Monday, February 29, 2016

Ahhhh Baharona

Off before Sunup!
Nobody came out from the Marina Guardia station at Isla Beata to check us in... so when the sun came up the next morning... we left.

The Dominican Republic doesn’t participate in Daylight Savings Time… so in order to listen to Chris Parker we have to wait until 7:30 am.  By that time it’s light enough to get going without running over any floating trap lines.  We were going on a two-day-old weather forecast and wondering how long our luck would hold. 

Looking back at our Anchorage at Isla Beata
We were somewhat nervous about rounding Cabo Beata.  We’ve learned that these large points or Capes can cause wind and wave to behave differently than they otherwise would... and usually not for the better.  From all that we could find, we expected at least a 10knot increase in wind, and the waves to be confused and bouncy, or maybe an increased current, as we leave the protective lee of the land.  Our strategy was to take advantage of the decrease in the prevailing winds that the land can bring beginning at sundown… which basically shuts down the winds almost entirely through mid-morning.

Sails up right away
Our luck held nicely as we raised sails and snuck away from the anchorage with the sun rising on the sleepy fishcamp.  The channel between the Island and the mainland was plenty deep for us and we saw no obstructions other than what was charted.  We set our sails and motored onward, needing the extra speed and directional assistance in order to reach Baharona before sundown. 

Our happiness-meter... If Jezabelle ain't happy, nobody is happy!

Waves not too bad!
Tacking out...
The going was a little rough as we left the protective lee of the Cape… but certainly not as rough as it could potentially be if we had big winds to contend with.  As it was, we saw maybe 18-20 knots of wind.  We had the main double reefed and were using our blade sail hanked onto the baby stay, so our sail configuration was just perfect for the conditions.  We were tacking out and running for shore, then out again…  We were holding a steady 6.8 knots with some huge swells.  Fortunately we were just off the waves enough to make the motion comfortable. 
Cabo Beata doesn't look so bad in the rear-view mirror...
They have wind power so they can't be too far behind the world!

I love valleys!
Seas grew calmer and winds died...

The last part of the day we lost the wind entirely
After our third tack, conditions improved considerably.  The wind began to clock and moderate for us… which took the swells and wind driven waves down with it.  We found it unnecessary to tack back out and could almost run directly at our mark.  Eventually the wind died completely leaving smooth seas with long undulating swells that rocked the boat… we dropped the sails and motored our course. 

Fishermen enjoying the large swells

Turning downwind as we neared the Baharona

Sun going down and fires on the island

Hope we don't have to fight this guy for the entrance channel...

Channel?  What channel...?
The sun was beginning her downward journey as we rounded the point of land that would take us into the protected harbour that would be our official Port of Entry to the Dominican Republic and our home for a couple of days.

We arrived in Baharona with enough sunlight left for us to get safely anchored and cleared in.  But not without first performing an extra anchoring drill…

THIS is our anchorage???
Upon arrival we expected to see a tranquil anchorage surrounded by mangroves.  What we found was a huge ship tied to the shore and one boat med-moored to the mangroves just beyond the ship’s bow…  Tired and anxious to beat the setting sun, we motored around checking depths and options. 

Jezabelle was curious about the new sights and smells.  Total change in scenery!

It would have been nice to just drop anchor in the middle of the basin with a soft breeze… far from possibly bug infested mangroves… but we didn’t want to be the only thing between that ship and the channel should they decide to leave during our stay. 

Bruce is in the mangroves tying our stern line.
Our only choice seemed to be to drop anchor next to the other sailboat… med-mooring style.  This means that the anchor is set then the boat backs toward the shore and ties the stern to whatever is there… in this case, mangroves.  We’ve never done this before and my plan has been to practice a rigorous avoidance policy…  So much for plans.  So we set the anchor to the light east wind (bow toward the mangroves), then splashed the dinghy.  Bruce would use the dinghy to take a line from our stern to the mangroves.  This began with pumping the seriously deflated dinghy and mounting the outboard… Then with me behind the wheel of Dos Libras… I maneuvered the boat around assisting Bruce in getting the stern turned completely around to the East.

