Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lazing in Luperon

Luperon is a small rural village well off the beaten tourist track, and would likely hold little interest to cruisers if it wasn't for its beautiful protected harbor, a hurricane hole and just about the only all-weather anchorage that exists on the DR's north coast. In recent years Luperon's popularity with cruisers has waned, partly due a somewhat undeserved reputation for dirtiness and minor corruption among officials but also because a large, modern and fairly cheap marina (Ocean World) was built only 7nm east. Overall, we've come to rather like Luperon. The town is authentically DR, which is to say fairly poor, somewhat dirty, loud, down to party, and always exceedingly friendly. We haven't seen any hint of crime; few cruisers here bother to lock their dinghy. Though it's a small town, you can get a lot done here. It has some amenities that cater to cruisers and there are several people who make their full-time living helping boaters. Though kinda out in the sticks, Luperon is only 60 minutes by road from Puerto Plata and 90 from Santiago, making it a decent base from which to explore the western DR. And like much of the DR, things are really, really cheap here. We've eaten out far more than we ever did in the Bahamas or TCI simply because it's almost as cheap as eating on the boat. Overall we're glad we came to Luperon and recommend it to other cruisers with one caveat. Here are some of the things we've done & businesses we've patronized in our first ten days in Luperon:

-- Papo. He is the cruisers' main go-to guy in the harbor, along with Handy Andy who offers similar services. We've used Papo to buy bottled water and dinghy gas and rent motorcycles and a Jeep. Along with his son Francis, he stands by on Channel 68 in the mornings and sporadically throughout the rest of the day. They both speak good English, and we've found them fairly reliable. However, a big warning: Papo owns and "maintains" most of the moorings in the harbor. They're a good deal at $2/day, which lets you avoid fouling your ground tackle in the rich water and thick goopy mangrove mud here. We took one of Papo's moorings for this reason. On Monday afternoon, we came back to the boat after a 4-hour absence to find that the mooring had dragged roughly 150 feet in 25-30 knot winds, putting Windbird very close to another boat (whose owner was fortunately aboard to fend our boat off). We moved to another mooring, which seemed to hold fine in the strong afternoon winds. However, two nights later we woke at 5am to the sound of Windbird gently bouncing off another boat in the night calm. Imagine our surprise to find ourselves in an entirely different area of the bay than we had moored! Our docklines were still in perfect shape, hanging limply from the bow. After inspection, it appears that the mooring's pendant parted under load during one of the squalls in the night, none of which were particularly strong. We are rather lucky Windbird didn't sustain any damage or run aground in our nighttime drift through an anchorage filled with cruising boats, a fishing fleet, shoals and mangroves. It turns out another boat about our size also came loose on the same night ours did, also due to a parted pendant. We're now anchored and feel much more secure using our own ground tackle, even though we'll have to clean it up when we go. Papo was very apologetic and refunded our money. If you use one of his moorings, take a good hard look at its condition and perhaps back down on it.

-- Puerto Blanco Marina & Las Velas Restaurant. Right near the outer mooring field, very convenient. A single dock with fairly cheap dockage rates, has been fully occupied our entire time here, looks like long-term tenants. Also offers a dinghy dock with showers and laundry facilities for $1/day for cruisers. Super nice restaurant, slightly higher-than-local prices but still reasonable. Daily specials announced on Channel 68. Manager Anna is very helpful to cruisers, a good resource (she arranged Brad's taxi to Santiago Airport for late Sunday). Somewhat spotty wifi, may be able to receive if you're fairly close in the outer mooring field.

-- Putulas Restaurant and Bar. Walk out of the Puerto Blanco gates, Putulas is ahead on the left. They also have a dinghy dock on the "Love Canal." Operated by Cathy and her husband Putula, basically a scenic balcony at the back of their house. Super inviting to cruisers. Good food, great happy hour 2-4pm daily with 50 peso ($1) mixed drinks. Had a birthday party for our friend Mak here, Cathy and Putula went out of their way to make it special. Fairly fast wifi.

--Wendy's Bar. On the left just after you walk into town from the government dock. Cheap cold beer, 100 pesos ($2) for a large Bohemia or 125 pesos ($2.50) for a large Presidente. Fast free wifi. Primary in-town cruiser and gringo expat hangout, now that both Lazy Ass Bistro and Upper Deck have closed. Super friendly, great advice to be had. Movie nights on Monday & Tuesday, Karaoke on Friday night.

--Chicken Shack. Unmarked lime green building on left just before Upper Deck. One of several "Pico Pollos" in town offering good food for cheap. Delicious large lunch (fried chicken, beans, rice, salad) for 150 pesos ($3).

--Pizzeria Frances. On southwest corner of main crossroads in town. Huge excellent pizzas for 300-350 pesos ($6-7). Also known for having good steaks and French food (owner/chef is French). Upstairs patio has nice view of townie action.

--Supermarket. Down main road about 6 blocks from government dock, on right side near Western Union. Both of the ATMs in town are right here as well. Pretty small, somewhat limited selection, but good prices and can certainly get the essentials here. They also have liquor with a good rum selection, as do several mini-markets around town.

--Claro. One of two cell phone companies in town, along with Altice. On main crossroads in town, kitty corner to Pizzeria Frances. We got a SIM card for 100 pesos ($2), month prepaid data package is 1200 pesos ($24) for 3GB. No English spoken but friendly & helpful. Once I ran through the 3GB package I discovered that Claro offers 5 days of unlimited data and voice for only 148 pesos, which is a much better deal (880 pesos / $17 for a month). Their LTE is pretty slow in the anchorage at night, I hear Altice is better.

--Ferreteria, or hardware store. Pretty big selection. Left at Claro, go two blocks east past the main park, turn left (north) - can't miss it.

--Marine Second-Hand Shop. On right just past Wendy's, quite a lot of second-hand gear. A bit expensive for used stuff but I don't see a West Marine anywhere near here! Picked up a snap shackle in good condition for 900 pesos ($18). 

--Laundry. The only place to do it yourself is Puerto Blanco marina. However Papo can pick it up at your boat and reportedly has reasonable charges. We used Gladys, the Agriculture department official; she charged $18 for a large duffel bag that was probably 3 or 4 loads, and 400 pesos ($8) to do another large bag with 2 loads worth.

--Cruisers Net. Sunday and Wednesday at 8am on Channel 72.

--27 Charcos (27 Waterfalls). We rented motorbikes from Papo (600 pesos / $12 each), this is just past Imbert on the highway to Santiago. You can do 7, 12, or all 27 waterfalls. We did all 27 for 700 pesos ($14) each. Wear watersocks or old sneakers. They provide life jacket, helmet, and English-speaking guides. It starts with a long hike with a fair amount of vertical, which makes the water feel all the more refreshing when you get in. You jump and slide down various waterfalls and then tromp through the creekbed to the next ones. Very pretty, and so much fun. We really enjoyed this. It's a pretty 1-hour ride/drive each way, the roads are a bit potholed but better than I expected. Just remember the first rule of driving in the DR: there are no rules!

--Playa Grande. A nice beach outside Luperon though the water is quite rough in afternoon sea breeze conditions. Saw humpback whales just offshore here. Has a cool beach bar in a converted shipping container. Creepy abandoned resort and associated workers apartments looks like it was pretty nice 10 years ago - it closed shortly after the financial crash of 2008 and has changed hands several times since. The quiet roads between here and Puerto Blanco are great for dog-walking.

--Carnival in La Vega. All the major cities in the DR have Carnival celebrations every Sunday in February as well as Independence Day (Feb 27), but La Vega is considered the best one in the country. Starts at 3pm Sundays, parade lasts until about 6pm but the craziness goes much later. We and Sea Otter rented a 4WD through Papo for $35USD/day. Lots of fun, music, drinking and dancing. Be careful about turning your bum to the masked "limping devils" and other merrymakers, you're likely to receive a solid whack from a vejiga, which is an air-filled leather bladder on a tether! La Vega is just over a 2-hour drive from Luperon, parking just off the Carnival route is 200 pesos / $4.

--Reprovisioning in Santiago. We stayed on the north side of town after our return from La Vega and went to a nearby supermercado to reprovision the next day. They had just about as good of a selection as the supurb supermarket in the Turks and Caicos, just less familiar brands at far better prices. We replenished the ship's stores of rum, wine, meat, deli cheese, juices, mixers, dry and canned goods and more for just under $400 for a heaping cartful. Figured it would have been twice that in the Bahamas. There are also reportedly good supermarkets in Puerto Plata, which is a little closer than Santiago (1 hr vs. 90 minutes from Luperon).

It's looking like we'll be moving east from Luperon to SamanĂ¡ in a couple days, as a massive low pressure system to our north will push the mid-Atlantic High south into the Caribbean and utterly kill the eastern trade winds (and even reverse them for a few days). We'll be doing it nonstop since a bit of north swell will likely render the north coast anchorages uncomfortable or even untenable; unfortunately, Dawn won't be available to crew for Sea Otter this time and they're not willing to do a 24-hour nonstop with just Dane and Mak and Isla, so we'll be losing our buddy boat for at least a little while. On the positive side, it looks like our friends Kara and Erin on S/V Vela are about to catch up to us, and should arrive in SamanĂ¡ shortly after we do! Additionally, Windbird's longtime admiral Judy Handley is planning on flying into Santo Domingo on March 7th, and will cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico with us. We're super excited to have her back on board as we move into the Caribbean Sea!

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