Saturday, March 5, 2016

Press 1 For English…

1       1…. 1111111111

Dramatic view of Baharona the morning we left
I am so thankful for the fact that we travel with our home.  We have our safe little shell into which we can crawl when this being-in-a-foreign-country thing gets a little bit too overwhelming.  I had no idea how exhausting trying to speak and understand EVERYTHING in Spanish can be when you don’t know the language…

Growing up in South Texas, I had ample opportunity to learn Spanish.  My daughter does a passable job at understanding it.  My brother seems to speak it well enough… I’ve had co-workers galore who spoke Spanish around me daily… and yet I seem to have some sort of mental block against it.  How many times will I have to flip frantically through my Spanish forCruisers book for the SAME simple phrases? Things I will need over and over again while we’re here… and when we get to Puerto Rico as well. 

Out into the big water again leaving Baharona, DR
The words swirl around in my head at night when I’m not sleeping.  I keep waiting for them to all fall into place and begin to make sense in some real fashion… but they elude me time and again.  Why am I such an idiot???  Yo soy mas estupido!!!  Or whatever!!!

Say you’re on hold with some business or other… you’ve dialed the number and listened to the recording that says “Por Espaniol el primero el numero uno”…. And in your mind (or even out loud) you think I’m in the United States!!! Why would I want to hear it in Espanol???  If those foreigners want to come to this country they need to learn the language!!! 

White Cliffs on Punta Martin Garcia, DR
C’mon… admit it.  We’ve all thought it at one time or another.  But from this day forward I swear I will never EVER think or say anything like that again…  I would give a kidney for a button to push right now to make everything come out in English so that I could communicate effectively with these people. 

But you’ve got your iPad, right?  Yes… I have the iPad.  And it has a local SIM card in it.  And I can simply type in what I want to say to Google Translate and push a button… and there it is.  The obvious problem with that is that I can’t translate what they are saying to ME with Google… But the second thing, and perhaps more importantly is what happened to us in Baharona. 

Our destination:  Palmar de Ocoa
We had the iPad and were returning to the Supermarket on our third day.  We were in a hurry and wanted to just go right to it so I stopped off in the shade of a building and pulled out the iPad to take a look at the streets.  There were two young ladies in the window of an apartment right above me and they were freaking out for some reason. 

They were talking to me in rapid Spanish and waving a cell phone and pointing to the iPad.  I told them I didn’t understand.  They waved me over and I said no.  They chattered to themselves and then waved at us again.  One of them started to mime.  She held one hand with her thumb and forefinger extended in the shape of a gun… and with it she shot herself in the back of the head, then she rolled her eyes up and feigned dying… then her friend waved her cell phone and pointed insistently at the iPad. 

The Guardia Post:  Too deep to anchor
From that I deduced that they thought someone would shoot me to get my iPad.  Realization dawned on my face and I quickly tucked the iPad back into our bag and looked up to the girls for approval.  Their faces showed massive relief and they smiled and nodded Si Si Si…  Holy shit!!!

So… it’s back to writing down the phrases I think I will need and carrying around my book…  well crap!  Now don’t get me wrong… that was the only time we felt like we could be in over our heads in Baharona… things went relatively fine otherwise if you don’t count being fleeced in the “con” column…

Looking for a spot to drop the hook very close to the shoreline
But really you just never know.  It is a big city so I guess there are some shady characters lurking around.  Luckily we were leaving the next day for the tiny little town of Palmar de Ocoa.  It would be a relief to get away from the hustle and bustle and get back into the slow lane again.

The slow lane...

So fast-forward through a relatively painless day on the water and just in time for sundowners we found ourselves anchored right off the palm-lined beach of this out-of-the-way little fishing village.  Now this is more like it!  We have no idea what to expect ashore, but for now, we’re safe and happy in the glow of another successful voyage accentuated by the setting sun. 


Anchored right in front of a little hotel

Sun setting behind the mountains back where we were this morning

Its nice to see pelicans again.

