Monday, February 28, 2011

Dominican Republic

Marina Zar Par, Boca Chica, Dominican Republic---Three nights at sea and we arrived on the south side of Dominican Republic, about 30 miles from Santa Domingo. We were IMMEDIATELY boarded by five men representing Immigration, Customs, Firearms and Narcotics, Coast Guard (Commandancia), and, I don't know, most likely someones cousin. They thoroughly searched the boat, which after three days at sea, was a mess. Under the floor board (looking for very small Haitians?) in the cupboards, under the seat cushions. The only weapons we have aboard are perhaps our fiery tongues after a disagreement and curt words are spoken. Other than that we are a dry boat while sailing (no drinking) and the only drugs are prescription.

They wanted coffee, so I flew down the companion way to make espresso (the only coffee maker we have) and then add hot water to make enough for them. One wanted cold water. Fine. But then, THEN after not finding contraband, they hesitated and said things in Spanish to Jake, who thankfully is acting as interpreter. They wanted a gift. A bottle from our stash of alcohol. We had some partly drank bottles so the one that got selected was my bottle of Xoriguer Gin from Mahon Menorca, where I visited the distillery (see blog post: "...a lesson in Gin Making" on 8/29/10). I had intended to ship it home and now it was a bribe...err, gift for the DR official. I bit my lip. Each time they turned their backs to me I was very animated. But in front of them, I was what the DR wants out of women, serving them and silent. UGH, SERIOUSLY?

Yes, the information to orient us: A CRUISING GUIDE TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, By Frank Virgintino, had read: "The Dominican Republic is still largely a male oriented culture; that is, the men run the show."

But, it was only a thing. We are here safe. And later I read that these officials make about an average of $200 a month. Oh my, that's worth giving them my bottle.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Independence Day, Dominican Republic Style

Rebecca Trego and Edee with proud DR soldiers

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic---One of the first things we found out was that Carnival was going to be going on during the weekend. Finally, after missed timing on so many things, we were excited to find out this was going on during our stay. But someone got it wrong. A few years ago they separated Carnival from their Independence Day so the seriousness of the national holiday would not be mixed with the party.   Carnival is NEXT weekend.

Another ironic twist happened. My cousin who I visited in South Africa in October, has a daughter working on a project in the DR and is still here! My cousin's kid: Rebecca. She's amazing 29 year old who is based in Washington, DC with a non-profit. Her work here is with the Haitian children abandoned from the earthquake and ended up in the DR. I had to wait to see her for two days because she needed to travel to Haiti for some work. But on Sunday, I took the bus with Becky (our past crew who came to the DR for a visit) to Santa Domingo where she lives.  This, as it turned out, was the day of the Independence Day Parade. A military parade. And yes, they do have a military. LOTS of men in uniform.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A decision to continue my voyage...

Caribbean Sea---I've made a decision. I will be coming home end of March making it exactly one year at sea. The OceansWatch Volunteer project ends in the Dominican Republic on March 1 and I thought I'd return then,  but I am accepting this captain's offer to continue on this boat as it goes off the Volunteer program and back on "delivery." So I will be joining them to crew through the Panama Canal and to the Galapagos where I will leave the boat, explore the Galapagos and Ecuador and then fly home. This is some very rough sailing so it's not all fun but the destinations are life goals to see.

The captain and crew to Panama
 We are leaving today for a 3 day sail directly to the Dominican Republic, skipping the British and American Virgin Islands as once planned.

I have mixed feelings about coming home as I am anxious to be "home" and see my dog Turbo, yet this has been such an different lifestyle and I'll need some adjusting I'm sure...not to mention figuring out my next career!

Friday, February 18, 2011

From Resort Wear to Volunteer Business Attire: buying a respectable dress

Sint Maarten---I found it in Barbados and did not know where in the world I would wear it on a sailing trip, but my dear friend and "self-adopted Mom" in Daytona had gifted me, and I wanted to find something to fit her impeccable taste. Then I found it: a silk dress that is bright and colorful.

