The land of "Beyond" and fun at the beach

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Jan 08, 2008

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Thursday, January 3, 2008

Today I was so excited about starting our vacation that I woke up at 4:30am and then couldn't get back to sleep for a few hours.  Fortunately there is air conditioning in the room, but it's already starting to make me sick (sore throat, etc.) so I need to figure out how to keep it low enough to keep it cool enough inside but not make us sick. 
We got up at 7:30am and went to the buffet breakfast.  There was lots to choose from - all different sorts of dishes, and they had delicious hashbrowns that I indulged in, also with yucca, glazed yams and a small banana (plantain).  There were tonnes of meat dishes (none that I can really remember), but also fruit and oatmeal. After breakfast we went to the informational meeting that they were having for the people who came on our flight, to let us know about stuff at the resort, including the different tours they offer.  Leanna and I already knew we wanted to swim with the dolphins at Ocean World (a dream of mine that is finally going to come true!), but there are other interesting excursions as well, such as the Jeep Safari and the trip to Paradise Island, a remote "sand bar" of an Island in the middle of the ocean with the clearest water in the Caribbean.  The Air Transat rep told us that it costs $10US per MINUTE to make a call from your room to Canada using your credit card (!!!! - we had already made about a 7 minute phone call the night before on my credit card to my mom!!) and then $4 per minute to make a call via a calling card.  She said the best way to make a phone call is to dial directly from the hotel room, where it's "only" 50 cents per minute.  There doesn't appear to be internet in the rooms either, so it might be a challenge to get this blog up online this week, although there is supposed to be an "internet centre" at the resort, and then there are internet places in the city that one can use. 
It was a beautiful, sunny, hot, gorgeous day today - awesome!!  According to my internet resources, today was supposed to be the only completely sunny day of the trip and the weather forecast predicts 30-60% chances of "showers" every other day throughout the week, which I REALLY hope doesn't happen.  (my friend Stu just got back from living a year in the Caribbean and he told me that it only rained where he was 3 times that whole year, so I don't see how it can logically rain every day for 6 days in a row while we're here; plus, he said that "chance of showers" means that it will otherwise still be always sunny and warm - I hope!)
Also, today my dad's son Tony, and his wife Julie, and their 20 year old son Jonathan were arriving from England, but in the evening.  I've only met them once before, and that was in 1994!  My dad hadn't seen them since then either, so I know he was really looking forward to it, to reunite with his only son.
My dad wanted to take me and Leanna out today to the "real" world, that is, outside of our resort and into the city of Sosuā.  And I can say it was quite an experience that I'll never forget.  From nearly the moment we stepped out of the resort limits and onto the street, until we returned safely back about an hour or two later, we experienced constant "solicitations" by the locals, trying to sell all kinds of things to us!  It was quite scary, being approached every 10 feet that we walked with "Senorita, please come into my store" (that is just one example of many).  We first went into an internet café that was located shortly down the street from the resort entrance, and it was cheap to use (something like 20 pesos for 15 minutes).  Because my dad was waiting for us, Leanna and I only went online for 15 minutes.  I don't have any pesos yet (only American dollars and some Canadian money), so my dad paid for it.  Walking further down the street elicited more strange people coming up to us to ask us to come into their store and buy something from them.  My dad took us into a store where he actually knows the person who works there (he bought our laramar jewellery from there last year).  Coincidentally enough, they had fake Rolex watches there, which Ben had specifically requested if I saw any, but the guy wanted way too much for them - $90US for the kind that don't need to be wound up (you just shake it to "wind" it) and I think $60 for the wind-up kind.  But I read that you have to immediately offer them at least half of the price they have asked for, since in this country, whatever price they quote you is not what they will really sell it for (they will take a lot less).  I don't really get the point of this bartering system.  Why don't they make it easy for everyone and just have a fair, normal, "actual" price for everything they sell?  Why ask $90 for a watch when you'll sell it for $40?  Doesn't make sense and it just seems like a silly waste of time to me - just be upfront, people!  When I told the guy that the watches were too expensive for me, he asked me to offer him a price, because he would take a lot less because my dad was his "father" (I said to him, "he's my father too so you must be my brother!).  I told him that since this was the very first store I had been to, I would need to look around first to see what else I could find that might be more reasonable.  We'll see what happens.
