Friday, July 8, 2011

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.

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