Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Randy's on deck scraping and sanding what's left of the varnish, so I'm lying low, trying not to distract him.

We're back in the land of radio music. All Spanish, all dance, all throbbing beat, all the time, perfect background for writing about the last passage and first few days in the Dominican Republic.

We had an amazing day crossing the banks from Provo to South Caicos. It's like the biggest swimming pool you can imagine. Hours and hours of surreal sailing across brilliant, flat, turquoise water, 10-15 feet deep with the occasional blob of coral to dodge. We were looking forward to getting to South Caicos, a small community at the southern tip of the Turks and Caicos. In his guide, Steve Pavilidis gives it a glowing report: "Bermuda-type architecture," friendly people, good store, good laundromat, phone right at the store on the dock, etc., etc. They have a beautiful harbour with clear, clear water, and the town looks like a typical island town from the water. It was Easter Sunday, and I was anxious to phone Anna and Tom, so we dinghied ashore, only to find the inner harbour thick and slimy. Car batteries discarded at the water's edge. Part of a turtle carcass at the edge of the boat ramp. We tied up, trying not to touch the water. Up the ramp, pile of garbage, over to the store, pile of garbage, saunter around the town, piles of garbage. Dead dog reeking in someone's yard. Spoke to a couple of people who were really very nice and very helpful, but "no, no phone," and "the laundromat's gone out of business." No resemblance to Bermuda in any way, shape or form. We did find the phone booth. It was loaded on the back of a flatbed truck, and looked like it had been crushed by a vehicle, then spray painted by the grade four class, then chucked on a truck to await further deterioration by the elements. If a book about outhouses of the Maritimes has an audience, maybe I should be doing a coffeetable book on phone booths of the Caribbean. It would be less whimsical, perhaps.

So I couldn't call home on Easter Sunday, and I was very upset.

Just to add to the feeling, there was a sailboat tied to the dock, dismasted, busted inflatable, scrapes, scratches, a real mess. We recognized it as belonging to a female single-hander that we'd seen several times in the last few weeks. We found out she'd been hit by a container ship -- she was under sail, only making a knot or two and couldn't manoevre (engine?), and the ship didn't respond to the radio - no one on watch. They admitted liability for the damage, and she was waiting in South Caicos for details to get sorted out. Bad scene. We've seen very little in the way of big ships - maybe a dozen in the last couple of weeks. Capt Randy may be the best person to have aboard when it comes to judging which way they're headed and how to stay out of their way. We've never even had to make radio contact.

Easter Sunday evening in the anchorage we sat on deck and listened to the loud and inspired singing from the church on shore. We hit the bunk early, natch, but after the sun set, the breeze from the shore brought a noxious stink that would knock a donkey off a sandpit. Garbage, probably dead dog too, whatever it was, I couldn't sleep for making icky faces, so I rummaged for a bar of sandwood soap that I remembered chucking in somewhere up the road, and tucked it under my pillow. My dreams were exotic, for a change.

Randy and Paul went ashore the next morning for fuel, and having sampled all the joys of South Caicos, we bailed for Great Sand Cay (remember, it's pronounced "KEY" - some cruisers get this far still saying CAY) and it was a fabulous paradise in comparison. In comparison to anything, really. Small island, a family of ospreys, a clean and perfect beach to swim and anchor off, a solidly littered beach on the windward side for beach combing, and only a slight roll. On the windward beach, among the wild variety of stuff washed onto the beach (including two baby seats) we found big turtle tracks. We had a brilliant day there, swimming and walking. Not another soul in sight. One of my favourite stops so far. Freshly caught bar jack for supper.

We sailed away at dusk, and watched another beautiful sunset and green flash while underway. A better night sail this time - we'd picked up Stugeron in T&C, a British anti-nausea med claimed to be superior to anything we can get at home,so the crew was in good shape, and stood watch no problem. Great stars, then a beautiful moon, then the earthy smell of the Dominican when we were still 30 miles out. Arrived at Luperon just after dawn, wandered our way into the harbour, only went aground once briefly since the water is the colour of coffee so for the first time in months the bottom is not visible (shoal marker not on the chart, fails to mark which way the shoal lies), and anchored with lots of helpful advice from the surrounding boats.

We had a good breakfast to brace ourselves for the checking-in process, and while it was protracted, complicated, and sort of expensive, you really get to meet a lot of folks in the process. They come in waves to the boat: the Navy commandancia and companions (and their dinghy driver, Raphael); Handy Andy, self-appointed welcome wagon and businessman with fabulous broad shoulders; then you go ashore to check in with the immigration fella, the fella that gives you your tourist card, the Port Authority official; then later in the day, you are visited aboard by the Health official who looks in your fridge, and the Agriculture official who asks if you have pets aboard. Keep shaking hands and dispensing cold drinks and fees, about $70 by our count, and soon you are feeling welcome, if broke. When you go ashore, you already have better than a nodding acquaintance with a whole bunch of locals. Raphael has been delivering water and fuel to the boat in the last couple of days, including propane. We tot up the pesos,($1=31 pesos) and figure that an extra few pesos still mean it's a great deal - we don't have to haul the jerry cans, or taxi cross town to chase propane fill-ups.

