Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Rich is he who is happy with the least" --La República Dominicana

It's time to celebrate... We made it through the Bar! 

A week after taking the Colorado Bar Exam, Craig and I headed to The Dominican Republic for a week of celebrating and relaxing! Because our first year anniversary was during bar studies, this also doubled as our anniversary gift to each other (first year is paper, and the tickets are paper!) We bought a Living Social escape deal which I highly recommend.  First of all, you have 30 days to return it no questions asked.  And they mean that--we first purchased a deal to Mexico and then I found the one for the Dominican.  I emailed them and they immediately refunded it.  This means you can buy it and then make sure you have can get flights and the dates you want without worrying.  Also, buying it through Living Social is great if you are going with a big group--you can purchase the deal and send the link to your group.  When three people buy it after you, you get yours for free. This way you can all split the savings and among your group and go for even less.

We got a fantastic deal even without that extra savings.  6 nights in an all inclusive resort for BOTH of us was only $600. We stayed at Viva Wyndham Tangerine on the Cabarete beach.  Now, as they say, you get what you pay for and that was true in this situation as well. This was not a 5 star resort and the food certainly wasn't the best I've ever had. However, it was clean, right on the beach, it had great air conditioning, and the food and drinks (even alcoholic ones) were free. 

View from our private balcony. Not too shabby. 
A word of warning, though: Craig and I are avid travelers.  We have stayed in some pretty... interesting situations.  We are used to things going wrong when we travel because that is what happens when you travel, particularly on a budget. We have been stuck in Prague because the entire train system went on strike. We have had to take 12 hour bus rides full of obnoxious people while Craig had food poisoning.  We were basically homeless in London for a couple nights, and unable to get a hotel or hostel (we ended up sleeping in a little apartment above a bar that night).  We are the type of travelers where most things don't bother us.  However, you may not be.  We heard horror stories about the Dominican before we left.  They were mostly about people getting sick from food but there were complaints about many other things as well.  The Dominican is not America.  This is a third world country.  Everything will not be perfect, especially if you are staying in a budget friendly place.  For example, the electric in our room was sort of wonky.  When we had the air going for hours at a time, the power would turn off.  As this was usually in the middle of the night, we had to get up and flip the breaker and it would turn back on.  Sometimes it would go off again after 10 minutes and sometimes it would be fine for the rest of the night.  This would probably annoy some people a lot.  I could see certain members of my family demanding to change rooms over it.  While we would get frustrated, we recognized that these things happen in places that aren't America.  Another example, it rained one of the days we were there.  I have no idea why but our window started leaking and actually flooded the floor. Our suitcases got soaked, and there was still clothes in them.  Luckily our clothes didn't get soaked though--that would have been much worse. As luck would have it, the maid had taken the towels and hadn't brought clean ones back yet.  So we were stuck with a flooded floor and no way to clean it up.  So we ventured out in the rain, found the maid, got some towels, and cleaned it up.  I think this would have really upset some people but we didn't even bat an eyelash.  So, I guess my warning is this: if these type of things would ruin your trip, the Dominican may not be the place for you--and this resort definitely is not the place for you.  But if you are roll-with-the-punches type of people, you will love this country as much as we did. 

Ok--back to the trip... Cabarete beach is on the middle Northern part of the Dominican.  It is a small beach, probably just a mile or 2 long.  It is the kite surfing and wind surfing capitol of the world, according to the locals.  Every afternoon you could see 100 or so kites in the sky--it was really cool.  It was expensive to rent and do lessons for kite surfing but if you like wake boarding, you will absolutely LOVE kite surfing!

Kite surfers in Cabarete
Craig and I like to be both active and relax when we go on vacations.  We have never been the type of couple that wants to sit and drink on the beach for 7 days straight.  Don't get me wrong, we did relax on the beach with our fair share of cocktails, but we also went canoeing, wind surfing, and boogie boarded. Cabarete is a very active part of the island.  

Our favorite part of the trip though was the day we went to the 27 waterfalls (or 27 charcos).  We heard about it from an expat our first evening on the island and knew it was our kind of thing.  We booked the excursion through our resort, and they picked us up the next day at 8:00am in a big open top van/truck. 

Our ride for the day
We drove all around the island and got to see towns and cities. One thing that made us laugh was the taxi system.  While they have regular taxis, most of the taxis are on motorcycles.  The drivers wear yellow vests and you will see 1, 2 or even 3 people behind them. 

Motorcycle taxis
During our drive, I was struck by many things.  The Dominican is a country of great contrasts.  One minute you would pass by what Craig calls a "shanty town," with buildings like the above picture. The next minute you would pass mansions on the hills.  On one side of the street you would have greenery... 

