The kayak was very orange, and wider than I expected, and the life vest was thicker than I remembered as the buckles were clicked in place. It was all happening too quick. There was no line of customers waiting their turn, so when we walked up to the activity booth and my daughter said, “We’d like to kayak,” POOF, we were being dressed to venture into the sea. My actual inquiry would have been, “I really would like to conquer my irrational fear of being in deep water, while my experienced daughter rolls her eyes at me.” Hoping against hope that they’d run out of the teeny vessels, I spied three empty ones lazing in the sun.
Bahia Principe Beach
My daughter and I were on our traditional winter getaway and choose an inexpensive all-inclusive internet deal to the Dominican Republic. The Bahia Principe La Romana is a Shangri-La-like resort lying on the southern coast between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana: a picture-postcard destination that fulfills all the fun-in-the-sun needs one may have, including unending food, drinks, and dessert plus one complementary hour of a water sport per day.
The Dominican Republic tourism office hires specialized security to keep tourists safe when off the resort grounds.
Lathered up with sunscreen, barefoot, hatless, with vests secured, my daughter and I walked towards the kayak which lay dangerously close to the water. I wondered aloud if it may be too windy to go out on the calm bay, the kayak attendant just made a face and tsked. Pointing to me he said, “You up front.” That can’t be, I thought. That’s like putting a toddler in the front seat of a roller coaster, surely my more experienced daughter should sit there. But, wanting to appear brave and fearless, and respecting his knowledge of weight distribution, I acquiesced. While he held the kayak in place, I embarked with as much elegance as I could muster, feeling the kayak wobble a bit. Without skipping a beat, my daughter moved into her back seat. Paddle in hand, we were pushed out into the lapping, moving water.
Our villa for the seven days was roomy with a balcony, mini-bar, double sinks, and plenty of bottled water for brushing teeth and taking on the road. At check in, the rep was upfront about the danger of drinking the tap water, but pointed out that the water served at restaurants, in the lobby dispensers was completely safe to drink. This was comforting as before we left the States, we’d been duly warned about the poor state of the water, that even something as simple as an ice cube could knock us out.
The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor
Bahia Principe was a delight from the first day to the last, even the workers seemed to enjoy their work, giving us cheery olas as they went about their work. The bartenders calpso-ed as they prepared Pina Coladas, the waiters salsa-ed through the dining area, and the grounds keepers merengued while cutting the grass. Once, when I was scouring the dining room for a spare coffee packet, a staff member came up to me and asked what I needed, and when I said, “Decaf packet,” he nodded, and in no time brought back two of them. Gracias.
Ancient map of the world, ends at Ireland at the top, Caribbean down southwest
To break up the week, we opted for a day trip to Santo Domingo for a peek into city life and to learn a bit of its fascinating history, we’re talking Christopher Columbus-history. Touring the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1512 and completed in 1540, we heard that the first Catholic diocese in the New World was set up right here in Santo Domingo. Guided through the Museum of the Royal Houses, a former administrative office building of the Caribbean colonies, we came upon a centuries-old map of the world, when it was believed it was flat, and before the Americas had been discovered.
Columbus’ diary, written in his own hand, in Latin
On a large board, the various routes that Columbus took on his multiple voyages from Spain to the Caribbean lit up like Christmas lights; we saw portraits of the man — one different than the other since no one really knew what he looked like; we learned that El Salvador was so named because, fearing for his life from his crew, Columbus found “salvation” on that newly discovered island. Santo Domingo boasts that the remains of Columbus lie in the Christopher Columbus Lighthouse, built in 1986 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas. There continue to be debates on whether this is entirely true, with Spain arguing that they have his remains in a cathedral in Seville.
Paddling from right to left, I was enjoying the serenity of the activity, while remaining vigilant for a rogue tsunami on the horizon. My breathing was still shallow for fear that a full inhalation would topple us over. As the occasional wave came towards us, I braced for impact, only to find that it floated gently underneath the kayak. My daughter, with her hours of kayak experience, took kindly on her mother and offered comforting comments like, “See how nice this is,” or instructions like, “Let’s face the wave, not be on the side of it.” For forty-five minutes we alternatively paddled and floated, away from shore, then back again. I relaxed into the kayak and could see the attraction of the sport; I just might do this again.
The all-inclusive vacation can be more than feasting on the all-you-can-eat buffets and chug-a-lugging daiquiris. It’s also an opportunity to explore new territory: choosing items from the menu that you’ve never had before, or a challenging activity that’s out of the comfort zone. I know that stepping out of that kayak — something I never thought I’d do – was something I’ll never forget. And if that doesn’t define a great vacation, I don’t know what will.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff
Top:Kayaks lazing in the sun