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Dominican Republic 2019

One of my co-workers goes at least once a year and always has a great time.  I’d never heard anything negative about it.  And when I found such reasonable rates in the Costco Travel brochure, I was sold.  The Dominican Republic would be our February getaway this year.

The second largest Caribbean nation by area, the third largest by population, and the landing place of Christopher Columbus in 1492!  It’s capital city, Santo Domingo became the first permanent European settlement in the Americas and the oldest continually inhabited city.  And, most importantly – it is warm in February, has beautiful beaches and free liquor.

As soon as we decided on the location and made the reservations, Allen was on the phone with our friend Nana in New York to let her know.  She was invited to join us if she liked.  She liked, and soon had made her own reservations at the same all-inclusive resort we were staying at in Punta Cana – the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic with beaches facing both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  It is also home to many, many resorts and is a tourist magnet.  We had to get Allen to quit calling it Puta Cana which was putting a whole new spin on where we were telling people we were going.

The evening before our departure, as is usual, it was my job to get the dogs to the boarders, which, I think, they seem to experience as their own special vacation.  It was snowy and icy, I had leashed and put Ryder on the ground and then reached in to do the same for Monkee.  The minute I set her on the street, she pulled on the leash and somehow got out of her collar and ran across the street.  A car was coming and so I quickly threw Ryder back in the truck and took off after her.  The approaching car must have seen what was happening and so she stopped.  I thought I was going to have to chase Monkee, but she simply crossed the street and waited for me on the curb where I was able to pick her up, take her back to the truck and wave my thanks to the stopped driver.  She had a big grin on her face – Monkee is a pretty funny looking animal.  My heart was beating rapidly due to her escape, thoughts of having to tell Allen his beloved had been run over or was lost sent shivers of terror up and down my spine.  Thankfully that was not going to be necessary.

Dogs all checked in, I returned home to work on this year’s puzzle.  A 2000 piece, rather difficult puzzle, that as of this writing I am still working on.  That evening however, I was able to complete the frame and that felt like a major hurdle overcome.  It was a fairly early night for both of us as we wanted to be on the road by at least 5:30 in the morning.



Since most of our trips call for a very early morning trip to the airport, they have also become Allen’s annual reminder that yes, people are truly up and about at this hour of the morning.  Yes, the highways can be rather filled – even before 6 in the morning.  And yes, they are normal people who do this.  We found our spot in the budget long-term parking and, since the trams are down for full re-vamping, we took the shuttle bus to the terminal.  I am convinced this was even faster than the trams as we would have had to take a bus to another parking lot and from there the tram.  This bus ran directly to the terminal.

At the airport, all went well, we got through security and to our gate without any hassle and still had plenty of time to read, watch the news or catch Pokémon.  The flight was not too bad even though I was in the middle seat and the almost 4 hours passed rather quickly thanks to my book.

The Punta Cana airport is fairly small.  Upon landing, they rolled stairs to the door and had us walk down and get into buses that took us on a 3-minute drive to the gate – by the time they loaded the bus and drove to the gate, we could have walked it and beat the bus.  A number of planes arrived around the same time, and so there were a lot of people standing in line for passport control and customs – but it moved quickly and so it was not too, too bad.  Passing through customs we then had to make our way through the mall-like airport to ground transport and find the Costco Travel booth where we would be provided transportation to our resort.

It was a longer road trip than I expected, though not too bad.  We drove through lots of coastal flat-lands with lots of trees and the occasional hill.  We never did drive through what I would consider a city or village, but I am probably mistaken about that.  As we got closer to the beaches and the many resorts that stood like monoliths all in a row, the landscaping changed to reflect it.  Golf courses, manicured lawns and grand entrances were the norm.  We seemed to be far away from the locals and entering our own little touristy world.

We stayed at the Majestic Elegance resort, separated by a service road on either side of the resort from the Majestic Mirage on one side of us and the Majestic Colonial on the other.  I’m guessing each of these majestics offered their own unique take on “all-inclusive” resort stays.  Though walking around, it was not always possible to tell which majestic we were actually in.  Also, we found out later, that very morning Dominican Republic experienced a 5+ earthquake, and not one ever mentioned it.  It seems the only problem our resort experienced was some shattered windows that we never saw.

Walking into the lobby, we were offered a wet towel and a cold, fruit-based drink.  Both were greatly appreciated as it was very warm and humid, and we were both dressed for the below freezing weather of Chicago.  Checking in, we were surprised to find Nana making her way toward us.  She had arrived a few hours earlier and had already tangled with the people at the desk in order to get a room closer to ours.  Nana is a true New Yorker, knows how to haggle, knows how to insist, knows how to come to “yes” in dealing with people.   The clerks seemed to still be feeling the aftermath of dealing with this human dynamo and they assured me that her move did not, in any way, affect our own reservations.  I would not have thought it would, but then I was not there when Nana got her room moved. 

The rooms were very nice.  A spa tub took up one corner, the bed was big and comfy, and we were provided several bottles of liquor as well as a stocked fridge of water, sodas and a bottle of sparkling wine.  We were in “swim up” rooms – meaning that once we stepped onto our back patio, we could step into the man-made river that ran through the resort and connected the various swimming pools.  Allen especially enjoyed the fact that they seemed to provide a wealth of “jams and jellies” (shampoos, soaps, etc.) that he could take home (an impulse he comes by honestly – passed down from his dad), bathrobes, slippers and a great view of the pool.   It was more than I expected and posher than anything we had ever vacationed in.

After getting settled and changing into more appropriate clothing, we hooked up with Nana (3 doors down) and took a walk around the complex to familiarize ourselves with our home for the week.  It was beautiful, the weather perfect, every staff member we passed gave us a big smile, all of them more than helpful when needed.   I stopped in one of the resort stores, needing to buy some sun-block as I was determined that this would be the first Feb. trip that I come back without a sun burn.  I got the cheap stuff – only $20 a bottle.  If the resort doesn’t provide it, things can cost quite a pretty penny in their stores.

After exploring, we sat at a patio table and caught up with Nana, got connected to WiFi and talked about what we might like to do during our stay.  Then we cleaned up a bit and had dinner at the buffet.  The food was good and plentiful, lots of variety and a pleasant dining room.   Having eaten, we walked around some more – walking to the breach and ending up in the sister resort without realizing it. 
Nana decided to call it a night, so Allen and I continued our exploring.  They advertised a piano bar and I found it, but there was no piano player.  This would be true throughout our stay – always checking the piano bar, always finding the piano without a player.  One day, a pianist did show up and I thought we could go sit in the bar after our dinner, but in the time it took us to eat and return, he was gone.

We wandered over to the out-door theater for that night’s program, called the International Show.  It began with some warm-up stuff, led by the staff.  They invited guests up on the stage and had them dance to various styles as demonstrated by the staff.  It was all very silly and fun, though Allen cringed and literally ducked when they were walking through the theater looking for volunteers - fearful that he might be chosen.  He was not.  We sat through about 20 minutes of the actual show, hi-lighting dance styles from around the world.  I was amused about one pairing of dancers in particular, she was very tall and very muscularly built, her partner was of medium height and build, she definitely outweighed him.  There were points in one of their dances when he was supposed to lift her or bend her backwards and the struggle to do so and maintain their professional looks was, for me, really funny.    Watching as much as we could stand, we headed back to our room and called it a night.  It seemed our vacation was off to a grand start.


Tuesday morning, I was up pretty early, as usual, and made my way to the exercise center and spent some time on the stationary bike and treadmill.  Afterward, to allow Allen the time he needed for sleep, I spent some time journaling, walking around the resort and doing some work for the office (it had been a bad time to leave – many lobbyists delinquent in filing their reports and for the first time, on a vacation, I was doing some work via the internet – and would do so throughout our time there).

I was supposed to check in with the Costco Travel agent at the hotel to reserve an airport shuttle ride for our departure.  Nana had to do the same with her travel company.  These were the same agents through which we could book our various adventures.  The three of us looked at brochures and the travel books available and decided on several trips.  One day would be spent at a monkey compound and zip-lining – 80+ year old Nana wanted to go zip-lining!    We also booked a dune buggy excursion. 

I was not going to come all the way to the Dominican Republic without seeing the oldest city in the Americas, to see where Columbus came ashore, and so Allen and I booked a trip to Santo Domingo an all-day excursion with a lot of time on the bus.  Nana was not interested.

After making our plans and paying for our trips, I left the two of them at the resort, intending to make my way to the “mall” whose roof I spied off the highway when we were being driven from the airport.  I did not think it was more than 15 minutes away, but it was bright and hot, and I did not want to tire Nana out if it turned out to be further.  I would scout it out and let them know if it was worth the walk.