Dominican Republic countryside

...And on the other side of the street there would be homes:

Dominican Republic town
It was so fun to see the locals and how they live, though.  I think that many Americans probably never leave their resort while in the Dominican, but I am so glad we did.  Driving around for a couple hours and really getting to see the island was probably my favorite part of the trip. 

After our drive picking up people from all over the island, we got to a very very small town.  There we had a drink (try the Mama Juana!) and our guide told us more about the Dominican.  He explained that the national sport is baseball, and he is right. They loooovvveeee their baseball here. He explained their second national sport was cock fighting. Yep, it is completely legal here.  It was sort of shocking, as it is so violent, but he compared it to the bull fighting of Spain.  Now I have never seen a true cock fight but it seems pretty brutal.  They placed a protective thing over the cocks' pokers so they couldn't actually hurt each other in front of us (he called them boxing gloves haha). And then he let them go at it... 

Dominican Republic cock fighting
It was interesting to say the least.  After that, they allowed us to look through the sculptures and carvings that some of the locals do to support their families.  The funds of this one benefited 20 local families.  They were all really cool and we took one home with us. 

Local art

After that we continued our journey through the small towns to go have a local lunch.  As we were driving the children of the towns would come out and chase the van.  This was one of the things we were warned about before we came--that the children would relentlessly beg from you.  However, that wasn't what we experienced at all.  They did chase after the van and yelled "Manga! Manga!" which means candy.  The tourists, including ourselves, would then toss them candy from the van and they would yell "Thank you baby!" in an American accent.  We really enjoyed it and did not get offended at all.  If you go on one of these tours, be sure to bring some candy for the kids! :) 

Local children asking for candy!
After lunch we went and tried some Dominican coffee and chocolate. "Mama," who has 13 children, is the local expert. They had us put on hats and do the "traditional" dance to grind the coffee. It was really fun and the coffee was delicious... strong, but delicious. 

"Mama" serving us Dominican coffee
Then, we finally got to the waterfalls.  Unfortunately you have to have a waterproof camera in order to take pictures at the falls; we did not have one this time.  I tried to find a picture on google that would show it but none of them give it justice.  If you go to the Dominican, though, you must do the waterfalls. Bring water shoes and a waterproof camera if you can! (You can rent water shoes if you don't have any--something no one told us so we went out and bought some when we got there).  They give you a helmet and a life jacket.  Then you hike with about 20 minutes to get to the waterfalls. Once you get there, you jump in the pool of water and the guides help you climb up the waterfall.  They are very strong guides and could pull up some pretty hefty people.  There we kids on our tour as young as 8 years old.  I would say almost anyone can do this.  After you climb up the waterfall, you end up in another pool of water and start swimming to the next waterfall where they help you climb up again. Our group only did the first 7 of the waterfalls but altogether there are 27. Once you get to the top, you turn around and go right back down.  The waterfalls have formed slides and you can just slide down them.  I was a little bit scared on 2 of them and the guides had to give me a little nudge (and by nudge I mean I sat down, crossed my arms and he said "One.... two...." and then pushed me down!) It was an amazing experience and I cannot stress enough that you must do this if you go to the Dominican. 

And that was it---after a long day of adventures all over the island, we made the trip back to our resort. We were a little windblown and very tired but it was very worth it.

Windblown @ the end of the day
That evening we made our way to our favorite bar (which was an Irish pub, something I am sure is a shock to no one).  The Dominican had won a gold and a silver metal that day--their only of the Olympic games.  There was a PARTY to say the least.  While winning a gold is just another metal to us American and British--this was the 2nd gold in the history of their country and they were very excited.  We celebrated the way they did--with many Presidentes! 

Presidente--Dominican beer!
It was truly a treat to celebrate with them--definitely our favorite night out of the trip! Also, we asked the bartender to give us the bottle caps from the beers we drank, and we brought them home. You just add a magnet to the back and, voila, you have a souvenir that costs you about five cents! You can add glue but don't have to because the magnet sticks to the metal cap without it.  We've done this with Greek beer, Domincan beer, Denver beer, Saint Louis beer, etc.. And it makes a great gift too. (Our good friend Erica actually made these for us and gave some to our friend at a housewarming!) 

Magnets + Bottle caps = 5 cent souvenir!
Too quickly the trip was over and we left to come back home. But not before completing our new tradition, thanks to pintrest. I packed a chalkboard and we took a picture on the beach counting the year! We plan to do this every year for whatever we do on our anniversary. 

One year anniversary!

It was a wonderful trip and we would highly recommend it to anyone--couples, families, groups of friends! It has everything you could want out of a trip and it's so close to America! We will be back, Dominican Republic, that is for sure. Thanks for the memories. 

1 comment:

  1. What a great recount of your trip. Thanks for the bottle cap idea!!!