Get your dance on!

The bass booms, the walls vibrate, you can’t hear yourself think …
Your heart pounds a little faster, you can feel the blood running through your body, excitement kicks in and then before you know it, your feet and hips are moving to the music.

Not everyone loves to dance, but I for one, do. And, I don’t have to be drunk to do it! In fact, I don’t really like drinking that much so I rarely bother (once or twice a year is enough for me!). Thankfully, I’m not easily embarrassed, so I’ll head out on the dance floor to wiggle wiggle wiggle without any liquid courage at all!.

When I was in Punta Cana in April, my new friend Emily asked if I would like to go off resort and go out salsa dancing one night. That sounded like a lot of fun to me and I hadn’t really been off resort as we had been busy getting settled after the fire, then I was doing photographs and then photographing the wedding that I was there for. So, by Friday, after all of my work was done, I was ready to be adventurous! Of course, I didn’t want to be dangerously adventurous!

Emily had the idea that we could ask some of the locals who were working at the resort to go with us. We had been talking with staff on and off all week, so there were a few that we (meaning Emily lol) would approach and ask. She also had the advantage of being able to speak pretty decent Spanish for a white girl, so that helped!

The idea was that if we went with locals who worked at the resort, they would know the best places in town to go and they have to work the next day, so they wouldn’t want to kill us … that might get their bosses a little angry.

Further than that, Emily and I agreed that in order to be safe, we’d stick together and we wouldn’t drink. First of all, getting drunk off resort could possibly make us sick because of the use of local water. And, second of all, we both knew it was better to think straight than blurry! Our goal was to go out dancing and have a good time, but neither of us required liquor to do this.

Our plan was to head to a big hot spot for dancing called Mangu. We had heard that it had both American style music as well as lots of salsa dancing which was what Emily was most excited about. Me? I had no idea how to dance salsa, but I was up for trying!

Yes, yes, I know that many of you out there (including my parents) are cringing at this situation, but you just have to remember that I don’t travel to see a resort and be waited on. I travel to get a feel for what the local area is like, what the locals are like and get to know them.

Being two mature adults, we made the best choices we could in order to make the adventure out to a local club as safe as possible so that we could see what it was really like in Punta Cana, rather than what the disco at the resort with all the foreigners was like.

The group of us took a taxi off the resort and in to Punta Cana where we stopped first at The Drink. It was packed inside and out of this little bar right along the main street in Punta Cana. It seemed like a friendly place, mixed with locals and tourists. There were chairs and tables outside on the patio, a small dance floor inside and lots of people milling around in the courtyard / parking lot in front of the bar. We stayed here for about an hour or so, and then we headed off to another bar called Areito. Here they were playing a mixture of latino pop, bachata and a little bit of salsa. It wasn’t really very crowded, which made it nice. We weren’t bumping into people or pushing our way through like you would at the bars in Halifax. The dance floor was a good size and everyone seemed to have just enough space.

We stayed here for the rest of the night and never actually got to go to Mangu. We had heard it was a $10 cover charge. That was normal for us, but since we were traveling with our new local friends, we suspected that $10 US might be a bit pricey for them. So, we stayed at Areito’s.

Now, Emily already knew how to dance salsa, so no problem for her to get out on the dance floor, although the local guys surprisingly did not know how to dance salsa like we expected!

I picked up Merengue really quickly, but Bachata, that was a different story! Bachata is a dance that is very well known in the Dominican … and although I didn’t know then, come to find out, it is a very sexy dance! I got passed around between guys like a little white hot potato, each of them trying to teach me the Bachata with no luck. It didn’t help that none of them spoke English, so communication was basically nil. Then, the lady bartenders took a crack at it too and they tried to teach me to Bachata. No luck! I couldn’t be led by the men or the women! None of them (men or women) attempted anything inappropriate. I guess because I couldn’t even get the basic steps right, maybe they thought they had no hope of teaching me to be sexy and do the dance! ha ha ha This cracks me up! Despite my lack of alcohol and my lack of coordination I had a fantastic time trying to learn as well as watching the people who did know what they were doing.

When I returned home and started watching you tube to find out what the bachata was really all about, I came across this video. It is choreographed, but this is what it looks like! oooow! oooow!

Back in Nova Scotia, with plans to return to the Dominican to learn Spanish, I was determined to learn how to dance before I went back.

I checked out Halifax’s Salseraros, but they didn’t have openings for beginners until September. That would be a little too late for me! I checked out a couple of others, but no luck for lessons in the summer. Finally, I came across Latin Dance nights at Pipa and that seemed to be the perfect fit.

