June 1st, 2015: Spanish Wells – Harbor Island (Devil’s Backbone Passage)
On Monday morning, I called the pilot Bandit to see if we could go through the Devil’s Backbone, and he said he would be out within twenty minutes. There were no other cruising boats in the area. Bandit is an older guy, with kind of a Dutch accent. He brought his boat to tow, so we had to stow Little Blend, but it was easy as there was no wind. Bandit drives the boat, so I could kick back and enjoy the ride. The cost was quite a bit higher than we had read, at $120, but he blamed the increase on the VAT. Hmmm… Anyway, it was a great day for the passage, with virtually no wind and very calm seas. Rosé rode on the bow to take pictures, and I sat on the flying bridge with Bandit. All of the cruising guides urged having a pilot, but after doing the passage, I would be confident taking the boat over by ourselves. There are only a couple of tight spots, and they are well-defined on the charts. We could easily see the reefs underneath the water, as it was crystal clear with just a few ripples on the surface. Bandit had a lot of stories about his experiences on boats and in the Bahamas, but I was glad when we arrived at Harbour Island after the two-hour cruise.
Position at destination: 25°29.562’N, 76°38.445’W
Air temp: 89, Humidity: 54%, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 11.7 Total: 8031
Departed at 9:15am, arrived at 11:30am
We arrived at the Harbour Island anchorage in time for lunch, and we said goodbye to Bandit. We went ashore to find out what the Harbour Island hype was all about. The guide said the dinghy dock was at the marinas, but it was quite difficult tying up and climbing onto the dock at the Valentine’s Marina. We decided to have lunch there, and even for the Bahamas, we had sticker shock. Drinks were $12 and hamburgers were $18. Rose decided to try the mahi-mahi Reuben sandwich, which she raves about to this day. We didn’t have a map of the town with us, so we started walking. We had heard that there were a lot of nice shops on the island. Most of the island was residential, but we found a shopping area after walking for a few blocks. The good thing was that the shops were all air conditioned, the bad thing was the prices. Simple dresses were well over $100, and tee-shirts were over $30. Apparently the rich and famous frequent Harbour Island. We did get some expensive banana bread at a bakery, and then we decided to check out their pink sand beach, said to be the prettiest one in the Bahamas. The beach was very wide, and very nice, but not as pink as the one we saw at Hope Town. It was almost deserted, as was most of the island. We had definitely arrived in low season.
Having seen pretty much the last of our new destinations in The Bahamas, we set off early in the morning to run the inlet at slack tide. The weather report was favorable, and we weren’t overly impressed with Harbour Island, so it was time to leave. The first leg was mostly south along the Atlantic coast of Eluthera. There are no safe havens here, so you have to find a solid weather window. We had mostly beam seas at two to three feet, so it was a good ride. Getting out of the harbor required a precise circuitous route to avoid the shoals, but the Explorer Charts defined the path with perfection. We eased into the open Atlantic and cruised down the windward side of Eluthera. The crossing to Cat Island was uneventful, and we decided to run until dusk, so we anchored off of Alligator Point, about ten miles down the bank from the northern tip of Cat Island. We got a squall late that night with wind gusting to 30 knots, some lightning, and heavy rain, but our anchor held fast.
Position at destination: 24°32.914’N, 75°38.868’W
Air temp: 82, Humidity: 72%, Water temp: 84
Nautical miles for this leg: 83 Total: 8114
Departed at 6:15am, arrived at 7:15pm
June 3rd, 2015: Alligator Point (Cat Island) – Conception Island
Early in the week, the weather forecast for the weekend in the northern Out Islands looked bad, so we decided to stay at the small Flying Fish Marina in Clarence Town (Long Island) to hide from the weather. We made a reservation, as there are only fourteen slips there, and we decided we could cut one day out of our itinerary by going all the way to Conception Island, instead on anchoring at the southern end of Cat Island. The first part of the trip was easy over the bank, with overcast skies. I decided to do some fishing over the Tartar Bank south of Cat Island, but shortly after we the lee of Cat Island, the seas on our nose picked up considerably. We were pitching in mostly head seas that we estimated at five to seven feet, so I pulled in the lines and gave up on fishing. We had to spend about five hours pounding through the seas at an average speed of only five knots. We were really glad to get to Conception Island, which was mostly sheltered from the east wind. There was only one other sailboat in the anchorage, and we retired to a gentle, small roll.
