April 9, 2019

Sights, sounds and foods of Luperon, DR

We departed the Turks and Caicos Islands on Friday, March 20 at 12 noon, for an overnight 120 nm sail to Luperon, Dominican Republic. We had mostly light winds, and so we motorsailed on a beam reach until the winds clocked around behind us and fell to nothing overnight.

March is peak mating season for humpback whales, and the day before we'd seen several whales breaching and splashing in the water on the horizon, so as we sailed we were on the lookout for more. Midway through Sara's first shift, she spotted a whale mother and calf directly in front of the boat. Nick quickly grabbed the wheel to avoid hitting them while Sara grabbed the camera, and the boat passed about 25 feet alongside of them.

A humpback whale a few dozen feet off Borealis' port
A few hours later, Borealis sailed through a flock of birds diving and fishing and a moment later the fishing rod whirred and Nick pulled in a skipjack tuna. We recently purchased a fish scale, but in our excitement, we once again forgot to measure and weigh the fish. We did enjoy the tuna though, which we steaked and ate for our dinner (and froze the rest for later meals). 

As usual, we traded 3-hour shifts during the night, and other than a few commercial vessels on the horizon, we had a calm and uneventful night with nearly flat seas under a very bright full moon. 

Land ho!

The following morning, at first light, we spotted the mountain ranges of the Dominican Republic, which boasts the highest peaks in all the Caribbean. Around 9:30 a.m., after a 23-hour sail, we made landfall into the small coastal town of Luperon, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic near Puerto Plata. 

Raising the yellow quarantine or  "Q" flag requesting entry into the Dominican Republic

The bay of Luperon is surrounded by mangroves and is a popular hurricane hole for cruisers. Unfortunately, the area has a poor reputation amongst cruisers following years of corrupt officials charging cruisers exorbitant, made-up fees and thefts from boats moored in the harbor. A few locals and expats are trying very hard to turn that reputation around by establishing resources like a Facebook group for cruisers where they post trustworthy service providers and official cruising fees. Despite these negative reports, we opted to visit, and we are so glad that we did since we were completely charmed by the sights, colors and people of this gritty little seaside town. There are many things to like about Luperon, and in fact, we met several cruisers during our time there that intended to only stay for a few days, weeks or months and ended up staying for years!

One major downside of Luperon bay, where we picked up a mooring from a man named Papo for only $2 per day, is that the bay is heavily polluted, so there was no swimming or using our watermaker during our stay. 

The sheen of fuel and other pollutants in Luperon bay
A short while after mooring, Papo and two Comandante officials came aboard Borealis. Papo speaks mostly fluent English and helped translate the cruising forms, and then after a very quick look through our cabins they left.

Nick then went ashore to finish filling out our customs and immigration forms and paying our cruising entry fees, which were exactly as posted. We were the only boat to come in that day, which may be why we were boarded by the Comandante; several more boats came in the following days, and since the Comandantes have no small boats of their own, none of those boats were visited and boarded.

The area is not an overly popular tourist destination, but the locals warmly welcome visitors and cruisers. Spanish is the official spoken language and the peso is the currency (about 50 pesos per $1 US dollar). The people of Luperon are lively and friendly, and more than willing to help gringos they see walking down the street or trying to order food in broken Spanish. :) 

The food

Speaking of food, the Dominican Republic was a food heaven compared to the Bahamas. Unlike in the Bahamas, in Luperon fruits and vegetables were abundant and priced very inexpensively, especially at roadside stands. After months of eating pricey, overripe fruits and veggies, we were happy to purchase a $1.50 pineapple and an armful of other fresh items for only a few dollars. Beer was also ridiculously cheap priced compared to the Bahamas where it cost $5-6 for a local Kalik beer (or $50-60 per case); in the Dominican Republic, giant ice cold beers were only $2! 

Grilled chicken and empanada street vendors are popular throughout town and reasonably priced at $5 USD for a whole grilled chicken and $.50 USD for freshly fried ham and cheese or vegetable empanadas. We also picked up and enjoyed several large balls of locally made mozzarella cheese for $2.