It was, in fact about a 15 minute walk, but even that seemed too long when I discovered what this “mall” was actually all about.  It was a number of souvenir shops under one roof.  I think I was the only tourist there at the time, because the eyes of every shop-keeper turned my way as soon as I entered.  Many of the shopkeepers were sitting on chairs in front of their entrance ways and as I passed from shop to shop, they would walk in with me and promise me that they had unique and special objects that I could not find anywhere else and that they had special deals for today and that there was no pressure.  After the first 10 times of hearing this, I was able to recite it for the shopkeepers and they would simply smile and agree.

The wares offered, were pretty much the typical tourist offerings – bumper stickers, t-shirts, paintings, salt and pepper shakers, etc.  I was only interested in magnets, hats and masks.  There were plenty of magnets, but I was specifically looking for magnets with moving parts – these were not so common.  Two of the shop keepers gave me a leather necklace with a single carved wooden totem on it – though it looked more like finger-tip sized pieces of wood that had been gouged.  These were for good luck and to try to induce me to actually buy something.  I did not buy anything, but they were good enough not to ask me to return the necklaces.  I did not find much of anything unique in any of the shops, though I was finally able to locate the magnet I wanted – a butterfly with moving wings, and because they were on that day’s special, I was able to get a second one free – this a seahorse that was sectioned and wiggled.  No one had any masks of interest.

All of them wanted to interest me in their cigars and bottles of a local drink called mamajuana.  I was afraid to ask what mamjuana was, simply because I thought it would lead to a long discussion and more pressure from my “no pressure” sales people.  I would have to find out later.    As soon as I walked out the door of one shop, the proprietor of the next booth would insist that I have to see his as well, and so the time was spent, being escorted from store to store, encouraged to buy, and promised no pressure.  Finally, after an hour or more of this, I had had enough and actually skipped several shops as I made my way out of the mall – the missed proprietors letting me know I had skipped them.  I later discovered that this was a popular stopping point for tour buses, though no more than a dozen or so tourists were there when I made my visit.

I made my way back to the resort and found Nana and Allen on the beach, sitting under the thatched umbrellas in large lounge chairs.   The sky was a beautiful and clear blue, the water warm and inviting, the beach white, and the people busy raking up the sea weed.  These beaches, like so many in the Caribbean are facing an unprecedented influx of seaweed.  The afternoon was spent lolling on the beach talking, reading, splashing in the water and eating burgers grilled at the beach.

Needing to move, I took a longer walk on the beach.  I passed a number of sand sculptures, a guy with a leashed monkey on his back, another with 2 parrots sitting atop his shoulders and yet another with a leashed iguana gripping his entire fore-arm.  They were more than happy to let tourists take pictures with their pets – for a price.  I kept going past all the resorts (and there are quite a few all along this beach) and came to a very long stretch of unimproved area, where logs and sea grasses littered the beaches instead of people and chairs.  My intent was to get to a grand building of some sort (fort?, resort?, private mansion?) sitting on the tip of a beach with nothing else around it (at least from my point of view).  After more than an hour of walking, I was still an hour or more away, so I gave up that quest and headed back. 

By the time I returned, Allen and Nana had re-located to the pool area.  Just as I got there, an announcement went out that it was almost BINGO time.  Well, we were practically on top of the area where the game was to be played and so we joined in.  I actually won one of the three games played, and so walked away with a new cap bearing the Majestic logo.  Not quite the hat I wanted as a souvenir, but it worked – it kept the sun off my bald spot.  This after both Nana and Allen gave me a talking-to about needing a hat since my scalp burned so badly in Rio and I spent the days following with a head full of peeling skin – like snowflake sized dandruff. 

After the excitement of the bingo game, we returned to our rooms to catch our breaths and re-group for supper.  That night we chose to eat at the seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean.  I had to go back and get my epi-pen “just in case” (I have a shrimp allergy, though other shell fish are fine).  We had a few drinks out on the patio before being seated for dinner.  I had a fried octopus appetizer and all three of us chose the steak and lobster for our main courses.  Unlike other places we have been, this resort served top-shelf alcohols and the bourbon was hitting me pretty hard.  After dinner we wandered back to the main building to see if there was a piano player at the piano bar – there was not, but we had another drink anyway and then Nana and Allen headed to their rooms.
I returned to the theater to see what was happening there.  That night it was the Mr. Majestic Show.  This involved volunteers vying for the title by how well they stripped off their shirt, did certain dance moves and doing a series of calisthenics.  Like a high school production, only one level lower.  I stayed for a bit and got back to the room to find Allen watching the state of the union speech.  I tried sleeping through it, but it was not happening.  Soon after it was over, I was able to fall into the arms of Morpheus.  We had a 6:30 wake up call to respond to.



I was up before the wakeup call but waited around until the call came and tried to let Allen have some extra time in bed.  I walked to the beach and watched the multi-hued sunrise, made all the more colorful with just a few clouds in the sky and the blue waters lapping the golden shore.  Seaweed rakers were already out getting the beach ready for that day’s visitors.  Walking to the other end of the resort, near the lobby area, I watched a number of buses dropping off resort workers – housekeepers, food servers, entertainment staff, pool staff, janitorial crews, the list goes on and on.  It seems to take a literal army of people to keep this place humming and so very clean.

After a spot of breakfast, the three of us piled into a bus at about 7:45 AM.  We were driven to some other resorts to pick up other people and then headed out about an hour away into the Anamuya mountains.  Along the way, our guide gave us some history of the Dominican Republic.  His accent and the fuzzy speaker system of the bus made most of what he said very incomprehensible.  One thing that came across very clearly though was how poor the people are in the D.R., even those working in the tourist industry – and he was putting several kids through college and one in medical school – so any gratuities to people – even though tips are included in the prices – were much appreciated – himself for example.  It was not difficult to get his point.  We did make a stop at a gas station to pick up some more people and I was tickled by its name – the Corazon de Jesus (Heart of Jesus) Texaco.  We would pass this several times on our various trips over the week, and yet, I never got a really good picture of the sign.

This morning we were going zip-lining – an activity chosen because Nana had never done it before (despite the huge amount of traveling she has done) and felt that the time was right to try it.  Both Allen and I really enjoy it and so she did not have to work hard to convince us to share this adventure with her.

Arriving at the zip-line place, several other buses were pulling in as well.  So, there were a lot of people to get harnessed up and ready to go.  I decided to indulge and rent a go-pro camera that they attached to my helmet.  After everyone was suited up, we were taken to a demo area where we were taught how to zip line with a lot of emphasis on braking and how to hold our legs.  There were 12 stations of varying lengths, crossing different terrains, some requiring braking and others that did not.  The distances were as short as 203 feet in length up 800 feet.  There was also the opportunity to “bungee jump” at one station, for those who wished to do so.  We were told that at station 2, 4 &6, if we decided to, we could turn back as we would be close enough to walk back to the equipment area, after that we would have to finish all 12.  That was all good and well, but we had no plans on turning back.

With so many people, the first couple of stations were a little slow going, but once the groups started moving, they seemed to space out pretty well so that there was not much of a wait at the next stations.  A mom and her son were having a difficult time of it at this first station.  The 9 or 10-year-old boy just could not get up the nerve to blast off.  They tried several times, but he just could not do it.  Poor kid, he was embarrassed by the lot of us watching this (how could a person not watch?) and eventually, they gave up and had to make the walk of shame against the flow of the crowd back to the equipment area. 

The young (some seemed to be quite young) and ever-smiling guides were being as helpful as they could be, keeping an eye on our technique and how we were holding up from station to station.  At some stations, we had to climb stairs to get to the next launch pad, and though they were not terribly high, both Nna and Allen, neither who are really comfortable with heights, found them a little challenging.  I, of course, had to take advantage of the bungee jump.  Although it was pretty silly.  We climbed up to one of the stations – about 2 stories high.  If you chose to jump, they hooked your harness to an actual bungee rope and then invited you to leap off the edge onto a large padded bullseye.  There was enough tension to keep your fall safe, but not so much that there would be any bounce back at all.  You were instructed to land in a sitting position.  I did, I then climbed back up to take my turn at the zip.  Cheap thrills.

Nana was really killing it, doing quite well and seemed to be keeping up with it all, until the last 4 stations or so.  I think the stairs and heights were starting to get to her and maybe even a little motion sickness.  We rested a bit between these last stations, letting her get air and water (it was quite warm), letting her take her time, telling her that we think the next one was probably the last one – though it wasn’t (we lost track of how many stations we had done).  And despite the queasiness – she conquered them all!  The penultimate station was a long (800 feet), fast ride and one of the guides, noting Nana’s fatigue, rode with her – hooking on behind her and holding on to her harness to make sure she made it all the way.  He was cute enough that I was jealous.

