Sunday, September 11, 2011

Paradise within a Paradise?

Lifestyles Resort, Confresi Beach, Dominican Republic

Tuesday, September 6 – Saturday, September 10, 2011

Yes, we know. We have a pretty spectacular life. We were fortunate enough to be able to give up our jobs for this cruising lifestyle, and obviously don’t have the same pressures as someone with a 9-to-5 job back home. Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a few days away from the boat sometimes!

Our Luperon friends who’ve spent a year or more in the DR have been telling us about an all-inclusive resort near Puerto Plata that often offers super deals during the low season…as in “$10, $20, or $30 per person per night” type of deals. The first time the resort offered $10 pp/pn deals, ten cruisers went. The second time it happened, the group got up to 14 people. This time, the offer was $19 if you booked early enough, $29 if you waited. We ended up with 19 people in our group - 17 cruisers, plus two friends of Deana's and Troy's from Houston. Just think of it…for under $160, Rene and I were able to enjoy as much air conditioning, hot showers, a “real” bed, food, and drinks as we wanted…for FOUR DAYS! It was incredible. Seven members of our group took the motorcycles to the resort (a 45-minute ride), and the others squished into a van with all of the luggage. We arrived at the resort around noon, were greeted by froo-froo drinks at the bar, and got our white wrist-bands that allowed us to enjoy the all-inclusive part of the vacation. From there, the group split into those who wanted the full buffet lunch, and those who wanted to try the sushi at the VIP beach. Big surprise, we went with the latter. We hadn’t had sushi since our Houston trip in December; this wasn’t as good as Redfish in Houston, but it wasn’t bad!

Lunch was followed by a lounge on one of the beds and a dip in a hot tub at the VIP beach. Picture this: over fifty beds arranged in the sand on a spot above the beach – some stationary on stilts, some swinging from cables – all complete with white canopies and curtains on all four sides to block out the sun as needed. Amidst the beds were unheated Jacuzzi tubs where you could cool off while sipping on a drink brought to you by one of the many waiters milling around. Hungry? If you didn’t want to leave your bed to go to the sushi bar or the buffet, you could order a sandwich, burger, salad, or chicken wings and have lunch right in your beachside bed. This was the sort of place we’d only seen in magazines. It was amazing to experience it in person!

So how many of you figure there must have been some kind of a catch to such a terrific deal? Well, you were right. Lifestyles, besides being a luxury resort, is a timeshare property. Our friends who had been here before warned us to beware of the runners in white shirts and radios poised on their hips. These were the guys who would shanghai you after breakfast and escort you to the timeshare office, where you would then be turned over to one of the turquoise-shirted sales staff. We’d heard timeshare-presentation horror stories from friends on other vacations, and dreaded the thought of losing half of a beach day sitting in a conference room listening to the spiel. Us? Skeptical? You’d better believe it. Still, we figured we could be polite, especially when our salesman-slash-tour-guide, Harold, introduced himself and led us to a golf cart for a tour around the property. We got to play “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, as we were shown one of the four-bedroom villas (complete with chef and private pool), a presidential suite, the super-exclusive “Serenity Beach” (complete with hammocks, 10’ canopied, pillow-strewn beds, and a slew of cute wait staff), along with a bar and restaurant for members only. We had to admit, while we certainly didn’t consider ourselves resort or timeshare people, we were curious. At the end of the property tour, Harold asked us if we wanted to talk more about it or be on our way with a polite “no”. To our surprise, we found ourselves following him back to the office for a chat. We talked about the different options, and realized that their program might actually be something from which we could benefit. There was no “one or two week per year” restriction, no tie to a single property, and no annual maintenance fees. Pay one start-up fee, and use it as much or as little as you wanted to at any of their 4500 destinations. You’d pay when you used a property – the equivalent of one to two nights’ rental for a week at the property – and that was it. Now you all know how analytical Rene’s mind is; he crunched numbers and looked for any possible downside. We even walked away for 24 hours to talk more and think about it. In the end, we decided that it was a great fit for us. With so many properties in the Caribbean, our families and friends could come down to visit us and not be restricted to the boat. We’re all too aware what hotels cost down-island, and this offered a much more affordable alternative. And when we give up the boat someday to RV around Europe and the US? More places to stay! Bottom line, consider this an invitation. We keep telling everyone to come visit us, and now we have an option for those of you who aren’t comfortable staying on a boat. No more excuses! :-)

So we only thought we were getting royally spoiled before we signed the papers. Once we became official members, they cut off our white bracelets and gave us gold VIP bracelets that let us into the restricted-access beaches, pools, bars, and restaurants. Better yet? They upgraded us to the two-bedroom presidential suite and gave us a golf cart to get back to the rest of our group. We even got two extra gold bracelets so we could bring another couple with us to share the suite. Decisions, decisions… We knew that Deana and Troy wouldn’t want to leave their friends who were visiting from Houston, so Pat and Lucy from Illusions moved over with us. What a blast! We checked out the local pool and private beach, and toured around on the golf cart before joining the rest of the group at the VIP beach. Dinner that night at the Mexican restaurant was so-so, but our dinner at Simply Gourmet the next evening was fantastic. There's already talk of trying to get a bunch of couples into a villa for a few days. We are soooo coming back to this resort next month!

Enjoy pictures here.

Good Night, Irene...

Saturday, August 20 – Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Luperon, Dominican Republic

Stacy’s great-grandmother, Irene, used to sing that old song, “good night, Irene…good night, Irene…I’ll see you in my dreams.” This week’s “Irene” could’ve been a real nightmare! What is it about us and hurricanes that begin with the letter "I"? Most of you probably know that we went through Hurricane Ike in September, 2008, while we were still in Kemah, Texas. That one was "only" a category 2 storm, but had a cat 5 storm surge. What did that really mean? Our marina suffered an 11+ foot storm surge (the parking lot was under 5’ of water), and hundreds of boats were lost when their fixed and/or floating docks rose higher than their moorings would allow. Our 12' dock pilings barely survived, and we were lucky enough to come away with only minor damage to the boat.

