Dominican Republic: A Leap of Faith

You can’t ask for clearer, more beautiful water than you’ll find in the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos, but sailing into the Dominican Republic reminded us what was missing from those landscapes – greenery and mountains.

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Luperon harbor

IMG_9687Since numerous sailing web sites warned against corruption among officials, we were a bit hesitant to stop in Luperon, but recent reports had suggested they had cleaned up their act and we decided to chance it.  The adventures started immediately as we took a stricken vessel in tow at 3 am in the morning and brought them 25 miles to the entrance to Luperon harbor.

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First time we’ve ever towed anyone, but it worked out just fine.  Scott & Noi were very grateful and we were glad to be able to help another cruiser in need.

On arrival at Luperon, we found a beautiful anchorage and a small marina that welcomed us with warmth.

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Miguel and Leo make you feel at home at Puerto Blanco.

Check in was made simple by Leo who runs Marina Puerto Blanco and not one official asked for anything more than the posted fees for entry.   For our fellow cruisers, please reconsider Luperon; it is a wonderful location and perfect distance for visiting the DR’s natural wonder “Damajaqua Cascades” (27 waterfalls).   And while you are there, stay at Leo’s marina – you can’t beat the price.

Taking a leap faith became the theme of our time in the Dominican Republic.  At Damajagua Cascades, hiking up the trail to the 27th waterfall seemed simple enough and working up a sweat would be perfect for cooling off in the water. But when we saw a guide bringing a guy with what appeared to be a broken leg back down the trail via donkey, Sophie, Pete and I glanced at one other with an unspoken “what have we gotten ourselves into”.

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We realized that the mandatory helmets and lifejackets might not be mere dork fodder after all.

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A guide leads you up the trail, crisscrossing the river and finally to the top.

The path back down consists of sliding through and jumping over all 27 waterfalls, and in between slogging through the river to the next descent. At the jumps, the guide uses a very technical jump location technique where he tosses a pebble down into the pool below to show you exactly where to jump and then throws another one to show you where you will break your legs …gulp, talk about a leap of faith. Sometimes you slide down the falls on naturally smoothed grooves in the rock.  I’ve never been so happy to have on a safety helmet. I’ll confess I only did 26 of the 27 waterfalls as the highest jump from 30’ left me shaking in my water shoes.   Pete and Sophie fearlessly conquered all of the high plunges. Our GoPro was acting up so the footage is not great, but this video gives an idea of what it is like.

We also spent a few days at the kiting mecca of Cabarete, where Pete braved the kiting hordes.   Seems air traffic control is needed out there.DSC_1809

We put our well-honed local travel instincts to the test when we puzzled together 5, yes 5, forms of transportation, some more questionable then others, to get us the 150 miles from Luperon to the capital city of Santo Domingo. This hilarious adventure included riding on a motoconcho (that’s a tiny 125cc motorcycle with driver, Pete, me and our luggage),

Guagua car (car meant for 4 passengers but crammed with 7), Guagua bus (little bus with actual seats to ourselves this time, but still full), larger deluxe bus (complete with wifi and extremely violent Denzel Washington straight-to-DVD movie that the 7 year old kid across from us was soaking in like a sponge) and finally a taxi whose driver spoke worse Spanish than we do. Grand total: $25 total for us both, 6 hours of travel, views of the country side, small towns and local characters priceless; proving once again it is the journey not the destination, although Santo Domingo was full of interesting history and well worth a visit.

But perhaps the best part of all the Dominican Republic and on the top 10 places we’ve been to on Neko is Los Haities (High-tee-sis) National Park.  Los Haities is a Dominican national park located on the remote northeast coast consisting of a limestone karst plateau with conical hills, sinkholes and caverns, behind which is a large area of mangrove forest perfect for exploring by kayak or dinghy. Think Jurassic Park meets Survivor. It is only accessible by boat so tourism exists there but only for people willing to make the effort to find the small boat in the grimy city of Samana and brave the rough one-hour trip each way.

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Neko tucked into a safe spot with Los Haities all to ourselves.