Position at destination: 23°50.855’N, 75°07.291’W
Air temp: 84, Humidity: 76%, Water temp: 85
Nautical miles for this leg: 56.65 Total: 8171
Departed at 7:15am, arrived at 4:30pm
June 4th, 2015: Conception Island – Clarence Town (Long Island)
At about three in the morning, the wind died completely, and our beam turned into the swell, rolling us uncomfortably. By 5:00AM, we gave up on sleeping and got the Hell out of there. It’s easy to navigate around Conception Island, so we didn’t need any light to get past the reefs. It was very calm, and we were really happy to get out of the roll. It’s amazing how a small bean swell can cause such rolling at anchor.
The trip down the windward side of Long Island was very pleasant, and we caught up on missed sleep. When we got close to Clarence Town, we called the Flying Fish Marina. They told us that the entrance was closed by the fuel barge, and that we would have to wait for a couple of hours before the barge pulled out. We anchored in the large harbor at Clarence Town, and waited for the barge to leave. After about two and a half hours, the barge cleared out. Of course, by this time, the wind had kicked up to fifteen to twenty knots, so docking with the wind full on our beam was a challenge. We managed to get tied up without any damage. We decided to spend two nights here before continuing. Quincy was grateful to be at a marina again.
Position at destination: 23°06.127’N, 74°57.607’W
Air temp: 85, Humidity: 67%, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 47.1 Total: 8218
Departed at 5:15am, arrived at 1:45pm
Flying Fish is a small fourteen-slip marina that caters mostly to big sport fishing boats. When we checked in, I found out that Friday was a holiday, and the marina office would be closing at 1:00 that day. This only mattered because you have to get a key to the showers from the office – they don’t sign one out to you. I guess they have had problems with boaters anchored in the harbor coming up to use their showers, so they keep them locked. Thursday night was the opening game for the NBA Finals, and we found out that we could watch the game at Rowdy Boys, a bar and grill very close to the marina. We went over a little before 9:00, and we were surprised to find the place pretty full with mostly local folks. They were having a roast pork buffet that night, which we guessed was the reason for the crowd. The game was a struggle, although most of the crowd was pro-Warriors. Early in the fourth period, the skies opened up and we got some serious rain, killing the satellite TV picture. Fortunately, they were able to get a local over-the-air broadcast, enabling us to watch the finish, albeit at pretty poor resolution. The Warriors pulled out a win in overtime, and we set out in the rain to walk back to the boat. We shared the single umbrella we had, and had to walk through numerous mud puddles, but we were in high spirits. The next day we ran the watermaker to fill our tanks (not wanting to pay $0.50 per gallon to the marina).
June 6th, 2015: Clarence Town (Long Island) – Pitts Town (Crooked Island)
We had a plan for talking four days to get to Turks and Caicos, stopping at the top of Crooked Island, Atwood Harbour on the NE end of Acklins Island, and Abraham’s Bay on Mayaguana Island. This would entail all daylight cruising. When we left Clarence Town, the weather was very settled, amking for a smooth passage. The big weather that had been forecasted for the eastern Bahamas never happened. We arrived at our anchorage off of the NW end of Crooked Island. The drop off from the bank there is very close to the island. It goes from forty feet to 1000 feet and more in a snap of your fingers. The water was very clear, and we had a large school of jacks swimming around the boat. We gave them some old chicken that Quincy wouldn’t touch, and they were very grateful to get it. We had a barracuda as well, but he didn’t have the speed to compete with the jacks.
