Mountain After The Rain. El Mogote

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After our brief visit in Santiago, we head to Jarabacoa, a small town in the Central Mountain Range of the Dominican Republic. The road is now narrow going up and down, turning left and right through beautiful green countryside. Cars and motoconchas suddenly appear behind curves. The pavement is damaged, big holes, sometimes there is no pavement at all and we go off-road for a while moving very slowly.

We arrive in Jarabacoa in the afternoon. The town is charming, looks like everyone is in the streets, kids are running around, and we see other tourists in the bars and restaurants here and there.The town in the heart of tropical rainforest mountains attracts many tourists. There are three rivers crossing the region offering  organized whitewater rafting adventures, excursions to waterfalls and rancheos, and lots of hiking trails.

We rent a room for less than $15.00 (600 pesos) at a hostel , a private house which has been transformed into a small hotel.

Hostel's back yard in Jarabacoa

Hostel’s back yard in Jarabacoa

The owner is very friendly and lets us sleep in a room with one double bed and one single bed where we spread our inflatable mattress so that the four of us have enough space to sleep.

We come out here to have supper, food we have brought with us.

We come out here to have supper, food we have brought with us.

We also have internet and hot water (this is absolutely extraordinary, many cheap hotels don’t have water at all, and if they do, it is cold, even though the water in the tropics is never really cold).

Our hotel room

Our hotel room

Rain starts falling in the night. There is nothing more peaceful than abundant mountain rain roaring on a tin roof in the dark.

The hostel cat Missi (Missi is a boy)

The hostel cat Missi in the morning (Missi is a boy)

The next morning we wake up early. Our host tells us we can visit the famous Jimenoa waterfall not far from town, we can drive all the way up to the fall (all tourists go there), or hike all day up the mountain to El Mogote, the highest peak in the area, 5160 feet. It is a long and physically challenging hike, if we want to make it to the top and return before dark we have to hurry up. We choose the mountain.

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It is a challenging hike, very difficult work out at times, steep and slippery after last night rain, but the trail is wide and we don’t need a guide to find it.

The trail to El Mogote

The trail to El Mogote

There are places where we have to help each other and sometimes we fall over rocks and mud. The rain has made the terrain more difficult to walk, but also so beautiful and fresh.

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Maya

Maya

 

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Sparkling raindrops are hanging from the edge of leaves, small wet bugs are drying their winds in the morning sun, the smell of wild oranges fills the air.

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It takes us 3 hours to reach the summit, seams forever. We stop to rest often.

Maya

Maya

We are exhausted, sweaty, covered with mud. But we are so happy to be finally here, on top of the mountain.

Maya resting.

Maya resting inside to tower on the summit

Valleys, fields, small villages stretch beneath us, far in the distance. We see the island, green and vast, silent under the clouds.

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Tower and a locked-down ranger station at El Mogote

Tower and a locked-down ranger station at El Mogote

 

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Viktor, Maya, Mira on the summit, El Mogote

 

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Santiago in Colors

A street mural in Santiago depicting the Monument of the Restoration.

A street mural in Santiago depicting the Monument of the Restoration.

Santiago de los Caballeros, the second largest metropolis in Dominican Republic, is our first stop on the road trip. La Ciudad Corazon (The Hearth City) was founded in 1495 during the first wave of European colonization of the New World. Destroyed and burned down a few times by earthquakes and invasions, there are not many striking examples of colonial architecture left in the city, or many extraordinary tourist attractions. Set in a valley in the north-central region of the country, surrounded by mountains, everyone will tell you there is not much to see in Santiago besides busy streets and noisy crowds. Yet, we discover a few spots of interest, murals, and an art gallery with stunning contemporary Dominican art.

Painting on the wall, Santiago

Painting on the wall, Santiago

We climb the steps to the 67 meters high Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration built on a hill overlooking Santiago. To understand the importance of the War of Restoration one must be familiar with the Dominican Republic prior history.

Monument of the Restoration, Santiago

Monument of the Restoration, Santiago

After the Conquista, the Dominican Republic, then named Santo Domingo, became and remained for decades the headquarters of Spanish power in the hemisphere. Following the French Revolution Spain ceded Santo Domingo to France in 1795. Only 6 years later, in 1801, as a result of one of the greatest slave-revolutions in human history led by Toussaint Louverture the western portion of the island of Hispaniola became the first independent nation in the New World, the Republic of Haiti, where slavery was no more. East of Haiti, Santo Domingo remained under French rule.

In 1808, after a revolt against French rule and with the aid of Great Britain and Haiti, Santo Domingo returned to Spanish control. Fourteen years later, following a failed attempt to become independent, Santo Domingo was invaded by Haitian troops. Slavery was abolished and most private property, Church property, and Crown property was nationalized. But Dominican people were subjected to pay heavy tribute to Haiti, the occupation troops were unpaid and had to “forge and sack” from civilians. Anti-Haitian movements gathered force.

