Give me the good life! Sunshine, white sand, close friends, and more importantly – unlimited alcohol. For many years it’s been the adage I lived by. There is nothing more exciting than anticipating my next opportunity when I can escape to my adoptive Caribbean home – the Dominican Republic.
Sadly, something has changed. The pristine blue waters of my island fantasies are now tainted with controversy. The conversations regarding DR in the United States as of late, appears to be one-sided, muddying the reputation of one of the most popular, and affordable destination spots in the world. An island nation which was once described as paradise, is now wrapped in a new lexicon of fear, mystery, and a series of deadly, and unfortunate events.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you cannot escape the barrage of headline news describing the multiple deaths of American tourists at various all-inclusive resorts in DR. Probably the most mysterious of them all, occurred at the Grand Bahía Príncipe in which three Americans, two of whom were an actual couple, died when they should have been living their best lives.
Just when you think things could not get any weirder, Americans detailing horror stories of their time spent in DR are popping up all over the place. For the lurid accounts that ended in tragedy over the course of a year, reports of fatalities are now in the double digits.
I too had a brush with illness after staying at the Grand Bahía Príncipe Esmeralda resort in 2014. What was supposed to be five days of Dominican bliss, turned into a gastrointestinal nightmare on my return home. Prior to my stay, I had traveled to DR numerous times without issue of safety, or health. This time I wasn’t so lucky.
Almost immediately after turning the key to my apartment, I had a ferocious case of diarrhea and stomach cramps. Just take some Imodium AD, and the good ol’ black folks cure-all tonic of Ginger Ale I thought. That was day one. By day nine, I was physically weak, lost my appetite, and fear began to set in. This was not normal and I checked in with my friends who accompanied me on the trip. Some of them experienced similar symptoms but only for a day or so. Of course I had to be that guy to top them all with a trip to the emergency room. Since this episode occurred during another media hyped scare tactic – the Ebola era, the receptionist at the hospital armed herself with a mask and gloves after I explained my symptoms, and mentioned where I just returned from. It was a bit overkill but hey, she was not taking any chances and to be completely honest, who could blame her?
My hospital stay lasted four days in quarantine. You read that right! I spent most of that time re-tracing my steps. Did I mistakenly drink the water? That tuna didn’t look too appetizing but I took full advantage of the free liquor so my judgement at the time, like myself, was a tad impaired. There was a mini-bar in my hotel room but it included Coca Cola with real sugar and Dominican Republic’s own, Presidente beer. I was safe, careful, and this couldn’t have been my fault (or maybe it could) but there I was, solo in a room overlooking the Hudson River watching doctors put on protective gear before entering.
After being administered a slew of intravenous fluids and antibiotics, I met with a doctor who ironically worked at the resort. Talk about a small world. He explained that there were other accounts of people becoming severely ill during, and after their stay at the Grand Bahía Príncipe. I couldn’t help but wonder however, if his knowledge could have been better served by making noise loud enough to bring attention to the matter at the resort sooner.
After being declared Ebola and Chikungunya free, I was discharged and ultimately diagnosed with a bad case of food poisoning. I returned home to resume my life and to the important task of posting my vacation photos to Instagram. With all that I had been through, the sickness, the fear, and quarantine, at no time did I ever think about not returning to the Dominican Republic. I certainly didn’t feel that the country which has welcomed me for years, needed to be cancelled because of one incident that quite frankly, I often prepared for.
I always take precaution while on vacation in the DR to alleviate any potential symptoms of discomfort. I’m also aware of my surroundings and what I consume. You become that person when you’re allergic to shellfish, nuts, and call the New York City area home. I question everything and anyone in order to protect myself and those around me. So maybe I had a slip up, but by no means does it relinquish accountability off of myself, and place it on an entire country that receives a portion of its revenue from tourism-particularly American tourism.
Of course I’m biased regarding the Dominican Republic as exhibited by some of my previous posts, but I’m also an intelligent and compassionate human being that will acknowledge when things just aren’t adding up. Some of the explanations coming from the powers that be within the country are questionable to say the least. My gut tells me that something is amiss. The chain of events that led to the couple meeting their demise while on vacation has my Spidey sense going into overdrive. The other lives lost after mysteriously becoming violently ill, all have details that are way to similar for my comfort.
I know what it’s like to have relatives leave home and not come back. It’s devastating and every part of my being aches for the loved ones who are dealing with unexpected loss with little, to no acceptable explanation as to why. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t express a bit of skepticism regarding how much attention is being brought on by the recent deaths when statistically speaking, it happens more frequently regardless of what country you choose to visit. Not to mention there are many other places in the world, like the United States for example, which pose much more of a viable threat to one’s safety at any given moment.
July has traditionally been an exciting time for me. It’s my final prep month for the annual celebration of DRtakeover in Punta Cana Labor Day weekend. An amazing getaway for the same gender loving community of color whose management team recently updated their loyal patrons with new safety precautions while working in conjunction with the Melía Caríbe resort. Everything from confirming top notch security, to food and beverage safety measures put into place, are ensuring guest comfort throughout the duration of their stay.
The Melía like other Dominican resorts including the Hardrock Hotel, have heard the fearful cries and have stepped up to the plate to reclaim the trust of returning visitors in addition to newcomers. Regardless of what may have attributed to these recent tragedies, it’s not indicative of who Dominicans are, what we’ve come to love about them, and the paradise in which they call home.
I for one, cannot participate in the demonization of a country that inhabits beautiful, friendly, black and brown people based on a series of deaths that even by the reports of American officials, are not connected. There are however, questions that many of us passport Kings and Queens have that must be addressed. I have a feeling they will and hopefully, it can be an opportunity to educate, not deter future international travelers from experiencing the wonders of DR.
As we await the facts of ongoing investigations, let’s do our due diligence in researching our destinations of choice, it’s people, and respect the culture and practices that may differ from our own. Safety is paramount, and should be anyone’s focus while traveling abroad. With the campaign of cancel culture continuing to unleash its wrath upon the DR, let’s not forget one thing. We’ve got bigger fish to fry in our own back yard and this man in particular, prefers his fish like his cocktails – unlimited, fried, and with a side of plantains by a Dominican beach.