We got in on Wednesday, and Friday was increasingly cloudy, and by Friday evening, it started to rain. We were pumped! Fresh water rinse for the boat! Get rid of all the salt spray! Well. It rained quite hard for quite a while, and then we remembered that the boat leaks like an old barn. We only had five or six leaks, most of them new, a few old faithfuls, not surprising, considering that the boat has been baking in the hot sun for a few months. Anyway, it rained remarkably hard all night. The dinghy was full in the morning.
Luperon is lively and noisy. Car or truck stereo speakers are just as likely to be on the outside of the vehicle, and as big as a small refrigerator. The little kids, and there's lots of them, are great. Boys play with baseball gloves made out of a bit of cardboard. The kids say "Hola" or try our their English and giggle like crazy when you speak back to them. Steve's Place is a good spot to get everything done and have a cold Presidente beer at the same time. His wife Annie does your laundry for 10 pesos a pound, internet dial-up access is 2 pesos a minute, and the bbq-chicken is pretty good. Their baby daughter gets lots of attention from the customers, and she was fascinated with Randy's beard. Steve set us up with a taxi driver who took the four of us into Santiago, about an hour away, for $50 dollars for the whole day (compare with the $170 fare another cruiser paid in the Turks and Caicos for the 10 mile trip to town and back. We were so lucky that our nice lady stopped and picked us up and drove us around).

You don't want to be renting a car and driving yourself around here, or maybe you do. Depends on your attitude. We sat squashed in the back seat of a 1990 Toyota and marvelled at the cohones of every driver on the road: pass on either shoulder, pass on a hill, pass, always, on a double line, pass when the black diesel smoke from the enormous truck ahead of you obscures your vision. Veer around donkeys, slow for dogs in the middle of the road, slow to wave to your friends and relatives, accelerate for everything else. Turn up the stereo so as to deafen your backseat passengers, and pass some more. Honk, turn up the radio, honk again, wave, honk, honk, honk. In Santiago, a truck waiting to move into traffic held his middle finger up, like a sort of signal to no one in particular, just indicating that he would like to enter this lane as soon as someone would slow down and let him proceed. No one ever seemed upset in traffic, just honk, honk again, move on, and repeat. It was most entertaining.

The shops downtown were a lot like towns in Mexico and Spain. A lot going on, people everywhere. Narrow sidewalks loaded with people and stuff. You can buy anything on the street - fruit, drinking coconuts, watches, shoes, clothes - and the rest in the little stores. Mr. Van Sant's guide suggested that ladies always wore skirts to do their shopping, so I hauled out a modest skirt for the trip, and it was the ONLY skirt anyone saw all day. The women here are curvy and they show it off. Even looking at the store mannequins made me feel completely under-assed. A big round behind is the standard, and it's covered with tight everything, and lots of flesh bulging out of the bits where the tiny top doesn't make it to the lycra hipsters. Mr. Van Sant should get out more, obviously.

We went into a shoe store with lots of piles of flip flops, sandals, all sorts of fairly lurid stuff. I tried on a pair of beaded slides, and the salesman told Randy in Spanish that we'd be insane not to buy these! they're Italian! Imported! From Italy!! Then the salesman bundled my old black dusty sandals into the shoe box and dashed to the counter and rang in the sale. So now I have a rather nice pair of beaded slippers for 600 pesos - about $20. We had to admire the guy's technique, particularly when we got back to the boat and noted the picture of the Taj Mahal on the shoe box.

Squeegee kids in Santiago could teach the Halifax crew a thing or two. From about 10 or 20 feet away, they fling flat floppy sponges onto your windshield, then you're stuck with a smeary mess unless they clean it off. Our driver foiled them everytime: they'd get ready to let fly, and he'd just put on his wipers. We had a great day.

Weather window is looking very good, so we're planning to leave here tonight, Tuesday, and make a few long hops down the coast of the DR, and then across the Mona Passage - two nights and a day, or vice-versa if the wind is very light - to Puerto Rico. Or as Paul said yesterday in a senior moment, Porco Rito.


Blogger Zac said...

Susan, Randy and Tom,

Great blog! I was fascinated by the sailing adventure and on the on-shore detailed experiences. Envious, too, I suppose, since that kind of free-wheeling getaway seems like a daydream to me stuck at work in god-awful Detroit. The glimpse of the wrecked single-person boat was sobering, however, and I'm not sure I have the guts for that degree of living without the usual support net of civilization. You are either brave or stupid -- not sure which -- but boy! you sure are fun!

1:31 PM  

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