Dominican Republic Vacation, Part III

I spent enough time talking about our experience(s) in the Dominican Republic, but I thought it would be useful to briefly discuss the country itself.  Generally speaking, all the people we met were very friendly and were very helpful.  Few spoke much English, though the host at the front desk of the main lobby spoke at least 5 languages to some degree.  There were a few instances when we would be shopping around the resort and the shop keeper wouldn’t understand much of what we were saying, but we made do.

There were quite a few Europeans at the resort.  Definitely a few Americans, but it appeared that the vast majority of other tourists were from Europe (also reflected by the number of topless women walking around on the public beach close to our hotel).  It seemed like many of the Europeans were from Spain, though some were French, a few Germans, some we thought were Dutch.  Overall, a good “smattering” of many Western European countries taking in the Caribbean air.

We were curious about the work force at the resort.  Specifically, the hostess at our buffet off the lobby, where we typically got breakfast, also worked at the French restaurant we went to Tuesday night.  Bear in mind that she was there when we rolled in for breakfast, and she was also there that night when we got dinner at 9:00.  And there are practically no towns near the resort for all these people to live in.  So where did they all come from?!

We asked two people, one a bartender at our lobby and the other, a guy who set people up with scuba trips near our pool (“Frannie,” as he was affectionately called by Rachel and Mallory.  Short for “Francisco”).  The bartender said he comes to stay in an apartment near the resort, where many other workers live for much of the time, and he’s there for 24 days straight before going home for 6 days once a month after about an 8 hour drive home.  Frannie, on the other hand, lives about an hour away and takes maybe 2 days off per month.  So generally speaking, if you work at the resort, you’re there a lot.

As I said, there aren’t many towns near the resort itself.  We drove through one town between the airport and the resort, but we only saw a few gas stations, a few small eateries and buildings, yet no houses or apartment complexes to speak of.  Certainly not enough housing to account for the hundreds of workers at our resort, let alone the others in the area.

The buggy ride is really where we really saw the impoverished conditions of the rural population.  There were shacks we passed with an adult or two sitting under a tree outside, and a few kids running up to our buddy train to give us “high fives” as we passed by.  The kids actually had some decent clothes on, but compared to their living conditions, that doesn’t say much.  There were a few run down buildings we passed that had satellite dishes, however, so it’s hard to determine exactly what resources they have.  At the “plantation” stop during the ride, we were told that the average wage in the area (if not the country) is about $100 per month.  He pointed across the road to a single-room rural school building, where the uniforms to attend there cost $65, obviously cutting in to that meager wage.  I can’t be sure how accurate the young man was who was describing this all to us, however.  He may have just been trying to sell some products in support of the school.  In any case, the people we saw in rural areas of the Dominican Republic didn’t seem to be living by standards anywhere close to what we do here.

According to Wikipedia, the gross annual minimum wage for the Dominican Republic is almost $1500.

I should note that, during that buggy ride, we were accosted a few times by sales people trying to get you to stop by their table or shop to buy some things from them.  Obviously, they knew where the buggies tended to bring tourists, so they set up specifically to prey upon them.  We were warned about it by the folks running the buggy service, but as it’s public land, there wasn’t anything they could do.  I’m sure this kind of thing is true of just about any country you go to, though.

The last thing I found interesting was the road system.  We were driving for a little over 30 min between the airport and the resort and a good deal of that trip was on 4-lane divided highway.  However, in many cases, we saw unfinished roads running alongside ours, or unfinished buildings with people selling things from the bottom floor while rebar stuck out at the top.  We would go through roundabouts that only had two roads connected.  Overall, it just seemed like they were either A). primed for expansion to send roads to additional towns and resorts, or B). they ran out of money and will continue their projects when more comes in.  Either way, the driving experience had an “unfinished” feel to it.

Regardless, it seemed like a nice country, one I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of someday.  The capital, Santo Domingo, especially seems like it would be an interesting city to visit, with lots of sights and history to experience.

That’s it!  Can’t think of anything else to write on the subject.  Surely I wrote enough by now. 🙂

Dominican Republic Vacation, Part II

Picking up where we left off, Tuesday morning involved an excursion to the Dominican Republic countryside so we could drive buggies (or “boogies,” if you follow their spelling).  We rented 3 buggies (two people per car) and drove in a single-file line down dirt roads and along a beach.  We visited a few different locations, including the aforementioned beach, a “plantation” where coffee, cocoa and tobacco are harvested, then a cave that was supposedly filmed as part of “Jurassic Park.”  It was rather difficult to determine whether the “plantation” was actually functional, or whether it was an outpost in the middle of nowhere set up to show tourists how coffee and cocoa are made, and cigars rolled.  In any case, it was somewhat instructional and proved to be entertaining.  Overall, the buggy ride was a nice diversion from an otherwise beach-centric vacation.

