I didn't want to go to the beach at Boca Chica on the free bus from the hotel for a whole day partly because I wanted Bob to avoid the sun as much as possible since his melanoma surgery in October, but I did want to go snorkeling. Based on Jere's recommendations (from his notes)..
> Tacky rest stop in La Romana. More terra cotta than I thought
>existed in one place
> Guard had an interesting weapon: Chrome pump shotgun with no stock.
> Millions of motoconcha; clouds of smoke.
> Trip to Catalina relatively slow and boring
> beach nice. Snorkeling poor
> Saona Beach. A little more open and inviting than Catalina. All
>in all, we preferred it to Catalina.
...I decided not to go to Catalina Island but to go to Saona instead. I did think that I could snorkel there too. So on Tuesday after we got back from the aquarium, I arranged to go to Saona Island, specifying that we wanted to snorkel. They were charging $65 each for the trip which was to include lunch.
The hotel brochure said "From Bayahibe a speed boat will take you along the beautiful coastline of the eastern national park. Arriving at a natural pool, a shallow pool in the middle of the sea, than in an island you will enjoy the music, lunch, sun and open bar of national drinks. Return in a catamaran to Bayahibe. Leaving - partenza 6:30am"
The hotel manager said the tour would leave at 7:30, but the restaurant didn't open for breakfast until 7:30. I enquired about this, and was told that the time we left was actually 7:40 and that the restaurant would open at 7:15 so we would have time for breakfast. Three other people were also going on the tour.
At 6:30 on Wednesday morning we got a call - we had not asked for a wake-up call, but apparently they thought that we needed one. (Bob had a wind-up alarm clock.) We packed up and were downstairs by 7:15, had breakfast and went out to the front of the hotel. We had our own mask and fins and I took the older digital camera, a film camera and an underwater film camera plus dive skins and towels and water to drink.
The three people from Naples were there - a young Sophia Loren type brunette, and older blonde and a middle aged man. He said they were going on the tour with Marcus. Marcus spoke no English. The only one who spoke any English was the Italian man whose name I didn't ever find out. I found out later that Marcus was also Italian - probably part of the hotel management. The driver didn't speak anything but Spanish.
We didn't actually leave at 7:40 - it was more like 7:50 when we got into a van. Marcus squished the three Italians in the back, we were in the middle two fold down seats and Marcus was in the front seat beside the driver. He took us past the airport and past Boca Chica, through San Pedro (around the cathedral, which I didn't get a chance to take a picture of because I was on the wrong side of the van) to the House of Bamboo with all the terracotta about 9:15.
Three Italians walking into the House of Bamboo
This was a bathroom stop, and was a huge place with a lot of bathrooms. But while they had TP and the toilets did flush, there were no seats on the toilets. The bathroom lady wanted a tip. But I had no money with me.
The Italians were really squished in the back seat and the ladies complained that it was rough. I told them to wait (partly with gestures and partly through the man) until they got into the boat. They decided that on the way back we would have a different seating arrangement. We got to the beach after 10
Walking down to the beach/boats
Now here was a problem. Apparently the hotel had made no arrangements for us to go with any particular boat. Speed boats were coming in (stern to the beach as they had in Costa Rica so you could wade out and climb over the transom) and ferrying people out to the various catamarans and most of the catamarans had already left as it took them much longer being slower.
There was no place for us in any of the speed boats which were going to the island. Marcus would approach one and then another, and he would explain (I guess) and the boat captain would look at me and be doubtful and Marcus would fail to persuade him. Possibly the reason was that Saona Island is not really a snorkeling trip or all the boats were full.
Eventually Marcus spoke to the Italian man who came to us and said, that a speed boat which was being loaded with food and ice (and I could hear bottles clinking in some of the bags plus several boxes which said Pilsner so I guess they were beer) would take us out to the island because otherwise there wouldn't be anyone who could do it, and the captain would take care of us. Bob then understood him to say that if he couldn't do that, they would refund us 100 pesos. I thought he said that if he COULD take care of us, we should tip him 100 pesos.
Anyway they packed us (including Marcus but not the van driver) into the boat, with some of the staff (apparently the cooks for the lunch) sitting on the beer boxes, and we took off. The very thin wiry man in front of me was sitting on his haunches folded up like a jackknife. The boat had two 200 hp engines and the max. capacity was supposed to be 28 persons. I think we only had about 20 plus the food.
The boat was bouncing along whacking each of the big rollers. There was so much wind that I couldn't keep my hat on (it had a chin strap so it didn't blow away) and I had forgotten the things I put on my glasses to keep them from blowing off my face, so I just took them off and put them in my bag. Bob took off his hat and sunglasses also.
We got to the 'natural pool' (two sand bars with a depression in the middle) about 11:15 and anchored, and everyone that wanted to swim got off. I got off and snorkeled around a bit, but Bob didn't. He took a picture of me and some of the others. People were standing in the water drinking 'national beverages'. Someone came up with a starfish. Not sure if it was alive or if it had been 'planted' for the tourists.
I was able to get back into the boat (they had a ladder with round metal rungs which they got out for me and the Italian ladies), and we proceeded to Saona island. They unloaded everything except the two of us, the captain and one crew, and took us back near a dark area in the water and anchored (in the sand) and we got into our gear and started to snorkel. But Bob had a canine tooth out just before we left and he couldn't keep a seal on the snorkel and kept inhaling water, so he got back on the boat. But I was going to snorkel, so I snorkeled.