Fast forward to August, 2011... We'd been watching "tropical wave 97", a system that threatened to pay a visit to our part of the Caribbean. Sometime over the weekend, #97 was reborn as "Tropical Storm Irene", with a projected track that came over Puerto Rico and right into our back yard. Mind you, we weren't too worried given Luperon's reputation as a hurricane hole, thanks to the surrounding mountain range and the harbor's protective mangroves. Still... By Saturday, we knew there was a good chance we’d feel some effects of the storm, but initial tracks brought it over the center of the island across the mountains. The good thing about that? While the mountains would likely get 10-20 inches of rain (triggering possible mudslides), they would also break the storm apart and significantly reduce Irene’s wind speed. We prepped Pipe for tropical storm-force winds (30-50 mph expected), taking down the bimini, clearing out the cockpit, and lashing down the kayaks and any other potential projectiles. Unfortunately, by Monday morning, the forecasted track had Irene paralleling the DR’s northern coastline…heading straight for us with no protective mountain peaks to intervene. Suddenly we were facing hurricane-force winds (75+ mph), and had to re-examine our preparations. We’ve probably mentioned this before, but our mooring ball places us less than ten feet from the mangroves at certain wind angles. While it can be quite buggy, this placement is quite a comfort when we’re threatened by bad weather. Apparently it’s also comforting to the entire Puerto Plata fishing fleet, who stormed into the Luperon harbor all day Monday. Half a dozen fishing boats plowed into the mangroves, bow-first, a hundred yards from us. Given our lack of swinging room, we figured things could get a little too cozy if more boats decided to line the mangroves around us. Enter my brilliant husband…Rene decided to back our stern into the mangroves and tie up, while our bow would remain on our mooring ball. This was initially planned as a temporary move to reserve some swinging space; once the fishing fleet got settled and the winds started piping up, we’d cut loose from the mangroves and allow Pipe to swing with the wind. Four lines and a conversation with Storyville later, we all decided that maybe staying anchored to the mangroves wasn’t such a bad idea…did we mention that the powers that be were now forecasting 80-100mph winds? Rene got us secured and then helped Deana and Troy tie Storyville to another cluster of mangroves. With five anchor points, as well as making ourselves a much smaller target for dragging boats, we felt pretty good about the upcoming storm.

One thing people don’t tell you about hurricanes…it’s downright boring waiting for things to happen. All of those stories of hurricane parties? Getting loaded isn’t such a great idea when your “house” can break free and hit (or be hit by) another boat. (We’re such party poopers!) We finished our prep work by lunch time, and sat on the deck watching the fishing boats tie up. had projected 60-80mph winds by 6pm, but with the exception of a couple 30mph squalls, the harbor was dead calm until well after sunset. The wind picked up to 30kts around 10pm, and we had our first dragging victim of the night: a 50’ catamaran pulled its mooring out of the mud and drifted down half the length of the harbor. It passed within 15’ of an anchored boat, but finally settled undamaged near the town pier. We tried to get a few cat-naps overnight, but spent most of it awake listening to the boat chatter and weather updates on the VHF. The best news came when we heard that Irene was slowly veering offshore, and was expected to be 30-60 miles out as she passed us. The mangroves certainly lived up to their reputation, and we heard more than felt the gusts that came with Irene’s bands. Although winds near the eye exceeded 100mph and 10’ waves crashed outside the mouth of Luperon harbor, there was rarely more than a few ripples around us.

Tuesday morning was a bit more exciting, as the eye passed north of us around 10am. Winds picked up to 25-35kts for the better part of two hours, and a number of boats began dragging around the harbor. Dinghies went zooming to offer assistance whenever possible, and the crew at Marina Tropical helped a number of dragging boats. Fortunately no one was hurt, and none of the boats suffered any major damage. For the most part, Irene was, thankfully, a non-event for us. We were free of the mangroves and swinging back on our mooring by Wednesday morning, and were looking forward to going into town to see how Luperon itself fared. Jerry hosted a "Good Night Irene" post-hurricane potluck party on Wednesday night, where the Barcelo rum flowed all too freely, and everyone brought some tasty treats.

We also know that Irene hasn’t finished her journey yet; she’ll likely be a category 3 or possibly 4 hurricane as she bombards the Bahamas on her way to the East Coast. Our thoughts are with the many people we met in the Exumas and Abacos, as well with our cruising friends in the Carolinas. We’ll keep an eye on the weather sites over the next few days, and hope everyone stays safe and sound.

Home Again!

Luperon, Dominican Republic

Thursday, August 4 – Friday, August Saturday, August 27, 2011

I’m hooooome! It’s great to be back on Pipe Muh Bligh with Rene and Tux. Our lives settled back into the old routine soon after I got back home. We spent a lot of time combing through the piles of stuff I brought back with me, and even longer trying to figure out where to put it all! One new item to welcome me home was the brand new muelle, or dinghy dock. The government finally came through with a reconstruction project, so we’ll save our fund-raising money for future repairs. Finally…no more risking life and limb to get to and from town!

The first packages from home that were put to good use were our Eagles Nest Outfitters nylon hammocks. A few of our friends have them, and we had two shipped to Seattle last month. We brought them with us on a motorcycle ride to a beach west of town, and six of us hung our hammocks under the sea grape trees. There’s something really special about listening to the waves lap on the beach and the wind rustle through the leaves, while you gently rock a few inches above the sand. We had a repeat performance at El Castillo beach a few days later, and knew this was becoming our favorite new habit.

