For our honeymoon, my wife and I decided that relaxation was the main goal for the trip. After the hectic time leading up to the wedding, and the craziness of the big weekend, all-inclusive food and drink mixed with expanses of beaches and poolside bars made the most sense. After some research, we decided that a resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic checked all of our boxes. For the first few days of the trip, we were content, even ecstatic with our decision. Endless cervezas and drinks with umbrellas, multiple restaurants that were already paid for, and private cabanas along the azure Atlantic Ocean transported us from the stressful wedding schedule to a relaxed, blissful mindset. Eventually, even this routine became monotonous – not the way a 9-5 does – but there was an entire culture and authentic experiences waiting just moments outside of this beachside American embassy. I had been practicing my limited Spanish with some of the locals working around the resort and was told that there was a perfect beach for an excursion, Playa Macao.
After a bumpy 30 minute ride through poor neighborhoods and untouched rainforest, we reached the beach, and while we had spent the previous few days staring at the Atlantic, somehow this felt far more authentic. In place of the lines of beach chairs and scurrying waiters taking drink orders were local fishermen, surfers of all skill levels, and Dominican families soaking in the sun’s warming rays. Yes, there were plenty of tourists like myself there to take in the scene, but it was a far cry from the private sands along our contained resort. My wife was content walking the beach with a camera and laying in the sun, but I had my sights set on the waves. I had tried my luck surfing when I had lived in Australia, but truthfully, there was very little time spent standing on a board and more time spent avoiding drowning. Unsurprisingly, I found a surf shack a ways down the beach, bartered my way into a surf lesson, and before I knew it, I was paddling into the white caps with a teenager named Mateo who knew less English than I knew Spanish. Luckily for me, Mateo was a patient teacher, putting up with my clumsiness and lack of aquatic prowess for what seemed like an eternity before even having an attempt at catching a break. I kept failing to paddle into the oncoming waves at the correct time, falling off the surf board with the grace of a drunken frat boy performing a cannon ball during spring break. By the end of my lesson however, I was able to channel my inner Kelly Slater and ride a break almost the entire way to the beach. My wife snapped a picture, so I can prove this feat, and I proceeded to succeed a few more times, even gaining some street cred with Mateo.
Exhausted from the hours struggling in the surf, I rejoined my wife to plan our trip back to find some dinner at the resort. As we were about to leave, we glimpsed a fisherman walking toward the tree line about a half mile down the beach where there was a large group of people, so we decided to explore in hopes of some local fare. This proved to be an excellent decision, as we found a makeshift restaurant cooking the very fish we witnessed being caught just moments before. We handed over a couple of $20 bills, which bought us multiple local beers, two large grilled fish that we picked out ourselves, and endless plantain chips. Though our dinner finally cost some extra cash out of pocket, it was easily the most satisfying meal of the trip.
Ironically, this vacation was chosen because of the posh resort and the opportunity to lounge in luxury, yet the best and most memorable experience occurred off the beaten path. Sure, this beach wasn’t the isolated paradise found in a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but it was paradise nonetheless, and far more authentic than the one we had come to know. We didn’t regret hitching our wagon to an all-inclusive locale…we loved walking out of our amazing room to infinity pools and private beaches, and you won’t hear too many complaints from me when it comes to all-you-can-eat meals and bottomless margaritas. But taking a bit of a risk and stepping out of our comfort zone that day at Playa Macao is something that I wouldn’t change for anything. Sometimes the best days of a vacation are the ones where the itinerary is unknown. Looking back, the most relaxing time of that honeymoon occurred not under palm covered huts by sprawling swimming pools, but through the tiring exploration of that beautiful country.