Punta Canta: WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 23, 2002 or "Drew going DOWN on his birthday"

This story features information about our trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Join us — won’t you? — for this third installment, in which the atmosphere changes, memories are stored, and Andrew Lloyd weeps.

Drew’s 35th birthday dawned bright and clear. We rose at 7AM with the help of our alarm clock to sunny skies and clear water. The day starts earlier down there — by 7AM, it’s fully morning and the sun is up. In fact, it is quite possible to lay out and work on the tan by 8AM. Breakfast was light… fruit, bread, and the best orange juice in the world. After dropping off jewelry and other valuables in the in-room safe, we proceeded to the dive shop at the Beach hotel. 



Frank (Franklin Roosevelt, if he is to be believed) will be our divemaster, and while we wait for our group to assemble, we try on fins & masks, and get our weight belts and gear ready for training. We observed a French gentleman putting his wetsuit on backwards (it’s no easier than frontwards), and then trying to attach his regulator (that’s the thingie with the breathing hoses on it) backwards on the air tanks. Obviously we are not the only clueless divers today, but this guy is not in our training class… He’s a certified diver on his way out for a real dive, and that’s a very scary thing. Our training group is assembled, and consists of Drew & Wendy, Max & Marie Andree (a lovely pair of Canadian newlyweds who we’ll be seeing more of for the rest of the week), and a Russian girl who spoke no English but limited French. Frank (divemaster) spoke enough French to get his points across, and Marie Andree translated the rest for the poor girl.


Frank (l) attempting to get his groove on with Wendy!

We lugged our gear across to the pool at the Barcelo Garden Hotel, which is the only one deep enough in which to practice. Frank demonstrated how to attach the regulator to the tank and to the BCD (Buoyancy Control Device — the floaty vest you wear). We put on our masks and fins and weights and hopped into the VERY COLD pool. We suited up in our BCD’s and Wendy has fun flushing air into mine… it’s just like a wonderbra when it’s all filled up tight. During our training Ray and Belinda walk by on their morning pool-circuit tour and take photos of us in all our gear.

If they would ever email or call us, we’d show you those pictures, gentle reader, but alas, Ray & Belinda seem to have forgotten their vacation buddies.


The pool at The Garden.

The first drill is to flood our masks with water and then blow through our noses to clear them out. We attempt this sitting on the bottom of the pool in about 4 feet of water, and it freaks out the Russian girl. She can’t do it and retreats to the surface where she sits and shivers for the next half hour while the rest of us learn our skills. The rest of us swim to the bottom of the deep end where we each in turn take off and put back on our masks, weight belts, and finally our BCD’s with the tanks on them. Just in case something gets knocked off during the real ocean dive, it’s important to practice this in the safety of the pool. None of us have much trouble with this, though Max and Drew both get a bit caught up in all the straps of the BC’s; their longer arms get in the way, perhaps.

Frank instructs us all to practice swimming around the bottom of the pool to get used to the equipment and practice using our BCD’s to achieve correct buoyancy so we neither bob to the surface nor drag along the bottom. In putting his BC back on underwater, Drew has pulled the chest strap entirely too tight, though he doesn’t know it yet… he feels as if he cannot breathe and rises to the surface to catch his breath, where he is quickly spotted by divemaster Frank. Frank asks him if he is OK, figures out what the problem is, and kindly asks Drew to get BACK ON THE BOTTOM to practice… “You don’t learn to dive at the surface of the pool and we’re about to go into the OCEAN”. Drew sheepishly heads back down and we all circle the pool while Frank works one-on-one with the Russian girl. At one point we think she’s too chicken and won’t be able to join us on our dive, but a Russian guy (a friend of hers) comes by and seems to chew her out for not doing well. This idiot will join us on our dive, though we don’t know that yet. She practices harder and Frank finally decides that he’s reasonably sure that she will not drown out there. After practice we take a quick break to drop off unnecessary items back at the hotel room, and to snag a loaf of bread from the buffet. We walk back to the dive shop with Max & Marie and make plans to dine with them the next night.


The dive boat.

The employees of the dive shop load all our heavy gear onto the dive boat and we are joined in the boat by captain Juan (who pilots us unerringly to the dive site, slowing the boat down only when we passed bared boobs on the beach), divemaster Frank, and the Russian man who gave his girl such a hard time. Frank has something in Tupperware containers with him and our first stop is around the point of the island to a little local marina where we moor and drop off the tupperware. Back underway, we head out to the reef and attach to an anchor point which is marked with a life vest. We joke about the floating vest with no person in it, but it just marks the spot where they tie the boat to the rope (which is tied around an arch of coral at the bottom). We begin to suit up into our heavy tanks and fins. Frank demonstrates how to put our hands over the front of our masks and flip backwards off the side of the boat into the water, which seems like MILES below us (it’s maybe 3 feet from the side of the boat to the surface, but that looks like a long distance when you’ve just been told to “Jaques Cousteau” off the edge. Wendy goes first, and they help her blow up her BC (so you float once you get in the water) and fall backwards off the boat. She does well and looks like quite the natural in the water, but told me later that “Jaques Cousteau”-ing it off the side of the boat freaked her out a lot. I “Jacque’d” my way into the water and we swam to the front of the boat and dropped down to 5 meters to wait for the others. We’re not sure what happened on the boat after we entered the water, but it was about 5 minutes before anyone else appeared in the water with us. We kind of suspect that Russian Girl had a melt-down and had to be bodily tossed into the water.

After Wendy’s jarring entry into the water, she forgot to equalize her ears before descending and as a result she experienced a fair amount of discomfort in her ears (especially the right) until she went back up a bit, equalized, and then descended more slowly.


Wendy (l) and Drew flash the “OK” sign — no drowning yet!

