in the morning they turned off the truck lights. In a short while, its wheels
made their way through the sand among the tall coconut trees on this distant beach of Punta Cana. As soon as the truck stopped, we heard Leo cry:
---We have arrived! Every
one, get off! The sun is almost up. We
don't want to get caught here!
We got off at once. At
last we had arrived at the sea; after so many hours of waiting, so much anxiety, so many nights of sleeplessness and so much
accumulated tension that, at this moment, was overflowing. The blue water, almost
black, was relatively calm; but my knees and teeth shivered. With great effort,
we brought the vessel down to the sand as we did with the motors and the other things.
The truck left immediately, with its lights off so as not to draw any attention.
At that moment, I found our yola, which sat on the wet sand, quite small. Although
it was a little bigger than the one we used in the previous trip, each one of the almost seventy passengers that were to make
the trip would have very little room in it.
Without waiting at all, we carried the yola a good fifteen
meters into the sea. While in the water helping to carry the boat, I suddenly
felt a sharp pain in my right foot, near my big toe. I looked at my foot; I strained
hard and could see a few black points which were the source of this great pain. --- "I must have stepped on an animal, I thought,
or perhaps on a board with rusted nails"---. There was no use in trying to guess
what I had stepped on and I did not have time to treat myself. I heard the murmur
of the people and of the waves and stronger than the pain in my foot, was my fear. People
were loading gasoline and supplies in the yola and I had just enough time to duck behind the big trunk of a coconut tree. Relieve myself, limping slightly with my back pack in hand, I headed toward the yola
just as they finished loading it.
Then with the motor started, we had to push the yola out into
the sea. To do this, they used two wooden oars.
These were introduced in the water until their tips touched the sand. Immediately
we noticed that some of the wooden slats, over--dried, were becoming unglued and that water was filtering in between the boards
at the bottom and at the sides. Not too much water was coming in, but I felt
like jumping out of the yola to return home. The plastic containers in which
we were carrying drinking water were cut off immediately and, with them, we started to empty water out of the boat. In the meantime, very slowly, the yola began to move away.
An hour and half later, the coconut palms of the beach and
the lighthouse at Cabo Engaño could be seen very far away. We continued moving
away from the coast very slowly. I focused my eyes on the light of the lighthouse
at Cabo Engaño. While doing so, I remembered something that I had learned in
my book of Dominican Geography: -"Cabo Engaño is the Eastern-most point of this island"-
I could not have imagined that I was going to visit this place under these circumstances. I was thinking, and hit by a wave of nostalgia, I wanted to continue to remember so many things: lots of
experiences, lots of places left behind, lots of broken dreams... I wanted to think about everything; but I did not concentrate
myself on any thing in particular. Just as the sea opened its wide door to us, through which we entered, so was my body like
a channel through which lots of intense emotions were moving. At the same time,
we were getting clear indications that the situation of the boat was getting worse.
The waves were becoming more aggressive, and some passengers were vomiting, even bile.
The complaints and protests were increasing. Some pleaded:
--Let's go back!
--Let's go on!
Meanwhile a great number were just trembling in silence.
Here faith became contagious.
Promises to God and to all the saints were heard aloud. From the beginning,
I had grabbed a container and continued, just like many others, scooping water out of the yola. At first, I had kneeled, but now, in order not to get too tired, I was sitting in the water with my legs spread out. I stood up only to dump out
the water quicker when any big wave inundated us.
Pedro, with a worried face, was in the back at the rudder. Close to him was Leo, whose face was reflecting again
that strange mix of serenity and anguish as he confronted the danger. I was in
the middle, extracting water. Frank was at the bow. And Ana, Papín, La Fiera, and the rest of the men and women
were all packed very close to each other. Nevertheless, there was room to empty
the water. When the waves lifted the yola we could still see the light of the
lighthouse of Cabo Engaño and part of the coast. All of a sudden the noise of
the motor stopped. Leo explained:
---We'll mount the larger motor; that way we can travel at
a higher speed.
Many of us continued emptying water, without stopping. But the water kept coming in quickly, everywhere.
In a few minutes, they mounted the new motor and attempted to start it but it would not start. Papín was at the bow but after a few minutes went to the back
to help. He said immediately:
---This motor is too wet inside! I doubt that it will start.
I continued extracting water with great anguish while staying
alert to everything that was happening. It had almost become light out, but the
sky was still very cloudy. After half an hour of revising and attempting to start
the motor, Leo said:
--We'll continue with the small motor. The big one must have gotten wet when we were crossing the River...
