Sunday, March 27, 2016

How I Learned to Love the Hustle

I don't generally do spontaneity well. It's not that I'm a planner, mind you, rather more of an inertialist. So when my wife and I decided to book an all-inclusive Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic a week before the departure date, I scored it a comfort-zone-shattering win.

And when both of my daughters independently told us that they loved the trip (no small feat to get kids of a certain age to admit doing something with their parents doesn't completely suck), that sealed a lifetime memory for my team. Here's hoping the Zika clears their system before I have small-headed grandbabies.

Given a week to prepare to go someplace we'd never been, and travel in a way I'd never done, we learned a handful of lessons the hard way - or at least the most inefficient way. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I wish I'd known about in advance:

Tipping customs at all-inclusive resorts

We stayed at the Sunscape Puerto Plata, a nice but not extravagant little joint on the Playa Dorada on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. I'm guessing it's fairly typical of all-inclusive places - couple of restaurants, bunch of bars (including one in the pool), friendly staff, drunken Canadians, etc. From the moment we got there, I felt awkward about expectations regarding gratuities.

I tried to give the guy that brought our bags to the room $5, but he dropped our luggage and walked away without looking at me. I gave bartenders a buck the first few times I ordered drinks, until I realized that nobody else was doing so. Left 500 (!) pesos (about $11) after dinners - no idea whether that's how it's done. Didn't tip the waitstaff at the buffet restaurant, 'cause it didn't seem like anyone else was.

I was having a better time than my expression might indicate
We went on a couple of excursions, and I gave our guides $10-15 each. Was that right? Fuck if I know. Housekeeping had to come to our room three different times to sort out issues (broke a beer bottle, clogged the toilets - unrelated issues), and I left them $20 when we checked out, but didn't give them anything when they showed up to help because I'd run out of cash and had to leave the resort to go to an ATM.

Didn't tip the Canadians, though. Pretty sure that was the right move.

Techniques for teaching 
children to flush a toilet

Neither of my kids knows how to flush their toilet at home, so why would that be different on vacation. I estimate that I plunge their toilet 3-4 times a week. Or did, before I decided that they're on their own about a month ago. Sure enough, they clogged the toilet in our room at the resort twice, requiring us to call housekeeping each time. On neither occasion did I have cash on hand (see above).

The Hustle is real

My life is overwhelmingly first world, both problems and day to day experiences. The last time I went somewhere remotely 'developing' was when Dave and I traveled to Cancun over Spring Break in college. We stayed in town, away from the resort area, so we got a (very) little taste of local life. We also got taken deep by the 'guide' employed by the company that organized the trip, who steered us to crappy restaurants, convinced us to take a ridiculous boat trip, and pocketed $15 from each of us by telling us we could pay him to take care of expediting our processing at the airport when we flew back home.

That dude hustled us, in the worst sense of the word. In the Dominican, though, while everyone is hustling you, and nearly all the time, it's so transparent, and they're so damn friendly, that it's (almost) enjoyable. We went horseback riding and ziplining out in the country, and our guides basically told us how and when they expected to be tipped. They also detoured our group to a little roadside artisan stand in the midst of some of the most abject poverty I've ever seen and made us get off our bus and browse the wares. I'm sure they were getting a cut, but it hardly mattered.

We went to a place called Ocean World, which had the potential to be a gawdawful tourist clusterfuck, and turned out to be a gem. We swam with dolphins and sea lions, snorkeled, and played with all manner of macaws, toucans, and lovebirds. And when the trainers transparently asked for a little sumpin' sumpin' with big smiles on their faces, we gladly offered it up.

My daughter isn't a ham, at all
The (almost) above would go away, but for the fact that we got snookered into sitting through the resort's vacation club presentation/hard sell. Total rookie mistake, frankly. I finally got us out of it by concocting a story about how lousy we are with money and planning to illustrate the fact that we'd never get any value from a membership. Self-deprecation for the win.

Finally, as we left the Dominican, we were met at the airport by an army of guys wearing 'Volunteer Porter' shirts. Despite my protestations, they grabbed our luggage and shepherded us through the check-in process, which was a bit chaotic (though not as much as it was at Reagan National Airport on our way out of the U.S.). And when I sheepishly told them that I'd literally given my last peso to the driver who'd taken us to the airport, they shrugged, smiled, and went on to the next family. I'm sure they waited until I couldn't hear before they called me a pendejo.

Have I mentioned that the Dominican people are awesome?