In 1838 Juan Pablo Duarte founded a secret society called La Trinitaria, which sought the complete independence of Santo Domingo without any foreign intervention, which was accomplished on February 27, 1844. For this reason, Duarte is considered The Founding Father of The Dominican Nation. But independence did not mean end of troubles. Political and economic difficulties along with four more Haitian invasions marked the next 12-year period. To protect the new nation from another Haitian invasion, Santana who was in power at that time, signed a pact with the Spanish Crown and reverted the Dominican nation to colonial status, the only Latin American country to ever do so.

In 1863 opponents to Santana, among whom General Gregorio Luperon, launched the War of Restoration, and in 1865 independence was restored.

View of Santiago from Monument of the Restoration

View of Santiago from Monument of the Restoration

After the Monument of the Restoration War, we enjoy fruity ice creams in the Columbus Park in the center of Santiago. Next to the white Cathedral of Santiago built in 1895 there is a beautiful park with tropical flowers and palms and a little round marble stage in the middle.

Cathedral of Santiago form Columbus Park.

Cathedral of Santiago form Columbus Park.

Such park next to a church can be found in every big and small town in Dominican Republic; the bigger the town, the bigger the park.

The one in Santiago is particularly interesting with its theme La Conquista and its hero Christopher Columbus.

A mural in Clumbus park, Santiago depicting Christopher Columbus's arrival and taking of possession of the New World.

A mural in Clumbus park, Santiago depicting Christopher Columbus’s arrival and taking of possession of the New World.

Next we tour El Museo Historico Fortaleza San Luis, free admission. Once a prison, its buildings now host an art school, the National Drug Control and Intelligence Agency, and an open-doors Fine Art gallery. The paintings exhibited in the Fine Art gallery are stunning examples of Dominican contemporary art.

Art Gallery, Museo Fortaleza San Luis

Art Gallery, Museo Fortaleza San Luis

The very essence of lo dominicano, Dominican culture, nature, and history, scenes from every day’s life and specific historical events are depicted in vivid colors by local artists.

Small mountain villages, white birds in the trees, fruit stands, carnivals in town square, women washing clothes in the river, the poor Haitian mother, the sea, the indigenous heritage, the civil war, the horrors of Trujillo’s tyranny, even the importance of the traditional music, unfold before us in the space of this small gallery and touch our souls.

Art Gallery Paintings

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Murals in Santiago

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Dominican Republic Road Trip

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Luperon is the safest anchorage in all of Dominican Republic in every senses of the word safe. It is a notorious hurricane hole with great holding where even Christopher Columbus used to shelter his fleet in bad weather back in 1492.

Today the visiting boats are also very well protected by the Dominican Republic Army against theft and any other criminal activities. There is an armed guard watching the anchorage 24/7 from up the hills, as well as a guarded road barrier preventing strangers form going freely in and out the docks.

For these reasons it is a good place to leave the boat at anchor for a few days, rent a car and explore the country inland.

Our new friends Jade and Gabriel who have been living and surfing in Cabarete for two years now give us a bunch of very useful tips: where to rent a car, where to go, and what to do. Thanks to them, the car we rent (Kayak rental cars, Puerto Plata) is only 1 000 pesos per day (23.00 US dollars) instead of the usual 1 500 and it is a big economic car, Toyota RAV4, everything working fine, even the ac, although we don’t use it to save on gas. Thus, the car costs us $163.00 to rent and we spend $135.00 for gas driving all over the Dominican Republic for 7 days. Total $ 198.00.

Driving in Dominican Republic is an adventure in itself. No driving school can prepare you for all the thrills of the Dominican roads.

Cow crossing the road

Cow crossing the road

Sheep crossing the road

Sheep crossing the road

 

Scary donkeys refusing to cross the road

Scary donkeys refusing to cross the road

 

Santiago

The first day we visit Santiago in the interior of the island, the second largest city after Santo Domingo.

Read  full article Santiago in Colors.

Monument in Santiago

Monument in Santiago

 

Jarabacoa

From Santiago we drive to Jarabacoa, a beautiful little town in the mountains very popular with tourist for its picturesque surroundings, hiking paths, ranchos and waterfalls. Early the next day (day 2) we hike up and down El Mogote and in the afternoon we drive to La Cienaga, deeper in the hearth of the Dominican central mountain range.

Read full article Mountain After The Rain. El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

 

Pico Duarte

There is the national park Armando Bermudez in the Cordillera Central mountain range where we park the car for the next two days and go on an expedition to the highest peak in the Carribean, Pico Duarte, over 3000 meters. The hike to Pico Duarte takes us 2 days (day 3 & 4 of our road trip) and we are required to hire a guide and rent sleeping bags and mules. It is a journey we will never forget.

