Things That Matter

This Dominican Republic Hotel Just Claimed Its 6th Victim And Experts Think The Mini Bar Is To Blame

hardrockhotels_caribe / Yvette Monique Sport / Facebook

A sixth American tourist was reported Monday to have died from a mysterious illness at a Dominican Republic resort — the latest in a string of disturbingly similar fatalities.

Many of the deaths — and several other severe illnesses — involve healthy, middle-aged adults who had taken a drink from their hotel room minibar before suddenly becoming gravely sick.

That connection seems like more than a coincidence to the victims’ loved ones — and has led to new calls for action and even for the FBI to step in and investigate.

The latest death to be revealed was that of Robert Bell Wallace, 67, of California, who officials said died on April 14 during a stay at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Credit: Robert Bell Wallace / Facebook

Wallace’s cause of death has yet to be determined. But in an interview, his niece said her uncle became unwell shortly after drinking a glass of scotch from the minibar in his room before dying in a hospital three days later.

“We have so many questions,” she said. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Compounding the mystery is the fact that another American tourist, David Harrison, 45, of Maryland, had died at the same Hard Rock in July 2018 under similarly strange circumstances.

And just one month after Wallace died, three others mysteriously died in their rooms at another Dominican resort in a five-day period this May.

Credit: WYZN / Facebook

We first reported on the deaths of Miranda Schaup-Werner, Edward Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Day, 49, who all died within days of each other at the exact same resort.

According to statements from Miranda’s husband, who made it back to the US safely, his wife also started feeling sick after drinking something from the minibar.

The deaths made headlines and first put the spotlight on what now appears to be a yearlong pattern.

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The reports of the growing death toll were particularly disturbing to Brooklyn’s Awilda Montes, 43, who said she began vomiting blood after drinking soda from her minibar at the Grand Bahia Principe last October — but managed to survive.

“This could have been me in the headlines,” Montes told The Post. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have left the island straight away.”

Montes suspects someone replaced the soda with chlorine and says she has been left with no taste buds, permanent respiratory problems, and ongoing anxiety.

Aside from the sixth deaths, a long list of people are coming forward with shocking stories of severe unexplainable illness.

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Nearly 70 tourists have reported getting violently ill while vacationing in the Dominican Republic since March, according to a commonly used website that tracks food-borne illness outbreaks.

That’s up from just 10 reported illnesses in the country for all of 2018, according to iwaspoisoned.com. In June alone, 52 tourists reported symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and fever.

More than 45 of them identified themselves as guests at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana.

Some are starting to believe the incidents are all connected as some plan from a disgruntled employee or even a serial killer.

Credit: hardrockhotels_caribe / Instagram

A team of experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization has since descended on the hotels and is conducting tests at the Bahia Principe hotels where the trio died.

For its part, the Dominican government is urging calm and insisting the island is safe for visitors.

At a press conference, Dominican Republic Tourism Minister Francisco Garcia insisted the island was safe as more tourists reportedly are canceling their vacation plans. Garcia said the country had received more than 30 million visitors in the last five years without any widespread concerns about health issues at its resorts.

But all of this news comes as baseball star David Ortiz was shot in the back while on vacation in the Dominican Republic.

While on vacation in the Dominican Republic, Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz was shot in the back.

One suspect is in custody, and investigators are looking for at least one other man in connection with Sunday night’s shooting, police said.

The reason for the shooting wasn’t immediately clear. Ortiz does not know the man being held or why he was shot, and he’s confident it was not a robbery attempt.

All of this has tourists rethinking their travel to the island.

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

Culture

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

aruni_y_photography / Instagram

Anyone traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer has likely been met with the cautionary warning; “Don’t drink anything from the minibar.” Eleven tourist deaths on the island in 2019, ranging from natural causes to counterfeit alcohol consumption, have spurred FBI and State Department investigations. Though news of flight and hotel cancellations abounded, I missed my family and refused to let fear stop me from seeing them. Since I lived to tell the tale, here are a few things I learned about my father, about myself, and about the precarious paradise that keeps calling me back.

Billy Joel and Nas have interpreted the “New York state of mind,” and if you have ever visited the Dominican Republic beyond the purpose of tourism, you’ll know that there exists a Dominican state of mind too.

Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash

Whenever I exit Las Americas or Puerto Plata airports, humidity slaps me in the face, and my Dominican mindset is immediately activated. On this island, electricity does not run 24/7. When the electricity goes, or as we say “se fue la luz,” water doesn’t run from the tap either. All that is left to do is swap your sneakers for flip-flops, and exorcise your need for immediate gratification. It takes practice, and I re-learn this lesson with each visit.