We relaxed and noticed the fishermen pushing their boats off the beach.  They laid out long floating nets up as we watched curiously.  The music from the shore mixed with laughter and squeals of delight from little children.  We felt completely safe here.  And laughter needs no translation, as it is the universal language.

This is the stuff you can’t get in the more “touristy towns”.  There are no ceremonial costumes or dancing… no long buffets of “typical” food…  It’s just us lying off the beach watching the locals do what they do…  This… is the good stuff.

We slept in peace and in the morning watched the fishermen going back out to haul the big nets onto the beach, trapping their catch against the shoreline.  Crowds waited to see what they brought in and many left with bags of fish.  We marveled at this simple way of life. 

Fishing boats lined the beach

Since no one from the Marina Guardia had come out to visit us, we took our Despacho and papers in the morning and dinghied ashore to go and check in with them before taking a stroll around the town.  The men there spoke no English but I had my book and told them where we had come from and when we wanted to leave, and to where.  They understood and asked us what time we wanted to leave on Thursday morning.  I told them 7:30 am.  They nodded and told me to come in the morning and they would have our Despacho to Salinas ready. 

The sand is black on this beach

The town dock
We moved our dinghy over to the public dock with the palapa and explored the little town.  There were several restaurant/bars and a few little stores along the main street.  Here are some random pictures of the town.

Fishermen repairing their nets
Another pretty hotel.  We planned to eat there but they weren't open as far as we could tell

A new net?

B&B Rental?  Not sure I would be happy when I arrived...
Where IS everybody???
The town was really clean

New construction or just never going to finish... hanging the laundry up top!

Even here...
See the little kid on the right?  Mom was doing early wash while the town slept

Some kind of flower I've never seen before
A clean neat home using a pallet as a gate
One of the nicer homes in "town"
Bananas and Mangos growing in town
And the not-so-nice... but still clean
Trash day!  What a cute little garbage truck!

Still looking for the action...
Grocery shopping Island Style
We stopped at a little vegetable vendor and picked out some things.  He was super nice and took pity upon us poor imbeciles.  He even tried to help me learn the names of the items I picked out and to learn the names in English for himself.  We got a huge carrot, some garlic, a sweet potato (or so we thought… turns out it was something entirely different) three onions and three tomatoes for 120 pesos.  Score!

"Up Town"
Another man stopped in the street as he was riding his moped along and spoke to us in blessed English.  He had lived in the US for many years and he and his family owned several of the stores along this street.  We chatted.  It felt so good!

Moving on we entered the hardware store to see what kinds of things they had.  Everything was behind the counter where if you wanted something, you had to ask... in Spanish… Eager to sell us something, they sent a runner for a guy who spoke English. 

Pass the school and it's at the end of the road... you can't miss it!
We explained that we really didn’t need anything and asked a few questions about the town.  Overall he said that it was a very safe little place, a few oddballs yes, but mostly safe.  We asked for his advice for a place to get some lunch and he directed us down one block and to the end of the street… Marias.  He said to tell her Felix from Diesel (the name of the bar) sent us and she may give us a discount…

We walked past the school were the children were spilling out of doorways in neat but energetic lines, all dressed in their uniforms.

Marias restaurant... the pointy roof only, not the part to the left.
We easily found the tiny hole in the wall restaurant and of course, Maria spoke no English.  We stumbled around with trying to tell her Felix sent us, she smirked. 

See the menu on the wall?
We told her we wanted to have lunch and she waved at the menu on the wall outside the order window.  We both stared it the words on the board intently trying not to look like we had no idea what any of it said…  But wait!  A few words were kind of familiar… pollo guisada.  That sounds like something we eat!!  We’ll have that!  Oh, and whatever that next thing is – Carne Molida.  I think carne is meat… of some kind… gulp.  What have I done???  Oh well, whatever comes, we will eat it. 

Typical Dominican Lunch
We ordered agua purificado and the lady pointed to a bottled water jug sitting on the floor.  Bien.  She poured a pitcher and handed us two glasses.  No ice.  Friends had warned us that drinking beverages with ice in them could lead to woe… but we’ve had ice at several places and no woe has befallen us… thus far.  Hopefully we can get through this meal and still make that claim!

