I love the smell of soil and green things growing. The olfactory glands have the power to link things you smell to a very specific memory. This is because the nerve is located in the same area of the brain that is connected to the experience of emotion as well as emotional memory. This may explain why the smell of soil makes me think of my childhood. When I was growing up we always planted a large garden in the spring and worked and harvested it throughout the summer and fall. I love these memories of spending time with my Dad planting the seeds or seedlings and then harvesting and canning with my Mom.
When we sailed across from the Turks and Caicos to The Dominican Republic I smelled the island before I saw it. Soon mountains covered with green and mist came into view. This was the most green and the highest peaks we’ve seen since leaving the US.
We decided to check in to the country in Puerto Plata in a marina called Ocean World and to stock up there on water and diesel. Checking in to the Dominican Republic requires officials boarding your boat and paperwork to fill out. We were boarded by several officials to check us in but Jaxson’s favorite was the man from the Department of Drug Enforcement. He carried a gun and had a cool hat with his department name on it and gave Jax a fist bump. Now Jax has changed his life’s aspiration from USCG to drug enforcement officer.
In Ocean World we were joined by a couple of other boats we had been in contact with on the passage over from The Turks and Caicos. Blue Moon and Mirador arrived a day after us. Mirador has 2 kids aboard and Jaxson needed his kid fix. Shawn got up and took Jaxson to the pool where he and Aiden and Ava from Mirador played and swam for the morning.
Later that evening, Shawn and I went in to town with Linda and John from the boat Blue Moon. This was a new experience as everyone in the Dominican Republic speaks spanish. Stephen is fluent in spanish but The Smith’s weren’t joining us on this outing. For the first time, in a spanish speaking country, I was the one with the most spanish knowledge in our group and I know very little.
We asked the office at the marina to call us a cab and off we went to visit Puerto Plata. In the DR they do drive on the same side of the road as in the US but no one stays on either side exclusively. They drive where ever there is room and horns are a must. Here, there are more motorcycles than cars and the riders rarely wear helmets. Some times, there are as many as 5 on one motorcycle! This is also a cheap way to get around instead of a taxi, they are called motochonchos. I’m hesitant enough to get in a taxi without doors and a huge swipe down one side I don’t think I’ll be getting on one of those motochonchos any time soon. Our spanish speaking taxi driver was very patient with us and I managed to get us to a store, a bank, and then into the Central Square. The Central Squares in most of the Dominican towns we have been in look a lot like ours in small towns in the US with the exception of the 2 or 3 men standing around casually holding shotguns. While in the square, we ran into one of the employees from the marina that recognized Linda and John. He offered to take us around town and help us find the places we were asking about. He spoke enough english and I enough spanish that we were able to get around quite nicely. We stopped at few stores, a bookstore and then a very nice restaurant that offered local Dominican fare to round out our enjoyable evening in town.
We next sailed out boat to Luperon into a very nice, calm bay. We were driving about in the bay filled with lots of boats when we saw some men tending to a mooring ball. They offered to rent it to us and we quickly took them up on this offer as we had read it was not great bottom here for anchoring. Most of the boats in this harbor are on mooring balls and so we followed suit. Papo is the man who owns our mooring ball and several others, he also keeps watch over some of the boats that are not occupied and hauls out water and diesel to those who ask for it. One morning he stopped by our boat to check on us and asked to take Jaxson into town to meet his family. Jaxson got to ride on his motorcycle for a short trip and go on his rounds with him that morning. He came back full of stories of boats, trucks, and motorcycles.
While at Luperon we decided we all wanted to visit Santiago and Santo Domingo but we didn’t want to leave the boat overnight so we each took turns. The Smiths went to Santo Domingo to stay a few days and we headed to Sanitago for a day trip.
From Luperon the best way to Santiago was by Guagua, this is a mini public bus that is rated to seat maybe 8 people comfortably but in the Dominican Republic they usually have 15 or more in them when they stop taking more passengers. Unfortunately, this is how we found out Shawn gets panic attacks when in small busses with too many people aboard. When we stopped to let the 16th passenger aboard Shawn rushed out the door with Jaxson and I quick on his heels. Shawn felt better but now we were standing on the side of some road in some town speaking no spanish with lots of people around us asking us questions in spanish. Somehow I managed to explain we needed another Guagua and that Shawn had to sit by the door. Crisis resolved.
Once in Santiago, I was very excited to go to the Museo Folklorico de Tomas Morel I had read about in the National Geographic Traveler. We asked our bus driver to drop us off near the area it was in and finally, after strolling around asking about it we found it only to see the sign stating it was closed for remodeling. However, walking around in this part of Santiago we stumbled on the open air markets. These were well worth the trip. I only wish we could have loaded up on food but we were far from home and carrying fresh produce all day was just not appealing. There were blocks and blocks of fresh market sellers, think farmers market meets flea market on steroids. We saw pineapples, mangoes, sour and sweet oranges, coconuts, hanging chickens and hams, bags and bags of rice and beans, various dried fish, some sort of cake in cellophane called tamarido, breads, candies, jewelry, and clothes. If you didn’t find what you were looking for in the stands there were vendors walking around pushing carts full of more veggies, fruits, sunglasses, shoes and just about anything they could try to sell someone.
We stopped at a cart vendor and bought a coconut water, the vendor pulled out a cup and filled it with chipped ice, he instructed us to pick out a coconut and pulled out a machete and chopped the edges off, cut a hole in the top and poured the refreshing liquid in a cup full of ice. Now that’s fresh!
We spent several more hours wandering about the town from place to place eating new things and meeting local people. We hiked to the center of town to see the Monumento a los Heros de la Restauracion which sits high on a hill and offers terrific views of the city. This is a huge monument made of white marble and was constructed during the rein of the dictator Trujillo to honor the men who in 1844 helped to expel the Haitians and restore the Dominican Republic’s government. It was also closed but just to see the view of Santiago from the outside was enough. We ended our day walking down Calle del Sol passing in and out of lots of shops and restaurants on our way back to the bus that would take up back to Luperon.