Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dominican Republic, I'm Not Sold

I wish you all knew how exciting this is to write another post. After many, many years of traveling and writing, putting my blog on hiatus was really difficult. The right decision, obviously, considering I'm not traveling or living overseas anymore, but a bummer nonetheless.

This past weekend, my company hosted our conference in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I had many reactions to the news of the location, including but not limited to: "Warm weather!" "But I don't care about the Caribbean!" "New stamp in my passport!" "But I don't care about the Caribbean!" "I don't have to pay a dime for this!" "But I don't care about the Caribbean!"

My idea of a good vacation is vastly different than 90% of the average American. To say that I think (thought?) the Caribbean is a little "common" might sound a bit snobbish, but that's definitely not how I mean it. It's just not my cup of tea. Going to a brand new country and staying within the walls of a colossal all-inclusive isn't exactly how I'd like to spend a week. I'm not saying it's not fun; on the contrary, it's very fun. Just not what I want to spend my money on. I sell the Caribbean. That's my job. My job is to sell an area that I've seen very, very little of and frankly don't have much interest in. But after this trip, I realized there's so much more to these places than just massive resorts.

Our trip started as many do, awake and bleary eyed at 3:30am to catch that sunrise flight. My coworker Nikki and I were flying together, along with two others from the Individual Reservations office next door. We connected in ATL and from there it was a short 3 1/2 hours to the tropics as I, for what seems like the thousandth time, left US soil (and thankfully the frigid temperatures) behind.

Our plane pulled up to a thatched-roof terminal and swaying palms. Soon I was trading my boots for flip flops, exiting to the balmy heat and en route to the Melia Caribe Tropical Resort. I love the feeling of laying my eyes on new landscape. The Dominican Republic was spread out before me...and I mean literally spread out as Punta Cana is really flat. What I noticed and thought was really interesting was that it looked a lot India or Malaysia or Thailand. Perhaps all tropical developing nations look similar: lush greenery, hazy air, barefoot children, unfinished infrastructure, straw roofs, unpaved roads and crumbling, shack restaurants with plastic chairs. The smell was a little different here, however. That smell when getting off the plane in Kuala Lumpur can't be beat!

The energy in our transfer van (with Olympus Tours, our ground operator. I gotta plug 'em because they are truly incredible) was palpable. We're off work! We're in hot weather! Look, a palm tree! Who cares if this is a conference, we're in the Dominican Republic!!

 At first look, the Melia Caribe isn't too bad. The entrance is beautiful with the dark woods and earth tones. But, unfortunately after not much time, we realized that the hotel isn't all that great. It's so enormous, the staff has to lug guests around on golf carts or they have two trains that also take you where you need to go. No, thanks. Our room wasn't fantastic either. It needs a face lift (which it's getting very soon. All the Jr. Suites are getting a much needed overhaul). Nikki and I checked in and went to our room (on a golf cart of course), put our bathing suits on and nearly sprinted to the pool bar. Seeing as how this was technically a work trip, our free time was somewhat limited so we were going to savor every minute we could. We hopped in the pool with our margaritas and pina coladas and took it all in while we watched the clock tick by until we had to be in a boring meeting room.

The first evening we just had a fast meeting type welcome, then a company beach dinner and then an after party at the pool. If there was ever a company to embrace the "work hard, play hard" motto, it's GOGO. It's basically a company of travelling alcoholics. (and I mean that in the best way possible)

On our first full day we were stuck in a meeting room from 9-4. Booooooriiiing. But they did give us weird melon snacks decorated as such...

What to do with your food if you're stuck in a conference room
This first day was one of the highlights of the trip (no, definitely not the conference part). Before we all came down, they told us to bring school supplies to donate to the local communities. Little did I know we got to go deliver them ourselves! They took a few different groups to separate areas to visit the children. Our group visited a nearby school in one of the commonly destitute areas a few miles away from the main resorts . This wasn't my first rodeo experiencing places like this. I've seen my fair share of the squalor that some parts of the world call home and this was no different. Each time it's just as sad, it's just as unfair, it's just as humbling.

They sang songs, took some on tours of the very tiny school and laughed and played with us as if we were old family. I used a lot of my fundamental Spanish that I still managed to hang on to from college and the kids seemed to really enjoy that I could have even the most basic conversation with them. There was a lot of como se llama? and cuantos anos tienes? (what is your name and how old are you). But they would answer and they asked how old I was (veinte y ocho!) and a few kids had brothers and sisters there and would introduce me (hermano/hermana). See. Basic. But it seemed to entertain them. I've seen a lot of poverty-stricken villages in many countries but I've never been able to interact with the locals on this level, especially kids! It was remarkable to see how happy they were to see us and play with us when I was nearly close to tears the entire time. I wanted to kidnap all of them.

After we all decompressed on the bus ride back, we had yet another pre-arranged dinner scheduled at the next door resort, the Paradisus Palma Real, which is fancy shmancy and SO much better than the one we were staying at. I would recommend it way over the Melia! 

The next day was a lot of trudging through the unforgiving heat from hotel to hotel for site inspections. Don't get me wrong, I was pretty happy to see some of those resorts because I sell them all the time, but would I have rather been at the beach? Of course. (Tip: Don't stay the Be Live)

Once we were back and done with the inspections at 4:00, we were completely free until we had to go to the airport the next afternoon. I ran straight to the room for my bathing suit and beelined for the beach. The water here is just meh. It's kind of a nice color of the sun hits it just right, but it's milky turquoise and quite a bit seaweedy. Not too impressed with the water. I did love all the palms that fringe the coastline, however. And these are like 40 feet tall Fiji-style palms too, none of that Florida palms nonsense.

So tall. 

 I met some friends back at the pool once the sun went down and we decided to eat at the fancy adults only restaurant that night. A lot of other people had actually already left because they were extending their stay and went to other hotels, so maybe only 10 of us went to eat and the VP joined us because that's the kind of guy he is. 

Our transfer to the airport was picking us up at 11:30AM, so I wanted to wake up early and actually enjoy my day. A few others kept the night going but, being lame and wanting to not be miserable the next day, I went on to bed. I got a glorious 8 hours of sleep and therefore was refreshed and ready to hit the sand at 8am. Nikki, however, met me out there about 9:30. We had a nice swim in the ocean then had some breakfast (which was not spectacular) and went back to play on the beach for just a little bit longer. About the time we should have actually been checking out, we unwillingly made our way back to the room to pack up our last little bit and go to the lobby. Boo. Trip over. What's crazy is that I quote and book groups for just 3 nights ALL the time. That's how long I was there and it's so not worth going all the way down there for such a short amount of time, those people are crazy. 

Overall, as a country, it was just alright. I don't know if I've seen enough of it to be making a fair judgement, but I don't think I'd go back. I just wasn't that impressed with the things I need to be impressed by in order to want to return. The beaches aren't great and the scenery is nothing memorable. Perhaps I wasn't on a great beach, I'm not sure, but if I have turquoise water, I want it pool-clear and seaweed-free, which it most certainly was not. If you've had a better experience in the DR, please let me know and sell me on it, because DR, I'm not sold on you! I'm a bit more open to seeing more of the Caribbean, but I'm still not big on resorts. I'd rather visit a cute bungalow in Bonaire or some hut in the Exumas if I'm doing the Caribbean. But Dominican Republic? Been there, done that. 

(But it was free, so who's complaining!??!) 

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this with my morning coffee. Maybe your next business trip will be in a jungle hut somewhere exotic :)