Needless to say, we had the anchorage all to ourselves and spent two days winding deep into mangrove rivers with birds swooping overhead exploring the numerous caves, some complete with petroglyphs and pictographs left by the Taíno Indians who were there long before old Columbus arrived. Imagine, actual humans were there before the Europeans 😉

 

All in all, we found the DR an adventure wonderland.  It’s not the greatest sailing place in the world but it was a huge pleasure to experience this wild and wonderful land up close and personal.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cape Crusaders

Whew, what a ride. We wanted to make up for time lost in Fort Lauderdale and get to our old northern stomping grounds. So we screamed up the coast from South Florida to Orient NY in 3 weeks.   Along the way we dealt with some of the gnarliest capes that the US east coast has to offer.   Although we were really moving, we enjoyed our time in Charleston. However, it ended all too soon and we were then on a 200 mile jaunt up to Cape Lookout. Lookout is a special place with a big circular bay nearly bereft of development.

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Cape Lookout lighthouse

Pete kiting Cape Lookout

Pete kiting Cape Lookout

Pete kiting Cape Lookout cu

It’s a great place for kitesurfing (only wish we could have stayed longer).  We also were able to swim in the water again (a little creepy because of all the shark attacks in the area) and we and R&R Kedger trekked out to spy on the wild horses living on Shackleford Banks. Cape Lookout is a wild and beautiful place, and we hope to return someday.

Our first sighting of the wild horses off in the distance.

Our first sighting of the wild horses off in the distance.

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orange wildflowers

orange wildflowers

Mary spotting the horses

Mary spotting the horses.

they don't seem to mind if you don't get too close

They don’t seem to mind if you don’t get too close.

Pete and Lucy scout for horses

Pete and Lucy scout for horses

wild ponies sauntering across the dunes

wild ponies sauntering across the dunes

But we had a schedule to keep so we shot over to nearby Beaufort for one night to fuel up and hit the road the next morning.   From what little we saw of Beaufort, we liked it. It’s a cute little old town making a living like so many places off the tourist dollar. It has a lot going for it with its preserved houses and beautiful nature just out the door.

Beaufort, that's bow-fort

Beaufort, that’s bow-fort

They know how to grow a delicious shrimp in the Carolinas.

They know how to grow a delicious shrimp in the Carolinas.

We had a decent weather window and would not have a good one again for a while. So we were presented with the choice of staying in Beaufort/Lookout for about a week to wait for the next window or moving out. With NY calling, we headed out into some of the worst seas we have ever been in. Lucky for us it was just the ocean swell built up from a week of 20 knot winds meeting the outgoing tide from Beaufort. It made for steep 10 footers which had Neko pointing at the sky and next at the deep. But once we got about 5 miles out the waves smoothed out a bit and we were able to turn to take them on the quarter. Life got better.

This leg would have us round notorious Cape Hatteras, the graveyard of ships. This is a treacherous cape that sees low pressure systems spinning off the coast as if being hurled out by the weather gods. They meet up with the Gulf Stream, which passes very close to Cape Hatteras, and often combine to create treacherous seas and nasty squalls. It’s not a place to trifle with.   Lucky for us we had a good weather window and saw only brief periods of high winds and the lightning fireworks show stayed mainly inshore. And are we glad it did – at the point of the cape there were continuous lightning strikes onshore that were so visible and lasted so long it seemed like a colossal Frankenstein experiment.

Hatteras lightening show

Hatteras lightning show

Breathing a sigh of relief as we left Hatteras behind, we set our sights on our next cape – Cape May in good old Joisey (leaving aside Cape Henry and Cape Charles, which we just passed in the night).  Pulling into Cape May after 3 days at sea was such a relief.

Cape May New Jersey

Cape May New Jersey

Fishing Boats Cape May

Fishing Boats Cape May

It was interesting to hear the accents on the VHF change from the slow southern drawl of South Carolina to the tighter drawl of North Carolina and Virginia to the oddly specific accent of those hailing from the Philly-Delaware-South Jersey axis. It is a sound I am very familiar with and knew we were back in home waters.

