Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Kindness of Strangers

We arrived to Ocean World Marina in the Dominican Republic around 4am. The waves had been building all night and we surfed them right in to the harbor, and lacking further instructions, selected the easy landing spot on the fuel dock. Chloe still won't pee on the boat, so after holding it for almost two full days she was quite happy to jump off the boat for a few minutes. We raised our yellow Quarantine flag, tidied up for a short time and then all three of us passed out flat.

Minerva on the fuel dock at Ocean World

The next morning we were greeted by the Armada, which is the country's Navy and they keep a tight watch on all the goings-on in the harbor. They guided us through the customs process, which involved four different check-ins with different persons in uniform, a small fee paid and a new stamp in our passports. By lunchtime we were refueled and settled into a proper marina slip. The docks are fixed and there's a lot of water motion in the harbor as a result of the unusual North swell that we surfed in. Getting on and off the boat is tricky and requires agility and focus.

We had been warned that the 2-day passages are the hardest, this was our first one. The rumor is that on a longer passage your body settles into a routine by day 3 but the 2-day passages don't allow that to happen yet. We were pretty groggy still, and the late afternoon found us stumbling out in search of food into the open-air bar on the marina the locals lovingly refer to as "the yacht club".

Some rum was consumed.

After a while I could no longer deny the downward pull of my eyelids and Chloe and I checked ourselves into bed. Lance was making friends at the bar and shots were going around.

When I woke up around midnight I found him in the cockpit on the boat, he'd made it back safely. Whew. Without a cell phone, though.

The next morning we began the great cell phone hunt. I checked his phone location on Google Maps and it showed him offshore. Damn Google Maps, probably confused about our location again. When we retraced steps back to the yacht club, we heard the strangest story. The bar owner had been approached by the Armada at the crack of dawn. A fisherman had found a phone/wallet and immediately reported it found to the Armada, but put it in his pocket for safekeeping. The fishing is typically done by noon and he left the Armada to figure out the phone's owner in the meantime.

So Google Maps had it right. The phone was in fact on a fishing expedition offshore.

The Armada came by to check on us twice, the last time it was no less than the Comandante - the big cheese himself - who came out to let us know that "he's got us". Sure enough, when the fisherman came back the Comandante and 3 other Armada staff were standing on the dock to greet him. At least they weren't wearing the big guns this time around - those are going to take a little getting used to seeing.

I'd been following Lance's phone's motion on Google Maps and gave the fisherman a few minutes to settle in before I walked over and introduced myself. In Spanish he told me that on his way in at sunup he had found it on the ground covered by some gravel and was worried about leaving it unattended because his heart is so big. With a grin. He then told me he had caught a marlin, but because it was only 100 lbs he had let it go (with a little quick side eye at the Armada).

I called Lance's phone, so Jose the fisherman could see my face on it, and he said "you are eh Love Taco?". Yes. Yes I am. I blushed. The youngest of the Armada crew allowed a small half-smile. Jose handed over the phone. Everyone stood there for a moment. Another moment. Oh. I opened the wallet side of Lance's phone and took out the biggest bill in Dominican Republic currency there, approximately $20 US. Everyone relaxed. The Armada tipped their hat to me and left, and Jose was instantly smiles and laughs. Tension gone.

So... there are some cultural differences here.

It appears we can trust the guys with the big guns. In the Dominican Republic they check you into and out of each harbor, this way they carefully monitor who is roaming around their country and where. But it's not a bribe thing and it doesn't feel oppressive, it feels very structured in a way to keep us safely having a good time and therefore freely spending money. Despite their official appearance they are very friendly and seem to appreciate the presence of tourists.

The folks at the yacht club tell us phones are left there all the time and this is the first time the Armada has gotten involved. The difference is likely that Lance's phone is also a wallet with all the usual stuff that goes there like credit cards and cash. All of which was still there.

We feel very safe here.

Later in the day, Lance lamented that his wallet had gone marlin fishing without him. We have a new friend in Jose, though, so maybe marlin fishing WITH his wallet is in his future.