Throwback Thursday – Puerto Plata

Every Thursday I share a little bit (in sequence) about a wonderful year I spent back in 2010/2011 sailing across the Atlantic (twice) and up through the Caribbean. All the posts are tagged together here if you want to read back! Last week we were feeling a bit ripped off in Samana, Dominican Republic…..

We definitely weren’t sad to leave Samana! Especially as after we left, slightly stressed from all the administrative / money-related hassle, we had a lovely sail around the coastline of the Doninican Republic. It was stunning – towering cliffs, thousands of palm trees, and slivers of white sand. We saw a humpback whale! First its blowhole, then its huge back, then its fin lifted out of the water, about 20m away from us. The fin alone was at least 3m long, and based on that and our little guidebook of whales, we estimated the whale was at least as big as our boat.
We stopped off at Escondido, a lovely little bay, white sand fringed with palm trees and backed with huge cliffs. There was no town and no sign of how the beach could be accessed other than by sea – and also there was no phone signal. Obviously this would not normally be a problem – and in a usual holiday it would be wonderful – but on this particular day I had arranged for James to call me for our first phone conversation in two months! This was early April, we had last seen each other in February, and had mainly communicated through email and the occasional Facebook chat since then. I can’t believe we used to go that long without actually hearing each other’s voices – in my last six months away in Spain we spoke almost everyday through FaceTime. Technology has come on in leaps and bounds and is wonderful.

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So I missed out on my conversation, and the anchorage, completely isolated with no other boats, proved to be incredibly rolly and very uncomfortable so we decided to press on overnight and make it to our next stop, Puerto Plata, in one go instead of stopping off for another night. I had the 1am to 4am shift and it went okay – there was very little wind so we were motoring but the stars and the Milky Way way were incredible and I even saw a few shooting stars. Motoring overnight is wonderful – the sound of the engine, although loud, is a constant hum, like white noise, that is very easy to sleep to, and it lessens the worry of a solo night watch.

By the time we arrived at Ocean World Marina, Puerto Plata, the wind had increased and was absolutely howling, with a huge swell crashing against the breakwater. It was wild! All the customs officials and the marina representative were extremely friendly and helpful, no bribes asked for, but the wind continued to scream so we stayed on the fuel dock, not daring to attempt tying up in a tight marina in that wind. It was a weird place, with a huge casino in a tacky, Gaudi-esque style, with a pool and swim-up bar solely for marina guests.

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We had an awful night’s sleep due to the surge coming into the marina, and the movement of the boat meant that we actually broke two ropes overnight! So first thing in the morning we moved to a berth further in, where an incredibly Scottish man called Bill helped tie us up. As both my parents are Scottish, it was lovely to hear another familiar-sounding voice on the other side of the world.

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On Thursday, Bill and his wife Hazel, came over for a drink and then we all went out for dinner. They are a lovely couple with a very sad story. Six years before, just nine months after they were married, Bill was exposed to nerve gas in his work as a drug enforcement officer in the US, which almost completely destroyed his brain and lungs. He now has a constant tremor in his right hand, a horrendous memory which means after about six weeks its completely wiped out –he kept a detailed log and had to read that to find out. Their boat was therefore called ‘Memory Keeper’. Hazel used to be a nurse and spent her time now caring for Bill – doctors had said he would develop severe Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Despite all the sadness, they were jokers – when Bill was first telling us, I said how awful that complete loss of memory must be, and Hazel responded with “ach no, you should see my shoe collection!

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A few days later we braved another tourist trip after our last attempt, to the waterfall in Samana. This trip was called the “27 waterfalls”. We were picked up from the marina by a tour leader who never stopped smiling, taken to a ranch, met our guides, stripped to our bikinis, put on helmets and life jackets, and set off walking to the waterfalls. We jumped in a pool at the bottom and made our way up the 27 waterfalls, swimming, wading through the water, and climbing up the falls with the help of our guides who pretty much just pulled us up the really steep ones! it was very beautiful, wading through narrow gullies with the forests and the mountains towering their way above us. On the way back down, we jumped and slid. The highest jump was 30 feet! It was pretty scary at times and definitely would not have been allowed in more health-and-safety conscious countries as you had to jump in certain directions to avoid rocks / shallow landings, and sometimes you were jumping into very narrow stretches of water. It was incredibly exhilarating!

I wasn’t part of the next adventure – mum and Jilli undertook a huge drive to Punta Cana to drop Jilli’s then-boyfriend, Mike, off at the airport – 17 hours in the car! They saw lots of motoconchos: one driven by a guy carrying a fridge, another holding a family of five, and also horses and carts still regularly used in the countryside. The weather had meant we were stuck in Puerto Plata for longer than planned, generally relaxing, reading our books, eating out for Jilli’s 19th birthday, visiting the town of Puerto Plata. This was incredible polluted – so much so you could taste the pollution in the air. Something to do with it being possible to produce cheap cars without the mechanics needed to make them slightly more environmentally friendly.

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Finally, we did all our tinned provisioning for the trip home – using the cheap American prices and plentiful varieties of tinned food in D.R. supermarkets, and then set off just after 4pm for the Turks and Caicos- directly north. As it got dark we watched a lightning show over the Dominican Republic. I had forgotten how much I loved nights at sea – the peacefulness of it all, just me, the only sounds the waves and the winds pushing us forward, watching the moonlight play on the water. A solo night-watch on a boat may be tiring, boring and occasionally stressful but it is always beautiful and very,very special.

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