Our week long vacation in Punta Cana had started off badly. The first two days had been cloudy, hot and humid, with several rain showers. The weather predictions for the rest of the week werent much better. When the sun finally came out on Thursday I rushed into it like a bride on her wedding day. Not wanting to go home without a tan, I laid by the pool all afternoon without putting on any tanning lotion or sun block. Between the blisters on the bottoms of my feet from walking on hot cement without any shoes when we first arrived, and now the sun poisoning, I couldn't go out into the sun again for the next three days. By then, Ray and I were bored, restless and eager to squeeze in as much fun as we could on the last remaining day of our vacation.
We woke up early and reserved a little thatched roof hut by the pool. The resort offered many activities and water sports to the guests and I wanted to try them all. Whenever I picture myself in my mind, I am athletic, graceful and energetic. I think I can do anything, and do it well. In reality... I am anything but. Anytime I even attempt to participate in any type of physical activity, especially a sport, it's not long before I am painfully reminded how much of a klutz I really am. The first thing I wanted to try was boogie boarding. I had only done it once before and that was many years ago. I vaguely remembered that I had almost drowned on that occasion, but I didn't think it was because I had absolutely no ability. I ran into the surf with my little board. Ray was ahead of me and I saw him catch a swell of water without any difficulty. I tried to jump onto the same wave, but for some reason it flipped me over and tossed me about like a Frisbee. My eyes stung from the salt water and my knees scraped against the sand. I stood up choking, hair in my face, and looking as unglamorous as a girl can get, catching a glimpse of Ray as he glided smoothly to the beach on his board. He looked up at me and smiled. "That was great! Did you ride that one?", he asked. "No... I caught the one after yours. It was much bigger and WAY more dangerous!", I lied easily and with a straight face. I'm surprised they don't have death warnings printed on those damn boards. I decided to exchange mine for a pair of fins and a snorkel. I've never been a great swimmer, but I knew it was very unlikely that one would drown while snorkeling just 50 feet from the beach, in only about 10 feet of water, while wearing a life vest. Getting into the water is the hard part. Most people put on their fins AFTER they get into the water, but since I have no sense of balance, I have to put mine on while sitting on the beach. "We could try kayaking after this!", I yelled over to Ray. "Ummmm... maybe on some other vacation!", he decided after watching me make my way into the surf trying not to trip over the tips of my fins. I spent the next hour or so splashing around in the ocean, lifting my head up and out of the water only when it leaked down into my snorkel tube. I frequently engaged in a swimming frenzy when I found myself too close to any coral I was sure would scrape me, found myself near a hole in a rock formation that I was convinced could be the home of a very unsociable barracuda, or if the water became murky from sand I just knew had been kicked up by a rapidly approaching Great White Shark. Finally exhausted, I emerged from the water, barely able to stand, and crawled to the beach, falling frequently, choking and gasping for breath. Watching me, one might think I was quite possibly a shipwreck survivor who had been stranded at sea for several months, and finally made it to land. The adventure over, I was left with that racoon-like indentation in my face from the mask for the rest of the day. Ray enjoyed the snorkel without a life vest, and was able to dive down and pick up a few seashells for me. While sitting on the beach, recovering from the dive, we watched a couple take out a Hobie Cat Sail Boat. Even though they were experienced, the wind caused them to lose control of the boat several times, and they were knocked over into the surf. Ray and I looked at each other. We both shook our heads and said... "No!", at the same time! Sometimes you just know.
We were scheduled for a romantic horseback ride on the beach anyway. Although I had never been riding before, Ray had lots of experience. I bought a straw hat to protect me from the sun, and we changed into long pants to protect our legs from the flies. The horses were hot, tired and not as thrilled to go for a ride on the beach as we were, but they cooperated. The ride was included as part of the resort package, so there was a large group of us going at the same time. The horses must have been raised together or at least great friends, because they walked VERY close together the entire time. The horse in front of mine actually tried to kick my horse when we got a little too close. It was very hot wearing those long pants, but the ride was a lot of fun. In fact, had we done this earlier in the week we may have signed up to do it again, but in a smaller group. Before going back to our room, we changed into shorts, and stopped at a few outdoor shops on the beach to buy some souvenirs. We took a dip in a hot tub and snapped a few more pictures. "What do you want to do next?", Ray asked. Thinking about all the things we hadn't done yet, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. "Take a NAP!", I answered truthfully.
It was the end of a very enjoyable week. We had finally settled into the rhythm of the island and actually dreaded going back to the fast pace of our everyday lives. We snapped pictures right up to the minute we left for the airport. I guzzled one more (OK.. maybe it was two) Tropical Beverages while our luggage was loaded onto the van.
The airline delayed our return flight for more than 24 hours, so they had to put us up in Old San Juan for the night. Initially we were very upset, but the hotel they sent us to turned out to be one the highlights of our entire trip. They also gave us a $50 voucher for dinner, $20 for breakfast, and ground transportation to and from the hotel in Puerto Rico. Not having anyone to pick us up the following day in Philadelphia, they also made arrangements to get us all the way home. The only bad part was that I'd have to go into work about 2 hours after we got home. Oh well! I said that I wanted to have fun all the way up to and including the last minute!
The 'El Convento' was a 350 year old convent that had been converted into a luxury hotel by the Woolworth family. Many Hollywood movie stars have stayed there, including Rita Hayworth and George Hamilton. The Puerto Rican government has spent more than $250,000 to renovate each room since they took ownership. It's now the official hotel for visiting dignitaries and government officials. There are still some remnants left from the convent days, like holy water basins, bells and crosses, but every modern amenity is provided like air conditioning, heavenly mattresses, deluxe showers, and color TV. The first floor is occupied by gourmet restaurants, bistros, coffee houses and exclusive shops. The food was absolutely delicious!
I wish we could have stayed to explore and enjoy this fascinating hotel and city. I can honestly say that although we would never go back to Punta Cana again, we would definitely spend a few nights at the 'El Convento'.