Jaimee and I have known each other since we were kids growing up on Long Island. We met at tryouts for the Gymnastics team in junior high and have remained friends ever since. Our friendship has endured a long distance as she moved to California when we were 16. We have somehow managed to still see each other a few times a year and talk on the phone a few times a week. That all changed in 2009, when she decided to relocate – to Haiti.
It took those who knew her by surprise when Jaimee said she was going to volunteer in Haiti. Quite frankly, she would have been the last person in the world I would pick to live in a place without electricity or running water. She went, though, and stayed through the earthquake, the floods and the beginning of the Cholera epidemic. She helped where she could and survived how she could – and she was more than ready to meet me at a luxurious resort in the Dominican Republic.
Haiti is actually on the same island as the Dominican Republic, but that didn’t mean it was going to be an easy trip. They are very distinctly two countries, with two languages (French/Creole in Haiti; Spanish in DR) and they don’t communicate with each other very well. Jaimee and I spent weeks trying to figure out how she was going to get the approximately 250 miles from her home in Les Cayes, Haiti, to the Paradisus Punta Cana on Bavaro Beach and we (literally) hit a road block. Finally, she decided to “wing it” and promised to meet me on Monday night at the hotel.
On Monday, I headed from my home in Illinois to the Dominican Republic with my two suitcases, enjoying my first class seat on American Airlines. I finished up some work, sipped some wine and made phone calls on my layovers. Jaimee hopped a crowded bus with a backpack (afraid to carry too much), handed out what little money she had to whom she needed to and traveled the roads to the border. While I was breezing through customs and hopping into the van Paradisus sent for me, she was arriving in Santo Domingo, unable to speak the language and unsure of where she would be spending the night since there weren’t any buses heading to Punta Cana by the time she finally did arrive.
I never did get the message that Jaimee wasn’t coming until Tuesday so I spent the night and morning worrying, but once she did arrive, it was the ultimate Girls Getaway, even more for her. We sipped champagne and enjoyed the Royal Service at Paradisus Punta Cana, which gives you your own butler to provide 24 hour room service. We enjoyed the great buffet at Luna, which included a wide choice of cuisine. Then it was off to “Sushi Making,” one of the resort’s Life Enriching Classes, before we sneaked down to the beach, where we relaxed on one of the queen size beds while a waiter brought us Piña Coladas!
After Jaimee got some rest and I had my yoga lesson (at sunset on the beach, it doesn’t get any better than that), we dressed for dinner at the Italian restaurant where we enjoyed the lively conversation of Paradisus Punta Cana’s Managing Director, Francisco “Paco” Castillo. Over a light Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and tender Osso Buco, we watched the dancers and vowed to take Tango lessons. Then it was off to the casino for a little slot action before bed.
Wednesday was filled with pampering as Jaimee and I enjoyed the resort’s spa. My “Hibiscus Journey” was as relaxing as can be and Jaimee made good use of the Jacuzzi and sauna before her treatment of the hands and feet. We had lunch at Vita where I can confirm that the Paradisus Punta Cana Banana Blue Cheese Pizza is an incredible surprise, but I didn’t eat too much before taking my Segway ride along the beach.
It was Wednesday evening that we moved to the Paradisus Palma Real, the only resort in the Dominican Republic recognized by Leading Hotels of the World. We were certainly impressed when we entered our suite, which had indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis and a swim-up entrance to the pool! We didn’t have too long to enjoy it before we were off to the Aqua, a modern restaurant with classic food. The champagne filled dinner was the end to another great day.
We were staying at The Reserve section of the Palma Real and the breakfast buffet was amazing, filled with everything from chocolate croissants to Plantanos. I took a long tour of the hotel, checking out the very impressive kids’ section, which I can imagine children never wanting to leave. They even have their own pool, with elephants spouting water, and a restaurant with kids’ favorites like spaghetti and meatballs. A few hours of walking and I was ready for a lunch at The Reserve’s pool grill and then Jaimee and I took off for a sail on a catamaran before my tennis lesson! It was a beautiful night and after our Italian Dinner we enjoyed the live music at the resort, while Jaimee won $100 at the casino.
Friday was our last day in Punta Cana and we had filled it with some great adventures. First up was horseback riding, something I hadn’t done in 20 years. It was a bit like riding a bike and though I will never try it again without a sports bra (!), it was a lot of fun and the trot along the beach was breathtaking. Our Eco Tour guide than took us to Reserva Ecologica, where Jaimee went swimming in the fresh water lagoon while I snapped photos of the beautiful scene.
Before we knew it we were back at the resort for lunch and our afternoon at the spa. As beautiful as the YHI at the Paradisus Punta Cana was, the one at Palma Real was about as perfect as it could get. It was a place to relax the day away, through the Zen gardens that lead to a paradise in the back. It is filled with Jacuzzis, a hydrotherapy pool, foot baths and more, with lounges, tea, juices and snacks. It had me totally relaxed by the time I was in Francisco’s arms for my Tango lesson! As the sweat poured off me, Jaimee laughed and then took her own turn dipping and twirling.
Our last dinner together was a perfect one, starting with Passion Fruit Bellinis and continuing through the roast of lamb and a traditional Flan for dessert. We toasted for awhile, but knew that Jaimee had an early day ahead of her. While we were luxuriating in our girls’ getaway, her Haitian home was recovering from a hurricane, yet more devastation to the area. She was leaving at 5:00 am to begin her voyage to the other side of the island. Thankfully, she made it safely and found little damage to her home as she settled back into life without swim-up bars or even indoor plumbing.
Marcia Frost has her own blogs at WineAndSpiritsTravel.com and SpiritsTraveler. She also writes wine, spirits and travel for many other publications, including USA Today, Associated Content Yahoo!, Travel Roads, Air Tran’s Go! Magazine and Tennis Life. She makes regular contributions at Girls Getaway.