So finally, after taking this volunteer position with OceansWatch and meeting with government officials, the day came to get out "the dress". We are in Sint Maarten and it seems so upper scale. I needed to hunt down a representative of the Department of Environment so I thought I should dress up a little more than usual.

Sailing has been a huge lesson in how different sailors view what they should wear. Some where rags and don't shower until they can actually smell themselves...usually long after everyone around them has enjoyed their odor first! Others are in matching outfits, provided by a sponsor, super yacht or overly ambitious and relatively new captain who thinks it would be fun to where matching outfits proudly proclaiming the name of the boat. I wouldn't like a crew dress code but I will admit finding things around the world has been a blast. Sending friends a gift now and then has been as much fun.

So I'm in the middle or leaning to the extreme with salty boat cloths, going to port cloths, meeting with OW business business-like cloths and okay, a few "going out on the town" cloths. No, not the typical salty dog sailor.

Unfortunately my trip into the capital city of Phillipsburg, wearing this dress, was a bit humorous. I took a taxi to the building that online research had said was where the Environmental Ministry was located. But once there, they directed me to another building...which turned out to be the Education Ministry, who directed me to another building about 1/4 miles away. Once there, it turned out to be the Labor Ministry who directed me to another building about 1/4 miles away. Once THERE, it turned out to be the Security Department who walked me around the corner to the actual Environmental Ministry. Each time I had gone through the OceansWatch spiel, each time, wearing my fancy dress and low heels, I walked in the beating down hot tropical sun. But, I did get the interview and felt appropriately dressed.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reversed Culture Shock

Sint Maarten---In our trek of Islands, I have gotten used to not having things familiar to me. I am comfortable and content with the unusual and unique aspects of the islands, especially the ones that seem completely native and natural; Dominica and Montserrat. So sailing into Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Island of the rich and famous, playground to America, Canada and Europe's wealthier tourist, I am reacting with feelings of culture shock...but it's reversed. What should feel comfortable feels unwanted, awkward. The grocery store here has EVERYTHING! all brands that I once longed for are heavily stocked.

I don't like it. I don't want to be home yet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dive Montserrat with Green Monkeys

Troy and Melody with the OceansWatch crew at the Green Monkey Dive Shop and Bar!

Montserrat---It had been 10 years since I went scuba diving. I didn't know it had been that long, and I can't answer why, but the owner of the Green Monkey Dive Shop in Montserrat was the perfect person to give me a refresher.

Troy Deppermann and his wife Melody have lived in Montserrat for eight years. Their story of growing up in the mid-west USA, following a dream to Montserrat, getting there after their boat sank and the rescued equiptment was loaded on another boat...that sank, starting a business and surviving sounds like a novel, or and action adventure drama/comedy movie all in one. The OceansWatch team made his Dive Shop and Bar (oh yes! what a combination...) home base for the projects we were doing while we were there. They were the perfect hosts and had great internet connection and electricity!

 Jake from our team had never tried Scuba, so he did the discover diving course and we all packed up and went to enjoy a shallow dive right off the dock area. Jake will never be the same as he is a changed man and snorkeling will not be enough from now on.

I had forgotten the magic of it all. Since we talk so much about coral protection and the organizations Reef Check and Coral Watch, it was great to go down and take a look for ourselves.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Modern Day Pompeii: Montserrat

She stood at the edge of the thick tropical foliage peering down at the beach below from the hill that the restaurant was perched on. Taking long drags off her cigarette, she appeared to be about 110 years old I thought, but the many years in the sun had disguised her to be much older.

Tiny crabs occupy some of the shells that make up the floor

“I remember everything,” she said in a raspy deep voice. “This side of the island didn’t even have water. John threw a huge party with a band as a fundraiser to get water put in privately. This bathroom is a big deal for us locals because we came here for many years without one…and there are many stories about that craziness too!”