Not to become too lazy, we planned a trip up to the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua. The “waterfalls” are actually a series of natural pools set in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. You take a very long, very hot hike to the top of one of the mountains, carrying your protective gear – a helmet and life jacket – with you. At the top is pool #26, whose cool waters feel heavenly after the hike you’ve just done. If you’re more adventurous, you can use a rope to climb a rock up to #27 and the 10-foot jump into the pool. (By the way, whether the pools are numbered by actual pools or jump-off points is anyone’s guess.) From there, you work your way back down the mountain, swimming, hiking, sliding, and jumping through streams from one pool to the next. It’s an incredible experience, and should be on everyone’s “must-do” list when visiting the DR. If you’re worried about the physical nature of the trip, don’t be. Each group goes with one or two guides who pull you up as needed and show you the safest spots for jumping. These guys are in terrific shape, and are used to taking kids, seniors, and everyone in between. If you’re not up for all 27 falls, there are packages to do only the first seven or twelve falls. Now if you possess a fear of heights, that’s a different story. Many of the jumps are 10-15 feet high, and two are closer to 25-30 feet. Rene loved it, but Stacy needed some serious coaxing for the really high ones. (It was scary!) The trip probably took three hours, and we were more than ready for a cold cerveza when we got back to Luperon!

Friday night, we attended our first dinner dance at Puerto Blanco Marina. The marina recently put in pizza ovens (woo hoo!), and were offering “you call it” pizzas for 400 pesos. We got an “everything but the kitchen sink”, complete with minced habaneros. Yummy! The evening entertainment started with a local Dominican dance troupe, and the cruisers got into the mix after enough adult bevvies were imbibed. We all had a great time, and look forward to the next marina event.

That’s it for now…things could get a bit hectic over the next few days. We have a tropical “wave” brewing in the Caribbean that everyone has their eyes on. More on that next time…

P.S. We have to wish our friend, Larry, a very happy birthday. He threw one heck of a party at a local Luperon hot spot on Aug. 27th, complete with TWO roasted pigs and all the Luperon trimmings. The entire harbor showed up along with some friends from Gringo Hill, and we all had a fantastic time. It doesn't quite fit in with our hurricane blog (following this one), so we've tucked the birthday bash, a.k.a. "Larry-stock", here. Thanks again, Larry!

Waterfall pictures: here

LarryStock pictures: here

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Where the Heck is Rene? (aka Playing Bachelorette in the Pacific Northwest)

Wednesday, July 13 – Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Author’s note: Okay, this is seriously weird. I (Stacy) am about to get on a plane to Seattle to spend the next three weeks with my family, while Rene stays back in Luperon with Tux and Pipe. We haven’t spent more than a few hours apart in nearly three years, and now this??? As much as we would’ve loved for Rene to come with me, we couldn’t make it work this time. There’s no such thing as a kennel for Tux in Luperon, and our boat generator has been on the fritz. We would’ve been hard-pressed to inconvenience a friend to run the gen 2-3 hours a day under normal circumstances; to do so when it was overheating every other day was a no-go. Sooo…here we are, separated by 4,000 miles with spotty internet for Skype-ing. We’ve both got busy schedules planned, with me going RV-ing in Canada and Rene exploring the Dominican countryside on his motorcycle. I’ll post a blog about my Seattle trip, and hopefully Rene will post something about his adventures soon. Enjoy!

There’s something special about seeing a familiar face as you step off the jetway…especially in today’s world of “ticketed passengers only” beyond airport security. Mom flew in from Spokane an hour before I arrived, so she was able to get out to the United terminal to meet me at my gate. After a huge hug, we gabbed all the way to the taxi stand where we got a taxi out to Grandpa’s place. After lunch and a bit of down time, we drove out to my aunt and uncle’s to pick up Grandpa. He’d gotten a bad burn (3rd degree…skin grafts and all) in a kitchen accident two months before, and had been alternating between staying with them and staying at his home when Mom was in town. I knew he was in good hands, but was anxious to see him in person to see his progress for myself. We spent the first three days in Seattle with Grandpa, catching up and playing cribbage when we weren’t out shopping. It’s surprisingly difficult to find simple things like shorts and swimsuits in the Bahamas and the DR!

Mom and I left for Spokane on Sunday, where I was greeted by a monster stack of boxes in the guest room. Talk about Christmas in July! Rene’d had a dozen things sent to Spokane – hooray for Amazon! – and I spent an hour opening boxes filled with new hammocks, shoes, DVDs, cameras, a heat exchanger to cure our sick generator, air and water filters, foreign-language books, etc. I began to wonder how I would ever fit everything in my suitcase, but that was a problem for another day. Tuesday morning we packed up Mom and Ken’s RV – complete with their 55-pound basset hound, Mini Moo – for the 200-mile drive to Kimberly, located just across the Idaho-Canadian border in British Columbia. We stayed in a lovely spot, and had our first wildlife experience thanks to a doe nibbling grass in the campsite next to us.

Wednesday morning, we continued on to Banff, Alberta, where we would stay for next week along with Ken’s daughter and her family. Banff is such a beautiful town, surrounded by the massive peaks of the Canadian Rockies. There’s a little bit of everything – from shopping, pub crawling, and dining in town to sightseeing and hiking on one of twenty different trails around Banff. If you go a little further out of town, you can find hundreds more trails of differing lengths and difficulties. After settling into the Tunnel Mountain RV Park, Mom and I stretched our legs with a dog-walk down a nearby trail to the Hoodoos. We enjoyed beautiful views of the valley and the Banff Springs Hotel in the distance before coaxing a very stubborn Mini Moo back to the campsite. Lazy dog!

Friday morning we decided to take the “Minnewanka Loop”, which circled past Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, and the Cascade Ponds. Lake Minnewanka, aka “Lake of the Water Spirit”, is the largest body of water in Banff National Park. There was once a village in the basin of the lake, but it was flooded in 1941 when the dam was built. If you’re willing to brave the 35-degree water, you can SCUBA down to see the remnants of the town. We wandered along the lakeshore, but decided to spare Moo (yeah, right) from having to make the 3-mile hike around the entire lake.

