I’m starting to understand why some cruisers come to Luperon, Dominican Republic for a week and stay for years. Its residents are so friendly and even take pity on the stupid gringos who can’t talk right, figuring out how to communicate. Food and drink are ridiculously cheap compared to in The Bahamas, even reasonable compared to the US. It is kind of nice not to be worrying about what it’s going to cost every time I step off the boat. And the expat community is made up of quirky, kind individuals who welcome us visitors and make us feel quickly at home. Some highlights of our stay so far:
Luperon Free Yoga
Veronique lives on one of three boats rafted together and anchored just off our starboard bow. She’s from the Mauritius Islands in the Indian Ocean, and her husband Bruce is from Zimbabwe and they’ve lived here for 35 years and raised a family here. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Veronique hikes up the dirt road behind the marina to the ruins of an abandoned resort overlooking the harbor and leads a free yoga session for whoever shows up. The setting is beautiful – in a gothic, crumbling kind of way. And it’s a wonderful way to start the day relaxed and centered. Oh! And on Wednesday, the fruit and vegetable guy will be at the marina right after yoga with his truck full of tropical goodness for sale.
For such a small town, you can get almost everything you need here in Luperon. (And if you can’t find it here, Puerto Plata or Santiago are only a short drive away). There are grocery stores, MANY small fruit and vegetable markets, barber shops and salons, housewares, banks, cafes, a shop that sews sails and upholstery, used boat parts stores, cell phones and electronics stores, a dentist, a free medical clinic….
Fun fact about shopping in the DR: everything is priced separately. What do I mean by that? In the market, an egg costs 5 pesos. Doesn’t matter if you buy a dozen eggs or two eggs. A can of beer costs 50 pesos. Asked the shopkeeper how much a case of beer costs. He pulled out a calculator and typed in 24 x 50 = 1,200 pesos.
Lunch at the Chicken Shack
We’ve rarely cooked dinner since we’ve been here. There are many, many small independent restaurants, cafes, and takeouts around town and the Plato del Dia (meal of the day) is always about 130 pesos – less than $3. My favorite so far is the Chicken Shack (actually named Pico Pollo Luisa – most restaurants are named after the chef!) There’s no menu. The girl at the counter just tells you the two or three things they are serving today. When they sell out, they close up until tomorrow. After a tricky conversation, trying to get across that Mike and I are allergic to wheat (alergico al trigo) we ended up with a huge spread of food: beef strips cooked in a sauce with bell peppers and onions, rice, beans, cabbage salad, and mixed vegetables. The bill came to 250 pesos for the two of us – $5.
For that same 250 pesos, you can buy a whole marinated, grilled chicken from the sidewalk chicken man. Literally. He just has a charcoal grill set up on a sidewalk one block off the main drag. When you walk by it smells exactly like the fireman’s barbecue fundraisers they have on summer weekends back in New York State. We’ve been twice, and he already recognizes us. Doesn’t ask now if we want the sauce because the first time we said no.
One day last week, we tried to eat lunch at the Chicken Shack, but we were too late and Luisa was sold out. So we walked back to Wendy’s Bar to ask Watchie the bartender for another recommendation. “Stay here, we’ll order lunch for you” he said. Another tricky conversation about being allergic to wheat. Next thing you know, both Watchie and Wendy’s mom are on their cell phones, calling various restaurants, asking whether the Plato del Dia is fried chicken or roasted chicken. I kind of lost track of what was going on at that point, but soon multiple delivery people showed up on foot or on motorbikes with takeout containers. Watchy spoke to them in Spanish, paid them, and brought us plates and silverware. We ended up with a plate of black beans and rice, one of white rice with a cup of habichuelas (ranchero beans) and a side salad of shredded lettuce and tomatoes. After about 15 minutes, another bowl appeared, full of roasted chicken in a savory sauce. Now, I’m speculating here. But I think what happened is that Watchie and Wendy’s mom felt bad that they hadn’t found us any gluten-free Chicken. So Wendy’s mom brought us some from her own kitchen! It was delicious, and we made sure to stuff a couple hundred pesos in the tip jar to cover it. How amazing is that?
For such a small town, there’s every sort of transportation available. The most popular are small (but extremely loud) motor bikes. Some operate as taxis, and motorconcho corner is the loudest part of town. Of course, there are plenty of cars and trucks. The water delivery truck always seems to be filling up the road wherever I walk. The shared taxis (or guauguas) are a cheap way to get between towns. They’re regular sedan cars that don’t leave the taxi stand until they’re full. And full means the driver plus two passengers in the front, and four passengers in the back. Good thing it’s not a very long ride! There’s a big modern passenger bus that travels between Luperon and Santo Dominingo twice a day. When you see it coming, it seems impossible that that behemoth will actually fit down the narrow street, and will make the turn around the corner without taking down part of a building. At the other extreme, some people still ride horses or donkey, and use them to carry impressively massive loads through the center of town. Which then adds poop to the mud in the middle of the street. I might need to throw away my flip flops after a few weeks in Luperon.
Speaking of Wendy’s Bar….
It’s kind of the cornerstone of the expat community in Luperon. We think Norm is married to Wendy’s sister and he is one of the admins of the Cruiser’s Net. You’ll run into everyone who’s living on a boat in Luperon at Wendy’s eventually. And you’ll definitely see them there for the free movies on Monday, or at the dance classes on Wednesday, or at karaoke night on Fridays. In addition to serving the coldest beers in Luperon, you can ask the experts how to get around, where to buy something you need, how to say something in Spanish – you get the idea. Norm’s brother-in-law sells homemade mozzarella cheese for $2. The peanut girl comes by with a bucket filled with delicious salty snacks for 10 pesos a bag, and can also get you homemade natural peanut butter. There’s a lending library filled with sailing books, and the WiFi is fast and reliable. There’s a water bowl for dogs and always a few friendly strays wandering through wagging their tails and hoping for a kind word or your lunch scraps. What else does a cruiser need?