Sargassum ~ Floating Habitat with a Big Smell!

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Sargassum at sea (image by Tam Warner Minton/Flickr)

Sargassum grass is a type of brown algae that floats in small patches or gathers into large masses and can be found in every ocean except the Antarctic.  The first written report of sargassum dates back to 1492 by Christopher Columbus (don’t get me started on the different names I have encountered for this famous explorer!).

Like every living force, sargassum has some great properties and some that we could do without.  Here in The Yacht Club at Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico, the big negative is the smell emitted by the algae as it dies on the shore line and releases sulphur compounds that smell like rotten eggs on steroids!

But this floating grass also has benefits for the ocean.  As many as 52 varieties of fish were found to take shelter and find food within this floating algae off of North Carolina.  Sargassum grass offers a moving habitat for fish in parts of the ocean where no other is available.

Interestingly, a study by the North Carolina National Estuarine Reserve states, “The Sargassum community occupies such a large dimension of the upper water column (up to 3 m depth) and is typically so diverse that one gear or collection method cannot effectively sample it all.” 

In studying the algae columns, researchers found that there is something of a layering habitat within the sargassum where smaller fish live in the algae, slightly larger juvenile fish live below the grass and larger predators such as dolphins swim further down in the water.

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Small gas-filled spheres that look like berries keep the seaweed afloat. (naturetime.worpress.com)

In recent years, sargassum has become so prolific that it has caused issues along some beaches, creating foul smells as it rots on the shore, deterring vacationers from visiting popular resort destinations.  Additionally, the grass can be so dense in places that it inhibits the movement of hatching sea turtles on their way to the water, causing them to die before reaching the ocean.  But once in the water, small turtles also find food and shelter within the sargassum algae.

The benefits of sargassum are not limited to fish and turtles.

Since the eighth century, traditional Chinese medicine has used sargassum as a natural diuretic and for treating goiters and thyroid deficiencies. Additionally, the algae is nutrient dense and contains carbon, making it an excellent fertilizer.  The government of Tobago is encouraging farmers to use this algae as fertilizer on crops.

Experts believe these main factors are causing the increase in sargassum grass;

  1. higher ocean temperatures which allows this tropical plant to thrive
  2. polluted waters carrying higher nutrients that act like a fertilizer for the sargassum
  3. changing “liquid boundaries” in the ocean caused by storms and high winds help spread sargassum throughout the oceans

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Sargassum drift near The Yacht Club only two weeks after a clean up.

Most days as I head out for my walk here at Palmas del Mar, I hold my breath as I pass one area ripe with rotting sargassum grass.  Even though the marina is doing all it can to collect and remove the plant, I gag a little on days when the smell is strong.

So I’m glad I researched sargassum and can at least appreciate the benefits it offers instead thinking it is just a “smelly weed.”  Perhaps the next time you are confronted with the obnoxious odor of this algae as it decomposes, you will be able to consider its’ benefits like I am now and both of us will resent the smell a little less.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. We love hearing your comments. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

I’m More of a Hooker Than a Marina Maven.

Recently I was reading Third Time Lucky’s blog post titled, “Do you prefer to be at anchor, or in a harbour?”  and I was pretty amazed at how different our perspectives are.

The author, Georgie Moon, takes fabulous photos, enjoys writing and writes very well, lives part-time on a boat and is probably close to my age.  All these similarities led me to think Georgie Moon and I might also share our love of anchorages.  But her recent blog post relieved me of that misconception.

In contrast to Georgie Moon, I love being on the hook.

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LIB hooked in an isolated, narrow bit of water.

I feel much more connected to God, nature and the natural cycle of day and night when I am on anchor and somehow those connections make me happy.

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A sunset I wouldn’t want to miss.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoy our marina stops and the convenience of nearby bathrooms, laundry, groceries and other land amenities.  I like having access to other people, restaurants and the occasional swimming pool; especially in this Puerto Rican heat.

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Who wouldn’t find views like this uplifting?

But I can tell you that once we have untied the dock lines and begun motoring out of a marina and into a wide expanse of open water, with the wind in our faces and the sun dancing off the water, I feel a lifting of my heart and my soul seems to quicken with joy.

One thing I love is that there are no fences in the water! I never know what might might swim into view below our keels as LIB splashes along or gently sways on anchor.

 

Dolphins? Starfish? Turtles?

 Or I can jump in the water and swim to shore to explore whatever beach or little town beckons.  And each time I do, the scenery and marine life as I swim present an ever changing kaleidoscope.

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Frank and Al look like they are paddling in liquid gold.

As for seeing other people, I have found the cruising community to be open and welcoming. It is pretty easy to hop in the dinghy or jump on the SUP and pop over to say hello to someone sharing the anchorage.

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A butterscotch sky.

Often we invite new acquaintances to share a drink on our boat and watch the sun tuck itself into the horizon.

So, sorry Georgie, life in a marina offers much, but for me…. I guess I’m secretly a hooker at heart.  😉

I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments below:  Marina Maven? or more of a Hooker?  

A special thank you to Georgie Moon of Third Time Lucky for allowing me to link to her blog.  Georgie writes often about a myriad of topics and her pictures are stunning. I hope some day our wakes cross, because I do think we could find plenty of common interests!

 

 

 

Ponce, Salinas, Patillas and Palmas, PR Stops.

Our early departure from Gilligan’s Island meant we arrived in Ponce by 7 am.  The anchorage was pretty quiet at that hour except for the Ponce Marine Policia who followed us into the anchorage and politely waited for us to anchor before approaching our boat.  Apparently when they spotted our boat and looked up our information, they did not show that we had checked into the country.  Fortunately Frank had a record of his conversation with the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) officer and he had the confirmation number of our check in via the telephone.  The Ponce Police were very nice and respectful to us and soon the misunderstanding was resolved. The Policia returned our paperwork and wished us a happy Memorial Day weekend.  A police stop is one way to get your heart rate up early in the morning.