Position at destination: 22°49.169’N, 74°20.787’W
Air temp: 86, Humidity: 60%, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 40 Total: 8258
Departed at 9:20am, arrived at 3:40pm
June 7th – 8th: 2015: Pitts Town (Crooked Island) – Providenciales (Turks and Caicos)
When we got up on Sunday morning, the seas were totally flat, and the forecast for the run to TCI was great for the next twenty-four hours. We decided to skip all of the stops, and head directly to TCI. We guessed it would be about twenty-four hours, getting us to the Blue Haven Marina around 8:00 the next morning. Game 2 of the Finals was that night, and we figured that we could catch most of it on the radio as we passed by Abraham’s Bay on Mayaguana, which had a BTC tower. A haze settled in, making the passage kind of eerie. In the afternoon, a northbound power cat hailed us, and they thought the same thing, but were definitely enjoying the calm passage. Late Sunday night, we were able to listen to Game 2 on the Smartphone, but unfortunately, the Warriors lost that one in overtime. The overnight run to TCI was a pure joy, reminding us of some of the Pacific passages we had in 2014. For most of the trip, we had a current pushing our stern, so we had to back the engine rpm’s way down to avoid arriving too early.
We got to the channel markers at the reef a little after 8:00AM. We announced our arrival to Provo Radio, which seems to be the TCI Coast Guard – they request that all arriving and departing vessels notify them by VHF. When we had made our marina reservation, we said we didn’t need a pilot boat. But after reading some reviews of shifting shoals on Active Captain, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor. We called the marina and requested a pilot boat, which showed up about fifteen minutes later. It was a very nice RIB with a big 250hp motor on it – we were upgraded! The marina has some of the biggest slips and fairways that we have ever seen, making it very easy to back into our assigned slip. We went to the marina office where customs and immigration gave us a quick and easy check-in, with a $50 fee for a one-week cruising permit.
Position at destination: 21°49.198’N, 72°08.876’W
Air temp: 90, Humidity: 62%, Water temp: 86.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 146.3 Total: 8404
Departed at 7:30am, arrived at 8:15am
Blue Haven Marina and Resort
This is a great place to stay while transiting to the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. The marina has the largest fairways I have ever seen, and the water is very clean. A resident with a sailing cat told us that he never needs to clean the bottom. There is a very strong tidal current that passes through the marina, but with the large fairways and slips, docking is a breeze. There is a really nice pool and beach area, a couple of restaurants, and a well-stocked convenience store on-site. The drawbacks are no ATM on the property, and everything is expensive. The slip rate was reasonable – for a one week stay, we paid $1.50 per foot, but the power is expensive at $0.70 per kW. It was great to have floating docks again. Compared to the much more expensive marinas in the Bahamas, this place was a bargain. The staff at the marina was very helpful, and on-site customs and immigration is a big plus. To see TCI, you need a rental car. The resort arranged for Avis to pick us up at the marina, with an economy car (typical egg car) at $30 per day.
On the third day of our visit, the trade winds really picked up, blowing at 20 knots or more. But the channel is well-protected, and we never had any movement of the boat. We had originally planned to stay just for three or four days, but the weather on the passage to the D.R. was looking lousy, so we extended our stay. As a word of warning, the cruising fee, $50 for a week, goes up to $300 is you stay more than one week. We were very hopeful that the weather would allow us to leave within a week.