The Dominican Republic is changing fast. 

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There is new construction everywhere you look. I sit on the balcony chatting with my father and stare across the street trying to remember how it looked before the apartment building was constructed in that space. I can see from an open doorway on the ground level that wooden boxes are being stacked, and hauled out in front of a business. I tune out my father’s voice as I focus on the shape and size of the boxes. My Spanish needs work, and I ask my father, “Papi, what does ataúd mean?” The business slogan translates to “Quality Coffins.” I think about magic realism traditions in Latin American literature, and I am reminded that so often a country like this juxtaposes disparate images and experiences in such a casual manner. I don’t think I would be able to live across the street from a constant reminder of death anywhere else but on this incongruous island.

We drive to the countryside of El Seibo for a few days.

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My father syncs his playlist and he directs my sister what song to play next. The first song is by Boy George. I watch my father sing along, and I can’t help but think about the Dominican Republic’s homophobic culture steeped in hyper-masculinity. Same-sex marriage is not recognized on the island, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination and violence. I talk to my sister about this later that night, and she tells me small changes are coming to the island. The city of Santo Domingo hosts inclusive events like Draguéalo, where you can even sign up for a Vogue class.

Credit: Draguelao / Facebook

My father’s playlist continues and I’m struck by his selections ranging from Taylor Swift to A.I.E. (A Mwana), a song by a 1970s group called Black Blood, featuring lyrics in Swahili.

I watched this Dominican dad jam across continents, decades, cultures, languages, and race. I realize there is so much I don’t know about him, and so often we shortchange our parents’ knowledge and experience, reducing them to stereotypes and gendered tropes.

My next lesson is on staying sexy.

                                                           Unsplash/Photo by Ardian Lumi 

After a few days in the countryside, my sister and I rent a hotel room in La Zona Colonial. We ready for a night out when she looks at my outfit and asks me, “Um, is that what you’re wearing tonight?” I thought my yellow jumpsuit was poppin’. My sister pulls out a little black dress from her overnight bag and kindly suggests I wear it. The dress is tiny. It’s skimpy. It’s super short. It’s absolutely perfect. I channel my inner Chapiadora, Goddess of Sex Appeal and Free Drinks, and dance all night. 

Growing up in the 90s, I styled myself in oversized men’s clothing. It wasn’t until that one magical summer in the Dominican Republic when the heat was too oppressive to wear jeans, so I wore—gasp—a skirt. That was the first time I felt sexy, and learned the power of sex appeal. Though I wielded that power throughout my twenties, it fell away in my thirties. Wearing my sister’s LBD I realize I still have “it,” and in the Dominican Republic, sex appeal is ageless. Be careful when you come here. You may fall in love with a local, or you may just fall in love with yourself again.

The island leaves me with one last lesson.

It comes late one night, sharing a few bottles of wine with my father and sister. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver—the worst blind person is the one who refuses to see. I could say the current political landscape in the U.S. reflects this willful ignorance, a refusal to see; yet it is the same human experience felt across space and time.

I come away wondering about my own blind spots.

                                                            Instagram/@rensamayoa

I board my return flight thinking up ways to combat willful ignorance at home, thinking about maintaining that flexible DR state of mind and thinking about buying a little black dress. As tourism in the Dominican Republic picks up again, and unfavorable headlines drop out of the news cycle, this changing island stands in its own plurality welcoming visitors, and offering endless opportunities to teach us something new.

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Oaxaca Is Mexico’s Cultural Capital And Home To Its Largest Indigenous Communities, Here’s What You Need To Know

Culture

Oaxaca Is Mexico’s Cultural Capital And Home To Its Largest Indigenous Communities, Here’s What You Need To Know

ViveOaxaca / Drphotoox / Instagram

Officially known as Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, Oaxaca is one of the richest regions in the world when it comes to culture and social life, as well as biodiversity. This Mexican state has hypnotized visitors for centuries. The indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, mixed with the Spanish influence of the conquistadores, generated a rich tapestry of flavors, colors and sounds that is unique.

The Beatles once visited to meet Santa Sabina, a wise woman expert in hallucinogenic mushrooms. If you have to visit one and just one place in Mexico, we recommend Oaxaca. We would compare it to the Italian Tuscany or the French Provence when it comes to the diversity of its landscape and the overlapping layers of its cuisine. 

Here’s some of the many things that make Oaxaca a true heaven on Earth! 

