Dominican Republic and Haiti
After our arrival at the lovely Isla Saona at midnight in torrential rain we had a glorious sail the following morning to the marina at Casa de Campo where we cleared in to the Dominican Republic. The marina was very modern and located in a massive holiday park stretching for miles, not really what we hoped to see, preferring unspoilt anchorages. While there we hired a car and drove to Boca de Yuma for lunch and watched a graceful display of pelicans diving for fish off the cliffs 30 ft in front of us.
From there it was on to Higuey, a large town which really tested driving skills dodging scooters, bikes, hand carts, donkeys, trucks, large drainage ditches etc and then on to Punta Cana another beach resort where we were refused entry to any part of the beach as we weren’t resident, a very strange reception.
After Casa de Campo we sailed along the Dominican coast to an anchorage at La Caleta near the main airport where we were moved on by the Navy. (The navy didn’t like us anchoring, there are very few cruising boats and they like to keep us under observation.)
So we had to sail back to Boca Chica a party town for the local population and memorable for its deafeningly loud music at the weekend, blaring from boats with very large sound systems. It was from here the next day that we took a local bus into Santo Domingo, the capital of DR and toured the Colonial Quarter on a horse and buggy seeing some great architecture dating back to the 14th Century.
Santo Domingo, the capital of The Dominican Republic
Monument to Columbus
We then took a taxi to the grandiose monument which supposedly houses the bones of Christopher Columbus, erected at a cost of $200 million but it was closed. We chatted to the police guards and one young guy volunteered to go in and take photos on our cameras. When he returned his boss agreed we could go in and we were given a guided tour by the young policeman who also acted as photographer – a memorable kindness.
It didn’t stop there – on hearing that we were going to walk back to the main bus route, he said it would be too dangerous and we were driven in a police car to the bus stop. These guys couldn’t have been more helpful! We returned to Boca Chica by local transport, squeezed into a bus built for 20 people which had closer to 40 on it and more hanging on the outside chatting to the passengers on the inside.
The following day we sailed for Punta Palenque, another anchorage where we were boarded by the narcotics squad, four beers later we were allowed to stay and spent a quiet night inside the reef.
We were now pushing on to meet my sisters in Cuba so we sailed again the next day for Las Salinas, a sea salt recovery town situated beside a large lagoon which we thought would be well protected.
As it happened, the wind got up as we approached and we were subject to a nasty chop and strong gusts. The anchor dragged and then held for the night but when we came to leave in the morning Gill discovered the reason, we had picked up a load of old mooring lines and chain which we eventually managed to clear at the cost of our gaff hook.
Next day we had a great sail to Barahona where we would clear out from the DR. When the officials checked our passports it was evident that the officials in Casa de Campo had forgotten to stamp my passport so a fine was levied on top of the extortionate process charges. We hired a car through the same immigration officer who also seconded as our driver up to a large salt water lake 40 m below sea level populated by tame iguanas and not so tame crocodiles.
Lots of dead trees killed by the rising salt water but not a Croc in sight – MMMM no swimming today though!
Tame Iguanas waiting to be fed – we could run faster than them – just!
This same Jekyl and Hyde Immigration officer who had acted as our driver then tried to extract more money from us for clearance out of the country (which we had already paid) until Gill pointed out an anticorruption poster on the wall. This grasping attitude by officials and this one in particular left a bad taste and spoiled an otherwise interesting visit to the DR.
On route to Cuba we decided to visit the Isle a Vache lying 5 miles off of mainland Haiti. The anchorage there was not marked on any charts and we had to guess its location, picking our way through endless reefs and shallows and avoiding the dozens of fishing buoys (usually small glass bottles). It proved to be a beautiful bay with a small sandy village and a rather nice hotel.
The Main Street in this village
Fishermen mending nets and a modern hotel beyond
And bringing in the catch
Waiting for the bank to open!