A nice looking young woman who had been holding a baby earlier began to set our table.  Maria asked me a question.  No comprende.  She called me over and had a spoon and two small bowls of what looked like bean soup, one a reddish color and the other more brown.  I understood she was giving me a taste to see which one we wanted… They were both good and I told her we would take both.  She seemed to understand and served up two bowls. 

Out came a big pile of white rice and two bowls with our meat choices and a salad made from cabbage, carrots and pears.  A bowl of home made oil dressing for the salad completed our meal and we dug right in.  Everything was really good and we were starved! 

Our Haitian friend... kind of shy...
Very soon the restaurant got busy.  The few tables were filling up with boisterous workmen and I saw that there weren’t enough chairs.  I offered an empty chair at our table to one man who came in alone.  He took it and ordered. 

Of course he spoke no English so I got out my phrase book. It was very slow and lots of hand waving and gestures were involved but we had a conversation of sorts.  He was actually Haitian and had been in the Dominican Republic for 30 years.  He was very handsome. (Don’t tell Bruce I said that)

I highly recommend Marias if you're ever in the neighborhood
We finished our meal and got through asking for the check and paying for the meal.  Then we sort of chatted a bit more with Maria and the Haitian man, they seemed to have decided that we were OK.  We complemented the meal and left with a good feeling about our achievements.  We had procured nourishment and made friends...

Still clean...
Walking through the streets and seeing the poor homes along the way, I wondered what these people could possibly think of us.  I don’t think there is anything we could say that wouldn’t sound like condescending, spoiled rich Americans trying to pretend to blend in while slummin’ with the locals… It’s just impossible to imagine what they must be thinking of us.  What’s even worse are the things going through my own mind as I see all of this… 

Got Satellite!!!
How can they live like this?  How can they be happy?  What do they do all day?  How do they get money?  These people live in these tiny towns like they are lost in time, while right now the larger cities are worlds apart even though separated by only a few miles.

Boats were rolled down these tracks from garages to the water.

We took a little spin in the dinghy along the shore to see the homes of "wealthy Dominicans from Santo Domingo".  I have to say that they were less magnificent than I expected... but much nicer than the townsfolk's homes...

We retired back to our safe shell and spent the rest of the day relaxing and watching the people come and go ashore.   

We could hear music and laughter and we could see the long scoop of net being pulled in by many men on the shore.

Boats were rolled into the water using two poles and fishermen, either one or two per boat, would row out to check the fish traps.

From our private front row seat we watched it all... ending in another gorgeous sunset.  We were the only sailboat around.
Fisherman heading out to check his traps
Community fishing pulling in the nets
There was no need to move on with the weather reports we were getting so the following day was spent doing piddly boat projects like scrubbing the boat bottom and checking zincs.

We swam and floated and just enjoyed the lay day without the need to bend our brains to communicating in Spanish.  At this point it was almost a deterrent to going ashore.  We were tired.  We had small victories but it still seemed monumental in my mind...  Just drowsing the day away was the path of least resistance.

We enjoyed the day while I mentally prepared for our early morning departure.  

Huge Frigate Birds circled and dove.  It was awesome to watch them!

Gorgeous morning
A pattern of sleepless nights is beginning to emerge... Our movements are restricted here in the DR. So far we've been lucky and the officials have been very nice.  We haven't been asked for money or gifts, but with each move, I spend the night before tossing and turning with scenarios swirling around in my brain...

Pre-dawn net check...
When we arrived in Palmar de Ocoa, we told the officials that we would like to leave at 7 a.m. in hopes that they would give us our Despacho the evening before... They did not.  We were instructed to come and get our papers in the morning but there was no mention of a cost.

We would only be going about five miles but wanted to take advantage of the light conditions while the Tradewinds were shutdown in the early morning hours. And so, we were up before dawn and taking a dinghy ride back to the Guardia Post in the still morning.