The waiting officials.
We eventually got positioned and tied securely.  I snugged the anchor and turned toward our audience of officials at the Club Nautico… They were waving us over so Bruce dinghied over to bring them to the boat. 

They all rather abruptly hustled aboard and went right down into our main saloon and seated themselves and the first thing out of the head guy’s mouth was to say that we could not remain tied to the mangroves.  What??? After all that trouble???

Now keep in mind they spoke very little English and you know how my Spanish is… so there was much gesturing and waiving… But I got it.  We will move the boat as soon as we’re cleared in.  Si. 

All in all, our fears of corrupt officials were completely unrealized.  These men were very friendly, polite and as nice as could be.  They asked for $43 for the boat and $10 per person for our tourist cards.  This gets us 30 days in the country after which time we must request an extension for up to 90 days before another process is initiated.  We should be ready to leave the country well before the 90 days and can get our extensions at the Marina Zar-Par where we may stay for a month or so…

The Officials did ask if we had any beer…we did not.  They were disappointed but did not accept any other libations I offered.  Feeling badly… we offered to buy them all a cerveza which brought big smiles as we gave them a $20 bill.  They were more than happy with that and it was completely our choice to give it… we were not asked for it.

They took copies of our passports, our US Documentation and our crew list, stamped our passports and issued our Tourist Cards… then Bruce took them back to shore.  We were granted the four nights we requested and were instructed to anchor out in the center of the basin as the ship would not be moving before we left.  Awesome!  All we would need to do when ready to leave is to go ashore to the Marina Guardia post and request our Despacho…  One more thing to have anxiety over… For some reason I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. 

Pushing those thoughts out of my head, we quickly moved out of the mangrove and re-set the anchor with a lovely light breeze to keep us cool.  We settled into the cockpit to watch night fall and the lights of the town started to pop.  We’ve encountered no bugs thus far in the Dominican Republic so sitting on the aft deck with a libation is pure pleasure.  As I’ve said before, the feeling we get from a successful voyage and friendly welcome to a new country or port is second to very few… We were relieved, happy, excited, tired, and thankful to our lucky stars that our decision to come this way was paying off.

We watched the town light up the foot of the hills at the opposite end of the small bay.  We could see the headlights of vehicles snaking along the streets and we could hear the loud music all the way out here.  It was Friday night and the following day was a national holiday… Independence Day.  We wondered if the music was always this loud or if it was just for the weekend/holiday.  From our vantage point it was just about the perfect level to add to our celebratory mood. 

Morning Moon

White Birds flying through the calm anchorage

Oh Yeah... we're official!  Up goes my home made flag!

The next morning we went into town to check it out.  We dinghied over to the Marina Guardia post and found a solid wall of concrete with bollards widely spaced for mooring large ships.  This seemed to be the only place to dock so we motored on over.  A man was working the grounds and he confirmed that this was the place to dock.  He helped me climb up.  There was just a small ledge to put one foot on that would allow my other leg to reach level ground.  With his hand I was able to haul myself up… in a skirt. 

Our reading about the culture said that women should wear skirts and blouses with shoulders covered.  Men should wear trousers.  Not wanting to offend our hosts in any way, we complied.  Other than the climb from the dinghy, it was very pleasant wearing some of my dresses and skirts… if only I can do that wall without witnesses next time. 
Big climb with only that small ledge for a foothold!

We found el Commandante in his office.  He came walking slowly out to greet us wearing a blinding-white and crisp dress uniform.  That was all that seemed official about his demeanor as his smile was full of welcome and he could even speak English.  LOVE!!! 

We reviewed our instructions about our stay here and how to gain the all-important Despacho, which would enable us to move on to the next anchorage.  Our minds were full of horror stories in which they had to come the day of departure, which meant that an early exit was impossible.  Here, el Commandante asked us which day and at what time we wanted to leave, and since it was early, he said we could come back on the afternoon before... to get our papers…   Awesome!!!