Read full article Pico Duarte. Journey Beyond The Clouds

Last base before Pico Duarte and an overnight stop

Last base before Pico Duarte and an overnight stop

 

Santo Domingo

After Pico Duarte (day 5) we visit Santo Domingo, the capital and biggest city in Dominican Republic on the south shore of Hispaniola, the botanical garden and the colonial town, and we are absolutely thrilled by the beauty, history, and architecture condensed in this place.

Read full article Santo Domingo. History, Culture, Nature

Colonial Town, Santo Domingo

Colonial Town, Santo Domingo

 

Isabella Historica and Montecristi

Next day (day 6) we drive back north and visit La Isabella Historica, the site of the first New World settlement, and Montecristi near the Haitian border on the north shore of Hispaniola with its dramatic rocky coast and salt flats.

Read full article In The Footsteps of Columbus. Isabela Historica and Montecristi

Montecristi, beach and rocks

Montecristi, beach and rocks

 

Damajaqua’s 27 Waterfalls

On the last day of our road trip (day 7) we drive to a place not far from our anchorage in Luperon where Las Cascadas de Damajaqua offer an extreme waterfall adventure hiking for about an hour up a river with 27 big and small waterfalls, and then jumping, sliding and swimming down the river and the waterfalls. This is Viktor and Maya’s favorite part of the entire trip.

Damajaqua Cascadas

Damajaqua Cascadas

 

Lago Enriquillo

A few days after we return to the boat and rest a bit, we rent the same car again and visit Lago Enriquillo, the biggest lake in the Carribean lower than the sea level, with saltwater, home of diverse wildlife among which iguanas and crocodiles.

lago Enriquillo

lago Enriquillo

 

Road Trip Map

Dominican Republic Road Trip Map

Dominican Republic Road Trip Map

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Surfing Cabarete

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“My surfboard is a magic carpet”

– Jade Adele

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It is magic, catching a wave and staying on top of it. Like catching flying dragons and riding them. You have to wait. They come all the time, running towards the beach, mad dragons who don’t even notice you. You will hate them and love them, you will talk to them, try to convince them to listen to you, you will drink them and breathe them, and only briefly you will become a part of them. Once this happens, there is no going back.

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Cabarete is a small coastal town less than 100 km east of Luperon, with some of the nicest windiest beaches in the Dominican Republic.

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Thousands of visitors from all over the world come here each year, but these are not regular tourists. The people who come to Cabarete come to surf. The town is the surfing mecca of the Caribbean and life here revolves around surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, and paddle boarding. Surf competitions take place in Cabarete every year. There are surf-shops, surf-hotels, and surf-cafes. The surf vibe is incredible.

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Not surprisingly, there is a large expat community of surf-maniacs who have moved to Cabarete from all corners of the world to make it their permanent home and thus be able to do what they love best all day, every day: surf. Like Jade and Gabriel.

Jade

Jade

We met them thanks to Kendall, a friend from Montreal. “Check out these guys”, Kendall wrote to me a few months ago and sent me a link to their blog.

Jade and Gabriel are „travel bloggers on an adventure to the most beautiful places on earth.“ In their blog you can read stories of travel and adventure, as reviews of places and food, see and purchase beautiful photography (Gabriel is a photographer), and of course find out all there is about surfing in Cabarete. We started following their journey through their travel diaries at WeTravelAndBlog.com

As soon as we arrived in Dominican Republic they invite us to Cabarete for a couple of days even though they are busy organizing a wedding. Their own wedding. We are thrilled.

Gabriel and Evo

Gabriel and Evo

Surfing is a lot of work: paddling all the way inside, trying to catch a wave and then keeping balance. After about one hour we are totally destroyed. Shoulders hurt from the paddling, ribs hurt from the board, eyes are red from the sun, salt water in the nose, sea urchins in the feet.  But it’s all worth it the few seconds when we manage to stay up on that surf, sliding in front of the wave. We just want to go back in and do it again, longer and better this time.

Maya surfing for the first time.

Maya surfing for the first time.

In the afternoon we visit Kite Beach. We have never seen anything like it. Hundreds of kites and windsurfs riding the constant Trade Winds. It’s spectacular.

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Then, we eat pollo al carbon, BBQ chicken, at a small local restaurant and go to sleep early, at Jade and Gabriel’s place. It is the coolest place we have ever seen. A big old wooden house with a porch and a huge yard, old trees, palms, and ferns everywhere, an outside shower in the back, and a Dharma Garden with herbs and vegetables populated by strange insects and little lizards.

