Ever hear of a water-cannon salute? Fire trucks lined the runway to spray our plane with water, after landing in the Dominican Republic on JetBlue’s inaugural flight from JFK to La Romana. We headed to Casa de Campo, sugar baron Pepe Fanjul’s beautiful resort. The movie Rambo 2 included scenes on the stunning Chavon River there. Sting, Carlos Santana, and Frank Sinatra are among the many celebrities who have performed at the nearby amphitheater. Cygalle Dias, an entrepreneur based in New York, launched a healing spa at the resort. The spa, replete with an outdoor labyrinth and Zen gardens, is one property of a spa company that spans both the fashion and entertainment world.
Call me crazy, but getting a “treatment” in a spa was never something that interested me. It seemed fine for other people, of course. Women, I mean. But I’m a dude. I don’t care about aromatherapy, flickering candles, and Enya music. And someone rubbing me with weird oils for an hour, and nothing else happens? I’ll be at the bar, having my own transformative experience, thank you very much. But then I found myself a guest at the uber-luxe PUNTACANA Resort in the Dominican Republic, and it was time to pop my spa treatment cherry. How bad could it be?
As it happens, not bad at all. In fact, I quite liked it. It all started in dramatic fashion, as we drove our golf cart – which came with our posh junior suite at Tortuga Bay – through the whipping winds that preceded a brief but powerful tropical rainstorm. We willed that little two-stroke bastard to carry us faster and faster to the Six Senses Spa, and it got us there just in time. The first drops began falling as we entered the doors into the hushed sanctuary. Yes, there were candles and incense and “relaxing music,” but I was willing to go with it. It’s not like anybody was poking me in the eye with a stick.
I was with my wife, Jenn, and we were getting a couples massage. (No way was I doing this alone.) We had to fill out little questionnaires about how we were feeling and what we wanted to get out of our massage treatments. I wrote that my stress level was 4 out of 5, and circled “energized” under how I hoped to feel after it all. I figured everybody else would go with “relaxed.” We were introduced to our massage therapists, two polite young women from Thailand, who brought us into our pretty, cave-like treatment room (pictured). Jenn had gone off somewhere, so my therapist told me to take off all my clothes and put on a white robe and a pair of slippers. If I was really a sissy about it, she said, using more polite words, I could put on a pair of disposable underwear, but I figured I’d better do it their way. No turning back now.
I was led to my table, and my therapist had me take off my robe as she held up a sheet. Then I laid face-down and she put the sheet over me, positioning my face over what looked like a small, padded toilet seat so I could rest my head but still see the floor. There was a bucket positioned directly below me filled with sand and stones – a zen garden presumably meant for drooling in.
Jenn and her massage therapist came in shortly after, and our treatments began at the same time. I’m told the technique they used was lomilomi, which is some holistic Hawaiian thing, but to me it just felt like a really nice, firm rubdown. My masseuse did half of my body at a time, folding the sheet over and massaging first my right side, from feet to shoulders (she had to towel the sand off my legs first, thanks to a morning scuba dive I never really cleaned up after), and then my left side.
It was odd to be naked, even while partly concealed with a Turin-like shroud, with someone rubbing my body with coconut oil. What I’m saying is it was impossible not to think of sex, and how easily such a situation lends itself to it. After all, the room was like some kind of sexy-sax-man love dungeon, all diaphanous curtains and sweet aromas. And the massage, well, I’m sure it was standard procedure, but they go pretty close to there and there. It’s like aaah, hmmm, ohhh, HELLO!
But, fortunately for everyone in the room, any impure thoughts were fleeting, as my body soon succumbed to the lomilomi. Mild strokes at first, then firmer and stronger. I loved it on my back and shoulders, but was particularly fond of getting my feet and hands rubbed. Who knew how much stress could build up in the hands? Not me. Any hesitance I had to getting a spa treatment faded away. I was turning into Jell-O. I didn’t drool in the bucket, but I came close. The massage, the music, the candlelight. It was all good.
Then my masseuse asked me to turn over (same deal with the sheet) and finished up with a nice massage of my legs, arms, and head. I do love a good scalp massage. It’s one of my guilty pleasures when I get my hair cut. By the time our 60 minute massage was over, I was on the edge of sleep, and I definitely took my time getting up. I’ll admit it, I really did feel transformed. I realized that there’s something to this spa thing after all.
After it was over, we were offered ginger tea, which Jenn loves and I think is gross, but that’s just my thing. She sipped her tea and I sipped cucumber water in a nice lounge overlooking the ocean as we slowly returned to reality.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience, and I don’t know why I waited so long for my first treatment. It was really the ideal post-scuba diving cool down, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Okay, maybe one thing: next time, let’s skip the post-massage ginger tea and have a nice glass of Brugal rum instead.
I’ll bring my hip flask just in case.
As I sipped coffee on my sunny balcony in Brooklyn this morning, I could feel the cool breath of autumn on my skin. The calendar might still say August, but the message is slicing through the air like a stream of cold water in a hot bath: summer is almost over, so enjoy it while you still can. The obvious takeaway here is that you need to mix up some tropical-themed cocktails posthaste, like the two masterpieces I enjoyed last week at the PUNTACANA Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic.
My wife, Jenn, and I were guests of Tortuga Bay, a resort within the resort that boasts luxurious oceanfront vacation villas with every conceivable amenity and all kinds of fun things to do. I’ll get to all that soon enough, but we’ll be more comfortable after a drink.
During one particularly beautiful moonlit night, we had dinner at the resort’s La Yola restaurant, a gorgeous open-air space at the edge of the water. The food was inventive, well-executed, and delicious (try the snapper!) and before we left, the restaurant manager, Benjamin Silvestre, insisted we try two of La Yola’s signature cocktails. Yeah, okay. Twist my arm.
First, I tried the Caribbean Yola (pictured, right). Expecting a shock of sugar at the front, I was pleasantly surprised to find a delicate and well-balanced cocktail, where the sweetness of the passion fruit and pineapple is muted by the austerity of the underlying dark rum. A perfect cocktail for sunset.
I was a bit more circumspect about the Frozen La Yola (left), since it looked like an ice cream sundae, and I’d already had a tiramisu for dessert. Fortunately, it maintained an air of sophistication rare in the world of blue, frozen drinks. Sure, it’s sweet – the coconut cream and amaretto pretty much guarantee it – but it’s also complex and nuanced, with the flavors of the white rum, pineapple, and Blue Curacao mingling nicely on the tongue. I enjoyed it in spite of wishing I was holding something a bit more manly in my hand, like a tumbler of whiskey. It’s a piña colada with a masters degree.
Ideally, you’ll enjoy these refreshing libations on the beach at Punta Cana. Absent that, mix them up for yourself and your friends using the recipes below (Gracias, Sr. Silvestre!) and drift off to that tropical getaway in your mind.
Caribbean Yola 1 ounce Dark Rum 1 ounce Triple Sec or Cointreau 2 ounce fresh Passion Fruit juice 2 ounce fresh Pineapple juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and pour them into a tall cocktail glass. Garnish with any tropical fruit.
Frozen La Yola 1 ounce White Rum 2 ounces Coconut Cream 1 ounce Amaretto 3 ounce fresh Pineapple Juice 1 ounce Blue Curacao 1 dash Grenadine
Blend all ingredients with ice. Pour Blue Curacao on bottom of cocktail glass. Add the blended mix and top with dash of grenadine