Thursday, December 22, 2016

Our Dominican Retreat Begins!

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Mike and I have talked about leaving the United States and living in the Dominican Republic for at least one year almost as long as we have been married. When Ella was teeny he even applied to teach at an International School there but it didn't work out and then as the kids got older and we got more settled into our lives in Katy we just kept putting it off (well me mostly, change is scary). With Mike's schedule being more flexible though the travel bug has struck us harder than ever and we realized that our time before Ella starts high school is suddenly very limited so we need to get to it if we want to get some major traveling with the kids in. They are at great ages for it (Finally all old enough to participate in almost all activities, they will remember it and take it all in and in theory be easier for us to travel with ;-). Also we can leave them watching TV to go to the gym or grab a quick bite to eat alone which is priceless.) so we decided to go for it on a smaller scale. 
We booked tickets to spend 4 weeks in the Dominican Republic to be a practice run for a possible future, even longer trip. The kids are only missing 1 1/2 weeks of school thanks to Christmas break and Ella is the only one we are really worried about...both for school and for swimming...it's hard to be the oldest :-). We packed 3 suitcases for our family of 5 for the month and a good portion of those is full of our snorkeling gear. Most of our locations are beach or jungle related so a couple cuter outfits was all we needed, plus swimsuits and exercise clothes. The plan is to do laundry as needed, but we will see how it goes haha. This is something we definitely need to figure out how to manage if we want to leave for an extended period of time and move around to different locations.
We will be hitting all the different areas of the country and staying in 7 locations during the 4 weeks...3 nicer places and 4 that we hope are pretty good haha. We mixed them around (jungle eco lodge to beach resort for example) and are starting with the very best to help ease us in :-). So, here goes the beginning of the adventure...
Saturday, December 17th, we had left early in the morning with the car loaded for both our trip AND Ella's swim meet at Texas A&M University. As soon as the meet was over we headed to directly to the airport. As luck would have it Hope and Kyler were landing from Utah right around the time we needed to be there to check in for our 4:55pm flight, so we picked them up and then looped around to our drop-off zone with some quick hi's, goodbye's and hugs.
The trip had a really, really rough start. I am definitely a planner and for a trip like this there is a lot of time spent in the planning process. Since the DR is Mike's specialty he was more involved than usual as well. We were supposed to be arriving late Saturday night, eating breakfast at the hotel and heading to church at a local chapel that Mike served in during his mission. Mike had been in contact with a mission president before we came about the possibility of us doing some service work while we were in Santo Domingo. We were going to go to church, talk with the missionaries and go from there, but then everything changed :-(.
When we arrived at IAH we got in line to check our bags (which took FOREVER) and when it was finally our turn she asked me if we were arriving at Santo Domingo the next day. I said, No, tonight and then she looked at her computer again and said, oh, the flight is delayed coming into Houston so you will not be leaving here until 6:30pm so they have re-booked your next flight and you arrive tomorrow. The only good news was that the delay was the fault of American Airlines so they would be paying for us to stay the night in Miami even if it was taking out an entire day of our vacation. We went and checked into the KLM lounge that Mike has access too and started our hours and hours of waiting. Our flight got pushed back TWO more times and we ended up leaving at 7:45pm, which means we arrived in Miami at almost midnight and then had to wait in another line to get hotel vouchers, go figure out a shuttle and then drive to a hotel. It was a long, long day followed by a short, short night's sleep. The shuttle back to the airport picked us up at 6am and then we got to go through all the fun again...security, airport navigating and more waiting. We did make it though! And really there have been trips where missing a day like that could have really, really messed things up. At least we still had days to spend in Santo Domingo, right? Although typing this I'm still bummed that we missed out on the church/service experience.
The rest of Sunday and all of Monday we planned NOTHING and it was glorious. We are staying at the Renaissance Jaragua which we have been to before but it has been refurbished and is so nice. We have loved being here!!! We all caught up on our sleep, Mike and I got good workouts in at the hotel gym, the kids swam and swam in the beautiful pool they had all to themselves, and we ate lots of delicious Dominican food. Monday afternoon Mike and I did take a nice long walk by ourselves over to the Conde to check out some things and get a feel for what we wanted to do the next day with all the kids in tow. We discovered a delicious restaurant, Hermanos Villar, that we have eaten at nearly every day the rest of our time here. We were feeling ready to get out and explore by Tuesday.
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starting over in Miami the next morning...
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We made it to Santo Domingo!!!
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the end of our hallway...walking to the elevators always made me feel like I was on a cruise ship :-)
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After fueling up at the hotel restaurant (we were starving and it was delicious), it was off to the pool.
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And back at it again the next day...
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this picture was Ella's idea and I love it!
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a glimpse of the ocean down a side street during my walk with Mike that afternoon
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early dinner. I took the picture of the buffet after it closed as we left, but during it's open hours there was a line of Dominicans constantly.
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sugar cane snacky on the walk back to the hotel
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the gym is still being renovated but this temporary one has been great for us!
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checking out the ocean across the street from our hotel that evening before bed
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