After it was all done, Nana continued to feel a little nauseous and was concerned about the up-coming bus ride.  The ride was not a long one, thankfully, and we were taken to a covered patio area with lots of tables and a buffet set up for us.  Beans, rice, pasta, stewed meats, fried chicken, and other edibles.  Nana had decided to stay with the bus and get some air and, given the heavy smells of the food and the frying, it was perhaps for the best, especially if her stomach was feeling delicate.  The food was good, even if a bit heavy and the stewed meats gave us a real taste of D.R. cuisine.

After lunch, we returned to the bus and made our way to MONKEY LAND.  There are no monkeys native to the D.R.  Monkey Land is a 5-acre sanctuary, built by a Canadian couple as a refuge for squirrel monkeys.  They have trained the monkeys to be human friendly.   Our tour began with a lecture from one of the guides about how the place came to be and instructing us to never grab or touch the monkeys and be careful about stepping on them as they crawled all about.  People with colds or illness were not allowed to be with the monkeys.  Suntan lotion and mosquito repellant were also forbidden as these were dangerous to the monkeys, and as the guide pointed out – if just one gets sick, they all get sick.  Before entering the monkey area, we had to use a hand disinfectant and step on a disinfectant pad at the entrance to the viewing area.

We were led into a large open area surrounded by trees and wired caging to keep the monkeys in.  We could see the monkeys in the trees, some getting rather close to look us over and many others jumping from branch to branch above and all around us.  We were made to stand in a large circle, fairly close to one another and then the guide went from person to person, placing seeds on our heads.  This got the monkeys to come out of the trees and crawl all over us, going from head to head, climbing up our legs and arms, to get to the seeds atop our heads.  Shoulders became stepping stones, tiny, furry little hands would drape down our faces, some balancing themselves on our heads – making for great selfies.

After the seeds were pretty well dissipated, the guide than handed each of us a bowl of fruit, cut veggies and nuts that we were to hold very still.  This got the monekys to come swarming once again.  Jumping from person to person, bowl to bowl, each monkey seemed to have its preferred food so that you could see one going from bowl to bowl and grabbing the carrot slices only, another might just go for watermelon, some seemed to like everything.  Some sitting in the crook of our elbows, made as we held the bowls at waist level.  Sometimes there were 3 or 4 monkeys on one person – it was fun, funny and a complete rush.  To have so many small furry hands and feet, tails and faces all over you.  Surreal.  I could not keep from laughing.  One woman, pretty well endowed and wearing a low collared shirt that showed her cleavage found herself with a monkey reaching into that cleavage to retrieve a berry he had accidentally (?) dropped there.  It was hilarious.  When all the food was gone, all the pictures taken, we were then led back outside and through the souvenir shop.  We managed to avoid buying anything.

From Monkey Land, we walked down the street to another large covered pavilion and building called the Coconut House.  We gathered around an exhibition area and were told and shown the process of growing, drying, roasting and grinding coffee.  They then passed around a sample for our smelling pleasure.  They then did the same for cocoa, letting us taste some of the final, ground product (mixed with sugar and cinnamon).

Afterward, we proceeded to another exhibition station where we learned about the harvesting of coconuts, and how coconut water and oil were gotten.  Coconut oil was passed around for us to use on our hands, arms and faces.  After this, we made the inevitable stop at the “store” where we were shown lots of different coffees, cocoa and coconut products.  We were given small cup samples of hot chocolate, cinnamon coffee and a coconut dessert of some sort.  We were also invited to try a sample of their Mama Juana.

Mama Juana, according to the authorities at the Coconut House, is a mixture of rum, red wine and honey that is then soaked with tree barks of certain types and herbs.  It is supposed to be a regular miracle drink.  Depending on the barks and herbs used, it can cure baldness, restore sexual abilities, cure a number of sicknesses – both physical and psychological.  Well, needless to say, we never bought a bottle of this rather sweet fortified wine.  Oh, the benefits we passed up were innumerable – our loss.

After the sales pitch and the opportunities to buy the offered products it was time to return to the bus and make our way back to the resort.  The bus thundered down what seemed way too narrow streets, and 2 vehicles passing one another in different directions had to do so slowly and with great care.  Also, since we were making our way though and out of the mountains, there were times that the streets turned very steep and so there was lots of brake riding – but it was scenic and beautiful.  Back at the resort, we hit the pool, relaxed and reviewed the events of the day.  Supper that night was in the Italian Restaurant where we had to wear long pants – the food was excellent but would have tasted just as good in short pants.


Photos from the Visit

We had to get up extra early this morning, or at least extra early for Allen.  We had made arrangements for a breakfast to be delivered early in the morning, because we were supposed to be on the road before the dining rooms opened.  We were on the bus at 6:15 AM and headed to the other resorts in the area and along the way to pick up other people.  At one point, we stopped in a parking lot some 30-45 minutes from our resort.  We were waiting for another bus and more travelers.

As I said earlier, I was not going to come to the D.R. and not see the oldest city in the Americas, not see the area where Columbus had made shore, not see the capital city.  The attendant at the tour agency told us it would be about a 2.5 hour ride, with a stop along the way to visit the largest cigar factory on the island.  That didn’t sound too bad and so Allen and I booked the trip to Santo Domingo, Nana opting out as she was not up for the bus ride.

There are clouds in the sky and an occasional dribbling of rain, but it does not seem very threatening to our outing.  Our route and stops take us through areas of brightly painted, but definitely poorer homes in a rural setting.  As we continue down the highway it becomes a lot more urban, but we never leave large expanses of vegetation.  Eventually we are beyond the cities and are traveling through expanses of farm land, lots of it sugar cane with the mountains in the background providing a really beautiful view.

Around 8:30 our bus pulls into the parking lot of what looks like a strip mall whose buildings stand apart from one another.  One sports a sign “cigar factory”, another claims to be a “chocolate factory, there is also a grocery store, what looks like a souvenir shop and a restaurant.  Our guide leads us into the cigar factory.

We had both toured a cigar factory in Cuba – and this was no factory.  The VEGA FINA cigar factory was a cigar store with pictures and posters along the wall showing how tobacco is grown, harvested and turned into cigars.  We were led into “the factory” portion of the store where a total of 4 people were pretending to roll cigars.  They were dressed in stereotypical peasant clothing and barely smiled or even looked at us.    It was obvious that not a single cigar was actually made here, that they were really rolling tobacco, but I suspect they unrolled it after the tourists were gone and got ready to do it all again for the next batch of tourists.  The work tables and knives seemed authentic, probably imported from an actual cigar factory, but that was the end of the legitimacy.  Passing through the “factory” we found ourselves in the heart of the building and the reason for our stop – the store.

Allen and I both agreed that at some point in our trip we should sit outside with a drink and smoke a cigar, so we looked around.  They were all very expensive, but we eventually settled on a couple of them from what looked like the bargain bin- and they were still $5.00 apiece.

The chocolate “factory” was even a bigger sham.  We walked through the store to the back “factory” where a woman, just one, was in a glass walled room “making” chocolates.  What she was actually doing was wrapping a bar of chocolate in a colored foil wrapper that had apparently been folded and unfolded a number of times.  There seemed to be maybe 4 chocolate bars and some other already wrapped  candies in her work-room, but she took great care (and a lot of time) to properly wrap the one bar she was working on.  It was so sad it was funny.

Other than our two cigars, our only other purchase was a diet coke (only $1) and a chicken empanada for Allen.  As we were standing outside the grocery store, I heard the first bird song since our arrival.  After everyone had made their way through the stores we were once again under way, arriving in Santo Domingo at about 10:30.  That was a far cry from the 2.5 hour drive the guy who sold us the trip said it would take.

Our first stop in the city is across the street from the Christopher Columbus Lighthouse.  A cross shaped (representing the Christianization of the Americas) concrete mausoleum (for what is alleged to be the bones of Columbus) and museum.  It was built to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the Americas.  It is 680 feet long, 190 feet tall.  Though we did not get to experience it because we were there during day-light, it projects beams of light in the shape of a cross so powerful that it can be seen from Puerto Rico.

We were not given time to actually enter the memorial, only to look at it from the street.  We all snapped a picture or two and then back on the bus.  If this was all going to be a drive-by tour, I was not going to be happy – at all.