All-inclusive is cool, and all, but you need to get out

If I do something like this again, I'm definitely making a point of going out into the local community without a guide or organized group. On both of our excursions, we drove through downtown Puerto Plata, a chaotic, alternately ramshackle and lovely beachside town. Our route took us through the Malecon, a 4km boulevard that runs along the beach. It's lousy with open air restaurants, bars, and little cafes.

I really wish we'd stopped there, 'cause I bet we'd have had a better and far more authentic meal than any of the ones we ate at our resort. Plus, we could've taken Moto Taxis, which are fucking bonkers.

I would recommend not being as much of a douche as this guy while aboard one, though:

Presidente is pretty tasty in a pinch

I was shocked and chagrined to learn that Dominicans don't import exotic IPAs to cater to their elitist Norteamericano tourist clientele. Nah, I wasn't. But it's true that they don't. I sucked it up, though, and found that Presidente, the local pilsner, is pretty damn good on a warm Caribbean day.

You gotta be ready with the camera, man

As we left our room to head out on our horseback riding/ziplining excursion, my little on complained of illness. We made it almost all the way to the lobby of the resort before she barfed into a lovely flowering bush. Since that particular excursion was her idea, and she's the stubbornest kid on the planet, she was determined to make the journey, regardless of how she felt.

She managed to make it all the way to the mountainside venue, and through the 20-minute horseback ride without further incident. And I managed to pull 'agua para la nina, por favor?' from deep in the recesses of my limited Spanish repository to get her some hydration.

She took a little break as we walked to the ziplining starting point, but started to turn a little green as we climbed a ladder to the first platform. She managed to make it through two of the seven stations without incident, but as she whizzed into the third, her stomach rebelled, and she barfed gloriously from a great height.

And me without a camera.

The US Customs entry process at Miami International Airport is a clusterfuck, and I'm an idiot

I understand that security's an important function of our Federal government, and that entering a sovereign nation is a serious thing. And, man, do I get that the good people of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have a tough and thankless job. But holy shit is it a mess to get back into America in Miami. Directions are confusing, lines snake everywhere, the process seems to change and morph on the whims of whichever official one encounters next, and all of this is exacerbated by the hundreds of other tired and confused travelers milling about the same general area.

It took us nearly an hour to wend our way through the various pathways to get beyond a customs inspector, at which point I realized that I am a Global Entry cardholder. Curious, I asked a CBP officer if I could have used my Global Entry status to take my whole family through that significantly expedited process. The answer, should it matter to any of you in the future, is yes.

What a fucking dope.

So in the course of an overwhelmingly positive time, I learned some stuff. Dominican time is different than American time - which is a good lesson about what's really important. Mentioning Pedro Martinez in the DR is a surefire way to get some dap and bond with the locals. Not being a dick to people when you're a visitor to their country is always in style. And probably most significantly, it's still possible for my family to act like we love one another despite sharing close quarters for nearly a week. All it took was a little Dominican sunshine. 


Danimal said...

So the act of not flushing the toilet isn't outgrown? That is disappointing. Literally 3 minutes ago I discovered yet another brown trout resting in its cove, the 3rd in the last 15 hours.

Rob, how/why did you decide on that resort? Nice going.

TR said...

All-inclusive resorts at beautiful beaches in impoverished countries present moral quandaries indeed. Several years ago (pre-kids), the future wife and I stayed at a modest hotel in Costa Rica and made it an adventure trip, leveraging insider tips and some research beforehand to do nice excursions, including an epic dinner on the beach at "El Camarone Dorado."

Two years ago, we took the family to a Beaches all-inclusive in Jamaica. It was a fake beach created by dumping sand onto a rocky cove. We decided to be intrepid adventurers and go off-property, which every employee told us was a terrible idea. It was. We were driven to a small waterfall area that was way too unsafe for kids, then had to walk through an imposing tourist trap gauntlet to wait in a parking lot for a driver to take us back.

Europe/Mediterranean is a place that checks all the culture/beach/food boxes, but it does so at an exorbitant price. Seaside, NJ is a close second.

TR said...

Easter Bunny brought my kids a Hamper Hoop. Will be a miracle if it remains unbroken by nightfall.

rob said...

they know how to flush, danimal, just not how to not cram a roll of toilet paper into the crapper and clog it up.

my wife found the place on - it was a last-minute deal. it wasn't fancy by any means, but it was reasonably priced, clean, and had a good beach.

zman said...