I had just gone to take pictures of this “very unusual” bathroom at the beach bar and restaurant: Ponts, when I stopped to talk to the women at the edge of the hill smoking. This little island had captured my heart and I wanted to know more. She had lived in Montserrat as an ex-pat for nearly 30 years.

“We got here before the hurricane and the first big volcano eruption. I remember all the eruptions and the evacuations. Many of our friends left but we decided to stick it out and stayed.”

She was referring to this tiny island’s series of very bad luck in the recent past. First, on September 17, 1989 in the early hours, Category 4 Hurricane Hugo struck Montserrat with its 140 miles per hour winds. Ninety percent of the structures on the island were damaged. AIR Studios, the recording studio that Beatles producer George Martin opened in 1979 and attracted world-famous musicians, (who came to record in the peace and quiet and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat¬) was closed. The tourist trade was nearly wiped out. But in a few years, the island had recovered considerably and according to a video we watched, building were new and stronger, people were united and felt very positive about the future of the island…but disaster struck again.

As if they hadn’t put up with enough, for the first time in 400 years, the dormant Volcano known as Soufriere Hills volcano, erupted on July 18, 1995 and then again and again over the following years. Two-thirds of the island's population was forced to flee abroad; few have returned.

The eruption even continues today but on a much smaller scale, and is confined to the areas around Plymouth. Once the main port city and capital with its docking facilities and the former airport, of which the last remnants were buried by flows from volcanic activity as recent as February 11, 2010!

The structure to the right of the square building with the two peaks on the roof is the top of the Government Building featured on the Caribbean’s “EC” $20 dollar bill.

The OceansWatch team was fortunate to catch a boat tour in the evacuated exclusion zone to see the historic city of Plymouth covered in rock and ash from the series of eruptions. A three story building is really five stories, we’re told, and the building next to it with the two roof peaks is the top of the Government Building featured on the Caribbean’s “EC” $20 dollar bill.

I felt like I was back in time, looking at the ruins of Pompeii under the volcano Mount Vesuvius... a few years after it happened. This is what a city of thousands looks like mostly wiped from the face of the earth. But unlike the tragic that was Pompeii, we now have the technology to warn people and no one should have died from this Volcano. Those 19 who did die, were farmers who talked their way past guards to work in the fields and were tragically caught by a pyroclastic flow.

And on the other side of the island, things were safe.

In this year of travel, through the Mediterranean, Africa and the Caribbean, I have not come across a restaurant as unique as John Ponteen’s creation of Ponts Beach View Bar and Restaurant in Little Bay.

“I started with nothing. And there was nothing here. I mean nothing, no other business on this side of the island. The hurricane wiped me out and I started over,” John said. “Everything you see I planted and once I started, people started bringing me plants to add. The ceiling and walls are my own museum. My tribute to the island. See the Irish water cans? Those are from when this island was first settled. I love to walk on the beach and I find drift wood and things, then I bring them to the restaurant and put them up,” he said.

“They couldn’t figure out why he would want to build on a part of the island where no one else was,” Troy Deppermann, owner of the dive shop Green Monkey which is located next door said. “The police were convinced he was a drug runner and used to spend the night at the restaurant trying to bust him.”

But everything changed when the other side of the island blew up and thousands flocked to this side. A guidebook said the entire population is now 4,500 but locals said it is more like 3,700 residents, down from the high of 12,000 mostly living in or around Plymouth. Still today, those who live in neighborhoods closer to the exclusion zone are evacuated periodically due to volcanic activity.

As a part of my OceansWatch volunteering tasks, I met with the assistant marketing director for the Tourism Department. Rebuilding the island’s economy due to everything they have been through is an enormous task. She told me that they were working on events to drive tourism to the island. The largest is the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, the largest in the Caribbean. Due to its Irish heritage of those who first settled here, it is a popular and growing 10 day event.

