Monday, April 05, 2010


Time to catch up. I’ve been fairly negligent in keeping up with my blog the last few weeks. First there was my vacation in Dominican Republic. You’ll have to take my word on how lovely it was, since I hold in my hand the media card containing all my vacation pics and then some. These pictures are some from the web, but are so close to the real thing, no explanation is needed. The laptop has been rendered useless again, thus also resulting in getting so far behind on my blog; my home desktop does not have a new enough photo program to be able to download there, and now writing from my work computer, there is also no way to download any pics unless on a CD Rom, and I have so far been unable to either get somewhere to have this done or have forgotten every time I have been somewhere.

Back to the vacation. A week of tropical bliss. We stayed at the Barceló Bavaro Palace, an all inclusive resort. All inclusive is pretty much it there anyway because there isn’t anything even remotely close by outside of the resort area. I had also heard stories of it not being particularly safe out on the roads, if in fact I was considering running out on the roads. The resort itself was expansive enough to provide all the road surface I would want, but as it turned out, we chose to run almost daily on the beach instead. Barefoot on the beach, in fact. More on that later.

Of all the Carribbean vacations I have been on or beaches actually, this was probably the best. location, best beach, and best weather ever. It was also the most interesting place so far.

When we arrived at the resort, I was not prepared for the fact that there was no air conditioning in the hotel lobby. Getting off the plane still dressed for Michigan and wishing I had changed ahead of time, I was getting hot and cranky the longer it took to get to the hotel, only to then find the lobby just as warm and muggy as the airport. To be fair, I realize it was just not being acclimated, because as the days went on, I noticed the heat less and less. And it wasn’t an oppressive heat, as it might be later in the season or even like we sometimes get in Michigan, just heat with a nice breeze, and not that high of humidity. And the buildings are such that the roof material keeps out the sun completely and with huge ceiling fans, it really isn’t hot, just warmer than I was used to.

Being all inclusive, that meant all the food and drink you wanted. We decided to partake while waiting for our room to be ready, but one annoying factor of all inclusive is the few bars were always 4 or 5 people deep. Just getting water was an ordeal at times, but again, after a day or so we figured out how to beat some of that.

After getting to our rooms, I couldn’t wait to get out on the beach or by the pool. By this time, it was almost 4 pm and I knew it would be time for dinner soon, so wanted to soak up some sun and get in the water. Don was hot and tired and wanted to stay in the air conditioning for a while. As it turned out, the hotel rooms were the only place you could get any air conditioning. I decided to head down to the pool and then the beach instead.

It was a LONG walk to the pool, probably 1/3 of a mile, since we were in the farthest unit from the pool, another thing being hot and cranky only added to my irritation. Like I said, I really needed to get in the water!

The pool area had probably 150-200 chairs around the large pool area and the smaller areas, all linked together. And yet there wasn’t one chair available anywhere. I was again annoyed so got another drink and headed down to the beach, only to find the same story. Nowhere to sit. So I sat on one of the benches and finished my drink and then went into the water to cool off. I love the Carribbean waters, and this was very warm and clear.

Being a resort visited by many South Americans, Spanish was the main language spoken, and during the entire week, English was heard spoken rarely. So for me, there was a language barrier. I can read French and some Spanish, but cannot speak or understand much. Not only that, I was surprised to learn that going topless apparently is no big deal. I pretty much felt overdressed when wearing my one piece swim suit. I had brought a 2 piece, but wasn’t all that anxious to be photographed wearing it, so did so sparingly.

Also being all inclusive, the dining was mainly buffet. They did have a couple of restaurants, but they were always busy and there was a wait. With the buffet, we were able to eat when we wanted to. We did learn, however, that timing was everything. Get to breakfast around 8 a.m., and the pickings were slim and the place crowded. Yet showing up at 9:30, all the bins might be refilled and lots of seating available.

The food was slightly strange at times, and the descriptions not always understood, and some were even laughable. For example, at one of the breakfasts, they had a huge piece of meat, unrecognizable to me, with a sign: Pork’s leg. Hmm. Do I chance it? As it turned out, it was something tasting like ham, so it wasn’t so bad. They also had a lot of fish I couldn’t identify and didn’t know what it was, so after one bad experience, I avoided most of the fish altogether except the grilled salmon.

I couldn’t quite figure out the service people either. If you chose to seat yourself, which you were expected and required to do, you had a hard time getting anyone to wait on you, meaning bring water, coffee, or even silverware at times. But if you stood there acting dumb, someone would rush to your assistance and take you to a table near their station and you would get treated like royalty. Made no sense, since there wasn’t any tipping, and it was all serve yourself. They were right on the ball serving wine, however. Your glass barely went empty and they were right there to refill it, but try to get a refill on water or coffee and good luck. I only had one glass at a meal, since it was warm and I didn’t care for it. Don made the mistake one day however of letting them refill his glass at will and ended up drinking 10 glasses throughout the day! He didn’t do that again. Ice apparently was a hot commodity also, since I never got any with any water, and the bottled water was usually lukewarm to room temperature. We finally started taking it back to our room and refrigerating it or icing it down if we wanted it around the pool or beach.

