Hailey, Varenna and I just returned last weekend from a six-day vacation in Cabarete, a beach town on the north shore of the Dominican Republic. We traveled with Hailey’s mom, Diana, who instigated the trip last April. The logic was like many vacations hatched for this time of the year: some place warm, with sand and surf. No other requirements.
Why Cabarete? Well, we had access to a timeshare there, and it afforded all the things we needed: a two-room suite with views of the Caribbean Sea. Food? Included. Drink? Yep, that too. We were determined to rediscover loafing.
And it was because of this that I had low expectations for photography. It seemed that we wouldn’t stray too far from the resort, and while we had a rental car, we didn’t plan to use it much (on account we had read in Lonely Planet that the roads were treacherous and that the rules of the road were non-existent).
While I had recently bought a new lens — and I was eager to try out (a Canon 24mm-105mm f4) — I was remarkably less-than-obsessed with my usual vacation routine: waking at dawn, shoulder-slung lens bag for quick access, “can I take a photo of you?” memorized in the local language…
We were going for the main purpose of relaxing on a beach. We had few ambitions. Sigh.
(click on image for a larger view)
What we did discover was that driving in the D.R. really isn’t that bad. It’s just different.
After the 30-minute drive from Puerto Plata Airport to the Ocean Manor in Cabarete, I was brimming with confidence. String of mopeds going 15mph? Just skirt right by them. Massive dump truck riding your bumper? Just ease to the side and wave him around on the next straightaway. Donkey on the road? Keep an eye on him but keep going. Cattle drive covering the highway? Yield to the ones with horns (if you want your damage deposit back from Avis, that is).
We arrived on Sunday, and by Tuesday we had abandoned the loafing game plan and hit the road — our curiosity piqued by the drive in, the desire to see Playa Grande, and a renewed sense of road-worthiness. It was a sign of things to come, for throughout our six-night stay, we drove to Rio San Juan and Playa Grande (twice), hung out in Sosua (twice) and checked out the beach scene in downtown Cabarete. Without a rental car, we probably would have loafed a lot more, and — I believe — we would have had a lot less fun.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that driving the highway along the Dominican Republic’s North Shore was my favorite part of the trip. The only tough part of driving was staying alert in the urban areas. The roads are maybe a lane and a half wide, so we encountered plenty of tight squeezes paired with sudden motorbike merges.
But without a rental car, I don’t think I would have had any assessment of the country — its rugged landscape, it’s people, everyday life. All of that would have been based on what I’d read while loafing. That just doesn’t feel right to me.
And so, it turns out we’re not very good at loafing.
This was the fourth vacation we’ve gone on with our daughter, Varenna. I guess its not surprising, but I have to make note of the fact that each time we go somewhere with her it just gets better. She is an incredible observer, picking up on the smallest details, the distant sounds, and even nuances you’d expect a 2-year-old to miss, such as the fact that locals use a different language than us. She quickly learned to say “¿Hola, como estas?” as a form of greeting. This delighted every Dominican she came across.
And she learned to overcome some anxieties around water, especially the ocean. Its very rewarding as a father to watch your daughter evolve in a matter of days, from timidity to just-the-right-amount-of-confidence. Of course, this conquering of Wave Terror also happened the day we were leaving, which meant a lot of her clothes were wetter than we wanted in the suitcase — and let me tell you, nothing’s smellier than a toddler’s seawater-addler clothes after 16 hours in a suitcase.
But so what? That’s what a true vacation is about, right?