I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

PRE-TRIP TROUBLES

So in my last post, I wasn't quite forthcoming about how I ended up choosing Sosua as the destination for my upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic.  Yes I had looked at property there online and yes, I wanted to make it part of my trip.  But my initial searches for accommodation on Airbnb had lead me to a small enclave to the west of Puerto Plata named Costambar.  From the descriptions I first read it sounded very pleasant; a small gated community of mostly expats from Canada with a lovely beach, a few restaurants and a couple of small grocery shops.  Perfect.

I selected a nice little apartment in a complex with a pool and proceeded to book it for the month long stay at $780 US.  Not bad at all.  The furniture in the place was a little heavy and dark, but I liked the look of the pool and it was a very short walk of about 50 yards to the beach.

Then, as time permitted, between setups on my show, I started to research Costambar a little more.  I began to discover that it was rather isolated, was near a big power processing plant, had unpaved roads that turned to mud in the rain, and was not advised to walk alone at night even a short distance from the restaurants to the apartment.  I really did not like the sounds of this.

I made some enquiries on a Trip Advisor forum as to if it was a good place for a single woman to stay and got some assurance that I 'should' be alright.  One fellow replied that I must take a few trips to Sosua as the main street was closed to traffic each evening to allow the restaurants to put tables and chairs out on the street for outdoor dining with live music.  It sounded lovely and festive.  As I researched things to do and excursions from Costambar, I learned that there were sailing trips to what was called a gorgeous beach perfect for snorkeling in Sosua.  I began to wonder why I wasn't staying there instead.



Once you book what is considered a 'long stay' at an Airbnb location (a month or more) there are no refunds offered with the site.  It is only at the graciousness of the host that a refund may be obtained. I found the place I wanted to stay in Sosua and checked with the host for dates and if she would hold it for a few days while I sorted out my reservation in Costambar.  She agreed to do that and then I contacted the first host and, much to my relief, she readily issued me a refund.

Once I booked my room in Sosua, I then turned my research efforts in that direction.  It didn't take long for me to start to freak out a little bit and wonder if I'd made a huge mistake.

Why you ask?

Because Sosua is renowned for it's sex trade business.  That's right, it is the red light district for all of the Dominican Republic!!  Men from all over North America travel there just for the young women they can buy.  I was horrified.  Horrified.  What had I done?!?

More panicked research uncovered a YouTube video from a guy called Cuba Dave who has sort of a internet travel show on that site for men travelling for sex.  In this video, he was advising men to stay away from Sosua as it was no longer the playground it once had been. A little more research revealed that apparently the city fathers had decided they'd had enough of this rather appalling reputation and were going to clean up their town. So they closed all of the brothels and strip joints, closed in the clubs (no windows, no outdoor seating) and cracked down on the street girls.  They began the task of encouraging a more family friendly, couple friendly environment.

Somewhat reassured, I decided to keep things as they were and hopefully all would be good.  We shall see I guess.

About three weeks after I booked my flights, I received notification from Ticket Pilot that my reservations had been changed and when I took a look at how, the changes were unacceptable to me. I called them and said I wanted to cancel.  They contacted the airline, United, and in a three way call it was explained that because the new flights changed arrival to a destination by more than two hours, I could cancel without penalty.  I had just upgraded the seats a few days prior but was assured that I would be reimbursed for the cost of that at the same time.  When I later checked my credit card, I was refunded the cost of the flights but not the upgrades.  Another call to the airline rectified this and the refund showed up a few days later.

I booked new flights with American Airlines through Flight Hub.  I was pleased to no longer be connecting through Newark as weather conditions there in winter had me somewhat concerned about possible delayed or cancelled flights.  Now I was connecting through Los Angeles and, back to two connections instead of just one, Miami - on both the trip there and the trip back.  I had a 14 hour overnight wait for my flight out of Miami on the trip home so decided I would go to South Beach and get a hotel for the night.  I had spent only an hour or so there on my way through from Tarpon Springs to Key Largo back in '09 and loved it so the idea of an evening there was very welcome.  I'd look for a hotel once the show was over and I had some time to think.  Also, to get flights I wanted, my trip was now extended by two days.

