We arrived in La Romana, in the Dominican Republic at around 8am. I had to be up early for customs formalities – the only person disembarking. I said my goodbyes to Rosa (Roberta was busy) and headed to the capital, Santo Domingo. Bye bye Costa Fortuna. The coach had a blowout, so the broken old tyre was replaced (in record time mind you) by a spare that was balder than an extra from Alien3.
Ah – back in Latin America! Spanish, crazy drivers, deafening music, and, yup, baseball. But this is still the Caribbean, so it’s still waist-deep in fried chicken.
From Santo Domingo, I got a coach straight up to Puerto Plata, the harbour in the north near Luperon, from where I was told the yachts depart from.
There wasn’t enough time to get to Haiti and back today, so I met up with a guy called Mehrdad, a couchsurfer who hails from Iran (and is quite possibly the only Iranian Sushi chef in the entire Caribbean) and attempted to organise passage to Cuba or Jamaica for the next day. We called a guy who called a guy who called a guy – nada. I steeled myself for a long stay. Mehrdad put me up for the night.
First things first, I needed to check for boats leaving for Cuba or Jamaica from the port. Mehrdad and I headed over the harbour and a guy took us around all the ships (and then demanded money) only to tell us that none of them were going to Cuba or Jamaica.
Okay, so forget that – time to step foot in Haiti. I got the bus over there, taking much longer than I expected. I arrived at around 1pm. It’s market day – the day that the Lonely Planet warns you not to cross the border on. But it was just a bit like walking to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, so I took it in my stride. The UN peacekeepers on the bridge kept me safe and I got to touch Haitian soil.
I returned to the Dominican Republic and took four different forms of transport to Luperon, the fabled hurricane hole from whence spring yachts on their way to Cuba.
Or so I had been told. But this is the Caribbean, and it’s disorganised. Utterly disorganised. There was nothing going anywhere near Cuba, or Jamaica. This was turning into a nightmare. Carry Okie Dave, a bit of a yachting legend around these parts, bought me a beer and I drowned my sorrows. It was getting dark. Where are you staying tonight?
Puerto Plata. Anxious looks. You do know the last shared taxis run at 6pm, don’t you?
I looked at my watch. It was 6.45pm. Dave sorted me out with a motorbike back to the town from the marina and then I had to get another motorbike back to the main road – pitch black, no street lights, no crash helmet, roads with potholes the size of the Titanic…I clung on for dear life. I managed to get a bus back to Puerto Plata and meet with Mehrdad who took me out to meet his friends, Canadian Tim and a guy called Mark who might be able to help me get off this rock.
We met in a restaurant bar. Karaoke was the order of the day and not much business was discussed, but I got to meet a whole bunch of lovely people and they presented me with a t-shirt with messages of support on it.
Valentine’s Day. My girl, Mandy, is on the other side of the world and every day I waste on this island is another day that I’m not spending with her at the end of all this.
Mehrdad is a living legend though, he came with me to Ocean World, a nearby port full of Richie riches, on the off-chance, but nothing. There were only a handful of boats in port and most of them were not going anywhere – if they were, it was up to Turks and Caicos, not on my schedule.
With the global depression, the recent murder of an Australian skipper on Antigua and the general strike and riots in Guadeloupe (which may be spreading to Martinique) this is NOT a good time to be hitching around the Caribbean.
Another problem is that Americans are not allowed to go to Cuba. Under the ‘Trading with the Enemy Act’, they face a massive fine or even a jail sentence if they spend a single dime in Fidel Castro’s back garden. The fact that the Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago doesn’t seem to faze the US government into perhaps repealing this rather batty rule. The upshot of which is that the number of people sailing to Cuba and the number of cargo ships going to Cuba is slimmer than a Caribbean cookbook…
1) Fry chicken
2) Add a metric ton of boiled rice (optional)
So, a bit crumpled by the lack of options, I decided to head back to Santo Domingo to try my luck. I rang Ken, another couchsurfer (have I mentioned how much I LOVE www.couchingsurfing.com?!) who had offered me a stay down there. He said that I could come down, but politely pointed out that it was Valentine’s Day and that he might like to spend the evening with his girlfriend rather than a brash, scouse chap who hadn’t changed his underwear for three weeks.
So I decided to hightail it down to Santo Domingo first thing the next morning. With nothing else to do, I persuaded Mehrdad to show me how to make Sushi. We went to the supermarket, I spent an outrageous amount on ingredients and yes, the only Iranian Sushi Chef in the Caribbean taught me how to make Sushi! It was brilliant! Wish he would teach a few more people around these parts, I’m starting to see fried chickens in my sleep.