We didn’t spend enough time in Ponce to rent a car and go into the heart of town so we really don’t know what it has to offer.  Instead we walked the (mostly closed) boardwalk where only a handful of people were strolling about.  Apparently things don’t get started there until evening, (surprise) but we were too tired to go back to the boardwalk that night, especially with another 4 am wakeup planned. Obvously, we are not your source for information about Ponce.

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Beautiful scenes on our way to Jobos Bay

There was a bit of a storm brewing in the Atlantic Ocean and along with every other boater in the area, we were keeping an eye on the weather.  We left especially early for Salinas the next morning with the express purpose of looking into a suggested hurricane hole near the Salinas anchorage just in case the storm developed.

We guided LIB through the mangrove lined inlets and fingers just east of Salinas in Jobos Bay and basically toured the area to determine if it would be a good spot to wait out a hurricane if the storm developed.  (Yes, it is, but the area is protected and you cannot anchor there until a storm is imminent.)

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Mauna Kea looks pretty in the evening colors.

After a pretty thorough reconnaissance mission, we went back to Salinas and anchored near Laurie and Ken of s/v Mauna Kea.  We were really excited to catch up with the only other 2016 Sail to the Sun Rally boat gliding around Puerto Rico and still exploring outside of the States!

We spent a couple of days in Salinas hanging out with Ken and Laurie who were experts on the area since they had been there for more than two weeks. The marina in Salinas welcomes anchored cruisers and has a nice dinghy dock which we have learned is sometimes hard to find.  The marina has a little bar/restaurant as well as washer/dryer and showers.  Very helpful to the cruising community.

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Are you jealous of that exotic blue leopard material?

There is a decent grocery store about a third of a mile from the marina and Laurie lent us her collapsable grocery cart to make the walk home easier.  For these last two years, Frank and I have carried our groceries home in backpacks and reusable bags, but this little cart made the walk so much easier that I have already ordered my very own collapsable cart.

We hung out in Salina a few nights waiting to see what would become of the storm in the Atlantic that was projected to head toward Puerto Rico.  Fortunately the storm dissipated and we would not need to seek refuge in Jobos Bay.

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Look how bright and well defined the colors are in this rainbow!

Rain has been plentiful here in Puerto Rico so the salt water is routinely rinsed from our decks and we have seen many pretty rainbows.  I especially liked how vibrant the colors were in the rainbow pictured above.

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Patillas is at the foot of these lush hills.

Mauna Kea and Let It Be left Salinas and headed for Patillas where we would stop before our final jump to The Yacht Club Marina at Palmas del Mar; our stopping point for this hurricane season.

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Ken strikes a pose after anchoring Mauna Kea!

Once anchors were set and a quick rain shower had rinsed our decks, Laurie, Ken, Frank and I dinghied into town to stretch our legs and check out the town.  We strolled to the left, then we strolled to the right and about 30 minutes later we had pretty much traversed the waterfront area of Patillas and Captain had enjoyed plenty of sniffing and calling card deposits.

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Ken, Frank and Captain chilling in the shade and watching the activity.

Rain was threatening again so we found a little outdoor spot with plenty of umbrellas and enjoyed lunch while watching the comings and goings along the main street.  We were surprised that there seemed to be a lot going on here even though the town was tiny.

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Can you tell we were caught in the rain?  Maybe I need a selfie stick? Or longer arms?

Our lunch table was right on the main road and we had the perfect spot to observe the comings and goings in Patillas.

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Disco bus for elders??

I have no idea what was up with this bus but the folks on board were having a grand time and the lights on the bus were flashing all kinds of random patterns.  We couldn’t decide if it was a tour bus (but there were no blaring announcements) or if a retirement home had gone all out on their day bus!

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I wish I could have captured the lights and music in a picture!

Lights and bling are obviously emphasized in Patillas as is evidenced by the ice cream truck we saw on the main street just as we were finishing lunch.

WAIT!!!!!! Did you say ice cream truck? Well we paid our lunch bill and took off after that ice cream truck.  I felt like we were part of a cartoon comedy because every time we got close to the truck, he moved on!  But we persisted and finally managed to catch the ice cream man!

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I didn’t see any bomb pops but we found plenty to enjoy.

After strolling the beach front and eating our ice cream, we had pretty much exhausted Patillas so we headed back to our sailboats and simply enjoyed the view from our boats.

Once again we were leaving before sun up so it was early to bed for all of us.  But at least we had a chance to walk around a bit, and had a short jog chasing the ice cream truck!

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A stellar final sunrise!

Our final sunrise as we motored toward Palmas del Mar was stunning.  The sun sprayed golden rays across the ocean and brought forth a beautiful day for our final push along the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

We arrived at The Yacht Club at Palmas del Mar and were warmly welcomed my the great team who runs this marina.  In the fall of 2015 when we were preparing LIB to be our live aboard home, we had spent almost two months here and we were thrilled to see the same fabulous folks here upon our return.

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Sunset from The Yacht Club

I truly cannot say enough positive things about the staff at The Yacht Club Marina.  They are the most caring, helpful, happy and kind people we have met.  And they are very organized and efficient.

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Full moon rises over the rock jetty at The Yacht Club

This is a wonderful place to while away our time during hurricane season and if we must be on the dock, I can’t think of a better place.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. We would love to hear from you in the comments below.  If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

 

 

Christmas in July, BVI

The information for this blog post has been heavily taken from a Business BVI article written by Todd VanSickle and published July 24, 2015.

We are still in Puerto Rico but I thought I would share this interesting bit of information about Puerto Rico and the BVIs since both have been important places in our lives with Let It Be.

