Our time in the Dominican Republic has wound down. We have finished our list of work on Maggie May, and finished our list of tasks for sailing offshore. The hurricane season looms and by mid-June we need to be back in our home waters in the Chesapeake Bay, where a j-o-b is waiting for Bill.
Our departure from the Dominican Republic will not be an easy one. This country. This country that three years ago we didn’t even mention in our itinerary for sailing around the world. In fact we planned to sail around it in the interest of time and the inflexible demands of our particular goal—a goal derailed the day Covid came to town, and then smashed to bits by a cocktail of bad luck, bad contractors, bad decisions, and bad squirrels.
This country we never intended to be in, will be the hardest to leave. It is true, that had our original plan worked out we would have seen so many things, wondrous things, marvelous adventures, and we would have put a check in the box of SAIL AROUND THE WORLD, which had been on our list (actual list on paper) for almost 10 years. What we wouldn’t have done was see the Dominican Republic. Maybe eventually we would have stopped here on the way back home, after crossing the Atlantic. But we wouldn’t have seen it, as we have in the 8 months total we have spent here.
Just now an orb of pale sun rises through a thin veil of clouds, the tranquil southern tail of a massive cold front that barreled over North America and into the Atlantic a few days ago. Here at 19 degrees north latitude the storm brought calm, a quieting of the easterly trade winds, placid seas and hot days. The kingbirds are all a-chatter. Maggie May sways gently on water reflecting sunrise and sailing masts in the Puerto Bahia marina. Gratitude wells within me for what has been, here in this place that has given us so much. A haven when we were at our very lowest point two years ago. Bill wanting to go back to the US, back home. Me wanting to go onward, around the world. Both of us deeply wounded by an ending I cannot begin to describe here. The first vaccines had not yet been released. Hurricane season was looming large. The Dominican Republic was one of the only countries open to us for extended stay. The only one in reasonable proximity with a good safe harbor for the storm season.
It was go to the Dominican Republic, or go home. We gathered our strength, limped away from the Bahamas into the eye of the trades, and steered Maggie May toward Luperon, DR.
In Luperon we found a community of sailors, many of whom had faced similar trials and dilemmas. We also found a small town filled with the unique charm of the Dominican Republic, a charm that still, after so much time here, keeps me enchanted and amazed. I was lucky enough to have a colleague and friend in Santo Domingo a fellow fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers. Eladio gathered us up and handed us the greatest gifts—adventure in the Dominican wild, insight into his culture, some hardship and humor and most of all friendship. I don’t know if he knew but he gave us exactly what we needed at that moment.
Other friends also arrived on the scene offering treasures of time, friendship, adventure and rest. When we left the Dominican Republic in fall 2021, we had our legs beneath us again thanks to their generosity and the spirit of this land and culture. After making a full circuit of the Caribbean, we returned to Samana, DR, and continued to learn and see and listen and find so many gifts altogether unlooked for. The voices of the rufous-throated solitare, melancholy, eternal; and of the broad-billed tody, stolid flycatcher and crazy crow. The sight of captive flamingos taking their first flight into freedom. And the wild guano-reeking spectacle of Bird Island. The indelible visions and memories of people in so many small towns celebrating every day by listening to too-loud music in open air bars, dancing the bachata; of people demonstrating just what can be accomplished with a single motorcycle—transporting 5 people, or a full-sized mattress, or towing a full wheelbarrow, big smiles on faces, yelling to friends as they pass.
Most people in the rural areas here don’t have air conditioning or televisions or even electricity necessarily, yet there is an energy and an air of contentment I have seen nowhere else in the world, certainly not in my own country. There are dark sides of course. There are always dark sides. To all of us and everywhere. And we have been here long enough to see some of those too. But what I take with me is laughter, generosity, self reliance, wildness, commitment, beauty, and for me a deeply inquisitive drive to better understand the nature of contentment. The world turns on this ethereal phenomenon. The Dominican Republic knows something important.
I cannot give a full picture of what this country has meant to us, but once I have sorted through all my journals and photos upon our return home I hope make it more clear in a forthcoming book. Hopefully. Si dios quiere. I have heard this phrase–if god wants– so often here in the DR, as a response for so many things, all relating to plans for the future. I would describe myself as an agnostic. I recall a sentiment from my university-age studies of Buddhism–I was a religious studies major–something to the effect of, why try to answer a question that has no answer. No creature so small as an earthly animal could possibly define a force so great. And when we endeavor to define it, often it leads as much to division and violence as it does to connection and love. But I have an awe of the universe that speaks loudly to me of something beyond what we can see and touch. So I like this phrase that presses humility upon every expectation of the future. Si dios quiere.
Once I heard it from a guy I was renting a car from. When I asked if he could drop the car off at 7am, he said, “Todo es posible. Si dios quiere.” I interpreted this as: Everything is possible, if god wills it. I didn’t appreciate the response to that particular question, as he was known to show up several hours late with cars and this particular time I really needed it at 7:00 in order to pick up a friend at the bus station. But generally Si Dios Quiere was applied to the idea of something we don’t have control over. Like reunions over long spans of time. Or big dreams.
Our big dream didn’t come to fruition, at least not at this time. When we set sail today at sunset, we turn decisively north, toward Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas and home. But this may be just how it should be because something has changed in me, some recalibration. A reset button I unknowingly sought when we set out three years ago. Something more than a check in the box of sail-around-the-world. I looked for, in some profound but quiet desperation, a recalibration. As my friend Eladio has put it, a new north. I think I may have made some progress on this, and so much of it is owing to our time here in the Dominican Republic.
This country. These people. This land and sea and wind. Thank you for helping us. Nos vemos. Si dios quiere.
A new north–that has the ring of a title. What an amazing and beautiful account of a totally unplanned, unscripted, life-changing experience. I can’t wait for the book.
I guess all cultures have a version of “Si dios quiere.” Here it’s “God willing.” In Muslim countries it’s “Inshallah.” Whether we believe in God or not, I think there’s a knowledge deep down that our lives are contingent on so much. Add to that the fact that we have remarkably little power against a great many things–weather and health being only two–and we have to say “Si dios quiere.” It’s a healthy humility, I think.
Wonderful writing, wonderful photos as always!
im looking forward to seeing you some time in the future on dry land. love to you and bill.
Sounds like a soul refreshing experience for the Maggie May crew. God plants people in our lives that open up new understand of the world around us. We gain new , deeper insights of ourselves.
Thanks for sharing Krista.