Mehrdad and I spent the evening chewing the fat over the stuff I love to bang on about – politics, religion, cosmology, architecture, travel – he’s a really sweet guy and one that is as annoyed as anyone in the West about the fact that a bunch of narrow-minded yahoos hijacked his country back in 1979. One day he’ll get to Canada and once he’s got his Canadian passport, he’ll be able to fulfil his dream of travelling the world.
What a lot of people don’t realise, and maybe what The Odyssey will go to show (if I ever get off this damn island!) is that if you were born in the UK, you have THE GOLDEN TICKET. A British Passport. You can go to EVERY NATION on Earth. The vast, vast majority of the people on the planet can’t. Most of them can’t afford to travel to the next village, but even if they could, they couldn’t travel as freely as we can.
We can live and work ANYWHERE in the EU, we have special rights in the 50-odd nations of the Commonwealth, we can visit every single country in the Americas (with the exception of Suriname) WITHOUT a visa.
And what do we do with this gift we’ve been given, a gift that a good five billion people would kill for? We go to Ibiza!
Jesus wept. And don’t give me that stuff about not having the money – couch-surf with the locals, eat street food, travel on public transport. You can live on less than $10 a day. In Vietnam, you can get utterly legless for that much (can’t you Stan?!)…so stop making excuses – this stuff is no fun when you retire because your back will hurt too much.
The world is out there, it’s not a scary place and you have an open invitation. Go see it before you die, it’s great.
And that goes for all of you – Yank, Aussie, Kiwi, Canuck, our European friends and the good people of Japan. And hurry up about it, you’re not getting any younger.
Here’s the vid of my adventures in the Dominican Republic:
I had to get up so early my legs where all shaky. Wurgh! I said my goodbyes to Mehrdad and wished him well on his endeavours. He tried to give me some Sushi to take with me, but I can barely bring myself to eat toast at that time in the morning, never mind raw fish!
I hopped on the bus back down to Santo Domingo, a nice, big, air-conditioned affair that cost less than ten bucks. Drifted off to sleep and woke surprisingly early in the capital. A taxi driver kindly ripped me off by driving me round the block to Ken the couchsurfer’s house. It wasn’t until later that I discovered it was over the road from the bus station.
So after meeting Ken and his flatmate TJ (both American), I headed over to the ports to take down the names of the ships in dock like some demented trainspotter.
Two days later, I would discover that a boat left “yesterday” for Jamaica. Blast!
Here we go then along the old waterfront, on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. Kids running about, young lovers staring out to sea, old dudes playing dominoes. Domingo, Dominoes, y La Republica Dominica.
I ambled through the lovely old colonial town as the sun set. Once again, not a bad place to be stuck for a few days. But I’m not here on holiday – I’m trying to set a new world record and I’m going nowhere fast. The Caribbean – I will defeat you. You may have put me a month behind schedule, but I’ll have the last laugh. You just wait and see.
I hopped on the back of a motorbike-taxi and we headed up to Winston Churchill Avenue, where some random guy with a heart of gold, and travel in his blood, was letting me stay for the night. Cheers, Ken – you’re a legend!
I needed somewhere that I could sit and work, and Ken and TJ work in a place around the corner – the offices of DR1.com, which is a website for English Speakers in the Dominican Republic with news, features, bulletin board etc. They work in the office with an American guy called Lu, a Brit called Lee and another Brit called Robert – the owner of the company.
Media stuff on everyone’s screen, everyone working away but taking breaks every now and again to tell jokes, a dart board on the door…
All it was missing was a sexy pole-dancer who worked upstairs and I could have been home.
A wonderful guy called Román Cid who had seen my videos on YouTube (Week 1 – 220,000 hits and counting! Woo! THANK YOU YOUTUBE!) got in touch and really, really helped out – he managed to get hold of the shipping timetable for the week for the entire country, so we knew a) there was a boat leaving here for Jamaica on Thursday and b) a boat left for Jamaica TODAY from…yep, you guessed it…Puerto Plata. I almost ate my hat.
Román came into the office and wrote out an email to a guy who had a boat going to Cuba this weekend, who seemed keen to allow me passage, but, worried that I might get stuck in Cuba (although I’m sure none of my wonderful yacht friends Kerri, Andrew and Henry Hauck would let that happen), I decided to aim for Jamaica and then hit Cuba from Florida. It may cost a fortune, but at the moment, I think I’m just going to have to take the bitter pill.
