Puerto Blanco, Dominican Republic, July 14. (Barbara Gail)
Wow, white people! English! Smooth water! Puerto Blanco is a cruiser's haven, and even cheaper than Manzanillo. A double beer costs a dollar at the bar by the dinghy dock, and in the village we had heaping plates of fried chicken and rice and beans (arroz con pollo frito y frijoles) for $1.35 apiece. A beautiful sheltered bay full of sailboats, Puerto Blanco is a quarter of a mile from Luperon, a relatively picturesque coastal village with a mixture of cruisers (Mainly Canadian and American with a few Europeans thrown into the mix for good measure and more interesting accents) and locals. There are horses to ride here, a huge waterfall with 24 "levels" to climb, fishing, caves along the coast, the ruins of Columbus's first port of entry on this side of the Atlantic (Puerto Isabella, which he named for the queen who backed his trip). This area is also famous for its amber, with ancient insects and slivers of wood trapped within it. It's still very strange to hear English and see many other sailboats around, but there is a very positive aspect. While we set out for the village, our boat dragged its anchor (apparently this happens to almost all new arrivals), and nine other cruisers came and used their dinghies to tow Solace back to its spot, and reset our muddy anchor on its 80 feet of muddy chain. It's a community, like the Amish. If our barn burned down they'd probably come and help us a build a new one too. If we are here through the week, we hear there is also a sort of cruiser's flea market where people sell and barter goods and services -- everything from sewing and haircuts through books and videos to handmade jewelry. Am considering setting up a caricature stand.
Approaching Puerto Blanco...calm water!
As we enter Puerto Blanco, a double rainbow guides us in.
[Continued by Keith: We will most likely be here for a few days as we resupply with diesal and wait for a good weather window. Next stop....the Southern side of Puerto Rico or possibly St John in the Virgin Islands...depends on which way the wind is blowing :) Our current goal is to find a Satellite Phone dealer. We are still not able to get weather reports consistently via radio and Shortwave Reciever. Satellite Phones have become advanced enough to Send Email and Download Weather Reports for about 2 dollars a day, well worth it.]
Hispaniola Island History (Keith)
The Island of Hispaniola, which includes the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and is the 2nd largest island in the Greater Antilles (Cuba being the largest), was discovered by Columbus around 500 years ago in 1492. The admiral called it his favorite islet in the Caribbean, "the fairest land human eyes have ever seen....".
On Horseback in the Mountains of the Dominican Republic - July 17, 2003 (Barbara Gail)
Keith is spending a lazy afternoon reading under a shady tree in the village square while I rent a horse and ride up into the mountains. The first plan is to head off by myself but the smiling -- and enterprising -- teenager with the horse says I will surely be lost before I reach the summit. I know that this is a ruse to charge me more money for a guide, but fall for it all the same. We were both wrong. I'd have been lost ten minutes into the three-hour ride. We leave the village's only paved road for a small meandering path, turn off along a dry river bed, then cross haphazardly out over lush green hills and small ranchlands. The mountain, field, and water views from the ridges are breathtaking and cannot fail to put small troubles into perspective.
Near Luperon, the view from above.
The oddly small but amazingly strong and sure-footed horses, Fiero and Chocolate, clamber steadily up the precipitous hills, and take a teeth-chattering trot down through natural crevasses so steep you lean back with all your might to stay on the horse. I think how careful we are at home that our horses shouldn't "put a foot wrong" and contrast it with our first crazy gallop through a semi-vertical mountain meadow with grass and bushes so high they brush the saddle. You can also ride the horses through rivers, but today we are bound for the mountains. The smiling guide, called Tabaco, cheerfully hops down to open and close about a thousand rickety fences along the way -- another good reason for a guide. Not sure what they're fencing in 10 miles from the nearest road. Tabaco says the fences are for cows, which roam everywhere here...from these steep mountainsides (are their legs different lengths?) to people's houses along the small roads, where they appear to wander in and out at will. Having first encountered cows relatively late in life (20-ish), am perpetually startled to meet them here around trees, street corners, and doorways. They are surprisingly clean and gentle and friendly, like very large dogs. Cleaner, it must be said, than many dogs!
Among the ranches we pass is a tiny farm about eight miles from the nearest road, where a small corral is packed to the fences with black angus beef cattle and a HUGE Brahma bull. It might be the biggest animal I have ever seen, bar elephants at the circus. The start of an impressive herd of walking steaks, right in the middle of nowhere. Small wonder the steak is so good here. As Tobaco opens the gate, I gallop my horse in hastily lest the enormous bull run rampant and escape its shaky fencing. Fail to notice two chickens and a baby pig running about the grass and it is almost their last day on earth but they are nimble and skip out from directly under the horse's thundering hooves. The baby pigs race about the corral like mad things, chasing each other round and round a large stone trough holding clear water. There are also several big fat pink pigs wallowing in a separate -- and very muddy -- enclosure. They are huge. Fat but muscular looking, like linebackers. They must weigh at least three times as much as I do, which would put them somewhere around 360 pounds...perhaps a little small for professional play nowadays. I point out the sole black one and Tabaco tells me it is black because it is Dominican, the other pigs are just Gringo pigs, turistas (tourists) like me.
On the way back we stop at a random farm which has been rented for hurricane season by a charming American couple and their twin blond sons. They also have a 40-foot boat anchored in the bay of Luperon, which they'll keep there for the season. They chat to Tobaco like old friends (they bought their horses from him) and feed us on freshly cut pineapple and banana bread baked that morning. Everyone here, native or turista, is friendly...even the cows.