Passing the site of the original colony and port, which looked rather interesting, we do a drive-by of the Presidential Palace – a huge neoclassical building set on beautifully landscaped grounds.    It was built on the site of the original presidential mansion when the U.S. occupied the country in 1916-24.  This is a strictly government building, the president does not live here, they no longer have an official presidential residence.  Again, we stopped in front of the palace, took some pictures of it and the guards and then got back on the bus.

We then make our way to the Zona Colonial – the central neighborhood of the city and the oldest European settlement in the Americas.  It lies on the bank of the Ozama River, surrounded by a walled perimeter with canons set at various points along the wall.  Approaching this walled portion of the city, we were both really struck how much trash and litter lay at its base, all along our drive.  Once we were inside the walls, it was a very different story, a story of stark contrasts.  The Zona is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws many tourists, so I guess it is more important to keep the area inside the walls a lot cleaner than outside.

We were let out near the main plaza of the city and were led to the Alcazar de Colon (Colonial Palace) the oldest viceregal residence in the Americas.  It is on the site of the plot of land given to Diego Columbus (son of Christopher) who served as governor of Hispanola in the early 1500’s.  It was, in its time the heart of the West Indies and once had about 50 rooms and grand gardens and courtyards.  It was saved from ruin in the 1950’s and is currently about half the size it once was.  It is home to the most visited museum in the country.  It houses an extensive collection of tapestries, as well as a lot of late medieval and Renaissance works of art.

Our guide broke us up into groups according to language – English, French or Spanish and gave us headphones to wear so that he could talk to us and then be plugged into the audio system of the museum – which told us what we were looking at.  After making our way through the museum, its several floors and multiple rooms, it was time for lunch.

We were led  to a restaurant for our meal.  It was a building hidden in a row of stores and residences just across the street outside the wall surrounding the plaza of the palace.  It took up 2 floors and had various dining rooms of various sizes.  We were led to a long, rather narrow room and took our seats at the closely placed tables.  It turned out we were the only English speakers at our table, the other 8 were French.

Once seated we were given a welcome drink (mine was a diet coke, of course) and then shown to another room where a buffet was laid out.  Looking into other rooms, there were a pair of dancers going from room to room and doing what I supposed were traditional dances in their colorful skirts and blouses.  They never did make it to our area, they would not have had the room to dance anyway.  The buffet provided a variety of meats cooked in different ways, vegetables, rice, breads and desserts.  It was good, but I did not eat a whole lot – these buffets were going to be the death of my waist line. 

Allen and I finished quickly and went outside to sit in the fresh air.  I took off across the plaza to see what else was to be seen and found a tourist kiosk where I was able to get a map of the Zona.  Getting back to the restaurant, we waited another 15 minutes or so before our group emerged.

Back on the bus, we were taken to the Basilica Cathedral of St. Mary Minor.  And, like everything else in the area, it is the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1512 and completed in 1540.  It sits on a grand plaza, next to Columbus Park.  The front of the church is a gold-tinted limestone façade.  The building is beautiful combining of both gothic and baroque styles.  It is made of very solid limestone walls and has three doors.  The main doors were closed off and so we had to enter from what I guess is the back door.

Cool and a bit dark on the inside, there are 12 side chapels, three aisles and a nave.  It houses a great deal of art work, sculptures, wood work, ancient furniture and tombstones.  One tombstone is dedicated to Simon Bolivar, the liberator of much of Latin America.  There seems to be some dispute about the tomb of Christopher Columbus which is also in this cathedral… or not.  Some sources say that he was buried here, and his bones remain.  Others say that once the lighthouse monument was built, the bones were transferred there.  Yet others claim that some of his bones are here and others are in the monument.  I was not able to get a definitive answer, but all agreed that this was his initial burial place.  Our headphones were again hooked into the cathedral’s audio tour.

From the cathedral we were led down some cobbled city streets to a small theater where we were to have a “4-D” experience of the story of Francis Drake.  For some reason, I had in mind that Francis Drake was one of those early famous explorers, faithful to the king, held up as a hero in much the same way as Columbus, DeSoto, and others.  Well, this telling of his story was greatly at odds with my grammar school recollections.  This was the story of Drake as a pirate, who plundered the Spanish holdings throughout the Americas and captured Santo Domingo; ransoming it back to the Spanish after he had plundered it.  It was clearly a 3-D movie, as we were given the glasses to make it happen, but we were not told what “4-D” meant, but it soon became clear.   As we “rode” the ship, out faces got misted with water, our seats rocked and moved to and fro in the choppy waters, something brushed against our legs or neck, the smell of gun powder as the canons exploded, all of this dependent on what was happening on screen.  It was cheesy and a lot of fun.

After the movie, we were led to a souvenir mall of sorts across the street from the cathedral.  This was a very expensive souvenir mall – a single ball cap sold for $55.  No thank you – those were resort prices.  We were told to wander as we liked, and re-group in an hour or so.  Allen and I quickly went through the three floors of the mall, disappointing the stall keepers by not responding to their “come and see my wares” entreaties.  We hit the streets.

The shops along the streets around the cathedral were a real mix of souvenir stores and local shops.  We ended up in a grocery store where we got some cold drinks, a bottle of gin and some deodorant.  We also found me a cap - $8 – the cheapest and nicest we had found so far.  We wandered around, helped a bit by the map I had scored earlier and made our ways to  the old fort overlooking the river and bay.  We got a photo of it, but no real tour.

Allen kept pointing out that this city was so much like the other Caribbean cities we had seen, like San Juan or even Rio.  I had to point out that, given that this was the original, those other cities were like this one.  It was/ is an important distinction to me.  This was the original.

Returning to the cathedral plaza and the rest of our group, we were swamped by peddlers selling belts, rosaries, art works, carvings, and jewelry.  A lot of the jewelry sported larimar – a rare blue stone found only in the Dominican Republic. Each vendor promised that their offerings were the best price in town.  That seems to be the go-to line for everyone selling anything to tourists – that and “no pressure”.

Making our way through this swarm of hucksters, we returned to the bus and began the long trip home.  Again, the person selling us the trip said we would be back to the resort by 6:30, but there was no way that was going to happen.  The first thing our guide told us was that we would stop in about 75 minutes for a potty break – I think everyone groaned and just wanted them to get us home.

The rest stop ended up being another visit to the cigar store plaza we had stopped at that morning – “for only 15 minutes”.  It ended up taking 30.  Allen was none too happy about the delays and the false advertising that got us on this trip, as was I, but there was not too much we could do about it (again, I would not have missed it – or found another way of getting to the city and exploring).

As we drove, Allen managed to phone Nana and tell her we were running late (we had made plans to eat supper with her).  We pulled into the resort at about 7:30 that night and headed straight to the room to clean up and get ready for supper.  Nana came over bearing gifts – a bandana for each of us.  We were doing dune buggies the next day and were told to bring a bandana.  How nice of her, and the bottle of sparkling wine in her other hand was appreciated as well.

After cleaning up, the three of us headed to the patio bar for cocktails – Nana doesn’t drink, so she usually had a virgin bloody mary – and then made our way to the buffet for dinner.  I got my first, and only, mosquito bite that night.  Allen had been bitten at the zip lines – and it is always miserable for him as he had such a severe reaction to the bites.  This seemed to be a big check-in day, as there were all sorts of new arrivals and the staff was working double-time showing people to their rooms.

After dinner, we went to our rooms, where Allen discovered he had lost his room key.  I headed to the front desk to get another, and while there, dropped in at the theater and watched a bit of the Micahel Jackson show that was going on.  Basically, a Michael Jackson look-alike lip synching and dancing to Michael Jackson songs joined by back up “singers” and dancers. I had to admit, he was pretty good, but just how much MJ can a person take?

Back at the room, Allen and Nana were on our back patio, the spa tub was filling and the gin and tonics flowing.  While Nana and I continued to talk, Allen goes back in the room to the tub and puts bubbles in it so he can relax without exposing himself.  After a while he comes back outside, feeling relaxed and calmed down from the disappointments of the day and we talk some more.  Finally, we all head to bed around 11:00 – it was a beautiful night outside, the glowing blue lights tracing the river running through the resort.



This morning I walked over to the not yet open oceanside restaurant, took a table on its patio and watched the sun rise.  The pink of the sky, the back-lighting of the clouds, the breeze making the palms wave and dance – it was a beautiful morning.  After greeting the day, writing in my journal, I headed over to the workout room to do my morning thing.