My block does an egg hunt. A few of us dads are trying to cram airplane bottles into plastic eggs but they don't fit.

zson doesn't use toilet paper and zdaughter doesn't use a toilet so our clogs are mostly my fault.

rob said...

jurgen klinsmann just called up christian pulisic to the senior usmnt for tuesday's home world cup qualifier against guatemala. pulisic is the latest great white hope - he's 17, and has been getting time with the first team at borussia dortmund in the bundesliga. little doubt that pulisic will eventually be a significant contributor for the usmnt, but this smacks of desperation.

Dave said...

my kids don't always flush but they never clog the toilet. kudos to them. and i vividly remember staying "in the heart's downtown" in cancun on our nada-inclusive spring break-- your trip sounds much better. glad you had fun and didn't have stomach issues. certainly had to be more exotic than our day today-- we are in the poconos, and i made my kids hike seven miles to a giant boulder field. hickory run state park. when we arrived at the field-- which is impressive-- we saw there was a parking lot on the other side and we could have driven there on a dirt road (which my son insisted we did the last time we visited). i insisted that hiking it was more fun.

Danimal said...

The fuck is up w a 9pm sun night final 8 game?

TR said...

Anybody else have a 310 AM wake-up for a 510 AM flight tmrw? Just this lucky guy? I see some codeine-infused cough syrup in my near future.

Dave said...

i stayed up for last night's game, but i can't do it again. i don't get it. what about the children? the children!

T.J. said...

High quality collapse by UVA.

rob said...

ep. ic.

Mark said...

Yeah man. This is a get drunk and maybe call in to work tomorrow kind of loss if you're a hard core UVA fan.

Danimal said...

Cause is in DA house o my god. So predictable, not final 4 predictable but certainly final 8. Next year they will be a 2 or 3 seed and lose in 1st or 2nd round.

Danimal said...

Cuse! Not cause!

rob said...

had easter dinner at a friend's house. they did an egg hunt for the kids, and added a beer hunt for the dads. best tradition ever.

Danimal said...

Good stuff thus far.

Clarence said...

Goes to show, you don't ever know:

Excerpts from Joe Lunardi on Selection Sunday night, in his piece "The selection committee got so much wrong -- and here is how":

"But the committee’s performance is slipping, year over year, and it’s also my job to point that out when necessary. Put aside my three misses for a moment -- Vanderbilt (perfectly reasonable selection), Syracuse (borderline at best) and Tulsa (indefensible by every known standard) -- and what you have is a selection and bracketing process that appears to have gone off the rails."

"Further down the bracket, two of the questionable at-large choices -- Vanderbilt (RPI of 61) and Syracuse (RPI of 71) -- won only six of 23 road games combined, including 1-9 against Top 50 teams. That’s not counting the eggs they laid in their respective conference tournaments or their aggregate 6-16 record against the field. Even without player (Vandy) or coach (Syracuse) absences, it’d be asking a lot to turn those records into something respectable. (Another aside: Even with all the known weaknesses of the RPI, do you know how hard it is to have the number Syracuse had given their decent nonconference schedule and an ACC slate? The only way to do it is to lose too many games to the wrong teams. That’s why William & Mary, Stony Brook, Hofstra, Chattanooga, Valparaiso, Little Rock, UNC Wilmington, Yale, Princeton, Akron and, yes, Monmouth all had better RPIs than the Orange. I can only hope this was a case of poor judgment and not power-conference politics -- although neither is a very acceptable answer."

TR said...

Texas women - even white collar folks - are qualmless about getting implants. Not gonna lie - I don't mind.

It's 75 and sunny here and the sun dresses are out in full force. Good times.

T.J. said...

oh joy, appears we have a shooting blocks from the office at the Capitol Visitor Center

Squeaky said...

TJ, I used to go to Record & Tape Exchange in Fairfax and CD Cellar in Falls Church. Both are probably a hike for you. There used to be another awesome place in Oakton but I think has been gone for a long while.

But there looks to be some other record stores linked to Record Store Day, which is April 16th, that are closer to you in DC and Arlington.

T.J. said...

Thanks Squeak, that is very helpful. I look forward to dropping copious amounts of cash on records on the 16th.

TR said...

Should I know that they play quarters in women's college hoops?

mr kq said...

Sculpin and Zeppelin IV is a great way to beat the Monday blues. TJ I see a vinyl pub crawl in our future.

rob said...

vinyl pub sounds kinky. count me out.

mr kq said...

We'll need you in to throw some tip money around to get us the back room good stuff.