February 4, 2012

My Year So Far: Republica Dominica

And then we set sail again. I felt sick for a few days, and then was fine on the last day when we came into port. Man. My great-grandfather was a merchant marine his whole life and my dad was a commercial fisherman for a couple of years. So why do I get sick? I must have my mother's predisposition to seasickness. What a bummer, because I love the ocean! 

This time, for a vast change in scenery we anchored in Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic. This is the view from our anchorage on a foggy morning:

When anchored, it is very important that you stay in one place and make sure that you are not moving, because, as I've read in my great-grandfather's sailing log, the anchor chain can drag and then break and send you adrift and you can run into rocks, run aground etc etc... So normally while on watch we did "boat checks" every hour, but while anchored we did that in addition to half-hourly anchor checks. Taking bearings and the boats heading and looking at the anchor chain and at a computer program etc. It is a lot of work to stay still on a boat!!!

In the DR, our field trip was to Los Haitises, a national park/virgin forest of all these little karst mounds with great caverns recessed into them and mangroves around their perimeters.

Here is an excerpt from my blog entry about when we kayaked in the mangrove swamps:

Kayaking (Dylan): At 0800 yesterday, a noisy catamaran pulled up alongside the Cramer to take us to Los Haitises; the DR equivalent of a national park. The ship’s soundtrack of Ke$ha and several upbeat local artists was slightly incongruous with the serene beauty of the scenery. We meandered our way around dozens of small islands created by the uplift and subsequent erosion of ancient coral reefs. The islands, half hidden by the fog, were mounds of lush, dark green flora, dotted with the white of egrets nesting in the trees. The weathered calcite deposits were exposed at the base of each island, and caves were recessed into some of them. Hundreds of birds were engaged in every sort of standard bird activity. There were frigate birds, known here as Tijereta, searching for mates on the leeward side of one island with their red throat pouches inflated. Brown pelicans skimmed along the water and occasionally dove for fish. My favorites were the graceful black birds with forked tails that hung almost perfectly still in the air. They may’ve been female Tijereta, perhaps looking for mates?

After an hour, we pulled up alongside a larger island and embarked on our kayaking adventure through the mangrove swamps. Mangrove roots, which stick out of the water or ground depending on what type of mangrove it is, are all tubular, haphazard loop-de-loops that braid and weave together forming a sort of organic celtic knot. My kayaking partner, Sarah, mused about getting a tattoo of mangrove roots! Sarah and I stayed at the back of the pack and spotted many camouflaged crabs scampering on the vines and roots. Most were dark brown, but we saw one crab about the size of a hand with juicy red mandibles and pincers. We were told mangroves are also home to manatees, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any. We eventually returned to the boat where we ate lunch before our next adventure!
Our next adventure was some spelunking in some beautiful caverns. MC decided to swim and we all followed suit. I saw a bunch of chitons on the walls:
Chiton. Sold for too many dollars in the local shop! Florent Charpin
Then we returned to town and went to a whale museum and then to a school where we exchanged songs with some local kids.

Samana is supposed to be the most beautiful town in the DR we heard. I was amazed and couldn't even imagine what the rest of Hispaniola must be like, given the huge amount of trash that blanketed the entire city. (Later, when we sailed along Haiti, for a day or two we could smell burning trash, even several miles off shore.) There was a thriving local market, and many many many touristy activities and shops. We agreed with a local man to go to his jewelry store and I bought a bracelet I actually liked, but it broke later that day, which was disappointing, but at least it'll help him and his family I hope. There were also dogs everywhere. Like this beautiful guy:

A face only a mother could love.
I was quite frustrated with my limited Spanish abilities (read: lack thereof). But by the third day I had picked up enough to have simple conversation. Numbers were still hard though. And flavors in the icecream shop. I of course managed to order what appeared to be identical to what my shipmates ordered but that cost a dollar more... I mostly just spoke in Frentalianglish which worked well enough. I did manage to buy some cacao beans! I made hot chocolate out of them recently and didn't realize you're supposed to roast them first. But apparently they are good stimulants for you when they are raw.  I didn't sleep that night. Weeeeeee!

We bought a watermelon. Nobody had a knife:

There were wild horses in the park where the kids played baseball. 

As visible in my first picture, the bay is transected by a causeway that's about 50 feet above the water. 
In this picture, a man runs on the railing. He did this twice before jumping off.

Much of the water below is very shallow, but locals know where to jump. We were forbidden to follow suit (but the next day we got to jump off the bow of the Cramer which is pretty darn high up too!)

I like this picture because you can see the elevator from the hotel to the beach in the background. Oh, tourism.

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