One more thing about all inclusive was that all food had to be eaten in the dining rooms or restaurants, and none was for “take out.” This resulted in one noticeable plus: no food garbage at all on the beaches or left around the pool areas and thus no flies. You could take all the drinks you wanted to either place or even to your room, but generally unless you had some of your own snacks, there was no food seen eaten away from the eating areas. In fact, there was no place to buy any snacks either, and I saw no chips, candy, gum, etc. in any of the shops. Cigarettes, cigars, and liquor, yes. Food no. Very strange.

Now on to the barefoot running. I don’t know where we came up with that idea, but it sounded fun, and after checking out the beach area near the water and finding it relatively clean of any shells or debris, I decided to try it. Don was all gung ho about it, and after our first run, we couldn’t wait to do it again. We went at various times of the day but found that the late afternoon, around 4:30-5:30 was best because it actually started cooling off some then, there was a breeze, and the beach was less crowded. Early morning was the hottest and no breeze, although not many people on the beach either.

One thing I have to say is I rarely, if ever, go barefoot. Because of this, my feet are overly sensitive to just about anything: heat, cold, small pebbles, uneven sand or ground. I have babied my feet so much over the years, mainly due to all the foot injuries I have had, that I wasn’t sure how the barefoot thing would go. As it turned out, the first day was okay. The second my left foot hurt some. We skipped Wednesday because my foot was sore and we had done a lot of walking the day before and swimming every day as well. Thursday I decided to wear some beach shoes and see what happened, and my foot felt much better. But apparently I twisted the right foot somehow, and while it wasn’t bruised looking, it was bruised feeling. Friday I wore the shoes again anyway, and Saturday went without because they weren’t making it any better and running without wasn’t making it any worse. I also wanted the shoes to dry out before we left on Sunday, since I couldn’t totally avoid getting them wet.

So the take on barefoot running? Don did great and went so far as to buy a pair of the Vibrams once we got home. His pace has also speeded up considerably. I went back to wearing my regular shoes once back, and then my feet hurt FROM the shoes/orthotics, etc. I can’t win. Me? I probably should have eased into it more, but more on that later too.

All in all, the vacation was wonderful, the weather wonderful, the resort/beach wonderful. We spent the days on the beach or around the pool, and the evenings also around the pool, under the stars. The weather was always so good, it was warm even in the evenings. There was also this open air staging area where they had different shows and entertainment. The first couple of nights, we were still tired and didn’t stay for the adult entertainment. We found out, however, that the children’s entertainment, nearly the same thing every night, took place at 8 pm and lasted for about a half hour. That half hour got to be increasingly annoying, because we could not escape the music no matter where we sat! It was this clown doing all these various songs in Spanish obviously, with kids on the stage joining in and dancing to the songs. The songs were exactly the same every night, to the point where you would hear them in your sleep. One was the Chicken Dance, night after night after night.

The adult entertainment at least varied, but one of the popular events was karaoke and Don got caught up in that. Parts of songs were played and audience members had to guess the song. If they guessed, they had to go on stage. I guessed several to the two of us, but refused to guess to the audience. Don did guess, however, and then suffered the consequence of having to go on stage and later sing the song he guessed. I am SO glad I passed on that experience. Then the audience voted you off until the winner was announced, sort of like American Idol, but fast forward. Of course he wore his “pink” shirt that he calls red, so people the next several days remembered him and his performance. It wasn’t that bad. He has a good voice but was nervous and did not know the words. Some of the people were so bad it was horrible to listen to.

The trip home, however, left a lot to be desired.

First, we were told by our travel agent “rep” that we had to arrange for a shuttle transfer to the airport the day before departure. According to the hotel front desk people, and other reps working in the lobby, our rep was supposed to be available from 9-12 and then 2-5, none of which proved true. The day before we left, I wanted to spend as much time as possible outside, yet wasted over an hour and a half waiting for the rep to show up—on time no less. Too much to ask apparently. I finally got tired of waiting and wanted to head to the water. Don volunteered to wait since he was experiencing some sort of heat rash and wanted to stay out of the sun that day. And we had met up with another couple from Boston who were leaving that day and were waiting in the lobby for their airport transfer, so he sat with them. The rep finally showed up around 11:30. Who knows if he then went to lunch at noon?

Second, we were told to be in the lobby at 10 am on the day of departure. We had a 2:15 flight, and the airport is only about 15 minutes away from the hotel, so I was a little irritated again that we had to be ready 4 hours in advance. And, as luck would have it, it was the hottest day of all, so I decided there was no way I was wearing jeans until we transferred in Atlanta or maybe even Chicago. That was a wise decision, considering our shuttle, which was supposed to arrive at 10:30 did not arrive at all, and no surprise neither did our rep. Another agent was helpful in getting us another shuttle finally at noon. Had we not made that shuttle, I doubt we would have made our flight.