Pipa is a lovely little Portugese / Brazilian Restaurant in the heart of downtown Halifax. In the back and down the stairs it has a gem of an atrium where there is a bar and dance floor. Every Friday night from 9pm – 10pm the atrium hosts, Amanda Huska for a beginner Latin dance class covering the very basics of Merengue, Bachata and Salsa.

I went to classes at Pipa regularly, as well as at the Sea Port Farmer’s Market from May until July when I returned to the Dominican for the summer to learn Spanish. I got past the basics and started feeling pretty good about all three types of dance- merengue, bachata and salsa.

I was excited to show my friends from Punta Cana what I had learned so we met up and went out dancing in Santo Domingo a couple weeks after I arrived. I was the first person on the dance floor, causing quite a stir with the locals who were all looking at the ‘gordita rubia’. Not long after I started dancing, lots of others joined in. My guy friends weren’t so excited to be the first ones on the dance floor, but I didn’t care. I wanted to dance!

As I sit in my living room on a warm, but rainy winter evening, listening to my Spanish music play list, it reminds me that I really need to make an effort to get out to dance classes again.

These are three of my favourite Spanish songs … they make me want to DANCE!

Dandole – Omega

Incondicional – Prince Royce

Promise – Romeo Santos Featuring Usher

Majestic Complications – Part 2

April 16th, 2012

Driving up to the Resort, you could see no damage from the fire. The entry an lobby were beautiful, just like you would expect from any 4 or 5 star resort. It was clean, well decorated, breezy and beautiful! Thank goodness for all of that because when we arrived we stood in line … again. I was near the end of the check in line, so it was probably about 20 minutes before I got to the desk. A few people tracked down a waitress and I had my first drink of the trip … what other than a Pina Colada! YUM!

A lovely gentleman named Franklin helped me at reception, but after I had signed the paperwork he told me to come back after 3pm (which was in 5 minutes) ‘to see what they could do for a room’. Wow, that wasn’t very promising! Many of the guests were set with their rooms, but a handful of individuals or couples were waiting until after 3pm to ‘see what could be done’.

At around 3:15 or so, I was one of the lucky ones to be given a room. Others were still left waiting and wondering if a room would be found. Still others had been given keys to rooms which were already occupied … not such a good first impression.

I left a $10 deposit for a DSL cable for the internet and agreed to pay $10 / day for internet and then I found myself a porter and headed to my room. The rooms are beautiful, but mine had not yet been cleaned. The maid was just one door over and told me 30-60 minutes and the room would be done. I dropped off my stuff and tried to get my internet working as I was itching to give people back home an update on our situation…. I couldn’t even find where to plug in the internet! I looked and looked … asked the maid to look too! We found a phone jack, but nothing for internet.

Seems so silly, but I headed back down to the front desk to tell them that I must have the wrong cord. Of course, they found that particularly funny as it is a standard connection cord. Basically they politely told me to look harder and if I couldn’t get it working to call the front desk and they would send a technician. I returned to my room and searched for the internet connection. FINALLy I found it. It was on a little switch that was at about knee height and it was pointed downward. The only way to tell it was for internet was to crouch down on the floor and look up at it! So, I found it, plugged it in and …. and … and … Nothing. It wasn’t working. I called the front desk who put me through to another department who told me that the internet was broken at the moment and would be working shortly (Dominican time, I’m sure).

Most of the confusion with the resort was understandable. From what I can understand and could see, the Steakhouse Restaurant, the Spa and the Pool Bar were affected. The Steakhouse and Spa, the roofs were completely gone. Not surprising seeing as they had been thatched roof. Inside the buildings were charred and messy. Luckily you couldn’t really smell any smoke throughout the resort. I guess the high winds had blown the smell right away.

Here are a couple of photos that I took of the sites that were damaged by the fire.

Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana fire
Wedding Party at Majestic Colonial after fire of April 2012
Wedding Party at Majestic Colonial after fire of April 2012
Wedding Couple at Majestic Colonial after fire of April 2012
Wedding Couple at Majestic Colonial after fire of April 2012

The pool had also been shut down because it got so dirty with ash and debris. Then there was yellow caution tape and security guards around everywhere to keep you out of the affected areas. Even on one side of the resort, you could see debris and ashes all over the lawn. It really is quite amazing that no other buildings caught fire.

Apparently, the night of the fire all guests were rounded up and asked to stay in the lobby for safety reasons. The fire had started some time shortly after 9pm. While firefighters put the fire out, staff continued to entertain guests and serve drinks. Once the fire was maintained, they had to clear the areas closest to the fire to make sure they were safe. Unfortunately some of the rooms had sustained smoke damage and guests had to be moved. That night, some guests remained at the hotel while others were moved elsewhere, or chose to find other accommodations on their own.