After exercising, I ran into Nana and Allen on their way to breakfast.  Instead of eating, I decided to walk the beach again, a longer walk, and this time head in the opposite direction of the other day – eastward.  This walk took me past a number of other resort beaches, lots of chairs, towels, umbrellas and people.  This direction seemed to have a lot more eastern Europeans.  I heard lots of German, Polish, Slav and Spanish.  Signs were in multiple languages as well.  In fact, as I continued along, the only English I heard was from the vendors hawking their sight-seeing tours and tourist supplies.

After about 40 minutes, I came to a section of beach not attached to any resort.  It seemed more a public beach, not as well kept up and a lot more sea weed on the beach.  Though there were people raking it, they were not as numerous or thorough.  Dark boulder sized sandbags acting as buffers between the waves and the shore – big enough for 3 or 4 people to lay out on one.  It was here that I first saw sea birds.  Brown Pelicans.  Not a lot of them, but a shocker after seeing none at all since our arrival.

At the head of this beach was a row of small shops, shacks and kiosks selling souvenirs, boat trips, para-sailing, diving, etc., as well as jewelry, carvings, beach-wear, paintings, food and snacks.  There were a number of flags being flown from other countries and signs in a variety of languages.  A sign atop the row of shops proclaimed that I had arrived at the Mall – with better prices than Wal-Mart.  I was not interested in finding out how low-pressure they might be.  From the waters edge I determined that there was nothing I needed from those stores and so it was not worth crossing the span of beach to get closer – not that they were any great distance from the water.

Passing this section of beach and its mall, it once again became well taken care of resort beaches, and they seemed to go on as far as I could see, so after an hour or more of walking, I turned back.  The sand was warm, but not hot, the water was pleasant and all the shades of green, turquoise and blue all the way to the horizon.  The breeze kept the heat of the sun from being oppressive.  It was a perfect day to be out on the beach.  I got back in plenty of time to pack a small bag and then head to the lobby of the hotel.  The three of us were scheduled for an 11:30 day trip – we were going to drive dune buggies through the country side. 

Our ride to the dune buggy site was a small flat bed truck with what seemed a steel box attached to the bed, with walls about 4 feet high, the rows of bench seats welded to the floor of the box; the seat belts were safety belts that were attached to the frame of the benches and then holes cut in the seats so that they could be used.  There was a roof to keep the sun off but because the cab of the truck was so high, we could only see where we were going by looking down into the rear window of the cab and out the front of the windshield.  We could look out the sides over the walls of our box.  It was probably all for the best, as this was another erratic driver, down too narrow streets which large trucks and vehicles just squeezing through.

We were heading into the mountains in the general direction of the monkey kingdom and made several stops along the way to pick up other people.  By the time we got to our destination, we were carrying a full load.  Getting off the truck, we were directed to a large covered patio with benches.  Once our group and those from other buses were all settled, the staff gave us a sales pitch for bandanas, camera protection bags, sunglasses and sun block.  We were then given, I think, a safety and rules lecture.  It was hard to hear what was being said, and since it was done in English, Spanish and French, it went on for quite a while.  The speakers were so loud, the accents so heavy, and the sound bounced back from the concrete floor – it was all indecipherable.

Did I mention that one of our guides over the week told us that public schools in the Dominican Republic all taught English, Spanish and French to students?  Pretty impressive – I think.

After the safety lecture, we were taken to where the buggies (ATV’s would probably be the more accurate description)  were parked – and they had a LOT of them – in all sizes and forms.  From low-riding go-cart looking things to what we were going to use – a 4 seat, higher rising, extra shock sort of vehicle.  Allen and Nana decided I would do the initial driving, with the 3 of us switching off at times. 

It turned out to be a guided tour where we were all to follow one another down some very dusty and pot-holed, white stoned road.  It reminded me of the access road where my dad used to live in Texas – lots of rock, lots of dust and lots of pot holes, but unlike dad’s road, this one seemed to have never been graded or maintained – on purpose, I’m sure.  In fact many of the pot holes and erosion areas looked purposefully made – to enhance the bumpiness, roughness and dirtiness of the ride.  At one point the road ran under a mister set up to get us wet and make mud for us to drive through – they had photographers set up here to capture the individual buggies coming through and hopefully selling us a copy after it was all over – in fact, they had photographers set up all along the route.

Unfortunately, we could only go as fast as the buggy in front of us.  The buggy in front of us was driven by a very cautious couple who tended to lag behind their leaders and were carefully trying to avoid the rocks and ruts.  At times I would slow enough to let them get ahead so I could have a little bit of room to give it some speed.

The road cuts through a number of fields and passed a number of homes – I wondered how much the company paid these home owners not to improve the road.  At times, kids would run out to us (we were so slow that it was no effort on their part to catch up with us) asking for money, handing us pictures they had drawn on notebook paper hoping we would buy them, other times just making faces at us.

Nana was up front with me, Allen was riding in the back.  I assumed that they were enjoying themselves – at least Nana seemed to be.  Allen was not too vocal.  I resisted using the bandana for as long as possible, but eventually the dust was just too much and so up it went.  After quite a while on this caliche route, we were led to the highway (once again passing my holy Texaco) and then back to another unimproved road and to Macao Beach – a beautiful beach of white sands, clear water and quite popular among the locals.  It seemed to me that we were below the building that I tried to walk to on our first day – a resort or fort of some sort.

The beauty of the beach was marred only by the number of vendors present to greet our arrival.  They were trying to sell us hats made from palm leaves, jewelry, t-shirts, glasses, etc.  And the photographers who came with us encouraged people to get out in the surf for pictures, have your picture taken with the monkey one local had, or the iguana, or the parrot.  Too many salesmen and photographers – it was simpler to just walk out into the water and away from it all.  Allen and Nana did get some photos with the iguana and one photographer wanted to know which of us was married to Nana – he wanted to get a shot of the lucky couple.  “Who’s married?” he asked.  Allen put his arm around me and declared that we were, but the look on the photographer’s face said he was not prepared for that answer, so he quickly clicked his camera and then moved on.

After a little time on the beach, when the vendors sold all they were going to, we were told to get back on the buggies, we were heading out.  Neither Allen nor Nana wanted to drive, so I was again behind the wheel.   This time we were behind a different couple who were even slower and more cautious than the first couple.  At one point, as we were turtling along, I yelled “Speed it Up!” and they heard me (despite the roar of the engines) and seemed a bit taken aback (I am not even sure if they were English speakers).  Allen pointed out that it was a girl driving and not to make her feel bad.  I refrained from any further shouting, but his comment seemed rather sexist to me.  We again crossed the highway and made our way to another park- like area.  It seemed the park was under constructions, rock-wall lined paths creating interesting designs and  shapes.  Nana thought it sort of looked like a cemetery. We followed a path to a grotto – for the promised swim in a cave.

We were separated into those who wanted to swim and those who did not.  I wanted to and was instructed to leave my bag on a rock shelf at the entrance to the small cave – more a cenote or sink hole actually.  I then made my way down wooden steps that led to the water filled grotto, with a small, lighted water fall at one end.  There were lights set up under the water and along the cave walls.

The water was cold but not unbearable and sections of the pool were quite deep.  It was refreshing to duck under the water and clean up some of the dust from our ride.  The bottom of the pool had both rough and stony areas and others that were quite smooth.  I swam under the waterfall – and as usual – there were photographers all around.  Allen also decided to take a swim, and even Nana, after looking it over, decided she would go in as well.  Nana can’t swim, she has a fear of the water, but she walked in and, holding to the banister of the stairs, did get into the pool.  This woman continues to amaze me with her life-force and willingness to act beyond her fears.  She’s a tough broad and I say that in only the most complementary of ways. 

After a bit, we were herded out of the cave and up some stairs onto a path that led us to a mini-plaza – where we sat on benches forming a semi-circle at one end of the plaza.  Sitting at the other end were several guys, dressed in native costumes and playing drums.  After everyone was seated, an older guy, in head-dress and grass skirt, his face painted and smoking a cigar then did some sort of call and response with the drummers.  He was very loud and enthusiastic about whatever they were saying. 

Another older, costumed man also appeared with several young men and women dressed in tribal clothing.  They did a couple of native dances and then invited some of our group to join them.  Only one woman volunteered.  They danced a bit more, teaching the volunteer some steps.  It ended with one of the native women painting the face of the volunteer with some of the markings that they wore on their own faces.  According to our guides and their brochure, these were supposed to be Tainos people, among the original inhabitants of Hispaniola.

We then moved through what seemed to be some “traditional housing” and into a covered patio area where we were given a sales pitch for cocoa, Mamajuana, coffee, etc. – what had become the usual fare of offerings.  They allowed us to purchase some of their wares if we so wanted… we did not want.  Along one wall was a map of the Dominican Republic and I asked Nana to take a picture of me and Allen in front of it.  She did, Allen looked at it, didn’t like it and insisted I erase it.  I didn’t want to.  We both got a little upset with each other and didn’t speak much to each other for the rest of the day.

