Luperon, Dominican Republic
Date: Friday 13th February 2015
After we had settled the boat in Luperon Bay we took the dinghy ashore to undertake the check in process. We eventually found the dinghy dock at the head of the bay, and it was in quite a dilapidated state. Made of wood it had completely collapsed along one of its sides. It led on to a small raised road that had been cut through the surrounding mangrove swamp to the firm ground that marked the start of the town. Alongside the road was a small creek that appeared to drain what was at best grey water coming from the village and there was a lot of plastic waste and other litter tangled in the mangrove roots. Most of the official’s offices consisted of small wooden huts perched on bricks around this rather unprepossessing littoral with all of the windows and doors open to get whatever ventilation was offered by the still air. It was probably the most unhealthy location in the town and I suspect that the people who work there must suffer badly from insect borne maladies.
The check in procedure was both chaotic and quite confusing. I fact I’m still not entirely sure who we saw and what the correct procedure should have been. For some of the officials (Customs, Immigration, Health and one or two others who we were told we had to see but I’m still not sure who they were) we had to complete the formalities whilst ashore. Others insisted on coming out to the boat. This included the rather mysterious uniformed officer from M15 or some similarly named secret service who I think just wanted to ensure we were not importing drugs, guns or armed insurgents and the guys from Agriculture who insisted on charging us a fee for our dogs, even though we clearly didn’t have any pets on board. They seemed particularly fascinated by the large, red, juicy onions that I had bought whilst in Providenciales. They kept touching them, squeezing them in their hands and saying how much they admired them; maybe they just wanted us to gift them to them. All the while I was talking to them in my broken Spanish and they were talking to me in their broken English. Heaven only knows what misunderstandings there may have been. I wish that I could have captured it all on film as it would have made a delightful farce to rival the works of Mr Georges Feydeau.
We were pretty quickly approached by Pape, the local organiser of everything in Luperon for boaters who had organised a tour to the local waterfalls. As we had arrived at the same time as three American boats (Discovery, Stargazer and Casa Blanca) and we were all English speaking, it was assumed that we were all together and we were put together on one bus. We had all expected something reasonably comfortable, and I suppose that by DR standards that is what we got. Unfortunately not only was the bus just about avoiding falling apart, but it was tiny and far too small for all of us. We all managed to squeeze in but it was pretty uncomfortable. Eileen managed to grab the seat beside the driver which appeared to offer the most room, so she felt pretty pleased with herself as the bus started to work its way through the town. This didn’t last for long. Our first stop, after just a couple of minutes, was at Pape’s house where he had apparently arranged for his son to come with us and act as ‘interpreter’.
He got into the front of the bus squeezing Eileen almost onto the knees of the driver. Not only was he a lot closer to her than she would have wished, but he really didn’t look too well. His head was rolling, he couldn’t keep his eyes open and he kept falling asleep on her shoulder; that is when he wasn’t sneezing explosively and wiping the residue onto his shirt. After a few minutes he woke up and said something to the driver who quickly stopped the bus. Our ‘interpreter’ got out, walked in front of the bus and proceeded to vomit voluminously, wiped his mouth with his hands, got back in the bus and then we set off again.
It wasn’t a good start but as we proceeded through the countryside the sheer beauty of the landscape started to crowd out the memory of our ‘interpreter’s’ less than elegant behaviour. Everything was just so fertile. The roadside alternated between woodland and small pasture in which some very healthy looking cattle were contentedly chewing away. The hedges were interspersed with many flowering plants and where fencing posts had been put into the ground several of them had self-rooted and were sprouting fresh green foliage. From time to time we would encounter local farmers riding on horseback and dressed like cowboys in a spaghetti western but with large machetes on their belts rather than colt 45’s.
We eventually arrived at our destination. We hadn’t really known what to expect at the waterfall, but we had thought that we could just walk along a river or stream and enjoy the scenery. It was only then that we learned what was expected of us. We were to join organised groups of other tourists, we would have to strip down to swimwear (which we hadn’t brought with us), hire footwear, flotation aids and helmets and under strict supervision follow our guide through the woods; after arriving at the waterfall we could jump off the rocks into the water below. Organised groups like that are definitely not my kind of thing and Eileen certainly wouldn’t want to jump off any rocks. When we asked if we could just go for a walk by ourselves we were told that this was not allowed. So we elected to stay behind in the café that was linked to the site, have a drink and wait for the others to return. It was quite a pleasant spot really and we enjoyed just chilling out over a cup of coffee and using the wifi; that is as long as we positioned ourselves so that we could not see our ‘interpreter’ who had also stayed behind and placed himself sitting on the floor just outside the café where he would lean over every few minutes to retch once more.
Once we had all reconvened lunch was supplied. As the food appeared our ‘interpreter’ appeared to find new life and eager to be seen to be doing at least something useful he put himself at the head of the self-service queue and handed out plates to everyone. The food looked OK but my memory of his recent behaviour together with his insistence on handling all of our plates did rather dull my appetite, so I chose not to eat.
We then had another quite magical journey back through the countryside to Luperon. By now our ‘interpreter’ was quite energised and no doubt expecting a large tip from all of us. I’m not sure what the others gave him, but he didn’t get much from us.
Over the next few days we got to know the town a little better. It certainly couldn’t be described as prosperous, but what it did have it managed to make quite charming. Its real asset was its inhabitants who were almost universally warm, friendly, welcoming and a pleasure to talk to.
The less than prepossessing entrance to the town from the water side:
The small bar in the foreground is the principle watering hole for the yachties and resident expats.
The town is named after Gregorio Luperon who was a former president of the DR. He has a statue dedicated to him in the town:
Here’s the local fire station building:
There are traffic lights at the centre of town; unfortunately they have not worked for years.
Most of the houses in the town are of a very simple construction, but their bright pastel colours make them very attractive:
You are often told not to walk around some places after dark. Normally this is because of the threat of crime, although in Luperon we found another reason. This loop of razor wire around a school yard has become dislodged from where it should be and is dangling at face height; quite dodgy if you don’t look where you are going:
However there was one very modern building in town. One that had clearly had a lot of money spent upon it. The town may have been crying out for some infrastructure investment but no expense had been spared in building the local church. Now you don’t see that too often do you?
And here is the local Moss Bros:
Over the next few days we managed to see more of the countryside around Luperon, but firmly avoided any more organised tours. We found it very easy to use local transport. It’s almost all based upon normal motor cars, but operated as hybrid bus/taxi/car. The driver will normally delay leaving until he has six passengers (four in the back seat and two sharing the one front seat). It’s very cramped and at first a little daunting when after getting into the back seat three other people, each of whom may be twice your body weight, try to squeeze into the spaces around you. It’s all a bit too intimate, but once you start to appreciate that this is just normal behaviour for the DR then you can start to accept it. You can even begin to enjoy the ‘Russian Roulette’ type frisson of anticipating whether the person who will be crammed against you will be a trim young chica or a huge big mama. My sympathies go to those who have to share the front seat. Most Japanese production cars are not made to squeeze four butt cheeks into a space made for one person.
After a couple of journeys we learned that there is a simple way to get more room for yourself. It is possible to buy two spaces per person, so Eileen and I could enjoy the back seat all to ourselves without other bodies jammed around us. The fares are very inexpensive so it’s not really a problem. But you do sometimes feel a twinge of guilt when you see a pregnant woman, maybe with a young child, having to wait for the next car whilst you speed off enjoying the luxury of a half full vehicle.