Lessons From the Dominican Republic

dominican republic lessons travel Apr 06, 2022

“Today’s the last day to cancel the reservation for a full refund.” I told Nick through a wince.

He winced back.

Neither of us could seem to fully commit to this trip we’d booked. It’d be the most expensive thing we’d ever done.

But it was the dream trip. One I’d dog-eared in a travel brochure I’ve carried around at the bottom of every suitcase I’ve ever packed for a decade. One I’d starred in black ink for that “one day” when I’d have the time, the money, and the guts.

This year, for my birthday, a delayed Valentine’s Day trip, and some nurturing aftercare for the decision we made to postpone our wedding, we decided was the time. We had the money, we made the time, we just needed to work the guts.

We rolled up in our economy Uber with broken AC to one of the most exclusive hotels in the Dominican Republic for our first-ever all-inclusive wellness retreat. A bellman carried my white suitcase covered in crayon markings from my days teaching kids in LA to our villa. My heart skipped a beat in the glass jungle bathroom. It felt so wrong, yet so, so right.

“Que disfruten,” the staff told us with a smile.


Nick and I scuttled sheepishly around the beautiful space for about 24 hours before finally deciding that modesty was serving no one. We were here. We might as well disfrutar.


I let myself indulge in all the native Taíno spa and healing remedies, sipped all the tea, gulped all the green juice, danced bachata in the sunset, did yoga in the moonlight, hiked in the jungles of the north shore, danced naked in the rain, lounged in the Caribbean sun, explored the tiny surrounding towns with the locals, ate pounds of artisanal chocolate, worked out so hard we couldn’t walk for two days, took herbal baths with sacred plants and had the most exceptional time.

Do I feel guilty about the indulgence, even writing this right now? Unfortunately yes. 

Do I still feel unworthy of the pleasure, luxury, joy and relaxation? Unfortunately yes.

Do I know at my core that self-care is selfless and with the inspiration, joy and recharge gained, I can overflow from it? Yes.

Do I believe that pleasure and joy are every humans’ birthright? Yes.

Will I regret the memories, the connections, the energy or the learnings? No.

It was invaluable.

I know this exact experience isn’t one everyone can have. I’m deeply aware. Sometimes the guilt is so unbearable, it keeps me up at night. 

Why do I get this type of freedom, abundance, privilege and prosperity, while so many don’t?

We watched it before our very eyes as the employees of the establishment told us their stories. They told us that working there was the best situation they could be in. $200 USD per month was more than most people in the whole region made, they said. Waiting on us was “un placer.” A pleasure, they said again and again.

A young man from the hotel invited us to walk around his little village. He told us how he’d love, more than anything, to go to a real basketball game, but they were only in the States. Just a game. Any game, he said. Anywhere, he dreamed. He knew every player and every play.

As we floated down the brackish waters of a mangrove he used to swim in as a kid, my eyes filled with tears. It wasn’t the first time; it was the probably the tenth time. I looked down and away and blinked until my eyes dried out.

“We’re getting him to the U.S.,” Nick said determinedly as he sent him all travel visa information on WhatsApp. “We’ll sponsor his trip.”

We tipped everyone more than the country’s customary 5-15% - hoping even just a few dollars could make a difference.

Why are we so lucky?

Why isn’t life fair?

Why can’t everyone disfrute? At the very, very least.

We landed back in Puerto Rico satiated, motivated, and awakened by it all.

Nick woke me up abruptly the next morning.

“Kama, I’m so sorry, but can you please wake up?”

I pried my night-owl eyes open to meet his strange, early request. Today was my real birthday.

“I am so glad we celebrated your birthday. I’m so glad we celebrated everything because you just never know what can happen.” He said. 

“What’s going on?” I asked confusedly.

“My dad’s in the ICU. I just got notice.” He said with teary eyes.

We flew back immediately. 

Life is so short. I thought to myself on the long flight back. 

Anything can happen. I noticed dizzyingly. 

Anything can change at any moment. I realized. 

Nothing, nothing, nothing about life is to be taken for granted. I understood.

Es un placer, la vida.

We aren’t here for long. 

Es un placer. 

Live and take nothing for granted.

Que disfruten, que disfruten, que disfruten.

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