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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