After our visit to Lake Minnewanka, we continued on along the rest of the loop. The loop had been a favorite spot when Rene and I visited Banff years ago, thanks to a huge cluster of bighorn sheep who were often seen lounging on the side of the road. The guide books said they were still frequent visitors to the area, but apparently they weren’t in the mood to play. A drive up to Mount Norquay also failed to deliver so much as a chipmunk (although the lookout’s view of downtown Banff was as gorgeous as ever), and we began to wonder if our big wildlife adventure would be a bust.

Saturday we headed to Sunshine Meadows, which straddled the Continental Divide and the Alberta-British Columbia border 7,300 feet above sea level. The meadows could only be accessed via a shuttle bus from the Sunshine Ski Resort’s parking lot, and seemed well worth the trip with their promise of 300+ species of wild flowers on display in the summertime. We rose 300 feet over a mile-long hike to a lake, and spotted perhaps ten different species of flowers (not to mention a family of mountain goats on the road to the ski resort). Unfortunately, our forecast of “partly cloudy” turned into “showers”, and we were pelted by raindrops once we reached the lake. We managed to spend a little over an hour hiking through the meadows before we took shelter in the cafeteria with some much-needed hot chocolate.

Sunday we welcomed our first beautiful, sunny day in Banff. We headed north to Lake Louise via the Bow Valley Parkway, a road that paralleled the main highway and was known as a good spot for seeing wildlife. The road lived up to its reputation, as we saw a herd of bighorn sheep and three velvet-horned elk in the first 10 miles. En route to Lake Louise, we stopped off at Johnston Canyon for a brief (20-minute) walk to the Lower Falls, where we took in breathtaking views of the towering trees and the river below. Dogs were even allowed on the trails, and Moo was quite popular as people admired (okay, giggled at) her short little legs. She was a trooper, and had a great time sniffing out the chipmunks along the trail.

We reached Lake Louise around 2pm, and were blown away by the sheer number of people in the area. We’d been anxious to take advantage of the good weather, and apparently everyone else had the same idea. What a mob! There were families everywhere, all vying for a spot along the shoreline for that perfect photo op. Cars were parked up to a mile away from the lake, so Ken dropped us off before finding a paid spot in the hotel’s garage. We wandered along the lake, walked through the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and people-watched on a bench near the canoe rentals. We finally got tired of the crowds, and took a leisurely drive back to Banff – again via the Bow Valley Parkway. There were more elk feeding along the roadside, and we even had the good fortune to see a black bear running across the road a quarter-mile in front of us! I couldn’t get a good picture before he ran into the woods, but it was an incredible sight.

Monday started with another gorgeous sunny morning, and Carrie, Morgan, and Emily invited us to their campsite for a Dutch-oven breakfast. Morgan has become quite adept at cooking in the Dutch oven, and his bacon-egg-potato casserole was terrific. Later we wandered into town, where I spent some quality time at Starbucks on the internet while Mom and Ken visited the local Laundromat. Morgan cooked ribs in the Dutch oven for dinner, and Kenny grilled steaks. What a feast!

Tuesday we left Banff and overnighted in Kimberly before returning to Spokane on Wednesday. We did some clean-up and shopping on Thursday before making the five-hour drive over the mountain pass to Seattle on Friday. The rest of the Seattle trip was filled with family dinners, a shopping and lunch extravaganza with my sis, Andie, and her two daughters, and lots and lots of packing. As much as I loved spending time with my family, I was more than ready to get back to Rene, Tux, and the boat. There was just one problem…Tropical Storm Emily had formed near Martinique and was making her way towards the Dominican Republic! Having been mostly offline in Banff and Spokane, I had no idea that Emily was out there until Rene mentioned it on Monday. By Tuesday, Emily had the DR directly in her sights, and even threatened to pass fairly closely to Luperon. After a few stressful hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, it began to appear that Emily would pass along the southern edge of the island. Other than a few clouds and some showers, we hardly knew she was there. My flight landed safely (and even early!), and Rene came to the airport with a couple of our friends to meet me. It was good to be home!

Please enjoy more pictures here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trial separation? (JUST KIDDING!)

Thursday, June 30 - Wednesday, July 13 2011

How scary is this: since we started cruising in March 2009 Stacy and myself have been apart for less than 15 hours. Now Stacy is going to Seattle for 3 weeks while I take care of Tux, the boat, boat projects, Spanish lessons, riding my motorcycle and trying to enjoy myself (not necessarily in that order of course!)

Anyway .... not much happening in the last 2 weeks except for the July 4th party at Wendy's and a happy hour / pot luck on Pipe Muh Bligh for 12 people. It turns out the only way we ever clean the boat is when we invite people over so there you have it!

The July 4th celebration at Wendy's was a lot of fun. There was a 250 pesos entry fee, which was immediately donated back to the dinghy fund, and there was a pot luck where the cook was expected to use local cheese only. In addition Wendy's provided great hot dogs with all the trimmings and various side dishes. There was a really good turn out and Stacy's cheese enchiladas received 2nd place honors in the pot luck. Personally I think she got robbed! After consuming a lot of drinks and plenty of solid food Troy played a good set of music and we all had a great time.

A couple of days later we hooked up with Dan and we took the 4 motorcycles out for another trip to El Castillo. It's an easy trip with barely any off-road so it's a great trip if the girls are coming along. We brought swimsuits, towels and hammocks and made a great day of it. Dan showed us the way to a secret beach where we had the place for ourselves. Troy and Gary put up the hammocks and tried for a nap. Riding a motorcycle sure makes for tired bodies! Afterwards we followed Dan to Nina's restaurant in El Castillo where we all enjoyed a terrific lunch. We're surely going to return there!

