Well the last few weeks haven't exactly gone as planned.
After realising we were not going to be able to leave from Villa Serena the next day (see end of this post), hotel manager Marina very generously welcomed us into her own home and offered us a bed for "as long as we needed". Although I am sure she did not anticipate us sticking around for the next 12 days, we did and we are eternally grateful! Unfortunately the days went on by and the bad weather kept rolling on in. The wind was a consistent 20-25 kts, gusting much stronger, which aside from literally blowing us backwards was creating huge swells that would crush us against the Dominican Republic's hostile North coast.
We spent days on end checking and rechecking the weather forecasts, so much so I even wrote a blog on it. How dull I hear you say. And you'd be right, but it was the most entertaining thing I had to do. We ate well, slept well and waited. All the time we thought we were only a couple of days away from leaving but then we would wake up the next morning and the forecast would have worsened.
So a big shout out to Marina and the Villa Serena team for taking care of us and letting us stay after initially thinking we were just coming for a single night. The hotel itself is absolutely beautiful. If you are heading to the DR and want to avoid the tourist filled package holiday hotels of Punta Cana, Villa Serena is definitely worth a visit. The facilities include a large garden, beach, swimming pool (perfect for practicing kayak rolls), a restaurant and incredibly welcoming staff.
After waiting around for almost two weeks and with no sign of the weather improving motivation was at a critically low level. More importantly, though, we were running out of time to complete the rest of the expedition as we have to be home in January. We had two options,
1. Continue when the weather breaks and when we run out of time fly home and try to return next year to complete the route.
2. Get a lift forward so when the weather breaks we still have time to complete the expedition.
It was very disheartening when we loaded the kayak onto the truck to drive along the North coast of DR in the hope that when we got to Puerto Plata we would have a good weather window to kayak the crossing to the T&Cs. This cut out three days of paddling, but we hoped it would save the rest of the expedition and prevent us from taking a ridiculous risk of trying to kayak in unsuitable conditions.
We were fortunate to be given a place to stay at Ocean World Marina to get ready for the crossing. However, of course it was not to be and the window literally closed in front of us as we watched the forecast get worse and worse. We agonised over whether to attempt the 90 mile crossing or not. Having been stationary for so long we were desperate to be moving again. We decided not to cross. It was the right call. We sat that night watching the pelting rain and lightening out to sea and I was pretty glad we were not underneath it. Two yachts were subsequently towed in having lost their engines to the weather.
We soon came to the realisation that with no change in weather forecast in the next couple of weeks our best bet would be to try and hitch a lift across on a yacht or cargo ship and continue the expedition from the T&Cs. This led us into the most dangerous experience of the trip so far.... a motoconcho (motobike taxi) ride to the yacht haven of Luperon - where we failed to find a boat heading North - and back. It was a necessary evil but neither of us have any wish to ever find ourselves on the back of a motorbike again, especially not in a country in which driving safety is less than an idle afterthought to say the least.
Anyone who spoke to us around now would know we were feeling pretty low and restless. We just wanted to be rid kf the DR and all it's troubles. After a couple of days the marina manager, Jorge, managed to put us in touch with the owner of a cargo boat that works between the DR and Grand Turk. Two days after that - and only after unimaginable hastle with the navy, immigration and customs - we found ourselves steaming into wind and waves finally on our way North.
When we were told cargo ship.... we were thinking of something like this...
Instead we got this...
Randy B. was not exactly comfortable. In fact I spent most of the time wishing I was in the kayak instead. The weather was bad and the water was choppy to the extent that the crossing took double the expected time. Of course we experienced no such luxuries as a bed... no no, they were all taken by the crew and so we were relegated to spending the night out on the metal floor of the top deck, slumped against our kayak and some other cargo. It was a bit grim.
Still, we were very very happy to finally be out of the DR and it gave us a big boost to unload the kayak onto Grand Turk, where we were looked after by Nate of Oasis Dive shop. We ate, slept and prepared oursleves to kayak again.
We set off this morning in good spirits, we are in the Turks and Caicos after all! The wind was behind us, the current was slight, waves not too choppy and we made amazing progress. It was hard work, very hot and the old aches quickly started to resurface to remind us what we had missed. Nonetheless if the rest of the expedition is like this we will be happy men indeed.
We made it this afternoon to East Bay Resort who have very kindly put us up for the night and are feeding us before we set off for a monster 40 natutical mile day tomorrow over to Provo. If there was ever a place to relax after a hard day kayaking (or any day in fact), this is the place to be. It is great to be amongst English speaking folk again, we have just had an amazing late lunch - best burger in the Caribbean - and are now using the space on the beach to sort our kit for the crossing tomorrow.