Going to work early!  
Our plan worked and we had quite a pleasant time motoring along the shoreline past the River Ocoa where fishermen plied their trade in the sparkling early morning light.  The beauty of the landscape here is simply stunning.  The misty valleys and smoke from many fires makes for dramatic views. 

Ocoa River Basin
Peaceful trip

Fish Farms

Fish Farm Worker...

Rounding the point we could see the anchorage
Very soon we found the markers leading us into the bay where we would spend the next three nights.  
Guardia Post on the point
Cool boat in the anchorage.  
Rvs and Tents on the peninsula
On our way into the anchorage we could see what looked like an RV park.  There were bunches of big white RVs and lots of activity.  There were also white tents set up and we wondered if it was some sort of Holiday or festival.

Salt mining operation
We could also see that there was a small salt mining operation going on. The chart showed vast salt pans on the peninsula and we could see a huge pile of salt near some buildings and what looked like maybe a loading facility.

From the looks of it, there was a lot going on her and if it’s anything like Palmar de Ocoa we will be happy!

It wasn’t.

The hotel and marina in Salinas
Things started out very well.  We found a spot to anchor and had some breakfast.  When we came out to get the dinghy ready to go ashore, some men on a luxury yacht were yelling and gesturing to us.  We dinghied over and they told us the Guardia were waiting for us.

We parked the dinghy alongside a helipad (???) and went to a table beneath a palapa on the marina dock.  No English…  Once again I pulled out my written notes… I should know this shit by now…  I told them where we came from, how long we wanted to stay and where we were going from here. 

This time I got smart… I told them we wanted to leave at 6:30 am on Sunday.  Well, we had 11 hours to go to our destination and we really did need to get going at daylight.  As I had hoped, they told us to meet them back at this spot on Saturday at 5 pm for our Despacho.

Due to the filming of a movie starring Vin Diesel on the peninsula... we didn't even have to go to the Guardia Post to get our papers!  They would bring them to us!  AWESOME!!!  At this point there was again no mention of a cost.  We began to think that all of the rumors we had heard about corrupt officials were unfounded... but with so many more stops in our future we didn't want to become too complacent just yet...

Feeling pretty good about life... we continued on up the steps to the Hotel Salinas where we felt like we had died and gone to heaven.  The scene was pure tropical bliss with palm trees, the beautiful mountains and the bay and a pool.  The tropical décor was something out of a movie.  We asked for Jorge, the owner and he came over and chatted briefly with us in English before lining out his staff to get our drinks and lunch on their way.

Internet!!!  I know... are these the only clothes I have???
We had delicious burger and chicken sandwich with fries.  Bruce had beer and I had not one, but two rum punches.  And Internet!  They entered the wi-fi password into our computers and we sat there munching and drinking and catching up on emails and uploading pictures and downloading kindle books. 

Small homes down one level from the road
Finally done, we left the hotel and walked along the streets of the town.  It was more prosperous than Palmar del Ocoa.  There were people around everywhere; the bars and restaurants were open.  People zoomed by on mopeds, bikes and vehicles of all types.  The street seems to be on a ridge with homes built below the level of the street.  There are slopes cemented over and stairways or driveways leading to the homes on one side.  The other side of the street had the same cemented slopes, only going up.  It was strange. 

There were really nice homes and really not-so-nice homes all rubbing elbows.  There was some trash in the town but it was mostly very clean if somewhat willy-nilly. 

Thousands of green bottles...

The other side of the street sloped upward

Warren's house has a raised walkway.

Lots of bars on the windows
A local business

We walked out onto the peninsula.  The Guardia post was out on the end and as well as what looked like a restaurant.  We had also seen a bunch of white tents and RVs parked in bunches and wondered what they were doing there… As we came to a road-block we found out.  A guard greeted us and told us (no English) that there was a movie being filmed with Vin Diesel.  And no… we could not go and check it out.  We considered going back out there in the dinghy and trying to make a run for it but decided against it because they probably wouldn’t let me take my Spanish phrase book with me to jail…

Salinas Hotel
Retracing our steps back toward the hotel, we stopped into a tiny store.  It turned out to be a grocery store of sorts, again with all of the items for sale behind the counter.  We saw some breads and what looked like a home-made candy.  We bought two.  I can’t remember what he said they were called but they were shaped like a fig newton with no center, just all white.  They tasted kind of like cookie dough.  Very yummy and only 10 pesos each.