Finally, everyone was in the water with us (Russian Girl last). We made our way to the bottom of the anchor line and then off the line into the water below, where Frank led the group in a lazy figure-eight pattern, pointing out fish, picking up a sea urchin (and sticking it to each person’s hand), live sand dollars, conch shells (occupied & unoccupied), and clams.


Some coral on our dive.

With our disposable underwater camera, I snapped a picture of Frank [Exhibit A]. He saw me do it, then shook his head and indicated that I should take another picture of him [Exhibit B]. I prefer [Exhibit B] — that’s more Frank’s personality!


(left) [Exhibit A] — (right) [Exhibit B]


Max (l) and Marie on their dive

While we were down there, Frank determined that Drew needed more weight on his BCD. Frank took off his weight belt, took one weight off his belt, put the weight down on some dead coral, put his belt back on, then attached the weight to Drew.


Marie holding a sea urchin (left) — Wendy holding a sea urchin (right)

After about 40 minutes underwater, Drew was running low on air and got the most-detested of dive signs — a finger drawn across his throat by the dive master, indiciating that you’re ‘cut’ and must return to the surface. Frank saw me back to the anchor line and I ascended slowly. Wendy and the rest of the team swam around a different side of the coral and they saw a parrotfish eating coral. Getting out of the water and back onto the boat is an interesting task… You hand your weight belt (being careful to maintain the ‘open end’ so no weights slip off and smack those below you in the head) out, followed by your BCD and tank, then your flippers. Finally, you get to climb up the ladder to leave the water and flop onto the boat’s benches, exhausted like you’ve never been in your life!

We made it back to shore just fine, after a quick stop at the Marina where Frank picked up the tupperware. The food in it smelled like it had been cooked, and it smelled darned good. At the dock, we lugged the gear back to the shop then offered Frank a tip, which he accepted reluctantly, making it abundatly clear that we didn’t need to do that. We arrived in time to see people like the following wandering the beach:

(left) He’s wearing a T-back suit [puke] — (right) She’s wearing a T-back suit [yum]
Click each picture for a larger view.

After a quick shower in the room, we headed to BOHIO ARROZARIA (the rice place on the Palace’s grounds) for lunch.


Approaching Bohio Arrozaria


Bohio Arrozaria

We had appetizers of salad with shrimp & artichokes then a cerreno ham on toast dish. We ate Paella del Mar with mussels and squid and a Rissoto tres Quesos (Mozzerella, Gorgonzola, Parmesian) which was awesome and creamy, then coconut flan for dessert. Our cute little waitress joked that Drew ate more (to which he replied, “Gordo!”, while patting his belly). With help from Wendy, Drew was able to pay his respects to the chef in Spanish.


Our cute little waitress at Bohio

Walking back to the room with the idea of getting the camera and taking pictures of everything, we saw the set for this evening’s production of CATS (sweet heavens). We stopped by guest services and asked the lady behind the counter if the show was any good. Her reply, which in hindsight was probably portentous, was, “It’s long. One hour fifty”.


Comedy & Tragedy masks


The set for CATS (sweet heavens)

We walked around for a while, taking loads of pictures (it was at this point in our trip that we passed the 125 pictures mark), before bumping into Franklin, who offered to take us on another, deeper, dive tomorrow for $25 each. We declined. After our picture taking walk, we changed into suits and went to the Palace’s pool. Drew swam for a while, and Wendy was content to read poolside. Drew had noticed that he could print newspapers from a kiosk in the lobby, so he paid his money and printed out the Los Angeles Times (which he reads every Wednesday for the Food section).


Wendy & Drew outside of their hotel

Back to the room, got changed, then down to the bar for our informal Happy Hour with Ray & Belinda. We heard about a lousy dive they had gone on — only 18 feet, strong current, lots of fish, but little coral. They, being certified divers, were unhappy. Shortly, we saw Max & Marie and invited them to join us for drinks and dinner — they had been on the not-so-fun dive with Ray & Belinda. Not too long after, Michelle & Rodney came by and joined us as well. Drinks and photos all around.


Wendy & Drew


The Happy Hour Crew!

After several drinks, it was time for dinner. Max & Marie went on their own way (newlyweds and all!), but Michelle, Belinda, Wendy, Rodney, Ray, and Drew all went to CHEZ PALACE for a French meal.


Chez Palace Restaurant

Chez Palace is an exclusive restaurant on the Palace’s grounds. It is the only restaurant NOT included in the all-inclusive; a special upgrade must be purchased to dine there. The large room was very pretty, seating about 100. We enjoyed a 4 course meal of the following:


  • Amuse Bouche of fish relish

  • House cream of potato soup — peppery & good

  • Terrine of Rabbit

  • Bouillibaise

  • Grilled rack of Lamb (Wendy enjoyed this) & Grilled Grouper (Drew enjoyed this)

  • Creme Brulee

Overall, the dinner was very good (though Rodney wasn’t quite sure about the terrine!), earning Andrew’s rating of two stars. If you’re a foodie, you’ll know that this isn’t conventional French food, but it is all well-prepared and you have to admire the pluck that allows them to try.

While at dinner, we bumped into Tony & DeeDee, newlyweds that we’d seen getting married on the beach a day or so before, and to Chris & Kara, another set of newlyweds.


(left) Tony & his lovely wife DeeDee — (right) Chris & Kara

We left dinner just in time for the beginning of CATS. It was lip-synched (poorly) from a non-Broadway recording. Bad costumes (think warm-up suits) and even worse wigs (think David Bowie). Bad choreography with lots of jumping around (think aerobic workout). However, there was tremendous energy and heart on that stage — these kids were very proud of what they were doing, and it showed. That being said, it was too much to bear and we were in bed before the end of Act 1.

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