However, it was just a quick stop. We headed out the next day for the 200 mile trip around Montauk Point (well, they could have called it a cape) and on into Orient Harbor for our long awaited arrival back in Orient.

Happy to see the  familiar Montauk lighthouse signaling us home.

Happy to see the familiar Montauk lighthouse signaling us home.

Catching blue fish left and right.

Catching blue fish left and right.

Oh how sweet to again drop anchor in these familiar waters. The last time we did so was on Quint years ago but nothing ever changes in this place and it looks exactly the same. We don’t have a home any more, but this place feels as much like one as anywhere.

Orient's Bug Light

Orient’s Bug Light

OYC sailing lessons

OYC sailing lessons

Anchored in front of our little Yacht Club

We anchored in front of our little yacht club

Our old Island Packet

Our old Island Packet “Quint” moored in Orient Harbor in 2007.

It’s Not Always What it Seems

Picture this:  You and friends are sipping drinks at a table by a hotel pool on the beach.  Several other tables are also filled with quietly chatting folks when a local guy walks up from the beach with a machete in one hand and a small sea turtle in the other.  He flips the turtle onto its back and raises the machete.

What the what???

What the what???

Mary cowers in terror, as several of us run over to tell the guy not to do this in front of everyone like this.  You hate that endangered animals are eaten, but you wish at least they would do the butchering out back somewhere.  But before you get to the guy he gently taps the machete against a growth on the underbelly of the turtle.  It’s a barnacle.  He knocks it off and then repeats it for a bunch of barnacles on this poor turtle.

Barnacle belly

Barnacle belly

By this time the turtle has stopped flapping for its life and is calm.  He has either given up or knows somehow he is not in danger.  The guy painstakingly knocks barnacles off the underside, shell, legs even the head of the turtle.  It’s amazing what these guys can do with a machete.  He even very gently pries one off its eyelid!  20140305_134945By this time we realize he is not some turtle butcher with no social graces.  He is a kind of Tortuga whisperer.  When he has all the barnacles off, we all, including Lucy, follow him back to the ocean to watch the turtle swim away newly unencumbered by the little parasites. 20140305_140055

Good luck buddy

Good luck buddy

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The hero

The turtle hero has zero English and his Spanish is different and incomprehensible to us.  So we are only able to communicate our wonder and appreciation for this bit of kindness in a world where people are often so indifferent to animal suffering with smiles and cheers.

Whales

Coming into Banderas Bay, we saw a bunch of whales out feeding.  This is a big whale migratory route so we see them quite often – usually it is just a hump, fluke or spout off in the distance.  This time they came close enough that I had to throw the boat in reverse to avoid getting too close to them.

Whale tail

Whale tail

Boats have been damaged by whales bumping or rubbing up against them so we wanted to avoid that.  So the video is not the best but it was pretty cool to see them in person.  Enlarge the video with the bottom right button for best viewing.

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Whale sharks are the largest living species of fish.  They are docile sharks that feed on plankton and can grow to 40 feet.  That’s a big fish.

Relative Shark Sizes

Shark Size Comparison

When feeding they swim slowly and suck water into their very big mouths to filter out the tiny organisms they eat.  We heard there were several of them feeding out in the bay here in La Paz so we went out in our friend’s dinghy (Richard & Audrey of Celebration) to check them out.  They don’t appear to mind divers getting close to them and we were determined to see them in the water.  From the boat you first see that familiar dorsal fin shape moving straight ahead with the tail fin swishing side to side.

Whale dorsal fin

Whale dorsal fin

Whale hunters

Whale hunters

Its clearly a very big shark, so you definitely have to repress that human shark-fear instinct to force yourself to dive in.  Plus, you’ve got to jump in right near it because even though it is moving slowly and deliberately, its still moving too fast for you to catch up to if you don’t start out close.  So you dive in, get your bearings, open your eyes and see a 20 foot shark close enough to reach out and touch.  Even though the thing is generally harmless (although you wanted to stay away from its tail) there’s something about being that close to such a huge animal in its own environment that is a little awesome and scary at the same time.  We all did a couple of swims with them and then left them to feed in peace.

See for yourselves     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RapDkfgZlM8