More walking down the street and we came upon the office of my dad's friends from Britain (Uncle Bill's cousin and her husband), who own a real estate company here.  My dad stopped by there to say hi and visit them for awhile.  After that, we continued down the street and my dad said he was going to take us to Sosuā beach, and on the way there was the "flea market", where there were about 200 stalls going down the road of vendors selling all kinds of trinkets.  We walked on the other side of the road to avoid the storekeepers' solicitations (although that still didn't stop many of them!), and on the way there, a woman came out of a store on the side of the street we were on and said to my dad "Papa, come inside...."  (he didn't, thank goodness)  These people here really aren't shy to talk to strangers!  My sister, on the other hand, is and hates any kind of public interaction, so this experience was turning into a total nightmare for her, and she was hating it.  Walking down that street towards the beach was nothing but people coming up to you to talk to you to try to get money from you in some way.  My dad did stop into one of the stalls, where they had large conch shells for sale.  I don't know how much the guy originally wanted it for (really expensive) but my dad offered him $6 (the price he bought one for last year) and the guy said no but agreed to $7.  My dad said he would look around more to see what other people had first, but he later decided to go back there to get it.  $7 is a pretty good price for that - my dad said that when he got back home to Canada with his shell last year, one person offered him $30 for it and another $40!  The guy there also had snorkel and mask sets for about $18US and later I saw them in a grocery store for $4.
Walking further down the street we finally nearly approached the beach,  but again, I was a big target for the "locals" to hone in on.  (and they all know what resort we are from since we have to wear the non-removable resort wristband on our wrists, which immediately identifies us as tourists)  Another woman came up to me with her photo album of corn row hair braiding examples and I told her "no", I didn't want my hair braided (I like the braiding but I think it would look bad on me), and then she said something like "just let me do one" (as she was already grabbing my hair), so I didn't fight her on it, thinking that she was giving me a promotional free example of the braids and that at least she would be satisfied that she got to do something on me.  She quickly and deftly braided a string of my hair and put a few beads at the end, and then she put her hand out to me and said "Pay me!"  I was like "what?? I'm not paying you!"  At the same time, while she was braiding my hair, another woman had come to me and whipped out a piece of black (human-looking) hair (which my sister called "anonymous voodoo hair") and braided it onto my camera bag strap, and then she said to me curtly and strongly, "$5!" and I said "I'm not giving you $5 for that!!" (she hadn't even asked me if I wanted it and she did so fast so I just let her)  Then Leanna was telling me to give her a loonie, so I looked in my purse and only had twoonies, so I actually gave it to her (to get her off my back) and told her to share it with the other woman who had done my hair, which Leanna was apparently amused by (she said the woman had no intentions of sharing it with the first woman).  But I was able to get away, so that's all I cared about.
We went to the beachfront then and it was really beautiful and picturesque.  But we just looked from the entrance of the beach, as it seemed like a guy there wanted money if we stepped foot ON to the beach.  We turned around and headed back towards the resort.  My dad wanted us to rent motorcycles (they are everywhere!) to return back to the hotel, but Leanna, who was in a really bad mood by now, flatly refused ("NO!").  I had agreed to, thinking that I could rent a scooter to drive there (as opposed to a motorcycle, which they also had), but since Leanna said no, we didn't.  And THEN I found out that you are actually on the back of the motorcycle, grabbing onto some strange guy who is driving it for you!  As if!  I realized then that that was why Leanna had so adamantly refused to take part, and later she said that she wasn't going to partake in some Dominican guy "getting his jollies" by having women hang on to him on the back of a motorcycle.  I concur!
The way back was no better than our walk there:  I told one guy that I didn't have any money to spend at his store, I think, and he said to me "Just be polite and come to my store for a minute".  Another store vendor guy told me I was pretty and shook my hand, AND he had flip flops (which I want to buy!), but I had to catch up with Leanna and my dad then, who I was losing.  Further up, my dad took us to a restaurant where they had had live parrots last year and he asked a little boy standing there where the parrots were.  He didn't know any English, but then proceeded to follow us down the street, asking us (in Spanish) where we were going, because he wanted us to pay him to show us the way (but we knew where to go).  He kept following us and then asking us for money (oh yeah, he had a shoe shine kit as well, which won't do you much good in a place where everyone wears sandals - he asked my dad if he could clean his running shoes).  I didn't have any pesos and nothing smaller than a $20  bill in US dollars, but then Leanna had had the "bright" idea to give him a Canadian quarter, just to appease and get rid of him, but he refused it and gave it back to her saying "no bueno, no bueno".  Finally, I mustered up the intelligence to say to him "No tengo pesos, solomente dinero Canandian" (I don't have pesos, only Canadian money)  and as soon as I said that, he went away!!
