March 23 : St Matin, Island marked by the last cyclone
I was finally in Marigot, main city of the French part of St Martin Island. My stay was quite short, I will be stay on that land less than 24 hours. After 19 days of Atlantic crossing without seeing any piece of land, I Ould be leaving the Island the next day aboard a new Catamaran that Christophe — my friend that I found there quite unexpectedly 1 month after our paths diverged in Las Palmas— found for us. The bad point with this boat was that the guy was making us pay additional fees of 25€ per day of navigation and 10€ per anchoring day and it wasn’t covering any expenses, we still had to pay for the food, the marina, the custom… I only learned that after I accepted to join the boat, but it was good enough at least to reach Dominican Republic (the boat was heading to Mexico but making some stops on the way).
I briefly discovered St Martin, this Island half French half Netherlandish. It wasn’t hard to notice that it had been victim of the last cyclone 6 month before : In Marigot many houses had still no roofs, damaged boat were staying along the roads… Only few hostels were richly and well reconstructed : those which had enough money to rebuild without waiting for the money of the insurance. All the others were too poor to do anything without refunds : they had to wait for the insurance which weren’t really hurrying… It seemed that on the Netherlandish side the state had advanced the expenses and was pushing the insurance hard so that everything was already reconstructed.
With Christophe we went up to the fort admire the awesome sunset over the bay, then we headed toward the boat’s graveyard.
Some sailing boats were still in the water, half sinked, other had been put into pieces in order to sell them.There were also lots of ropes a bit everywhere on the floor, most of the time broken and which stayed in the salted water too much time, but which still could be quite useful. Lots of mast lying down on the floor, well arranged, sometimes early broken.
One boat had certainly been lifted out of the water after staying at the bottom during months : it was covered of shells. What an awful spectacle. Finally we went to the bar to drink some cold beers with our new crew and some locals.
People told us the insecurity wasn’t at all the one described in the French newspapers : indeed after the cyclone there were some pillage but they were exclusively directed toward the big supermarket, especially in order to find food for people who had nothing left to feed themselves. Indeed they were area to avoid at night on the Island but not more than there would be in metropole too. A woman who was working at the hospital told us the life was harder since the catastrophe : there was the choc of seeing so much misery, but also to have to find a new place to stay with the rents of the appartement which had strongly raised. An other woman who was Physio, she told us that she hadn’t had that much work since the catastrophe, so that she was earning a lot of money.
Pascal, a Frenchman who came to St Martin long ago and who was living there ever since, and his wife Agripine, a Dominican who came to St Martin to live with Pascal, were embarking with us aboard the catamaran. Pascal had a good job as seller in an American company before the cyclone, but after the catastrophe he stayed several months employed by the company but without job nor salary. He finally managed to be fired and compensated as the company didn’t seem to want to relaunch the activity. With this new amount of money and no job to be found on the desolated Island they had decided to move to Dominican Republic in order to start a new life. They were finishing their relocation with this sailing trip, carrying with them quite a lot of stuffs.
March 24th – 27th : sailing from St Martin to Dominican Republic
I discovered Odysea, an old catamaran much less modern than the one on which I crossed the atlantic but with much more charm. The captain, Bernhard, is not the owner of the boat. He is a skipper that the owner hired for free to convoy his boat from Senegal to Caraibean and who is supposed to covey it back to France later this year. That’s why Bernhard is taking a crew that he makes pay for the trip.
It takes us 4 days to reach the Dominican Republic. The boat is totally not reliable and in some way quite dangerous. The autopilot is disconnecting very often for no reason the steering wheel is soft and sometimes doesn’t seem to work. It has no wind sensor and no speedometer. To set the sail we need to go at the base of the mast on the roof which is accessible only by a flat sleepy rise…
Aboard we are cooking, trying to fish but not getting anything, playing cards. Seb, the other crew member, teaches us a new card game. Bernhard told us the stories of his long life which are sometimes so exuberant that we guess they are made up but they are so well told that we don’t really care about the veracity of them.
Along the trip I surprisingly manage to get free internet on my phone when we are navigating close the American virgin Island and Puerto Rico. I manage to find a new boat which will be travelling Haiti Cuba and Guatemala from Dominican Republic.
We arrive in Boca Chica, a very touristic part of Dominican Republic where are many Hotels.
March 28th- April 4th : stay in Dominican Republic
The new boat I contacted accepted me aboard but they are about 3 to 4 hours of bus away from where we are staying. I decided to stay about a week more on odysea, allowing me to spend a bit more time with Christophe and Seb before I leave the boat.
