CURRENT LOCATION: Anchored in Bahia de Luperon, Dominican Republic
19 53.944' N, 070 57.086' W
NOTE: The crew took a daytrip (sans
Prudence) to the 27 Waterfalls of the Rio Damajagua, near Imbert, Dominican Republic
Sheryl stood upon the precipice, staring down at the water below. She was perched precariously on a slippery sliver of rock, contemplating her trajectory into the icy pool of water lying beneath her. A moment's hesitation grew into two as her mind's eye drew pictures of the very real possibility that she may hit the overhanging rocks which marked the opposite side of the chasm into which she was supposed to jump.
The morning had gotten off to an uncharacteristically early start (at least uncharacteristic of our days here in Luperon). Iain & Ruth (from s/v Bizim
picked us up in their dinghy and we quietly motored through the first rays of morning light to the town dock.
From downtown Luperon, we piled into a gua-gua (local transportation which provides service somewhere between a taxi and a bus). This gua-gua was a four-door sedan, and the four of us were packed into the rear seat (Sheryl sitting upon my lap in the middle) while three adult men crammed into the front seat. At a cost of 45 pesos per person (about $1.50 US), it was the cheapest form of transport toward our destination. The gua-gua let us off at Imbert, where we walked the blood back into our legs. We hiked along the side of the road at a purposeful pace for a little over a mile to get from Imbert to the falls. Our goal was to arrive there early.
The 27 Waterfalls of the Damajagua River is a popular destination for tourists in the Dominican Republic. Our efforts to be up early and arrive before the crowds were grandly rewarded. We gathered our helmets and life jackets, then set out upon the trail to the falls. We were the only tourists in sight.
Our two guides, Boris and BJ, led us quietly along a rocky path which occasionally found our feet and ankles immersed in cold water. The life jackets hanging loosely from our shoulders foretold of more exposure to come. That exposure came in form of a pool of crystal clear water, fed by a small waterfall, and surrounded by smooth rock walls rising steeply from the surface of the pool. This was the first of 12 waterfalls we had paid to experience.
Boris, the lead guide, changed from his uniform polo shirt to a light tanktop and said, "Follow me," as he dove into the water. We swam across, in his wake, while the other guide scaled the rock walls and was waiting to help hoist us up to the next level. Boris provided a foot hold, while BJ extended a hand from above.
The Damajaqua falls are a series of short waterfalls (ranging from just a few meters to a maximum of approximately 10-15 meters in height), which tumble into pools and narrow streams at each level. The flow of the water is brisk, but generally not overpowering. Except, perhaps, when it is channeled down the narrow chute leading to a fall.
There were some lengths of rope placed here and there, even the occasional ladder; however, the responsibility for getting us through, up, and over each level fell squarely upon the shoulders of our guides. And most involved manhandling us up with the push-pull approach described above. Having made this same trek daily for the last five years, these young lads took this responsibility with a quiet confidence. They allowed us to set our own pace and let the natural beauty of our surroundings speak for themselves. They reflected our joy of this experience rather than specifically leading us to it and forcing the fun (as so many touristy places are wont to do). For our purposes, they were ideal guides.
After hoisting us up a dozen levels, Boris announced that it was time to turn back and go down. We contemplated increasing our cost by spending the day going up the remaining 15 falls, but the cool water was already having a deleterious affect on our fellow adventurers. Being of rather slight build, both Iain & Ruth were somewhat less resistant to negative changes in their core temperature. Our guides (also feeling a bit frio
) offered a compromise: one more fall, then we turn back.
With a lucky 13 falls under our belts, we started the trip back down. This direction required less effort on the part of our guides, as the burden of conveyance shifted largely to gravity.
When the time came to make the first jump, Sheryl immediately volunteered to be first. The second jump was to be our highest one of the day, but Sheryl led the way without hesitation. By the third, however, this momentary pause fell upon her.
Over millennia, billions and billions of gallons of water rushing down from the mountains had carved this deep trench through the rocks. In this place where the guides were asking us to jump, the trench was narrow, and Sheryl quietly thought to herself, "I could easily jump across to the other side." The thought psyched her out, ever so slightly, and had her worried about hitting the other side as she jumped out from the rock-face upon which she stood. True to her nature, though, Sheryl quickly overcame her fears and took the plunge, falling expertly through the narrow chasm and into the chilly waters below.
In addition to jumping into watery pools, we had several opportunities to 'ride the falls.' Since the water often cut smooth chutes into the rock, we could simply lie down into the rapid flow of water (feet first), cross our arms, and let the momentum of the rushing water carry us over the edge. The waiting arms of gravity tugged us down toward a plunge below the surface. Unlike Niagara, no barrel required.
We jumped and slid our way down a baker's dozen waterfalls, and finally arrived back where we had started. Thankful to be out of the cold water and into the midday sunshine. As we departed the falls locale, busses and safari-type jeeps full of the more 'traditional' tourists were arriving in droves.
We continued to warm ourselves with more of an ambling walk back toward Imbert. Our gua-gua back to Luperon took the form of a mini-van. With the occupancy reaching only a dozen people, this trip was a bit more comfortable than our early morning gua-gua experience.
After a short time back aboard our own boats (with time to review and organize photos), we invited the crew of Bizim
over for an early dinner (vegetarian Caldereta stew). We toasted the day's activities and exchanged photos. We could have done this trip to the falls as a part of an organized tour (the harbor regulars are constantly touting such tours on the VHF). However, it was great to engage upon this expedition of tourist-like endeavors without the inevitable feeling of participating in a tourist cattle drive.
We got to ride public transportation, as the locals do, and walk at least some of this beautiful land (seeing mountains and fields of sugarcane). And, for the price of a few morning hours of sleep, we enjoyed the falls all to ourselves. I guess that is what typifies cruisers: making sacrifices to experience new places in a less-than-traditional, less-than-touristy way.
[NOTE: For more photos from the falls, see the always growing 'Dominican Republic' collection under RECENT PHOTOS]