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In July the charter companies in the BVIs have a bit of a slow down as hurricane season becomes a factor in decisions about visiting the area.  Of course the reduced number of charters and tourists have a negative affect on BVI businesses. However, the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico is a mere 90 miles from the BVIs and it is from this island that the BVIs receives an economic boost each year.

For the last 30 plus years, each July huge numbers of boaters take off from Puerto Rico and set off to visit, shop, swim and party in the BVIs.  According to an article published in Business BVI in July of 2015, it is estimated that 2,000 boats from PR visit the BVIs in July!  According to Javier Lopez, organizer of Christmas in July (as of 2015), at least 800 Puerto Rican boats visited the BVIs during the week long Christmas in July event in 2015.

Having traveled by boat in Puerto Rico, I can tell  you from our own observations that the boaters here in PR know how to have fun!  Gatherings are numerous for any occasion and for no occasion at all.  Along with our friends, we agree you can identify a PR party boat because it will have; 1. loud music on an excellent stereo system, 2. some sort of flag(s) will be prominently displayed, 3. plenty of people will be on board, 4. magically the boats will be drawn together like magnets.

I say all this with the greatest of respect. I love the way people here in PR include family members of all ages and how much laughter is shared.  This is a fun-loving, happy and welcoming community and we have enjoyed observing it and on occasion being involved in it.

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Let this picture prove the numbers are not exaggerated! (Internet photo)

In the article referenced, Mr. Lopez says that the boaters who participate in Christmas in July refer to themselves as the “Puerto Rican Navy” and we have heard this term for years.  It is a bit confusing until you understand that it is simply an affectionate term used because the boaters travel in groups and support one another.

Amazingly, Mr. Lopez states that this is a very affluent group of boaters with an average income of $600k to $1.5M annually! With that sort of financial means, you can understand why this flotilla has become such an important and encouraged group among the BVI businesses.

So, if you have the opportunity to travel to the BVIs in July, be aware that the Puerto Rican Navy sort of take over during Christmas in July!  The usual beat of the islands will be replaced by some loud and catchy latin music and the number of boaters might be overwhelming.  But the BVIs are so large that you have the opportunity to embrace the Puerto Rican Navy and join in their parties or you can observe where they are heading and go the other way.  Beautiful beaches and perfect anchorages are so plentiful in the BVI that you can find serenity or parties any time of year.

So how about you? Does Christmas in July, partying with a huge number of power boaters and the feel of the base resonating in your chest sound like fun? Or do you prefer the quieter anchorages where the sound of nature and waves upon the shore are the melodies that surround you?

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

 

 

 

Boquerón, La Parquera, Gilligan’s Island… Ports of Puerto Rico

As I mentioned previously, we have been following the advice of Bruce Van Sant’s book, “Passages South” in which he shares his thoughts on how to move east against easterly winds.  Van Sant believes it is best to take advantage of lower wind speeds which occur during the night and motor a few hours each morning from one anchorage to another.  Per his suggestions, we awaken around 4 a.m., raise anchor, and move east along the southern shore of Puerto Rico for a few hours.

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Sunrise is filled with pastel colors and soft breezes.

Although it is difficult to get out of bed when it is dark, we were rewarded with watching the day come alive and with calm seas, so the effort is definitely worth it! But getting up early means the days feel long and the evenings feel short since we go to bed earlier than usual.

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Boqueron has a long, inviting shore.

After completing the Mona Passage and a good night of sleep at anchor in Mayaguez, we moved to Boqueron and anchored in a bay of flat water.

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We strolled the waterfront town and had lunch in Boqueron.

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Kelsey and Lauren relaxing in the park.

Next we meandered through the park along the water where we met three young ladies from the US who were on vacation.  After a brief conversation, we invited Kelsey, Lauren and Shaye to come out to LIB and relax on our boat for the afternoon.

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Captain had to join in the fun!

Shaye, Lauren and Kelsey are close in age to our own children and we were happy to share our “home” with them for a bit; very much like others have done for our sons as they travel.  We enjoyed getting to know these young ladies and hearing about their plans.  Their energy and enthusiasm were contagious and we are so happy they spent the afternoon with us.  Safe travels, girls. Keep in touch!

La Parguera

We actually had to turn left here, not go straight toward town.

Our next stop was La Parguera.  Finding our way into this small fishing village with crops of mangroves growing into small islands in front of the town made our initial entry a little challenging.  It is necessary to watch the chart and keep a close eye out for shallow water but we managed to work LIB into a nice anchoring spot behind one of those mangrove “islands.”

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La Parguera is a sleepy town during daylight hours with deserted streets and most businesses closed.

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The same area of town after nightfall.

But once night falls, this little town is a jumble of people where families, teens and couples stroll the pedestrian area, live bands play loudly, food stands compete with restaurants and vendors hawk jewelry and trinkets from small stands.

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Puerto Rico night life.

There was even a tent with a mechanical horse race where bets were taken and money changed hands for winning numbers.  We placed a couple of big $1 bets, but walked away without winning.

After enjoying the bustling nightlife in La Parguera, we upped anchor around 4:30 a.m. and motored to Balnearia de Cana Gorda, a bay about 20 miles away.  By 8 o’clock our anchor was down and we were happily floating in front of a very pretty little resort called Copa Marina Resort, though there really wasn’t a marina there.

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LIB can be seen in the background.

We launched Day Tripper, our dinghy, and went to check out the Resort.  As luck would have it, there was a yummy breakfast buffet being served and cruisers were welcome. So we had a very nice breakfast, then spent a bit of time relaxing at the pool.  What a nice reward after our early morning departure.

