MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Friday, June 10, 2016

That Caribbean Blue is Hypnotizing!

I thought I was prepared for my first trip to the Dominican Republic.  I did what you needed to do - I registered with the State Department and read all of the alerts, stocked up on mosquito spray and repellant bracelets, I got sun block and special SPF lip balm as well as aloe for the post-sun hydration.  I packed an umbrella since it was suppose to pour.  And I packed my camera equipment (though I forgot my waterproof bag for my phone so I could take it into the water with me for easy pictures). 

I was a good girl scout - medicine, proper clothing, hat, sprays... and yet, I am I certain I came home with Zika and I have spent a week with a peeling forehead.  I am certain that the sun at the equator laughs at sunscreen and singes even my Italian hued skin, and the mosquitoes on the island cackle at our mainland attempts of interference.  I was bit right next to my bracelets on areas covered in spray.    There was no winning. These little buggers got me right through my clothes.  They were relentless.  They hurt.  They left red swollen mounds all over us.

Oh well.

Didn't matter.

The scenery was beautiful anyway.

From the moment we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac (yes, there were no gate ramps), we were greeted with butterflies and sun.  I could not believe the numbers of wings fluttering all around us.  I haven't seen that many butterflies outside of a butterfly exhibit in ... well... never.  Wings of all colors - it was beautiful.  The terminal was right off a postcard of an island building with its palm leaf roof and a Caribbean band playing, inside, while we waited for our luggage.  Already the sweet sounds of vacation were beckoning us to relax. 

We headed off to the Westin Punta Cana for 4 days/nights of Caribbean charm.  I honestly don't know if I was ready for how beautiful the spot was.  In fact, from the moment we stepped off our shuttle, we were showered in amazing hospitality and gorgeous scenery.  The sweeping views through the open air lobby, over the pool to the ocean were swoon worthy.  As a desk-jockey is DC, I was more than a little jealous that some get to have these kind of views while working (me, I stare at a concrete side of a building).   

Here, our plan was simple - sun, fun and exploration.  I had booked us 2 side trips and planned to stay local for the other 2 days in the resort area.   The Westin upped our ante by adding the most amazing suite into the mix.  They placed us in the top level corner suite, overlooking the ocean and the infinity pool from our 270 degree view balcony, that wrapped around a room larger than my condo!  The room was perfect for relaxing mornings, where you could walk up looking into that perfect turquoise water, waiting for your mind to wake up.  The room was perfect in the evening, with views of the large pool lit up and glowing.  That room... I could not thank the Westin enough for that experience.  And the staff took it a step further with a birthday cake for my brother and snacks to feed his bottomless pit of a stomach.

After our first day of taking in the sun and mosquito feeding (at Playa Blanca, where the insects ate more than we did), we were ready to tackle our first excursion to another island - Saona Island.  We hopped the tour bus (after waiting for a while in "island time") and were transported East National Park.  From here, we boarded a high speed boat and jettisoned off to into the perfect waters.  On our boat, a "pirate" and our tour guide whipped out the rum and started liquoring up our tour-mates quickly.  Me, not only do I not drink, but this is not my first rodeo - I know better... so while many of those crazy folks had a jolly good time drinking their rum and cokes while bouncing on the open water, we chose to stay hydrated... salt and sand do take a toll if you are not careful.  Our first stop, the natural pools off the coast of the park.  Here you were far enough away from the coast to be out of the mosquitoes'' span.  The pool area was filled with boats and party goers  - the scene looking like something out of a spring break movie.  Tour-guides diving and looking for star fish (these lucky creatures not infected with the pacific wasting disease annihilating the populations of sea stars), and hold impromptu photo sessions with every tour participant.  We were given some time to frolic in the water  before we boarded the boats again to head to Saona. 

The island is an ideallic setting of soft white sands, beautiful blue waters and swaying palm trees.  Throw in peddlers hawking hats, bags, jewelry, lobsters, coconuts and pineapples and you get the picture.  I had plans; I wanted to explore the park.  I read there were trails.  I learned that this was a preserved tropical forest and it was a good opportunity to observe local birds and see some native flora.  Yeah - that was the plan.  Plans change!  Plans change in the name of  mosquitoes.  After leaving my brother at the beach, I took off with my camera and made it about 15 minutes before I was sure I lost a pint of blood.  I got bit 4 times while taking one picture.  My arms looked like I was suffering from some strange bump disease.  And did I mention that they hurt?  Wow, these little suckers pack quite a punch.  After a few up-tree shots, and a failed attempt to catch a  killjoy in her nest, I gave up and headed back to the surf.  There, my itches were soothed, and we bobbed in the waters until it was time for the BBQ.  There was lots of good food offered up - good thing too since the bottomless pit was hungry.  After eating, what I think was 3 plates of port chops, chicken, rice and fruit, as well as slurping down a pineapple worth of  virgin pina colata, we went back to bobbing in the water.  I broke the seal on the peddlers, breaking down to buy some cute larimer trinkets... after that offering, every one came to us.  My mistake (but the necklace is cute!)

Time to leave.  And everyone had to board the speed boat to transfer to the catamaran boat (while bobbing in the water) - oh, the things that would never happen in the States.  But, everyone made it.  We sailed back to the main island, while people drank and danced (and some got sick).  I don't know what they remember, but me - its the sight of that beach.  What an amazing contrast to the sights we saw on the way to the park.  The national park/tourist protection really makes a difference.  The condition of the park was pristine.  The condition of the areas we drove through - sad, littered and abused.

Once back, we realized that hanging out in the water with our sun glasses on meant that aloe I packed was necessary... so we slathered up and headed to dinner by the water... where we dined on more BBQ. YUMMMMMMMMMMMMY!

(Day 3 & 4 to be continued)

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