When you’re on vacation, even just in the next city over, there’s sometimes a tendency to do something that’s different, outrageous, out-of-character – if only because you have the advantage of anonymity in the palm of your hand, and can use it whenever you want to. The farther you are away from home, the less people will be able to ever find out what you did, and how you acted that time, at that bar. The phenomenon of pushing your limits in a crowd of strangers can be a huge deal – like sleeping with the bellman in an elavator, or it can be the simplest thing on earth, such as eating meat if you’re normally a vegetarian.
My next favourite memory involves just that: a simple lapse in judgement brought on by Coco Loco, and the knowledge that you’re far far away from everything familar.
The Marinarium, February 2008
I had never been on a tropical vacation before, or really travelled at all. A few months prior to my stint in the Carribean, I was in New York City, which blew my mind immensely, even just for a couple of days. But really, the Dominican almost made my head, and heart, explode with very simple pleasures: of breezy cocktails, intense sunrises, leaning palm trees, ocean waves, the feel of the hot sun on your back, making sun stroke-induced puns in your hotel room, and soaking in tacky and fun resort hotel entertainment and incredibly decent resort food. When we left Edmonton on February 14th, it was a debilitating -25 and cold flurries were blustering through the thick frosty air. But once the plane took off, it was a big fuck you and farewell to the frigid no-man’s-land that is Edmonton. About 7 or 8 hours later, the plane landed on balmy green soil.
I had straightened my hair that morning. By the time we arrived at Barcelo Dominican Beach, it was completely tousled.
After a few days of lying in the sun, we felt the need to go on a little excursion, and further shake up our adventure. Our tour director mentioned a highly recommended excursion called “The Marinarium” in which you snorkel with tropical fish and harmless (but deadly-looking Nurse Sharks), have a boat party and swim in something I’d never heard of called a ‘natural pool’. It sounded alright. So we registered.
On the day of the excursion, we first got in a small touring van that drove us for miles; and I’m not talking on the North Amercican roadways we’re used to; I’m talking about miles on a narrow chaotic dirt-lined one-lane road with cyclists and motorists missing a head-on collision with the van driver by mere inches and no speed limits or traffic signs in any way. I thought, “wow! We’re going to die!” But if I was to die while looking at such gorgeous scenery… well… it’s alright with me. The non-residential areas of Punta Cana are almost prairie-like with scant, low treelines and flat earth. But there is (obviously) something a big more mystical and calming and alluring about the outskirts in the Carribean. Also, driving through nearby towns, locals on souped-up motorcycles, having a smoke out on the street corner, flat rooftops and terra colour condos for sale… it was gorgeous. I felt gorgeous. The early day’s seemingly insignificant sights were a positive and glowing omen for the day ahead, despite a lack of really really strong powerful sunshine.
At the dock, we all took attendance and boarded the boat; it was a bit rickedy with slick white floors a bar/concession in the middle of the craft. The staff were ecstatic and almost too vivid in their thorough excitement and talked in thick rapid accents. We found a seat and were handed snorkels from a milk crate, and were given a safety rundown, immediately proceeded by “we’re going to stop at the natural pool and you’ll all have a chance to go swimming; we’re going to listen to some Bob Marley, and have cocktails for you on a floating bar.” They had me at ‘floating bar’. There are some moments in life, either for escapist, or enjoyment reasons, when you deeply pity those who can’t or don’t drink alcohol. Today was one of those moments.
The boat started and the guides were pointing out sights and random tidbits of information about Punta Cana and the surrounding areas; we sat back and relaxed and let the wram breeze brush across our faces and peered into the cool turquoise water (just writing about this now makes me ache – for the ocean, for a vacation, for the warmth and health and happiness I felt back then)… things got truly unique and interesting when the guides suddenly whipped out a blender, some ron blanco, ice, some coconut, and a whole lot of azucar. They blended it up and this jolly older vacationer on the tour volunteered to pour the rum; a whole bottle later, we were all handed out cups of this magic cocktail (affectionately and memorably titled Coco Loco), and buzzed and stoked about everything, continued on our way to this nature reserve where the sharks and fish were…
As though alcohol, energy and happiness dictated and in a sense willed the forces of the universe, the sun came out in full force. We were instructed on how to properly snorkel and were welcome to just jump in the water with the mask on and look at the underwater surroundings. We did this, and I was blown away; it was an underwater microcosm of coral, fish and these tiny tiny sharks; and while they are indeed harmless sharks (they’re vegan I guess), they look frightening enough – just like real sharks. And yet, they’re sooo cute. And now I’ll shut up about the sharks.
So after the snorkeling mini-adventure, everyone got back into the boat to carry on to this fabled ‘natural pool’. However, we did have the opportunity to break up slices of white bread and toss them into the water like confetti while scads of brightly coloured blue and yellow tropical fish swam to the water’s mirrored surface to feed. The day was much hotter which benefitted all the wet tourists in the boat. Apparently the natural pool was warmer than the water in the nature reserve…
Let me tell you about natural pools: envision a bath. Your bath. Set up just the way you like it – with bubbles if you’re down with that, or without if you like just the feel of warm clean water… with relaxing music playing, or candle light or rose petals or scented oils, with company or without, the sound of the faucet and the echos calming and soothing you after a long day… now set that bath on a paradise island surrounded by palm trees with silken sand on the surface and a crystalline light shining through you from reflections of white-yellow sunbeams and the clear clean ripples of the ocean. This is what a natural pool is. Who knew!?
So we had a good half hour in the pool to wade, splash, swim, and drink really strong rum and cokes for free, served up by, as promised, a floating bar/bartender. Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” and “Three Little Birds” and “Jammin'” blared from the boat, and everyone was smiling and in good spirits and fuck… I NEVER wanted to leave that Goddamn pool. Never.
But once we did, the sun dried off our soaked-in-happy-and-water selves and then the guides got up and played the Soca Boys while forcing everyone up on the “dance floor”… I would never do this on dry land in Canada. I’d be the person sitting on the sidelines judging all the old people in their skirt-covered one-piece bathing suits and grey hair, blythely sipping a Kokanee as if I’m better than everyone else… yet, there I was: in the middle of the boat’s deck in full view, doing the Macarena…
We have a video of this day — and in that video, Lynn asks Miki, “is this the best day your life?” and she replies, “yes, this is the best day of my life.” The smiles and sunburns and photos and this extremely drunk and hilarious video only prove this to be true.