Thursday, March 31, 2011

Adventures of all kinds!

What a night last night was, and oh, what a day it turned out to be! In the middle of the night, Ron and I were each awakened by noise and flashing blue strobe lights on the walls of our cabin. Peeking out the porthole, across the water not too far from where we were anchored, I could see lights blazing aboard a large 100' Burger that was being boarded and inspected by the Coast Guard/ Navy (Marina de Guerra) as well as Specialized Port Security Corps (CESEP) officers. I could see guys crawling all over the vessel, from its engine room to salon, and soldiers with machine guns posted on the aft deck. It was startling! It was a really nice yacht, not the type of boat typically stopped to be boarded and searched at random, but clearly there was some reason. For a moment I thought perhaps they weren’t supposed to be arriving after dark, (it’s frowned upon here to cruise at night) but I couldn't believe if that were the case, how it could provoke such a response. Who knows?

We were to meet Martin at the public dock at 0930, so we could go to Immigration and finish clearing in, but as we approached the public town dock, we could see there was a large DR naval vessel alongside the pier, with a crappy old SeaRay tied off to it. The SeaRay had been retrofitted with two huge extra fuel tanks, which were taking up most of the aft cockpit area, and the boat was clearly undergoing a search, as there were more officers and soldiers aboard. Things were getting exciting in the harbor, indeed!

The Naval vessel and the ill-fated Sea Ray
We tied off on the public pier and went with Martin to the Immigration office, and our own version of excitement began! Actually, it was an exercise in patience, as the impassive  official there was slow as molasses in a January snowstorm, inspecting our paperwork and passports as if she hadn’t ever seen such items before. She laboriously spell-checked our names (international phonetic alphabet once again!) before finding appropriately-sized pieces of carbon paper to place between all the layers of necessary paperwork (in triplicate). Finally, she went to a battered filing cabinet in the back of the office to retrieve her stamp, which she used to stamp all the originals of our documents, as well as our passports. Every step was lengthy and drawn-out beyond belief. Welcome to the Banana Republic…er …Dominican Republic!

Once that ordeal was over, we told Martin we wanted to see the public market at the west edge of town, since we needed some fresh vegetables and more bread flour. The cruising guide said the market here in Samana is one of the best markets in the Caribbean, "well-stocked, vibrant and full of energy". Martin arranged for Jorge, a driver of a little moto-chukka (a motorcycle drawn carriage taxi) to take us there. While there are cars and trucks here, it seems that most everyone rockets around on these 100cc motorcycles, usually with two-to-three people aboard each one. We passed one family clinging together: the father driving, the wife behind hanging onto him with her right arm, while dangling their young toddler son off her hip with her other arm. Facing out, the boy was busy drooling and gnawing/teething on a cookie, and not the least bit alarmed to be literally hanging just a few feet over fast moving pavement. Wild!!

The market was eye-opening, lively and vibrant indeed; I found it utterly fascinating. Upon arrival, we stepped out of the moto-chukka to be confronted with several wooden stands, each with a huge old-fashioned hanging scale dangling off a yardarm, their tabletops lined with raw, whole plucked chickens (some with feet) all sitting out in the blazing sunshine. There was no refrigeration to be seen anywhere, nothing was on ice and only some of the carcasses even shaded from the sun by pieces of flat cardboard. Thin, mangy looking dogs roamed underfoot, some sleeping under the various meat tables and others sniffing and scavenging in the dusty street for the occasional scrap thrown their way.  

Whole chickens, some with feet...
The market inside almost defied coherent description, as I’d never seen anything like it. The large, airy, cool interior was filled with rows of tables, where numerous vendors were displaying and selling produce from each. The tables were piled high with huge purple striped eggplants, bright green cabbages and cucumbers, orange carrots (some nearly as big as baseball bats), beets, tomatoes, potatoes, papaya, plantains, celery, onions, coconuts, peppers, chayote squash, you name it, they had it. There were huge bunches of fresh herbs, large burlap bags of open spices, immense flats of eggs, crammed next to melons, pineapples, limes, oranges, and bunches of bananas. Bottled honey was in abundance, being sold in leftover rum bottles. Every table was crammed full, and around the walls were stalls with other items for sale. 
The view across the sea of produce inside the market
Charcoal braziers all along the top shelf, assorted and sundry
other items in between with bags of spices beneath. 
Cabbages the size of basketballs
More spices to choose from!
Honey, in recycled old rum bottles on the left
One stall, a carniceria, was selling meats to order. The butcher had whole sides of beef hanging down behind him as he was chopping through the meat and bones with a long machete, butchering the slabs of meat while you watched. Others were selling non-perishable tinned goods, from bottles of bleach and cleaning supplies, soaps and shampoos, to coffee and teas, pallets of sodas, bunches of hanging salamis, various corn oil and cooking oils, napkins, cups and such, to boxes of pasta and huge 50 lb. burlap bags of rice.