Vaccant oceanfront houses. Owners forced to leave inside the exclusion zone.
 But it will take time to bring things back, the beautiful empty houses that were not burned on the side of the hills around Plymouth sit silent in the evacuation zone where only feral cows and pigs roam the area. And still the Volcano looms overhead, spewing sulfuric gasses to remind you it is active. Because of the size of the existing volcanic dome and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity, the area remains closed. Our guide tells us 400 million tons of sulphur acid is pouring out every day. Every day? I have to admit I didn’t believe him so I researched it and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory Report from April 2 to April 9, 2010 said this: “The average sulphur dioxide flux measured for three days this week was 376 tons per day, with a daily minimum of 213 and a maximum of 640 tons per day.”

Oh my.

The caution is “Orange” the day we toured which means boats can pass close to the beach, but not stop. Stopping can mean a fine of $10,000 US per passenger! A higher caution would mean we would need to stay two miles out. The safe side of the island is now becoming built up and the “new” capital city is being constructed right where John first bought land, in Little Bay.

The OceansWatch boat viewed from Ponts restaurant
 “Many people from Plymouth hadn’t even seen this side of the island! The roads were dirt and we were not prepared for the situation,” the chain-smoking women said. “We still live with it. But I learned to stop worrying about it many years ago. You just don’t know when the next time will be so you don’t waste time worrying.”

Sunday is Barbeque Day at Ponts Beach View Bar and Restaurant

Historic photo: The City of Plymouth before being completely covered in 37 feet of ash and rock

Friday, February 11, 2011

In the company of Billionaires

Find OceansWatch's boat! (white boat next to blue on far right of photo)
Antiqua, West Indies---I walked in the best Marina office with a goal in mind. A donation of free dockage for 2 days. Becky and I had been taking turns requesting free dockage. It was my turn. The last time I asked and playful marina owner made me a deal to sing at sing-along night in exchange for a free night. This time, anything could happen.

But THIS is Antiqua, playground of the rich and famous. So when I walked in the office, I dressed up and address the women at the front desk as seriously as if she was the owner...a technique you learn in sales. I explained our mission and appealed to her, then silence. Patience waiting for them to talk first.

Turned out SHE WAS THE MANAGER!  And yes, we could come but not advertise which marina did all non-profits don't flock to them.

When we moved the boat, we suddenly realized where we were going. Smack dab in the middle of the 200 feet+ super sailing yachts. INCLUDING THE MALTESE FALCON, one of the most famous boats in the world.

Our "tiny" 50 foot boat was slipped between these mansions. Captain Andy did a brilliant job backing stern to with an anchor dropped a few hundred feet before the dock to lock us into a slim area that fit just us.  The yacht next to us had fenders as big as me and as we pulled in the crew looked down on us back the three of us "deckhands" did not embarrass ourselves (for once) and did a great job line handling.

Then there we sat. In the company of Billionaires. Tall ships with massive masks. One has the largest mast in the world and their insurance will not allow them to put the sail 100% up! So they can never go full sail!

At night, red lights topped the masts as flight regulations require masts that high to light up this way. A beautiful night scene and little OceansWatch's boat was snugged right there. Living large.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Years Eve do-over Feb. 6, 2011

Antiqua---I had explained the on New Years Eve, I was curled up in bed in a studio apartment in Bequia with food poisoning and the memory of two visits to their poor local hospital.

So everyone was up to give me a do-over. We didn't leave the boat at Anchor in Fawlsmouth harbor and had a blast. It was one of the most fun New Years Eve's I've ever had, proving once again you just need a few friends, stupid drinking games and good moods to make any night a blast.

Because we were still all tired from our previous passage, I decided we would celebrate midnight on London time since we have two Brits aboard...that is 8pm our time! ...So we did the countdown at 8 complete with party hats and clapper noice makers. Tinsel had gone up from Christmas leftovers and battery operated tiny lights. I got out my color changing Ogg and somehow a bottle of Jack disappeared that night. Becky had a series of games that we tried our best to understand but the rules kept changing. Jake decided to where the banana leaf glasses a local had made him, which looked comical.

I lasted until 11:47...eight minutes before our midnight. But, officially, HAPPY NEW YEAR.