Tuesday afternoon, we returned to the beach, though I think we were a bit more relaxed than the day before.  Brooke and I took the opportunity to remain in the shade for most of the time, giving our (limited) sun burns a rest before hitting it hard the next day.  We did, however, make an attempt at renting some kayaks to try and make our way out into the ocean where there was a partially submerged ship used mostly for scuba excursions (I think).  The girls were able to make it out there, but my kayak was very, very uncomfortable, so I couldn’t quite make the trip.

(…and before you think me a weakling, bear in mind that Brooke and I switched kayaks at one point and she had problems as well…it wasn’t just me!!  Brooke and I were both sore for the next few days from that kayak trip…stoopid kayak…)

That night, we ate at the buffet close to our hotel where we normally just ate breakfast.  This allowed us a bit more flexibility with how we spent our evening, so we were able to eat a bit earlier and then enjoy some “family time” that night playing cards and hanging out, getting a little more relaxation in.

Wednesday was our last full day in the Dominican Republic, so we generally stayed close to the beach.  Nothing too interesting to report from that day, though “the kids” sent Mark and Diana to the spa for a few hours in the afternoon, something I think they enjoyed.

After a long day out in the sun, we went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant which, in my opinion, was the best meal we had the entire time down there.  It was a “teppanyaki“-style restaurant, where the food is cooked in front of a group of patrons and you choose what you want to eat.  Needless to say, I was pretty full after eating just about every meat imaginable, as well as a healthy portion of rice and soup.

The next morning, we all said our “goodbyes” to the country in our separate ways: some walking on the beach, some getting up early to read, some swimming in the pool.  We checked out late-morning and headed back to the airport, where we waited for a 3:00 pm flight (thankfully, there was a Wendy’s).  The flight back was mostly uneventful, aside from some turbulence.  Frontier was kind enough to provide 25 channels of cable TV once we crossed into US airspace, so that was a big plus.  We were on the ground by 7:00 pm and, somehow, made it through Customs in about 15 min, which shocked me to a sufficient degree.

All in all, it was a memorable, great vacation!  Thanks again to Mark and Diana for taking us all along with them, and to my parents for watching Meg and Edie while we were out of the country.  And Stu for taking care of the chickens and Sam.  Can’t forget that.  🙂

Dominican Republic Vacation, Part I

In recent years, Brooke’s family has been hitting up tropical vacations.  Up until now, we haven’t gone along, but this year, as Rachel turned 21 and I am turning 30 in a few (short) weeks, they kindly took all of us on a Caribbean vacation to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic!

We left Meg and Edie with my parents for the week and got up to hit an early morning flight to the DR on Sunday, putting us there in early afternoon.  That way, we had a good “half day” available to orient ourselves and check out the pool and beach before dinner.  We stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe Ambar, which is one of four hotels in the “Bahia Principe” family of all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana.  Each hotel is situated next to one another, and each one has its own selection of restaurants, pools, and so on.  To some degree, visitors to each hotel can visit each other’s restaurants and attractions, but the Ambar hotel, specifically, is “adults only,” so while we could visit all the other restaurants, the visitors to the other hotels couldn’t visit ours.  It definitely helped keep our general environment quiet and relaxing.

Sunday was the only day we spent any significant time by the pool (pictured above), as it tended to be pretty hot with all that concrete abound.  Our rooms were on the bottom floor in a building right next to the pool, and just beyond the pool lies the beach, so we really couldn’t get much closer to our primary destination!

The hotel was pretty nice, overall, with a stocked mini bar, bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and walk-in showers, and cable TV with a total of three English-language channels (CBS, NBC and ABC).  If you want to watch Mythbusters dubbed in Spanish, they’ve got you covered.

My primary hiccup with the whole excursion, of course, was a lack of free Wifi except in the main lobby area.  Granted, I know we were down there to “relax,” but with one of the biggest electronics and gaming conferences going on all week, my RSS readers were collecting 600+ articles for me to wade through by the end of the day.  The Wifi they provided, however, was pretty quick and not the job done.  Just a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things!

