We had asked for authentic Punta Cana and we got it.
Luckily for our camping experiences and experience with tight spaces, we were well equipped to handle this new abode. Unfortunately we not only had a culture shock with the people and surroundings, we also had one with the availability of things and services and lack of gelato.
Day 6: The big move and a lunch with flavor
We ended up getting our stuff in the bags ok. I wasn’t as particular with stuffing every nook and cranny, knowing we were simply traveling 20 minutes away just to unpack again. A sleek black suburban pulled up to collect us and proceeded to take us to our new hotel. As we moved forward, the streets got smaller and our driver got directions. A few times. He found the one lane, one way, dead end street to the entrance of our hotel.
The hotel had quite a beach flair that created most of its charm. As we had the family room, we were led through the hotel, out of the hotel to the back and across the courtyard to an enchanting little twin peaked….house? Not sure what to call it to be honest. But it was quaint and authentic and the hotel did a great job with colours and really tried hard to give us as many accommodations as possible. We were reduced though from three beds and two pullout sofas to one double bed and a single and a half pull out sofa. We went from the lavish three bathroom to a single, shower, toilet and sink only bathroom. Where we had wondered where our stuff went after unpacking in the resort (because it was so roomy), we had to keep neat and tidy in our bags here. It was about as roomy as our pop up camper though, and we’ve managed to survive that, so we were going to be fine. It was lunchtime and we were very anxious to find some hole in the wall place to find some Dominican food. 500 feet later, mission accomplished. For 300 pesos per plate (about $7), we were fed the most flavourful meat and beans we’d had since arriving. Very satisfying and it was now time for the beach and early to bed.
Day 7: Learn to say no until a pact is made
Downgrading to the small place that we did didn’t bother us. Not having everything available to us when we wanted it and for no cost didn’t bother us. Sharing a toilet again didn’t bother us. The light shining around the door when closed and locked didn’t even really bother us. I think what made the authentic Punta Cana experience un-enjoyable was the constant hounding by locals to come and visit their shop or buy their adventure package. We had been warned. We’d been told to just be ok with it, go along with it, smile and barter. We thought we could handle it. But we were wrong.
There were times when I saw the enjoyment and appreciation of dealing with a persistent businessman in Hakim’s eyes, but more often was the disappointment from a purposeful engagement and conversation turned sales pitch–on him. I ended up being banned from looking up at people as we passed as I had “I’LL BUY ANYTHING, MOSTLY OUT OF PITY AND I’LL PAY WHATEVER YOU ASK BECAUSE I HATE THE HASSLE” written across my forehead. To make it worse, the hotel branded us by making us wear wristbands, so even Hakim couldn’t get away without being spotted as a tourist. So to all our friends hoping for a sea shell necklace or a nice palm tree snow globe, we’re sorry, we failed at being able to negotiate in shark infested water. In the end, in a tight conference in our room, we all agreed to accept the offer for a boat ride to snorkel. We also made a pact to resist the family portraits and the bead braids for our hair. Hakim was a bit disappointed at that, but agreed nonetheless. So off we went to accept the package from the local who Hakim had engaged with the longest. Fransesco held up to his promise though, the price was honoured, the masks were provided and so was the rum and coke.
We had a fine day of snorkelling and seeing lots of beautiful fish and underwater scenery. Nellie went from vehemently saying no to the ocean, to asking if we could snorkel the next day. After snorkelling, the boat took us to a section off the coast to a waist deep, murky toilet–er, area–where we swam with other boat partiers and their island music. Nearly home, Micah awoke from her nap and casually and ever so calmly threw up on my feet. Three times.
Day 8: Imagine Dragons
The night before we had dealt with Mïcah’s sickness in stride. It appeared that our little 30 pound child had a bit of heat stroke and lucky for us we had Herbal Aloe Concentrate and cold water nearby. As she is a furnace to begin with, it was hard to tell when she cooled down but we eventually got an hours nap in before getting up. This was the day to go get a car and drive to the “Ojos Indígenas” Ecological Park and Reserve where we were hoping to encounter monkeys, iguanas, blue holes, maybe flamingos and no tarantulas
But first, negotiating a car rental. As I’m banned from it, I stood in the shade trying to make my face look destitute (it was my way of trying to help Hakim) while Hakim got our car from $50 to $35. Hakim drove in Paris, so we were sure he’d be able to handle the Dominican driving. It would have helped if the steering column had not been as loose and one could have steered straight to go straight. It also would have helped it the clutch would have been more responsive. But he was more than capable to handle all the multitasking it took to drive the car while dodging motorcycles coming up from the rear on the left-no, the right-wait, the left again….head on? One less thing to think about was those darned stop signs, Punta Cana effectively got rid of those. Horns are sufficient here. Having to use the bungi cord to open his door was only needed when we were getting out, so that was great. We did make it to the reserve and were rewarded for our hard work of getting there.
Out of 12 blue holes, 3 were swimmable and were just beautiful. They were, as all blue holes go, creepy as hell, but amazing at the same time. We regretted not having our goggles, not only to see the fish and turtles more clearly but to see what else there might be that was there in our imagination. Speaking of imaginations, Norah saw the dreaded tarantula, dive into a watery crevice. Hakim saw a snake following our trail and I think I saw a coconut pirate.
At the end we got to visit the petting zoo where we fed some nice goats and saw chickens and donkeys. I was laughing at the irony when a local offered to show us the iguanas. Our imaginations had not seen any of those yet. Long and ornery looking, those iguanas could move fast. I have to say, seeing banana trees where banana trees are supposed to grow and not in the botanical gardens (not knocking the gardens, its one of my favourite places) was satisfying. After our long 2 hour hike in the jungle and to the abandoned hotel on the beach with our recently recovered 5 year old, we headed home for one last tasty meal and to pack for our flight out.
Day 9: Name that smell and leaving Hakim’s local girl
Our flight didn’t leave until the afternoon, so Hakim and I made a little jog to the more bustling part of the village. I hadn’t run for nearly….8 months? And now I was running in the hot, humid and muggy Caribbean. But I hardly noticed. Instead what I was noticing was the smells in the air. Ever changing and changing fast enough before the gag reflex came in, my brain played the game, “What is that smell?” Other than rotting…something and major car exhaust, I didn’t do well at guessing. But it was entertaining me anyway until I would have to dodge a stray dog or a chunk of cement that chipped off the sidewalk. I had to completely stop the game when I had to dodge around the wire attached from the electric pole, across the sidewalk in a pile and ending in the watery algae filled gutter. That dodge was more serious and required all of my reflexes. I was Laura Croft and determined not to stop. At the hotel, while I started the shove and squish and sit-on-the-bag until it closes packing, Hakim went to the beach to say goodbye to a local-not-so-local guy he had started a convo with a few days before. Kemmes had been placed in an orphanage in Haiti when he was 5 and now at 24 had crossed over to the Dominican to find better opportunities so he could marry his girlfriend. Great conversation had been had and a real connection. So much so that Hakim was offered the company of one of Kemmes’ colleague. Apparently Americans really like Dominican girls, so naturally Kemmes thought of Hakim. It was finally off to the airport. Our next stop was Calgary. Knowing we were flying back to Canada, we put on our tuques and snow pants. No, we didn’t, but we put away our sandals and shorts.