So, today, when we arrived, there was still confusion. Guests had been moved, some had left, some had probably left without all of their luggage because they couldn’t get to it during the fire, rooms were being cleaned and checked for smoke damage. Really, overall, I believe the staff were doing the best they could, but still lots of mistakes were made.

After supper at the buffet, I stopped at the front desk and spoke to Franklin again, checking in on the status of the internet. He assured me that it was up and running and that I should not have any issues. If, however, I did, I should call reception and ask to speak directly to him. Back to my room again to check the internet. Guess what? IT DIDN’T FRIGGIN’ WORK! I called the front desk, I’m sure Franklin thought I was useless with the whole Internet thing, but he arranged for a technician. So, I sat in my room and waited for about an hour for the technician to come. When he did, he changed a setting on my computer, went to the electrical room (or something similar) down the hall, came back, logged me on and YAY! It worked!

By 10pm, I was settled in my beautiful room (finally), I had internet working, had skyped my dad to tell him all was now well and shortly after that, headed to bed for a much needed night’s rest as I was getting up for sun rise photos in the morning!

Majestic Colonial Punta Cana
Majestic Colonial Punta Cana

Majestic Complications – Part 1

April 16, 2012

I woke up bright and early this morning despite the late night. I only had about four hours of sleep but when I woke and realized that the sun was out and it was warm, I couldn’t stay in bed.

Swim suit, sunscreen, audio book (Plain Truth by Jody Picoult) … check. Off to see the VIK Arena Blanca resort in the daylight and find some breakfast!

One great thing about staying at a smaller and less popular resort is that you don’t have to get up at an unreasonable hour to stake out a good chair in the shade by the pool or on the beach! Unfortunately, we hadn’t been given towel tickets at check in, so I didn’t have anything to ‘mark my spot’.

I went off to breakfast, which was a lovely buffet. Everything I tried was yummy, but my favorite this morning was the crepe, which I adorned with banana and chocolate syrup. Yum!

I then went for a lovely walk along the beautiful beach. It was particularly interesting to walk by the shops that were built at the water’s edge. They are sand-bagged not to get dragged away and the waves crash right into the shops. Most of them were not open this early, but a few were.

I returned and sat in the warm sun on the beach for awhile, but it was windy and the sand in my mouth and eyes got a little tiresome so I moved to the pool. Oh the joys of having a choice between pool and ocean!

At 11am we were all to meet in the lobby with our SunQuest Representative. At 11am, we were all there … all 37 of us! Eventually we were told that we would need to meet again at 1pm with all of our luggage … then a new rep came and told us we would be leaving at 2pm and would need all of our luggage. Oh but wait, we still had to check out of our rooms at 1pm, so we still needed to bring our luggage at 1pm, but we wouldn’t be leaving until 2pm. Oh my goodness! The changes didn’t frustrate me too much, but trying to convey three different times to 37 people who had scattered after the first report was a little difficult. None-the-less, 1pm (ish), our entire group was together in the lobby.

Our bus arrived around 2pm, we piled on and took the 30 minute (or so) ride from VIK Arena Blanca Resort to the Majestic Colonial Resort.

Dominican Sun

On Tuesday morning I had the wonderful experience of watching the sun rise over the ocean as I took a few photos of Matt & Jen. It is one of their favourite times and although it was really early (6am), it was worth it! Look at these beautiful shots!

Dominican Republic Sunrise
Dominican Republic Sunrise
Dominican Republic Sunrise
Dominican Republic Sunrise
Dominican Republic Sunrise
Dominican Republic Sunrise

I did several photo shoots that day, including another shoot at sunset. Big day! I saw the sunrise over the ocean and the sunset over the mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking!

Here are just a couple of quick photos. The wedding is tomorrow (April 19th), so I need to get some rest before I shoot all day!

Dominican Republic Sunset
Dominican Republic Sunset
Dominican Republic Sunset
Dominican Republic Sunset

It’s Like Falling in Love for the First Time again

April 17, 2012

Sitting on the bus at the airport waiting to find out where we would be sleeping for the night was boring and long … (Read Fire! to understand the background situation) We spent from approximately 11pm local time until 2am on the bus. Lots of people got out and walked around but most of us just hung out on the bus. Me, I started writing blogs because I was awake and didn’t want to waste my time seeing as it wasn’t like I could get any sun or any particularly restful sleep.

A stranger sat with me on the bus … the bus was full, so there was no sitting alone! As a single traveler I can look at this two ways ….

