Once again, it's been a long time since I have posted on my blog. There are several reasons why.
One - I find it hard to fit writing into my day when travelling.
Two - My life has changed drastically in the past few months. If I had been posting, it would not have been about travel.
Third - I have been struggling to learn how to vlog. I have more than 2500 videos on my phone and an unknown number on my computer from my camera. I vow to continue working on that and also attempting to write the blog.
As most of you know, I lost my partner in crime in May of this year. John and I had planned to travel as much as possible in the next couple of years. I believe that is what he would want me to do. Also, I only have another year and a half on my travel medical insurance benefits.
So, I am back on the road.
It was likely that I would have been in the Dominican Republic on my own as John had expressed a lack of desire to go. It may be that he was not feeling well when we heard about the trip.
So....here I am! I have been in the DR for four weeks, initially in Puerto Plata, at the all-inclusive Lifestyle Tropical. (Read time-sharing resort).
We have sponsored a child to go to school in the Dominican for the past 9-10 years via Ruben's Shoes Society. The founders invited all sponsors to come for a 10th-year celebration and to meet the children they're sponsoring. Since its origin, Ruben's Shoes has built an elementary and high school with over 600 students and shipped 100,000 shoes worldwide. The next challenge is the Trade School they plan to build. What is more incredible is that the students are the top in the country. Centro Educativo Toribio won a Silver Medal at the first annual Best Schools in the Country competition, beating out almost 7,000 other schools.
But more about the school later!
Coming to the Dominican, I hoped to tour around the island or use it as a jumping-off point for somewhere else in the Caribbean. I was advised that it might not be the safest place for a solo female traveller. Especially as I am adjusting to not having my navigator with me. Instead, I decided to spend three weeks in Puerto Plata and another three weeks in a small beach town called Cabarete, an hour away.
For those unfamiliar with the Dominican Republic, the island of Hispaniola consists of the DR and Haiti in the Caribbean Sea. It is the second largest island in the Antilles, area-wise, after Cuba, with over ten million people. The island is southeast of Cuba. There is no love lost between Haiti and the Dominican. The DR is the most visited destination in the Caribbean! That surprised me! The capital and largest city is Santo Domingo on the southern coast.
I flew into Puerto Plata, far from the capital and on the northern coast. ( around where it says the Dominican Republic on the map above.) Tourism contributes significantly to the Dominican economy. More people are familiar with the city of Punta Cana in the easternmost region of the island, as it is the most popular resort town. 2-3 Cruise ships arrive almost daily in Puerto Plata.
I stayed at the Lifestyle Tropical Resort and Spa. I was apprehensive about coming to this resort as the reviews were abhorrent. The accommodation was suggested by the founder of Ruben's Shoes, Kelly, so everyone coming to the 10th anniversary would be together.
I arrived well before anyone else, planning to be at the resort for 19 days. Usually, I wouldn't stay in an all-inclusive for that long; I get much too restless!
I did experience some of the issues raised in the reviews. First, I was annoyed that an in-suite safe was mentioned in the ad, but there was a charge of 3 USD per day. Wifi is also limited to one hour a day free for each device. The VIP Beach usually had access all day. As a result, I spent a lot of time at the VIP Beach - lol. My phone has been my best friend for the last little while. Getting a SIM card at the pharmacy is possible, and it is reasonably cheap. Remember, take your passport and cash to set it up.
Also mentioned was mould. I experienced this in the first few days of being there. The staff was insistent that the A/C be on all the time. However, I found this created condensation, which then created mould.
I complained about the condensation, and maintenance came and swiped across the top of the wall with bleach. As they had not done the whole wall, the mould continued to develop, and droplets formed on the ceiling.
Eventually, I moved to another room and ignored the lecture. I got to have the A/C at 19° all the time. I rarely used it and had no issues with condensation or mould.
