Sunday, April 17, 2011

To Samana Bay, Dominican Republic

April 15, 2011
Returning to Ocean World from Santo Domingo, the winds and seas were still not favorable for the long overnight crossing to Samana Bay.  No matter - one of the things I love best about this lifestyle is the diversity of the people one meets along the way.

We first met Galen, a large Siberian husky, when he hopped aboard, licked our hands and promptly settled in, taking a nap on our aft deck in the shade.   We later met Galen’s owners,  Hazel & Bill, from Scotland.   Hazel regaled us all night, playing her guitar , explaining Scottish history and singing Scottish ballad after ballad, many of which she wrote.   She was kind enough to allow us to download a CD of her music which I love listening to.  The song she is singing was written in the late 18th century by Lady Caroline Naira - "the News fae Moidant'.  Enjoy the lilting lyrics with your eyes closed!  It is wonderful! 

NOTE to Readers:  I am having trouble loading this video.  Check later.

Departing Ocean World on Sunday afternoon (April 17)  about 5:00 PM, we headed out in the Atlantic Ocean to Samana Bay, along the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, some 14 hours away.

Moon coming up over Atlantic Ocean off DR coast
Our first overnight - yes - all night long -- passage.  For the non-boater reading this, for safety sake, one must always ARRIVE where you are going in daylight in these waters as reefs are everywhere.  Coming into a place you’ve never been before in the DARK is simply not safe, so one does the math and figures out how many hours it takes to get to your destination and what hour of the morning it would be safe to get near shore at your destination point.  Then back that up and figure out what time you must DEPART the day before so you arrive in daylight, with the sun high enough in the sky to allow you to see reefs, etc.

Our cruise was calm, smooth, uneventful with a full moon lighting our path.  Visibility was excellent!  Andy & I took turns napping and resting nearby on the fly bridge couches  (no real sound sleep for either of us) throughout the night while the other maintained watch over our instruments and our course.

Following the moonbeam late at night

  Given the long distances around the country of Hispaniola, one must spend a couple of days and nights at sea to get to Puerto Rico OR work your way around the coast like we are doing.  There are very few anchorages along the way in this rough coastline- and those few are safe only in specific winds & wave direction.
                                                              Dark is Dark is Dark!
Cruising into Puerto Bahia Marina after all night at sea

Now, however, there are a few new marinas being developed along the way, allowing one to break up the trip by utilizing the new marinas, which is safer for us.

Cruising past the town of Samana, with it’s reputation as a ‘den of thieves’, ‘corrupt officials’, ‘worst than 3rd world’, ‘don’t go there’, we arrived at the new, first class marina, Puerto Bahia, 15 minutes further down Samana Bay.  We figured we’d be spending the same amount of money either way - pay the corrupt officials their ‘bribes’ or ‘thank you’ or simply their shake down fees or spend the same money at the marina that keeps those types of folks AWAY.  Ah, great choice.  Puerto Bahia is world class - beautiful with a hotel, condos, pools, restaurants and very friendly people.  At $85 total a day for us, we were thrilled.

After napping for a few hours, we checked out the sightseeing options.  A French couple, Veronique & Fabrice Lambert, of FABRICE Travel located at the Marina were more than wonderful and helpful.  For you boaters reading this:  They are a wealth of information and will arrange trips and tours all over the country for you.  They can be reached at 849-206-9262 or at

They arranged for a cab to take us into the ‘den of thieves’ town of Samana just to see it all.  Hiring our cab for a flat rate of $25 (vs $35 one way - go figure?!) our driver gave us an overview of the town and then dropped us off to wander about while he waited for us.  Checking out the harbor, we saw no large trawlers like ours, only sailboats.  We were hassled a bit by folks wanting to show us around but there were easily turned away.  The houses and stores along the way between the Marina and the town are very poor and it appears that very few are employed.....hence, the hassling to make a buck I guess.