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Gabriel’s dad built the house years ago. Now a bunch of people live there. Gabriel’s aunt Maru , the coolest aunt in the world, has a room downstairs. She loves tango, artichokes and pear nectar, has 6 dogs, the favorite one is nicknamed Prosti, “Ex prostituta”, Maru explains. There is also a room rented to a friend who is the creator of the Dharma Garden. Jade and Gabby live upstairs.

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The next day the waves are better, surfing is easier, and Maya gets pretty good at it. Alesandro, one of  Jade and Gabriel’s friends and surfing instructor spends over an hour in the water with Maya helping her and teaching her to surf.

Maya and Alesandro

Maya and Alesandro

When Maya finally comes out of the water she announces: “I need a surfboard…”

Maya

Maya

Evo is also badly hooked to surfing and is getting the hang of it pretty quick. I am totally destroyed from the previous day, but would love to surf some more again. Viktor missed the whole thing as he decided to take a couple of days off (us) and stay on the boat by himself.

Evo surfing

Evo surfing

We return to Cabarete after two weeks to celebrate Jade and Gabriel’s wedding. The party is at Seahorse Ranch, a luxurious gated community and beach resort, many acres of prime land, with a restaurant perched on the rocks over the sea. It’s beautiful.  We are absolutely honored and thrilled to be at the wedding party. There is live music, cotton candy, a bonfire near the sea under a full moon… Many of the surfers we met on the beach are there. Alesandro is there, Maru, even Kendall!

At the wedding party

At the wedding party

 

Surfing Cabarete Pictures

Gabriel teaching Maya how to stand up on the board

Gabriel teaching Maya how to stand up on the board

A guy surfing upside-down

A guy surfing upside-down!

 

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Watching the daily show from the beach

Watching the daily show from the beach

 

Kitesurfer flying

Kitesurfer flying

Same guy doing tricks in the air

Same guy doing tricks in the air

 

Maya and Alesandro

Maya and Alesandro

Maya

Maya

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Evo

Evo

 

Maya

Maya

Jade

Jade

Evo

Evo

 

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Puerto Plata And The SailigDee Family

Cathedral in Puerto Plata

Cathedral in Puerto Plata

Only a day after arriving in Luperon we meet another family on their way around the world aboard s/v Dee, Joao from Portugal and his wife Nae from Thailand. They met in Honk Kong and moved to live in Macau once a Portuguese colony, where Joao, a journalist, worked for the Chinese government. They recently purchased a boat here in Luperon, a Gulfstar 45, and have been fixing it up for almost 4 months now. Together with Maria, their one-year-old charming daughter, and  Noel, a French bulldog, they are about to begin sailing and visiting all the countries worldwide where the official language is Portuguese before completing an around the world voyage, “to celebrate the five centuries since the Portuguese navigators connected Europe to Asia by sea, to promote our culture and the name of Macau” .

Joao, Mae, and Maria aboard Fata Morgana

Joao, Mae, and Maria aboard Fata Morgana

Maria aboard Fata Morgana

Maria aboard Fata Morgana

 

Their route will include the city of Malacca in Malaysia, Goa, Daman and Diu in India, Mozambique, Angola, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Portugal, Brazil, East Timor and Macau, China. It is truly a fascinating conceptual journey and we will be following their voyage through their blog www.sailingdee.com

Joao and Mae invite Evo and me to accompany them to Puerto Plata, the regional capital, where they have to pick up some boat part from FedEx (there is no FedEx in Luperon). We are happy to go for a ride with Joao, Nae, and Maria in a rental car to the big city, to do some real shopping for the first time in months in the WalMart-like store La Sirena (there is no such big store in Luperon), and to just spend a day chatting with friends and traveling. On the road again.

Maria, enjoying the car ride.

Maria, enjoying the car ride.

From Luperon to Puerto Plata is 44 km (less than 30 mi). Yet it can be an epic journey getting there by car. The first part of the road, to Imbert, is on crazy, narrow, broken-up asphalt, through small villages with unexpected inadequate speed bumps, sharp turns, and huge trenches on the pavement, where cows and donkeys graze on the side of the road, sometimes crossing it for fun. But the scariest part, potholes and cows aside, is dodging motoconchas , the motorbikes with the entire family, father, mother and two kids on it, riding as fast as they can as if they are immortal, and so many of them! Then from Imbert to Puerto Plata is a kind of a highway without rules. Madness.

Anyhow, we stop midway at a roadside restaurant and have lunch: fried fish, plantains, rice and beans, and yucca with cold beer Bohemia, very tasty and very cheap. Finally we are in a country where we can afford to eat in a restaurant from time to time. A meal is usually less than $5, and the beer is $2.5 for a jumbo 1L bottle.

Yummy!!

Yummy!!

As we get closer to Puerto Plata the traffic becomes insane, a sort of an urban jungle where only the law of the jungle applies.