At Lifestyles on your first morning, don't be surprised if you get a very early morning wake-up knock on your door. This gentleman will request you meet him before 10:30 at the buffet to give you a gift. If you have ever stayed at a time-share, you know to avoid him at all costs. He will try to coerce you to accompany him to the VIP Centre to pressure you to buy in. I refused to lose a beach day, but some of our group did go on the tour.
This complex is enormous, with various levels of luxury. If you purchase a time-share, you still need to pay for the time you stay. You get unlimited access to all the restaurants and areas, some of which are strictly for members.
Not being a VIP member, I only had access to two buffets and six restaurants. While there, I made a point of attending all of the restaurants. I also ate down at the VIP Beach...a lot! ( I know it's CALLED the VIP Beach, but for some reason, we had access to it but not to the Lifestyle Beach directly beside it. This led to confusion.)
Again, this property is so enormous that a shuttle bus constantly drives around the complex. The resorts are the Tropical, Cofresi Palm, Royal Suites, and Presidential Suites. There may be more - remember - I didn't do the tour. I could have walked to most of these sites, but it was easier to take the shuttle as I had no idea where these restaurants were.
Another issue that was most often mentioned was the food. I had extremely low expectations for the food, having stayed at all-inclusive before. The buffets all get redundant after the first couple of days. After 19 days....well, you can imagine.
Below, I describe my impressions of each restaurant. I took pictures of some, but not all.
At Tropical, there is an extensive buffet called Casablanca. Every morning, they have two omelet stations, two rows of multiple hot choices, bread, cheese, fruit, veggies and deli meats. I enjoyed the omelets, the fruit and the occasional piece of bacon, but not much changed. In the evenings, they changed things, but it became very redundant.
The other buffet is the Pearl (Perla), which was nearby in Cofresi. It seems slightly smaller, and although I didn't try it, the pizza looked delicious. One of the reasons we, as a group, preferred the Pearl was because the staff seemed happier and friendlier. They were dipping into the Mamajuana, a native spiced rum drink, one night we were there, that might have had some impact!
The first specialty restaurant I attended was the Mexican restaurant Trapiche Paradise. I ordered the chicken leg described as a chicken thigh and leg marinated in chillies; I was very disappointed as there was little flavour, certainly not chillies. I had the flan for dessert, and I enjoyed that. I have no recollection of my appetizer.
The Dominican restaurant was El Pilon. Again, I may have picked the wrong entre, but I have no clear recollection of what I ate. I understand that my brain is still in a fog, but I remember when I had something exceptionally delicious.
Finally! I had a great meal at Bellisima, the Italian Restaurant. A Caprese salad, even minus the basil, was perfect. A lovely American guest had vouched for the eggplant parmigiana, so I followed her suggestion. It was awesome! To top off my delicious meal, I asked the waiter what the best dessert was. He said the tiramisu. It was the most unusual dish I have ever seen. It was tasty, not tiramisu, but interesting. I attended this restaurant twice, and the next time I got tiramisu, it was your classic version. I have no idea what I got the first time, but both were good.
The Indian Restaurant, Moomtaz, was just ok. I had the chicken curry. On a second visit, I tried the Pad Thai. Being from Vancouver means I can access fabulous Indian and Asian restaurants. Besides restaurants in the native countries, I'm guessing that Vancouver and London are the best cities to try these cuisines. Not so much the Dominican Republic.
The Brazilian Restaurant, Rodizio, was what I expected. Meat, meat and more meat! The steak was cooked to perfection - medium rare. Then came chicken, ribs, more chicken done differently, more beef - to the point of explosion. Unfortunately, the guests with me did not feel well the next day. Luckily, I managed to avoid whatever caused them issues. Maybe the tomatoes on the salad?
The seafood Restaurant, the Blue Lagoon, didn't have a lot of seafood. At least nothing grabbed my attention. So I went with steak again, which I enjoyed. Mississippi Mud pie was dessert. Anything with chocolate in it is on my list.