Copa Resort has a nicely manicured beach and a few water toys for rent.  We decided to rent a Hobie Wave (because when does Frank ever want to sit still?) and spend a little time sailing around the bay.  We may or may not have had a little trouble tacking this little boat and I am certain we went further than we were “supposed” to go, but no one told us any limits when we started!

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We may have gone out further than allowed???

Frank and I spent couple of wet hours sailing that Hobie and we had plenty of laughs in the process!

We ended up staying in this bay for two nights because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.  The Resort was welcoming, there was a popular public beach near the Resort where families gathered and played all day and just around the corner was the fairly famous “Gilligan’s Island.”

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Gilligan’s Island (Image taken from internet)

So this island is actually called Cayo Aurora and even though I don’t see the likeness to the one in the TV show, many people call this place Gilligan’s Island.  The picture above does not show how crowded this area is usually, but it does show you how pretty it is.  Trust me, usually there are boats, kayaks, floats, people and plenty of music throughout this island.

Frank and I took Day Tripper over and hung out in the water, avoiding the land where the mosquitos were happily feasting on slightly inebriated humans too oblivious to notice.  It was a great place to people watch and the current through the inlet kept the water moving and cool.  Truly a pretty island and a fun place to while away a bit of time.

Our next stop is Ponce, then on to Salinas where we will catch up to s/v Mauna Kea!

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Colorful homes in La Parguera.

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Gratuitous sunrise

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

 

 

 

While Frank Was Away, I Still Played

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A bird’s eye view of Marina Puerto Bahia

While Frank was sailing across the Atlantic between Bermuda and Spain on a different boat, I hung out on Let It Be with Captain in Marina Puerto Bahia, DR.  While I enjoy time to myself, three weeks was a bit long and I was super happy when my friend, Anneva, decided to make an impromptu visit.

After picking Anneva up in at the airport on the southern side of the Dominican Republic, we drove back to Samana on the northern shore.  After an uneventful flight, Anneva had the chance to experience DR driving.  Driving in the DR is interesting because there are so, so many motorcycles and people pass each other without much regard for conventional passing rules.  SO you are driving uphill and the road turns so much that you can’t see what is coming…. perfect time to pass!

Thankfully the drive was also uneventful, but I wouldn’t call it relaxed.

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Anneva relaxing in the Puerto Bahia pool.

However, we did manage to relax once we returned to the marina.  Captain loved having Anneva here because Anneva is really good at morning scratches or afternoon ones or evening ones!  Cappy loved all the walks and attention.

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The walks are often shady but it is still hot and humid

The first day of Anneva’s stay, we hung out around the marina, took a few walks, chilled by the pool and generally gabbed the day away as we caught up on the many months since we last visited in person.

We spent one day exploring Las Terranas, a town about 30 minutes away with many shops, restaurants and beaches.

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How beautiful is this?

Our first stop was the beach above and we decided just to park ourselves here for the day! We were not at all interested in shopping, we had comfy beach chairs and most of the beach to ourselves, so we decided we couldn’t do much better.  Plus we had more catching up to do!

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Anneva looks like she might take this boat for a spin.

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Ancient artifact?

A DR beach day isn’t complete without a vendor or two trying to sell us something.  Anneva just couldn’t resist this terra cotta frog which we were told is “an ancient Taino Indian artifact.”  The gentleman assured us that he had dug up this frog and showed us the bottom surface which had a circular pattern carved into it.  He told us the Tainos would have placed the frog in a fire, then used bottom surface to brand or tattoo.  We aren’t sure if he meant brand their animals or tattoo people.  Either way, the story was too good to pass up the trinket even if we don’t believe for a minute that it is authentic.

Of course all of this conversation took place in Spanish, so who knows what the real story was and exactly what our vendor was trying to say!

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Strolling along the beach.

Our dock neighbors, Andre and Josee, graciously offered to show Anneva and me some of their favorite places, so we took off in our rental car and spent a fabulous day exploring.

I sound like a total ditz but I cannot tell you exactly where these pictures were taken because  I was busy driving and watching the motorcycles.  (Frank and I have dubbed the motorcycles  here “mosquitos” because they are a bit pest-like and numerous.)

First stop was fresh, local bread cooked over this open flame!

Andre knows a lot of great places to buy local fruits or veggies and some great restaurants.  We had barely begun driving when he told us to stop at a road side house where we would buy fresh bread.   Lloila, the lady in this picture, bakes bread in her home right on the street, over the open flame in the picture.  This flat bread was a little sweet and unlike any I have tried before.

Now that we wouldn’t starve, ha, we proceeded to a blow hole along the coast.  The contrast between the lush greens, the rock sea wall and the blue water was beautiful.

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A low pitched rumble accompanied the gush of water through the blow hole.

We drove along the coast through some very small towns and stopped at pretty beaches just for the views.  But it wasn’t too long before Andre and Josee had us stop at a bar/eco center so we could buy a drink and enjoy another view.

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We walked past chicken coups and vegetable plants along a shaded walkway.

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Until we came to this stunning little bar/cafe!

But we only stayed here long enough to buy water and soak in the beauty because Andre had a special lunch spot in mind.

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Choosing fish for our lunch.

We stopped at yet another beach where Andre and Josee assured us the lunch was typical DR and freshly caught.  As soon as we arrived, we picked out “our fish” then went to swim in the ocean for 30 or 45 minutes while lunch was prepared.

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A little Presidente to complement the fish, rice and plantains. 

Neither Anneva nor myself are huge fish eaters and we were a little hesitant when it was served as a complete fish – head, tail, eyes and all!  Once we got past having our lunch stare back at us, it was very good.

The remainder of the day was spent moving from one beautiful lookout stop to another.  Although Andre did have us drive through some pretty questionable roads where Anneva and I thought the car might disappear into the potholes!

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El Monte Azule was closed but we still enjoyed the view.

