Today we finished our first open water (exploratory!) swim camp in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic.
We had 8 swimmers, 4 companions, and 5 staff including myself for 6 nights on this picturesque sub-tropical island sitting between Cuba (west) and Puerto Rico (east) and Jamaica (southwest).
And it was quite the adventure this week! We have both challenging and marvelous circumstances. We had sun, we had rain. We had calm air and wind. We walked to the beach near our villa several mornings. We took our bus to explore more distant ones. We took a boat trip in wild seas to visit a remote reef and beach, with giant blue whales jumping out of the Atlantic in the distance.
Good boats with skilled captains took us around out over the deep blue
Statistically, February is suppose to be the coolest, driest, calmest, most pleasant month of the year in this region, but this was an unusual season. The air was normal around 82 F / 28 C and the sea was a nearly perfect 76 F / 24.5 C. But little rain squalls would blow through a few times a day, with winds keeping the sea moving. The surf was really stirred up and what should normally be calm and quite clear water was turbid with sand, within the reef-protected zones we swam in.
Entering in Playa Bonita at dawn
When we went out to the remote beach we got some incredibly clear water to explore.
Over the course of the week, it gradually calmed down, but in that same time, one-by-one, all but 3 people in our group came down with one kind of illness or another. And, there did not seem to be a thread connecting them together. Even our local partner Sabrina and our bus driver got ill – so it wasn’t merely a foreigner thing. One of our number was laid low from the first day through the whole week and for others it passed in a day. This is one of those holiday tragedies – to go to all the trouble and distance to come a tropical retreat and spend part or most of it in bed. Back home for all of us, in USA, Europe and Russia, it has been a terrible flu season – even for the people here in Dominican Republic. A global epidemic apparently.
However, we made the most of the weather and our health and enjoyed some fabulous swims each day. We did take time in calm water, but the big swells and crashing waves within the reefs and bay area provided perfect conditions for us to practice the skills that make this kind of water actually easy and fun.
Sunrise swim, with a rainbow in the background
We practiced swimming in big 3 meter swells. We practiced swimming against currents. We practiced minimalist sighting and navigating off distance landmarks. We practiced entering and exiting the sea through the rolling and crashing surf. We practiced swimming continuously along the coastline in calm water. We practice swimming in shallow coral reefs with strong currents shoving us around. We practiced keeping the mind occupied with positive and productive focal points while the moving water might otherwise cause some anxiety.
Rebecca cruising in the swells at Playa Moron
The one thing mentioned by several members of our group who had previous been intimidated to ever go in water like this before – they said that within the first couple days they not only felt comfortable in this kind of big sea, they enjoyed it! They were in love with swimming in the sea more than ever. And that is exactly what I hope they would walk (or swim) away with.
I am looking forward to doing another camp here next year, and possibly in November as well. I think it is going to be a great base for us in the Caribbean.