Between England and the Dominican Republic there is but the small matter of four thousand miles of ocean to swim, or, should you prefer, ten hours’ scheduled flying.
Despite its numerous disadvantages — of which I shall identify “travelling with other Brtitish holiday makers” as the most obvious example — my wife and I, staunch traditionalists both, opted for the latter course when setting out to book our recent holiday.
After much brochure browsing and studious evaluation of advice sites, we eventually hit upon the Grand Paradise Hotel, Bavaro: it looked good in the photos, the reviews, by and large, were not too disturbing and, with a three-and-a-half star rating, it was reasonably good value for money for a three week break.
I mention these things to reassure you from the outset that I’m not one of those travellers who expects five star amenities having shelled out a comparative pittance. You’ve probably read the work of those types on Trip Advisor: “My wife, Grendel, and I were shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU, to find there was no gold plating on the TV remote control; what’s more, our four kids TOTALLY STARVED, due to the negligent failure of the buffet restaurant to provide chicken nuggets. Our six year old, Aphrodisia, has been in therapy ever since we got back home. As is my habit, I examined our room forensically and discovered not only a RENT in the bottom of the mattress but also a BROWN STAIN on the carpet, a scraping from which was carbon-dated back to 1996. Worse still, in the complex itself there were LARGE INSECTS roaming freely. THIS PLACE IS A NIGHTMARE! AVOID THIS HOTEL!”
A week after our return, I can report that a good time was, indeed, enjoyed by the both of us: the hotel was good value, considering the money we paid, and, a few minor quibbles apart, there was nothing in the holiday to frighten the horses. The following diary entries, therefore, are reproduced purely in the spirit of mischief.
Day One: May 2nd 2011
This place is huge: three separate complexes built around three big swimming pools. A tractor that possibly first saw service in a Moldovan field in the 1920s is now employed to tow a small chassis bearing nine wooden bench seats from one end of the resort to the other. This unwieldy contraption is known as El Tren. According to notices, it operates twenty-four seven. Observing how it is struggling with a full cargo of newly-wristbanded arrivistes, I’ll be gob-smacked if it doesn’t spend the vast majority of its day on life support in some sort of Dominican Republic Tractor Hospital.
We arrive late in the afternoon, so, after a brief pit-stop in our room — mostly fine, although there is no remote control for the tv and the air-conditioning unit steadfastly refuses to pump air any colder than 29 degrees Centigrade (AVOID THIS HOTEL!) — the early evening sees us venturing on El Tren to the main complex at the beachfront, where a variety of restaurants and bars is advertised, although only the buffet restaurant is available to us on this first day. No matter. We have time a-plenty to take in the delights of the other eateries in due course.
As we take a pre-dinner stroll around the main complex, it becomes clear that something terrible has befallen a number of guest dwarves at some time in the recent past. Their tragic little outlines are drawn on the paths where, presumably, they met with a gruesome fate. Whether this was through accident or design is not clear; no plaques commemorate their passing. It is a mystery that I resolve to investigate in the days ahead.
In front of the main buffet restaurant is a bridged pond in which several strands of aquatic and bird life are striving to rub along together in the spirit of co-operation. The exception to this live-and-let-live philosophy is a lone, hunched kingfisher, who is perched on a log, studying the pond in much the same way as you would imagine Sepp Blatter examines a stuffed duffel bag. From the look in the kingfisher’s eye, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover he spends his free time murdering dwarves as a sideline.
My wife and I admire the wildlife for at least a minute before repairing to the buffet to see which local animals have been caught, killed and heated in our honour. The smell of sizzling steak suggests that at least one cow is among The Chosen.
The buffet is an unqualified success: the food is excellent and the waitresses are seemingly involved in some form of arms race, trying to outdo each other in serving us wine and beer (as the holiday went on this would become a fight to the death between two of them, each of whom gave the impression she would wrap us up and take us home with her, given half a chance. About two thirds of the way through our last week one of them took to kissing us as we arrived. I hesitate to think what might have been the next gambit had our stay not ended when it did).
After dinner we take El Tren back to our own complex, in search of a bar within reasonable staggering distance of our room. Following the sounds of music, laughter and cheering, we eventually happen upon an event that will come to be described, in retrospect, as “a French Canadian Music Quiz”. At the time, of course, we are ignorant of this truth. As best as we can ascertain, someone has given the bastard love-child of George Melly a microphone and he is using it to whip a crowd of whirling dervishes — which seems to include, for some abstruse reason, the Everton footballer Marouane Fellaini, dressed as a clown — into such a complete and utter frenzy that Hieronymus Bosch might have hesitated to depict it. Frankly, nothing that happened over the next hour made any sense whatsoever; the only thing I learned for sure is that the French Canadians know no French equivalent of “big applause”. During every blizzard of DJ-style French, the bastard love-child of George Melly would slip the words “big applause” into the conversation, whereupon his acolytes would clap and cheer, as though he had scored the winning goal in a World Cup Final.
Now I yield to no man in my admiration of the French. Any country that can produce over 600 different cheeses is clearly a force to be reckoned with, but I have to say their Canadian cousins are something of a breed apart. That, however, as they say, is a story for another day. For the moment we return to our room, jet-lagged, bewildered and not a little squiffy. Sleep is not hard to come by, and so we slip silently away, still pondering the mysteries of the day…
To be continued…