Fresh mozzarella cheese from a local farmer for $2
One of our favorite places was the Chicken Shack, as its known by cruisers, where there is no menu but offers plates of fried or grilled chicken, rice, beans and salad for only $3. Given the low price of food -- in most places, we had full meals for two with drinks for less than $10 -- we ate most of our meals ashore. This also helped cut down on our water usage from not doing any dishes :) 

Since we were rationing our water supply while in the harbor, we headed late each afternoon to Las Velas at Puerto Blanco Marina, where they have wifi, showers and a washing machine available for cruisers, and where the staff good heartedly laughed at our mispronunciation of the word shower in Spanish. After a quick rinse, we typically enjoyed relaxing for a bit on Las Velas' patio over an ice cold Presidente while chatting with other cruisers.

We spent several lively and entertaining evenings at Wendy's, a bar and popular cruiser hangout. We met up with cruisers there several times for their weekly Friday night karaoke and Monday movie night, where we enjoyed 30 peso hotdogs and free popcorn. 

The sounds 

The best way to get around in Luperon is motorbike, and it wasn't uncommon to see three adults (or a family of four) on a single motorcycle. The streets of Luperon were swarming with motorcycles, and the sound of motorcycle engines roaring filled the town day and night. 

Since Nick has a motorcycle license and grew up riding motocross bikes, the temptation to get back on a motorbike was too great. At Wendy's bar one evening, Nick met a former cruiser and expat named Cliff, who enjoys riding the Dominican countryside on Sunday afternoons, and invited Nick along for a day of riding. This was a highlight of our visit for Nick and one of the most enjoyable things he's experienced. Not only did he enjoy taking in the sights, but he and Cliff made several stops along the way to meet and visit with locals and learn more about their culture and life in the DR. 

The following day, Nick and I ventured off on the the bike for a few hours for a quick trip to a nearby beach and cliff overlooking Luperon bay, being careful to dodge the cows and dogs that we frequently found lounging in the road. 

The sights

27 Charcos 

On one day of our visit, we rented an SUV from Papo for $35 for the day with sailing friends Jen and Mike of SV Sanitas.   Hysterically, the truck would konk out anytime we went too slow over speed bumps, around corners or even breaking through intersections. Thankfully, Nick, who was our driver for the day through the busy streets, did a great job of restarting the car while underway and at the same time dodging other cars, motorcyclists and dogs in the street. 

Our rental SUV, which stalled every time we slowed below 5 MPH
Our first destination was 27 Charcos, or waterfalls, in Rio Damajagua, about 45 minutes from Luperon. Since it is the dry winter season, only 12 of the 27 waterfalls was flowing. Having done little research on the waterfalls, Jen and I were surprised to find out that hiking the waterfalls was far more adventurous than we'd anticipated. (In my mind, we would hike to the falls, stand under cascades of falling water and dip in the pools). Instead, we were given helmets and life jacket and jumped or slid off cliffs as high as 25 feet into the pools below. 

We had such a blast, and despite losing a silicone wedding ring (Sara), SO MUCH water up our noses, and a bruised hip from a waterslide (Nick), we would definitely do it again! 

Teleferico, cable car

After the waterfalls and a quick lunch with Jenn and Mike, we headed for the Teleferico or cable car in Puerto Plata, which takes you 2,555 feet above sea level to the top of Mount Isabel/Pico Isabel de Torres. On clear days there are spectacular views of the city and coastline, as well as several trails, botanical gardens, and a gift shop. 

Since there was no swimming in the harbor, during the week we visited Playa Luperon Beach, a short walk from Puerto Blanco Marina. Nearby is Luperon Beach Resort, a massive abandoned resort complex that didn't survive the U.S. economic downturn and in it's glory had 650 rooms, several pools and restaurants, a disco and horse stables. Today, it's in ruins, and most of the structures are crumbling and beyond repair. 

The only visitors staying at Luperon Beach Resort these days
On our last day in Luperon, we joined Jenn and Mike at an abandoned resort for yoga taught by fellow cruiser, Veronique. This was our first time doing yoga, and it was such a fun experience. We spent the hour on the patio of an abandoned resort relaxing and stretching, with a cool breeze and a gorgeous view of the harbor below; it's something we'll always fondly remember! 

Jenn from SV Sanitas at yoga (photo courtesy of floatsourboat.com)

Adios, Luperon

Despite absolutely loving our time in Luperon, after a week we had a great weather window open, and so on Thursday, March 28, we said goodbye to our cruising friends and Luperon for an overnight sail east towards the Samana peninsula and Los Haitises National Park .

Flat seas as we sail away from Luperon towards Los Haitises National Park, Dominican Republic

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