During the second half of our visit to Dominican Republic, we leave the nest of the festival and decide to check out the famously crystal clear beaches on the east coast. We've already seen Santo Domingo, where Columbus first set up camp in the New World, and some of the mountains and tropical forests in the north. So we rent a car and head towards Punta Cana, known for its "all-inclusives" (as in resorts).
I can't say we weren't warned…about several things: the driving, and the tourists. A few new friends in Santo Domingo told us that the all-inclusives would feel slightly uncomfortable, kind of like the insulated bubble world of the movie The Truman Show. They were right.
Lucky for us though, the drive there provided a long lively journey through rural DR.
Somehow the purported two hour drive morphed into six. Maybe that was thanks to lack of street signage, or the fact that neither our print map nor Google maps had record of the new Brazilian superhighway constructed a few years earlier.
Directional complications aside, Dominican driving is crazy. This is because there are no rules. Red lights are optional. Dodging random motorcycles, oncoming traffic, and hidden gapping potholes can feel like playing a real live video game. It's a wonder we never got a second flat tire, or worse.
One wrong turn somewhere in La Romana and instead of taking that quick new superhighway, we end up on a country backroad heading north through acres of sugar cane. Soon we are the only whiteys within miles on a lonely two-lane road.
We decide to stop for water in a village, Guaymate, which is really more a collection of wooden shacks. Yet everything is so third world Caribbean charming. The colors, the worn weathered wood, the faces. A little boy pops up next to our car carrying the oldest possible wooden box, like one I've seen in my grandparent's garage. It has nails in the corners practically about to fall out and is filled with dirty blue rags. He stares at me, fascinated, and follows us inside the wooden teal-colored roadside shop. It's dirty with a narrow counter separating us from the shopkeeper. The floor to ceiling wall behind him is filled with basic wares for sale, mostly liquor and canned food. An old scale sits atop the counter. We wait patiently to buy some water. The little black boy stands close to us, just behind me leaning against the open door frame. He begins quietly mumbling to me. As we walk out, pesos is the only word I can pick out from what he's saying. I feel terribly out of place. I think I must appear so very tall, white, and rich American to him. But I better get used to it, this won't be the last time I'll feel this way during our travels.
This kind of place resets my perspective on a very human scale. To reflect on the juxtaposition, the fact that by chance, what I grew up with is drastically more than what this little boy will probably ever have.
And so we find ourselves in the midst of touristland at a resort, it happens, with it's very own mini water park complete with two full-sized water slides.
Several nights into our exploration of a few too-sterile resorts in Punta Cana, we head south to Bayahibe in search of someplace slightly more organic. But what we find is that these types of resorts are all over the area. Besides that, tourists don't like to come to Bayahibe during hurricane season. That explains why the resort complex with the water park appears to be entirely empty, save for staff workers and, well, us. We've reserved a few nights here, and had hoped to meet some fellow travelers. This is not looking like it's the ideal spot for such things, so we make the best of what we can and do the only thing that anyone would do in this situation: ask management to turn on the water park for our own personal enjoyment.
It felt exactly as odd/fun as it sounds, having a water park to yourself. Entirely delightful and surprising, yet kind of excessive. I guess this is the kind of stuff that happens in bubble worlds.