Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chilling in Punta Cana

11/21 - Sunday (Click for pictures)
I wonder why we decided to leave at the ungodly hour of 5.45am for our vacation as I wake up at 2.30am….then I think of the turquoise blue water and white sand and unlimited booze and it all makes it worth it!

As we drive to Regan National, Saritha and I talk about all this nonsense in the media about the additional pat down, full body scan etc. as part of the airline security. I am in support of what the TSA is doing to protect us and I find it ridiculous that people are making such a fuss about what is essentially an inconsequential process to our lives given its high propensity to discover crazies with explosives god knows where. Of course TSA needs to train their agents some more and refine the process, but the process has to stay…ask the Israeli’s and their incredible record. Boy, shame on those making fuss about TSA’s protection…have we forgotten 9/11 already!

Anyway off my soap box, as I walk through the metal detector it does alarm and I am put in the box. Now I am fretting the pat down and the TSA lady just swabs my palms and clears me….hmmmm. Then we get upgraded to Atlanta and then again upgraded from Atlanta to Punta Cana…..sweet! We are ahead of schedule arriving in Punta Cana international airport, Dominican Republic. Very cool looking airport, really a collection of giant thatch roofed huts. The Dominican’s depend heavily on tourism and there is a $10/person tax they collect, it could be €10…as long as it is a 10 in a decent currency it is accepted. Immigration is a breeze, but luggage is a fret for me again as my bag is the last to arrive. Our driver is waiting for us and whisks us away to our all inclusive resort. Again check in is smooth at this all inclusive resort (only one that seemed to have had 90%+ positive reviews) and we settle into our room which has an astonishing view of the Atlantic ocean and the beach. We amble to the beach which while is beautiful with white sand and turquoise blue water, it is breezy and the sand is blowing on to our faces. The resort is luxurious and we wander around with drinks in our hands. Dinner is a giant Italian buffet as we could not get into the couple of specialty restaurants. While the food is nothing to write home about, I certainly made our rather bubbly waitress and her colleagues day. Given my limited knowledge of Spanish, when I asked her for another glass of vino, she responded along the lines of “…..finito” and so I figured she meant finish your glass 1st & I did so….gulped it down. What she was really asking was if I was finished with my plate. Well she found it hilarious and so did her colleagues as they all came out to see who this special guest was. The nightly entertainment was karaoke and it was hilarious! Folks from Spain, Russia, Brazil, Germany and Washington DC tried their best. The Russian had the dogs howling, the Spanish had us howling….but it was all fun. We dance the night away at the disco under a great big moon and more vino tinto…couple more and my Spanish will be fluent.

11/22 Monday, 11/23 Tuesday and then again 11/25 Thursday (Click for pictures)
Ow owww owww……that I believe is the sound of a bad hangover as I wake to a pleasant breeze that sways the tall coconut trees outside our balcony. Today is essentially a non stop cycle of eat, laze, drink and more of the same. I could get used to this. Breakfast is a real wide spread & the omelet chef after putting in 5 hours by the time I get there is still cheery and chatty. We take long walks on the beach to burn the incessant eating and drinking, but I stay away from the water as it is uncharacteristically cold and also the weather very breezy. The white sand beach and turquoise colored water is very relaxing, the touts are least invasive and leave us alone. I am reading Game Changer, the well written story of the presidential election of 2008 and often get upset at how we go about electing our leaders…but I am glad I am reading it here on the beach with all that beer….very calming. Sarah Palin and her kind can not unhinge me and so I believe. The entertainment in the evenings is just that…entertaining. It is fascinating to see that people here work so hard…the life guard, is the same guy who leads the aerobics class, dance class and dances in the evenings. That is 12-14 hour days every day…wow! Anyways between the massages, 5 restaurants, bars at every corner, casino’s and plenty of personal space, time is flying by and I am not liking that very much.
Thanksgiving is fairly tame with no Turkey but certainly some pie. We are plenty thankful for this opportunity to rest in these lovely surroundings.

11/24 Wednesday (Click for pictures)
Today we head to Santo Domingo and spots between. Santo Domingo is 3 hours away from Punta Cana and so we depart at 6.30 am (grrrrr….that is me being grumpy as that is not waking time but sleeping time!). Our 1st stop is the Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia in Higüey. There is a service going on so we dont go in but spend some time browsing with the vendors in the parking lot and munching on breakfast. They are a good lot who dont try to push us in to buying. Back on the bus through sugarcane fields as far as the eye can see. About 90 minutes later we are in La Romana, the 3rd largest city on this little island. Here we visit the Montecristo cigar factory. The factory is fairly large with areas broken up into areas where the tobacco is categorized and processed, where it is rolled in to various different types of cigars and labeling. We take a gander in to the warehouse where the cigar aroma hits us a like a hurricane. The workers all seemed to be happy doing their work...& why not the total cigar makers employed has come down from 450K to 250K. The guide mumbled something about it being outsourced to China and India, which I find really hard to believe, but then profits are clearly boundary agnostic.
We then roll on to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic and the 1st city of the new world founded by Bartholomew Columbus, the younger sibling of Christopher for the Spanish in the 1490's. The city seems nice and fairly modern, then again having seen Haiti on TV over the last year I expected to see an under developed Dominican Republic given they are on the same tiny island. The Dominicans have certainly done better. We stop by an underground cavern that has some really serene lakes. Then it is a quick stop at the Christopher Columbus memorial lighthouse. The light house built in the shape of a cross holds some of CC's remains. Then again many other places claim to have his remains including Spain and Puerto Rico. Following this lighthouse we head to lunch at a downtown touristy locale for lunch of beans, rice, fried fish, syrupy banana's and a little more. Nothing to really write about. We then get a chance to burn lunch by walking through a downtown street full of souvenir, cigar and other stores. Unlike most places we have visited, these were the least pushy shopkeepers....a pleasant relief. The street ends in to Columbus Park that hosts the 1st church of the new world; Cathedral of Santa María la Menor. Our guide is hilarious as he takes us through the simple but elegant cathedral and does not fail to remind us that he is a student = Tips Please. There is a cross in the cathedral that is supposed to wash all our sins if one were to rub it. I spent quite sometime rubbing it so I believe I am cleansed! We then stroll through the Alcázar de Colón; the compound of the 1st vicergal's residence in the new world, i.e. Columbus's digs.The residence is 2 floors and is supposed to still have the original furniture, quite impressive. The guide wanted to make sure we realized that the 1st resident was Diego Columbus, Christopher's son and that in those days couples slept separately yet Diego sired 7 kids. Those Spaniards!
Back on the bus for 1 last stop to shop for cigars and Dominican rum, a special drink called mama juana and other spices. My kind of shopping I thought.

The 3 hour bus ride back is tiring, but they did some parallel processing to speed the drop off's. Passengers were divided in to 3 groups and herded in to new transportation to be dropped of the different resorts and hotels. I suspect we saved about 40mins...very impressive. I felt the Dominican tourism could teach the rest of the world a few things including smiling while serving.

11/26 Friday (Click for pictures)
The blues have set in as we realize we have to go home today. I wake ahead of the sun to capture some stunning views of the sun come up with a long long walk on the quiet peace of the early morning beach. Some more soaking as it is time to pack and head out. At the airport Saritha gets us upgraded again for the ride back....some consolation. Now the one thing that struck me ironic was that most everybody were getting a pat down before they boarded America bound planes....complaints? I dont think so!

Atlanta is kind to us for once with both on-time arrival and departure. As our plane starts decending over DC and I see the monument and the capitol from the sky, I am happy to have had a good time away and thrilled to head back to Casa del Kulkarni where it is all inclusive all the time.