Returning to our shell, we basked in the familiarity of it.  We were both feeling somewhat overwhelmed.  There wasn’t much to do here in this town.  There’s a salt mining production plant out on the peninsula but if we can’t get to it, it doesn’t hold much entertainment value.  We had seen buses going by but there wasn’t anyone who seemed inclined to help us poor stupid Gringos out by volunteering any information…  We felt suddenly very isolated. 

But you know what?  We can just stay in our boat and recuperate for a day.  We can just rest our tired brains in a place where only English is spoken.  No hostile natives can infringe upon our lair out here in the water.  And that’s what we did.  We spent the entire next day making water, cleaning house and doing laundry. 

Big yacht about to crunch the boat behind us
The next morning w had an anchor drill first thing...  There’s nothing like the sound of an anchor chain coming up in your back window to get the juices flowing.  We were anchored off in front of a big luxury yacht and they were leaving.  Only one of their chains was fouled with that of the small catamaran on our stern. 

This guy went into the water to unhook the anchor
We got dressed quickly and prepared to move our boat to give them more room to maneuver but by the time we got going, they were just getting it resolved.  But not before a guy jumped into the water to dive down and free the anchor.  I can’t believe they didn’t crush that catamaran. 

We used this opportunity to anchor further back from the wind on the other side of the marina where there was a bit more protection.  We were happy to see that another cruiser had come into the anchorage…  but alas, they only spoke French.  That’s no help!  I was unreasonably disappointed about it.  I NEED other English speaking people to converse with… and pronto, or I fear I will lose my mind!!!

The day on our own did us both some good and we were ready to go out and try the town again.  I wanted to eat out and it looked like the movie set was breaking up so we could walk over to the salt mine. 

In the late morning we heard someone hailing us from outside the boat.  ENGLISH!!!  I scrambled up topside and found a dude treading water.  Within the first three minutes of conversation we learned that he had been a merchant ship Captain but there had been a little run-in with a woman whose hand he had kissed… and she filed charges against him to get six months disability for mental anguish so that she didn’t have to work… then there was the story about breaking a plate after which they took his Captain’s license away for being “a habitual plate breaker and hand kisser”… That’s a quote.  He then went on to tell us that Palmar del Ocoa was a dangerous place in which he had been stabbed four times at 4:30 in the morning on a beach dead drunk…  hmmm…  Thanks Joe!  We’ll take that under advisement.  BUT… he says that Salinas is completely safe!

He also told us that the fishermen had brought in some Tuna yesterday and we perked right up.  We had seen what the Pescaderia was offering yesterday and it looked like bait fish… But for tuna, maybe we could go into town early and ask around.

He swam off and we got ready to go ashore.  We packed up our trash, hoping to find someplace to leave it.  One of the wait-staff met us on the dock and agreed to take our trash for nothing… then he thought better of it and asked for $10… We agreed to $5. 

With that success we continued on to find fish.  Armed with my words: Donde esta el pescaderia?  And Tienes el atun?  We got to the right places but there was no atun… and we had no idea what else they were saying. 

We continued on and bought some cakes and some more of those dulce things we got the other day…   70 pesos for all.  Then we walked down to the salt plant. There were people there but we didn’t want to go to the trouble to look up what we might say to them, so we just walked around taking pictures.  A tour would have been awesome.  It looked like they were using tools from the dark ages.

