Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Part 2 – Being there is the other half of the fun!

The pool

Check out my first day in Punta Cana here if you missed it.

The Resort

The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana is a nicer joint than I typically patronize. I knew it when I saw the telephone in the bathroom, and I knew it for sure when it took me several minutes to figure out the high-tech light switches. They’re really into the rock-n-roll theme too. Sometimes it’s almost cute, like when the do-not-disturb sign has lyrics from the Elvis Presley song of the same name on it. Other times it seems ill-advised, like how the mirrors over the double beds had this lyric engraved on them: It’s just another day in paradise / As you stumble to your bed (…so far so good…) You’d give anything to silence / Those voices ringing in your head Um, what? Do they think their visitors are schizophrenic? The only voices that were ringing in my head during this trip were from the Kaspersky conference’s karaoke event which was held outside our balcony. (I really, really hope the people of Kaspersky are better at internet security than they are at “singing” I Shot the Sherriff.)

Even the ironing board was not immune to the rock star treatment. Leopard skin, baby!

Ironing board

The resort is rather large, but all you really need to know is that the beach is on the east end and the building housing most of the shops and restaurants is on the west end. Everything in between is mostly hotel rooms, decorative pools, or areas where private events are held. There are also a couple of restaurants near the beach, as well as a swim-up bar or two. (I don’t want to know how much alcohol this place goes through in a month.) The Dominican Republic’s alcoholic beverage of choice is called Mama Juana, and believe me, they will not shut up about it. As Wikipedia says, it’s “concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs.”

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino

We were only there for two full days, so we weren’t able to check out all the restaurants, but I liked the ones we did. We had a fun night at Zen, the Japanese restaurant where our meal was cooked Benihana style in front of us. There were four groups of people at our table and I don’t think any of us spoke the same language, which made things interesting. Our cook’s name was Jesus, so when he was tossing knives around like a juggler I had to tell myself to trust in Jesus. We had dinner at a buffet place another night, or rather my brother had dinner and I had six different desserts because calories don’t count when you’re on vacation! (The watermelon gelato was soooo delish.) We had lunch at the open-air Caribbean restaurant the second day, and the breeze from the ocean was just as nice as the food. I also enjoyed watching the clever little black birds swoop down to nibble on abandoned plates after the breakfast buffet. My brother ordered room service once during the trip, but wasn’t impressed, so I’d recommend you leave your room to eat if you find yourself there. You’ll get to admire the Big Ass Fans in the restaurants. No, seriously, that’s what they’re called.

Big Ass Fans

You really do need Big Ass Fans because the weather is hot and humid. Every time I went outside I felt like I needed to take a shower when I came back inside. I found myself wishing I’d brought more clothing with me because it got sweaty pretty quickly.

The Beach

The beach at Punta Cana is absolutely gorgeous and nearly pristine. You can tell that humans work very, very hard to make it look like humans haven’t been here.

The beach

We are fair-skinned Germanic people, so my brother and I thoroughly slathered every inch of exposed skin with sun block before heading to the beach. I’d only been able to find SPF 30 in the travel size, so I reapplied it often and liberally. For some reason I thought lying around on the beach would be boring, but it wasn’t. It was a nice change from lying around on my couch.

When I went out to wade in the water for awhile, my brother got into a conversation with a resort salesman who was walking the beach selling trinkets from a pack. At first I thought he’d be annoyed, but then I realized my brother was actually enjoying haggling with the guy, which is probably a character trait that helped him become a top salesman and win this trip to begin with.

Haggling

I also braved my fears and walked around in a swimsuit in public. I figured I’d never see any of these people again anyway, so who cares what they thought of me? The resort had umpteen pools, most of them by the beach, so you could swim in safety while still being able to hear the ocean. Because there were so many, none of them were overly crowded, which I thought was good planning on the resort’s part.

Resort Credit

As part of our package we got $500 in resort credit which is somewhat deceptive. Resort credit can be spent on things like spa services or at the Resort Credit Shop. The catch is that 1) You have to pay a 20% tax on items you purchase, so it’s more like you’re getting at 80% discount and 2) The prices are marked way, way, WAY up to account for that. This is the reason they can charge $100 for a pair of flip-flops without decorating them in diamonds. They actually cost $20 after the resort credit and tax are applied, which still seems a bit much for flip-flops, but what was I going to do after mine broke? It’s amazing how quickly a flip-flop becomes a total flop once the string breaks. Hypothetically you can leave the resort, but it’s a bit of an ordeal, which is why they can get away with charging you $17 for a razor.