At one especially narrow and potted road, we decided to park the car and walk up the hill to El Monte Azule which Andre told us had a gorgeous 360 degree view that included both the Atlantic Ocean and Samana Bay.  The walk was steep and hot but we were game.  Unfortunately the restaurant was closed so we couldn’t see the total 360 view but we still thought what we could see was worth the effort.

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Josee and Andre at Monte Azule

After walking back to our car and driving between potholes, we headed back toward Puerto Bahia. We had an excellent day with Josee and Andre and saw many places we would never have found on our own!

Thank you SO much Josee and André for a really wonderful day!

Unfortunately Anneva only had a couple of days to stay in the DR, so the next day we drove back to the southern coast and spent the afternoon in Santa Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.  (Here is a post about Santa Domingo.)

I am so thankful that Anneva was willing to fly to the DR and hang out with me.  Although her visit went much too quickly, she broke up the isolation of my time alone on LIB and it was absolutely fabulous to spent time with her! Thanks Anneva!!!

 

 

 

 

Lions and Tigers and Mona. Oh My!

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Map taken from the internet


Like the childhood fears in the Wizard of Oz, The Mona Passage looms large in the minds of sailors who are moving east, and we had heard enough stories that we approached it with slight trepidation.

As soon as Frank returned from his crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on an Outremer 5X catamaran, we began looking for a weather window to move from Marina Puerto Bahia, on the Samana Peninsula, DR to Puerto Rico.  The trade winds are easterly and we would be moving directly into them across a passage that is well known for its’ consistent winds and waves, The Mona Passage.  But the move had to be made and we were anxious to go.  Not because we were tired of the Dominican Republic, but because we needed to move on in preparation of hurricane season.

Fortunately, just days after Frank’s return, a window appeared and we decided to sail.  Now, understand, this window was by no means perfect but there is rarely a perfect weather window for the Mona Passage, especially during this time of year.

Let It Be is usually in great shape, but we had a few glitches arise before departing that we decided to live with until we arrived in PR.  The biggest issue is that our anemometer is not working so we do not have any readings of the wind speed or wind direction from the top of our mast.

But hey, we have some experience with estimating wind speeds (thank you kiteboarding) so we were willing to go without that instrument.

Next up is our IridiumGo!  For some reason it is showing our position, but it is not delivering internet so we would not have updated weather reports.  Still, the Mona is only about a day and a half passage.  We would make do and get the Iridium repaired in PR.

Per the recommendation of Van Sant’s book, “Passages South, The Thornless Path,” we chose to leave in the late afternoon Sunday and make this a night, day, night passage.

Well the Mona lived up to her reputaion of sloppy seas and strong easterly winds.  We departed from Puerto Bahia around 5 pm and all was well until darkness fell and I began feeling less than chipper.  I took the first watch.  Unfortunately mine was a short watch since I didn’t feel great. But, as usual, Frank stepped up and took the helm until I could get some rest and find my rhythm.

We had a couple of surprises during our trip.  One was that our navigation lights were not working!?  But we have a tri-colored light at the top of the mast and allowed that to be our beacon.

I took over the watch around 5 am after we had turned away from the Dominican Republic shore and took a northeastern tack to have a better wind angle.  We raised the main and jib as the sun rose and Frank headed below for some much needed rest.

We were happily moving along our predicted route; Frank was asleep and I was just settling in to listen to an audio book when BOOM…. EVERYTHING started flapping.  The attachment ring of the jib clew pulled completely out of our sail!  That was quite a wake up call! (This attachment holds the bottom rear corner of the front sail down to the deck.)

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The clew of our jib without an attachment point.

I pulled in the jib as quickly as I could and made sure the sheets were well secured, then alerted Frank to the problem.  We decided to continue our predetermined path and leave the main sail up.  Unfortunately our speed over ground immediately dropped from about 7.5 knots to about 5.5 knots…. Our trip just became much longer!

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A ring without a function

Still, this was not a life threatening issue but it does change the motion of the boat to something a little less pleasant.   We work very hard to make sure LIB is in excellent condition and it is unusual for us to feel like we are “limping along.”

Thankfully, that was the last mishap we had during our crossing.  The seas were not friendly but we would estimate that the winds were not more than 20 knots, so actually we were pretty fortunate.

Because of our slower than expected progress, we did not reach our intended first harbor of Boqueron but instead slowly entered Puerto Rico at Mayaguez around 9 pm on Monday evening.  Mayaguez is a wide open anchorage and we felt comfortable entering after dark, a practice we avoid 99.5 percent of the time.

We have been exceedingly happy with our North 3Di sails and we had excellent service and help from Andrew Dove, Antigua North Sails, during our purchase process.  So after we had a good night of sleep, Frank contacted Andrew about our jib issue.

Andrew was amazingly quick in responding to Frank’s email and he was very apologetic about our jib issue.  Andrew has assured us that North Sails will repair our sail at their cost including having the sail shipped to and from a nearby loft to make sure the repairs are performed perfectly.

Based on our buying experience and the excellent service we received, we are not at all surprise that North Sails is stepping up to help us.  But it is very nice to have it happen so quickly and easily.

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Anchored off the beach at Boqueron, Puerto Rico

So now we are back in Puerto Rico and exploring the southern shore as we work our way eastward toward Palmas del Mar.  It feels good to be in a U.S. Territory as we approach the July 4th Holiday.

And it feels really good to have the Mona Passage behind us.

Sailing ~ My Beginnings

Since we aren’t moving around much right now, I thought I would share a story I wrote as an assignment a few years ago about how this whole “living on a boat” thing started for me.  Originally, this was a three part story, per the parameters of the instructions, and it focuses on my experience. Sorry to be so egocentric today.  I hope you enjoy reading it… 

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Deshaies, Guadeloupe river hike.