At least they were kind enough to bring me a cocktail while I skimmed metric tons of articles, eh? 😉

Before continuing, I should mention the general “structure” of our days.  We’d all get up and go to the main lobby area, which was connected to an all-purpose buffet that switched out their selections for each meal.  We always ate breakfast there, but usually ate lunch at a beach-side buffet that didn’t care so much about “dress codes.”  After spending our days at the beach, we’d usually clean up before dinner and meet at the lobby again for a cocktail or two (and some free Wifi).  Then, it’d be dinner time, shopping/walking/cards, then sleep time.

Anyway, Sunday encompassed some time spent at the pool, taking in our surroundings.  We went to an Italian restaurant for dinner that night around 9:00, so by the time we were done there, we were mostly ready for bed.  There were more than a few restaurants available for eating, and sometimes multiple in each style.  Many seemed to required reservations, even though there weren’t very many people eating by the time we got there.  I think some restaurants were more lax on that requirement than others…

Monday was a “beach day,” so we didn’t do all that much, aside from get some swimming, tanning and reading done.  For the record, I finished Catching Fire and started another book, Losing My Religion, so yes, indeed, I did read books while on vacation.  After a long day on the beach, we hit up a French restaurant, where I had lobster for the first time (good!).  It’s the kind of thing I didn’t really feel right having in the Midwest (as we don’t really get fresh lobster here…), so I was anxious to have some while in the Caribbean.  Again, this was a late-night dinner reservation, so we didn’t do much afterwards.

That’s probably enough for now.  More to come in a few days!

A Nice Weekend

That, my friends, is Jon Foreman's back.

Awhile back, Kristen mentioned that Switchfoot was returning to Springfield, MO and that the venue they were going to play in was pretty sweet, the Gillioz Theater.  Thus, Brooke and I made the arrangements for Meg to hang out with her grandparents this weekend, for Rachel to stay at our house with Edie and Sam (and the chickens), and for Brooke and I alone (gasp!) to go to Springfield for the weekend.

We made it out of St. Louis early enough to stop at Heinrichshaus for a picnic lunch and a bottle of Chardonelle before continuing on to Springfield.  As always, we had a great time tasting Heinrich’s wares (he’s an old German guy who wears American-ized lederhosen, if you can imagine such a thing) and enjoyed the warm, summery afternoon outside.  After a few more hours, we hit Springfield and went directly to the concert.  The Gillioz Theater is definitely cool, as it’s an ornate, old-style theater with good acoustics and comfy seats.  I can’t say I was a huge fan of all the kids I had to sit with, though, as this event was apparently quite popular with the “Christian Youth” crowd (i.e. I think we enjoyed Switchfoot’s show at The Pageant more, if only because there was a cordoned off area for “Over 21” with a full bar…).  I was unimpressed with Switchfoot’s opener, The Rocket Summer, who acted like a pretentious emo wannabe.

Switchfoot, on the other hand, was amazing as always.  Their set was pretty similar to the one we saw two years ago, mostly songs off the last 3-4 albums and only two songs from their first few, but the new stuff is good so I can’t complain all that much.  As with the last time around, their lead-singer, Jon Foreman, ventured out into the crowd to sing with the fans.  This time, however, he ended up climbing around the theater-style seats, holding hands as he made his way to the center of the theater.  He happened to make this trip inward directly in front of us, to the point that Brooke, Kristen and her friend, Maggie, all held Foreman’s hand as he passed by.  I was trying to get pictures of this, of course, as these things usually go.  Regardless, while we got pretty close two years ago, we were close enough to touch the man this time around.

We joke that, at our next concert, the subsequent logical step is for Jon Foreman to sit on Brooke’s lap and sing.  😛

Regardless, we spent the next day hitting up quite a few different things, including a visit to The Home Brewery in Ozark, MO (I picked up a bottle washing attachment for our basement sink…should make life easier!), a trip down to Copper Run Distillery (where we tasted vodka, “moonshine,” whiskey and rum…the latter of which, we grabbed a bottle of…), then later to Mother’s Brewery to taste their beers and have one or two pints before heading to the Springfield Cardinals game ($6 lawn tickets…can’t beat that!).

Nice day for a ball game!

After the game, we went to a bar to hear some of Jake’s co-workers play in their retro 80s cover band (who were pretty good, to be fair).  Overall, it was a busy, yet good day!

In the end, while we obviously missed Meg, it was nice for the two of us to get out of St. Louis for a weekend, not to be tied down by a dog to take out or a toddler to watch…er…”toddle.”  We had a great time and will probably have to do it again, once Jake and Kristen finish filling their pool…  🙂