Returning to the marina, Veronique got creative, finally locating a small boat and a very professional guide that spoke English to take us to Los Haitises, a DR National Park, 19 miles across Samana Bay.
Our guide & boat captain

Our choices had been to (a) take our own boat over there, anchoring off the Park and dingy around.  We would need to pay someone to remain ON the boat for security. Given the reefs and rocks and the fact we had no idea of where to go once in the Park, we did not want to do this.  (b) take a normal cruise boat for $115 each to the Park, departing from Samana.  The cruise boat, however, spends only 2 hours in the Park and then takes everyone to another island with buffet lunch and then sit on the beach with your crowd of people for the next bunch of hours -- something I rather never ever do. 

Heading out for the Natl Park

So, for $300, we got our own boat with driver and helper plus an English speaking VERY knowledgeable guide.    Departing at 9:00 AM Monday morning, in and out of rain but flat seas, we crossed Samana Bay to the Park in 45 minutes in our little boat.
The Captain's son & helper

As folks say now - OMG.... Oh, my God.  What a beautiful place so untouched.  You think you are back in time during the era of Jurassic Park.   It is breathtakingly beautiful.

One of thousands of tiny limestone islands

Beautiful water, limestone outcroppings

One of many beautiful tucked away beaches

There are hundreds of tiny lush 
islands poking out of the water in this subtropical rainforest, many very close together.  Made of limestone for the most part, there are numerous caves tucked in these islands, many with drawings by the Taino Indians centuries ago.

Tucking inside a cave in our boat

Stalagtites & Stalgmites

Early drawings by the Taino Indians found inside the larger caves

Examples of the cave drawings

Looking outside a cave we hiked in & about

Wildlife abounds and cedar and mahogany trees are everywhere.  We wound our way around these islands for several hours, getting out occasionally to walk through the caves and admire the ancient drawings.
 I’m from Florida and thought I knew mangroves, even in the Everglades.  Believe me, these mangrove swamps are HUGE, with the mangrove trees forming a canopy above the watery trails that wind thru the swamp.  Many of the roots of the mangroves are well above our heads in the boat. 

Our watery path thru the mangroves

Our captain slowly getting us thru the narrow trails

Mangroves are the 'nursery' for plants, fish, insects

KIDS:  Look up more information surrounding the mangroves & why they are so important to LIFE!  We used to destroy them in Florida, but finally learned that they are the 'nursery' for many plants, animals, fish and insects AND they protect land from the income sea, especially during a hurricane.
Red crab - we are used to BLUE crabs

Beautiful, lush countryside

This appears to be a old old hand carved wooden boat

Lunch at the Eco Lodge deep within the mangroves was wonderful.  After tying up the boat and walking a short distance, we were met by someone from the Lodge in a truck and off we went, deeper into the rainforest.

Passing horses and cows and fields along the way, we suddenly turned into the lodge, very much hidden in the foliage.  Built by hand I assume, this place is something to see.  There is a system that catches the rainwater, funneling it into pools & waterfalls that meander all around the lodge and restaurant. Unfortunately for us, it is the dry season, so no water at the moment.  How fun it would be to swim in this place!

Waterfalls flow down here in the rainy season, making a swimming pool

What would be the pool area in the rainy season

The main eating area is up above this table and chairs

A huge black bird swooped in, attempting to steal a bite!
We liked this entire area so much we want to come back to with our families, spending a least one night here.  The rooms in the Lodge are simple, very clean and at about $50 per person per night (which included breakfast & dinner) and half that if one is under age 11, is a deal.  The food we ate for lunch was wonderfully tasty, well presented and served by friendly folks.  An appetizer of tiny fried fish and fried plantains was waiting for us as we sat down.

Those fruit looking things in the basket are actually cocoa beans - chocolate is made from them
The cocoa bean cut.  Those pods inside are the cocoa beans.  They taste slimy & somewhat bittersweet.  Those beans are cleaned & roasted somehow before becoming the cocoa that we know.

Back at the Marina, we had a great time at a Rum Tasting at the hotel bar.  Sipping various rums & chatting with the marina owners, architects and operators, and other boaters from Australia and France,  we learned more about their countries, about this country and about Samana Bay as Dominican music played in the background.  I just love the diversity of the people we are meeting from all over the world.

With some help from Veronique and Fabrice, with their ‘move it up stick’ in hand, we finally got our DESCHAPO (clearance papers) from the officials so we could depart in the morning for Cap Cana Marina, 10 hours further down the coast and on our route toward Puerto Rico.

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