One of the perks (or mitigating factors, depending on your degree of cheer) of being posted to a place like Dhaka is the opportunity for rest and recuperation (R&R) travel. From Dhaka, our R&R point is Sydney, which means the State Department will pay for our ticket there or, more excitingly, to a destination(s) of our choosing so long as it costs less. Pretty sweet, right? Well, it gets better. Congress, in all its infinite wisdom, decided that State Department travel should be booked on American-operated flights, when available. Now flying to Sydney from Dhaka on any old carrier is about $1200 or so. Flying on an American one is in the realm of $6000. Hurray protectionism! What this meant for Grace and I is that we could fly from Dhaka to Abu Dhabi to New York to Santo Domingo to Miami to Washington, DC to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok to Dhaka for vacation without spending anything out of pocket. Well, except for the part where flying standard economy is pretty much torture for me, so we spent around $1000 and a lot of time haranguing gate agents and flight attendants for seats that didn't make me want to die.
So anyway, our first destination was Santo Domingo for my cousin's wedding. The trip there was surprisingly not terrible. We flew Etihad from Dhaka to Abu Dhabi and then from Abu Dhabi to New York. The plane and our seats were both decent. The service was surprisingly bad. Though, like I think I've mentioned before, anything flying in or out of Dhaka is probably the worst plane in the fleet. Abu Dhabi was strange in that there's an outpost of the US Customs and Border Protection in the airport. So before boarding we had actually already gone through US customs and immigration. Strange. Unfortunately, this (or some other vagary of travel) resulted in our luggage being misplaced on the way to Santo Domingo. Not a huge problem, and one that thankfully got resolved in time for the wedding.
Arriving in Santo Domingo was pretty interesting. When arriving from the US it always seemed relatively chaotic, impoverished, and dirty. Arriving from Bangladesh made it seem like Switzerland. We were met at the airport by my family (including my nephews Sebastian and Gabriel, the latter whom I was meeting for the first time), which made the transition very easy.
I'm blanking on the exact sequence of events for the next few days. Most of it was just time spent hanging out with my extended family, including a dinner the evening we arrived. I managed to grab a few pictures with the "assistance" of Sebastian. Blurriness was an inevitable consequence of low lighting and an excitable two year old.
The next day started out (after an excellent, leisurely breakfast) with a trip to the botanical gardens. Had Grace and I been there alone I probably would have taken a lot of uninteresting pictures of palm trees. Instead, I just took pictures of Sebastian and Gabriel. We didn't spend too much time there before heading to my grandfather's (Abuelito) house for lunch. Gabriel was quite the hit with the household staff and was carted off almost immediately upon our arrival (to what I imagine was a mixture of concern and relief to Rachel).
We spent the evening at my cousin Pedro's bar: Bräu Marketbar. Excellent beer (not that I have anything against Presidente, but...) and a fantastic burger were enjoyed by yours truly (and many of my family members, though I did not share my burger). A very enjoyable time, though a combination of jet lag and the wedding the following day prevented us from staying out too late. I'll leave the next day for the next post so as not to tire (bore?) my audience excessively.