Punta Canta: TUESDAY OCTOBER 22, 2002 or Testing the Boundaries of "All You Can Eat"
This story features information about our trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. This is the second installment, in which our surroundings are explained, a wet plan is made, the snorkel leaks, and the Queen is seen (and how!).
We rose early, at 9:00, on Tuesday morning. We got up that early to go listen to a 20 minute presentation by Felipe, our on-site vacation coordinator. The presentation took place in the Discotheque in the Palace. The room was small, and looked like it was lifted from the set of THAT 70’S SHOW — very much the picture of a sleazy disco. Clean, yes. But sleazy.Â
Felipe told us a lot of important information, such as DON’T DRINK THE WATER — don’t even use it to rinse your toothbrush (a mistake Andrew made (& caught!) several times); the folly of booking an ‘unofficial’ tour (we didn’t see anyone offering unofficial ANYTHING during our visit, but Felipe warned us anyhow); told us where to shop & how to barter (everything is negotiable) & not to change dollars into pesos (they won’t change them back!). After the presentation, we went to the CARIBE BUFFET for our breakfast. We met the omelette guy, who would become our friend across the language barrier.
The breakfast buffet included offerings of scrambled eggs with corn (Hi Rodney!), eggs fried to order, fruit, pastries, bacon, fresh-made fruit smoothies, lunch meat (who knows why), morcillas (these look deceptively like regular link sausages, but they’re filled with coagulated blood. No kidding.), passion fruit juice, and a delicious, moist, and hearty chocolate breakfast cake that Wendy loved. All of this is offered with esophagus-searingly hot ‘coffee’ (called ‘coffee’ because it’s brewed to literally wake the dead. This stuff is STRONG… Cut it with 1/2 cream, several packets of sugar, and it begins to taste reasonably good.)
The the pasta bar (omelette bar in the morning) is decorated with uncooked strands of spaghetti standing up in glass vases. It was impossible to miss that last night’s dried spaghetti was becoming flaccid, drooping over in the vases as the humidity had its way with it.
Side note: How is it that anyone can come to this beautiful island paradise and look so glum and pissed off all the time? This question came up when we saw, today for the first of many times, a very angry looking fellow in a wife-beater sitting at breakfast. The mind just boggles.
Our first stop after breakfast was to the Palace’s dive shop. We discussed diving training packages with Randy, one of the shop guys. He was offering several multi-day, multi-dive courses that would reportedly certify us. While we were talking to him about these packages, he continually bartered himself lower and lower, leading Drew to believe that best way to negotiate anything in the D.R. is to just shut up and let them do all the work. We left the shop with a plan in mind, however, in subsequent discussion with our diving buddy Ray, Wendy & I decided to do just the one-day resort course and discovery dive. We signed up for this discovery dive for Wednesday morning. In hindsight, this was absolutely the right decision, as we’ll explain in a later installment.
We joined up with Ray & Belinda at the Palace’s pool. We saw that several members of the Barcelo Animation Team (the team of rah-rah staff people that do all the guest relations) were teaching Aquarobics. Instead of joining them, we decided to be a negative inspiration and just sat at the swim-up bar, drank, and talked about diving. Ray & Belinda are enthusiastic divers and were very happy to share their knowledge and experiences with Wendy & I.
At 1:00, we met everyone (Ray & Belinda, Max & Marie, and Rodney & Michelle) at the BAVARO STEAK HOUSE. The Steak House is located at the Beach resort, a short walk from the Palace. It’s got a funky Western theme, and all the servers and staff wear cowboy hats (yee-haw). While we were eating, we looked over Belinda’s dive log, which is a record of all her dives. Ray uses a fancy-schmancy dive computer to store everything. While at the Steak House, Wendy & I ate “Sea & Earth”, the poorly-translated but delicious Surf & Turf. A small steak, a few small half-lobsters (minus the claws), a baked potato, and onion rings were served with this entree. Wendy had tiramisu for dessert. I’ve forgotten what I had for dessert, but you’d better believe a> I had dessert and b> it was good. At lunch, it was discovered that Rodney is a member of Middletown city council, so for the better part of the rest of the meal, Rodney was referred to as “Councilman”, much to his displeasure but to the delight of Michelle and everyone assembled.
