Stuck in Punta Cana: An Exercise in Letting Go

Sunrise off the coast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The sun poking its head above the horizon for a brand new day off the coast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

I had just gotten another drink and was settling in to a lounge chair when my friend Rudy approached.

“It’s official,” he said.

“What’s official?”

“Our flight was canceled.”

Despite our anticipation that this would happen due to what was said to be a colossal snow storm headed to the northeast, the official word caught me by surprise. My body flooded with a sense of excitement and relief (this would not be our last day in paradise after all), but also a twinge of anxiety (what now?).

Me, Mike and Rudy headed up to Rudy’s room to use the landline to call United and make other arrangements. After an hour on hold, the call disconnected. Annoyed, we headed down to the reception area to at least secure an additional night’s stay.

“So for one extra night, that will be $750 per room.”

My heart sank and my eyes widened.  I was grateful Mike had gone to the bathroom and wasn’t there to hear this.

I waited for the woman who assisted us to finish talking, then as calmly and kindly as possible told her that we had spoken to someone earlier who assured us they would work with us if our flights were canceled. “Or else we will need to sleep on your beach,” I added.

She got back on the phone. As I did my best to sit patiently, I used my tools to keep calm, think up alternative plans (we could share a room, take a cab over to Santo Domingo and stay in the city) and remind myself that it could be far worse. After all, we were momentarily stuck in Punta Cana; stranded in a brand new, luxury, all-inclusive resort on white sand beaches with turquoise water. Everyone was safe, including Cooper who was staying with his Gammy (my Mom.)

“What’s going on?” Mike asked when he returned.

“Why don’t you grab us a drink, hon? I will take care of this.” Mike had been worried about the storm since before we left. Despite his sun-kissed skin, he turned a shade paler when Rudy said the flight home was canceled. “No, I want to know.”

“Well, she’s currently trying to work with us on the rate.”

“What if—”

“Let’s just see what she can do,” I said, cutting him off gently. Although I had already been thinking up some “what-if” scenarios, I didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves by discussing them out loud. Besides, I knew how nervous Mike was. He was out of his comfort zone enough just being in another country. More than ever I needed to stay calm and help keep Mike at ease. I gave his hand a squeeze. “Everything is going to be fine.”

And just a few moments later, one problem was solved. The resort offered us an incredible rate that exceeded all expectation. They also assured us it would remain the same if we ended up needing additional nights.

“See,” I said to Mike with a reassuring smile as we headed to our room to get back on the phone. “Sometimes we just have to wait and see.”

“Yeah, but what about our flights?”

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

“I hate this.”

“I know you do. But the situation is entirely one hundred percent out of our control. We have no choice but to surrender to it, let go and trust that everything will work out. It could be far worse. Just think of all those people detained at airports, or people trying to get home for funerals.”

After an hour on hold, the call disconnected once more. Rudy was having no better luck. “Screw it, let’s go to dinner and deal with this later,” he suggested.

A cloud of uncertainty hung over dinner. Despite my gratitude for an extra day and the resort’s flexibility, I too was eager to know when we’d be going home. Mike was quiet, but I knew his mind was not. Work, the dog, the added expense… all these things flew through his brain and no encouragement I could offer would quiet them. Instead I simply promised to call again the second we returned to the room. “Maybe the hold times will be shorter the later it gets, anyway.”

Several hours later and after another two dropped calls, I handed Mike the phone so he could wait on hold as I dozed off, unsure if the next morning would be my last in Punta Cana…

“Jess, Jess!” I startled awake and took the phone from Mike.

After several minutes I thanked the woman who re-booked us and turned to an anxious Mike.

“The best they could do for us is Saturday.”

It was only Monday. Mike’s face sank and for a moment I thought he might cry.

“Let’s get some rest,” I said. “I promise to try again in the morning. Maybe someone else can find something different. In the meantime, at least we have a flight.”

First thing the following morning I was back on the phone. As much as I didn’t mind staying until Saturday and knew work had no choice but to understand, my heart ached for Mike who didn’t have the same tools as me. He’d had a restless night.

I asked the helpful man on the line to hold a moment while I explained to Mike he could get us to Philadelphia on Thursday, but we’d have a layover. Mike knew I was in heaven in Punta Cana so his eyes pleaded with me to agree as he answered, “let’s do that.”

And with our flight changed yet again, Mike was flooded with relief.

“Now, can we please enjoy our last couple days here?”


Secrets Cap Cana beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The beach in front of our resort. (My yoga class is off to the right. We are in pigeon pose.)

Not long ago I think I would have been just as anxious as Mike in this situation. I’d have wasted time and energy tracking the storm and checking flight information ahead of the cancellations. I’d have allowed my anxiety to keep me from sleep or enjoyment. I’d have conjured up every possible “what-if” scenario and filled my head with stories not remotely based on evidence or fact. (I’ll be fired!) I’d worry about not packing Cooper enough food for Gammy’s house. I’d worry (like Mike) about the lack of clean clothes left in our suitcases. I’d worry about the added expense… worry, worry, worry.

But I did none of this. That’s because I knew full well that I had zero control over the situation and that everything works out. I spent my vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic living in the moment. I swam, I ate, I laughed, I practiced yoga, I danced, I played loads of pool volleyball, I laid in the sun, I drank, and I hung out with Mike and our friends. Me AND my mind stayed in Punta Cana. I didn’t worry about what might happen. And once it did happen, I still didn’t worry because I knew there were solutions. “So we’ll pay to have some clothes laundered if we have to,” I told Mike.

I rode the wave of travel inconvenience and viewed the entire experience as a blessing in disguise. Rather than leave Tuesday morning, we left Thursday afternoon. It was a good test for me. Like an exam. I got to put my tools to use and I passed. As for Mike, now that he has this experience under his belt, I’m confident he will not be so uneasy if anything like this should happen again. Although he did say it will be a while before he leaves the country again.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Hawaii is technically part of the country.”

Jessica A. Walsh and Mike Jadach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Jess and Mike