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Dominican Journal, Part II


Pulse News Mexico photo/Melissa T. Castro

My ‘Excelente’ Adventures in Punta Cana

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

Well, it is finally Day Seven of my Dominican odyssey, and I am out of the hospital and inside the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Punta Cana, at the fareastern end of the Dominican Republic.

And everything here, I am told, is “excelente.”

Except it is not.

I cannot say enough about the extraordinary care and attention I was provided by the Centro Médico Cabarete (CMC) in Sosúa, just outside the town of Cabarete in the north of the country.

I cannot say enough about the extraordinary care and attention I was provided by the Centro Médico Cabarete in Sosuá, just outside the town of Cabarete in the north of the country.

Not only did the CMC offer the highest level of professional care during my four-day stay there (and save my leg), but the owner and director, Argentine neurosurgeon Roberto Spitali, provided me with a private van and driver, José Kingsley (josekingsley6@gmail.com, tel: 829-203-6269), and a nurse to transport me to Punta Cana, which, for some bizarre reason, is the “in place” for international tourists at the moment  (more on that later).

José and the nurse, Katerina, went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable the entire five-hour drive.

Not only that, but Spitali’s delightfully charming, 83-year-old mother, who runs the 26-bed state-of-the-art hospital’s entire spick-and-span kitchen and cleaning staff like a military general, personally came to see me off and brought me homemade pastries to eat along the way.

Her daughter-in-law, Spitali’s American wife, Mary Jo Reinhart, spent hours keeping me company and personally overseeing that my every medical and personal need was attended to.

Along the route, Juan and Katerina tried to point out tourist attractions, including zip-lining in Monkey Jungle (not at the top of my bucket list at the moment).

In other words, outside of the whole being-run-over-by-an-SUV-and-having-to-have surgery-to-rescue-my-leg thing, my stay in Sosúa/Caberete was as pleasant as possible, albeit in a hospital.

Outside of the whole being-run-over-by-an-SUV-and-having-to-have surgery-to-rescue-my-leg thing, my stay in Sosúa/Caberete was as pleasant as possible, albeit in a hospital.

But getting back to my “excelente” stay in the Punta Cana Four Points.

When we arrived, my daughter was out doing her job inspecting hospitals for Allianz.

Supposedly, she had arranged for a handicap-accessible room and a wheelchair, but the hotel’s concept of handicap-accessible was an ultra-high bed, super-tight accommodations, where the wheelchair cannot pass through (including access to the bathroom), and a telephone on a desk on the opposite side of the room from the Princess-in-the-Pea bed.

The wheelchair was old and decrepit and I think pre-WWII in origin. Whatever it was, it was hard to maneuver.

The hotel’s concept of handicap-accessible was an ultra-high bed, super-tight accommodations, where the wheelchair cannot pass through (including access to the bathroom), and a telephone on a desk on the opposite side of the room from the Princess-in-the-Pea bed.

Moreover, it was only on the insistence of Juan and Katerina that the hotel staff even bothered to wheel me into my second-floor, so-called handicap-accessible room, where I was brutally manhandled onto the bed and  left, with the wheelchair “conveniently” stationed at the far end of the room, where I could not reach it.

There was a scenic view of the parking lot, and I was informed that the beach was 15 minutes away by car, or an hour and 15 minutes walking … which I cannot do at the moment (Did I mention the broken foot from being run over by an SUV in Caberete?).

My daughter arrived about an hour later and managed to pile me into the wheelchair and her rental car to take me around to see the glorious sights of Punta Cana, including a king-size Spider-Man statue, a massive white cement balloon stationed as a welcome totem at a $600-a-night Melia Hotel and row-upon-row of artificial palm trees.

Across from our hotel was a greasy-spoon Wendy’s, which emitted a foul, rancid-oil scent that permeated the street and hotel, so the thought of dining in was not particularly attractive option.

We ended up eating in the downtown commercial area where the Spider-Man statue was, along with promotions for a “Coco Bongo Show” of Lady Gaga and Jennifer López lookalikes.

We ended up eating in the downtown commercial area where the Spider-Man statue was, along with promotions for a “Coco Bongo Show” of Lady Gaga and Jennifer López lookalikes.