The resort has partner properties closer to the center of Providenciales – Alexandra Resort and the Beach House. You can request a free shuttle to those properties, and you can use their facilities. We decided that this would be a great way to get to town. Since we were the only ones on the shuttle, the driver dropped us off at the central shopping area. I attempted to use the ATM at First Caribbean Bank, but it was out of service. We found out that there was another ATM by the Graceway Gourmet grocery store within easy walking distance. We wanted to see game three of the NBA Finals, and the shuttle driver suggested that we go to Danny Buoys, a large bar right in the shopping district. We went there for a drink, and we found they had quite a few screens set up. We did some shopping in the local galleries, which had some great pictures and photos at decent prices, if we only had room on the boat. We hit up the ATM at the Scotiabank, and proceeded to the Graceway Gourmet store. Linda and Brian from Destination had told us there was great provisioning in TCI, and they were spot-on. For a medium-sized store, it was very well stocked. They had a sale on some sodas, including some varieties we hadn’t seen for a while. The produce section was extensive, with good looking fruits and vegetables. Best of all, I found a bottle of Gosling Gold Bermuda rum, my all-time favorite sipping rum. I had a bottle that I bought in San Jose a few years ago, and had never seen again. The black rum is commonly found, but the gold is very rare. I also bought a bottle of the local rum, Bambarra, which turned out to be really good at $15 for a one liter bottle. The store also had a deli, bakery, and hot food preparation. We bought a couple of pieces of fried chicken for Quincy, which he thoroughly enjoyed. We got a cab to take us back at an exorbitant rate of $10 per person, but we had little choice. We decided to use the same driver to take us to Danny Buoys for the game. The game was not good, with Cleveland winning to go up 2-1 in the series – ouch! But we did have a good time, and it was a good venue to watch – there were a lot of fans of both teams. The bar got more local as the night went on and tourists went to bed.
We got a car the next day to explore the island. It’s not large, and it’s quite narrow. We drove to the south side where the beach was said to be spectacular. Long Bay Beach was indeed long, but access to it through the scrub was difficult. We had to drive to the far northeast end of the beach to find access through a small resort. The beach was very windy, what with the wind blowing across the Caicos Bank. There were a lot of kite surfers out that day, but we didn’t find the beach alluring.
We drove around to Provodenciales, having lunch at a local restaurant. We found the larger Graceway grocery store, and picked up some provisions. There was also a Do-It Center (small Home Depot) where we picked up some supplies. That night, we went back to Danny Buoys to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals. When we arrived, we were surprised to see that all of the chairs and tables had been cleared off of the main floor, leaving just a few booths. We asked the waiter about this, and he said that they get a large crowd on Thursday nights. He wasn’t kidding – by 10:00PM, the place was absolutely mobbed. We were able to watch the game, which the Warriors won to even up the series! I don’t think that we have ever been in a bar that crowded. There wasn’t any particular promotion that night, but half of the Provo population was in the bar.
By Friday, we believed that the weather was going to break a little to give us a window to get to the Dominican Republic. We had extra motivation to avoid staying more than seven days, requiring us to pay a $300 cruising permit. The tough thing about getting from TCI to the DR is getting across the Caicos Bank. It’s shallow and full of coral heads, but it can be navigable. We definitely didn’t want to cross in the dark, as we would need to visually identify coral heads. The route southeast across the bank is about fifty miles, with another ten or so just to get around Provo. Anchoring on the bank is not recommended, as any wind can produce a nasty fetch. There are a few anchorages on the edges of the bank. We eventually decided to anchor on the southeast side at Ambergris Cay. This was close to a passage across the reef to get us to the DR. The guides told us we had to be very careful about coral heads in the anchorage, so we had to arrive no later than 4:00PM to see them, which would require us to depart from Blue Haven before daylight.
June 14th: 2015: Providenciales (Blue Haven Marina) – Ambergris Cay
Since we were leaving Sunday morning before dawn, we checked out of TCI on Saturday afternoon. We would be allowed to anchor after checking out, so it wasn’t a problem to stop at Ambergris Cay. We left in pre-dawn darkness a little after five in the morning, following our track back outside the reef. There was almost no wind when we left, and the passage across the north and west sides of Provo was very smooth. However, once we turned east to cross the bank, conditions changed in a hurry. We had winds of 15 to 20 knots, seas of three to four feet mostly on our nose, and scattered whitecaps. The wind and sea calmed somewhat during our passage, and once we turned to the southeast, it wasn’t too bad. We only had to dodge a few coral heads crossing the bank, but once we got close to Ambergris Cay, it was like traversing a mine field. There were elkhorn corals scattered randomly, sometimes breaking the surface in depths of around twenty feet. We were really glad we had arrived in good light! We found a sandy bottom with a lot of room between the coral to anchor for the night. We had pretty good protection from Ambergris Cay, so it was a calm night.
