Have you ever felt like you were biding your time, just waiting for something better to come along? If so, then you understand how we felt about our stay at Barcelo Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Long time readers of this blog may recall our post from last August entitled Beach Bums and Plain Dumb Luck where I wrote about Don winning an all expenses paid trip to the island of Hispaniola at a baseball game. We have been looking forward to making this trip ever since and scheduled it close to our 30th anniversary as a celebratory jaunt.
The long anticipated departure was 7 am, March 10th. Having dropped Tucker off at the kennel the evening before, Don and I set our alarm to wake us at 3am. This allowed plenty of time to get cleaned up, eat, load the truck, make the drive to the airport, locate the long term stay parking lot and be in our boarding area the requisite 2 hours beforehand. Neither of us had slept well the night before. We were like a couple of giddy children the night before Christmas.
Our first impression of the resort was favorable. The Barecelo Bavarro is a huge compound spread over several acres. The building style is attractive, as are the front gardens but the grand focal points of the resort is its two huge attractive pools and its breathtaking coastal surroundings. Longer into our stay that favorable first impression became skewed.
We became more and more aware of maintenance issues that weren’t being addressed. Three times that we are aware of, the water stopped flowing. Fortunately for us, we were only affected by the inability to flush the commode. Other less fortunate souls found themselves in the shower all lathered up with nowhere to rinse. Also on three occasions, at least one of the four main elevators wasn’t operating. And then there were minor problems. In our room for instance, we needed to call maintenance out immediately after our arrival to repair the safe in our room. The locking mechanism was missing, rendering it useless. I will say, they responded immediately and remedied the situation. Other room amenities listed in the resort advertisement were either in poor condition or weren’t operational. Nothing that was a deal breaker for us though. The view from our third floor balcony more than made up for it all.
After unpacking, we ventured out to explore our surroundings. As inviting as the pools looked, the crashing waves of the intense aquamarine Caribbean sea were compelling us onward toward the beach like a siren’s song. This is what we’d pined for. This is where we wanted to be. There’s something soothing and restful about being near the sea. Too soon, our stomachs were growling. We’d had nothing but airplane snacks to tide us over all day. Off to the buffet we went.
Hmm, how to describe our dining experience. In Don’s words the food was so-so to bad, excluding the fruit, breads and desserts of course. I on the other hand would describe it as bad to horrible, excluding only the fresh pineapple. Our opinion on this never faltered, whether we dined at the buffet or in one of the six on site restaurants, whether it was lunch or dinner. Breakfast was a different story once we found the booth where we could have fresh eggs cooked to order. It was the only appetizing meal of the day.
Right away we settled into a routine for the first couple of days. We woke early, between 5-6 am, to watch the sunrise. Then sitting on our balcony, we’d check for messages on our iPhones. Early morning before all the college teens on Spring Break awoke was the only time we could access the internet and that was only after paying a $50 fee to do so. This wouldn’t have been important to us had we had a cell phone connection, but we didn’t. We couldn’t even get a dial tone nor could we receive calls. But with a pregnant daughter that’s due to deliver in April, communication was desirable.
Showers, then breakfasts and soon after we’d settle ourselves on loungers beside one of the pools until lunch. Lunch was followed up with us spending the remaining daylight on the beach. After which we’d shower and dress for dinner. Our evenings had no routine. Perhaps we’d sit in one of the open air lounges, people watch and enjoy the strains of a sax. Or a languid evening stroll amongst the pools, fountain or grounds. On one occasion we visited the jewelers where I purchased earrings made of Larimar. Larimar is a rare blue gem found only in the Dominican Republic. I had hoped to purchase Amber ones too while I was here but the selection was sorely lacking.
The weather was perfect during our entire stay. Tropical storms blew up quickly but just as quickly, dissipated. The wind was a constant. Ever warm, the breeze was welcome for without it I imagine the heat would have been taxing.
Our second day at Barcelo Punta Cana we booked an excursion for Friday. It was one I was looking forward to. An all day jeep outing that would take us to an elementary school in a local fishing village, tours of both a banana farm and coffee plantation and horseback riding on a secluded beach. But as Friday the 13th dawned it was soon evident that our excursion must be canceled. I was hit hard by the malady known as Montezuma’s Revenge by travelers to Mexico. I had no idea what brought this on. I drank only bottled or filtered water. What little ice I used was also of filtered water. I even used bottled water for brushing my teeth and I had been careful about my food selections. Even so–something had found me.
I assumed I had travelers diarrhea and after letting it run its course, in three days time I’d be back to my old self. That wasn’t the case. The remainder of our trip was spent with me keeping mainly to our room. Severe cramping and nausea kept me from eating much. With Don’s urging I did go to see the 24 hour medico that Barcelo has on site. It was soon apparent that he was more interested in the removal of American dollars from our wallets than he was in aiding me. With the Pepto Bismol I brought with us gone, I sent Don to the mercado to pick up some Imodium D I’d seen stocked there when we’d first arrived. He returned empty handed. The store was completely sold out. By chance he was approached by a Dominican woman who offered her assistance. She handed him a box of tablets that she said the locals used. Don thanked her and brought it back to me. I examined the entire outside box. I couldn’t find an English translation anywhere. I opened the box and scoured the sheet enclosed inside. Again, no English. That meant I had to decipher as best I could the Spanish words I recognized and try to make some sense of them. I took two pills. ( I was able to get the directions translated once we were back in the U.S. and was happy to find I had been correct on my dosage. I also learned that the drug I took was Lomotil, a drug I am familiar with. It is a prescription drug here in the States.)
The Lomotil combined with 36 hours of fasting enabled me to make the flight back without incident. For that I am truly thankful. Unless you’ve been in my shoes, you have no idea how stressed I was about that. The morning following our return, I was still dealing with the diarrhea, making it six days thus far. Don drove me to the immediate care center to be examined. Although I am still awaiting my tests results, my doctor went ahead and prescribed treatment for cholera. It’s been eight days and this is the best I’ve felt in awhile.
We’ve considered long and hard as to if my illness contributed to our negative thoughts about the Barcelo Punta Cana and after much soul searching we have to state, it did not. Even if I’d not fallen ill, the maintenance and the amenities would still be lacking, much of the service would still have been sub par, and the food would still taste just as bad. So, a visit to the Dominican Republic? Yes, by all means. It’s a tropical paradise. A room at the all inclusive Barcelo Hotel? No! We went three days without hand towels or wash cloths. The maid never left us any because the hotel had none for her to leave. The mini bar which is supposedly stocked daily, wasn’t. It’s not that we wanted more beer or pop. We rarely touched either. It was the bottled water we requested repeatedly. We were allotted only one bottle per day. (We ended up supplying our own from the local mercado and NOT at a bargain.) On our last night’s stay, in the middle of the night, an intruder entered our room while we were sleeping. The sound of our room door opening had us instantly awake. Luckily for us it was a drunken college student and not someone filled with bad intent. However, he was given our key by the front desk when he told them he’d lost his, he gave the desk the wrong room number. Even so, the front desk never phoned up to our room to verify with us nor did they ask the teen for I.D. to match his name to the room. And yes, we filed a complaint with security. We are glad we didn’t pay for this trip out of our own pocketbook. We would’ve been even more disappointed.
So, what was supposed to be a once in a lifetime trip for us…..wasn’t. On a bright note though, it was one for the memory book.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid.