Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Time Had Come… to Leave Luperon!

It was November 5th, my brother’s birthday, when Irie left Luperon Harbour. After four and a half months of sitting stationary (except for the short hops to and from the mangroves during hurricane Ike), she finally got some action under her hulls again. Boat and crew were ready for new scenery and different adventures. Mark and I felt sad and happy to leave this special hurricane hole and wondered whether we’d ever see it and its people again. Time for some reflections…

The active social scene was what made our summer stay in Luperon so memorable. We met wonderful people and experienced great events. Who would forget Dave from “Tatia”, so smart and talented he didn’t know what to do with himself? His dry humour was right up my alley and each time we saw him play the guitar, we were in awe. And, speaking of Daves, we had another one: Karaoke Dave. He provided entertainment whenever and wherever he was to be found. His wife Liz looks like she could be my sister and we have a lot in common. For the Halloween party we were actually going to dress up as twins, but for an unfortunate reason, she had to go back to the States. Many times I was walking around or sitting somewhere and somebody would approach me from behind, calling “Liz! Lizzy, how are ya?” I’d turn around with a smile on my face and saw the other person’s expression change. When my name happened to be Liesbet – or Lizbet to the English speaking – things became even more confusing. Of course by the time people started to get to know me as well, they were happy to greet me from afar, whether I would be Liz or Liesbet.

Kay, a former model in the US, wanted to be a mother to all of us, young cruisers. Not that there were many of us (most cruisers are above 50), but she wanted to take care of our little group and teach us one and another. She kind of introduced make-up to me and probably frowned more than once, while watching me try the stuff. Her husband Lou is a painter (http://jorgl-art.com/mainpage/mainpage.htm) and a character. I’ll always remember him as the cigar smoking, coffee drinking, cup holding man that strolls in and out of the marina area in his underpants. I got the honour of receiving some paint dots (one of his trademarks) on my left arm just before we left. Too bad it wore off so quickly. I could have been worth thousands of dollars!

Steve from “La Vie Dansante” became a good friend of the family. We watched a real love (and hate) story from close-by, when he was together with Davi, a Dominican woman, who was very involved in Luperon. She has a thirteen year old daughter, who I helped with schoolwork. A few weeks ago, Steve’s crew Emily (also from England) showed up. This 25-year old blonde, changed the dynamics a bit amongst the crowd of mostly single man. All of a sudden, I got some competition! I enjoyed her company a lot, since her presence made my life more fun and interesting. Together with another guy under 40, the South African Ed, Em and I spend a relaxing afternoon and fun night in Cabarete, the infamous wind and kite surfing town along the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. Ed (sometimes scruffy looking –the way we like him- and sometimes real clean and dressy looking) lives on his small, scruffy looking, cement boat “Nini”. That boat had the most comfortable spot in the harbour: a cloth hammock in the shade and breeze. Ed cooks the best curry ever and we enjoyed hanging out with him.

Frik (“Desire”) was another neighbour from South Africa, always friendly, soft spoken and very interested in the local women. Being a handsome doctor, volunteering in the local clinic, didn’t hurt his popularity. He brought me yammie fresh yoghurt one day and treated a whole bunch of us to breakfast on his luxurious sailboat. Jeff, an older, very sweet, but a bit rough on the edges, gentleman from England proved to be a good cook as well. For every event, on Irie or somewhere else, he provided tasty dishes. He was good company and we are touched by his fondness for us. He bought his boat “Hispaniola”, an Islander Freeport 36 (yep, the exact same kind we had as our first boat) here in Luperon.

Then there were Gene and Wilma from “GeWil’, who would always show up with a cocktail in their hands. They were involved in a terrible accident near Luperon last year and are still stuck there, waiting for the court case. Before the evening started, and we were ready for a drink, they seemed to be reaching the tipsy stage already. They are good fun and make the best mango daiquiris. We expect to see them along the way.

Of course there were many more characters that played an important role in our Luperon lives, like the amazingly friendly South African couple Margie and Brian, who invited everybody over for parties at their wonderful house up the hill. The view from there was awesome. Our little group of friends even got treated to an extra pool party with a tasty BBQ at their house “Fair Return”. They have been living in Luperon for a long time and make their money doing canvas work for us, cruisers. Everybody got used to Margie’s cheerful“Pennywhistle Canvas!” on the VHF-radio and could probably recognize her voice forever.

I could write a book or at least a short story about all the intrigues that take/took place in Luperon harbour, from love stories to funny gossip, to drunken events, blackmailing and hooker encounters. Maybe I will, one day, but for now this blog will have to do. A positive side effect of having all these different people together was the birth, more spontaneous than not, of many events. On Irie, we had a few “happy hour” moments, starting a tradition of gathering people on our boats instead of in the more boring and expensive marina. “La Vie Dansante” became the place for a drink after hours, “Wako” opened its doors for us and threw a “goodbye” party before we left and Mark and I even managed to get invited on “Nini”, a real honour!

We joined pot lucks at the Yacht Club, beach parties near the harbour entrance, a cultural dance night and a fun Halloween Party (Emily and I dressed up as dumb blondes) in the marina, several Karaoke evenings and lots of small gatherings on people’s boats. The cruising community in Luperon is alive, indeed!

During our summer in Luperon, we made a little land tour of a week and the two of us visited the amazing waterfalls nearby. Here, you swim through the cool river and climb on and over rocks and waterfalls until you get to the jump off point for the real adventure: following the river back by jumping off cliffs or sliding through waterfalls and pools. It was an awesome experience and the scenery was pristine and beautiful. Highly recommended! The dogs kept Mark on the boat during periods I wanted to see more of the country. Other than my trip to Belgium and Cabarete, I wanted to see the capital. I got a ride to Santo Domingo, where I looked at the sights and walked through the colonial zone for a couple of days before taking public transportation back to the boat.

So, even though we were stuck in a hurricane hole for a few months with little in the way of luxury, the availability of boat parts and beautiful water, we managed to have a great time and have fond memories of the country and its people, whether they were locals, temporary residents or transients. Keep an eye out for my book!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Change of Scenery and Air

When I was still in Belgium, Mark suggested a trip to the mountains in the interior of the Dominican Republic, once I returned to Luperon. He and the dogs had been suffering from the heat for months. The week after my arrival filled up quickly with re-settling Irie in the harbour, cleaning up, running errands, and the usual social encounters. When the weather turned hot and humid again after hurricane Ike passed through, our company was ready for a break. I had had one of those recently, but I was ready for a change of scenery again.

Together with Steve (from the sailboat “La Vie Dansante”) and his then girlfriend Davi, we rented a jeep big enough for the four of us, our luggage and the two dogs. Once everything got stuffed inside, we started our little vacation of one week. That Sunday, we followed some tricky dirt roads to the small fishing village of Punta Rusia, along the North Coast. We joined the many locals into the shallow bay. Finally some clean, blue and refreshing water! After a cheap and filling lunch, we continued on towards the border with Haiti for our first night off the boat in Hotel Bonanza ($15 for the cheapest room).

Dagabon is famous for its Haitian market every Monday and Friday morning. Mark and I left the dogs in our room and joined Steve and Davi outside for an early start. Two grim faces welcomed us… A light problem had appeared. Davi had seen our room keys sticking outside our door the previous night and had put them in their room, together with the car keys and their room keys. Now, they stood on the other side of that room, staring at a locked door. The hotel did not have spare keys, a weird habit we found to be common sense everywhere in the Dominican Republic. So, we had to wait for the locksmith before we could go anywhere or do anything. When the door was forced, of course the room wasn’t safe anymore. Kali and Darwin took over the protection of everybody’s stuff in our room.

The Haitian market was an interesting sight. Busy, loud, hectic. One chaotic mess of black Haitians, some more aggressive than others, trying to sell their goods, and tan Dominicans, trying to get the best bargain. Davi, Steve, Mark, and I were the only white people to be seen. Clothes, shoes, kitchen ware, vegetables, fruit and useless gadgets were stacked into piles along the narrow alleyways. Plastic tarps hung just low enough for us tall westerners, so we had to bend our heads constantly. An array of pushy vendors on foot completed the cacophony.

All of a sudden, we spotted the Dominican-Haitian border. Hopping over was easy, since nobody checked any formalities on market day. As a result, a horde of Haitians with all kinds of wares went back and forth between the two countries. Our little group peeked into Haiti and passed some UN troops. From the moment we crossed the border, we felt the air change. People looked funny at us, the only language to be heard was Creole, the muddy streets were dirty and for some reason we felt less safe. Whether it was prejudice, the stories about all the kidnappings, or just the change in scenery and people, we don’t really know. Fact was that after five minutes in this new country, we decided to head back to the other side. Once there, a sigh of relief could be heard and we continued our shopping. Before getting in the car, Davi and Steve showed us the back of their shorts. Somebody had cut the pockets to steal wallets or money. Luckily, earlier that morning, we decided to keep our wallets in our front pockets. Nevertheless, two pairs of good shorts got ruined and we were more than ready to leave. Border towns are never a good place to stick around for too long.

Later that morning, we made the long drive to Jarabacoa, in the middle, mountainous part of the country. The temperature dropped immediately and finally we enjoyed breathing and doing stuff again. It took us the rest of the day to find a decent place to spend the night, and the next morning to make a deal on a beautiful house in the mountains with a gorgeous view. Davi, Steve, Kali, Darwin and the two of us moved into the classy place for fours nights. The first day, a huge storm came through, messing up the electrical system. We also ran out of propane gas, the showers only had cold water, and the grill was broken, but other than that, all went smoothly. Some of the problems also got fixed over the next couple of days.

The four of us cooked gourmet meals in the kitchen, relaxed on the roomy porch, enjoyed many cocktails, gazed at the splendid views and saw some of the sights. Three interesting waterfalls can be found in Jarabacoa’s surroundings. One of them requires a long walk steep down hill and –obviously- a strenuous one back up. The second one is the most popular one and to see it, we just followed paths and suspension bridges over the river. Because of all the recent rain, the colour of the water was brown everywhere. The last waterfall, Salto Baiguete, is a bit off the beaten track and became our most favourite one. There was no charge and the path to get to the bottom was easy and well maintained. Once down by the river, we observed a few local teenagers enjoy themselves. We walked around in the sandy pool at the bottom. The water was too cold for a swim, but at least it was an option at this fall. Davi and I put some natural mud on our faces. After cleaning the mess back off, our faces were unbelievably smooth. A miracle!

On our last day, our friends convinced us to join them for a white water rafting trip. Mark and I have done this before and really enjoy it each time, but it is an expensive activity. Davi used her bargaining talent, and the price became right enough for us to go again. Everybody loved it. Rafting, on challenging rivers, is one of the most fun experiences in my opinion. This time, the previous rainstorms were in our favour, since the water ran very fast (we barely had to paddle), and we floated from one exciting rapid into the next one, getting soaked over and over again. Awesome!

Our vacation had been a success and soon enough we all returned to our sweaty (boat) life in Luperon Harbour for the last month and a half of hurricane season.