Position at destination: 21°19.255’N, 71°38.963’W
Air temp: 89, Humidity: 63%, Water temp: 84.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 76.5 Total: 8481
Departed at 5:15am, arrived at 4:50pm
June 15th – 16th 2015: Ambergris Cay (TCI) – Ocean World Marina (Dominican Republic)
The passage to Ocean World near Puerto Plata is a little over one-hundred nautical miles. We expected some adverse cruising conditions from current and waves, so we estimated the crossing would take around eighteen hours. We could have continued straight from Ambergris Cay, but we were expecting an unpleasant passage so we wanted to be fully rested, which is why we spent the night at Ambergris Cay. In order to arrive at Ocean World around mid-morning, we decided to depart around 3:00PM. We dodged coral heads to access the Middle Cut through the reef, a fairly deep but narrow channel. The water clarity was excellent, so the coral heads seemed to be much closer to the surface than they really were. We carefully idled over them, never seeing less than fifteen feet of water under our keel. Once we cleared through Middle Cut and turned southeast, the full force of the sea was on us, about 30° off our port bow. We estimated the seas at four to six feet, with a period of only five or six seconds. It was a pretty rough ride. For just the second time on our voyage, I felt a little seasick, and I had no interest in eating. Rosé fared better than I did, but she had a hard time sleeping that night. After a few hours, we turned an additional 10° starboard to ease the waves on our bow. This added a little time to the passage, but it was a better ride. After a long, sleepless night, we spotted the mountains of the Dominican Republic a little after 8:00AM, and turned east towards Puerto Plata. With the slow speed and the extra distance, the passage took us twenty hours. We contacted Ocean World Marina, and they told us we would need to tie up to the quarantine dock to check in.
Position at destination: 19°49.644’N, 70°43.863’W
Air temp: 86, Humidity: 68%, Water temp: 85
Nautical miles for this leg: 111 Total: 8592
Departed at 3:00pm, arrived at 11:00am
June 16th – 19th 2015: Ocean World Marina (Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic)
Check in was relatively simple. We had originally planned to skip DR, due to the numerous stories of corruption of officials at the anchorages. But after talking with some people at Georgetown in The Bahamas, we decided to do a marina tour – the marinas make sure the officials are on the up-and-up, and the reviews in Active Captain confirmed this. Shortly after we tied up, three officials came on board. I think they were immigration, customs, and agriculture. We were trying to keep Quincy away, as we didn’t have an up-to-date health certificate, and you never know when an official might ask. But there was no stopping him – he wanted to make friends with the officials. Fortunately, we weren’t asked about him. We paid $73 for the 90-day cruising permit, and $15 per person for the 30-day tourist card. We weren’t asked to pay anything else, and there was no solicitation of a propina (“tip”). The wind was blowing out of the east at a solid twenty knots, pinning us to the quarantine dock. We had to move to the other side of the marina, but we were able to get off of the Q dock and turn the boat around without incident. Our slip was right by the sea lion arena at Ocean World, docking stern-in to the east without a problem. We settled in for some long naps.
Ocean World was once a really nice property, but it has seen better days. Many of the facilities are closed, but there is a very active renovation program under way. Perhaps in a year or two it will be a great place. There were only a couple of transient boats in the marina, so it was pretty empty. The casino was closed and under renovation, and the pool had been taken out. There was just one bar and restaurant, but the prices were reasonable and the food was decent. We went up for some drinks and snacks. The beer bottles were served in white paper bags – we were told this keeps them cooler. The only seating for the restaurant was outside, so it was pretty warm.
Inside was a convenience store, air conditioned to an insanely cold temperature – it felt great! We bought some Dominican rum, Ron Barcelo, at less than $10 for a liter. We were enjoying the DR so far! There were large TV screens at the restaurant, so we asked if they would be showing Game 6 of the NBA Finals that night, and they said they would have it. Back on the boat, we finally got the last official – the drug enforcement inspector. He came on board with the navy guy (who speaks a little English) and his “inspection” consisted of sitting in our salon and looking at our boat document. He was armed, but relatively friendly. We suspected that he was hoping we would offer him a propina, but after a few minutes, he gave up and left.
