Long before Pinterest prodded us to create virtual vision boards, Instagram insisted we share in-the-moment bliss, and Facebook fostered travel posts of happy places far, far away, I cut out and saved a magazine photo of a couple walking in the surf of the Caribbean Sea. I was single again, sad, but looked forward to a day I’d be that girl, her cocktail dress blowing in the breeze, as she laughed and leaned into her guy’s shoulder, one arm wrapped around his, the other hand holding a champagne flute. I longed to share such a celebratory moment in paradise… one day (sigh)… with The One who was meant to be—whoever, wherever he was.
Though I still wait in hope to meet him, I have learned to cherish the many people with whom THE One, God, has blessed my life. And over the last twenty years, I stopped waiting to be in a romantic relationship to see the world or show it to my children. Money I have spent on traveling with my family, friends, and students strengthened relationships, made priceless memories, and taught us all something. Likewise, I’ve learned to appreciate solo travel which has given me confidence, courage, and peace I never thought possible. A mentor told me years ago that giving ourselves what we need models self-care to our children and is healthier than waiting for someone else to fulfill us. Travel rejuvenates and like a class taken to improve mind, body, or spirit, it’s an investment in personal growth which positively impacts us and those around us. Yet, though I’d traveled from Moscow to Morocco to Malibu and now live in the Caribbean in Santo Domingo, something inside kept saving the fantasy island resort experience for a hoped-for honeymoon. Until recently…
I gave myself permission. I let myself go…solo…to Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort.
Though Punta Cana is known for love connections– the 2014 season of The Bachelorette was filmed here– and this 5-star mega-complex in The Dominican Republic is popular for weddings, family vacations,
Choosing an all-inclusive resort is the best way to rest before and during your stay since everything–where to eat, drink, swim, sunbathe, shop, be entertained, be active, and find transport–is provided. While I enjoy researching and plotting my own travel adventures from restaurants to excursions, planning takes energy and time. For those worn out from home/work responsibilities and constantly making grown up decisions, going with the flow of resorts that offer everything from a bowling alley to a soccer field
to a casino
to live entertainment can be freeing. For those flying into the Punta Cana airport, transfer service to the resort can be arranged as can car rental. Currency exchange is available and stores carry items you may have forgotten, like sunscreen. Upon arrival at reception, get a map to see the lay of the land, and if not interested in the buffet, make reservations for some restaurants which require them and any special services–such as spa or tee times (though you can call from your room to set these up later). I traveled less than three hours from Santo Domingo but was tired and upon checkin rested awhile, then showered before dinner.
Before dinner at the seafood restaurant where I had lobster on the terrace (the Sante Fe Steak House also has seaside dining), I walked barefoot on sugar sand inhaling the sea air. I breathed…exhaled… under a full harvest moon. What would I reap on this trip? As always, I felt warm knowing those I loved to the moon and back were looking up, too. I thought of Van Morrison, Emily Dickinson, and the Creator of the most gorgeous clouds I’d ever seen. Truly, it was a soothing, surreal, “marvellous night for a moon dance,” a time to “dwell in possibility…the spreading wide (of) my narrow Hands To gather Paradise.”
An all-inclusive (see under “Other Important Services”) vacation is NOT where we count calories. Healthy choices are always available, but dieting? No way. And since we first eat with our eyes… the ambience of open air tables set amidst lagoons, lakes, and gardens makes every meal a feast.
I slept later than usual thanks to the blackout curtains, had coffee on my patio where I was visited by a Moorhen, nicknamed the Chicken-foot Coot because its feet aren’t webbed and it steps high like a hen. Rested, I was ready to step out, too, so I headed to the nearest restaurant just around the corner for something I rarely get–a Southern-sized breakfast. The night before PGA golfers (The Dominican Republic is known for the best golfing in the Caribbean) gathered in the foyer bar –champagne, cocktails, beer and bachata music flowing. Now hushed except for the tin, hollow sound of clubs hitting golf balls, the course and sky met as a blue-and-green canvas for a new day.
From Dominican fare to all-you-can-eat buffets to a Buffett-worthy Cheeseburger in Paradise, culinary and beverage choices abound. My finest meal was at the French restaurant recommended by the concierge upon my arrival. I had to book for my second night because it was booked the night I arrived.
Remember when you were little and you weren’t afraid to explore, concerned about “getting it right” or impressing others? An all-inclusive where you don’t know a soul allows you to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice: “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Of course, do what you love. For me, this was dancing bachata on the beach (Romeo Santos had recently done a concert in Punta Cana). Golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer, walking, swimming –do what makes you happy– but leave room to discover a new passion.