Too make sure Stacy would stress out enough before her trip to Seattle she decided that we needed a happy hour / potluck on Pipe Muh Bligh. Guests were Deana & Troy (Storyville), Gary (Pala Ola), Jerry (owner of JR's Bistro Tropical), Barbara & Dan (Another Way), Ken & Glennis (Galatea) and Lisa & Cade (Sand Dollar). Everybody brought something great to eat and as usual the alcoholic beverages flowed freely. The evening was long, the night short and according to an unofficial poll taken by me the next way we had a 100% hangover rate! Fun was had by all.....

And now I am a temporary bachelor. I can't believe that I am going to not see Stacy for 3 full weeks. But I am ready for it thanks to my Spanish lessons: "No gracias, estoy felizmente casado".

More pictures here

Friday, July 8, 2011

Luperon, Dominican Republic, Part II

Sunday, June 19 – Wednesday, June 29, 2011

As Rene said in a Facebook post, “Luperon puts the ‘tired’ in ‘retired’!” With yoga and water aerobics three times a week, Spanish classes twice a week, the vegetable market Tuesday mornings, the cruiser net Wednesday and Sunday mornings, Troy singing and playing guitar at JR’s on Saturdays, the cruiser swap meet on Sundays, and daily to every-other-day internet lunches or dinners at JR’s, Steve’s Place, or the Upper Deck, we’re wiped out. (And we haven’t even made it to the bi-weekly dinner/dances at Puerto Blanco Marina or movie night on Monday and Tuesday at Wendy’s Bar!) We’ve been on the go since we got here, and there’s no sign of it stopping. Not that we’re complaining! We’ve been having a fantastic time in Luperon, and are eager to see more and more of the island. A number of cruisers have stepped up to introduce us to their favorite spots outside of Luperon, and we’ve been thrilled to share the experiences.

Lisa from Sand Dollar organized another lunch to Olivo’s after Sunday’s swap meet, this time with her husband, Cade, and their friends, Derek and Esther, who own an apartment in town and some land up in the mountains. Eleven of us managed to cram ourselves into two vehicles, and off we went. That afternoon, Lisa, Derek, and Esther arranged for us all to spend the following Tuesday together at Derek and Esther’s property. We rented a car from a local outfit, and followed Lisa and Cade up the mountain. Only 14 miles away as the crow flies, the property took an hour to reach via the pothole-ridden roads. We’d been warned, thanks to Ann Vanderhoof’s books, “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” and “Spice Necklace” that we were almost assured of getting a flat tire when renting a car in Luperon. We just hadn’t expected it to happen so fast! Rene had been swerving to avoid deep holes in the road for 20 minutes; we weren’t even as far as Imbert when we felt the car begin to shimmy. “FLAT!” We pulled over to the side of the road, and the guys worked together to get the spare tire in place. An examination of the flat tire showed a crack in the rim, and we knew we couldn’t chance going all the way up to the mountain on our little bubble spare. Cade knew of a welder in Imbert, so off we went. Two hours and 2,000 pesos ($60 – nearly twice the cost of the rental car) later, we were on our way up the mountain again. We reached the property shortly after noon, and enjoyed breathtaking views as we walked among banana trees, avocado trees, and young coffee plants spread across the acreage. We could hear chickens scratching in the brush, and local boys would wave as they passed by on horses or donkeys. A local woman made a Dominican lunch of chicken, rice, and beans, which tasted great with a couple of cold cervezas. Even better, the 2500’ elevation made for temperatures 10-12 degrees cooler than in Luperon. What a perfect day!

Lisa arranged a girls’ day out later that week to Puerto Plata, where we hunted for sea glass on the beach, avoided a herd of cattle wandering along the main road, had lunch at a local hangout, and went grocery shopping at Supermarcado Tropicale and La Sirena. Once again, we stopped along the side of the road on our way back to Luperon for mangoes, along with key limes and the first avocados of the season. (By the way…where else can you buy an avocado for 30 cents apiece? Yep, still loving it here…)

The week also brought about a series of fund-raisers designed to raise money for Luperon’s town dinghy dock. The dock was repaired three years ago (again, by cruisers), and is now shaped something like a deteriorating roller coaster. Three people have been hurt in the past few months, one of whom broke her leg in two places when she fell through the loose boards. As frustrated as we’ve all been at the government’s refusal to do anything, we’ve also had to remind ourselves that we aren’t in the US anymore. (As some have told us, money earmarked for one thing often finds itself used for something else…like, perhaps, a government official’s new car.) Jerry, a new friend who lives on his boat, Nauti-ness, and runs JR’s Bistro Tropical in town, has been spear-heading the fund-raising efforts. A few of us had pledged money and carpentry skills for the new dock, and a bingo game-slash-bake sale was scheduled for Thursday night. Deana made mini-French bread loaves, and Stacy baked a coconut rum cake. The evening was a great success, and set the stage for Saturday night’s event: an auction to sell items generously donated by the cruising community. Rene and Troy each bought a boat knife, Deana bought an under-water camera, we got a beautiful brass barometer, and Anchor Management Steve (who’d recently arrived back in Luperon on a boat delivery) bought a float-turned-art object that we could all sign and hang under JR’s tiki roof. After the goods were sold, Troy followed up with a set on his guitar, and Deana and Stacy even offered up their cooking services with...what else? French bread, rum cake, and chili, of course! In the end, the event raised somewhere close to 15,000 pesos (about $400), and we were slowly approaching our goal. One of the other Luperon bars has scheduled a fund-raiser for July 4th, so hopefully that’ll clinch it. Thanks to recent trade winds that have bashed the local fishing boats against the dock, the boards are sagging more than ever and the dock is practically sideways. We really need a new one!