Finally, we arrived back to the safety of our "compound" (resort) and Leanna stated that she wasn't leaving the resort again.  I don't blame her!  (She said she can't believe that our dad spent a whole month "out there" in the land of "Beyond", as she calls it.) What an odd and almost horrific experience it was - it was like an alternate universe out there, and I would be happy staying at the resort for the rest of the week as well.
After that, we had lunch and then went to the beach!  It was such a hot and sunny day - great beach weather!  We went to the small beach that wasn't so busy - all yellow sand and the water was clear and turquoise - just fantastic.  No seaweed! (or anything else yucky in the water)  I'm proud of myself too as I went in the water the WHOLE WAY (unlike my last two warm weather beach vacations in L.A. and Australia, where I thought the water was too cold and just stepped in.).  I couldn't get enough of the water.  Leanna wouldn't go in the water at all, so she just documented the experience with the still and video camera, but my dad and I, and Lynette's family, thoroughly enjoyed and immersed ourselves in the water.  Once I got myself it, it was actually warm, and you could feel warm currents of water passing beneath you.  After swimming for quite awhile I finally went to the beach to lay down and get some sun.  I actually fell asleep on the beach and it was relaxing.  I don't know how much colour I got on my skin but I don't really seem tanned yet.
After spending the whole afternoon at the beach, we went back to the room to shower and change, to get ready for meeting Tony and his family, who were due to arrive around 6:30pm.  It turns out they had arrived early though, at 5pm, and no one knew it.  Lynette and my dad ran into them, so I missed the reunion.  Tony and Julie surprised everyone by also bringing also Julie's parents, Gordon and Margaret, who seem very nice (except I can barely understand a word they say).  We had dinner then at the buffet.  I had rice, stewed beans and a few roast potatoes.  We were going to see the dancing show again at 9:45pm, but first I wanted to go back to the room for awhile.  Leanna and I left to go but I wanted to take a look first at the vendors that had set up tables between the dinner area and the theatre, since it seemed like they weren't trying to "aggressively" sell their products to the passers by, and that is something I am agreeable to.  However, such was not the case when I approached the area.  One guy immediately asked me to come look at his table.  He was speaking to me in French and it appeared that he didn't know any English  (I asked him what languages he spoke and he said "franįais et espagnol")  so the communication between us was solely in French.  I took a look at his jewellery and there was a nice butterfly pendant that I liked.  I asked him how much it was and he told me to put all the items I wanted in one pile and then he would quote me a price for all of them.  So I was obligated to look some more.  I found a pretty blue stoned ring that I liked, and then also a beautiful silver dolphin bracelet that I really liked.  I asked him how much for all three and he said $90US!  There was no way I was going to pay that much and I told him it was "trop" (too much).  I asked him then how much for just the ring and the bracelet and he said $60.  Still too much! (which I told him) Then he told me to make him an offer (I hate that!), so I considered what I would pay for the two items in Canada and I told him $20.  He said no and I told him that's what I would normally pay in Canada and he said that the ring's stone is unique to the DR, but I told him that I've seen rings like that in Canada (I have) and that's what they would sell the ring and the bracelet for there. Finally he said "$25" and I accepted.  Then I realized I didn't have any money on me, so I told him I'd go to my room to get the money and be back in 5 minutes.  And then for some reason he just gave me the two pieces of jewellery and told me to take them with me and then bring back the money, so I did that (trusting guy!).  So that was my first successful barter experience in this country.  Not sure if I'll have any more since I really do hate playing that silly game and I don't know if I will venture out into "Beyond" anymore either.
We went to the dance show - they were doing all kinds of Broadway hits this time - and I really enjoyed it.  I took a video of some of it and no one even cared that I was recording it.  
One last notable item of the day:  my dad discovered a drink he really likes - the piņa coladas (pineapple, coconut & banana), but he kept calling them "piņatas"!
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