Which is not to say I didn’t get sucked in when I saw these:

Candy Crush candies

That’s right, they had Candy Crush Saga candies at the candy store!! I have been wanting to try these for awhile, but the shipping price online was totally outrageous, whereas the price at the resort store was only insane.

Candy Crush candies

The candies were good, but unfortunately eating two of them together did not clear all the items off my gameboard. I didn’t play Candy Crush Saga at all during the trip because I kept my phone off to avoid being charged astronomical international fees. My brother kept his phone in airplane mode which turns off the voice service and wifi, but allows you to keep using the camera. At different times during the trip I found myself wanting to reach for my phone to check Twitter or crunch candies and was slightly unnerved that I couldn’t. I think it was good for me though. Why should I distract myself with real life on vacation when the vacation itself is a distraction from real life?

Coming soon, the third and final part of my Punta Cana adventure. It involves chocolate, cigars and a shotgun.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Day 1, Getting there is half the fun!

Flip Flops

These days I’m too paranoid to post vacation photos while I’m actually on vacation for fear that someone will break into my house while I’m gone. Why? Because the last time I posted about being on vacation while I was on vacation someone left a comment saying it wasn’t wise to do that because someone might break into my house while I was gone. CREEPY.

So it’s only now that I am letting you know I recently traveled to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for a three-night stay at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. While I was there I didn’t post photos on Facebook or tweet about it or anything, which was sort of hard because when you’re in the Caribbean it’s very tempting to brag about the fact that you’re in the Caribbean. Vacation: A great way to make other people feel bad about their lives!

Getting There

The first step in getting there was having a brother who was one of the top salesman in his company, thus winning a free trip along with several of his coworkers. I got to be his plus one, which was nice payback for that time I brought him along on my free ski trip to Breckinridge, Colorado in which I was supposed to report on the oatmeal festival for Quaker Oats who paid for the trip, but was sidelined by the super scary mountain pass of doom. (Total tangent: I still feel bad that I never made it to the oatmeal festival. I did the best I could at the time, but I wish I’d been able to do better.) Not having significant others to bring along on our free vacations has paid off for both of us. Unlucky in love, but lucky in resort credits!

I live in North Carolina and my brother lives in Indianapolis, but we were able to take the same connecting flight in Atlanta to Punta Cana. Little did we know we were boarding the Party Plane!!!! (Quadruple exclamation points totally necessary.) This flight was like no other flight I’ve been on. Damien, the head flight attendant was like a tour guide with a well-practiced comedy routine. There was also a bachelorette party on board and every time I turned my head it seemed that the flight attendant was swiping another credit card to charge someone for the alcoholic beverage they’d just ordered. People were standing up two rows ahead of me chatting with the people behind them. It was kinda crazy. Here’s a bit of Damien’s spiel that I recorded so you can get a sense of his game-show-host delivery style. It also allows you to experience how sad everyone was that the bar was closing:

His best bit was when he told us to check the pockets in front of us because one pair of free travel vouchers was hidden on board. After ten seconds he said, “No one found the prize? Well maybe you did find your own trash which you can throw out as the flight attendants walk down the aisle.” Well played, Damien. Well played. I don’t know if all flights to the Caribbean are like this one or we just stumbled upon the one where the flight attendant was on uppers.

The sky or the ocean?

I specifically requested a window seat because I’d never been to the Caribbean before and wanted to enjoy the view. I loved looking outside and not being able to tell if I was looking up at clouds in front of a blue sky or down at clouds above the blue ocean. The captain came on intermittently to let us know when we were flying over points of interest like The Bahamas. I also happened to see a cruise ship sailing down below. It looked so itty bitty, but I know those ships are essentially floating cities.

Cruise ship

As we got closer to land I saw teeny tiny white specks in the water near shore which I think were much smaller boats. As we got closer and closer to the Punta Cana airport we started to fly over land and it was surprising how much of it is completely undeveloped, just like it probably was 100 years ago. When I’ve flown places in the US every inch of land is typically taken up by farms or buildings or something.

Aerial view

The Airport

After we landed and were taxiing on the runway, I looked out the window to see these things:

Air bridges

The Punta Cana airport doesn’t have jet bridges. Instead they roll the stairs up to the plane and then you take a bus to the main airport terminal. My biggest piece of advice is for those of you with long hair: keep a scrunchie handy! I wasn’t outside in the hot, humid air for more than two minutes before I wanted to dig around in my bag for a hair tie.

I was a little nervous about this trip because the last time I went to a foreign country was five years ago when I visited London and France. I kept imagining scenarios where I forgot my passport or my headache meds were mistaken for cocaine. Surprisingly, going through customs was easy. The line moved at a quick pace and they didn’t ask me any questions like they did when I’d entered London. The official just checked that our passport photos matched our faces and then stamped us in. We had to pay a $10 fee for a tourist visa, but they accepted US money so that was easy to do.

After customs, we got funneled out into the main baggage carousel area. My brother and I followed the crowd toward the exit. By this point we’d lost track of the other people from his company that had been on our flight. I hadn’t even been sitting next to them on the plane because I’d checked in at a different time at a different airport. We started to get nervous because we couldn’t figure out how to find the bus that would get us to the hotel, but one of several officials in the area came up and asked us what our group was. I had no idea, but Little Bro showed him the travel itinerary and the guide pointed us to the right place. Thank goodness for friendly staff!

The Bus

Once we got on the bus we had a 30-minute ride to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. There are lots of resorts located on the eastern shore of the Dominican Republic that have been built in the last 20-30 years to draw tourists to the beautiful white beaches and blue waters. These lush, luxurious locales stand in dichotomy with the rest of the country which is much poorer. The resorts have guarded front gates and sometimes barbed wire around the edges to keep the locales out. So it’s only on your ride to the resorts that you get a feeling for the “real” Dominican Republic. I saw people on motorbikes or just plain bikes. There was a billboard for plastic surgery featuring a woman covering her breasts with her hands that was not something I’ve seen in the states. Yellow school buses seemed to be used for general transportation there, not for school kids.

The Hard Rock is one of the northern most resorts, so our bus stopped at two other resorts on the way to drop off other people. I actually liked this because it got us through the gates and let me see what the other resorts were like. It also reminded me of when I rode the bus in high school and was one of the last people dropped off. I knew where everyone else lived, but they had no idea where the bus went after they got off.

The Resort

Once we arrived, a woman literally shoved a mimosa in my hand as I entered the lobby, which really set the tone for what the Hard Rock resort is like. There will be liquor. Lots and lots of liquor. There is also the illusion that it is free because the resort is all inclusive. When you check in they snap a wristband on you that you don’t take off until you leave. As long as you’re wearing it you eat for free at all the resort restaurants and can drink as many mimosas as you want. Of course it’s not really free because you pay to be at the resort, but I guess in my case it really was free because I’m a freeloader.

Wristband

When we checked in the receptionist greeted us as “Mr. and Mrs. Fulda,” which caught my attention because I am NOT Mrs. Fulda. It prompted me to ask, “We have two beds, right?” I earned huge points with my brother at that moment because they were about to give us a room with a king bed, but my vigilance saved us from a nightmare incestuous sleeping scenario and we got a room with two double beds instead.

The Hard Rock is evidently one of the larger resorts on the island, so they have a couple electric cart trolleys you can hop on that are continually driving around the main path. We weren’t completely sure where our room was, so we got on one and waited for our building number to be called out. This is the path we ended up taking:

Trolley tour

We ended up taking an accidental tour of the resort when we could have walked 100 yards to get to our building. I was ok with that because we got a sense for how big the resort was and we got to see lots of palm trees and pools and other stuff you find in paradise. We got to our room roughly 12 hours after I’d stepped out the front door of my apartment. We were both kind of wiped, but after a bit of rest we attended a mixer where I got to meet Little Bro’s coworkers.

And that was how my first day in Punta Cana went. I’ll let you know about the rest of the trip as soon as I actually write about it, hopefully sometime in the next week. These entries take a lot of time, almost as much time as it takes to get to Punta Cana!

JenFul Playlists – December 2013 and January 2014

Music notes

I’ve decided to post playlists every two months instead of every month since they were cluttering the archives. I also suspect these are posts that I care more about than my readers, but I’m going to do them anyway because I like tracking my music listening habits. And if I introduce just one reader to their new favorite song it is totally worth it.

You can listen to the playlists in the Spotify players below if you have Spotify installed. If not, the playlists are listed in text below that. As always, you can follow me on Spotify here and view my other playlists here. I’ve commented on a few highlights below.

December 2013

January 2014

Highlights

Royal Teeth – Heartbeats
There are two other version of this song I’ve heard, one by the song’s writers, The Knife, and the other by Jose Gonzalez. Strangely enough, it took me years, YEARS, to figure out that Jose Gonzalez was singing the same song as The Knife because that’s how completely different their versions are. This version by Royal Teeth is more similar to the original version, but I almost like it better for some reason I can’t quite explain.

Eminem – The Monster
I’ve only listened to maybe four Eminem songs in my life, but I like this one. (The other three being “Lose Yourself,” “Not Afraid”, and “Love the Way You Lie.”) There’s no doubt he’s a skilled wordsmith, even if he doesn’t always use those powers for good.

Enrique Iglesias – Escape
I know this song came out over ten years ago, and it’s auto-tuned in a non-ironic way, but I couldn’t get it out of my head for a week. So I must mention it here.

Idina Menzel – Let It Go
I don’t have kids and I don’t hang out with anyone who has kids on a regular basis, so the latest Disney movie Frozen was off my radar when it first came out. However I kept hearing things about how good it was, so I finally saw it and it was indeed as good as everyone said it was. The soundtrack is excellent as well, and I hope this showstopper sung by Tony legend Idina Menzel gets the Oscar.

Bruce Springsteen – American Skin (41 Shots)
I love a lot of things about living in America, however one of the things I do not love is knowing I could be shot at any moment for no good reason. This Springsteen song is basically about that fact.

December 2013

Ingrid Michaelson – Parachute (Acoustic)
Royal Teeth – Heartbeats
Kylie Minogue – All The Lovers
Russell Taylor – War of Hearts
Ashley Monroe – Can’t Let Go
Jason Mraz – 93 Million Miles
Hunter Hayes – I Want Crazy – Encore
Skyler Stonestreet – A Little Taste
Bad Books – Forest Whitaker
Mecca Kalani – Feel Me
Danielle Bradbery – The Heart Of Dixie
Mary Lambert – She Keeps Me Warm

January 2014

Eminem – The Monster
Enrique Iglesias – Escape
Walk the Moon – I Can Lift A Car
The Band Perry – DONE.
Idina Menzel – Let It Go
Bad Suns – Cardiac Arrest
Matt Hires – Honey, Let Me Sing You A Song
Vance Joy – Riptide
A Great Big World – Rockstar
Matt Hires – A –> B
Cathy Heller – We Will March On
Anna Kendrick – Cups (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”) – Pop Version
LeAnn Rimes – Gasoline And Matches
Kacey Musgraves – Follow Your Arrow
The Fray – Love Don’t Die
Bruce Springsteen – American Skin (41 Shots)
Foster The People – Coming of Age
Graham Colton – Mixed Up
Kitten – Kill The Light
The Pierces – Secret
Allie Moss – Late Bloomer
Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter
Hozier – Take Me To Church
Backstreet Boys – Show ‘Em (What You’re Made Of)

Evidently, I could totally do porn

I was in line at the bookstore in December when a man tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a business card, and said, “Here. They pay money,” and then walked off before I could get a good enough look to identify him in a line-up. This is what the card said:

Voluptuous Modeling: Sexy has no size!!!

Yes, that’s right, I was solicited to do porn while buying Christmas presents for my family. If there is any doubt in your mind as to what this business is about, please refer to this blog entry I discovered when I Googled the email address on the card. In short, the blogger followed up to find out what the deal was and learned that the deal was indeed porn. Notably, at first I thought the email address was “money-CAN-hurt” instead of money-CAN’T-hurt” which was probably my brain’s way of warning me about the situation before I’d even confirmed what the situation was.

While I should probably be offended that someone wanted to exploit my body, I was mostly just flattered that someone thought my body was exploitable. I could totally do porn! I didn’t know that! It’s the strangest Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten. I’ve been various degrees of overweight my entire life, so there have been very few years when I’ve been a size that matches the default “pretty” setting of society. Fat women can be beautiful, but it’s a beauty that has to be defended. It’s a beauty you have to convince people about or that you even have to convince yourself about. Like every time you go outside looking good you’re saying, “Why yes, despite all the rumors to the contrary you can be large and attractive!” Pretty thin people never have to defend themselves this way. Everyone knows thin is the default pretty. These days I’m not as fat as I used to be, but not as thin as I used to be either, so my own approval rating of my body is somewhere around 65%. (A lot of that is due to my feet though, not my ass.) Despite that mediocre self-appraisal, someone else thinks I’m masturbatory material. And despite myself, I have to admit it boosted my spirits. I have absolutely no intention of following up on it, but it’s nice that I’m the one who gets to say no instead of being the one “no” is said to.

