By Ernest Barteldes
On our sixth trip to The Dominican Republic, we made a few changes: instead of leaving in the early hours of Thanksgiving Day and spending a sleep-deprived afternoon at the resort, we decided to book the flight on Wednesday evening right after work – even if that meant adding the cost of an extra night at the resort (which was actually offset by early booking, so it was not an issue at all).
Also, this was the very first time it wasn’t just the two of us: our friends David and Martha (the couple who got married last March in Jamaica, as I reported a few months ago) joined us the following day, which was a nice change of pace since we rarely outside of the country with anyone (we do meet people on the other side – like when we adjusted our calendar during our recent trip to Poland in order to meet with Marta (different person) in Warsaw.
The night we left there was a snowstorm warning, and many airlines (including United) panicked and cancelled a number of flights. Delta did not, but they issued a one-hour delay for ours, but we were still expected to be at JFK two hours before the original departure, so we kept to the plan. We arrived at Las Americas International Airport at around 12 midnight, and got to our resort at around one after we’d gone through immigration and customs.
We’d picked a resort in Boca Chica for two basic reasons: the first was that we had an early return to New York on Sunday and didn’t want to be that far away from the airport, and also we had planned to visit with a couple of friends in the capital.
We dropped our bags in the room and had a quick glass of wine at the 24 hour restaurant and immediately crashed. The next morning (or that morning, depending on how you are counting), we had breakfast and chilled by the beach for a long while and enjoyed drinks by the shore. I took a short walk on the shore, and around 1 PM we headed to the lunch room.
At this specific resort, the food is pretty simple – various options of salad and sauces and of course meats and fish. It’s not exactly gourmet food, but it is plentiful and pretty tasty. Wine and beer are on tap, and you can help yourself. As someone who appreciates good wine, it was hard to drink it there, since the red varietal tasted like ink. The white wine was palatable, and we stuck to either that or mixed drinks made with locally produced rum.
After lunch, we walked around the village of Boca Chica and bought a few gifts and some basic necessities at the local supermarket, which is located a few blocks from the resort.
Downtown Boca Chica is very tourist-friendly. There are various shops, restaurants, souvenir stores, and a small Catholic church nearby – I later discovered there is a very nice Italian-owned pizza shop with great wine and Naples-style thin crust pies – my favorite.
Since Renata and I got our cat Sparky, we both developed a bit of a softer heart for animals – we met a struggling artist who had a small cat, and we included some cat food on our shopping list. Later, we were followed by a stray dog and went back to the market to get a can of Alpo, which it promptly gobbled up as soon as we fed it. We also stopped at a waterfront bar and enjoyed a cold Presidente beer before we made our way back to the hotel.
The sun goes down quite early in the tropics, so by 5:30 PM it is already dark (at least in November, the time of year when we usually go there). As the sun went down, scantily clad ladies started coming out – I had read that prostitution in Boca Chica was widespread, but we did not expect it to be so out there. After browsing through the stores a little more, we returned to the hotel for dinner.
We were still pretty tired from not sleeping much the previous evening, so we crashed pretty early and missed the entertainment that evening at the resort – I cannot even remember what it was about, really.
Before leaving to the Dominican Republic I regularly checked the local newspapers online. This year was not as eventful as the previous one had been, with controversies over the appointment of an openly gay US ambassador to the country and a judicial decision that made Dominican-born Haitians stateless. The only things I saw in the news were the story this 18-year-old mom who was arrested after posting pictures of her toddler drinking beer on Facebook and a gruesome daytime murder caught on camera (it seemed to have been a botched mugging) at a gas station in Santiago. I guess it was a bit of a slow week in the news there.
What came as a surprise to me was how the country has embraced the concept of Black Friday. Sales were on display on the local paper, and I heard that many folks there were quite busy with their shopping sprees. Speaking to some Dominicans here in New York recently, I mentioned this and they were surprised to hear of it as well.
Last year, our friend Paola told us that folks in her country were celebrating Thanksgiving too – something that likely happened because so many expatriate Dominicans visit home during that time of year and want to have the traditional turkey. Even at the resorts they include American-style Thanksgiving dinner, which we also enjoyed – the first time I’d had roast turkey in a very long time.
Friday came and we started the day at the beach, moving to the pool for water aerobics later in the day. David and Martha arrived as we were eating lunch, and they joined us in the lunch room. We then returned to the beach and stayed there for pretty much the remainder of the day. We were supposed to meet with a friend who lives there, but Black Friday derailed that plan, so we just hung out around the resort.
On our last full day in Boca Chica (David and Martha were staying until Monday, we were leaving Sunday morning) we started out by hanging at the beach and then Renata, David and Martha had a Spanish class by the pool – very basic stuff, but it was fun to watch them learn some of the local language. After that, and then we all went snorkeling around the bay. Our first stop was a deeper coral reef – They’d given us life jackets but I declined to wear it, since it was just slowing me down in the water, which was not very deep. This gave me the opportunity to see the coral formations closer than just bobbing around on the surface. We also went to another shallower area close to Oasis Hamaca (the most famous resort in the area), where we saw some more corals.
During the evening we took another walk around downtown Boca Chica, stopping to buy a few souvenirs and postcards. We also stopped at the local pizza place, where we enjoyed some Italian wine alongside a few slices of pizza – I was already tired of the food at the resort by then.
I was aware that we needed an early start so we went to bed quite early – our flight would leave as early as 7:00 AM, so we arranged for a 4:30 AM pickup. We arrived at Las Americas airport cranky from not getting enough sleep. There we got a breakfast sandwich and some coffee and made our way to meet our plane.
We arrived in New York with enough time to take care of a handful of chores, like doing the laundry and making some dinner. It was a great break from our everyday lives and a great chance to enjoy the tropics, even if for a few days.