The Punta Cana airport is deceiving in that it is much larger than it appears from the outside. It has 2 whole areas we never saw upon arrival, including one entire huge upper floor. The procedure here was to first take your bags to your terminal, which was a LONG walk, then to a screening area, where all bags went on a conveyor for scanning. We then collected them and took them to our ticket counter, which was another huge area, thankfully cooled by the thatched roofing and huge ceiling fans, along with the usual breezes blowing through the open air area. The wait was long, probably an hour, just to get ticketed and bags weighed. Then we headed to the next security area, including the customs area, which went much faster. Since we finally got rid of our bags, we had a little more freedom to get something to drink or use the bathroom while we waited for our flight. The seating area here wasn’t all that big, and it was almost completely full, but people were coming and going on a regular basis. All the bottled water, not surprisingly, was warm, so I chose a “light” coca cola, which tasted just like regular. And that cost me $3 for a 12 oz. bottle. Rip off. No decent food worth waiting in a huge line for so we again went hungry.

We finally got on our flight and were almost immediately served our “snack.” I had 2 small packages of peanuts that I wolfed down, since we hadn’t eaten since early morning and the likelihood of eating anytime soon all depended on how much time we would have in Atlanta during transfer.

The flight seemed fast, and I sat next to a nice attorney from the Dallas area. For some reason, Don and I never got seats together except from Atlanta to Punta Cana. Arriving in Atlanta, it was gray and rainy, which I could see from the windows. I didn’t realize at the time that there were actual storms holding up flights from everywhere trying to get into the Atlanta airport. It was going to be tight connecting to Chicago, so we hustled through the customs/immigration area, then had to walk forever again to get our bags and take them to the next ticketing area. When we arrived there, we learned our flight to Chicago had been delayed 2 hours. I was starving, so we first went and found our departure gate before eating, only to learn when we arrived there that the flight was delayed another 2 hours. Four hours total so far. We definitely had to eat. So we trudged back through the airport trying to find somewhere both of us would be willing to eat at. Don does not like Mexican food and I do not care for deli stuff that much, but we finally settled on eating at On the Border. He liked what he had and we shared this gigantic margarita. Then back to our departure gate, only to learn again that our flight was now delayed until 10:45. That meant we would not make our connector from Chicago to GR. When an airline agent finally showed up to help people with their connection problems, we were told we probably would get to Chicago but would not get to GR so would have to stay somewhere at our own expense and try to get out the next day.

We didn’t make a final decision on what we would do until our plane to Chicago finally showed up about 11:15, getting us into Chicago at 12:45. But I did not account for the fact that Chicago was one hour behind Atlanta and Michigan, so we decided there was not much point getting a hotel room at 2 am only to have to come back, go through security, etc. again at 5 am.

So we camped out at the Chicago airport. That was an experience, let me tell you. The place was empty enough you could shoot a canon off and not hit anyone, but yet was bustling with activity, with service people cleaning up for the next day. The TSA people show up at 3:30 am to start setting up for those early, early flights. No wonder they’re so crabby!

I managed to doze off for about ½ hour, between the vacuuming, floor polishing, and the tv in our area droning on all night. I managed to find a seat arrangement that had 3 arm rests removed so I could lay down. But it was far from the Hilton, let me tell you. As for getting anything to eat or drink, it wasn’t until about 2:30 when I realized there was a Starbucks close enough by so made a few trips there for coffee, water, and some snacks. Mostly, we took turns walking around to stay alert. By 4 am, people were starting to filter into the different departure gates, and at 4:30 am, breakfast places were opening for breakfast, so we finally got to eat again. For some reason, when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m more hungry, and maybe because we knew we couldn’t just get something it made it worse. Either way, once we got breakfast and then went back to our departure area, the entire area was almost filled up, leaving few spaces to sit. It was completely empty just a half hour before.

By 6 am, I was starting to get really tired of the whole thing. Really tired of it. I remained patient, but did not want to be bothered by anyone and finally got some music going so I could block people out for a while until the battery wore down. I had been rationing it so as not to have a whole night without.

Our flight finally boarded about 7:15 and we were in the air by 7:45 and home by 10:30 our time. And then to top it all off? My piece of luggage did not arrive. All the things I had envisioned happening did: missed flights, spend the night somewhere other than home (didn’t even think it would be the airport) and lost luggage. Fortunately, the luggage arrived later that night, but of course after I went out and bought some toiletry items I figured I wouldn’t get back. So until our next vacation adventure, I'm home for now.

Next up: Review of new training program.



Wow!! Kind of like the trip from H*ll at times, huh?? I'll make a mental note not to go there.

At least the beach was good....OH, and we in blogland are still waiting for the topless photos of you and Don... :)

Sunshine said...

Glad you were able to manage a little bit of vacation in the midst of it all.
Overnight in Chicago.. so close to home.. would have been the final staw for me.

Anne said...

Sounds like a typical Carribean vacation with some strange local customs, pristine beaches (now we know why - no food allowed!) and "island time" shuttle service (or lack of, in this case). At least the travel hassles all happened at the end of the trip, where you weren't so stressed out.