Water and sound.  Two things that invigorate me.  From the time I was very young, think three or four, I loved to swim.  I was a fish! In fact, during the summer, missing a trip to the pool might have caused my gills to dry out and I could have died! Thank goodness my mom was pretty dedicated to making sure I had plenty of time for swim team and spring board diving!

Sound is also essential to me.  But sound goes two ways for me.  I love all sorts of music, but there are times when noise overwhelms me and I need silence or the simple sounds of nature.  Take jet skis. Man those things are great! They fuel my desire for speed and do it on the water! However, I just can’t take the engine noise for long.  Pretty quickly I seek out a quiet cove, turn off the engine and allow myself to soak in the beauty of the water and the fabulous harmony of nature’s songs.

Knowing these two facets to my person, how did I manage to live for half of a century without discovering sailing? A sailboat combines water, movement and quiet!  Sailing had never really entered my radar, but once it did, I was convinced it would be perfect for me!  And since Frank had grown up sailing, he was interested in picking it up again and thought it would be the perfect sport for us to share.

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Let It Be “racing” in Georgetown, Bahamas

Not one to let opportunity pass me by,  I signed up for my first sailing class: American Sailing Association 101.  And Frank, who is like the Chinese water torture once he gets an idea in his head, decided to take sailing matters into his own hands.  He signed us both up for a 4 day, live on board, sailing class which would begin the day after I finished ASA 101.  He grew up sailing and was determined I should catch the sailing bug.

I thought for sure sailing would be an easy and natural fit for me, but…

Have you ever heard a sailor talk? It’s a whole new language on a boat! Why can’t a rope be a rope? Because on a sailboat it’s a halyard or a sheet depending on its function!

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I tried so hard to learn all the terms and jargon before my first sailing class, but I was lost.  Words and I are friends, but wow did the sailing terms throw me for a loop!  I finally managed to learn all the parts of a monohull sailboat once I actually stepped on board for my sailing classes.

Have you ever been on a monohull on a windy day, when you aren’t very sure of what you are doing or which “line” goes to what sail?  Well add in the experience of heeling and I was in a whole new world! For those of you who don’t know, heeling is when the boat tilts to one side because of the pressure of the wind on the sail.  Holy wind force, Batman! That was a seriously unexpected and upsetting experience for me.

Here I was trying to put my new sailing terminology to use only to be thrown about by the inanimate boat from hell that arched up on one side and left me clinging to anything stable to remain on board!

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Photo from internet

Needless to say, learning to sail was not the seamless, docile experience I had expected. Do you remember that song, “Sailing” by Christopher Cross?  Yeah, well, that song is misleading! My first sailing experience was anything but relaxed and lackadaisical!  Mostly what I remember from my very first sailing experience was having strange terms thrown at me, “come about!” and ducking for dear life as the sail swung from one side of the boat to the other, barely missing my head!

Still, I was not willing to give up on sailing and I soon managed to become proficient enough to stay on board, understand the language and adjust to life on a tilt.

However, after the first four day trip Frank and I took on a sailboat, I was really sad.  There I was, on a boat in the British Virgin Island, sailing on the clearest water you can imagine and I was not loving it.  My little, sprouting dream of adventurous sailing with sea spray bursting around the boat and me smiling at the helm was dying as I tried to adjust to my new hobby.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  I now possessed certifications for Sailing 101 and 103, but somehow my sea legs had not developed and Frank had become more and more enamored with the idea of LIVING on a sailboat!…

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Green Beach, Vieques

Swell.  My husband is now convinced that our future should include LIVING on a sailboat and all I can think is, “There is no way in hell I can live out my life on a boat, looking out a tiny window just above the water line, hanging on as the boat tilts to 45 degrees and I try to make some sort of dinner in the galley!”

By the end of our four days on the monohull, I didn’t care how beautiful the surroundings were or how “cool” it was to move from place to place using only the forces of nature.  I was not going to live on a boat.  I love Frank but this was not the life for me.

To make matters worse, we had already paid for another four more days of sailing, this time just the two of us.  No instructors, just us!  I was ready to forfeit my money and head back home. However, my resourceful husband had a plan.  He is a tenacious person and was not willing to give up on this whole idea of living on a boat.

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No need to hold on when we don’t heel.

So, he leased a catamaran instead! For those who don’t know, a catamaran has two hulls and much of the living area is above the waterline, and there is NO HEALING!  Have I told you that I love my husband?

Some people refer to catamarans as “condo-marans” because of the extra space they have.  Sailing purists don’t appreciate cats much, but for me, this was a whole new and fabulous experience!  No longer was I stuck “down” in the galley (kitchen).  Instead I could cook above the water line and have a 360 view.  I could set down my coffee and the cup would not slide off the counter and throw the contents all over the boat.  Life could be lived the way it was supposed to be – upright, not at an angle!

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No heeling, no sliding.

Five years ago Frank leased that catamaran.  Today, I am a fairly accomplished catamaran sailor.  I have taken two girls only trips where I am the captain and even my non-water, non-sailing friends have a great time swishing through the water, propelled by wind, without the sound of an engine. And all of them know a good bit about how to handle a sailboat.

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While a monohull is a beautiful, graceful sailboat, give me a cat any day!  Let those sailing purists live at a tilt.  Me, I’ll take the grief for my “condo-maran” and enjoy my coffee while sitting or standing perpendicularly, just as God intended!

Regular readers know that we have realized our dream and have lived on board s/v Let It Be for almost two years.  My sailing experiences have taught me to better appreciate the beauty and benefits of monohulls too, but I’m still partial to catamarans.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

Los Haitises National Park, DR

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Lush growth and conical hills of Los Haitises.

