Seven League Boots
End of March was high time for Exodus to leave Antigua. The Easter holiday was drawing closer, the time of our rendezvous in Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic. Due to our gear box overhaul we had spent far more time in Antigua than anticipated. The initial plan, to visit St Kitts and Nevis and some of the BVIs (British Virgin Islands consisting of Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and 50 other smaller islands and cays), had been relinquished a while before. Puerto Rico, which has been devastated by last year’s hurricanes, is destitute, and Arthur required a visa to visit. Reasons enough to scrap it off our travel itinerary.
Ahead of us was a trip of 458 sea miles. Exodus hopped into her seven league boots and went off on the most direct route for what we thought would be a quick sail. We waved at Nevis from a distance and set course with all the sail out we could find.
The wind was very mild the first days. What should have been 3,5 days, turned into 5 days as we were becalmed along the way. We sailed all along Puerto Rico and hopped on to the DR.
Only at day 4 at about 15h the wind picked up and some decent sailing was done.
La Republica Dominicana is not to be confused with Dominica, the nature island we visited in January. For once, the country’s name has nothing to do with being discovered on a Sunday. The country was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 but actually got baptized in honour of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the founding father of the Order of the Dominicans. If you are drawing a blank, they are also known as the Jacobins or black friars.
Dominican Republic lies on the island of Hispaniola, a huge landmass it shares unequally with Haiti. Hispanolia is the result of fault action, is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.
On the internet DR is described in superlatives:
- the second biggest Caribbean country, after Cuba.
- the third most populated country in the Caribbean. It has almost 10 million inhabitants, of which 3 million live in the Santo Domingo metropole.
- the largest economy (construction, manufacturing, tourism, and mining) in the Caribbean and Central American region, the ninth-largest economy in Latin America and one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas.
- second largest gold mine in the world, the Pueblo Viejo mine
- the most visited destination in the Caribbean, whether it is sun, sea, pool, tropical islands, partying or golf you are after.
- Host to the Caribbean’s tallest mountain peak (Pico Duarte) as well as the lowest point (Lake Enriquillo) which doubles as the largest lake of the Caribbean.
- the first permanent European settlement in the Americas is in Santo Domingo, making it the oldest continuously inhabited city, and the first seat of the Spanish colonial rule in the New World. The first cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress built in the Americas stand testimony to this fact, in a prime World Heritage Site in Santo Domingo’s colonial zone.
- Inventor and home of merengue and bachata.
Home away from home
Exodus sailed all the way along the south western coast from Punta Cana to Bocas Chicas marina, close to Santo Domingo airport. As we were sailing, visibility of the land mass was not great. As a matter of fact, clouds of smog drifted out and the smell of burning plastic and fumes from cars and industry stuck in our nostrils. The landscape looked unattractively flat. As we entered the bay, plastic trash drifted out towards us, a ramshackle derelict playpark stared at us, local darkies ambling on the sidewalk. We wondered if we landed in Africa. It sure looked, felt and smelled like it…
Navigating into Bocas marina was not an easy feat, with our deep keel. A direct approach is impossible, you must sail around the islet in the middle of the bay and subsequently follow the narrow, shallow channel whilst hugging the boats in the other marina in order not to get stuck. The marina yacht manager tried to convince us to squeeze into a very narrow berth, designed for motor yachts or smaller yachts with bow thrusters. We shelved that idea and docked along one of the side berths. A boat that came in after us, was not as adamant and landed up with a nice long scratch and a few bumps!
Once docked, the comprehensive and expensive clearing-in procedure starts. The marina contacts customs and immigration and before you know it your whole boat is turned inside out, seats, beds, hatches are lifted while 4 men stare solemnly and grunt in Spanish. A thorough check, bar an anal probe! The easiest way to get the check-in done is to take an agent (conveniently located at the marina) and let him handle the paper work. Everything reeks of a money making racket but with an agent at least you know beforehand how much it will cost and you will not have any come backs because you are missing a stamp or a signature somewhere…
With all the paperwork settled, Exodus and its crew got a long overdue scrub. Even though checking in was an expensive endeavor, the general cost of living is substantially lower than Antigua. Fruit and veg are very cheap and widely available. We picked 10 big mangoes from a bakkie full of them and paid close to nothing. Papaya, pineapple, and bananas can be purchased on the street corners. Tacky shops along the streets sell all your basic necessities. Especially in Boca Chica and la Romana, there are big supermarkets like Ole and Jumbo. After expensive Antigua it was a relief to be able to indulge in all the fresh produce again.
As we arrived smack in the middle of ‘semana santa’, the holy week, with lots and lots of partying going on, we also discovered that the price of beer and rum was very cheap.
Santa Domingo, being the capital and a major business hub for the surrounding areas, hosts several embassies. It was the closest point where Arthur could apply for the necessary visa for Colombia and the Dutch Antilles. Appointments had been set up, the necessary paperwork completed, and all packed neatly in folders for a proper visa run. He braved the local transport to get to the correct locations, speeding up and down busy roads, narrow stretches, zigzagging between obstacles on the back of a mototaxi whilst navigating for the driver.
The appointment with the Dutch visa agent was first on the list. After several misses, the correct office was found. A very helpful young lady looked at the paperwork with interest and made a series of phone calls. It turned out that they can only issue visas for residents of the Dominican Republic or the surrounding Caribbean islands. They are not allowed to help any foreigners. Direct pleading with the Dutch embassy did not help anything. Arthur can only apply from the country where he is resident. The Colombian embassy was closed, even though he had an appointment, and would be closed the following week. Staying on until they decided to open would cut into our travel time with the boys and would not help our case as the failure to obtain a Dutch Antilles visum had scrapped another few destinations scrapped off our itinerary. No visits to Bonaire, Curacao or Colombia. We would have to re-route…
But first we would explore DR together with our boys… Finally the Exodus would have a full crew again.