Monday, January 05, 2009


I should be typing up my "Statement of Interests" for my grad school applications, but instead, I'd like to recap my lovely winter vacation.

We landed in Puerto Plata about nine hours after taking off from Edmonton. We had to deplane in Punta Cana, and were herded through security before we were allowed to continue to our destination. It seemed like a rather pointless exercise, since most of us set off the metal detector, but were neither scanned with a wand nor patted down, and were allowed to just walk on ahead.

Our resort was about ten minutes away from the airport in Puerto Plata, in the town of Sosua. It was nighttime when we landed, and the bus wound through the narrow streets lined with bars and souvenir shops. The resort, although facing a busy main street, was remarkably quiet and serene. There had been a storm brewing for most of the day, and the waves were thunderous and enormous, crashing against the coral rock cliffs and sending white sprays skyward.

On the Saturday after we arrived, we took a day-trip to Paradise Island. First, we had to take a tour bus to the boat-dock. Halfway there, the paved highways turned into narrower gravel roads, and at one point, downed trees blocked our passage. Hennie, the tour-guide, nonchalantly remarked that we were nearing the Dominican/Haitian border, and that we did not have to worry unless there were fires set along and in the middle of the road. My travel companions eyed each other, did not say a word, each of us thinking that it was probably not what we had thought when we signed up for this trip.

We made it to the boat-dock without further incident, and were ushered into a small open speedboat. The ride was choppy, and those of us seated near the front were tossed up and down, smacking our butts against the hard wooden seats with each jolt. My white-knuckled hands gripped the side of the boat as I seemed to be flung about like a ragdoll and I was afraid of being tossed overboard. After what seemed like an eternity, Hennie gestured to our right, and the boat slowed down. "You may take your cameras out for some pictures," he said.

Looking over to the right, I saw what appeared to be a pile of sand in the middle of the ocean, with seven little shacks built on it. I took a few photos, and thought that the boat would speed up again to bring us to Paradise Island. Little did I know that that was Paradise Island! I had envisioned an expansive white beach, with palm trees and lush greenery further inland.  As we got out of of the boat and surveyed our surroundings, I was a bit crushed that I had paid over a hundred dollars to stand on a few square-feet of imported sand. (I have no proof that the fine sugary sand was indeed imported, but the entire island screamed cheesy tourist trap to me.)

We were treated to a meal of Spam sandwiches (It was either that or neon-orange cheese sandwiches.), and had a couple of hours to snorkel and wade around in the water. There were schools of silvery blue fish that swam right to the shore, as well as several yellow and black ones. All in all, after I looked beyond my first impressions, I had a wonderful time.

On Boxing Day, two of my friends and I went into Puerto Plata. After the twenty-minute cab ride, we found ourselves standing in the town square. Not a second after we set foot outside the taxi, a young man appeared out of nowhere, flashing his wares of pirated CD's. My friend ended up buying three CD's, after Antonio grabbed my friend T to show her how to merengue and do the bachata. Meanwhile, I hid behind my friend P to avoid the dance lesson. Antonio then showed us the inside of the church, which had been restored after being destroyed by an earthquake some years back. After that, we decided to venture on our own. The town of Puerto Plata has a population of about 300,000, and was colourful and vibrant. However, because it was obvious that we were foreigners, we could not really wander on our own without being pressured to either buy something or to have an impromptu local guide wanting to show us around.

The taxi ride back to the resort was what clinched the experience as something unforgettable. Pablo, the man who designated himself as our guide when he found us perusing a vendor's watercolours, hailed us a cab. T, P, and I were jammed into a taxi that already had a mother and two children in the back, and the driver and another man in the front. P was squeezed in the front between the driver and the other man, while I sat on T's lap in the back, next to the woman and her two children. The kids were eating popcorn, and one would occasionally tinker with an electronic toy that made screeching noises reminiscent of a car alarm. The man in the front next to P had a gun sticking out of his pocket, and was dozing for the twenty-minute ride back to Sosua.

The rest of the vacation was spent on the beach, swimming in the wide open Atlantic or reading in a lounge-chair. There were also countless rounds of dominoes, along with what seemed like endless indulgence in food and drinks. In other words, it was the perfect vacation.

And now, the photos:

1 comment:

  1. How does it feel to be back in snowland? The guy in the cab had a gun in his pocket??? That's crazy! Wonderful pictures!