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Dominican Journal, Part I


Pulse News Mexico photo/Melissa T. Castro

Not the Best Start    

By THÉRÈSE  MARGOLIS  

Allianz, the international medical insurance company my daughter works for, decided to send her for a week to the Dominican Republic (DR) to check out hospitals across the island, so I decided to tag along to keep her company and to get to know the country firsthand.

As it turned out, the trip has been a rather intense adventure so far and a lot more than we bargained for, and it is only Day Three.

Actually, the mishaps started before we even left Mexico, on the Aeroméxico redeye from Terminal Two, the only direct flight out of Mexico City to Santo Domingo.

Actually, the mishaps started before we even left Mexico, on the Aeroméxico redeye from Terminal Two, the only direct flight out of Mexico City to Santo Domingo.

Having booked our flights and seats well in advance in Clase Premier (Areomexico’s versión of business class) and having received confirmation of those seats (not to mention the fact that we arrived at the airport four hours before takeoff), we felt certain that there would be no problem with our tickets.

We were wrong.

When we arrived at the checkin counter, we discovered that Aeroméxico had changed our seating to two different rows and when we complained, a very unpleasant ticket agent told us that we had to accept the seats we were being given because we had not upgraded to the level of being able to choose our seats … in business class … where we had paid full fare.

After demanding to see his supervisor and being told we could not, we gave up and proceeded to the Aeroméxico lounge, where we were told that, of course, our seats were confirmed as we had requested them, but now it was too late to change them back.

So, long story short, we preceded to the gate, only to find out it was not a gate but a conglomeration of gates, for flights leaving for Tokyo, Orlando, Beijing and about six other flights (including our flight to Santo Domingo), all crowded into a small space with a lot of unhappy passengers and muffled voice announcements that nobody could understand.

And on our flight, there were a group of eight Domincan deportees, accompanied by Mexican immigration officials, who were holding onto their passports until the plane took off.

On our flight, there were a group of eight Domincan deportees, accompanied by Mexican immigration officials.

The majority of the deportees were accompanied to the back of the plane, but not all of them.

Two were seated in business class, in — you guessed it — our seats.

And to make matters worse, it seems that to accommodate the deportees, Areoméxico had overbooked the flight and made two seated passengers deboard  the plane, even though they too had paid full economy-class fares in advance. (Apparently, Aeromexico never heard of Doctor David Dao and his notorious nonflight with United.)

Finally, the plane took off (almost an hour late) and we managed to change seats with a gentleman in front of us (next to the business-class deportees), and, with the exception of the cabin being a temperature of a balmy 12 degrees Celsius, had a rather uneventful flight.

Then we landed in Santo Domingo, where we went to the Enterprise car rental desk to pick up our prearranged, four-wheel-drive SUV. (Some of the roads in the DR leave a lot to be desired, to put it mildly, so SUVs are the vehicles of choice, especially for those traveling outside the capital.)

The lady who attended to us was very polite and said, yes, we had the vehicle reserved and that Enterprise had sent a confirmation to us the night before confirming our reservation, but, unfortunately, she did not have the vehicle available.

“Okay, fine, what vehicles do you have available?” we asked.

“None,” she answered.

“When would she have vehicles?” “No idea, maybe today, maybe not.”

We ended up getting a rental car from Hertz.

Then, tired and irritable, we headed off for Puerto Plata, supposedly a four-hour drive away.

Tired and irritable, we headed off for Puerto Plata, supposedly a four-hour drive away.

But what we’re supposed to be roads on the second leg of the highway could best be described as vehicular traumas in mud and potholes, precariously suspended over steep cliffs and ravines, in other words, extreme tourism to the nth power.

The further we got away from the capital, the more apparent the extreme poverty became, with row after row of shanties compiled of thrown-together slabs of aluminum and even cardboard boxes.

Finally, we arrived in Puerto Plata and the police-guarded, gated community of VH Gran Ventana Beach Resort, part of a closed-in complex of McMansion homes and luxury hotels, perfectly manicured lawns and lush golf courses, a shocking contrast to the surrounding non-tourist area.