San Felipe de Puerto Plata, founded in 1502, is the capital of Puerto Plata province and as every big city this one is roaring, polluted, and hectic. Old ruined buildings stand next to freshly-renovated brightly-painted ones. The city attracts many tourists with the beautiful beaches and resorts all around it and its many sites of tourist interest: the cathedral, the town square, the Amber Museum, the 16 century Fortaleza de San Felipe, and the Mallecon. A cable car ride bringing people to Pico Isabel de Torres, 800 meters tall mountain within the city, is also on most visitors’ list of things-to-do in Puerto Plata.

Our first visit to Puerto Plata is brief, but we get many more chances to pass through there and get to know it better in the next days, on our way to other Dominican Republic destinations.

Puerto Plata in Pictures

City Square

City Square

Fortaleza de San Felipe, 16 century

Fortaleza de San Felipe, 16 century

 

Museum of Amber

Museum of Amber

Puerto Plata street

Puerto Plata street

 

Fishing boats near the Mallecon

Fishing boats near the Mallecon

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Luperon, Dominican Republic

The beach at Luperon

The beach at Luperon

We arrive in Luperon, a small village on the north shore of Dominican Republic, on March 23, 2014.

Small fishing boats at Luperon's peer.

Small fishing boats at Luperon’s peer.

Everything is unfamiliar and strange the first couple of days. But then gradually, with time, we become part of the place and the place becomes part of us.

Old colonial house in Luperon's downtown.

Old colonial house in Luperon’s downtown.

The village, named after General Gregorio Luperon, a hero and President of the Republic from the Restoration period, is not a popular tourist destination today. After the global economy crisis and the closing down of the hotel a few year back, tourists have stopped visiting the place. Except sailors who appreciate the vast weather-protected harbor set among mangroves, surrounded by wooded hills.

s/v Ciganka, our new neighbors, in Luperon Anchorage

s/v Ciganka, our new neighbors, in Luperon Anchorage

The Luperon anchorage is the most notorious hurricane hole in the entire Caribbean region and is always full of visiting boats. Some stay here forever. Even Christopher Columbus who founded the first New World settlement not far from here used the harbor to shelter his boats in foul weather. He named it Bahia de Gracias, Thanksgiving Bay.

Morning in the harbor

Morning in the harbor

The village is tiny, rural, with small brightly-colored wooden and stone houses with tin roofs and closed windowpanes to keep the heat out, very elaborate decorative fences, rocking chairs on the front porch.

House in Luperon

House in Luperon

Flowers, palms, and banana-trees transform every yard into a lush botanical garden.

Plants in the front yard

Plants in the front yard

Lazy dogs roam the streets looking for leftovers and shade.

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In the morning the village awakes early. Women come out on the streets and perform a daily ritual of sweeping and cleaning in front of their houses. The cleanest streets in the world!

A woman cleaning the sidewalk in front of her house.

A woman cleaning the sidewalk in front of her house.

Small grocery shops called colmados open doors for clients; cafeterias, a few chairs on the sidewalk, are now alive with people chatting; loud music booms from the small restaurants called comedor.

Buying flour at the local colmado.

Buying flour at the local colmado.

The streets are full of people walking or riding motorbikes, motoconcha, sometimes three or four on one bike (fuel in Dominican Republic is very expensive and the motoconchas are the main vehicle and cheapest option to go around).

Motoconchans in the streets of Luperon.

Motoconchans in the streets of Luperon.

We can’t wait to explore the Luperon surroundings, to walk in pastures and fields, to climb hills and look in the distance, to meet cows and horses, to breathe the air of the countryside, el campo. Luperon is our home for the next few weeks.

Pictures from Luperon

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The Hills of Luperon

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Passage South. Turks and Caicos to Dominican Republic

Day 1 George Town to Long Island

 

Day 2 Long Island to Crooked Island

 

Day 3 Crooked Island to Aclins

 

Day 4 Aclins to Mayaguana

 

Day 5 Betsy By to Booby Cay

 

Day 6&7 Mayaguana to Turks and Caicos

Passage South Map

Passage South Map

 

Day 8 Turks and Caicos to Dominican Republic

 

We begin our last and longest passage on our way from the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic on March 22nd at 6 a.m. It is 100 NM between Six Hills Cay and Luperon. We are expecting to sail for two or three days depending on winds, waves, and currents.

We are getting moderate Trade Winds from east 14-17 kts in the morning increasing to 20-22 in the evening. Fata Morgana is doing 5 to 7 knots on a close reach, course south-southeast. Our progress is incredible; by noon we have crossed the Turks Channel and by 6 p.m. we have covered half of the Windward Passage; two thirds of the total distance.

When darkness falls, we have only about 30 miles left. The trade winds pick up, 20-22 knots now, and Fata starts galloping with 7 knots, sometimes up to 9. It gets bumpier too. This is a bit too much, beyond the comfort zone; the sails are tight, the boat is cracking, we can feel the tension.