We asked him where we could find the bank, the cellular company, the supermarket and diesel fuel… He directed us to a group of waiting locals just outside the gate.  He said that for about $5 we could get a guide to help us find everything we needed.  We really could have found everything on our own, but again I remembered stories of Despachos withheld because the cruiser “didn’t spend enough money” in the town… The Commandante could easily have pointed us in the right direction… but instead, he advised us to obtain the services of a guide.  Guide it is!

Fernando was very energetic and knew just exactly what things we would need… he’s done this before.  We followed his bouncing steps along the broken sidewalks and pitted streets to all of the places on our list.  His English was very good, which was a relief.  He translated for us with the clerk at the Claro office (cellular company) and he helped us order a nice lunch. 

El Banco
We got some money out of the ATM.  My math skills are dismal.  I took the highest amount offered by the ATM, which was $2,000 pesos.  Walking away we figured out how much that was with the exchange rate of about 45 pesos to $1 USD… that’s less than $45!!!  That won’t get us very far!!! 

We went by another ATM but I couldn’t get it to give me any money… thankfully the restaurant and the supermarket both took our credit card without an extra fee.  I would much rather use that than carry around a lot of cash anyway so I was happy.  We could get a little more cash out tomorrow.  All we really needed was enough to pay Fernando…
The Waterfront

Some not-so-nice buildings in town

Lovin' our wheeled cart!
After lunch we picked up a few things at the supermarket, including some local Brugal rum, very cheap, and returned to the dinghy.  Fernando wanted our laundry for his wife to wash and us to bring our diesel cans to be filled.  He wouldn’t tell us how much it would be until he saw the laundry… so we dashed back to the boat and got a duffle bag full of select items and took them back to the dock.

I waited in the dinghy for Bruce to make the deal and was not surprised to see him return WITH the laundry and a sour look on his face.  Our fears had been realized finally!  Fernando wanted 1,000 pesos for his service and 1,800 for the (two loads) laundry.  It was too much!  Way more than we wanted to pay for laundry we could do ourselves, and a lot more then the $5 estimate el Commandante had told us would be the charge for the escort.  Live and learn.

Honestly, we didn’t really want our laundry washed by someone else… and having Fernando show us around had been helpful, and we really do want to help the local economy a bit.  Now we knew where everything was and would venture out on our own in leisurely style in the morning.  Next time we will make more informed decisions about how to spend our money… 

Two new sailboats had arrived to our anchorage by the time we returned.  They were just finishing up clearing in and we spoke to them both.  They were traveling together towards Ile à Vache.  We arranged to have happy hour the next evening to share our information and then we collapsed on the boat, dead tired and feeling a little stupid and deflated...

Club Nautico.  I wonder if they have reciprocity...
It had been a long and exciting day and we were physically and mentally exhausted.  We had a lot of stuff to process and a lot of cheap rum to help that process along…  Watching the locals splash and play at the Club Nautico as the town lights twinkled on slowly helped to restore our attitude.

After weeks of rolly anchorages and rollicking seas, I can’t tell you how good it felt to be in such a calm anchorage.  I lay my head down at night and wake up in the morning without having been tossed or rolled and it feels heavenly.  We awoke with a new fresh and eager attitude and quickly went through our normal morning routine.

Soon we were ready to head for shore.  We took our trash bags to the park just outside the anchorage.  I waited with the dinghy while Bruce took two diesel cans up to the road in hopes of finding a filing station.  I flipped through my Spanish for Cruisers book trying to make conversation with an 11 year old boy that had helped us beach the dinghy.  That was fun.  Bruce gave him a dollar for his help.

No filing station found.  Not sure what to do at this point, we took our jugs back to the boat and then continued on to town.  This time I had privacy for my climb in a skirt.  There was nobody around.  Walking up to the Guardia Post gate there was no way of getting around a "confrontation" with Fernando.  He stormed over and asked us where the laundry was!  He said he had been waiting since 8 am and his wife wanted the laundry.