We went back at 9:00 to watch the game – Warriors won! World champions! There was a decent crowd at the bar, including some very well-dressed women that were there for a birthday party. We also figured out the drink menu that night. Cocktails were in the menu at very high prices – over $15. Well, they don’t serve drinks; they bring you a full bottle of liquor and the mixer of your choice, and you make as many drinks as you want – what a concept! We slept well that night…
Our slip was just below the small arena where Ocean World had their sea lion show. By the end of our stay, the songs from the show were stuck in our heads: the “Panther” and “Who Let the Dogs Out!”. Ocean World is a mini-Sea World, with a variety of land and sea animals to see, along with a pool and a beach. We never went in, as we live with sea animals and beaches.
On Thursday we went in to Puerto Plata. There is a grocery store, Supermercado Jose Luis that picks you up at Ocean World for no charge. There was a small cafeteria at the supermarket where we had a very inexpensive (less than $5 each) lunch. We walked to a pharmacy to pick up some drugs, but sadly they could issue Ambien without a prescription. Most Latin countries dispense non-narcotic drugs without a prescription, such as antibiotics, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. and it’s much cheaper than the USA. We stocked up and returned to the supermarket for some provisions, mostly produce and liquor, both very cheap in the DR. Seeing the state of the roads and the quality of the drivers, we were glad that we had not rented a car.
The passage east across the north side of the DR is part of the “thorny path” to the Antilles. The trade winds blow strong and steady from the east, kicking up short and steep seas. We watched the weather carefully, and the wind was laying down on Friday and Saturday. We decided to make an overnight passage to our next marina, Puerto Bahia near Samana. We estimated the trip would take a little more than twenty-four hours, but we wanted to leave as early as possible before the seas kicked up. The DR doesn’t allow you to leave between 6:00PM and 6:00AM, and they considered a departure before 8:00AM as “overtime”, meaning that we had to pay for our transit papers. Even though we were going to another Dominican port, we had to pay $20 to customs, and $20 to the navy for our despacho (departure clearance). We were told that the navy guy would come to our boat at 6:00AM with the despacho, but we were skeptical. Once again, we had to see the drug enforcement “inspector”, but this time we were prepared with small bottles of Dominican rum, which hastened his “inspection”.
June 20th – 21st 2015: Ocean World Marina – Puerto Bahia Marina
We were ready to shove off at 6:00AM, and amazingly, the navy guy showed up with our despacho just after 6:00. We left Puerto Plata with light winds and calm seas. Just outside of the harbor, we saw a strange sight: a barge stacked full with containers towed by a single tugboat. Another tug came out from the harbor to assist. It was the first time we saw this arrangement.
The north shore is peppered with resorts on nice beaches. If it wasn’t for the endless badgering by local officials, it would have been nice to harbor-hop. As the day wore on, the seas built up. We followed very close to shore to avoid heavy seas, but we had to watch depth carefully – the charts are very inaccurate about depth in this area.
When we passed Cabo Frances Viejo late in the afternoon, we turned almost due south, so we had a heavy bean swell. Once again, we were thankful to have stabilizers. Overall, it wasn’t a bad passage, only uncomfortable on a few occasions. Once the sun set, the seas calmed somewhat, and by the time we rounded Punta Malo, it was an easy ride. We had made better time than we had estimated, so we needed to slow down on the last couple of legs. We backed down to 1400rpms on the southbound leg, and once we entered Bahia Samana, we ran at 1000rpm’s, still making 5.5 knots with the strong current carrying us east. The bay was well lit, with navigation markers clearly identifying the channel – some cruise chips anchor off of Samana. We arrived at Puerto Bahia at 6:00AM, just at sunrise. We tied up to the fuel dock to wait for the marina to open. We checked off another portion of the thorny path!
