by now a couple Russians were getting pretty seasick in the back and their guide from whatever all-inclusive hotel they came from began begging the captain to take us all home.  Kath and the Captain gave each other a knowing eye roll and he headed for home.  But not before treating us to a high speed sightseeing tour of the steep, rocky coastline and buzzing the beaches at a fancy island resort.

whales at SamanaWhales at Samana

   We drove back to Luperon while stopping at fruit stands, pretty beaches and whatever else looked interesting along the way.  In Cabarete we ate at a great seafood place on the beach complete with candle light and white linens.  By the time we made it back to Luperon well after dark, we were all too tired to celebrate the fact that we had survived driving in the DR.

North coast of Dominican Republic


February 28:


   When Kathleen gave birth to Emmett, she broke her tailbone in the process.  It took her quite a few months to recover and she still gets a little sore down there on long car rides.  It is one of those family stories that gets pulled out when there is a need for Emmett or I to feel guilty for all that Mom has sacrificed for us.  What can a poor husband do but admit that, "Yes, dear, I've done a lot to help raise our son, but breaking my tailbone is definitely something I've not had to experience."  So when she jumped off a cliff into the water last weekend, she apparently leaned a little too far back and did a sort of butt-flop that gave her quite a spanking.  Combine that with a couple days of driving over potholed roads and Kathleen has been moving very gingerly now for a couple days!  

   But no injury was going to keep her from going to Carnival.  The Dominican Republic celebrates Carnival in February, and everyone we ask here agrees that the best Carnival is held in the city of La Vega.  So we go up early and took a series of three bus rides to get there.  Every Sunday in February they have a carnival parade, culminating in a giant street festival on February 27th, which is The Dominican Republic's Independence Day.

   We got to town by mid morning, which allowed us to watch the morning parade of marching baton twirlers and flag waving school kids.  Some things never change across cultures: every adolescent girl in the parade wore an expression that said "this is so stupid, I cant believe my Mom is making me do this!"  While the girls marched sullenly, they boys walked behind playing drums. A few unique schools added a couple horns who played a single note in the same rhythm as the drums.  A casual observer would conclude that the DR's national anthem is as follows:  Boom.  Boom.  Boom-Boom-Boom. 

   The morning parade wrapped up by noon and we found a shady cafe for lunch.  Then a short walk down the street following the crowds led us to a twelve square block of impending revelry.  Corporate sponsored grandstands were interspersed with local entrepreneurs (use our bathroom--10 pesos).   At every corner, giant walls of speakers pounded out a sort of Latin techno-funk.  And then precisely at 4 pm, the crews of costumed diablos (devils) started marching in a great circle around the carnival streets.

   Now a visitor would do well to be aware of a unique custom at the Dominican Carnival.  These crews of wandering devils each carries a weapon which looks something like a football on the end of a rope.  And their apparent goal is to find unsuspecting people in the crowd to whack them on the butt with this thing.  Emmett loved this pastime.  We bought him a little whacker of his own for a few pesos and he had a great time all afternoon beating the rear ends of strangers.  The amateur versions, however are much more lightweight and gentle than what the real diablos carry.  Having now experienced a traditional ass-whomping myself, I can conclude that this tradition would never make it in the US.  Lawsuits would be filed claiming permanent injury.  Female onlookers would cry sexual harassment.  And minority groups would insist that there were alarming racial disparities in whose rears were being targeted.

    Dominicans will have none of that.  Despite the fact that it kind of hurts, it seems accepted as part of the risk of coming out for carnival, and yes even part of the whole fun.  To be honest, it was pretty fun to watch other people get a good one laid on their rear.  In the course of about three seconds the expression on their face goes from "What the ...!!??" to "You son of a ...!!!" to a big smiling "OK, you got me there!"

Carnival DiabloLa Vega CarnivalButt-whacking at Carnival

   And to be even more honest...all the Dominican young ladies have come out in their tightest jeans and their nicest outfits, the dance music is throbbing and pretty soon these shapely booties are bouncing all around you to the rhythm, and one cannot help but think, "what a lovely target that is". 

   So the afternoon wears on and soon handsome and chivalrous young men are offering, "sure, back that rear up close to me.  I'll protect you."  And as so, that great eternal dance is played out here in the Dominican Republic.

   Now being in the middle of this strange celebration was a most inauspicious time for Kathleen to recall that she was currently nursing this tailbone injury.  It took eternal vigilance on her part, and tremendous chivalry on mine to protect her bruised derriere from further insult.  Yet somehow we managed to pull it off. 

   Back at the hotel, we indulged in some American cable TV, empanadas and cold beer.  Kathleen struggled to get up off the bed, saying, "Oh, my aching rear!.

   And for once I could honestly reply, "Honey, I know just how you feel." 


                            created by Steve Erickson 2007-2012
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