Having flights confirmed, a place to stay, and trip insurance paid for at the time I booked the first flights there was nothing much more to do until the show wrapped and I had some time to devote to the rest of the planning.  I would need to contact the insurance provider to extend my coverage the two extra days and I needed to look at upgrading my seats on the long flights. But that could be done once I had more time.

Now that the show is wrapped, and my two grand babies have arrived (did I fail to mention that my son and his wife and my daughter and her husband were both expecting boys within days of each other?!) I finally have that time.

I set about looking for a hotel in Miami first and after much searching, pretty much settle on a beachfront place at the exorbitant rate of $375 US for the night.  As I contemplate this, I suddenly have an epiphany.  I won't be arriving at the hotel until sometime around 7pm.  I will want to go for dinner and stroll Ocean Drive, maybe stop at a place or two for a drink and soak in the atmosphere.  My flight in the morning leaves at 7am so I'll have to be out of my hotel by 4am or so.  I'll probably be spending less than 4 hours in my hotel.  That will amount to $100 an hour!  Why spend the money on a hotel?  Why not stay up all night and enjoy what Miami Beach has to offer in the way of people watching etc as I am sure it is open all night long on a Friday night?!  What a great idea!  So that is what I decide I am going to do.

That all figured out, I call up the insurance agency - Allianz Global Assistance - to set about extending my coverage.  I have paperwork in hand with the policy number and when I give the agent on the line the information he astounds me by saying they have no such policy registered with that number.  He asks me to check my credit card statement to see if I have indeed been charged and if so, was it the Ontario office or a US office listed.  I know I have been charged and find the statement with no problem and it was the Ontario office.  He is stumped by this as he was sure it was because it was a US policy, which would have to be cancelled and a new Canadian one issued.  He clicks about on his keyboard a bit more and puts me on hold.  When he returns he tells me that he has informed his superior of this anomaly and that he will call me at 3pm my time to update me as to what they find. He asks me to send him a copy of my credit card statement with the charge and gives me an email address to send it to.

I hang up feeling very unsettled about this turn of events as I send off the PDF of my statement. What if I had never had to extend my insurance?  What if I had an issue while in the DR and needed medical attention and THEN it became apparent that there was no policy with that number?  I could only imagine the horror that would ensue for me in that scenario.  I decide that, should they find the policy or not, I am cancelling it.  I have medical insurance now with my union, thanks to the show that just wrapped, and I can get baggage and trip delay insurance through BCAA.  That is what I usually do and I wish I had done it this time but I foolishly decided to use the insurance presented at the time of buying the first set of tickets because I thought it would save me some hassle.

He never calls me back as promised.

So I call again the next day.  I of course get a different agent, I ask for Shawn and am told he is on another call but will call me as soon as he is off.  He calls a few minutes later.  I ask why he did not call me as he promised and he said because he never received the credit card statement.  I am aghast at this.  I assure him I did indeed send it and it did not bounce back, therefore he must have gotten it. And if he didn't, why on earth would he not call to alert me so I could resend it?  He replies that the email address he gave me is a general one that gets thousands of emails a day and so it must have been buried.  He then proceeds to give me his personal work email.  Exasperated, I ask why he didn't give me that one in the first place and he replies that he isn't allowed to give it out.  I respond with, 'well you're giving it to me now so that can't be true'.  He gets testy with me so I drop it and he never does explain why he wouldn't have called me to let me know about this.  I resend it to him while he is on the line to make sure he gets it this time and he does.  I tell him that now that he can see I did get charged, I want to cancel the policy and be refunded.  He proceeds to tell me that they can't refund me until they find the policy.  WHAT?!?  I am starting to lose it a little at this point and get rather testy myself.  I tell him that I have paid for something that I don't have, he has proof I have paid, and I want a refund.  Now.  He refuses, telling me that they can't do that until the policy is located.  He assures me it will be located and that there is lots of time before I leave to sort this out.  That they will refund me once they find the policy.  I then recall that the credit card I used is no longer active due to fraudulent activity and I will need to give him the new card number and tell him as much.  He tells me that I can have it refunded to any card I want and that he will call me for that information as soon as they have located the policy.

After hanging up, I don't like this at all but I have no more time to think about it as I am due at my daughters to help out for a few hours.

Next Installment: My 'can do broad' comes out, and more issues.
All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.



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