Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Excellence Punta Cana

As you may know, I spent the weekend in the Dominican Republic. We stayed at the Excellence Punta Cana, a resort about an hour and a half away from the airport. I drank, ate, swam, had a spa treatment, did some yoga, and talked to a lot of the staff and none of the other guests. Other than this, I did nothing except lounge in the sun.

This could be the perfect weekend. In some ways, it really was. The food was mediocre at best (the only thing I really enjoyed was lobster at a restaurant that serves nothing but lobster), but the drinks were excellent (by excellent I mean that some had lots of alcohol and all had lots of fruit), and we definitely drank our money's worth. The ocean water was rougher than I'd seen before in the Caribbean, but we did swim in it, and made ample use of the resort's two pools, one of which had a swim-up bar. There are beds on the beach and near the pools, and lounging around in the sun was fantastic. The resort was clearly made for couples, and honeymooners got a special sash for their doors, so my two roommates and I definitely got extra attention from the staff, two of whom gave us their e-mail addresses. There was always someone walking around ready to take your drink order, and at times, just passing out drinks or food. It was lovely to partake in this bit of hedonism.

But, at the back of my mind, there was always a pushing feeling of exploitation, and at times it made it difficult to enjoy myself. The resort system is built to replicate a system of servitude, and while it can be wonderful to be waited on, it's bizarre to be staying in a hotel centered around that. (Did I say this was my first experience with an all-inclusive?) I felt badly for being there because of the food waste, because of the low wages, because of the instability of the job, because I was enjoying myself, and because I was feeling badly. Most of my vacations contribute nothing to a place, but I usually don't go about them so problematically. This, of course, led to my thinking about all the things I enjoy, which of course, led to the thought, all of my happiness is built on exploitation and the suffering of others. My bargain hunting, my traveling, my addiction to diet soda, my ceaseless use of electricity and paper, my existence means that someone somewhere is existing in a completely different way. I don't like having to think about this sort of thing while I'm on vacation, and that's a lot of what I did.

I'm not saying that I regret the trip; I don't. I got to spend time with two of my closest friends, who I haven't really spent much time with since graduation, and remember why I liked them so much. I got to rest and relax, and not go to work. I got fantastic drinks and a tan. I also got a more personal awareness of the problems with tourism. The trip was a welcome break from the mundane world I face in my cubicle everyday, and it definitely helped me learn a little bit more about myself. I'm glad that I spent the past weekend in paradise, but I don't think I'd ever go back in the same way. From now on, I think I'll be a little more careful about my priorities as I plan my trips.

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