I calmly and apologetically explained that we must be having a misunderstanding but we believed that Bruce had told him we would not be leaving our laundry with him in his conversation last evening.  I explained to Fernando that his service had been very much appreciated and that his prices seemed completely fair for the services he offered... but due to our limited income, it was more than we could pay.  I was very respectful and in no way accusatory and in the end, Fernando seemed pacified.  He tried to lead us into town once again but we thanked him firmly and said we would be shopping on our own today.  Defeated... he left us in peace.
Not a lot of privacy at the ATMs

Using a guide has its advantages and we don't regret it at all.  But there is so much to explore here and we wanted to just wander around at our own pace without someone waiting on us.  Hoping to find some breakfast, but needing to visit the ATM again first... we took off up the street.

Some a more secluded part of town
Baharona is very different from the other tiny towns we've visited thus far.  The mid-sized city is vibrant and full of people zooming around on foot, as well as on the multitude of motoconchos.  These are small motorbikes that carry passengers around for a small fee.  

They are parked everywhere, lining many streets and congesting the corners.  Everywhere you look one of the drivers will meet your eye and offer a ride with a toss of his head.  We shake our heads no and move on.  (I didn't take pictures of the motoconchos since we weren't using their services)

Watching them is marvelous.  You might see a tiny two wheeler carrying four or five people of various sizes... or maybe the passenger is carrying a 50 gallon drum... My favorite are the women.  Their faces are a study of aloof indifference and many ride side-saddle, swaying imperviously to the perils of the road.  There are no discernible traffic rules and vehicles of all sizes are in constant motion.  Stepping into the road to cross to the other side is dicey.  Several times we thought the coast was clear only to be surprised by the sudden appearance of a fast-moving vehicle.  

With pesos in hand and still empty stomachs, we pressed on... Breakfast, now brunch... could wait! I wanted to get a SIM card for the iPad so that we could use Google Translate and maps to find our way around.  We found the Claro store we had visited the previous day and went inside.  

The attendant spoke no English but was very patient with me.  As near as I could understand, our UNLOCKED iPad and phone would not work... ???... So he sold us a small hot spot with a SIM card to use on the boat.  This turns out to be the best solution since our Rogue Wave wi-fi boosting antenna on the boat died just about the time we crossed the Gulf Stream... So we can use this little hot spot for all of our wi-fi needs...  Happy again and feeling very successful about transacting business in a foreign language... we treated ourselves to a nice... Pizza.  Yes, Pizza.  Saved us the trouble of navigating a Spanish MENU!!!  Pizza is the universal language!

With our to-go box full of leftovers we headed on to the grocery store around the corner.  There are actually two of them.  We decided to visit the one we had not been to and found it to be very different and maybe better than the one we went to the day before.  

Milk and Dom Rep Vanilla (which my brother says is not "real")
Finding groceries in a foreign land is a hoot.  We spent the entire afternoon wandering the aisles gawking at all of the strange stuff.  There was very little that was familiar... some recognizable names but the rest in Spanish...  We could find no fresh milk at all.  Not in any store.  The refrigerated compartments were full of white jugs... but they were yogurt.  Miles and miles of yogurt!  When we could find cold milk, it was still the little boxes of UHT milk.  We finally broke down and bought some.  I asked the lady stocking shelves which brand she used and I bought that.  It turned out pretty good, but whole instead of 2%, so I've been putting a little water in it to knock it down a bit.  

There are several things that I found that were pretty cool.  I'm adicted to Lit'l Smokies.  They are my favorite breakfast meat and I am down to my last package... but I found these "home-made" smokies! They are actually a little bigger than the real thing and maybe even better tasting... and cheap!  I bought two packages!

Another awesome thing is their eggs!  They are all fresh and unrefrigerated.  They even have remnants of chicken poop and straw still on the shells!  Bruce raves about the taste every morning!

And... fish.  We found these Grouper filets.  We had no idea what they were when we bought them... What's a filete de mero anyway?  We just hoped they weren't tilapia (which we have seen as a whole fish by the way). They looked kind of strange but we took them home and found that they were covered in a layer of ice about 1/4 inch thick.  And they were still nicely frozen after we lugged them several blocks and a dinghy ride in a hot bag...  If we're so smart... why isn't the US using this ingenious method for selling frozen fresh fish??? 