The salt pile we could walk right up to answered our about the huge white piles we had seen back on Great Inagua… What happens when the piles get rained on?  Well they form an outer hard crust kind of like ice, only not cold.  It was just the coolest thing.  Guys were out there shoveling the salt onto a rusty old vehicle of some sort that moved on a rail.  Totally neat even if we didn’t get to learn anything about it…  At least they didn’t run us off.
Looking across the salt pans at the piles ready to transport on a rail cart

The salt had a crystalline crust almost two inches thick

Workers out there shoveling salt

Huts for the workers

Cool chairs at the hotel
We returned to the hotel with thoughts of another great meal and some cervezas and rum punches before we clear out.  Our waitress today spoke NO English… didn’t even try.  I tried my best, even whipped out Google Translate to ask properly for a rum punch.  No tiene.  WTF???  They had some two days ago!  What happened?

That set the tone for our whole experience there today.  Bruce wanted to use his computer but since he had used his tablet the last time (and it had the password stored) she wouldn’t give it to him today for his laptop.  I don’t think she realized that my computer was connected to the internet… 

We ordered dinner and using the computer… I translated “then I’ll just have a glass of water”…  I guess her lack of interest in communicating with me cost them a little bit.  I was a little miffed but kept it down.  I don’t want to mess anything up here.  We need that Despacho but by this time I had to squelch Conspiracy-Theory-Thoughts.  Dang… what happened between the last time we were here and today?  What did we do???  We asked for Jorge but were told he was unavailable. 

Then the guy in the camo duds came out.  No English.  At all.  None.  I told him we needed our Despacho and that we were told to meet the Official from before here at the marina at 5pm to receive our Despacho for departure tomorrow.  I will not bore you with the entire convoluted story as it would increase this already long post by more than twice again…

Excuses, stories, explanations… bla bla bla…  I played innocently dumb… They called in another guy to explain… then another dude came over… sort of a Good-Cop-Bad-Cop game.  But I’ve got a game of my own… Dumb Blond Gringa!  And I had a secret weapon… 

At one point Bruce started to get fed up and I had to give him The Look so that he didn’t mess this up for me.... The last guy explained that they could fix us all up but the guy would like maybe $10 for the gas from here to the Guard Hut (about a mile away on a tiny motorbike…).  Bruce said he would rather pay the $10 than dinghy across the Bay… so I agreed.  They all went over and sat at another table and I pulled out my secret weapon.

I walked over to their table and told them that I had made these brownies for the other Official who had told us to meet him here for being so nice to us, but since he wasn’t here, I would give the brownies to them.  The all looked sheepish and said thank you (in English)… and I walked back to my table. 

In a few minutes they told me that the brownies were delicious (in English) and the Camo Duds Dude came back over to tell me that he would meet me down at the dock with our Despacho… I started to rise to follow him and he motioned to come when we were done eating… 

Well our dinner wasn’t as great as it was the first day after all of this drama… It isn’t the ten bucks… it’s the DRAMA!!!  If you want us to give you a gift…just tell us and we’ll do it.  No threats needed…

When we finished eating and arrived back at the dock, there was another guy clearing in… and American!!!  Who spoke ENGLISH!!!  He was all chatty-and I worried that the Official wouldn’t like it.  But Camo Dude seemed fine with it as he copied my information from our Crew List onto our Despacho.  We gave him the “gift” of 500 pesos, which was about $11 (it’s what we had) and left with smiles.  We had it.  We were free to leave. 

I will say that this strange treatment has soured our image of Salinas somewhat.  But after some meditation on it, I can say that independent of the strangeness… nope.  It’s a strange place.  It’s like there’s some kind of sinister undercurrent going on that I can’t explain.  So next time around I would say give Palmar del Ocoa a hit, and Salinas a miss… 

Tomorrow morning we will leave this place.  We have our Despacho and with any luck we will get settled into Marina Zar-Par before dark.  I’m still hoping that my mental block against Spanish will eventually tumble down and things will begin to stick so it isn’t so difficult. 

For sure I have a new respect for anyone traveling or living in a country where the language spoken is not his or her own...  including ME!  So next time you’re on the phone and you hear that prompt:  For English, press 1… JUST DO IT!
 and move on...

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