Returning to our vehicles, Allen chose to drive, and I took his place in the back seats.  We did more highway and caliche roads, eventually ending up back to the starting place.  We were then taken to a room where lots of computers were set up so that we could look at all the pictures that they had taken of us throughout the day.  Not being able to choose any particular photos so I asked the guy to sell me all of them. 

After everyone got the photos they wanted, we were invited to return to our flatbed and driven back to the resort.  Nana and Allen went for lunch, I wasn’t hungry, so I went back to the room, took my place on the back patio and started making my journal entry and do some office work.  Allen and Nana, after eating, went to lie near the pool.  After a bit, the two of them showed up at the room, Nana bearing 2 Diet Cokes.  She offered them to me if I would help her print out boarding passes.  She was leaving the next day.

We headed over to the resort guest services room, arriving at the same time as a group of 3 older women.  There were 2 computers for guest use and one printer.  Getting to the airline website and capturing her passes was not difficult, however, they would not print.  Me and one of the three women decided that the printer was not connected to the computer, so we moved it and attached it to the computer that worked.  I then decided that I needed to down-load a driver.  The woman was insisting I try other things, she was pressing buttons and generally being a nuisance.  After a while, with the printer still not working, Nana left and got someone from the front desk to come and help us.  The person who came couldn’t figure it out either.

As all of this was going on, the software finally finished loading and I was able to print.  We got the boarding passes and then left the computer to the other three.  A simple task, once again, turned into an ordeal.  It was time to go get ready for dinner.  Since it was her last night, the decision of where to eat was left to Nana – she wanted to try the French restaurant.  Unfortunately, it required reservations and when Nana tried to make them earlier in the day, she was told they were booked solid, but to come by and let staff know we were willing to take the place of any no-shows.  That was the plan.

We showed up, let them know we were available to be fed and had a drink in the lobby bar just outside the front door of the restaurant (still no piano player at the piano bar).  While sitting there, Allen was suddenly hit with a tooth ache.  He says he ‘d never had one before and was both curious about the pain, as well as hurting.  At 7:15, Nana once again approached the staff, had a few words,  and we were seated (the lady will not take No for an answer… good for her).  There was a piano in the middle of the restaurant – a computerized player piano – with vocals.  We were pretty intrigued by it.   I had a lamb dish, both Nana and Allen had duck.  The toothache seemed to have gone away during dinner, but it hit again afterward.

After dinner, we went back to the room, got back into shorts and decided to walk around a bit.  There seemed to be more people than usual and all sorts of activity going on.  Returning to our rooms, Nana brought over her complimentary bottles of booze, and then went to pack and go to bed.  I walked over to the theater for the Circus Show.  Given that the ceiling did not provide for the “big-top” experience, I was amazed at how much high wire routines they managed to accomplish.  There were lots of acrobatics, juggling and amazing feats of agility and strength.  It was the best show of the week.  Returning to the room, Allen was getting into the spa tub and still nursing his toothache.  We talked a bit and then went to bed. 


This day I slept in and did not get out of bed until 7.  I went over to the exercise room and then found a table at the lobby area of the next-door resort and did some journaling.  This is the cloudiest day yet, maybe even threatening rain.  But just minutes after making that observation, the sun broke through the clouds and paradise was back.

Nana and Allen had gone to breakfast and were sunning themselves near the pool while I had been writing.  I joined them, and Nana was teasing me that she had charge 4 more days to my room so she could stay as long as we were here.    She didn’t want to leave yet.  We didn’t want her to leave.  At the appointed hour, we walked to the lobby hugged our goodbyes and she was off.

Allen and I retreated to the beach, moving locations and chairs several times until we found just the right ones in just the right position.  After finding the right loungers, we left our stuff on them and headed over to the place where we could book a para-sailing ride for the next morning.

The clouds kept coming and going, the breeze stayed pretty steady, and there were occasional sun showers, but not enough to dampen our joy of laying out at the beach.  Lunch was at the buffet (It would be so easy to put on tons of weight) and then back to the beach where we once again moved loungers in order to get a better view of the beach and the people – eye candy was plentiful.

I read, Allen napped.  After a couple of hours, I decided to walk east again, toward the beach mall, not to purchase anything, but because it was a reasonable distance away and I wanted the exercise.   There are lots of really gorgeous men mixed in with the huge Germans and Poles.  It seemed among the Europeans, that the bigger the gut, the smaller the speedos (fortunately, I left mine at home).  Also, in this more European area there were plenty of bare chests being toasted brown – both male and female.

The walk was pleasant, and after a couple of hours I returned to our room.  Allen was still laying out, but this time near the pool.  He then came and joined me on the back porch of our room where we laid out on the extra-large loungers that were there.  It was the most leisurely day thus far – nothing planned, no trips to make – just lounging about.   

As many guests as there are, it is amazing how empty the pools and patios are in the evenings.  It is as though there is a curfew.  After cleaning up and having a few cocktails on the back porch, we decided to check out the steak house for supper, however, passing the buffet, we saw that it was Mexican Night – my favorite, so we ate there.  After dinner, we walked around a bit and took a seat at the outdoor bar near the lobby.  They were doing karaoke.  One of the entertainment crew came by and randomly asked Allen to sing.  He went into his usual panic mode when he is being picked out of the crowd and went to the bathroom, the crewman calling after him to sing.  We headed to the beach.

Along the way, he got to thinking (and voiced it) that if he did do karaoke that he would really show all the other singers what for.  I agreed.  I don’t know if it was a sudden surge of determination and courage or just the cocktails, but he decided we needed to return.  Taking a table, I explained to him how he had to choose a song from their song book and then he would be called up when it was his turn. 

He was a little surprised that he found the song he was looking for and signed up.  He then asked me to get him some coffee while waiting his turn.  I returned just as he was taking the mic.  Luckily, the DJ had started playing the wrong song, and so I had time to grab a front row seat and record his act on my phone.  Allen asked the DJ to do his song in a particular key and to give him lots of reverb.  A clear sign that he was not real familiar with karaoke.

The minute he started, the audience knew this was more than a half-drunk amateur.  This was a half-drunk professional.  He got several ovations during his performance and a lot more at the end, with many a person calling for an encore.  The DJ asked him to come back tomorrow to sing at a birthday party.  Anyone who knows him, knows that Allen does not do karaoke and would have been flabbergasted to have witnessed it.  I was.

After his song, Allen joined me at the table and was, rightfully, feeling pretty good about what he had done.  A woman came to our table and asked if he sang professionally.  He admitted to having some experience as an entertainer.  She claimed some proficiency at singing herself and had to show him the musical note she had tattooed on her ankle, as though it spoke volumes (I did not hear it).  She asked him to do a duet with her.  He declined and later, when she did perform, it seemed far from professional.

After one more gin and tonic, Allen headed back to the room.  I, of course, had to check out the theater show.  That night was the Rock & Roll show.  Sort of hard rock.  The musicians were actually singing and playing – no lip-synching this night.  They were good, but it was a bit too heavy rock for me.  I sat through a few songs and then headed back to the room to find Allen soaking in the spa tub.

We talked some more about his performance.  I showed him the video on my phone and he actually suggested I post it to Facebook… WOW!  I guess Nana is not the only one stepping out of their comfort zones this trip.  I posted it, and it was heavily “liked” by those who saw it.  Over the next couple of days it was amazing how many people came up to him to tell him how good he was.  Random people just wanting to tell him he has talent.  What a great ego-boost for him, and how true it was.  He found it very flattering and a bit embarrassing.


I was up at 6 and walked to the beach for the sunrise.  We had had rain Saturday night and all the walk ways and tables are wet, though it was hard to tell if it was rain or the staff cleaning as they even mop the stone walk ways on a regular basis.  It is a cloudy, breezy morning, the clouds both dimming the sunrise and offering new colors.  After my workout, I met up with Allen in the dining room.  We had a bit of breakfast and then went to the activity desk. 

When checking in, I had been given a certificate for free entrance to a nature park – where they had animal shows and swimming with dolphins.  I wanted to ask just how much this free adventure would cost.  He explained that it really was free to get into the park, to see the animal shows, to lay on the beach, but it would cost $100 per person to swim with the dolphins.