Lastly was the Indochine Asian Restaurant. I enjoyed my meal here as well. I tried the chicken soup, Kuay Tiaw Ka, a flavourful broth. With a choice of noodles, I tried rice noodles with chicken curry. Again, it had a nice balance of flavour. Desert was fried bananas with crispy baskets and chocolate ganache. Not sure that it needed the basket!
So there were hits and misses, which drove me to the beach, where I had a childish meal of chicken nuggets and fries. Frequently.
Now, to the reason for the trip. The school and the kids! I attended with Diane and Jurgen before the arrival of the other sponsors and assisted in taking photos of the children as the kids did interviews and wrote letters to their sponsors.
I have to give a shout-out to this couple. Diane, Jurgen, and their children were the first family to sponsor a child at the school. That student is now 14 years old. They have made multiple trips to the DR with suitcases full of donated and bought items. Then, while in Puerto Plata, they spend all their time getting things done at the school.
It was amazing to spend all this time with the children. They would come in in a group and sit waiting for their interview. Once the interview was done, they had their picture taken and wrote their letters. There was some stalling on the letters to stay out of class!
Unfortunately, finishing this was delayed when we experienced a 5.0 earthquake. The kids all emptied out of the school with their hands over their heads. Parents knew to come to the school and started arriving to pick up their children. Four on a scooter was not unusual. No reports of damage were reported. This was a Friday, so that was the end of getting more done before the other sponsors arrived over the weekend.
As a surprise for everyone, Ruben, of Ruben Shoes fame, travelled from Punta Cana to be with us for the week. He has the most incredible energy, and his smile lights up a room. Understandably, he was the spark for everything in the last ten years.
The following week, we all arrived at the school early to tour the elementary and high schools. Then, we met the children that we sponsor. The young lady that we support, Darianny, is a shy teenager. We spoke briefly. However, my Spanish is muy poca, and her English was limited, so it was a bit uncomfortable for both of us.
Kari, another sponsor, brought balloons, which were a massive hit with the kids, and we both were suffocated when the teenagers tried to get them from us.
The next day, the students performed for us. They sang, they danced and they played drums. The drums were purchased with money from the donations made in John's name. The band has asked for more musical equipment, and money is left. Ruben's Shoes presented plaques to recognize assistance to the Society. They gave me one to honour John.
We spent the morning at the elementary school the following day as they welcomed Christmas. Apparently, throughout the Dominican Republic, Christmas decorations are put up in mid-November. The student drummer and xylophone player went from class to class and whipped the children into a frenzy. The teacher took an active part in this. Everyone was very excited. Not only that, but it was pizza party day. The children all know there will be pizza if Kelly is at the school. More and more and more boxes arrived. I can only imagine how many boxes were at the high school.
Every child was given two pieces of pizza. They were all very excited, except for one little boy. He did not want pizza.
I helped hand out pizza and then, as always, picked up my camera and started taking pictures of all the kids. They enjoyed seeing themselves.
And then it was time to say goodbye. It has left an indelible memory.
All the sponsors and staff gathered at the Villa that Kelly and Desiree et al. were staying at for a final goodbye. This is a special group of people, and friendships were made.
I had a few more days. We had found a pool at the Royal Suites, just across the road, where the poor bartender was bored due to a lack of customers. So, nice and quiet. The bartender was happy to serve, even if it was just cranberry and soda juice. So I spent sometime there.
I spent more time at the VIP beach. It is not the beach; there are steps down to the actual beach. The area is on top of sand though. As stated, they had Wi-Fi most of the time. I also liked the beds facing the ocean. Unfortunately, no loungers were on the beach below, and sometimes the music was too loud.
When I left, the staff knew I liked chicken nuggets, fries, cranberry juice and soda and would deliver them. Can you ask for more?
Would I return to Lifestyles Resort and Spa? That's undecided, but it wasn't as bad as I feared from the reviews.
As everyone else headed back to cold Canada, I moved down the road to more sun in Cabarete.
Until the next time........