1. Oh what a pain in the ass, sitting with a stranger … worse a (slightly) drunk male stranger.

OR

2. Oh interesting, I get to meet a new person.

I’ll admit, my first reaction was option A. What a pain in the ass. It was late at night, I’m not much of a drinker, didn’t really feel like being overly social. He spent most of his time outside, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Finally (after more than 2 hours) we got the news that we would be heading to the Arena Blanca Hotel and everyone piled back on the bus to take off.

After getting over my annoyance with the stranger who sat down and took up his own room and part of mine with his legs straddling his carry-on bag, the guy started to have a conversation and tell me that he had only been out of Nova Scotia to go to Ontario and New Brunswick. When I stopped to listen to him … he was in absolute amazement of everything around him. Everything was brand new. He had never seen a palm tree! He kept pointing things out in the dark as we traveled along on the bus that he was amazed at.

He then went on to explain that he thinks he’s addicted to travel already and he hadn’t even seen the place in the daylight!

A few minutes later he told me ‘It’s like falling in love for the first time. I’m all shake-y and excited. I just keep wondering what I’m going to see next. I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle it in the morning when I can see everything.’

This guy was close to my age and I just can’t even imagine that he had never been out of the country. Yet, he summed up my love of travel pretty quickly. “It’s like falling in love for the first time” when you see a new place, a new culture and can’t wait to see what’s just around the corner for you to experience next.

Despite the crappy beginning to this week in Punta Cana, the reminder to have an open mind and enjoy every second was clearly being thrown right at me. Thank goodness I recognized it and let the stress of the Fire! situation just float on by.

FIRE!

April 15th, 2012

Amazingly, although we left one hour late from Halifax, our flight still landed on time. I guess they burned some extra fuel and pumped up the turbo chargers or something! I never expected to land on time!

About 20 minutes away from the airport, we can see the lights from Punta Cana quite clearly … too clearly actually. People on one side of the plane were straining their necks to see out the window. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side to see what was going on. They were saying there was a huge fire and that it looked like an entire resort … that it looked like a huge city block.

In my own mind, I never even entertained the thought that it could be our resort. I mean really, what are the chances? So, people chatted away about the size of this huge fire that we could see from the sky and it was definitely substantial. This was not a little house fire. It was full flames, high in the sky.

I was mostly thankful that it wasn’t at the airport and even said so out loud. Just glad to have a safe place to land.

Once we were in the baggage area, the news started to spread that it was indeed our resort, the Majestic Colonial that was on fire. Jen’s (our Bride) parents had been at the resort for a week already, so Jen got a phone call as soon as her cell was turned on. Her mom told her that they were ok (which is of course the MOST important thing!) and that apparently the Steakhouse and Spa were on fire. All of the guests from the resort had been gathered up and were at the lobby …. Waiting.

Of course, not the news anyone wants to hear to start their vacation … especially the Bride and Groom!

Of course no one inside the airport could give us any answers and we continued to our Sunquest counter where they still had no information for us, other than to see our tour guide outside at the bus.

I was one of the first to head to the bus and all I could find out was well … not much.

Our guides, Alejandro and Estefan were very friendly and kind, but unfortunately did not have a lot of information. I don’t blame them for this at all seeing as it was unforeseen circumstances and I am sure that our resort was in chaos, so trying to get answers from them must have been very difficult.

Our guides explained that there had been a fire at the resort and that any of our families who were already at the resort were fine, no one had been injured. Unfortunately they were not sure of the circumstances, so they did not know if we would be heading to our resort, or to another location. Until they knew more information we would wait on the bus at the airport.

At around 1am (local time), we were advised that we would be going to spend one night at Hotel Arena Blanca, a 4 star resort about 35 minutes away from the airport.

It is 2:10am as I sit and write this from my hotel room (on Monday morning). I was lucky enough to be somewhat toward the front of the line up which was moving very very slowly. I’m sure there are still lots of folks in the lobby waiting for their rooms.

Lots of tired, hungry, whiny, cranky people … with good reason, I suppose … but all in all, really, what could be done. There was a huge fire at our resort. No one was injured. Now the resort and guides have had to find accommodations for about 70 of us (just on our bus) and who knows how many others who were displaced from the resort. That must be pretty difficult to do in high season!

Tonight I’m feeling thankful …
1. To be in Punta Cana, safely
2. To be in a bed with a roof over my head
3. To not be one of those cranky, whiny people who feel like their vacation is ruined because of this unusual circumstance. It’s all part of the adventure and it could be much worse!

We have a meeting in the lobby at 11am tomorrow to find out what the plan is. As far as we know, we will only be at this particular resort for one night, but who knows.

Right now, I’m going to go to sleep. Alarm set for 9am (mostly because it is 2:20 and I’m not asleep yet) and I’m going to find my way to the beach for a walk and some sun before we spend quite likely a big chunk of our day being moved around to another resort.