Perhaps the highlight of the past two weeks (but really, how can you choose just ONE?) was a motorcycle trip organized by Barbara and Dan on Another Way. It started out as one of those ideas you have over a few drinks…in this case, JR’s first dinghy-dock fund raiser, a poker-run/pub-crawl that was held a couple of weeks ago. Dan and Barbara have had a motorcycle here in Luperon for over a year, and just upgraded (from 125 to 150cc) to a new off-road model. The new bike is perfect for running around on the DR’s bumpy roads, and Troy has been awfully tempted to get one. Rene has resisted so far, but we figured a motorcycle tour would give us a great chance to see more of the island. Barbara talked to Manny (a DR local who lived in the States for most of his live and only recently returned), who arranged for us to rent bikes from the local motoconchos (young guys on 125cc bikes who take you around for a small fee). Apparently the excitement over a motorcycle tour spread like crazy, because we had quite the little gang by the time we met up in front of the Upper Deck restaurant on Monday morning: besides ourselves, there were Deana and Troy (Storyville), Barbara and Dan (Another Way), Ken and Glenis (Gallatea), Barbara and Gary (Pa’La O’La), Steve (Anchor Management), Ted (About Time), Manny, Jerry (Nauti-ness/JR’s), John (Bright Eyes), and Larry (Triton). Manny, John, Jerry, and Dan, all having their own bikes, held strategic points ahead of and behind our caravan, and did a terrific job of keeping us newbies from getting into trouble. We made a massive loop out of Luperon, with stops at the beaches of El Castillo and Punta Rocia. Ken and Glenis ran out of fuel, Steve got a flat tire, and there were a few sore bums thanks to a general lack of shock absorbers. Fortunately, everything was easily fixed, and no one got hurt. We had a fabulous time, and are talking about making this a monthly excursion. The only problem? The outing pretty much clinched Troy’s desire to get a bike, and Gary quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Now you know we can’t be left behind while everyone else goes out and has fun, right?? So…the boys are heading to Imbert over the weekend with Manny to see if they can cut a deal on three motorcycles. Before the moms get too nervous, we should reiterate: these are 150cc motorbikes with off-road tires and suspension. We won’t go very fast and will stay out of the big cities. Okay? We’ll keep you posted!

Please enjoy more pictures here.

Finding a Routine in Luperon, Dominican Republic

Monday, May 30, 2011 – Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wow. Once again, it’s been over a month since we posted a blog. You’ve all heard the various excuses each time we’ve gotten busy, lazy, etc., so we won’t even bother coming up with new ones. Suffice it to say, Luperon has quickly become “home”, and we’ve fallen in love with this beautiful country. Still, you know how you rarely take pictures in your daily life unless something special happens? Well, the same rule applies here. Thank goodness Deana (Storyville) has been more diligent in her picture-taking, so we’ve been able to snag a few of her shots to include in our blog. We should probably warn you…over the next few months, you’ll likely see fewer blog posts unless something really exciting is going on. Otherwise, you’d read about destinations like “water aerobics”, “yoga”, “Spanish class”, “Steve’s Place”, and “JR’s” over and over again! Anyway, we’ll try to recap the past month to give you a taste of life in Luperon, and will share new adventures as promptly as we can in the future.

Woo hoo! We’ve finally made it to Luperon, Dominican Republic – the sleepy little town that we’ll call “home” for the next five months. We began our stay in Luperon with a bang, attending the weekly cruiser swap meet and celebrating our arrival with Storyville via a pub crawl, Luperon-style (Steve’s Place, Wendy’s Bar, and JR’s Bistro Tropicale). After a party-filled weekend, we realized just how easy it would be to fall into a habit of cheap cervezas and 100-peso lunches served under the tiki hut; we quickly decided we needed to get into some sort of routine that first week. Priority #1? Location, location, location. We had been given a temporary mooring by Papo, the local go-to guy, but knew we wanted something more permanent (not to mention sturdier to survive the 20+ knot trade winds). Papo came by Monday morning and worked with Rene to find a spot between Storyville and the mangroves that would keep us out of the swinging radius of a nearby derelict boat. Rene watched Papo and Handy Andy dive down to place the mooring screw, and was told that it needed to “stew” for a few days before we could get on it. Translation: we’d need to stay on our temporary mooring until Thursday or Friday, at which point we’d move to our new spot. That done, we headed up the hill to Casa La Roca to attend our first water aerobics class with Jeanette from Sea Lion. Feel the burn! Monday afternoon we skipped lunch and cervezas at Steve’s Place, opting instead for sandwiches on the boat. We wanted to be clear-headed for our first Spanish lesson that afternoon at 4pm! Rosa Van Sant, jewelry-maker, artist, and wife of cruising-guide-writer Bruce, organized beginner’s Spanish lessons on Mondays and Fridays for a whopping 150 pesos (about $4) per person per class. Fifteen of us signed up at the swap meet, and we were looking forward to expanding our vocabulary beyond the typical tourist “dos cervezas, por favor” (two beers, please) and “donde es el bano” (where’s the bathroom?). Classes were held at Puerto Blanco Marina, and Rosa figured out who qualified for the beginner vs. intermediate groupings. We obviously needed the beginner’s course, and were soon assigned to Rosa’s friend, Natalie. She focused on pronunciation and some simple vocabulary and phrases for our first lesson, and was a terrific instructor.

Tuesday morning we met Jeanette at the muelle (moo-AY-yay), or town dock. She had taken us under her wing to help us get set up with a local cell phone, internet, and check-cashing service. We agreed to start the morning at the weekly vegetable market, basically a city block where the produce delivery trucks sold directly to the public. We were blown away by the sheer variety: plantains still on their stalks, massive eggplants, red peppers, green “seasoning” peppers (milder than bell peppers), carrots, chayote, passion fruit, pineapples, bananas, onions, garlic, cilantro, oregano, scallions, tomatoes, broccoli…and much, much more. Everything was grown within a few miles of town, and we filled up a shopping bag for under $5. Bananas? Three for 10 pesos (about 25 cents). Mangoes? Three for 20 pesos. Fresh pineapple? 30 pesos. After being gouged in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, it’s going to take us awhile to get used to the local prices!