Position at destination: 19°11.672’N, 69°21.336’W
Air temp: 85, Humidity: 63%, Water temp: 88
Nautical miles for this leg: 129.1 Total: 8720
Departed at 6:00am, arrived at 6:15am
June 21st – July 9th 2015: Marina Puerto Bahia (Samana)
At 8:00, a few dockhands showed up at the fuel dock, and I explained in my pathetic Spanish that we had a slip reservation, and we wanted to know where to dock. A few minutes later, one of them pointed out our assigned slip near the end of a mostly empty dock. We moved over and docked easily in the slip, and we immediately noticed that there was a lot of surge there. The docks were typical fixed concrete, requiring us to be acrobats getting on and off the boat. Shortly after that, the officials arrived. The navy guy was Shepherd, and he spoke English quite well. We quickly completed the domestic check-in with no fees, and I went to the office to check us in to the marina with Gavvy, the marina manager who spoke excellent English. They have a strange rate structure – it’s daily up to ten days, then weekly to a month, then a six-month rate, and finally an annual rate. They want to know how many days you plan to use water (there is a daily charge), how many days you plan to leave garbage, and how many days you plan to use laundry. We had been planning to stay just three or four days before moving on to Cap Cana Marina at Punta Cana, so I paid for four days, and estimated one charge each for the others. Then I got a tour of the resort. The lobby was absolutely breathtaking – open air, but it was comfortably cool. Upstairs from the lobby were the showers and gym, as well as a pool that I was told we weren’t supposed to use. The pool for us marina scum was an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. There were three restaurants on the property – a breakfast place by the upstairs pool, an Italian restaurant facing the marina, and a casual place by the Oceanside pool. The resort is a mixture of hotel rooms and townhomes. Overall, it was very nice and in good condition, but it felt very deserted.
After taking a long nap, we went to the pool for the afternoon. While there, we met a Stacie and Ralph who were there on board the S/V Lasata. They had similar plans to us, heading next to Puerto Rico, so we decided to coordinate schedules with them. They had already been at Puerto Bahia for a couple of weeks. Their autopilot had failed, and they had to wait a couple of weeks to get the new motor shipped in. We discussed going to Samana and Santo Domingo with them, and we made some plans. They also showed us the game room, which I had not seen on the tour. It was a large air-conditioned room with a pool table, television, and lounge area. Oddly, the pool table was missing the 8-ball; why would someone take just the 8-ball?
June 23rd, 2015: Samana
On Tuesday, we went to Samana with Stacie and Ralph. Getting out of Puerto Bahia Resort requires climbing a very long and steep hill. They recommended that we catch a ride from the resort, which cost around $2 per person. Once at the gate, it was a few feet from the highway to Samana, where we could flag down a Carro Publico (shared taxi) for $1 per person. A taxi from the resort cost $20 each way, so the Publico was an easy choice. The first van that stopped for us was almost completely full – there was no way (at least for us) to fit four more into it. After all, this wasn’t El Salvador… The second van had enough room for us, so off we went to Samana. We got off at the main square. Samana is a smallish town that caters a lot to cruise ships when they are in port, so we were approached by a number of touts about tours and such, but they weren’t aggressive. There are a couple of small grocery stores, a few banks, and lots of restaurants and bars. The first bank we stopped at would only issue the equivalent of $100 US, so considering the transaction fee, we passed it by. We found a Scotiabank where we could get $400, so we got a pile of money – around 18,000 pesos. After the bank stop, we went to the bus terminal to get tickets for Santo Domingo the next day. The modern, air-conditioned bus cost just a little over $6 for the two-hour trip to the capital. However, we were told that we couldn’t buy tickets in advance – we would have to come the next day an hour before departure time.