Back in town, smaller horses for smaller people.
Luperon (Puerto Blanco) - July 18, 2003 (Keith)
What the "Pica Pollo" (loosely translated as Chicken Hut or Chicken Bite), lacks in accommodation (dirt floors and a thatch roof), it more than makes up in ambiance and price. Chicken roasted over charcoal, Spanish rice, and a side salad will run you about $1.20. Amber and Ben of the Island Trader "Sea Gypsy" have been here for a month and a half and as we popped the top on our 2nd bottle of Brugal, Anejo Rum Superior, the stories turned to the interior of Dominica and the wonders to be found there. We later secured the use of a 115 HP Yamaha motorcycle for the next two days (at a cost of $8 per day) to do some exploring of our own.
Las Cascadas (Waterfalls) de Imbert - July 19, 2003 (Keith)
Half an hour out of Luperon, we are in palm tree studded mountains surrounded by rural farms and ranches. Motor scooters have given way to Burros and Horses as the preferred method of transportation and a sampling of the produce is for sale at small tables and lean-toos along the road (there is only one road that goes through this part of the country). We stop at one for a breakfast of Cafe, Fried Eggplant, Broiled Plantains, Charcoal Broiled Chicken, and the best Sausage (Chorizo) I have ever had. It is spiced, hand cut chunks of port stuffed into a sausage membrane. Muy bien!
From Luperon to Las Siete Cascadas.
Once again, I have to comment on the friendliness of the people. Everyone we pass waves and smiles, and when we stop to ask a wrinkled old man sitting on an equally grizzled little burro for directions, he is content to chat with us for 20 minutes...laughing and smiling the whole time. Although we did not get any of the jokes, the laughter is certainly contagious and the directions were true.
The "city" of Imbert is located at a crossroad. Considering the rarity of paved roads, a crossroad is a special place. Kind of reminds me of the old west days. We have heard that there are some spectacular waterfalls near Imbert, but this is about as far as our directions go. While we grab a bottle of water at the Texaco Station (how strange is that), a big Jeep pickup with "Safari Adventure Tours" goes by with 5 gringos in the back. We decide to follow and sure enough 5 miles out of town it turns of onto a road/path and heads into the lush mountainside. Our Yamaha is a trooper and we manage the 6 miles of rutted trail and approach what seems to be a staging area next to a swift running creek. Our friends in Luperon had told us that at this point, we would need to hire a guide and continue on foot.
Did you know that Jurassic Park was filmed in the Domincan Republic? Hiking up into the mountains with our guide "Cookie", we had no problem believing it. The flora is lush and colorful. On a whim, we stopped on the trail and counted no less that 40 different types of plant life from where we stood.
Giant flora & fauna.
An easy 20-minute hike brought us to the first waterfall, where we changed into our bathing suits to continue on. For the next 3 hours we climbed up a total of 14 waterfalls, each with its own pool at the bottom forming natural whirlpools. They stretch between cracks that the water had carved out of the rock, so that we often swam in a crevice 4 foot wide with walls stretching up 100 feet on each side. In some areas, the torrent had cut caves into the sides of the channels forming sheltered enclaves from which actual stalagmites protruded.
On the way back, Cookie, recognizing that we were a bit more adventurous than the average tourist, showed us how to skirt the tops of the waterfalls so that we could jump into the deep pools at their base or slide down the deep channels cut into the rock.
Unfortunately, only one of the pictures at the waterfalls came out, but I hope you get a good mental image from these notes.
The only surviving waterfall pic...too bad there's no water.
Puerto Plata - July 20, 2003 (Keith)
About 20 miles outside of Puerto Plata, the rocky, palm tree studded hills with brief glimpses of the ocean, drew us strongly and we decided to spend the afternoon hiking up a particularly interesting bluff topped hill.
Barb vs. cow.
The road less traveled.
We arrive in Puerto Plata late that evening and ride along the Malacon, a road that runs along the coast. Every 50 yards or so there is a mobile bar parked on the side of the road with salsa music turned up as loud as their stereos will allow. Since this is Saturday night, the sidewalks and oftentimes the street is filled with dancing, shouting, laughing Dominicans having a great time. While relaxing on the beach with a Presidente (a Dominican beer), across from an old Fort named after General Luperon, we ask several locals we meet where we can find a cheap room for the night and end up at the Long Beach Hotel, right across the street from a beautiful beach. So you ask, what do you get for $4 a night???
Yeah, baby -- living high on the hog in Puerto Plata.
It's not the Holiday Inn, but the sheets are clean and there is running water (most of the time). [Note from BG: Note that roughly an hour away you can have marble floors and room service for $10 bucks a night, but this amused us far more and we had a lovely night here.]
We are in Puerto Plata because we heard about a Cable Car that takes you high
into the mountains. It is the same one that was used in Jurassic Park.
I can tell from the deathgrip that Barb has on the Gondola's railing that she is enjoying the ride up. As the top approaches we slip into the bottom of a cloud and spend the last 100 yards eerily floating vertically along a cliff face.
View before we hit the cloud
The continual misting by passing clouds has turned the top of the mountain into a natural greenhouse for a profuse variety of exotic flowers. Here is one in particular that caught our interest.
The shiny blue thing is real, and part of the plant.
The inside of the petals are filled with water and what look like (I kid you not) organs. Every once in awhile you see this blue tipped proboscis emerge from one of the petals. For what purpose?? If anyone can shed some light on this strange flora, please email us.