Just after midnight, as we approach the great dark landmass of the island of Hispaniola, not more than three miles offshore, a miracle happens. I am not using the word ‘miracle’ as some sort of a metaphor here; I am referring to an actual real-life extraordinary occurrence, a hard-to-believe divine intervention happening in front of our eyes. We witness the Katabatic Wind effect for the first time in our lives. 

Suddenly, the strong east winds disappear. Completely. From 22 knots the wind drops to 0. The waves calm down, and a great stillness falls upon us.

The scientific explanation of this miracle is the following:

The cool mountain air descends from the highlands of Hispaniola at night sliding downhill towards the sea producing a phenomenon called katabatic winds. Coastal lands cool down faster than the seawater and the cold air pushes the hotter air above the water. The land breeze assisted by the katabatic winds cancels the see breeze and the tradewinds near the shores at night. That’s it! The wind is canceled for tonight. And every other night on the north shores of Hispaniola. It means we have to motor for two miles and a half! Evo is outraged, personally offended, as if there is someone who actually switched the wind off just to annoy him and make him turn on the engines for the last couple of miles.

It is 2 after midnight when we enter the sleeping harbor in Luperon, motoring. The anchorage is full of boats. Nothing moves. We find a spot and drop anchor. We have arrived in Dominican Republic in less than 20 hrs.

An old familiar smell suddenly fills our lungs. A smell you never forget, no matter how many decades have passed since you last inhaled it; a smell that can make you cry. The smell of land. A big solid chunk of dirt. Roots of century-old trees, bleached bones, and cow dunk. The smell of wet fields and fire. Dry riverbeds and nostalgia.

Anchorage in Luperon, Dominican Republic

Anchorage in Luperon, Dominican Republic

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Bahamas Conclusions

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The Bahamas is a major cruising ground thanks to its proximity with United States, short half-day sailing distances in safe protected waters, a plethora of exciting destinations and secluded anchorages near hundreds of islands and cays to choose from. And of course, there is the clearest bluest water in the world, coral gardens, and tropical fish. But we missed land. The islands are small flat and rocky, covered with thick low impassable shrubs and trees. There are no mountains, no volcanoes, no forests, no rivers, no lakes; nothing to do on land. We enjoyed ourselves and had good times in the Bahamas but we wouldn’t return there any time soon.

We spent three months exploring some of the Bahamian wonders on Berry Islands, Cat Island, Exumas, Long Island, Crooked Island, Aclins, and Mayaguana where we met the most welcoming people, we had great adventures, and we found the best snorkeling spot, the best anchorage and the best settlement.

Most Welcoming People

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The most welcoming people we met in the Bahamas were in Great Harbour, Berry Islands. If you are walking around Great Harbor the first car that passes by will surely stop and offer you a ride. Here, we got invited to a local celebration with tons of free food and drinks, and here we met Angie and Marty, a British couple, the owners of hotel-boutique Carriearl, who let us use their bikes and invited us to a pizza-dinner.

Full article

Best Snorkeling Spot

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We found turquoises clear waters and coral gardens ideal for snorkeling virtually everywhere in the Bahamas, but our favorite spot is Thunderball Grotto near Staniel Cay, Exuma. Inside and around a dramatic underwater cave we marveled at corals and rock formations surrounded by a dense cloud of tame fish expecting to be fed.

Full article

Most Beautiful Nature

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The most beautiful island nature we found on Shroud Cay, Exumas, which is part of Exuma Land and Sea Park. We spent two unforgettable days kayaking in shallow tidal channels between mangroves and white-sand fields traversing the island from one end to the other, discovering the most beautiful remote beach and shallow pools with crystal warm water.

Full article

Funniest Experience

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The most surreal and funny thing was without doubt the Swimming Pigs near Staniel Cay, Exuma. These pigs are charming, friendly, and very gracious swimmers. They will come up to your dinghy expecting handouts and will follow you on the beach for as long as you have any food in your possession.

Full article

Most Unexpected Experience

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We met a humpback whale 20 miles off the coast of Great Exuma.

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The Place We Got the Most From

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The place we got the most from is Little San Salvador. It is a small island with a beautiful lagoon property of Carnival Cruise Lines. We spent two weeks there enjoying the free island buffet every day at lunch infiltrating the cruise ship crowds.

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The Place We Gave the Most To

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The place we gave the most to was Cat Island. There we volunteered to help repair a historical heritage site, Father Jerome’s hermitage damaged by a lightning.

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Favorite Settlement

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Our favorite settlement is Pittstown on Crooked Island. This is one of the most remote tiny communities in the Bahamas, south of the Tropic of Cancer, where life is slow and relaxed, the waters near the shores are teaming with fish, wild birds populate the trees and the rocks near the shores, and there are more giant coconuts lying around than a boat can carry.