Granted, porn is not always about being pretty. I don’t know that much about porn, but I know there is some crazy ass shit out there. Literally. I also know an overweight porn star would likely be categorized as a “fetish,” which is kind of insulting in itself. I can understand why other people might be offended by receiving a card like this, particularly if they didn’t consider themselves overweight to begin with. It’s not great to know someone wants to exploit you, even if it’s strangely reassuring to know you’re just as exploitable as the next girl (even if she is a size 0).

What I found most jarring about this experience is that it throws into question a motto I tend to live my life by, which is “You wouldn’t care what other people thought of you if you knew how infrequently they did.” I usually think about this when I’m sweating on the elliptical at the gym or if I’m dashing to the mailbox in my pajamas. “Don’t worry about it, Jennette. No one is watching. You are not the center of the world.” But in this case someone did notice me. They looked at my body and instead of thinking, “She’s fat. I’m going to ignore her,” they thought, “She’s fat. I must approach her!” That bookstore I shopped at must have been in Oppositeville. Or it might be that I am not as invisible as I think. Whether that’s good or bad depends on who’s doing the looking.

But sometimes it’s just nice to be seen.

Reasons for Regain #2: I stopped weighing myself

Scale

I don’t remember when I stopped weighing myself regularly, just like I don’t remember when I stopped cooking. (The recurring theme of my Reasons for Regain series might be “not paying enough attention.”) During the years that I lost weight and maintained it I weighed myself daily and tracked my progress. Originally I used the FitDay program to record my weigh-ins, but at the beginning of 2010 I switched to an Excel spreadsheet. I never installed FitDay on my new computer, so I don’t have access to that old data and thus can’t find the exact day I stopped tracking.

Weighing myself daily forced me to be aware of my weight. When I was losing weight, I was very happy to be aware of my weight. “I’m getting thinner! Weeee! You are so awesome, Mr. Bathroom Scale!” However when I started to slowly gain back weight I was not very happy to be aware of my weight. “Oh, screw you, Mr. Bathroom Scale! Don’t forget who pays for your batteries!” So, it’s not that surprising that all that negative reinforcement around weighing-in made me stop weighing-in.

The Excel spreadsheet shows that I went through fits and bursts of tracking. I tracked all of January 2010, but then dropped off and didn’t weigh-in again until March. After that the next weigh-in wasn’t until August…of the next year. l’m fairly certain I must have stepped on the scale sometime in that 15-month gap, but I wasn’t writing it down, which is probably just as important as the weighing itself. If you don’t track your data it’s hard to see where you’ve been and where you’re going. Instead I was stepping on the scale, thinking, “Oh, dear Lord,” stepping off, and trying to wipe the whole thing from my memory. And it looks like I was successful at that!

In 2013 I had four bursts of weight-tracking, which is the most for any year in the spreadsheet. However each burst doesn’t seem to last more than a month. The ends of these bursts usually end with my weight ticking up several pounds, so I think I got discouraged and gave up, whereas if the weight had continued to go down I’d probably have kept tracking.

I’ve been tracking my weight every day since December 31, 2013 and I’ve been successful in losing several pounds. I plan to continue tracking for the rest of the year, even if I get bad news because ignoring a problem unfortunately does not make it go away.

Update on Reason for Regain #1: I stopped cooking
I’ve continued to cook more of my meals this year. I’ve found that:

  1. I am still running the dishwasher more than I used to.
  2. I am not going to the grocery store nearly as often as I used to, but when I do I’m spending more money. When I wasn’t cooking I’d usually dash to the grocery store for a few small things to eat every few days, mostly because I wasn’t planning in advance. Now that I plan, I can stock up on everything at once.
  3. However, I’m still not planning everything. I’ve been eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches lately because they are quick to assemble and I figure the protein from the nuts offsets the carbs in the whole-grain bread. (And if it doesn’t please let me just live in ignorance, ok?) So, I could definitely work more on the whole “planning meals in advance” thing.
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Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

 
 
Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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