So first things first: Oaxaca is home to a complex and world-renowned culinary tradition.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

The Mexican saying goes: “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (“Happy belly, happy heart”). Oaxaca will certainly keep your joy levels up with its cuisine. It is cheap and delicious. Traditional chocolate is a must, as is fresh bread from the markets. It you are a carnivore, tasajo is for you: a carefully cured meat that just melts in your mouth. If you are a vegan or pescatarian, Oaxaca has you covered with delicate dishes made from local veggies and seafood from the sun-kissed coast. 

And let’s settle the debate: Oaxaca has the best mole in Mexico, it is dark as night and chocolatey and spicy at the same time.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

Mole negro is one of the staples of Oaxacan culinary culture. It is almost black and has a strong, earthy flavor that can be tamed by using it as a dip for freshly made tortillas. Is your mouth watering yet? 

The streets of Oaxaca City have been turned into a colorful canvas by street artists.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

In recent years, street artists from all over Mexico have received incentives from the local government and turned the walls and alleys of Oaxaca City into a living, breathing museum. 

Which has made it in perhaps the most Insta-ready city in Mexico.

Credit: Instagram. @_juqui_md

And of course, foreign visitors will get a glimpse of Mexican popular culture. What about this mural with Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete getting all Pulp Fiction on us?

One word: mezcal!

Credit: Instagram. @oaxacaxamor

The state just received excellent news. Oaxacan mezcal producers were granted denomination of origin, which means that all mezcal in the world has to come from the state. This complex spirit truly speaks of the dry but rich landscape of the region. 

The Spanish built golden baroque masterpieces as part of the religious colonization of Oaxaca.

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For all the pain and misery that colonization brought (and continues to bring) to the original owners of Oaxaca, the Spanish built baroque masterpieces that are recognized the world over for their intricate designs and expert craftsmanship. The Catedral de Santo Domingo in the capital city is a must. 

The state is the home of the wonderful, dreamy alebrijes.

Credit: Instagram. @estampas_de_mexico1

Alebrijes are surreal beings that often take the form of animals. They are created by expert woodsmen in town around the state. Each alebrije is unique: there are no plans or blueprints, as each maestro artesano carves and paints these wooden figurines as dictated by his or her imagination. 

Oaxacan culture is rich and colorful: La Guelaguetza is an annual festival that brings together the awesomeness of Oaxacans.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

La Guelaguetza is an annual indigenous festival that takes place on the two Mondays following July 16. Indigenous communities from all around the state converge in Oaxaca City in two days of dance, music and traditional textiles. You have to experience it at least once in your lifetime. 

Did we mention you can eat grasshoppers? Chapulines are just the best snack on planet Earth!

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Look, the day will come, and it will be sooner rather than later, when we will all be eating insects. Oaxacans have done it for centuries: grasshoppers are organically raised to be fried in garlic and salt, and then sprinkled with chili. They make a great snack full of protein, saltiness and unparalleled crunch. Once you stop finding it weird, you won’t be able to keep your hands off the plate. Best paired with an ice cold lager beer or some mezcal. 

Oaxaca is rich in natural resources and biodiversity, and produces fresh and delicious produce.

Credit: Instagram. @oaxaca.bonito

The state has it all: arid lands, forests and beaches. This is why the produce is of very high quality. One of the best experiences you can have in your life is visiting a Oaxacan market early in the morning and witnessing how the locals set up their stands. Smells, colors and flavors para tirar pa’rriba

Oaxaca is home to breathtaking beaches, many of which remain relatively untouched.

Credit: Instagram. @parilicious_

Besides the capital city, Oaxaca has other areas that are worth visiting. Its geography is privileged and includes stunning beaches such as Huatulco (if you are into resorts), Zipolite (for nudist souls) and Mazunte (for a more rural experience). 

The state invests heavily in art: Oaxaca is home to some of Mexico’s most famous painters.

Credit: Instagram. @vive_oaxaca

The state is home to great artists such as Francisco Toledo and the late Rufino Tamayo. The streets of Oaxaca City, which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987, are often embellished with art installations.  

Mixtec and Zapotec culture is lively and beautiful.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

The state has a 50% of indigenous population, which is the highest in the country (by comparison, Mexico City has only 20%). Mixtec and Zapotec culture is colorful and proud. 

Oaxaca City is home to the thickest tree in the world!

Credit: Instagram. @madhungry

Just outside of Oaxaca City lays a cypress that has seen it all. Two thousand years is a long time. The legendary Tule’s trunk has a circumference of 137.8 feet (42 meters). That is just massive. 

Pre-Hispanic ruins speak of the greatness of ancient indigenous civilizations.

Credit: Instagram. @mexico_capital

Mitla and Monte Alban are true delights for any fan of archeology and history. Monte Alban is particularly stunning during sunrise. You can see it in the $20 pesos bill, by the way. 

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