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Favorite Anchorage

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Booby Cay, Mayaguana is our favorite Bahamian anchorage. No one goes there as there is no civilization near-by; no facilities whatsoever and the cruising guides do not recommend it. It is the most remote wild place we have been to in the Bahamas where hundreds of West Indian Flamingos come every year in March and April to mate and raise their chicks.

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Least Favorite Anchorage

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George Town, Great Exuma did not win us with its crowds, noise, organized activates for cruisers, regulations, and polluted waters. Although we enjoyed our stay there, met some wonderful people, and made new friends, we didn’t appreciate the segregation between the cruising community and the locals, the rules against fishing in the harbor and visiting some of the many private islands around, and the tight space for anchoring.

Best Adventure

Nick

Nick

When our friends came to visit us for a week we took them for a boat ride to Rudder Cay, Exuma and we had the most fun kayaking to a cave, jumping from the boat, making a bonfire in the evening, going on an expedition to the other side of the forbidden island property of the famous illusionist David Copperfield, meeting and befriending his abandoned dog, discovering an underwater statue of a grand piano and a mermaid, and eating barracuda for the first time with no tragic consequences.

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Bahamas Facts

·         Water: it is the best water in the world, beautiful!

·         Climate: between December and march, the months we spent in the Bahamas, are just perfect, beautiful not too hot weather with a few cold fronts with north winds.

·         Fish: the waters around some of the populated areas are depleted of fish, but as a whole, fishing is still good in the Bahamas, especially in more remote areas.

·         Security: one of the safest cruising grounds. Except near Nassau, you can leave the boat unlocked at any time and be sure that nothing will go missing. If you visit a settlement and you lose something, it will be returned to you.

·         Tranquility: this is the place to take your time and relax.

·         700 islands: there are so many islands and cays, you will be sure to find what you are looking for whether it is a secluded beach, a community of yachts, an authentic local experience, or a luxurious yacht club restaurant.

·         Food: food and food products are extremely expensive , sometimes up to 4 times the prices in USA and Canada, and there are no big shopping centers or grocery stores. Stocking up before heading to the Bahamas is a must.

·         Alcohol: beer in the Bahamas is expensive, rum is cheap.

·         People: very welcoming and helpful, very ‘laid back’.

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Passage South. Mayaguana to Turks and Caicos

Day 1 George Town to Long Island

 

Day 2 Long Island to Crooked Island

 

Day 3 Crooked Island to Aclins

 

Day 4 Aclins to Mayaguana

 

Day 5 Betsy By to Booby Cay

Passage South map

Passage South map

 

Day 6 Mayaguana to Turks and Caicos

 

After 6 days of waiting at anchor near Booby Cay, Mayaguana for the strong trade winds to subside a bit, we lift the hook around 5 a.m. on March 19th and leave The Bahamas to begin the 37 NM passage for Turks and Caicos.

37 nautical miles is not much but when the wind is 4-8 kts coming from the direction we are going and dropping to 0 at noon for 5 hours, it takes longer to get to destination. We bring down the sails in the middle of the Caicos Passage, Evo puts the rudder all the way to starboard to prevent the boat from drifting back to Mayaguana with the current and we go to sleep, what else to do in dead calm when turning the engines on is not an option? Three mahi-mahis come near the boat and slowly swim around for a bit, teasing us.

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Around 5 p.m. the wind returns from north-northeast at 10-15 knots. Perfection. Fata Morgana is gliding on a beam reach doing 6-7 kts directly towards West Caicos, south of Provideciales. We arrive at 10 p.m. in a place where an anchorage is indicated behind some invisible reefs. We decide not to check in Turks and Caicos as we are far from the official port of entry, Providenciales, and the cruising permit and entry fees are way too expensive even if you are simply transiting. We drop anchor in the dark as soon as the depth sounder is showing 5 feet and we sleep.

Day 7 Turks and Caicos Bank

 

Next day, March 20th, we lift anchor and sail 16 hours inside the incredibly shallow Caicos Bank, at times we only have 1-2 feet under the keels, tacking all day against southeast winds, doing 5-6 kts, covering about 80 NM even though it is only 46 NM to our destination.

9:30 p.m. we arrive, exhausted, at Six Hills Cay, two uninhabited small cays on the eastern edge of Caicos Islands, and we decide to take the next day off. We snorkel in the beautiful water around the cays, collect sand dollars, and rest before the 100 NM Windward Passage to Dominican Republic.

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Flamingoland

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Entering the remote anchorage south of Booby Cay, Mayaguana, we notice a string of red spots in the distance near the beach. I think these are red floats. As we approach the beach we realize it is not a string of floats but of flamingos!