This was a little patch reef with a lot of staghorn coral which was pretty beat up looking, and some yellowtail and other little fish. I also saw some brain coral, fans, whips and some fire coral. There was also a lot of dead broken coral. The reef was quite near to the top of the water in places and there was a bit of surge toward the beach. The water was a little cloudy. I'll have to see how my pictures come out. Then I got back in the boat and we went ashore on the beach. Bob gave the guys 100 pesos each.
Once we got on the beach, I kept my dive skin on as a barrier against the sun. Sitting in the shade it wasn't hot as there was a nice breeze. I was the only person on the beach that was covered up (Bob took his dive skin off and hung it on a palm tree to dry along with his towel.) We found where Marcus was asleep on a lounger and sat in the shade near him, and also near the massage table. There was a topless lady on the other side of us.
I got water and then was offered juice which was very good. Bob got some too, and went to use the bathroom. He reported to me that there were no toilet seats on the toilets and that you flushed by using a bucket which you filled with water from a big water barrel outside the bathrooms. Not everyone knew that of course as not everyone has lived in the country with a well when the electricity was off, so they often went unflushed.
Eventually we got the word that lunch would be in the pavilion, so I went up and got a plate first while Bob stayed with our stuff and then Bob got his. There was a small cross-section of fish in foil, some nice chicken, a tasty pork chop, hot potatoes (salad?), and various other dishes (I didn't have the digital camera so I'll have to wait to get the film pictures back). I think there was watermelon too.
It was a very good lunch. Bob lent his snorkel to a Canadian who was staying (I think) at the Occidental at Punta Cana, but there was too much sand in the surf at the beach to see anything underwater. The Canadian said that he didn't like the DR as much as Cuba - in Cuba everyone is very friendly and helpful and they aren't always trying to sell you something. Bob doesn't mind being generous to those people helping him, but he hates it when people take advantage of him. (Like posting the price in U$ and charging in RD$ so that we lose twice on the exchange rate.)
The people that came in speedboats went back on the catamarans and v.v. Some of the crew that went out with us with the food also went back on the catamaran to make more room for paying customers. So we were loaded back into the speedboat and from there onto the catamaran. We were among the first aboard. I got what I thought was a prime seat in the middle under the bimini (which was a hard bimini). The seats were nice and made of wood unlike the broken plastic ones in Aruba. Several more boatloads full of people came aboard after us. Many of them went up to the foredeck.
The drinks continued to flow freely and the crew pulled the anchor and put up the sails. They had to move people around on the tramps to get the jib up. Bob observed that some of the crew didn't know how to put a line on a cleat and others did. They put up the main also, but they didn't turn the engine off. I went to the back and looked at it - it was a single 80 hp engine in the middle of the boat and produced quite a lot of vibration.
After the sails were up, music was cranked up, and all the extra crew (except the captain who was at the wheel) started getting people up to dance right in the area in front of us which was turned into an impromptu dance floor. It was so loud I put in ear plugs and moved back one bench. Bob refused to dance, and I didn't dance either. A lot of people did dance though (including Marcus and all three Italians), and at least one lady (not any of our group) became more unclothed i.e. was topless.
Older blonde Italian dancing with crew on the right
Younger brunette Italian dancing with crew in center
When we got to the beach they tied up both forward hulls to moorings which were spaced wider than the boat and tied off the stern to one in the back. It was tied down pretty tight so there must not be much tide. "Our" motor boat offloaded their passengers on shore and then came back and got us - just our group of 6 and some of the crew. Leaving the other folks waiting for their ride. It is good to have friends.
I didn't have too much trouble getting on and off the boats until now, but after I stepped off the catamaran onto the bow deck of the speed boat, I knew I had to get down off of there and the easiest way was to sit. The crewman holding my arm said "Sit", so I did, but with a complete lack of speed control, I just kind of fell down onto my butt and almost took the crewman down with me. (He probably weighted only about half what I did) But it all worked out.
After we got to the beach, I wanted to get back into clothes and out of my bathing suit, so I went to the bathrooms. The toilets in the ladies room didn't have any seats, didn't flush, and had no TP. But I could change clothes OK.
The Italian man asked us how our attitude was. What? Well apparently Mario was worried that we had not enjoyed ourselves. So I said, well we didn't drink or dance but that we had a good time and were happy.
This time they put Bob and Mario in the 'way-back' and the three Italians were in the middle two seats, and I had the front seat. Mario went to sleep. He'd had a hard day. The Italians found out that the middle seats weren't much better. I had the best deal.
We went back across the dam and over the river which had a small marina in it. Mostly power boats. It was by now about 5:30 and getting dark. The Italians were all singing, and the guy was ignoring the van driver's request to put the window up so he could turn on the AC because he was taking pictures of the sun. The sunset was not very spectacular. Then they asked the van driver for music, so he turned on the radio. The "Sophia" type and the man were snogging.
The driver didn't take us through San Pedro again so I missed the chance to take a picture of the cathedral. Instead we went by some kind of industrial plant and over another bridge which was shorter and/or quicker. We got back to the hotel about 7:15 pm. Bob tipped the van driver $10. He figured Marcus was management and didn't get tipped.
During dinner, the manager came and spoke to us to find out how we had liked the day. I guess Marcus was still worried
Next: The Botanical Garden