While we were having lunch, Ralph negotiated with a motorcycle taxi (Domican equivalent of a tuk-tuk) guy to take us to a beach bar on the north side of the peninsula, and then back to Puerto Bahia, for just $20 total. You can get some great deals here in the off-season if you negotiate a little. Next to the restaurant was a local jewelry shop where Rosé bought some larimar. It’s a pale blue silicate mineral that is found only in the Dominican Republic. She got some earrings, and they threw in a polished piece of the stone – very cool stuff. After this, we hopped in the “taxi” for the ride over the hill. The motorcycle was just 125cc, so it labored heavily to carry us over the hill, but we made it.
The driver took us to a beach that I think was Playa del Valle – a pretty half moon bay with a few bars scattered on the beach. We discovered Presidente grandes – 560ml bottles meant for sharing (normal, or pequeña, size is 330ml). Stacie and Rosé got a “cocktail” of rum and juice, which of course meant an entire bottle of rum.
After a few drinks and some fun conversation with the locals, we took the taxi back over the hill to Puerto Bahia. After we returned, we checked out the pizza at the Italian restaurant, which was very good at a reasonable price. All in all, a fun day.
June 24th, 2015: Santo Domingo
Since we didn’t know if a Publico would be available, we arranged for a taxi to take us into Samana early in the morning, for $20. There weren’t too many passengers on the first-class Caribe bus, and it was very comfortable. Before we got on board, we were besieged by local taxi drivers asking when we would return. I made an agreement with one driver to take us back to Puerto Bahia for $10, but I didn’t think he would really be waiting when we got back. The journey to Santo Domingo took about 2:30, over a mixture of plains and mountains. They grow a lot of rice in the D.R. The highway is technically a toll road, but only one of the toll booths was manned, and there is no access control.
Once we entered Santo Domingo, we were treated to scenes of urban insanity – crazy traffic, tons of people, and sadly, lots of poverty. We left the bus station and engaged a taxi to take us to a seaside restaurant that Stacie had selected from Lonely Planet. When we got to the restaurant, there was a lot of confusion about whether the buffet claimed by Lonely Planet was actually available – we decided it wasn’t, and we decided to walk along the malecón to the Zona Colonial. The sea was pretty stirred up, somewhat dismissing the notion that the south side of the D.R. is a much smoother passage than the thorny path around the north side. We got to the Zona Colonial in about twenty-minutes, and headed to Parque Independencia. Once there, we were besieged by touts, but we had our own agenda in mind. For some reason, Ralph is a magnet for touts and beggars, so he got the bulk of attention – and he doesn’t say no very well either.
There is a pedestrian walkway called El Conde that runs from Parque Independencia to Parque Colon, where the oldest cathedral in the Americas is located. We selected a local cafeteria for lunch. Most of us had chicken with habichuelas and rice – habichuelas being the red beans prepared Dominican style, absolutely delicious.
After lunch we headed down El Conde on our way to Parque Colon, where the oldest cathedral in the Americas is located. About every block, Ralph was accosted and then he engaged in discussions, so the going was slow. There were a number of touristy gift shops, extremely similar-looking artwork, and surprisingly few bars and restaurants. At Parque Colon, there was a statue of Columbus, and adjacent to the park was the Catedral Primada de America, the first cathedral built after the Spanish arrived.
We toured the very old cathedral. We aren’t religious, but we certainly have an appreciation of the architecture and artwork contained in these old cathedrals.
After the cathedral, we walked north towards the Alcazar de Don Diego Colon, which was the residence of Columbus’ son when he was the Viceroy of Hispaniola. The walk included views of the harbor on the right, and several historical buildings on our left.
After a little reading, we found out that the Alcazar was almost entirely rebuilt since the 1950’s, and had actually been used as a garbage dump for some time. We decided not to go inside… We had some ice water at a restaurant adjacent to the square, and given the heat, we decided to catch a taxi back to the bus station. We departed for Samana at 4:30, and upon arrival, we were surprised to see the guy that had negotiated the ride back to Puerto Bahia was indeed waiting for us. However, his van had a flat tire. An agreement was made for us to go to another guy’s bar for drinks while the tire was changed – we felt that we owed this to him since he honored his end of the agreement. At the bar, sitting basically in a street, we discovered there was yet a larger Presidenté – the Jumbo! What a country!