We signed up for the free part – it would be a 4-hour adventure.  We then gave him the low-down and disappointments of the Sto. Domingo trip.  He seemed genuinely surprised thatg it was not a stop at a true cigar factory, just a tourist trap.  That it took us 4 hours to get there instead of the 2.5 he said it would and how much of the sight-seeing was drive-by.  Between the two of us he really got an earful.  Afterward we signed up for a half-day whale watching excursion on Tuesday.

Then we were off to the para-sailing.  We went to the diving shop where we were put in a boat that took us to the boat with the parasail.  It was a choppy ride, but not too bad.  We transferred from one boat to the other and the people sailing before us took our place in the first boat.  We had gotten to watch this couple take their turn in the air and it was rather funny as the woman kept screaming a lot.

Getting on the boat, they put us in harnesses and attached them to the parachute.  They then handed me a selfie-stick with a go-pro attached that we were to use to take photos and film our time in the air.  They did not allow us to bring our personal phones or cameras – out of liability concerns I assume.

All strapped in, we sat on the flat launching deck of the boat and they took off and we were quickly lifted into the sky.  The dark clouds and rain had passed by, so we had a beautiful, clear view of the beaches and water.  Not sure how high we got, but it was plenty high.  There were times when we dipped low and were then lifted up high again, occasionally twisting about.   The boat operators also knew how to give us some jerks or bounces to make it all the more a thrill ride.  Allen, who normally does not handle heights very well, seemed to be having a marvelous time.  At times we were lowered enough to wet our feet in the waves before they took off and lifted us up again.  As our time in the air came to an end, they began reeling us in and we made our landing in a sitting position on the flat of the deck, feet pointed straight ahead.  It was a blast.  After transferring to the other boat and being returned to the shop, I was told to come back at 3 to see what was captured on the go-pro and maybe buy the video/photos.

We spent the rest of the day on the beach.  I did some reading, Allen did some sleeping.  There was a point when I had to go to the restroom, upon returning, I was lost – I could not differentiate between where we were laying and the hundreds of other loungers lying around the beach.  It must have been apparent to a guy who had been sitting near us – he saw me looking, waved me down and pointed me in Allen’s direction.  Ahh, the kindness of strangers.

I returned to the scuba center as instructed and the attendant could not locate our video.  He went through every file on his computer – but nothing showed up.  He finally gave up and I told him he probably missed a sale.  He said to check back with him and if he is still not able to locate it, he’d give us a free ride on the para-sail just so we could get photos.  I suspect that when they handed me the selfie stick, the boat crew had failed to turn it on.  I would check back several times over the next couple days, but he never found the video, and we ran out of time for our free trip.  I think Allen was relieved about that.

I went for another walk on the beach, Allen afraid of getting too much sun, returned to the room.  When I got back, we went to the shaded area of our back porch and laid on the loungers there.  I also did some swimming in the pool.  That night we made it to the steak house.  It was a great meal followed by a few more drinks and an evening stroll. 

We made our way to the patio of the other majestic resort – it was their turn to have the karaoke.  Our intention was to listen, drink some gin and tonics and smoke our cigars.  We started out sitting very close to the stage, but noticing the children sitting behind us, Allen had us move further back so the cigar smoke would not drift their way.  We must have arrived really late, because the karaoke ended very abruptly after we had heard only a couple of performers.  Oh well, there went the wild hope I had of seeing Allen shine again.

We made our way to the theater where they were playing some version of “name that tune/singer”.  They would play some music, the volunteer who managed to name the tune or the singer were then required to sing the song they guessed.  It was actually a lot of fun and silliness, and Allen stayed until almost the end before returning to the room.  I waited to see who was declared winner and made my own way back.  Allen was as surprised about who won the competition as I had been.  We talked about it and a whole host of things until late at night before deciding to turn in.



I did my usual morning routine of sunrise, workout room and wandering a bit before returning to get ready for our visit to the nature park.  Allen was still battling his toothache and  not feeling real hot and so decided, since it was free, to sit this one out.

I was picked up promptly, and we made the now usual round of  the resorts to pick up other guests.  Once there, we entered through a concrete block building that was part souvenir store, part sales desk.  As  anticipated, they wanted to sell me a swim with the dolphins, a swim with the rays and other offerings.  I was not having it.  I was here for the free stuff.
We were then directed to a tree shaded area outside with a path leading off into the park proper.  This was the “orientation area” where we were told to wait.  We did.  Other guests kept joining us to wait.  I waited for about 20 minutes and decided I had waited long enough.  I started down the path toward the park – surprised that no one tried to stop me.  The path lead through a forested area and took me to a the wire mesh gate of a large “cage” of sorts.  Within the cage, there were 3 different parrots sitting on perches.  A couple of young men showed up, had me enter the cage and positioned me on a bench, holding two of the parrots with the third perched on my shoulder.  They then took pictures and kept inquiring about my being alone.  I assured them others were following.  They told me I could buy the photos on my way out.

The brochures made the place look much larger than it is.  In fact, it seemed a rather small, sad place.  The beach is not kept up real well, there were no loungers or shade (and it was bright and hot).  The heart of the place seemed to be the bar/ snack shop and large shaded patio on which there were a large number of tables and chairs.  The gift shop was located behind the bar and was over-priced.

 I sat and read for a while until it was time for the parrot/macaw show.  I made my way over to the small, tiered arena where we sat.  In the center of this arena were ramps and bells and balls, etc.  All the makings for a bird show – and to be honest it was pretty entertaining.  The sea lion show was also pretty good.  Clever antics and tricks with a single sea lion. 

The final free opportunity was to enter another large caged area.  The trees were alive with bird-song and parakeets flitting all about within the enclosure.  We were all given hands-full of seeds and asked to hold our hand out.  Once we complied, we were suddenly swarmed by hundreds of parakeets, eating the seeds, standing on our heads, shoulders and hands.  It was a lot of fun.  And I managed to get out of there without any bird poop.

Many of the people who came were taking part in swimming with the dolphins.  At the beach was a long wooden walk way that took you to the corrals where they kept the dolphins.  From the distance I could watch people standing in line and taking their turns to swim with and play with the dolphins.  We had done something similar in Mexico years ago, and so I did not feel compelled to spend money to do it again.  I would have liked to have walked over to the corrals and watch, but that was not included in the free admission.

So, I spend a couple of hours on the beach, reading my book and trying not to burn.  There was also an opportunity, for the right money, to sit in chairs attached to fish tanks and let little fish eat the dead flesh from your feet.  I was intrigued, watched as others did it, but did not indulge.  Eventually it was time to board the bus for the return trip, which got me back at about 4:00.  I had gotten my money’s worth.

That night we ate at the Argentinian restaurant to indulge in meat.  The piano player had still not shown up at that bar.  After dinner, Allen wanted another cigar.  I went and bought some and then we went to the patio of the next door resort, listened to some live music, drank and smoked cigars.  Wandering over to the theater again for that week’s MR MAJESTIC show.  It was funny enough that we sat through most of it – until I spilled  and broke a full wine glass all over myself.  It was time to go back to the room.

I soaked my shorts in the sink and we soaked ourselves in the spa tub – and then to bed, we had to get up early the next morning for our whale watching tour.


Because breakfast was not served until 7, I had arranged for room service to deliver breakfasts at 6:00 this morning.  We had a early bus to catch.  We were in the lobby by 7 – when we were supposed to be picked up, but it did not arrive until about 7:20.  We then drove to the Madre Patria (motherland) gas station to wait for a couple of other buses to park and give us their passengers. 

Our route took us through the undulating valleys and peaks of the Anamuya mountain range.  We were crossing the island to get to the Atlantic coast and the Bay of Samana where humpback whales have been wintering for centuries.  This is the first day of any real rain and of course it comes when we are taking a boat trip into the ocean.  That is how our luck goes.

Allen is not doing so good, the toothache that came to him a couple of nights earlier is with him still.  It hurts, and it is a pain that is new to him, yet he soldiered on despite feeling a bit miserable.  Our bus takes us to what appears to be an oceanside private home with a covered patio in its back yard.    A large boat is tied up at the wooden dock behind the house.  Once we got under the patio, we were served sandwiches and water or coffee for our breakfast.  We ate and watched the rain, praying for its passing.

Finally, there was a break in the rain and we boarded our boat, the crew hurriedly mopping and trying to dry the seats.  Allen and I were in the back of the line, so that when it came time to find our seats, all the benches that were under the cover were taken and so we ended up sitting close to the front without much protection over-head from the wind and rain.

After everyone was seated we took off into the very choppy waters with the spray and rain drenching us.  To combat the wetness, the crew began handing out some very thin plastic ponchos.  Since I was wet already, I used mine to protect my camera and bag.