Now we can't go back.
Immediately, the small motor was substituted for the big one,
which, with little hesitation, started again. Once on our way, Frank in a serene
voice, asked Leo:
--Do you think that this 25 HP motor can make this trip?
---This motor is brand new.
It will take us much longer; but I don't believe it'll fail --Leo answered, with great conviction.
The motor was brand new; but the organizers of the crossing
had only planned to use it for the initial departure from the Dominican Republic and the approach to Puerto Rico. Because of its smaller size the motor produced less noise which would help
to achieve a silent departure and arrival. It was doubtful, though, that
this little motor could pass the hard test of the entire trip. Because of this,
those who were mechanically inclined continued trying to start the bigger motor. In
the meantime, about twelve of us continued to empty the yola and other passengers waited their turn at this task. We continued making our way on the rough sea which continued to increase its agitation with the passage
A little after seven in the morning, the conditions became
worse. The sun had not yet broken through as a steady and cold rain started. Because of the rain, the level of the water rose inside the boat. We found ourselves compelled to empty more and more water out of the yola.
Little by little, the rain increased as did the strength of the wind and, with it, the amount and the proportion of
the waves. We advanced very little and emptied great quantities of water, Many passengers prayed continuously, some did not say anything, while others were
expressing regrets and the rest still were crying and vomiting.
The hours continued to pass while the rain persisted. We got the impression that the waves had decided our fate, as each time they attacked
more aggressively (on port and starboard) at either end of the boat. The yola
was more vulnerable at its sides; and this was the place where the waves would beat the strongest and the most consistently. Some waves were bigger than others. Unfortunately, the smaller ones were those that
passed us by. Those that hit us in front were the tallest but not as dangerous
as those that hit the sides, which splashed more water into the yola. One of
these lateral waves caused our most difficult moment: It advanced against the
right side of our boat, it splashed against the yola with violence and beat against the bodies of all of us, as well. We were all thrown to the left side of our boat, causing the yola to tip to that side. But fortunately, as we reacted quickly to keep the yola balanced, it did not succumb
to the impact. A good amount of water passed under the yola as it elevated us
to a great height. Lots of water fell inside and became mixed with the crying
and shouting of the passengers. The howling substituted, for a moment, for the
sound of the motor which had stopped as soon as we were covered by the sheet of water.
These were moments of panic: the shrieks, the groans, the trembling bodies, the recently expelled urine and feces,
and the frighten faces combined in a hair-raising spectacle.
---Ay Dios mío, Ay mi madre! ---a crying woman repeated.
---Saint Sebastian, san Isidro, saint Michael, Antonio, Peter..!
---prayed the oldest of the women.
---Oh my God!, but what have we gotten into? -shouted one of
My eyes felt like they would pop out, my heart was beating
fast, overflowing. I looked at Leo to encourage myself but I saw that even his lips were trembling. In the meantime some women
were sprawled out having fainted and almost fully sunken in the water and its contaminants.
The closer death is, the stronger life is felt. Some were overcome by nerves and became incapable of acting, but others of us got a hold of ourselves and
continued, with even more vigor than before, extracting more and more water. The
water was a stew of vomit, feces and water soaked provisions. Every thing: the persistent rain, the howling wind and the tireless
waves were demonstrating that Meteorology had made a mistake in their reports of good weather.
After a quarter of an hour, when passengers had recovered a little -just a little- of their calm, some started to work
on the small motor. After almost an hour of great effort, they were able to start
the motor. Quite a long time had passed since no land nor the lighthouse were
visible. But some of us believed that Leo was going to consent to what he had
heard the terrified passengers ask, and now as they repeated:
---"Let's go back, let's go back! The sea is too rough! Let's
return to the shore."-
Leo, instead, considered the difficulties we faced in his return
to El Macao, the last time. For this, he replied, in a calm voice to them but,
with the determination of one who would not consent:
---We've got to keep on.
It's already day and we are very far away. We'd face the same risks in
returning as in continuing.
And among the high threatening waves, we continued our voyage. In the meantime, the hours went by at a desperately slow pace. Helpless, we watched the waves rise in front of us like giant mountains that threatened to swallow us with
no mercy. We awaited each wave with great anxiety. This could be the one to provide the last blow to the yola. Each
time that a wave raised the boat, the motor went dry as its propeller turned
in the air above the water. When the yola descended, a terrible noise was produced. This was always followed by the violent rocking of the boat. This would weaken the nails and the boards of the yola and bend them, keeping us aware that the final and
total destruction could happen any moment.