Stinging In The Rain
16 December 2012 | Isla Saona
Half past four and the beach is almost deserted. All that remains are the birds picking over the detritus of the extensive picnic lunch and the clouds of ravenous mosquitoes disappointed at the sudden lack of targets. So ends another day on the fantastic beaches of the Island of Saona on the South East tip of the Dominican Republic; another of the many hundreds of beaches that class themselves as one of the top 12 beaches of the world. Anchored near the Coast Guard station, we are alone again for the night and able to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this lovely, remote location.
Today, we and the hundreds of tourists that are disgorged from the powerful open dories have enjoyed the warming sunshine and played in the sea with its irresistible turquoise colour. It is such a contrast to the conditions yesterday afternoon as we arrived from our long, bouncy and tiresome trip across the Mona Passage from Puerto Rico. As the anchor touched the clean, sandy bottom the torrential rain commenced. Whiteout conditions prevailed for the rest of the day, terrorising the packed ranks of tourists cowering in the open dories like slaves in a galley. Yesterday, no gayety and laughter accompanied the endless procession of boats powering their way back to the hotel complexes on the mainland.
Previously, Magan's Bay on the north shore of St Thomas kept us in the US Virgin Islands after our departure from the American Yacht Harbour Marina. Another of the top 12 beaches in the world, it is a hive of activity during the day and a place of solitude at night. Rocking gently at anchor off the glorious sandy beach it is easy to get a ricked neck as you try and keep up with all the activity. On one side the Swanny Kazoo conversations of the boobies are abruptly silenced as they plunge down on the unsuspecting fish and the ungainly pelicans crump into the water in a massive shower of spray on the same shoal. The assault on the fish seems unending as the massive flock of birds dive, relaunch, circle and dive again. On the beach side, a fascinating theatre of tourist life unfolds. The deserted beach springs to life as beach chairs and kiosks are made ready for the massed onslaught from the colossal cruise ships docked on the other side of the island. We stroll past wedding preparations with their champagne warming in the morning sunshine. Little do they know that today's ceremony will be a washout when heavy rain strikes. Numerous lifeguards enthusiastically exercise their power over the bathers with shrill whistle blasts, keeping all within the designated swimming area. As we head out on our return swim to Shiraz the whistling get more and more frantic and somewhat ragged. The surf board is launched and heads after us with the lifeguard paddling furiously; the activity drawing attention to his well maintained physique. It's a race. He is destined to lose for he cannot make up the gap before we reach the steps of Shiraz and he peels off looking for a distraction that would explain his frenetic burst of activity to the casual observer.
Officialdom is a nasty evil that we have to deal with as we bounce from country to country. Puerto Rico, being part of the USA, can be particularly irksome as our Swiss neighbours in Puerto Del Ray marina discovered when the contents of their entire larder and freezer were confiscated because it was banned foreign produce from the French island of Martinique. If I hadn't been crunched up, cursing and sweating while replacing the toilet pipes, I would have commiserated with them more. Still, at least they could buy the same produce in the local hypermarket. We had chosen to check-in to Puerto Rico in Culebra, where the sole member of US Customs and Border Protection force is most amenable and a boat inspection almost unheard of. Still, having been to a foreign port in the last year, like many of the boats in the marina, we are prohibited from dumping rubbish in the bins. It must be taken to the disposal point in San Juan, which is only an hours drive if you have a fast car and a good sense of direction. Like everyone else, we humour the officials and ignore the rules.
Gandalf is a spin-off from the blocked toilet pipes and the week stay in Puerto Del Ray marina, Fajardo needed to fix them. Wandering around the capital city, San Juan, in our hire car we came across a bicycle shop. They happened to have my Christmas present in stock. A gleaming new bicycle is now tucked away awaiting Christmas day. Until then, Gollywog gets chased by some very large and aggressive dogs in the wilds of Puerto Rico. I am not impressed with these canine packs. It seems you either brave the heavy traffic of the populated areas or risk being torn to bits by packs of wild dogs in the rural wilds.
If it's not vicious dogs it is jelly fish. The great big dinner plate ones we encountered in Sun Bay, Vieques and Puerto Patillas didn't sting, even when I kicked them. However, the box jelly fish stings are particularly nasty and had me in severe pain with fluid pouring from the sting sites. There had been no jelly fish for the previous two days at the glorious island of Caja de Muerto (coffin island). This nominated wildlife park, with its outstanding beach and clear waters, attracts weekend visitors from Ponce on mainland Puerto Rico. Anchoring is not allowed. We anchored for 5 days. Mostly, it was just us, the endangered turtles, Berty the massive barracuda and the security guard that inhabited the place. The jelly fish visited for one day. It was the only lovely anchorage we had discovered in Puerto Rico so we made the most of it before lack of water and fresh provisions drove us to Ponce.
Pressed for time, we crossed the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic with rougher conditions than we would have liked. The winds went from gale force to calm within 12 hours leaving us bouncing on the waves in the dark. Compensation came by way of vivid phosphorescence and a shooting star display to rival that of the Perseids. Our passage coincided with the peak of the Geminid shower and the dark of the moon. It was spectacular! Great sparkling trails lit up the sky in an almost continuous stream. We had not seen such vivid stars or such a display since our crossing to Madeira a couple of years ago. Still, we were pleased when we dropped anchor off the island of Saona. According to the Mayans, the world ends shortly and this seems like an excellent place to await it. After it is over, we will move on to Marina Zarpar in Boca Chica where we can remedy our illegal squatter status by officially checking-in to the Dominican Republic.