Gill on one of the islands unspoilt and near deserted beaches
Luckily we met a delightful French couple Ginnou and Jean Luiq who gave us a run down on the island, the people, politics and customs, after 15 years of visiting and staying on the island they were setting up a part-time home here and building a very small house above the bay in a friends back garden – no water (carried from the well over a mile away), no electricity, no gas (no bills!), no windows, only bamboo shutters to keep out wind and rain, no drainage and cooking on an open wood fire. This was very basic living but they were quite at home with the prospect and Jean Luiq was making his own furniture with a basic tool set.
Ginnou ans Jean Luiq’s house designed by them and made from home made breeze block and corrugated iron.
They introduced us to Jean-Jean who became our local guide. He and his wife had just opened a local restaurant which was still under construction where we enjoyed a delicious conch lambi meal.
Jean-Jean Rosemarie and their delightful children in the restaurant.
We found out from them that a small war was running between the villagers and the government who wanted to throw them out of their homes without any form of compensation, to build more hotels, an airport and roads of which there are currently none. If the plans go ahead, it is likely to totally ruin this island paradise and dramatically change for ever the lives of a couple of thousand islanders.
After a few very pleasant days relaxing we decided to go to the town of Les Cayes 5 miles away on the mainland by “ferry” with Jean Jean as guide to top up supplies. The ferry was little more than a large rowing boat with an outboard and carried 20 very noisy villagers and us.
Getting ready for a rough ride
On arrival after an hour long crossing the disembarkation process was like nothing we had experienced before. First, we offloaded into an even smaller boat, timing the leap between waves and then we were carried ashore on the backs of porters to what could only be described as a rubbish tip with a pig routing around and a lot of folk shouting and rushing around.
The ferry ashore
Greeted at Les Cayes by a pig!
The busy market in Les Cayes
Gill and I were now illegal immigrants in mainland Haiti having decided not to clear in to save trouble later on when entering Cuba. We toured the town and its market buying what we needed and managing to get our gas canisters filled by a guy in a shed who would definitely not meet Elf and safety regulations in Europe. Despite the very run down and dirty appearance of the town, the locals looked well fed and well dressed in what is perhaps the poorest country in the western world. After walking miles shopping we ended up in a one roomed restaurant which was the front room of someone’s house where the cooking was done in the street over an open fire and the toilet was a trench running under the rusty galvanised fencing at the rear. Reversing the boarding process we took the ferry for the return trip and set off into the teeth of a strong breeze. The sail was then spread over our heads to keep the waves off and we sat there, doubled over, with a very silent bunch of passengers under this tarpaulin for the hour long journey back to the island. An incredible day and an experience we were both very glad to have had!
A few days later we were sorry to leave this, for us, idyllic spot to sail on to Cuba and to meet up with my sisters in Santiago who were joining us for a 10 day holiday on the boat. This last leg was a major challenge for us to meet the deadline of the 6th February from several thousand miles back. The sail between the two countries was around 180 miles and we experienced a large uncomfortable swell which denied us sleep that night. Dawn broke to the sight of Cuba and we sailed gracefully into the lovely harbour of Santiago to tie up in the Punta Gordo marina where we were given a friendly and helpful welcome by the officials which this time included a doctor with a liking for beer and a vet who investigated our provisions – fortunately there was no tinned meat from Brazil amongst our stores! We read in the Cuban Cruising guide that no fresh fruit or vegetables or eggs were permitted for import to Cuba so Gill was furiously squeezing all the juice from our fruit in order to salvage some value as we sailed into the marina after having carefully hidden two dozen eggs around the boat. As it turned out they weren’t in the least bit interested in either fruit or eggs and Gills efforts were completely wasted but we enjoyed the juice.
The next part of the blog will cover our sailing and our onshore adventures around Cuba where unfortunately internet is difficult to come by and when you do find it of limited supply and very slow. Apologies for the long delay but there was little we could do to remedy this given the lack of communication in Cuba.