The night was dark. There was almost no moon, so we could see billions of stars. There is something beautiful and calming to the soul to stare into such a night sky. As the boat plowed through the water, sparkles of bioluminescence lighted our wake. It was nothing like the CGI in “Life of PI” but beautiful nonetheless. The sun promised to rise and provided just enough light for our first glimpse of the Dominican Republic. Looking at the layers and layers of mountainous terrain, we knew we were no longer in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos.
As the sun continued to rise, we saw the lush vegetation that covered the mountainsides. What a spectacular change from the desert islands we had been visiting since we left Florida. Without doing the research, I could tell the DR was more tropical with much more rainfall.
There was a jubilant feeling when Livin’ Life, Why Knot IV, and Mile High Dream pulled into Ocean World Marina in Puerto Plata. Of course, we had to stay on our respective boats until we cleared into the country, so high fives would have to wait. Ocean World is just what it sounds like: a knock off of Sea World, but they own a marina and hotel. They have a park you buy tickets to enter with sea lion and bird shows and a huge dolphin lagoon where you can swim with the dolphins. We have no intention of visiting the park, but we chose Ocean World because they assist you through the process of clearing into the country. Dominican officials have a notorious reputation for expecting bribes and even bringing friends that need a little something, too. Therefore, Ocean World keeps them legit and honest, which we certainly appreciate. Also, none of the officials spoke English, so the Ocean World representative was a welcomed translator. This is country #4 for us and the first one with a language barrier. My Spanish will get us around, but isn’t adequate for official business.
In fact, clearing in was a breeze. No problem at all. We highly recommend the use of this marina for initial arrival into the DR! (For other cruisers: When you arrive they will bring you to the fuel dock or Dock A just inside the sea wall. After you clear in, you will be assigned a slip to move to.) After our 24 hour sail to get here, we were exhausted and I was looking forward to a nap. However, Dave was just itching to see the country and talked me into taking a taxi into town to get drinks and have a look around. Dylan (29), from Mile High Dream, joined us saying he was feeling the age difference as Greg and Ted (both much older than 29) were napping and he felt ready and raring to go. (We didn’t mention how close to napping we were ourselves.) The marina called us a taxi, which showed up with a guide. The guide said he would give us a narrated tour of the city. It would take about 3 hours and cost $50 for the taxi plus a tip for him. We kindly declined since we were so tired and would better enjoy it the next day. However, the taxi cost us $20 each way anyway. We were dropped off at Parque Central (Central Park) and were immediately accosted by numerous locals wanting to take us somewhere and show us things. We saw so many buildings in various conditions for sale (se vende). Some of them must be condemned! It seemed half the city was up for sale.
One local guy just wouldn’t give up and kept walking with us. He took us to a tiny local bar where we bought beers, which we took outside to a park across the street. This guy worked for la Minesteria de Turismo (Dept. of Tourism) and had a uniform and ID card to prove it, which he repeatedly showed us to reassure us he was legit. Eventually, he grew on us and we began to get past our initial feelings of distrust, which is unfortunately deeply bred into most Americans and we are no exception. This guide, Paulina, let us know everything we already did wrong and how to avoid it in the future. First, avoid the taxis because they are way over priced. Public buses will take you anywhere for 20 pesos (about US$0.50) each way. The Dept. of Tourism is located near Central Park and has maps and guidebooks for free to help visitors find their way around. Also, Dylan was wearing the wrist band provided by Ocean World, which provides us access to the marina through security. However, this was a quick “gringo” tip off, in case our bright white skin wasn’t already a dead give away. But this was like carrying a tourist flag, basically. Dave and I were happy we opted to pocket ours and Dylan removed his. Paulina described to us how we can see the country without paying exorbitant tourist rates. So we asked him to become our personal guide for the next day and made plans to meet, perhaps with a few more friends from the other boats.
Meanwhile, we stopped by the “cigar factory” and watched them roll the cigars. They use tobacco leaves as papers to hold yet more tobacco leaves that are chopped up. These are placed in a box shaped for them and then pressed. To finish them, they use another leaf that is very soft and flexible and roll them again. It was quite interesting to watch. Dylan is a cigar smoker, so he enjoyed one for free and bought two.
But my favorite part was sampling some Juana Maria, the national drink. It is a bottle filled with herbs and cured with some wine, then you add honey, rum, and sangria wine and let it rest for at least 75 hours. It was delicious and I wanted a bottle, but they were asking $65 for a small bottle! WOW! For the Dominican Republic, this is very expensive. By the time we left, the price had dropped to $45 a bottle. We said we would come back tomorrow. <wink, wink> Anyway, we enjoyed Paulina’s company and assistance and returned to the boat with a positive feeling, even if we did get ripped by the taxi. We are looking forward to tomorrow.