Two tickets to paradise

Our journey to the Dominican Republic, which occupies the Eastern side of Hispaniola, was uneventful. Just the usual de-icing delay and cabal of seemingly unaccompanied children kicking the back of my seat. At just over twenty-one million people, Hispaniola has the largest population of any island in the Caribbean and is, in fact, the eleventh largest island in the world by population, not counting the six million winter migrants it attracts each year. It also hosted the first permanent, non-indigenous settlement in the Americas, when Christopher Columbus decided to plant his flag there in 1492. Good thing there was no TripAdvisor in the 15th century, otherwise things may have turned out differently.

We sailed through D.R. customs with our carry-ons and then cooled our heels on the bus bound for our resort, while waiting for the other more heavily-packed vacationers to arrive, finish their smokes, and maneuver their regrettably tattooed (or maybe I’m the only person who regretted them) bodies (displaying lots of territory yet to be exploited) onto the bus.

To borrow an apt line from the Northern Pike’s one-hit-wonder, the best thing you could say about our resort is “she ain’t pretty, she just looks that way.” Because the facilities and rooms are indeed just like their photos: contemporary and even a bit stylish in an after-hours club kind of way. We upgraded to “VIP” status when we booked to hedge our bets against the economical price of the trip. My expectations were low, and I am happy to say they were met.

VIP status gets you access to a private pool with private pool bar, private lounge area on the upper deck overlooking the main pool, and unlimited access to the two a-la-carte restaurants. As far as the latter goes, I think unlimited access is third prize, while no access at all is first prize. The “international” restaurant churns out gourmet iceberg lettuce salads on warm salad plates and fish that was cooked last week and left in the pan on the back of the stove. The “Italian” restaurant is redeemed by a lovely location on a terrace, but that’s about all it has going for it. If you don’t count the pizza menu, there are two things on the menu that could be perceived as Italian: the tortellini (which is actually ravioli), and the linguini (which is actually strips of squid). It’s a good thing you don’t count the pizza menu, because it’s as illusive as an oasis in the desert. We didn’t learn of its existence until about halfway through our stay, and there’s only one copy available, which is passed your way only if you have learned the secret handshake. Unfortunately, if you are ever lucky enough to be allowed to order it, you learn the secret pizza is best kept that way.

The activity schedule boasts early morning yoga on the terrace, so I eagerly presented myself in time for the 8:30 start. By 9:30, the instructor was almost ready to get the class underway and cued up her calming soundtrack of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Snoop Dog and ACDC. I guess they do things differently when you’re on island time.

But the weather was a consistent, sunny, thirty-degrees Celsius. It turns out eating rice and beans three meals a day for a week is not a bad thing, if you look at it through the lens of being given a chance to adopt a strict macrobiotic diet without the distraction of real food. Both my yin and yang thank you, Dominican Republic.

We flew back in time to catch the end of a Polar vortex, into an airport ice age that resulted in being stuck on the tarmac tantalizingly close to our arrival gate for two and a half hours, which fortunately gave the kids behind me extra time to perfect their soccer moves. Only about six weeks until the official end of winter, which will be undoubtably as easy to find as the hidden pizza menu. Namaste.

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