As soon as I arrived to Luperon, I discovered why so many cruisers heading towards the Dominican Republic come to Luperon and Luperon only. One word: Bureaucracy.
Entering any port in the D.R. requires a lot of paperwork and sitting around sweating while trying to figure out how to pay the non-English-speaking bureaucrat before you the 411 pesos he is asking for when he has no change for your 500-peso bill.
But then the advantage of clearing in to Luperon, according to my friends who did not clear in to Luperon, is that the chances of being arrested for something bribe-tastic go down significantly. Because the new Luperon Comandante likes cruisers and, presumably, the money cruisers bring to Luperon. Why would he mess with that potential?
But even still, leaving any port in the D.R., unfortunately, requires getting a despacho from immigration, which means you have to go through the customs clear-in process again at the next port. So, it’s not like you can just sail from port to port when you want, like in the Bahamas, with one cruising permit for the whole country. In essence, it’s a royal pain in the ass to move, so cruisers mostly keep their boat in Luperon and travel the country overland until it’s time to depart.
When we arrived to Luperon and after the Navy came to check out our boat in person, I spent two hours making the rounds from office to office, paying one $10 fee after another. And every time I thought I was done, another bureaucrat would appear and say something like, “I’m the officer of Narcotics. Please come to my office…” or “I’m the officer of Agriculture…”
At which point I’d be led to a trailer where a man in sweaty clothes would write down on a scrap piece of paper the same information the last four people had written down: boat name, captain’s name (Yo soy la capitan. Si, mujeres son capitanes in los Estados Unidos…I’m the Captain. Yes, women are captains in the U.S.), boat length, boat weight, registration number, etc. And then he’d ask me for $10 or roughly 400 pesos, which sometimes I’d get a receipt for, and sometimes I wouldn’t.
Despite the annoyance, though, we’d heard the clearing-in process in Luperon was much more friendly since the new, young Comandante had taken over from the old, grumpy guy that cruisers had told us horror stories about. And we were grateful. Because no one likes trouble when arriving to a new country.
But regardless of my “easy” clear-in, I wasn’t looking forward to doing the clearing out with immigration to leave Luperon. And we needed to arrange in advance to get a despacho from immigration to leave after just two weeks there because Ryan’s sister Carina and our two nephews were coming to visit in a few days. So, we were headed for a $1.25/foot dock at the glitzy, touristy Ocean World Marina, just 18 nautical miles around the headland, so we could spend a week with our family.
For that reason, after we returned to Luperon following a short kiteboarding vacation in Cabarete, we went about arranging for our despacho from the Comandante. Which mostly involved asking people when we could arrange for the paperwork to be done and being told to return the following day. And when it finally became the last possible day to get the despacho, we found ourselves waiting for the Comandante in his “office,” which was more like an open-air grass hut on a hill.
After a two-hour wait, the friendly Comandante finally arrived on his motorcycle, wearing jeans and a t-shirt (it was Saturday, after all), and filled out our despacho free-of-charge with wishes for us to return to Luperon soon. And, with documents in hand, we were free to enjoy our last Saturday night in Luperon, as we corralled our newfound friends from our trip to the 27 Charcos, and dragged them out to a local bar, which we’d heard was famous for Dominican dancing and shenanigans.
Unlike the popular Wendy’s Bar and J.R.’s Bistro, though, there wasn’t a single cruiser at the Rancho Tipical. And we were grateful for the Dominican entertainment, for a change. So we sat in the corner with some beers and a bottle of rum, watching Dominicans dance Bachata and Merengue until the Comandante walked in and said to Ryan and I, “Hey! I thought you were leaving in the morning!”
I just held up my drink and nodded enthusiastically. “Don’t worry, Comandante!” I said. “We’ve done this before! We can sail with a hangover!”