Like in many countries we've visited, the DR allows alcohol to be sold in grocery stores.  In fact, it's sold all over the place.  Many of the small shops along the streets have at least a small selection of liquor.  The local brand, Brugal is very cheap.  They sell rum and some other types of liquor.  The prices for imported brands are higher but reasonable... except for Baileys.  I had hoped to replenish my stock, especially since I'm having no luck finding creamer for my coffee... but the prices they want for Bailey's Irish Cream are far to rich for our budget...  So I'm really hoping that the last bit of creamer I found in the Bahamas will make it to Puerto Rico.

We bought about all we could carry, including some cigars for Bruce, and hauled our load back to the boat.  We spent the afternoon washing the laundry that we hadn't given to Fernando.  We really did need some clean clothes... so we cranked up the watermakers and washed clothes as fast as they could dry on the lifelines.

Our neighbors invited us to their boat for happy hour.  They were headed for Ile à Vache and wanted to know about our experience there.  They were coming from Marina ZarPar... where WE were headed.  Unfortunately they had a bad experience with the officials there which increased my anxiety...  We said goodbye to them as they would be gone by morning...

 Our last day in Baharona began with renewed energy.  One thing to never forget about Cruising and in any other life... things look better in the morning.  I had nightmares and slept badly because of my worry about getting our despacho.  The other Cruiser's stories about the marina we were going to didn't help any...  But with the dawn, hope was restored.  

We decided that we needed to make one more attempt to get some diesel... and if it meant that we would pay Fernando to arrange it, so. be. it.  We headed for shore with two diesel jerry cans and a pocket full of pesos.

Thankfully Fernando was not present at the Guardia gates this morning.  One of the Officials was there and waived one of the motoconcho drivers over to us...  Bruce had a look on his face that was priceless as I made a deal with the driver to take Bruce to the filing station.  With a little whimper, Bruce mounted the back seat holding two diesel jerry jugs and was whisked away.  I hoped that I would see him again... 
Not a lot of dogs in the DR

I sat with the men and tried to make conversation, but they knew no English so finally I gave up and watched the motoconcho traffic go by.  Suddenly the men were telling me to get my camera!  Bruce was back.  He was holding one jug and the other was in front of the driver.  Bruce was grinning from ear to ear as they zoomed past me too fast for my camera to get ready.  I took off behind them as they made way to the dinghy dock.  Bruce was all excited and said it was FUN!  I was glad to have made this happen for him.  The driver asked for twice what I know we had agreed upon for round trip fare... but we handed over the money and marked it as yet another learning experience.  
Really shabby local food shops...

We took the fuel back to the boat and returned to town for another exploratory afternoon and final visit to the grocery store before departure the next day.  We trekked through new streets and came to a locals market that, although the smells were good... we doubted the cleanliness of the stalls preparing food, so we passed.  We passed one street that was lined with ladies sitting on the sidewalks behind huge piles of second-hand clothing.  Is it Garage Sale day in Baharona???  I felt too uncomfortable to walk through this street thinking that my presence might embarrass the women and I certainly didn't feel comfortable taking pictures...  So on we went to the grocery store. 
Local clothing shops...

After picking out another load of supplies, we swung back by the Marina Guardia and obtained our Despacho.  This time we spoke to a lesser Officer but did get a glimpse of el Commandante in his undershirt... I'm sure he didn't expect to be seen that way so we averted our eyes...  They were very nice and never asked for a dime, much to our relief.  We happily returned to the boat with Despacho in hand and prepared the boat to get under way in the morning.  

A really nice park in town

The waterfront street where the action is at night.

Baharona was very different from the previous small towns we visited.  It was a little scary.  In retrospect, I guess our wide-eyed innocence must have made us look like dupes to the wiley hucksters that hang around the streets looking for work.  This is a whole new experience for us and we're feeling a little out-of-our-league.  Our days are filled with highs and lows but all in all, we are absorbing these new experiences perhaps relying a little too heavily on the fact that God takes pity on drunks and fools...  

But we were excited to be moving on the next morning before the sun came up... We followed our tracks out of the harbor and looked forward to whatever comes next in this new country.   

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