We followed up our shopping run with breakfast at the Upper Deck, where Jeanette introduced us to the owners, Sybille and Ralph. Sybille does all of the cooking herself, and Ralph is known as the local expert for any diesel engine problems we may have. Breakfast was followed by a trip to the local cell phone store, Claro, which brought a whole new meaning to “island time” and “red tape”. We wanted to get a local “pay-as-you-go” cell phone since we’ll be here for five months. Simple, no? Not even close. They required a local driver’s license to purchase a phone, so Jeanette borrowed a friend’s ID. A half-hour later, after the friend was long gone, Claro’s home office wanted more information from her. No info, no phone. A stranger ultimately stepped in and offered to vouch for us with his own information, and 90 minutes later, we finally had a phone.

Tuesday afternoon brought quite a surprise when Steve on Anchor Management showed up after a three-day crossing from the Virgin Islands. We had seen his SPOT earlier in the day, and thought it would be another day before he arrived. We must’ve misread something, because he was in the harbor and rafted up to Storyville by 3pm! After clearing in, he joined us all for customary grande Bohemias and 100-peso dinners at Capt. Steve’s Place. Anchor Management Steve (as opposed to restaurateur-Steve) headed back to the States a few days later, but it was great to see him again even for a short visit.

Wednesday we managed to be up, out, and at the yacht club by 8am for our first yoga class. Rene had done some yoga in the past, but this was a total first for Stacy. Let’s just say someone needed to work on her balance! We followed yoga up with water aerobics and then a breakfast of fresh mangoes and pineapple back on Pipe, setting the stage for what would become our typical Monday-Wednesday-Friday routine.

The following Sunday, Lisa from Sand Dollar took us on a wonderful tour of the surrounding area after the cruiser swap meet. We hunted for sea glass at a local beach, drove through the outlying villages, got a view of the ocean near El Castillo, and had lunch at nearby Olivo’s. Lunch was followed up with a drive to an observation point above the Luperon Harbor entrance, which boasted spectacular views of the ocean and mountains. The harbor is shaped somewhat like an upside-down “Y”, with us at the southwest corner of it. We could just see our mast in the distance, scattered among the other 100 boats in the harbor. From this vantage point, observing the thick mangroves that outline the entire harbor, we could easily see why Luperon is considered such a safe “hurricane hole” for so many boaters.

Numerous cruisers had touted the shopping mecca of nearby Puerto Plata, so we hired a taxi van and driver during our second week in town. Jeanette played tour guide for the six of us (Pipe, Storyville, and Pa’La O’La), and we had a full day: stops at a marine supply store, an English bookstore (unfortunately, closed), a Napa-like store, a DR version of a dollar store, a tour through the amber museum (where we drank the local grog, Mamajuana, and Deana tried her hand at cigar-rolling), lunch at a German spot on the Malecon, a walk through the parc central (town square) and the cathedral, a trip to Casa Nelson for clothes shopping, and finally to La Sirena, the closest thing to a Super Wal-Mart that the DR has. Think groceries, home goods, electronics, liquor, etc. We were in heaven! On the way home, we stopped along the side of the road to buy mangoes from a local man: 100 pesos (under $3) for a bucket-full – about 30 mangoes in total. We split them up among the three boats, and spent the next week trying to figure out how many ways we could eat/cook mangoes before they went bad. Mango ice cream, anyone?

The next week brought even more activities, starting with a potluck dinner aboard Pipe. Barbara from Pa’La O’La, Jeanette from Sea Lion, Alexis, Ryan, and Luma from Ventana, and Pam and Steve from Zephia were all heading back to the States for visits, so this was our last chance to get everyone together before the mass exodus. We managed to fit twelve on the boat for a spaghetti dinner, complete with all the trimmings. We had a great night and hope the others all have a fantastic time on their travels. We know water aerobics won’t be the same without little Luma’s smiling face!

We had a double-header of events on Thursday and Friday, with a fund-raiser at JR’s and a full moon party at Marina Tropical. Jerry at JR’s has been spear-heading efforts to raise money to rebuild Luperon’s sagging dinghy dock, and he organized a poker-run pub-crawl on Thursday that took about 20 of us from the Upper Deck to Capt. Steve’s Place, to Wendy’s Bar, then next door to El Pechichi’s, and finally to JR’s to end the night. Troy was the big winner with a full house, and Rene got second place with a three of a kind. We had a blast and enjoyed getting to spend more time with Jerry and the other cruisers.

Friday, the Marina Tropical hosted a masquerade-themed full moon party, complete with free hot dogs and a massive bonfire. Gary (Pa’La O’La) showed off his creative side, teaching us all how to make our own goat masks out of construction paper and hot glue guns. We spent the afternoon at Steve’s Place on Thursday attracting the attention of every child within a half-mile radius as we put the masks together, and were constantly repeating “caliente, caliente” to the kids who wanted to use the glue gun. The “chivos locos” made their grand appearance at the full moon party on Friday night (the only problem – we forgot to bring straws so we could drink through the masks!), and we happily donated the masks to the local kids after we were done. We had a terrific time making them, and can only hope they have as much fun playing with them.

The past month has also been a time for things to break. (Yep, we know – such is life on a boat.) First, our generator overheated and wouldn’t run. Rene finally figured out that the coolant had gunked up at the bottom of the fill tank and was failing to get to the gen. It’s a good thing we have pipe cleaners on board! He fixed that, but thought we might still have a minor leak somewhere in the system. (As long as we keep a close eye on the coolant levels, we should be okay.) Next, we had a wire short out behind our generator control panel; apparently it wasn’t connected well, and smoldered to the point that it blackened and died. Thanks to the short, the generator selector switch is now stuck in the “on” position (again, it’s a lot better than the alternative). What’s that about things coming in threes? One morning we got up to start the gen, and got nothing but a clicking sound when we pressed the start button. Rene read the surprisingly helpful Westerbeke operator’s manual, and determined that it could be the starter battery (best case, since we could likely get one here), or it could be the alternator or the starter itself (worst case – either would’ve required a shipment from the US). We borrowed Pa’La O’La’s 12-foot-long jumper cables and connected the gen’s starter battery to the boat’s house batteries just like we’d do for a car; fortunately, the gen started right up. Thanks to a new starter battery purchased at Puerto Blanco Marina, we were back in business. We got lucky with a boat repair for a change!