Count ships, not sheep, under rustling palm leaves shading you from the sun. And if you can’t sleep, as my mother used to say, rest your eyes and your mind.
In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:
“Il bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing’… [it] has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. ”
Last spring break I’d planned to practice this skill on The Amalfi Coast. Of course, I planned to write and photograph Positano, but that isn’t work to me. Circumstances prevented that trip, but I’m trying to learn the same lesson in the DR. This weekend was a wonderful teacher.
Recall happy times in the past with thanksgiving. If I’ve learned one thing from many Dominicans it is to laugh and sing more.
Too often we’re too tired to remember what day it is, much less yesterday or yesteryear. As has happened a lot over the last two years of living abroad memories of family flood me. In Punta Cana I remembered other beach vacations with women who have strongly influenced my life. The summer in Hawaii with my mom, sister, cousin, and aunt. Another summer in Florida with Mom and her mother, Mama Sargeant–single women for many years like me. I toasted to them with a Pina Colada, the drink my grandmother enjoyed when she became ill and mom moved in with her until she passed. I thought of a month earlier when my daughter, Taylor, and I enjoyed another DR beach together.
As gentle waves lap the shore the clear, calm waters of the Caribbean invite reflection. Remembering happy times, even hard times, reminds us of all we’ve overcome to get to this place which strengthens us to face, even greet what lies ahead.
Scan the horizon knowing that good is coming. In studying Spanish I realized this week the roots for esperanza, hope, and esperar, to wait or to expect, are the same. Faith says to wait, to expect with hope.
We must live in the moment. I agree we can take so many photos trying to capture special times that they truly escape us. Too much staging can kill just being, breathing the experience. And yes, people may laugh at your selfies, but deep down most of us want to remember times we recognize as special pieces of eternity. Even if you don’t typically like to have your photo taken, you will want to remember that you were once in a beautiful place and felt more beautiful for it. I promise. Just as a mom says if the house were on fire and all people and pets were out safely she’d grab baby photos first, one day you’ll want to see yourself in a Caribbean paradise where you grew, changed–even use the photos as your screen saver–so you don’t forget how important it was–it is–to get away and enjoy gifts of beauty and adventure you’ve been given.
While in Punta Cana I read an article in More magazine called, When Looks Fade: An Exercise in Perspective by Christine Lennon who interviewed “The Professionally Beautiful,” asking them how to age with grace. Molly Sims, author of The Everyday Supermodel said:
“It’s funny how I used to look at a picture when it was taken and think, Ugh, I look awful. You look at that same picture five years later, and you think, Dang. I looked pretty good.”
A friend in her 40s recently had professional photos taken to remember this time in her life. My mom did the same in her mid-30s. I get it. Even if you shy from the camera, the best souvenirs of any vacation are photos which capture living -in- the- now forever. At a Caribbean resort photo opps are everywhere and you’ll see many taking advantage of it. Don’t be shy. Help a solo traveling sister out. Ask if she’d like you to take her picture and ask her to take yours. Hotel staff will kindly oblige as well.
Whatever your age or style–girly girl, Bohemian Babe, or mermaid, wear something–maybe a new frock found in shops on the complex– that makes you smile. Though I brought a tropical dress with me–a TJMAXX special–I was thrilled to see new styles of two brands I fell in love with in Spain (Mele Beach in Tarife and Desigual in Vigo) sold at the Barcelo Punta Cana complex.
Peace. Going solo to a Caribbean resort will convince you of what research shows. Though too few people take enough time off, those who do vacation return rejuvenated and more productive. No matter the age. For some of us, the prime time to go solo seems to be when we are trying to survive, even thrive after the nest empties. We are “tweeners”and if we can’t take a gap year, a gap week works, too. Soon–assuming we stay in good health–we may be needed to care for parents and grandchildren. Doing all we can to stay fit–physically, mentally, spiritually–is vital for the ones we love.
We are as young as we feel. I loved seeing women my mom’s age doing Zumba in their bathing suits on the beach. And about those photos and the freedom on your face they will reflect…
Christie Brinkley, 62 year-old author of Timeless Beauty and former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model said, “Aging needs a huge rebranding campaign. People still think of 60 and picture a granny with a shawl and bun. We need to stop lying about our ages. Go ahead and say your number; then you’ll reshape other people’s images of that number.”
Likewise, when people ask in disbelief, You traveled to the Caribbean alone? say, Yes and smile. They may need to be freed, too.
Special thanks to Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort for an amazing experience. As always, the opinions here are my own.