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White-Hair Point

White-hair Point, at least, that’s what the signs all said. I can only assume the eastern terminus of the Dominican Republic used to be Punta Caña (Sugar Cane Point), since there are lots of similarly-named places across Latin America, and the Ñ was dropped to fare better in English-language databases and profiles. If so, it’s an apt metaphor for the place itself, which is only marginally a part of the Dominican Republic and instead caters to a foreign clientele unwilling to figure out how to say a word with an Ñ in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the place. White sand, turquoise waters, the salt tang of the Caribbean in the air, seafood, tropical fruit, air conditioned rooms, and latina waitstaff in satin skirts. But the more you think about it, the stranger it gets.

I’m fairly sure I remember a time when Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic’s tourist mecca, was still just a plan. Amazing to see how successfully it was executed. Punta Cana competes favorably with Cancún in Mexico, drawing a steady crowd of international beachgoers. It’s got its own international airport (a nice one!), bus service direct to all-inclusive hotels, and non-stop entertainment. And it clearly employs thousands across the whole tourism ecosystem. Staff are bused in from elsewhere. I’m told their salary is low but they earn bonuses based on the hotel’s yearly profits, and unemployment being one of Latin America’s biggest challenges, it’s great to see jobs being created.

My biggest joy was talking about merengue music with a taxi driver who, like so many others, was curious to know why I spoke perfect Spanish. I wasn’t far down the island from San Pedro de Macorís, the home of Juan Luis Guerra, a musical genius and hero whose music underpinned my romance and even my wedding.

My biggest disappointment was that I left feeling I’d seen Punta Cana but not the Dominican Republic itself, which is something different altogether. I can think of other reasons to complain, but why be a curmudgeon? It’s called White-haired Point, after all, so maybe the place was custom-created for people like me. And I never did see any sugar cane after all.


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