Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dominican Republic

Nice palm trees at Cap Cana
We took a 5 hour flight from Peru to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.   Once off the plane, we were instructed that we had to pay a $10 US dollar arrival tax per person.    It had to be in US dollars.   We weren't carrying any US cash.  I thought this was strange that it wasn't in their local currency, and that this apparently applied to everyone even if they weren't US  citizens.   I asked where an ATM was and they pointed me to the one and only money exchange booth.  Basically we were cornered into using this service as there were no ATMs and no competition for the money exchange.   As expected, the exchange rate was ridiculous.  They charged a 22% fee to get $60.  The $12 currency exchange fee isn't that much money but I hate the fact that it is set up to rip off incoming tourists.   Not exactly the way to welcome visitors in my opinion.

We went to get the rental car at the AVIS counter.  The car wasn't ready.  We were encouraged to buy an expensive insurance package to cover the car in addition to personal injury in case we injured someone else.   I figured this was a good idea but wasn't sure why he mentioned the personal injury part of it a few times.    After about an hour of waiting we got the car and were off to our condo for the week in the town of Bayahibe.

The condo did not look like what we had seen in the pictures when we booked it.   The unit was run down and in a state of disrepair.  Doors wouldn't close, there was no hot water, and tons of mold in the shower.   In addition, the internet service didn't work and neither did the television.   The attendant at the front office told us that we needed to pay extra for having more than one guest in the unit even though when we booked we told them there were six of us.  If that wasn't enough they said they needed to charge for electricity.  The meter wasn't at the source to the condo, rather something that was plugged into one of the outlets in the living room.   I'm doubtful that meter would be accurate.  The whole experience at this place felt like another case of getting swindled.  After one night, we decided we needed to find another place.  That part was a bit tricky however because we didn't have internet.    We thought if we drove into the nearby town of La Romana we could find a restaurant with WiFi and search for another place.

When entering the town we came up to a traffic light that was green but some guys in their early twenties approached to wash the windshield.   I waved them off, but they didn't listen and threw their soapy sponges on the car.  I slowly drove away and they grabbed their sponges but they weren't happy that I didn't stop to pay them even though I didn't want the service and they didn't do anything.   At a subsequent traffic light another group was sitting by the curb watching cars go by.  One of them spotted me and they all jumped up.   I guess it is easy to spot the tourists.   They started throwing things and one of them jumped right in front of me.  I swerved and I missed him, but it was nerve wracking nonetheless.  I think his intention was to get hit so that he could get a big payday though an injury claim.   Now the statements from the man at AVIS about making sure I had personal injury insurance on the car made more sense.  We passed though some areas with tons of trash in the ditches and what looked like quite awful living conditions when we finally spotted a Burger King and pulled in to the parking lot which was manned by a security guard.    He watched our car the entire time we were inside the restaurant.  

Punta Cana has many 5 star resorts that are very expensive.  Many of them at $1000 per night or more.  There weren't any options at the last minute for a place to stay on budget, so we chose a condo in a resort area near the airport called Cap Cana that was the least expensive we would find at $300 per night.  This ended up being about the most expensive place per night that we stayed with the exception of our one night in Singapore.    The Cap Cana gated resort area is huge and there had to be 50 different condo complexes in the area.    From driving around it looked like maybe half of them were closed.   There were many buildings that were abandoned even though they look like they were built within the last 10 years and were quite extravagant.    We stayed at a place called the Golden Bear Lodge, named after Jack Nicklaus as we were right on a golf course.   The place was huge.   It was an almost 3000 square foot condo with 3 decks, and a private splash pool.  I'm sure this place would have rented for more per night back in its heyday.   I'd estimate that there were 60 condos here over about 10 different buildings but we only saw one other guest here during our entire stay.   It was a bit strange having our own personal resort.  The pool was very large and we had it all to ourselves.  There was a building for a restaurant and a bar near the pool but they weren't open.   I had read that this resort had actually closed down a few years ago and had recently reopened.    There must have been a huge real estate boom here and it was overbuilt and thus many of the places weren't viable financially when the bookings dropped.   

Joel and Danielle on the condo deck with the Ocean in the distance
Given our less than pleasant driving experience in La Romana, we decided to stay put and just stick around the resort and go to the pool and nearby Juanillo beach.    The weather was great and the beach was beautiful.  There were nice big palm trees on the white sandy beach right near the turquoise water to provide shade.   Sitting there it felt like we were in a "Corona" commercial even though we were drinking "Presidente".  It was nice to have some lazy days to just kick back and relax.  We had a cannonball contest at the pool.  We even found a Spanish restaurant that had really good pintxos.  It reminded us of being back in Pamplona.

Juanillo Beach
Eden and Danielle at the Pool
Caleb enjoyed the green mussels
We have tried to get off the beaten path at times on this trip so that we could experience the countries beyond just the tourist destinations.     It doesn't mean we will always like what we see, and the Dominican Republic beyond the gates of the expensive tourist resorts was raw, dirty, and not a welcoming place where we felt safe.   It's too bad because it is a beautiful island.  In contrast, our experience in Bali was very different in that people were welcoming and had pride for their land even though they were also living in poverty.   There have been many learning experiences on this trip.   My week in the Dominican Republic made me appreciate the safety and living conditions I have at home even more than I did before.  

Near the marina at Cap Cana

The kids liked the swings on this sideways palm tree

At the beach

Kids loved having the pool to themselves

1 comment:

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