June is slow season in Punta Cana, and nearly every store and restaurant was abandoned.

The restaurant where we ended up eating, Lorenzillo’s, had about 70 tables, 15 waiters and two guests, my daughter and  myself.

The staff tried very hard to accommodate us and were friendly and courteous, but the food itself left a lot to be desired.

Although Lorenzillo’s is listed among the top dining establishments in Punta Cana (granted, the list also includes the local Subway, Burger King and Pizza Hut), the quality bar does not seem to be very high here.

We ordered an $85 lobster seafood platter for two (we got a scrawny, overcooked langoustine, no lobster, and some soft-shell crab with shrimp), a bottle of water and a plate of $4 fried bananas.

The bill came to $124.

Apparently taxes — 18 percent — and mandatory service fees boosted the price. We left only a small additional tip.

We returned to the hotel to discover that the walls separating us from the room next door were paper-thin, and we had the pleasure of listening to the rowdy voices of our three neighbors’ conversations until about 9:30 p.m., when they turned on the  broadcast of a soccer game full blast on their tv and things got very noisy.

We called the front desk to ask them to please call the room next door to ask them to lower the volume of their television.

The response: “Excelente!”

The front desk attendee hung up, the telephone next door never rang, and the noise and boos and cheers continued into the wee hours of the night.

Notwithstanding, we managed to get some sleep, until about 5 a.m., when the electricity in our room (including the air conditioning) died (but strangely enough, not in the rest of the hotel).

We called the front desk:

”We have no electricity in our room.”

”Excelente!”

”No, not Excelente. The room is sweltering.”

”Excelente!”

”Can you please fix the electricity?”

”Yes, we will do that.”

”When, please?  Because it is really hot in here and we don’t have any light.”

”Later.”

”When is later?, because we are sweating,”

”Excelente!”

”We need light and air conditioning…”

”Excelente!”

“I want to speak to the manager!”

”Excelente!”

The front desk guy, who name was Samuel Mejia, hung up.

Eventually, the electrician showed up and got us light and air conditioning, my daughter helped me to get washed and dressed, we had breakfast (room service), and she headed off to inspect another two hospitals.

Eventually, the electrician showed up and got us light and air conditioning.

Later, I tried to make my way toward the bathroom to brush my teeth and the wheelchair did not get over the hump separating the bathroom and the bedroom, but I did.

I managed to catch my balance on the wheelchair and fall back into it, not without uttering a scream, and, perhaps, a few choice words.

The maid, Escandra Soto, a stout, all-smiles ball of joy who happened to be a trained registered nurse (she said she makes better money as a member of the hotel’s housekeeping staff), heard my screams and came to rescue me, first positioning me properly in the wheelchair, then arranging the bed and gently maneuvering me on to a soft pile of pillows, never once uttering that dreadful word “excelente” (a true godsend).

The maid, Escandra Soto, a stout, all-smiles ball of joy who happened to be a trained registered nurse, heard my screams and came to rescue me.

Soon after, the Four Points Punta Cana manager, Ingrid Herrera, a buoyant Colombian with an infectious cheerfulness, and the front desk supervisor, Noraima Whitmowth, a glowingly stunning young Dominican with a complexion that would be the envy of Lupita Nyong’o, came to apologize for “Excelente Samuel” and his less-than-professional public relations style.

i am now comfortably poised on my sky-high bed, my leg gently suspended over a mini-mountain of pillows, and munching away at a courteous plate of fruits and a nice cup of tea that Ingred and Noraima sent me, waiting for my daughter to come back and for us to begin our last leg of the Dominican tour in La Romana.

I cannot real say that my stay in Punta Cana has been “excelente,” but I will say that what I am now beginning to recognize as “classic Dominican hospitality” (with the notable exception of Mr. I-think-your-bedroom-being-a-sauna-is-excelente) has truly compensated for my disastrous misadventures here and, broken foot and all, I have found the DR to be a great travel destination.

Stay tuned for the final installment of my Dominican journal in days ahead.

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Categories: Culture, Mexico, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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