‘Unfrequented’, ‘remote’ – these were words that started to crop up more often as we scanned the cruising guides for nice anchorages in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. Finally it was time to leave the Lesser Antilles and head to destinations where neither Micha or I had been before. I was excited.
We set off from Saint Martin and headed for the BVIs for a final 24 hours in familiar territory. An ear specialist in St Martin had removed tennis balls of wax from my ears just before we left and I was eager to test my new ears with a dive and my tastebuds in the beach bars. After saying goodbye to the aquatic life and downing our last painkiller cocktail it was time to set our course for Hispaniola and unknown territory.
All our guide books made a big fuss about Samana Bay on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, especially Los Haistises National Park on the bay’s south coast. We were not disappointed. It was exhilarating feeling our way into this new alcove in the middle of the night, trying to image the scenery we’d be greeted with in the morning or to wander the streets of this new country for the first time the next day. The real adventure had begun.
Los Haistises National Park was sensational. It felt like we’d gone back in time, to one where creatures with long necks and 3 horns trampled the earth. The coastline was covered in lush green forest, sprinkled with palm trees and untouched sandy beaches with birds of prey circling overhead. There was a ranger station hidden beneath the rugged undergrowth from where a guide beckoned us to follow him through a series of caves, to scramble up muddy cliff faces and swing down to the ground on tree vines.
We rowed our kayak up a mangrove river whilst ducks and herons darted out in front of us and the weather alternated between drowning us with rain and soothing us with sun which sparkled on the water through the gaps in the overhead leaves.
As the sun set, we bobbed gently in the quiet surroundings, alone in the wilderness except for pelicans flying low over the water. I won’t forget that place in a hurry.
We left with whales leaping into the air in the background, obviously pleased to have the bay to themselves again. As payment for our enjoyment of this little slice of paradise however, we had to fight our way out of the bay and around the capes to the west, beating into 20knots of wind with shouts of “all hands on deck!” heard above a roaring squall in the middle of the night.
Choosing where to stop from all the amazing places we’d read about is always tricky (especially for this libran who can’t make decisions!) Should we stop in mangrove lagoons, explore some caves or enjoy the sandy beach lined Cays? It’s a bit like asking me if I want ice cream or pizza! In the end we had no time left for Haiti, but managed two more stops in the Dominican Republic, one in a very sheltered bay on the north coast, Luperon, where the officials tried to prevent us from leaving due to adverse weather conditions. They were successful for a stressful 4 hours of discussions whilst we watched the weather and the waves build up outside the bay entrance making us increasingly tense, as we worried that the conditions might soon be too rough for us to get safely out of the bay. We had new crew waiting to join us in Cuba and current crew members had plans for our scheduled arrival date, so we weren’t keen to wait. In the end our ‘pretty pleases’ became a ‘we must leave NOW!’ which turned out to be far more effective and we finally got our hands on our ‘despachio’, the exit papers necessary to leave this country and enter the next.
Lastly we dropped anchor by a reef fringed beach for a sunset dip before setting sail for the final leg to Santiago de Cuba. It turned out that the officials had been right to be worried about the weather for boats travelling east. Luckily we were on our way west and had some beautiful trade wind sailing in an average of 30 knots (peaking at 39!) from behind with big rolling following seas.
Our crew for this trip was an eclectic international bunch, consisting of 6 members from 4 different countries and several generations leading to some interesting nights spent sharing opinions, world views and music!
These unknown destinations also lead to more unknowns regarding the immigration procedures, provisioning and general survival tactics. For example in Cuba we knew there’d be no regular supermarkets whose shelves we could raid to refill our boat stores and that it could be hard to find many food items at all, even plastic bags were apparently highly sought after items. Some told us we’d not be able to refill our fuel tanks, and others said that large quantities of bottled water might be hard to find. In preparation we spent the last days before leaving St Martin trying to empty the local Super U into our boat, taking onboard enough basic supplies to last for the next 10 weeks, until the toe-rail was almost underwater.
Everywhere we stopped in these countries, officials came on the boat, but we were glad to find their ‘inspections’ rather relaxed. They lifted up some seat covers, measured everyone’s temperature and asked a few questions; “Any guns onboard?” and “how many eggs?”.
In both the Dominican Republic and Cuba we had some frustrations and trust issues with the authorities and always left with emptier pockets than envisioned. Given the big difference in the opportunities available to us compared to the people from these countries, this is probably fair and we shouldn’t complain about it, and after all, all exchanges were always carried out with big smiles on their faces.