From our slip in Puerto Bahia Marina, I can see the other side of Samana Bay where the Haitises National Park resides.  The park, established in 1976, was originally 80 square miles but was expanded to 319 square miles in 1996.  Los Haitises has very little road access and includes a protected virgin forest and home to a variety of birds.  The park is a fairly popular spot for ecotourism and the number of visitor each year is supposedly limited, although we did not have any trouble getting permission to take LIB across the bay for a visit.

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Birds in the air and in the trees.

Laurie and Ken of s/v Mauna Kea and Laura and Chris of s/v Temerity agreed to join us on LIB and head across the bay for an overnight visit to Los Haitises.  Ken and Laurie had already visited once so they were our resident experts for the trip.

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Laura and Laurie relaxing on the trampoline.

After a relaxing sail across Samana Bay, we anchored near an inlet that Ken told us led to a large ecolodge with beautiful surroundings and fair vittles.  Once anchored, we hopped into the dinghy and motored through one of the most beautiful creeks we have explored to date. 

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I wish I could share the sounds with you as well!

While the water was not the gin clear color we experienced in the Bahamas, the overhanging trees and lush surroundings were breathtaking.

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Village Weaver nests.

Nestled among many branches were groups of round bird nests.  I later learned that these nests are woven from leaves by the males of the “Village Weaver” species (Ploceus cucullatus).  The males weave a nest in the hope that a female will come along, appreciate his handiwork and choose him as a mate.  Once she chooses her mate, the female lays 4-6 small blue-green eggs.  Village Weavers are not indigenous to the Dominican Republic but rather were brought from Africa on slave ships around 1796. Originally the birds were only found in Los Haitises but recently some have been seen in the capital of Santa Domingo.

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This looks more triangular than round… wonder if some female found it exciting?

A short walk past horses, cows, chickens and other livestock roaming in fields was the promised ecolodge.  I am not sure what qualifies this as an ecolodge, but I can tell you it is beautiful.  We had to pay a small fee per person to enter the grounds and this allowed us to explore the area, have lunch and get in the water.  Pictures will do far more justice than my words…

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A water feature at the entrance to the lodge.

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The sound of waterfalls added to the ambiance of lunch.

Los Haitises has an average annual rainfall of 79 inches. In contrast, Dallas, TX has an annual rainfall of 37 inches.  I believe all of the water features are fed from fresh water mountain springs and runoff.

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The stonework reminded me of WPA projects from the 1930s.

Laura speaks Spanish very well and struck up a conversation with the gentleman in charge of construction of a new hotel being completed as part of the lodge.  All number of US agencies would have slapped fines on the builder for showing us around the construction site but we were thrilled to have a first hand view and he was equally pleased to show off the hotel.

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Numerous rooms and additional water features for the lodge.

I must admit that the way these accommodations have been incorporated into the hillside and how the rooms include natural features of the land is truly remarkable.  We toured for about 40 minutes and were allowed to see every room and planned space. 

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Stairways that seem to belong within the hillside.

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Use of indigenous materials made the hotel feel more like it “belongs” here.

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The view from the upper rooms.

In the picture above, the left side shows a water feature and to the right, the bare areas are the future home of a PuttPutt course.  I’m not sure how that fits into an ecolodge but I am sure it will be well liked by visitors.

The construction tour was truly a treat made even more delicious because we knew back home laws would have prevented us from having strolling through this construction site.

Next up was a visit to the caves used by the Tiano Indians way back before Columbus landed! There are two areas for viewing caves on Los Haitises; one is very obvious and is actually a little lame compared to the cave tour we had back in Thompson Bay.  But the second option is to hire a local guide who takes you to a more remote cave.  Our guide rode in the dinghy and took us through a meandering creek where we stopped at a nicely built wooden dock.  From there a quick walk along a path through dense trees led us to a cave used more than 500 years ago by the Tiano Indians.

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I just liked the light in this picture.

I was not supposed to take pictures of the hieroglyphics painted by the Tianos and I honored that request.  The images were painted with sap from a local tree and the only color used was black.  Still, it is interesting to see the “recordings” these people left behind.

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Hard to believe all this light is in the caves.

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Somehow this makes me think of the resurrection of Jesus.

We were told that the Tianos used the caves to hide and escape from Columbus.  Legend has it that they had a few entrances to the caves and the Tianos walked backwards from various directions to confuse their trails, then they escaped through a hidden opening.  Very clever!

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Looking out from the first caves.

A special thank you to Ken and Laurie who decided to skip the second cave and held on to Captain so I could explore the cave.

Once the cave tour was completed, we motored back to Puerto Bahia as the wind was in our faces.  The trip to Los Haitises was quick but it was also interesting and fun to share with friends.

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A peaceful bend in the creek leading to the Tiano Caves.

As always, thank you for stopping by to read our blog.  If you want to see what we are up to more often, check out our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44. We would love to hear from you. 

Las Terrenas and Santa Domingo, Sites of the DR

Well Hunter has flown back to the States, so once again I am away from my sons.  It is always so hard to say goodbye, but I am fortunate that my children are self sufficient and making their own ways in life. So maybe I shed a few tears, but I have no complaints.

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The open air lobby at Marina Bahia.

LIB has been in Marina Bahia in Samana Bay, Dominican Republic this week.  I have to say, this marina is very nice! The people are friendly and happy and the facilities are great.  It feels pretty upscale yet the fees are very reasonable.

Our friends on s/v Mauna Kea and s/v Temerity are in this marina as well, so we have gathered for cocktails and pizza a few times in the lobby, then met in the gym to work off the calories. We are all waiting for a good weather window to cross to Puerto Rico, but this is such a comfortable place that we are not in a big hurry.

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These pretty buildings in Las Terrenas back up to the beach.