Name your cut of steak...
Ron getting a flat of eggs
It was an amazing scene! I lost Ron three times in the melee as I stopped to gawk and take photos; he was on the hunt for the eggs and vegetables, but when I finally caught up to him, he was by these huge kettles of whole fish, selecting a couple of red snapper from Jorge’s mom. The fish, at least, were on ice, clearly that morning’s catch, fresh from the sea. Ron picked out two good-sized snappers, which we got for 300 pesos, or about $7.00. It was a riotous experience…there were tubs of dorado, wahoo, bream, chub and rainbow runners, plus other fish I didn’t stop to identify. To say the market is vibrant is an understatement!

Freshly caught and cleaned red snapper
More bins of fresh fish
Jorge's mom, from whom we got our snapper
Fringing the main market area were more stores selling fruit and veggies, plus numerous others like ferreterias (selling hardware, not ferrets), clothing stores, liquor stores, and sundry stores with assorted odds and ends…there was even one guy selling a pile of shoes out of a wheelbarrow on the corner. 
Great advertising!
Shoes by the dozen
Commerce in motion! We eventually came away with carrots, peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggs, the two whole snapper...but forgot the flour! We returned to the boat briefly to put away the perishables and get the fish on ice. But, it being lunch time, we returned ashore to walk the town and find ourselves a place to have lunch. We walked past the tourist shopping area along the front street – all pastel Victorian buildings, which are at odds with the stucco or cement storefronts and homes elsewhere. But pretty, to be sure. We did a bit of shopping at one jewelry place where the owner Gabriel, was quite the salesman. He gave us a tour of the back rooms where the jewelry is fashioned, and we saw the entire shop, from the workers to one woman making lunch for everyone in an adjacent shed. The shop also makes hand rolled cigars there, and we saw the equipment for that. SO interesting!
The jewelry workshop
I love this woman's smile! She was cooking lunch for the jewelry workers,
and was very happy to have her photo taken. Note the big pressure cooker!
Cigar trays and press for making cigars
Some of the loose leaf tobacco before being used in cigars
We also went back to the market for the bread flour and a few more veggies. (We couldn’t resist, it was just so fascinating there!) Getting the flour was a bit of an adventure, since no one spoke English and we had no idea what the word for "flour" was. After much pantomiming and repeating the word for bread ("pan"), one of the shop boys brought out yeast. We went through the motions again, and he pulled out a small cup of white flour from under the cabinet! Bingo! I even felt it to make sure it was flour and not sugar in the dim light, but it wasn’t granular, so I was satified. Whew!! Quite a transaction!

From there, we headed back to the dinghy to return to the boat...or tried to. The gates to the public dock were closed and locked, restricting access to all of the boats tied up there, and the gates guarded by numerous men with automatic weapons. All sorts of uniformed personnel roamed the docks, from the khaki-clad MdG officers to the pale grey-and-black camouflage-uniformed soldiers, to the DNCD special-ops boys in all black, their Counter-Drug Directorate. (Those guys even had full face masks on, extremely intimidating!) Everyone was extremely serious looking -- clearly a drug interdiction of some sort. Thus, we ended up waiting a good two hours (happily, out of the sun in a bar across the street!) before we were escorted brusquely to the dinghy and told to head directly to our boat. Which we did, immediately! 
Eclipse tied off at the end of the closed public pier
Gates locked, guns out -- entry to the pier was restricted for hours! was a rather exciting and very full day, with both unexpected treats and unforeseen tribulations! Adventures of all kinds, but then again, that's why we cruise!

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