Or, My Sailing Cover Letter By Jackie Leavitt “I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships […]
Tag: Dominican Republic
How Each Caribbean Island Differs From One Another
By Jackie Leavitt
When I flew into the Dominican Republic in mid-March two months ago, it was the first time I had set foot on any Caribbean island. My perception of this area came from Internet pictures, short stories from friends and families who had vacationed there, and the research I had done for one country: the DR. It was easy to look at a map and make general assumptions — that’s what we do as humans when we don’t know something.
How was I to know that each country and territory — and even smaller islands within the territories — would have such a different culture and feel from one another?
Here’s a one-sentence recap from my experiences of the islands I’ve visited so far during the two months I’ve been traveling through the Caribbean.
The people of the Dominican Republic hustle like bees, buzzing in color on motorcycles, cars and guaguas under lush palm tree–covering mountains that tumble into the sea.
Puerto Rico’s empty sea-side streets with closed restaurants lead to giant, American shopping centers (like Walmart), surrounded by dry, hot bushy hills.
Vieques, the U.S.’s former shelling ground, has eager guests treading lightly by day around the pristine sandy coves with palm trees and possible unexploded artillery, and at night, floating through the bays’ green-glowing bioluminescent algae.
American ex-pats, locals and cruise-ship tourists mix on St. Thomas’ roads, past yacht and seaplane harbors, boating mechanic shops, Walgreens, an empty ‘disco’ and bars with occasional live music and ladies’ night once a week.
Little purple-and-white squid dance in Christmas cove’s waves among the flashy coral fish floating around the rocky coral of the uninhabited Great St. James I.
Eyes large as saucers, St. John’s swimmers glide next to nonchalant sea turtles munching on grassy of the protected bays that curl under rolling mountains, sprinkled with abandoned stone sugar mills.
Only those clever enough to escape the ferry and sailing charter–central of Tortola’s Road Town will discover the locals’ lush beach communities with sandy bars, full-moon mushroom parties and dive-bombing birds hunting for minnows in the turquoise waters.
Jost Van Dyke is an island of tiny beach-lining bars, with one harbor pumping music from Foxy’s (whether people are there or not), and another cove with the laid-back Soggy Bottom Bar, the infamous inventor of The Painkiller drink, which lives up to its name when you’re seeking some hair of the dog after a night of indulgence.
Massive conch — easy to catch and hard to harvest — lounge in the leeward side of Little Jost, a sandy spit of sunny land that kicks up wind for kitesurfing fiends just northeast off of its big brother island.
My kingdom for a cafe with good espresso and fast wifi, our sailors lament — we find it with Cooper Island, inhabited by a eco-resort paradise with the happiest of happy hours and casually chic wooden beach chairs overlooking the sunset-drenched harbor.
Around the corner from Norman Island’s sea caves floats an old steel pirate ship bar, Willy T’s, that serves up a raucous evening and free shots for ladies’ topless dives off the second deck.
In the Dog Islands, divers can explore in wonder and glee around scraggly, underwater, coral-covered rock cliffs and through a sunken airplane, where massive Jack fish linger where travelers use to sit.
It feels like swimming and climbing through a god’s gigantic marble game that spilled out into the sea on the south side of Virgin Gorda, which seems like another world from the island’s northern dry, barren hills, inhabited by sailboats, harbor bars and luxury resorts.
Flat, flat, flat land stretches seamlessly out into reaching coral reefs on all sides of Anegada, home to massive conch and lobster meandering the shallow waters beneath the boards of exuberant kite boarders.
A tiny spec on a map, Saba’s walls of green cliffs climb high into the clouds and down into the deep blue waters, sheltering and preserving the sea life and tiny island community from the easily spoiled outside world.
By Jackie Leavitt Solar deity, Why do you not turn your benevolent face upon mine, But rather prefer to scorch my skin, White in surrender, Now turned scarlet under your fury? Like King Midas, Your light touch turns Other glistening bodies golden, But mine, you […]
By Jackie Leavitt
Out on the deck, you can see the lumbering rollers gather their mass, swell up and ooze toward you, then under you, lifting the sailboat up in a side-to-side rock. If you were on a beach, you would be sure that they would soon break into a crashing, curling surf, pounding hard into the sand and seashells. But here, they seamlessly and endlessly roll on: There are other more interesting things for them to see than you.
In the cockpit, it’s easy to accommodate the shifting vertigo, perhaps because you can anticipate the rhythm, even when not gazing to the horizon. Standing, you can bend your knees, alternating for the sway from one side to the other like riding a Roman chariot across Poseidon’s waves. Even sitting or laying down, it feels like the boat is a larger, less-safe bassinet, gently lulling you into a suspicious sleep.
But below deck, you’re at the mercy of the boat’s pitching, throwing you from side to side like an earthquake out for vengeance for a long simmering transgression. The best way to move forward is like a staggering drunk: one step forward, pause for shifting weight, two quick steps forward, pause, another half step — then you’re tossed into the boat wall, your shoulder breaking your fall, as the ocean chuckles at your ill fortune: What folly for you to think you could walk on water.
* * *
The ocean belches and gurgles as the sailboat bobs and sways on the waves. Inside the boat’s belly, the stove swings on its hinges, dipping forward as the vessel leans left, and falling backward when it rocks right. On the burner sits solidly a pepper-and-copper-colored pot, filled three-quarters with water swirling clockwise in a whirlpool. And there, an egg hovers directly in the middle, motionless as a the world swivels around it.
By Jackie Leavitt White wine will always remind me of Boston. Not the usual association, I know, but when I lived there in 2010, that’s when I actually started to drink it. Years before, I had begun enjoying wine on the darker side of the spectrum, with […]
By Jackie Leavitt
There’s a relief from the stinging air that has been running to the back of my throat. The car and motorcycle exhaust that floats through Puerto Plata’s streets clears up as the wind whips it and my hair past my face on la puntilla, a point of the ocean harbor, north of town. I much prefer it here, on the water, than there, in town.
I do not necessarily feel welcomed by the people along the roads, although those I talk to (in my broken Spanish / English / Italian / gesturing) have been helpful. But I also hear hola baby and hissing trailing in my wake as I walk through town, leaving my spine and shoulder blades tight. I have yet to feel ready to relax. Perhaps it’s traveling alone as a blonde woman without speaking the language coherently. In Santo Domingo, tourism is, to a degree, welcomed. In Puerto Plata, the all-inclusive-resort guests are tolerated — staying in a hostel in town, like I am, is an anomaly and puzzles people.
I walk through la puntilla around the old, stone Fortaleza San Felipe and gaze over the swishing blue harbor water, yellowed by the sun. The electric plant in Costambar sits in the background, floating in fog, trying to blend into the clouds forming around Mount Isabel De Torres. It’s as if the shimmering ocean is playing a trick, distracting you from the smoggy machinery behind it. The light tries to blind you to what is there.
But, in its illusion, is it not still beautiful?
I can only imagine what it was like here 100 years ago, before industrialization and tourism polluted the area. I leave the fort and head back to town, with the sun sinking low in the sky.