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The West Indian Flamingo is hardly one to get confused with other birds. Its long legs, long neck and characteristic pink colour make these birds like no other. The West Indian Flamingo has a large, heavy, down curved bill that is most often described by the layperson as „strange“. Adults can reach up to five feet in height.

Even though the Flamingo is a strong flier, it is really quite shy and prefers to live in remote and lonely places. Usually these are rather desert-like spots, dry islands and shorelines where salt is made, and where few other creatures can survive.

The West Indian Flamingo which once roamed the entire neo-tropical region (tropical Americas) was hunted to a near extinction. Today the West Indian Flamingo is mostly found on the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas but has also recolonized islands in the Bahamas such as Mayaguana, Crooked and Acklin islands, Exumas, Long Island and Andros.

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A flock of about a hundred West Indian flamingos, disturbed by us, slowly lift off, make a wide low circle above Fata Morgana and settle back in their favorite spot near the beach. One thing the cruising guide has succeeded by scaring people away from this anchorage is make sure no one disturbs the flamingos, except crazy people like us.

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Flamingos are filter feeders and feed on the microscopic plants and animals found in ponds and mud. The larvae of the salt marsh fly is one of the major constituents of the diet of West Indian Flamingos. They also eat brine shrimp, small snails as well as other forms of animal and vegetable life so small that they can scarcely be seen without the aid of a microscope! Although small in size, this food is rich in a protein called beta-carotene which gives Flamingos their characteristic colour. Flamingos stir up their food from shallow water and separate it from the mud and water by pumping and straining it through their bill. They are the only birds which feed with their bill upside down!

 

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 What a wonderful unexpected welcoming! We can’t believe it! Real long-legged weird-beaked yellow-eyed pink-feathered paranoid wild flamingos.

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Flamingo breeding activity usually begins in early March when huge flocks gather and engage in elaborate and loud courtship displays. This is almost like a very large dance – the massed birds parade together shoulder to shoulder, preforming head flagging (waving the head from side to side), wing salutes (opening the wings to expose the black flight feathers) and the twist preen (twisting the neck over the back and pretending to preen itself whilst stretching out on of its wings. The chorus of courting birds can be heard miles away. This synchronized courtship dance stimulates the birds to breed at the same time, ensuring that the chicks are hatched around the same time.

When the courtship displays are all over the pairs are formed and the building of the nest mounds begins usually around April. Nests are built on the ground out of mud and are baked hard by the sun. The nest which resembles small volcanoes, can be from a few inches high to sometimes over two feet high a shallow crater at the top. This is where the single egg is deposited. Flamingos lay one white egg that is about twice the size of a hen’s egg. Both parents share in incubation which takes exactly 28 days to hatch.

Flamingo chicks look nothing like their parents. They are covered with a thick coat of white down and have pink bills and feet. Both parents feed the chick a secretion from the crop gland in the neck known as „flamingo milk“ or „crop milk“. This „milk“ is a concentration of fats and proteins (similar to mammals milk) and has a very high amount of beta-carotene making it a bright red colour. When they are about 30 days old the chicks have changed to a dark gray down and start to feed themselves but still eat from their parents if they can. By three months the chicks are fully grown and become a bright pink colour signalling that they are sexually mature to the rest of the colony.

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In the next few days I spent my afternoons chasing the flamingos around the anchorage with my photo camera. As I get too close, they lift off, make a wide lazy circle, and land a bit further from me. But after time, they get used to me and instead of flying away, just march away.

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In the 1950’s it was thought that was hunted down to a small population of about 5,000 only on the island of Inagua, Bahamas. With the help of the National Audubon Society in the United States, the creation of the Bahamas National Trust and the appointment of park wardens, the Inagua population grew to approximately 60,000 – a true conservation success story. Although Flamingo meat is eaten in other Caribbean countries, it is illegal to harm or capture this bird in the Bahamas under the Bahamas Wild Bird (Protection) Act.

The Flamingo was hunted for its big, pink feathers that were used to decorate hats and other nonessential items. Low flying planes of World War II over Andros wreaked havoc on the Flamingo population. This noisy disturbance drove these shy birds away- so much so that their return was doubtful.

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The marching flamingos bring me to a strange place… A metal boat, ketch with red hull, is lying on its port side washed near the eastern shore of Mayaguana Island.

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INTERESTING FACTS

  • The Flamingo is the national bird of The Bahamas.

  • The West Indian Flamingo is also refered to as the American, Caribbean or Rosey Flamingo.

  • There are a total of 6 species of flamingos in the world. The other species are Andean Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis), Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), Puna (James’s) Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi)

  • The Greater Flamingo is closest related to the West Indian Flamingo. Despite the Greater Flamingo being a larger size and considerably less brightly coloured, some authorities consider them the same species but different sub-species.

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 All information on West Indian Flamingos are from the Bahamas National Trust website.

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