Sometimes it takes a drastic change of scenery to refresh your perspective on a place. Which is exactly what happened when we arrived to the lush, tropical expanse of the Dominican Republic after 3 months in the quiet, secluded, picture-perfect islands of the Bahamas.
I was thrilled to have arrived to the D.R. after deciding to head south for hurricane season, and not just because the journey there was long and rough and lacked a working auto-pilot. As soon as we stepped foot in Luperón, I was smacked in the senses by loud, Latin music; lively Spanish chatter; jagged mountains begging to be climbed; motorbikes whizzing past carrying women and babies; the smell of overripe mangoes; cheerful, aimless dogs; and delicious food so cheap you could eat out three times a day and barely graze the bank.
It was such an ecstatic contrast to the last three months of tranquility in the Bahamas that it brought on a surprising revelation: as stunning and picturesque as the water and beaches of the Bahamas were, I had gotten bored of them.
Now, if you are a land-lubber or soon-to-be-cruiser, you’re probably thinking, “Boo hoo. It must be torture to spend 3 months on beautiful beaches. Cry me a river.”
I get it. First world problems. I should just shut up. (Except I won’t ‘cause this is my blog.)
Or maybe you agree with “Rum Trouble” (which is his real name, no doubt), who commented on a post I wrote about how little there was to do on Warderick Wells Cay:
I get him, too. How dare a faux sailor like myself talk smack about everyone’s favorite cruising destination?
But before you and my Rum Trouble fan club start throwing virtual tomatoes at me for calling the Bahamas “boring,” let me first explain where I’m coming from.
The Bahamas is an absolute boating paradise. You can anchor anywhere, near any island, and everything you could care to see is within walking or dinghying distance from your boat. And you’re always guaranteed a white-sand-and-crystal-blue-water view from your cockpit while you sip sundowners and eat home-cooked meals made with canned goods from Florida. Never mind that you stocked 6 months’ worth of canned beans and tomato paste because the price of eating out in the Bahamas rivals New York City. It’s still lovely to enjoy drinks and preserved food onboard as the sun sets over your private island paradise.
But, as much as I love the tranquility and sense of self-reliance that comes with traveling by sea, not to mention the stunning, secluded anchorages, I felt there was something missing from my travels in the Bahamas that I couldn’t put my finger on at the time.
Then we arrived to Luperón and, suddenly, my beautiful, barren, bird-less surroundings were replaced by deliciously gritty, musical streets full of Dominicans chattering and hanging their laundry from brightly-painted cinder walls, motoconcho drivers shouting offers to take me places, and more animal life in one neighborhood than I’d seen in the whole of the Bahamas. It was sensory overload, and I was so energized by it, I practically squealed with delight as I kicked off my deck shoes, threw my charts overboard and started running for the hills. Well, not really, since we need our charts… and I don’t wear deck shoes. But I did trade my flip flops for sneakers as soon as I discovered how many hundreds of miles there were to explore by car, foot, Guagua (local bus) and motorbike.
After all, we were making up for three months of lost activity in the Bahamas. So as soon as we’d had our fill of Luperon, we hit the road and headed for towns like Cabarete, where Dominicans and expats from all over the world come to go surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, mountain climbing, paddleboarding and motorbiking into the heart of rural towns to chat with Dominicans over cold Presidentes and the soundtrack of Salsa, Bachata, and Merengue. Which, of course, explains why everyone we’ve met looks they belong on the cover of an athletic wear catalog.
In essence, the Dominican Republic is everything the Bahamas is not. It’s dynamic, loud, sporty, tropical and cheap. So cheap you can go out every night, take Spanish classes and kiteboarding lessons and not break the bank. Which also explains why everyone here is so young. It’s the perfect place to come if you love beaches, sports and parties and you don’t have a lot of money behind you.
Don’t get me wrong (and put down those rotten tomatoes, please); I loved the Bahamas and I fully understand why it is such a popular cruising area. What sailor wouldn’t love a playground of endless beautiful anchorages? And if you’re a water lover, there is enough fishing, diving, snorkeling and reef exploring in the islands to satisfy a mermaid.
But if you love getting off the boat and pushing your body, mind and senses to their limits by diving into the lifestyle of a different culture or taking on a new and foreign sport, then the Dominican Republic wins.
To see the places this country has to offer, though, you have to spend a fair bit of time away from your boat, which isn’t very cruiser-like. But if I’m being totally honest here, after 6 months of living in a closet-sized space with Ryan and our two cats, I am more than thrilled to get off the boat and explore land to my heart’s content.
So, in that sense, perhaps Mr. Rum Trouble’s criticism of me is accurate. As he said, “I would hardly consider you a seasoned sailor.” And though I never claimed I was, I can truthfully say I’m not content with life on the boat alone, which probably means I’m not really a cruiser at heart. Maybe I’m just a traveler who happens to have a boat.
And I’m okay with that. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to combine my love of travel with the new-found skill of sailing. It’s broadened my view of where I can go and how I can get to places that might be difficult for the average traveler to reach. And the Dominican Republic is just the kind of place where I could stay for a while, sink myself wholly into a new challenge like kiteboarding or surfing, and camouflage myself in the fabric of a new and interesting culture.
It has everything I was missing in the Bahamas.
So, if you still want to throw those tomatoes, I’ll understand. Go ahead and let ‘em rip.