The VH Gran Ventana Beach Resort boasted a stunning Grecian-style external architecture, lackluster food and dreadful clientele, almost exclusively foreign but also some apparently well-heeled Dominicans, who went out of their way to insult the waitstaff and had vocabularies that were apparently devoid of words like “please” and “thank you.” They also apparently had never been taught the concept of “inside voices.”

The service at the hotel was basically good, once we realized that smiling is not a national pastime in the Dominican Republic (although the people are very hospitable). Then again, having to deal with the obnoxious clientele that were residing at the hotel was enough to make anyone grimace.

Smiling is not a national pastime in the Dominican Republic (although the people are very hospitable).

The rooms were barebones, with little in the way of amenities and threadbare sheets and towels. The lighting was miserable and we could barely see inside the room unless it was daytime amd we had the curtains open all the way, which entailed looking into the rooms across the way.

Somehow, for $250 a night, this so-called all-inclusive resort seemed extremely overpriced.

However, I have to admit the beach itself was beautiful, with sand so soft it felt like silk under our feet.

The crystalline waters were as still as a mirror and deliciously refreshing.

Day Two, and my daughter and I decided to set off to see a local organic cacao farm.

The  cacao farm, called Hacienda Cufa, was well worth the $15 a head we paid for a full tour, a home-style lunch and a chocolate facial.

The cacao farm, called Hacienda Cufa, was well worth the $15 a head we paid for a full tour, a home-style lunch and a chocolate facial.

We also ended up incorporating ourselves into a group of tourism students from the northern Domincan province of Samaná, along with their mayor, Cecilio Garcia, since they were the only other people visiting the farm that day.

All of them were extremely welcoming and went out of their way to include us in their group activities.

We also got the chance to talk to the mayor, who told  us about his region, where thousands of hunchback whales go to mate each winter.

Samana is also home to some of the DR’s most beautiful reefs, with underwater caverns and mangrove swamps rich in birdlife.

Samana is home to some of the DR’s most beautiful reefs, with underwater caverns and mangrove swamps rich in birdlife.

A nearby trail runs through a dense jungle to the El Limón Waterfall, which empties into a crystal pool ideal for swimming.

We ended the day getting a quick tour of Puerto Plata proper, away from the isolated gated community and the very rich, etiquettely challenged tourists, taking in the colorful colonial buildings — many now abandoned and in decay — and being invited to participate in a merengue mass, a truly unique DR experience.

Day Three, and things really went south.

Day Three, and things really went south.

In the morning, my daughter went to inspect two hospitals ln Puerto Plata while I waited at the hotel, basking in the sun and packing for checkout.

She picked me up at around noon and we headed to the town of Caberete, one hour north of Puerto Plata.

Since we had an hour before she had the meeting with the local hospital, the Centro Médico Caberete (CMC), we decided to stop at a nearby restaurant for lunch.

When I got out of the car at the restaurant parking lot, an SUV with an apparently distracted driver backed up over me and I suddenly found myself lying on the ground with a wheel on top of my left leg, screaming in agony.

Fortunately, my daughter convinced the driver (who, by the way, was not Dominican, but a foreign tourist) not to back up (which would have shattered my leg completely), but to allow some local residents to lift the car manually of my leg and pull me out.

She rushed me to the nearby Centro Médico Cabarete on the Sosúa Highway, a family-run, 26-bed hospital owned and operated by an Argentine neurosurgeon, Roberto Spitali, and his American wife, Mary Jo Reinhart.

Fortunately, this state-of-the-art hospital (probably the best in the entire DR) was equipped with the latest equipment and a highly specialized staff.

I was immediately attended to and since my foot was broken, operated on by two orthopedic surgeons, who managed to save my leg, despite all the tissue in it being converted to mush.

I have to say that the quality and care provided at the hospital has been extraordinary and the entire staff has helped me through this trauma.

The quality and care provided at the hospital has been extraordinary and the entire staff has helped me through this trauma.

I am going to be in the hospital for four days, with my leg in a soft cast and unable to move much, so there really will be little more for me to write about this for now.

Hopefully, I shall be joining my daughter in Punta Cana, at the other end of the island, in a few days and can pick up the journal from there.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

 

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