By Olga Pena

Killeen Daily Herald

I'll miss the palm trees. This week my brother's tropical wedding took me and my babies far away from the Lonestar State to a land where red, white and blue is proudly flown, although in a different pattern.

I'm writing this column from the balcony of my room in a resort at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

More than introducing my children to my father's birthplace and taking part in the most beautiful of weddings, the trip was a lesson in relaxation, culture and the universal language of fun.

Perhaps you're thinking, "Who needs a lesson in relaxation?" Well, I did.

I'm the kind of person who has a hard time even relaxing for a massage. I always have someplace to go, something to do and a deadline to meet. But not this week.

It was the first time since I was a child, I think, that I didn't look at a watch – most of the time I was watching the crystal blue waves crash against the white sands not knowing what day it was.

But the cultural dynamic was my favorite part of the vacation. Anyone who knows me knows that learning first hand all about the diverse people who populate this world is a great delight of mine.

At our resort, we had the opportunity to mingle with not just the Dominican residents (whose culture I know quite well, of course) but also all those other groups who were vacationing. We were surrounded by people from various Latin countries, France and Germany for the most part. In fact, those who labored at the tropical vacation spot all spoke three languages: Spanish, English and French. Since I dabble in French myself and dream of the day I make it my official third language, I also spoke three languages all week, showing my kids key words along the way.

The great fact, however, was that there was never any lack of communication. We swam, ate, shopped and played freely while mingling with other groups, and sometimes words were not even spoken.

Although everything I encountered wasn't new, since I had visited the destination that runs through my blood various times in my life, it was neat to see my children experience these culturally specific customs for the first time.

In the Dominican Republic:

1. There is always music playing. It's like you walk around in a musical with 24/7 background music. I love that about Latin countries. You can literally stop at any point of the day and dance, with or without a partner. And it's impossible to leave the island without dancing merengue at least once.

2. There is just too much good food you can't find anywhere else. Besides all the fruits that are Dominican specific – even the bananas tasted sweeter, my daughter exclaimed numerous times. And oh how I enjoyed eating the Latin version of a potato, plantains, in every way, shape and form. I enjoyed it so much, I'll be paying for it when I get back to the gym this week.

3. There is no such thing as a set price. You rarely see ticket prices and you find yourself saying, "Well, I'll give you 500 pesos," when the vendor clearly just said he wanted 1,000. Can you imagine walking into Dillard's and doing that?

4. It's always sunny and hot. Even now I'm trying to explain to the kids that they won't be swimming when they get back to Texas. And I have to go buy new makeup since I'm at least two shades darker.

5. Architecture is totally different. I'll never forget the first thing my daughter and son said when we landed in "La Republica Dominicana." Daniel and Elizabeth looked puzzled as they said, "How come there are no real roofs? It's just straw."

Of course there is much more. I could write at least three columns about our week in paradise, but who has time for that? I have to get back on schedule, back on Texas time and back to semi-cold weather.

Besides, this column has to get in by deadline and I have to catch a plane.

So much for relaxation.

Managing editor Olga Pena resides in Copperas Cove with her two children, Daniel and Elizabeth. E-mail her at

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