In Dominican Republic it seems that there are 2 types of people : the authority, usually corrupted and who are trying to over use their power in order to steal money from the tourists, and normal people, who are really nice and helpful. In Boca Chica we discovered that they were quite influenced by USA. They were watching USA channels with subtitles (as most of the population didn’t seem to speak more than 3 words of English), were playing mostly baseball and basketball. On the beach it was quite strange : walking along the beach it may be fully clean if it was monitored by a classy hotel/restaurant, and full of dirt if by a local restaurant.
One day we decided to go to the capital, Santo Domingo, in order to visit the city, to buy the touristic cards for Cuba — Piece of paper which goes with the Visa that you can buy directly when you arrive by boat in cuba and costs 70 dollars per person, or you can buy it in travel agency of other countries for much less (in Dominican Republic it was 20 dollars— and meet my future crew.
We decided to go there using the Guagua, as local do, and not the big bus which anyway are not that expensive but are much more comfortable and touristic. The Guagua are those small busses which are moving to there destination when they are full. There are 2 line of sits which are way too large for 1 person but kind of narrow for 2 (anyway usually there are 2 persons on those sits). To find the Guagua in Boca Chica we asked a guy passing there. The guy explained us clearly and in detail where to go, he seemed happy to help and was really helping us. He also told us to be careful, because some people may not be well intentioned sometimes.
We found our first Guagua, it was passing exactly where the guy told us to go. The guy in the guagua understood we wanted to get in by seeing us looking at the guagua. He stopped and took us. We told him we wanted to go to Santo Domingo and we wanted to pay but he told us we would have to pay later. Few minutes later we had to change of bus, in order too fill an other one. Finally the Guagua left us to the main station of Boca Chica where we had to change for the “Express” Guagua going to Santo Domingo. Once the New Guagua was full, we left. That’s the moment we had to pay. I had only few money of the country with me, otherwise I had only euros, and Christophe just realised that he may have lost his wallet when we changed buses… We hadn’t enough to pay for 2 tickets with the money of the country, but the guy of the bus accepted to change my 20 euros bill against 1000 Dominican Pesos (when it should have been 1230 at that time). When we arrived he finally managed to get in touch with Seb who confirmed that his wallet wasn’t at the boat and that he really had lost it. The Guagua drivers and controllers nicely tried to help us during more than 30 minutes, making calls, trying to find in which Guagua we had been… But considering the amount of money he had in pesos and dollars in his wallet, they told us he had really few chance to find it back.
Finally we headed to the Colonial Zone, the oldest part of the city where the Spanish first settled when they arrived in Dominican Republic 5 century before. We were just too late for the travel agency which was closing earlier because of the bank holiday : Easter, which seemed to be a really important. We would have to come back 3 days later to get our touristic card. We met my future crew and went to visit with Seb who joined us a bit the city. The colonial Zone was a mix of fortress/old colonial building and other Chinese square with Chinese architecture.
We saw elders play dominos in parks as it is a national game here. Each time we were asking help to find a direction people were really trying to help and often were even fearful that anything wrong happened to us. All were telling us to be careful because the country was dangerous. It was so hard to believe it when everybody was so nice.
Back in Boca Chica we went with Christophe and Seb to Punta Cana : the paradise beach which were famous around the world. More exactly I found us a hostel close to playa Macao : a beach directly a the north of Punta Cana’s beach where no tourist were coming but only locals.
The hostel happened to be a camping in fact but the place was really chilly and nice. We met nice travellers from Poland, Germany, Australia, Usa, France. With Easter lot of Dominican were coming to the beach to party during the whole week-end. At the beach it was obvious that we were the only tourists. Some girls of 16-18 years old were amazed to know that I wasn’t married and wanted to take pictures with me haha.
We finally went back to the catamaran by bus (higher comfort than the guagua) and Guagua where I quickly picked up my stuff and said goodbye before heading to Santo Domingo to get my touristic card and head to Barahona with the last coach (that I almost missed) of the day in order to arrive by night in Barahona where my new crew was waiting for me.
Recap of this experience aboard the Odyssea :
- A new experience of boat Hitch-hiking aboard a Catamaran, but this time more ancient (5th boat hitch-hiking experience of the trip)
- Some nice encounters among this new crew
- Some nice encounters of travellers
- Cooking and games discovery
- Too short discovery of Dominican republic
- First Guagua experience