Hunter, Frank and I explored Las Terrenas, a town about 45 minutes away by car.  Las Terrenas, with a population of about 40,000, is a visual blend of tourist and local areas.  There are not any apparent building or zoning restrictions in the DR like you would find in the U.S., so streets often switch between clean and well maintained to much less so.

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A board walk along one of several beaches in Las Terrenas.

Although this is a fairly popular area for kite boarding, the wind was insufficient for us to ride.  Instead we strolled along the streets absorbing the ambiance of the area, which was aided by Hunter’s ability to communicate and read in Spanish.

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Lunch in Las Terrenas

The weather was overcast and mild so we found an outdoor spot for lunch.  The owner was originally from Spain and Hunter was able to order some of the foods he ate routinely while living there this past year.  It was pretty neat to get to taste some of the food he loved while living abroad.

Frank has decided that having his hair cut in random places by unknown barbers is part of the adventure of cruising life, so we were on the search for a hairstylist in Las Terrenas.

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I love the name of the shop.

We hit the jackpot with La Matematica De Dios, the mathematician of God?  Not only was the haircut meticulous, the location was quite unique…

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Frank and Hunter up on the roof where the barber shop is located.

The international airport on the DR is near the capital city of Santa Domingo.  Santa Domingo is the first city of the Americas and the third stop for Christopher Columbus. Since we were going to take Hunter to the airport, we decided to go a few days early and learn a bit about the history of Santa Domingo.

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A typical street in Zona Colonial.

You might remember that we took our own self-guided tour of Charleston, NC way back on the ICW and “Tour Guide, Frank” decided to stop at a brewery after only three stops on our tour.  Well we decided to self guide again in Santa Domingo, but there just wasn’t enough information available on the web to learn much.  We ended up hiring a private guide named Juan Sanchez who took us on a walking tour of the old city of Santa Domingo.  Juan actually does tours for the US Embassy in Santa Domingo and he really knows his history.  If you have the opportunity to hire a guide, I strongly recommend Juan.

Zona Colonial is the oldest city of the New World and many building remain.  The influence of the Catholic Church is visible because many of the old city buildings related to the church. Juan told us that even today the majority of the Santa Domingo’s 4 million residents are Catholic.

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Franciscan Monastery built around 1508.

Notice the rope design above the door to the left in the picture above.  This rope was symbolic of the rope used to tie the waist of a Franciscan Priest’s tunic and identified the building as belonging to a religious order.  If you look in Zona Colonial, you will find other buildings with the same rope design above the door.

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The ruins of a private chapel.

It was a fairly common practice in the 1500s for wealthy families to have private chapels and perhaps even their own priest.  Even before Juan told us this had been a private chapel, it was easily identifiable as a church by it’s three bells on top.

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Each candle holder is the shape of a kneeling priest.

There is a stunning building in Zona Colonial called the National Pantheon that was originally a Jesuit Church constructed between 1714- 1746.  The building has a varied history but today it is a national symbol for the Dominican Republic and houses the remains of the countries most honored citizens.

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A view from the highest point of  Ozama Fortress.

Construction of Ozama Fortress began in 1502 and is the oldest military fortress in the Americas.  The castle, built to protect the City of Santa Domingo, faces the Ozama River after which it was named.

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Town Hall, another first in the Americas.

This pretty building, built in the early 1500s was remodeled in the early 1900s to restore it’s original elegance.  The ironwork and plants give it a Spanish or European flair.

These pictures represent only a fraction of the historic buildings in the old city.  To my grave disappointment, we were unable to tour the Basilica Cathedral of Saint Maria la Menor because I was wearing shorts.  Ladies must wear a skirt or long pants to enter the cathedral.  The Basilica was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1504 and Mass is still celebrated daily! I am certain we will visit the DR again and I will NOT miss Mass the next time we visit.

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Ojo, Spanish for eye or hole.

After a thorough tour of the old city, Juan drove us to Three Caves, Los Tres Ojos, a natural and beautiful area right in the middle of the city! The Taino Indians, who were the first inhabitants of Hispaniola, lived in these caves although I did not see any information about their history or lifestyle.

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Refrigerator Lake was not really cold.

In actuality, there are four lakes in the area but only three have names: Sulphur, Ladies and Refrigerator.  “Ladies Lake” received that name because only ladies were allowed to swim there, but I don’t know the reason for the other two names or why the fourth lake isn’t named.  Juan remembers swimming in the lakes up until the mid 1970s when swimming was prohibited.

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Guides pull the boats along with ropes to visit the fourth ojo.

Los Ojos are truly beautiful and I could imagine all sorts of long ago scenarios with Taino Indians living here or kids sneaking away for a swim to escape the heat or perhaps young lovers meeting in secret!

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I would need a wide angle to get the whole building!

Our final stop with Juan was the Columbus Light House erected in 1992 to honor the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival.  This was a huge structure, built in the shape of a cross.

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The remains of Columbus are in this mausoleum.

In addition to being the resting place for Columbus, the lighthouse is a museum which houses display rooms for each country that donated to the building. The exhibits are well done and as varied as the countries represented.  I could easily have spent several hours here instead of the 90 minutes we stayed. (I am embarrassed to report that there is not a display for the U.S. because we did not contribute.)

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Juan told us the lighthouse is only lit for special occasions, but when it is, the light forms the shape of a cross.  I would have liked to see that shining in the night sky!

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The courtyard at Dona Elvira Hotel

After a very long and informative day, we headed back to our hotel and enjoyed sitting in the courtyard outside of our room.  We covered a lot of territory in just two days!

Sunday morning we drove Hunter to the airport so he could fly back to The States.  I am very lucky to have had my sons visit us together and to have Hunter stay a bit longer.  I’m incredibly thankful that they are willing to travel to varied destinations to visit “home.”

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

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