We also had a major electronics loss, thanks to Rene’s slippery shoes. After our great introduction to Puerto Plata, we managed to get all of our purchases from the dinghy to the boat without incident. The only things left to move were Rene and his backpack. Did either of us think of putting the backpack aboard before he stepped out of the dinghy? Of course not. Whether it was wearing tennis shoes for the first time in months, or just hitting a slippery spot on the stern, Rene’s foot slipped and he fell into the drink…still wearing the backpack, which contained our good camera, our small everyday camera, and our 9-day-old Dominican cell phone. Damn, damn, damn! On the bright side, Rene was fine (other than needing a shower to wash off the lovely Luperon water). The cameras and cell phone, on the other hand, were toast. After trying the usual tricks (shaking the water out, submerging everything in rice, using a hair-dryer, etc.), Rene declared everything “DOA” and logged onto Ebay to see how expensive his swim would turn out to be. (Let’s not go there…) The real kicker? The local cell phone company wouldn’t let us buy another phone without a Luperon resident…even though it was a replacement phone for the one we’d just bought. (You’ve GOT to be kidding.) Fortunately we’d been here long enough to become friends with a few more locals; Abel, a terrific guy who runs a local market, agreed to accompany Rene to Claro to get a new phone. It took a few days, but we were finally back in business.

We’ve got a busy week planned, with a group lunch back at Olivo’s, a trip up to the mountains, and some fund-raisers to benefit our sagging dinghy dock. More on those things later… Til next time!

Please enjoy more pictures here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Impressions of Luperon, Dominican Republic

Saturday, May 28 – Sunday, May 29, 2011

We can’t believe it – we’re really here! We had an easy overnight trip from South Caicos, and arrived at the entrance to Luperon Harbor shortly after sunrise. Our only hiccup was a tricky entry into the harbor thanks to a faulty chart plotter chip. Our Navtech chips have been trusty companions for over two years, but the map of Luperon is a total mess. The land masses are a quarter-mile off of reality, meaning our GPS waypoints look like they’re forcing us over land instead of safely weaving us through the shallow spots. Harbor depths on the chart show 96-120 feet, when the truth is 15-20. (That makes quite a difference when you’re supposed to put out seven times the depth amount when dropping your anchor!) We managed to sound our way in following the waypoints and our cruising guide (trying our best to ignore anything on the chart plotter), and rafted up to Storyville until Papo and “Handy Andy” came by at 8am to assign us a mooring. What a great pair; Papo and Andy can rent you a mooring, bring you gas, diesel, or water (washing or drinking quality), get you a rental car, organize a waterfall tour, clean your boat bottom, or provide a dozen other services the visiting cruisers might need. We paid $250 up front for five months on a mooring ball – well worth it not to have to put our anchor in the quicksand-like mud that makes up the bottom of the anchorage. Papo even agreed to install a new mooring for us, one that was bigger than our initial one and closer to Storyville.

Next up was a trip into town to clear customs…or should we say customs, immigration, harbor entry, agriculture, and the Navy Commandante, followed by a trip back to the boat with two Navy “inspectors”. Each office meant new paperwork and more fees, and we were $93 poorer when we were through. Still, that’s a whole lot better than the Bahamas’ $300 cruising permit!

After taking the Navy boys back to shore, we joined Storyville at Captain Steve’s Bar and Restaurant in town. Steve and his wife, Annie, run the place that has become a cruiser staple in Luperon. They have a pool, shower, free wi-fi, grande cervesas (big beers) for under $2, and daily specials like bacon cheeseburger and fries, grouper fingers, fried chicken, Thai pork, chili, or spaghetti Bolognese, all for 100 pesos (about $3). We each had a great lunch and beer, all for $11 per couple. Supposedly you can eat further out of town for even less. No wonder so many cruisers come down here and end up staying! A couple can easily live here on $1000 a month. We’ve met two single-handers who do it for $500-550. We can’t wait to go to the vegetable market on Tuesday morning; the delivery trucks line everything up along the sidewalk and you can buy directly from them before the produce gets taken to the stores. Mangoes, papaya, pineapples, broccoli, peppers, and who knows what else for pennies. It’ll be hard not to go crazy!

Sunday we listened to the cruiser’s net to get the run-down on all of the available activities in Luperon: a Sunday morning cruiser swap-meet, watching the Indy 500 on the big screen at Wendy’s Bar, twice-a-week Spanish lessons, Monday-Wednesday-Friday yoga, twice-a-week movie nights at Wendy’s, Thursday lasagna night at the Upper Deck, Friday night dinner and karaoke dance party at the Puerto Blanca Marina… Plus cruisers will announce when they have extra space in a rental car or van going on a major shopping run to nearby Puerto Plata or Santiago. Even with all of the get-togethers, it doesn’t feel nearly as “adult day care” contrived as Georgetown. Maybe it’s because we plan on staying here for five months, or maybe it’s because there are so many other long-term cruiser “residents”; either way, there’s a real community feel to this place, and we think we’re going to love our stay here. People (both locals and cruisers) are so incredibly friendly, and everyone tells us that, with the exception of some minor theft (e.g. don’t leave things in your cockpit or dinghy if you don’t want them to disappear), Luperon is very safe. Somehow we just have to figure out how to say “no” to those humongous beers... Cheers!