As we were heading out, one woman in a seat in front of us seemed rather upset about the speed of the boat, the waves and the water.  It was as if she were too close to it all, so she headed to the back of the boat, under the roofing and further away from “the action”.  We went out quite a way and then sat in choppy waters, hoping to see whales.  The crew begins to serve rum and coke to those who wanted it (we didn’t).

Finally, some whales are sighted – really large, with some calves in tow.  They never did the full breach that people hope for, but they were definitely whales, they were definitely huge and they were phenomenal to see.  Anytime someone saw one they would alert the others and we all looked, but with the choppiness of the water, often the whale would disappear behind the waves.  It was exciting to be in these circumstances and still hoping to see something magical.

After an hour or so we begin to head back.  Actually, we were supposed to go to Cayo Levantado (also known as Bacardi island).  An islet in the bay that is supposed to be quite beautiful and popular among tourists.  There, we would be offered the opportunity to laze on the beach or swim.  But just as we were heading out, the woman who seemed so scared at the beginning of the trip went into a full-out panic attack.  Everyone is staring at her – including her small children – and the crew lay her down on a bench and attempt to calm her.  They cover her with towels and try to reassure her as the boat heads back to the dock.

On the way back, the guide assures us that we will stop, let those who want to get out do so and then the boat would got to the islet.  I thought this was rather odd.  I would have thought it would be best to end the trip and get this woman some medical care.  And, as it turned out, there was another woman who was also suffering.  She looked like she was going into hypothermia.   She was shivering and shaking, her companion (husband?) borrowed as many towels as he could to cover her with – including a number of ponchos and plastic sheets.  She was laying on the ground in her cocoon of wrappings, her companion kneeling at her side.  I would have thought this was definitely a person who needed medical help, but when the crew announced it was time to go to the islet, about ¾ of the guests joined them on the boat.  The rest of us stayed and watched the two women shiver and suffer, their families and friends gathered around them.  This was surreal to me.  Luckily it had stopped raining and there was even a little sunshine.

When the boat returns, about an hour later, our guide encourages everyone to enjoy the cookies and juice now being offered.  I told him NO, take us back, those ladies need help.  Maybe that woke him up because he told everyone to get on the bus, we were heading back.  The shivering woman is looking very frail, the panicky one seems to be a bit better.

Our trip back, due to the lack of rain, was a bit more colorful and allowed for greater vistas of the mountains and valleys.  The bus seemed to struggle a bit going up the steeper hills; and the narrow streets that we sometimes made our way down seemed way too narrow at times – making the clearer view a bit scary.  We stopped at the Madre Patria gas station again and left off some of the passengers, including the shaking woman and then on to another station where the rest of us were divided among two large vans.

Once back, Allen immediately headed to the resort clinic because of his sore tooth.  They gave him an IV for the pain and some anti-biotics for what they suppose might be infection as well as some oral pain killers.  The IV brings immediate relief.  The doctor suspects he needs to get a root canal, and even offers to take him to a local dentist to verify it, but nothing would be done until he finished his anti-biotic regimen.  So, Allen declined.

After the doctor visit, he went to take a nap, I went to retrieve boarding passes and check on the transport to the airport the next day.  The attendant was not there to check with about the airport ride, but I did note that the piano bar, had an actual piano player doing his thing.  I also stopped by again to see if the para-sailing video had been discovered – it had not, and we were leaving too early the next day for a free ride.  Darn it. 

On the way to dinner, we stopped by the piano bar, but the player was gone.  DAMN.  We sat in the lounge area and had a couple of drinks, planning to return to the steak-house.  Just out of curiosity, we went by the buffet to see what they were serving.  It was “Oriental Night” and Allen spied some roast duck and tuna tartar – so we ate buffet.  Allen really likes Asian cooking.

He was feeling all right, the IV had really knocked out the pain, but during the course of our meal that pain came back with a vengeance.  After dinner, we went back to the clinic.  The doctor took his blood pressure and said that spicy food or alcohol might indeed counter the effects of the pain killer.  That alcohol could either heighten or lessen the drugs effects, and it seemed this one was lessened as it was supposed to last 12 hours but only lasted 4. 

He told him to take some of the oral pain killers and be careful.  After the visit, we returned to the patio to watch karaoke, smoke a final cigar and have a drink.  However, he wasn’t feeling it.  After about ½ of his cigar he went back to the room to follow the doctor’s orders of laying down and elevate his feet.  I went to the show – it was Disco Night at the theater.  Watched a bit of it, but it was not real interesting and so I returned to the room and found him asleep… thankfully.


Our final morning in the D.R. began, for me, just after 6 with a walk along beach, the sunrise and then some time in the workout room.  After packing, Allen spent time on the phone trying to get an appointment with his dentist in Chicago.  Actually, he was trying to get with a specialist who could do the root canal.  His dentist made some referrals, but when he called them, they were not covered in our insurance plan.  His tooth was hurting and the drugs seemed to have little effect.

Sitting in the lobby, waiting for our transport, he continued to call around.  He got an initial appointment, for a number of days after we were to get back and was not satisfied with that.  He called my dentist.  They set him up with an appointment for the next Tuesday (his day off), later he would call them on the day after we got back and they were able to get him in that afternoon. 

At the airport, check in went pretty smoothly, though our flight was delayed by about 20 minutes.  Once on board, I switched my window seat for the window seat across the aisle as a couple wanted to be together with their baby.  Allen kept his aisle seat and thankfully, the child was good throughout.

Our plane actually landed about 10 minutes early.  It was cold – below zero temperatures – a real shocker after a week without shoes and in shorts.  We took the bus to the parking lot and got to the truck.  The truck would not start.  I did not think it was the battery as all the other electricals were working.  I called the airport help and they, despite my thinking it did not need it, tried to jump the battery –  it did not help.  The person asked me to wait, his partner was really knowledgeable about cars and maybe he could figure it out.

We were freezing, Allen was visibly shaking.  We were also concerned because we had to go pick up the dogs from the boarders.  The other mechanic finally got to us and he thought it might be either a dead starter or frozen gas line.  He banged around a bit under the hood, then crawled under the truck and banged around some more.  After about 20 minutes, he declared it a lost cause.

So, we grabbed our bags, took the bus back to the airport terminal and then caught another bus to the car rental site.  We were tired, Allen was in pain, the truck was dead, the dogs needed to be picked up and we were both due to go to work the next morning – I was going to rent a car.  We got the cheapest car available (and there are no cheap rentals in Chicago) and headed over to the boarding facility.

We got there, and though we had arranged for an after-hours pickup, there was no one there to let us in.  We knocked, rang the bell and made several calls to the numbers on the door.  Finally, someone answered and got us checked out.  We had initially thought we would get home around 7, we finally entered the house at just about 9.

We did a little unpacking and then I went to bed.  I had a wedding that Saturday and a meeting with a couple on Sunday, so my plan was to keep the rental until Sunday and then, after my meeting, go to the airport and deal with the truck.  I had the meeting and then drove to the car rental return, then took the bus to the terminal, then took the bus to the parking lot.  There had been some sunny days (still cold) since our return, so I was praying that it had been a frozen line that would now be thawed.  It was not.
I called AAA to have them send a tow truck.  It took them a while to confirm the address of the parking lot – which seemed unreal to me – and I gave them the address of the mechanic I wanted it taken to in Chicago.  It took about an hour for the tow-truck to get there.  He loaded my truck onto his truck and we were off.  He was taking a route that I had never taken before.  I kept remarking that this seemed a strange way to go, but they know their business.  About 30 minutes later he is coming to the street address I had given, only it was in Forest Park and not Chicago.  He cussed AAA a bit, called them up, got the authorization for the Chicago address, and we were off again.

We got to the garage and unloaded the truck in the middle of their lot.  I felt bad about that, as it was going to block some other parking spots to the side.  After the tow truck left, I tried to push the truck into one of the regular slots, but the ice was too slick and the truck too heavy.  I left it there, leaving a note with the keys about the problem and another copy on the windshield.

It was the starter, and I had it back the next day. Allen saw the dentist and they discovered several issues, including the need for a root canal, which he has had, as well as a couple of crowns.  The most important thing is that he is no longer in pain.   Not a nice way to cap off an otherwise great time away – but it happens.  Next year… don’t know yet.

I do know that I would probably not choose another all-inclusive sort of place unless it were much closer to a city or better access to the local life.  I felt like we had gone to the Dominican Republic but did not experience the Dominican Republic.  I always enjoy walking the streets and visiting the shops of local life, our resort was too far to really do any of that.  I feel as though, despite all the great adventures, I missed something, I missed the experience of the place I was at.