I’ll be getting to The Bahamas from Florida too (yes there is a day trip – cheap too!) so if I can just get to Jamaica…
Román wished me all the best, what a great guy and hurrah for the Internet eh? I spent the afternoon online to Hugh, wonderful Hugh who made phone calls and sent emails and eventually it seemed like we where getting somewhere.
So, the ‘Linge Trader’, departs Thursday, goes via Haiti. There was a boat. I just had to wait for them to say ‘yes’.
Got an email from Lonely Planet telling me not to feel too bad about being stuck in the Caribbean, because of all the great footage I’d be getting. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I sat in an modern office all day working on a computer like a chump.
So another day of phone calls, shipping timetables and website after website. Dino, Hugh and Lorna were on the case and eventually we were all left playing the waiting game.
I did my sums and there’s an outside chance that I could make the Eimskip boat from Canada to Iceland on 8th March…
IF I can get on the ‘Linge Trader’ to Jamaica;
IF I can get the ‘Pamplona’ to Costa Rica on Monday;
IF I make every bus connection to Key West in Florida and get there from Costa Rica in less than 5 days;
IF I can pay for a day trip to Cuba and back;
IF I can make it from Florida to Halifax in time, and;
IF Eimskip are still willing to take me!
That’s a LOT of ‘ifs’…
I felt that it was only fair that I cooked dinner for my hosts, so Ken and I headed over to the supermarket and I bought all the stuff I’d need for a good old-fashioned Spag Bol and I cooked up a storm. Actually, I ended up cooking enough for 8 people, not 3, but hey-ho daddio – it better to have too much than too little.
Now Ken and TJ know a lot of rather fetching-looking girls from round these parts. Seriously, if you’re not into plump, screeching, orange-skinned girls in white stilettos, you might want to get out of the UK for a few days and come here. I’m just saying is all…
Still no word from the Linge Trader. Hugh has gone to Germany now and Lorna and Dino are in work. I’m in the office at DR1 with Ken, TJ, Lu, Lee and Robert – it’s becoming like a proper job. I’m going to get editing Week 5 and 6 videos now, so I don’t think anything more exciting is going to happen today, but if it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Sorry it’s taken me so long to update my blog – it’s hard when all the time you are awake, you are trying to get your next means of passage secured. Once I’m back on Terra Firma and I’m sitting on buses for hours on end, they’ll be up here every day. Promise!
OH, HANG ON A MINUTE… WHAT’S THIS?!
I’ve just this moment received an email from the dude in Florida, Mauricio, saying that MY PASSAGE TOMORROW IS SECURED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And…at the exact same moment as that revelation, here’s the delightful Mary Dowrick ringing me on Skype to tell me that MY ONWARD PASSAGE TO COSTA RICA IS SORTED TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
GO TEAM ODYSSEY!!!!!!!
Lorna, Leo, Hugh, Dino, Mandy, John, Mary, Mike, Mum and Dad – take a bow.
I think I might just have made it out of the Caribbean. I’m off for a beer.
Fifty days in, who’d have thunked it? I’m still in the Dominican Republic. I’ve been here over a week! Bah! But I leave today (thanks again, Team Odyssey!) and all, for the moment, is good. Met a friend of Ken’s called Esperanza. She’s from Colombia and she photographs naked chicks (including herself) for a living, pretty good at it too (ahem – by all accounts). Ken does her website. Not often you meet a good-looking girl and the first thing they show you are naked photos of herself, but there you go, welcome to the DR.
A light lunch with Ken and Esperanza and then off to the offices of DR1.com to say goodbye to everyone. Got down to the docks in good time, only to find out that the container boat, The Linge Trader, wouldn’t be leaving until tomorrow. More delays! But…I was allowed to stay on the ship for the night so I spent the time sorting out how on Earth I’m going to get from Costa Rica to Florida in four days.
I also found out from an old friend that a certain purveyor of dead parrots has been informed of my travels. I can’t tell you what he said, but it’s cool, I tell you, it’s cool!
Today passed in a daze. Out to sea, no mobile phone, no internet. I think I had been saving up my first day off work for today. I lay exhausted, in my cabin and read The Odyssey again. The old one, not this one. I’m not that much of an ego maniac. Although I’ve got to say that old Odysseus and I would have probably got on like a house on fire – faced with choosing between sparing the life of a priest or a poet, he spares the poet. Nice to see adventurer/priestly relations haven’t improved much in three millennia.