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by Dan and Jan Ahart
We stayed in Luperon, Dominican Republic for 25 days, mostly waiting for a mail delivery from the states, but the wait gave us time to do some sightseeing and learn something about the country. The D.R. shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and is very mountainous with many valleys and mist-shrouded peaks. Viewed from the ocean, the landscape can appear very foreboding, but quite compelling at the same time. It is no surprise that the movie "Jurassic Park" was filmed just outside Puerto Plata, which is only a few miles from Luperon.
The island of Hispaniola (Little Spain) was discovered by Columbus on December 5, 1492. In 1697 Spain ceded the western third of the island to France, which originally named the country St. Domingue. It's name was later changed to Haiti. In 1795 France forcibly took possession of the entire island, but Spain reclaimed the eastern two thirds in 1814. The Dominicans claimed independence from Spain in 1821 modeling their constitution after that of the U.S. Shortly thereafter, the Haitians invaded Dominica and were not expelled until General Gregorio Luperon mustered an army of liberation in 1844. A series of revolutions and invasions by Haiti and Spain took place until 1916, when the U.S. stepped in and brought order to chaos and stayed until 1924. The U.S. has been "invited" back twice since then to stabilize the political situation. However, today the country is a functioning democracy and although not as wealthy as other Caribbean countries, it does extremely well for such a small country. With few natural resources and a very small tax base it has nonetheless managed pave most of its roads, even building a few freeways, establish dependable electric power and export three outstanding products. An informal poll among cruisers indicated that the D.R. beer, rum and cigars are the best in the Caribbean and perhaps among the best in the world. The beer by the way, is called Presidente and is served in 24 ounce bottles. Even with these products, we were told that there was very little alcohol abuse in the country and fewer than 10% of the population smokes. Indeed, we saw very few Dominicans smoking.
Two other products that are outstanding are coconuts and oranges. Coconuts are sold everywhere, with a hole cut in them and a straw provided to drink the "milk." The first time we purchased fresh orange juice, we thought it had been mixed with pineapple juice or sugar because it was so sweet. Later we bought fresh oranges and they are truly the sweetest we have ever tasted. Tourism is also a growing industry. So, for a small Caribbean nation that has no U.S. or European sponsorship like all the other islands of the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba and Haiti, the D. R. does quite well.
Back to the D.R. One day, three other cruisers and we hired a guide to take us to a local waterfall, where one can slide down several falls. At the guide's insistence, we left early and arrived at a river some distance from the falls at about 0900 local, where a strapping young man joined our guide. We were told he would be needed, but we couldn't imagine why. After wading across the river, which was about two feet deep and very clear, we walked along a very rough path through a primitive, almost jungle setting for about a mile, crossing the, river three more times. Finally, we reached the base of the falls. Now we understood the role of the assistant guide. With our original guide's help, he climbed up each step of the falls and pulled the rest of us up one at a time through the rushing water. There were no steps and no walkway to the top of the series of falls. Each falls had to be climbed. A total of seven levels were ascended this way. At the top was a nice pond. The water was of course clear and cold and the walls of the stream were solid rock over twenty feet high in most areas. It was breathtaking both in terms of temperature and scenery. After resting and swimming, we started down, which was the really fun part. Each level had a natural slide area, or one could jump down to the next pool. We all slide a few and jumped a few. Great fun. When we finally reached the pond at the bottom of the last falls, we understood why our guide wanted to leave early. The tour buses had arrived and the place was packed with tourists, mostly from Europe. We were glad we had been able to enjoy the falls with just a few friends and no crowd.
Another day, we decided to visit Santo Domingo, the Capitol, which is located on the southern side of the island. It was founded by Christopher Columbus' brother, Bartholomew in 1496. It is the oldest continuously occupied city in the Americas. We took a taxi to Puerto Plata, where we boarded a bus for the four-hour journey to Santo Domingo. It was a beautiful air-conditioned tour bus replete with movies and on-board restroom. Both movies were American. One was in English with Spanish sub-titles and the other was dubbed Spanish with no sub-titles. We learned a little Spanish on the way. We stayed in the old part of the city in a hotel that was partially constructed in the late 1500s. One afternoon, we hired a tour guide, who showed us the hotel where Ponce de Leon stayed before heading for Florida. Cortez, the conqueror of the Aztecs and Pizzaro, the brutal conqueror of the Incas, also stayed at the hotel, which has been converted and is now the French Embassy. We toured the mansion built for Columbus' son, who, like his father and uncle, was the governor of Hispaniola for a time. The restaurants were excellent and we were treated very well wherever we went.
Back to Luperon. The marina at Luperon did a very good job of serving the cruisers anchored there. They tried to have some sort of function every evening. These ranged from dancing lessons, to potluck dinners to taco buffets and live music. One night there was a mix up in plans. The marina had scheduled an Italian dinner, but a German film crew had also reserved the marina for a scene they wanted to shoot. To solve the dilemma amicably, the film crew rented an entire restaurant in town and provided free transportation, dinner and refreshments for all the cruisers. That was one night that no one was in a hurry to get back to his or her boat.
Not far from the Luperon harbor, was a hotel complex that catered
to Europeans. The hotel charted planes and flew in tourists by the
hundreds. Sometimes we would see German, French and some English
tourists walking around town, but mostly they stayed at the hotel.
The hotel was always of interest to cruisers because of its topless
and nude beaches, which for some reason are very popular with Europeans.
I guess they wanted to get as much sun tan as they could while in
the tropics. Stay tuned.