I met our group of Americans (in town for a 40th birthday celebration) at the lobby of the Now Larimar all-inclusive resort on a Saturday afternoon to go on a cruise with the Bebe Catamaran.
All 44 adults and 3 children had showed up, and everyone was excited to go. We stood around wearing our bathing suits and holding our beach towels/bags; most people engaged in casual conversation and some people walking back and forth to the lobby bar to get more drinks before departure. About half an hour later, the tour guides from Bebe Catamaran showed up on time for our 2:00 p.m. pick up, and we started boarding the two open-air safari-style trucks that they’d sent for us.
The ride from the resort to the beach only took about 5 minutes. We arrived at the small area of El Cortecito, which doesn’t look like much and might even look like a somewhat shady area, especially in the eyes of tourists coming straight from the groomed gardens of a luxury resort.
The one street, which runs through El Cortecito, is a two-way street that’s only wide enough for cars to pass in one direction. Luckily, there weren’t any other cars passing through when we arrived, and our drivers were able to park without trouble on the corner of the street. We unloaded to trucks and walked to a store behind us. It took maybe 3 seconds before the vendors from the various gift shops had spotted our group of tourists and started walking up to them in the hopes of luring some to go see their shop. Nobody ventured off course, though, and we walked through a store to get to the beach on the other side.
Arriving to the beach and first view of the ocean:
As soon as we stepped out of the store, the view of the beach and the ocean was absolutely stunning; a stark contrast to the dusty street and the rundown gift shops behind us.
We stood on the beach for a few minutes, took off our shoes that were all placed in a big bucket as we were not allowed to bring/wear shoes on the catamaran for safety reasons.
The tour guides gave each person a life vest, and we proceeded to the edge of the ocean in order board a speedboat that would take us from the beach to the catamaran.
I guess they were unable to pull the catamaran close enough to the beach for everyone to just walk onboard, so the only option for getting on was to first go on the small boat, although not everyone was too crazy about this.
Not all of us could fit, so the speedboat had to take three trips before we were all onboard the 56-foot sailing catamaran and ready to roll. With less than 50 persons, we had sufficient space for everyone to be able to sit, stand or lie down as they pleased. They say they can have up to 60 people onboard, but I would personally not put more than 50 people to make sure it doesn’t get too crowded.
The sun was beating down on us, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and it was just the perfect day for an afternoon cruise. Once we got going, we received some information about the itinerary and safety procedures from the crew, which consisted of the captain, the bartender and three mates. We had an open bar included (no alcohol before snorkeling) as well as a few snacks (fruit kebabs and nachos with salsa) and snorkeling equipment.
Snorkeling over the coral reef with Chocolate:
Our first stop was the designated snorkeling area, just a few minutes away where we dropped anchor. There were already a few other boats there and people in the water – seems like this was a good spot for snorkeling. The crew started handing out masks and fins. With 47 people, it took quite a while to get everyone set up, although not everyone wanted to get in the water. They lowered the stairs, so we could walk into the water and a few people decided to just jump over one side.
One of the mates (the one they called Chocolate) led the snorkelers to the right spots, equipped with a bag full of bread to feed the fish and that way attract them to us. The water was nice and warm, just the way it should be in the Caribbean. One person, who had a dive watch, measured the temperature at 88 degrees Fahrenheit / 31 degrees Celsius! Unfortunately, the visibility wasn’t 100% clear and the quality of the coral reef was only so-so. If you’d expect to snorkel over a multi-colored coral reef with loads of tropical fish in all the colors of the rainbow, you’d be really disappointed. The snorkeling is honestly not that great!
I really didn’t like the idea of 40-some people swimming on top of each other (and kicking each other), so I swam a bit to the side and found one spot over the reef with plenty of fish. Most of them were black and yellow striped, some were gray with blue fins and others were black. At one point I had a swarm of these small, really cute yellow-black striped fish surrounding me and one little blue fish that almost swam straight into my mask.
When I came up to see where the rest of the group was, the guide, Chocolate, was right beside me, and I decided to talk to him for a while instead of sticking my head back under water.
He was a young guy, very friendly. He told me that he was from Port-au-Prince in Haiti and had been living in the Dominican Republic for three years. He spoke very well Spanish, with a slight Creole accent, and said that he’d originally come to the country to study but was now working for the Bebe catamaran excursion. Having read about Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, I was tempted to ask him how he came to the country and if he was a legal resident, but I decided that it might be a bit too personal (and awkward), so instead I asked him a bit about his family, etc.
He told me that he had several family members in the Dominican Republic, but most of his family were still living and working back in Haiti.
Man overboard – take one:
After about 30 minutes of snorkeling, our guides called us back to the catamaran. Once everyone was onboard, and we were ready to leave, a lady from our group realized that we were missing someone! “Raymond*! Raymond!! Raymond!!!” she called out, but nobody answered her.
The captain shut off the motors and Chocolate quickly jumped into the water and swam around looking for our missing guy. In the meantime everyone else lined up on the side of the catamaran to scout across the ocean for our missing person. A few people got nervous, wondering if Raymond had perhaps been lost forever, which never could have been the case. After a quick search and rescue, Raymond was brought safely back onboard the catamaran – slightly confused at all the hubbub that had occurred.
We continued to cruise along the coast, enjoying the open bar (now serving rum and beer), the music and the view of the beach. The crew was serving fruit kebabs, but I only noticed when one of the guys came back with an empty tray. Unfortunately, they ran out before I got the chance to taste one.
The Natural Pool and no more beers:
Our next stop was at the Natural Pool, in front of the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort. This is a popular stop for most of the ocean excursions in Punta Cana, and when we arrived, there were already a couple of other boats and lots of people in the water. The Natural Pool is like a sandbank in the ocean where the water is super shallow (waist deep) and calm. Every excursion that stops at the Natural Pool spends about 30 minutes here, serving drinks from a floating bar, which in our case was a simple, wooden board that could hold a tray full of drinks.
Shortly after we’d arrived, we ran out of beer, which caused quite the stir as everyone was mostly drinking beer. The tension rose among the people in the group, and the crew had to solve the situation fast before it got out of hand. Unfortunately, as we were almost about to head back to shore, there wasn’t enough time for the beers to be brought out to the Natural Pool. The best solution turned out to be to have the beers waiting for us when we got back, so we could have them on the beach and on the safari truck going back to the hotel.
Man overboard – take two:
After about half an hour at the Natural Pool, we started making our way back to the beach where we’d left. Upon request from some of the other people onboard, the crew raised the sails on the catamaran in order for us to sail back without having to use the motor. The wind had picked up and we made it back in good speed; although not without making one stop on the way as our friend, Raymond, fell overboard… on purpose.
It turned out that someone had dared him to jump overboard and said that they’d give him US$ 500 to do it – which he then did. The crew immediately stopped the boat and watched frantically as Raymond swam to shore, thinking that this was the beach were we’d left from and that our resort was right there. He didn’t realize that he was wrong and that our resort was actually much further down the beach; a good 30-minute walk away. After a couple of minutes of calling out to him and trying their best to convince him to come back, he did and after that the crew guarded him and grabbed him every time he tried to move an inch.
We got back just as it was starting to get dark. It took a while for the people at the beach to organize the beers, which they first sailed out to us in the speedboat, and then later sailed back to the beach when the group decided to have the beers on land.
A few people got antsy, because of the waiting time to get into the speedboat and back to shore, and decided to jump in the ocean and swim to the beach. We drank the beers, got back on the trucks and headed back to the resort just as the daylight had completely disappeared.
The real name of the person has been changed.