On the walk back from lunch, Drew asked a passing lady, “Â¿Que hora es?” (what time is it). The lady, obviously not Spanish-speaking and assuming that Drew WAS Spanish-speaking, said very slowly, loudly, and totally in English, complete with hand gestures, “TWO” (hold up two fingers) “FIF-TEEN”. Drew barely contained a laugh, said “Gracias”, and walked away.
The afternoon activity for Andrew & Wendy was snorkeling, which is included in your all-inclusive package. We went to the snorkel place, steps away from the pool at the Palace, and got our snorkels and masks before heading into the surf. While snorkeling, we saw: “Welcome wagon fish” (so-named by Ray because these silver fish with green backs are always waiting for divers or snorkelers, loads of kelp, un-puffed puffer fish, 8-inch squid (spotted by Wendy who thought it was a dying fish laying on his side with a drooping tail, until is squirted away!). The water was clear and salty. Drew discovered the salty factor when his moustache allowed sea water into his mask time and time again.
After snorkeling was complete, Drew went directly back to the cold room and shaved his moustache in preparation for tomorrow’s scuba dive. We walked south on the beach for a while and stopped at one of the beach bars for (what else) a Pina Colada. Our appetites were sapped by a topless woman at the bar whose already-droopy breasts were further weighted down (and I mean down) by dual pierces and heavy ornamentation. It was not a pretty sight. We walked to the end of the Barcelo complex, and while the beach continues for some way after the complex, there is literally nothing there. It appears to be untamed wilderness.
We took an afternoon siesta before dinner. We met up with everyone else in the Palace’s lounge for a pre-dinner happy hour. This happy hour became our normal meeting place and event for dinner each night. The bar provides nice drinks along with little canapes. The canapes for this evening were small slices of bread with ham and olives, and a cup of rather-moist peanuts. Plenty of Pina Coladas and El Presidentes made this tolerable.
We waited for the train to take us to the Mexican restaurant (on the grounds of the Beach hotel). While waiting, we met Tony, an Italian gentleman from Canada (go figure) who’d come down to the D. R. to marry his bride DeeDee. Tony recommended against the Mexican place, saying that it wasn’t as good as the Italian place. We elected to tough it out and dine there anyway. The train arrived and we took the 3 minute ride to MEXICO LINDO.
The menu offered a salad bar, a buffet, and a dessert bar, along with menu items. Someone at the table asked, “Do we order the entree first or go to the buffet first?” and the food orgy ensued. From the bar we got salad with cold fish, a giant plate of nachos and salsa, and some yummy chicken flautas. Our waiter, Jorge, was a lively personable fellow with very good English, and a deep level of tolerance for Drew’s crappy Spanish. Our entrees included Chicken & Cheese Tortillas and Shrimp Chipotle which was spicy and delicious. Heading back up to the dessert bar, we got cheesecake, cream puffs, chocolate cookies, fruit, and small shortbreads with almonds. On the way out, all the men (Max, Rodney, Ray, and Drew) enjoyed a shot of tequila poured from the holster of a gun belt.
At the restaurant, we met Chris and Kara, another honeymooning couple. Kara was having a rough night; her left shoulder was sore and we all suggested that it was a result of her lugging around her new diamond ring. Little did we know that she wasn’t joking, and that she’d actually hurt her shoulder somehow.
Riding the train back to the Palace, we decided to take a spin around the complex since we missed our stop. Arriving back at the Palace, we were just in time for their presentation of CARIBE NAMA (you must say it like this: “caribe….. NAMA!”). The emcee for the show spoke four different languages (French, Spanish, German, and English) and did all the announcements in all four languages, including the name of the show about 3000 times.
The show was full of dancing girls and boys. The girls wore almost exclusively bikini costumes, and the boys seemed to always wear open-to-the-waist long sleeve shirts and long pants. The 300 seat auditorium was barely full — only about 25 people were taking advantage of this rare opportunity. I say “rare opportunity” because the show features royalty. The Queen of the Maracas decided to join the show. I don’t know where she is the queen, but I wanna go there, for it seems that the Queen of the Maracas dresses in thong bottoms, a bikini top, and a belt of maracas around her bum. Only lucky peasant was afforded the opportunity to rub … with royalty. See, she picked this man out of the audience, put a maraca in each of his hands, instructed him to stand still, and then proceeded to shake her groove thing all up and down this elated fellow. He stood stock still and shook those two maracas for all he was worth, his eyes never travelling higher on the Queen than her neck.
Exhausted from a full day of paradise, we went back to our room and hit the sack.