Things That Matter

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

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.

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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.

Credit: @BuzzFeedNews / Twitter

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.

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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.

There Is A 9-Day Tour You Can Take Of Mexico To Celebrate Día De Los Muertos

Culture

There Is A 9-Day Tour You Can Take Of Mexico To Celebrate Día De Los Muertos

totallydead / Instagram

We’re beyond thrilled that our favorite holiday is right around the corner, and we’re not talking about Halloween, but Día de los Muertos. We’re starting to plan our altars and decorate the house with papel picado. Aside from decorating and watching “Coco” for the billionth time, we wish there was more we could do to commemorate this Mexican tradition. Now there is, but before you get excited about the possibility of honoring the dead in a very new way, check out the details first and you may be too scared (or too broke) to participate.

A travel company is offering a 9-day trip to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Mexico.

Credit: Unsplash

Flashback, a “Boutique group adventures for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s,” just launched a vacation package that has various stops throughout Mexico and is specially themed to honor Día de los Muertos.

The package offers, “a unique take on ancient traditions, the Día de los Muertos (as it’s called in Spanish) sees Mexicans gather to pay respects to the deceased. But there’s nothing somber about this occasion. What follows is a vibrant chaos of color, calaveras, and marigolds; beautifully-decorated altars and intricately-painted faces; music, dancing and a celebration of life. With only one departure running a year, this is your chance to experience Mexico on a truly special occasion, alongside all the classic cultural experiences.”

The trip entails a stop in Mexico City and partaking in La Catrina parade.

Credit: Unsplash

Thousands of people gather in Mexico City dressed in the best Día de los Muertos costumes including many who go as La Catrina. On Day 2, the group (you and your new travel buddies) will go to the Zocalo Square in Mexico City to view the many ofrendas (altars). 

“Your guide will talk you through the traditions surrounding this sacred practice, with the chance to taste pan de muerto – a sweet bread recipe made especially for this occasion – and traditional Mexican chocolate,” Flashback states. “You’ll have the option to channel La Catrina and have your face painted in the traditional calavera style.”

On Day 3, the tour will include a boat ride to la Isla de las Muñecas, the Island of the Dolls. 

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Hold up. Now, we do love Día de los Muertos, but la Isla de las Muñecas is scary AF. “Shrouded in local folklore, the island is widely believed to be haunted by the ghost of a drowned girl. True to its name, you’ll find a plethora of creepy dolls hanging from the trees of this deserted island, some without heads or limbs. Your guide will talk you through the sad backstory of the island, before taking you back to the city center for an afternoon at leisure.” We’re not sure how much leisure we’ll be feeling after this spooky boat ride. 

The rest of the trip includes stops in Puebla, Oaxaca, hiking the Sierra Norte mountains and swimming in la Hierve el Agua. 

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The tour includes visiting la  Calle de los Dulces (the Street of Sweets) in Oaxaca, “where you’ll find rows of stores selling traditional Mexican treats. Dinner tonight will be enjoyed at a traditional restaurant, with dishes served in Poblano pottery,” and also experience how Oaxacans celebrate this historic holiday. One of the coolest parts of the Oxacacan stop is that the tour includes a visit to San Miguel Pantheon cemetery. 

This whole trip will cost you $3309, and that does not include airfare.

Credit: Unsplash

That hefty price tag includes accommodation, equipment gear, a local guide, transportation, food that is on the tour, and airport pickup. There’s also limited space for 14 travelers, which does give way to an intimate experience. 

Is this something that sounds interesting to you? If so, you should probably book ASAP because we’re sure people (with money to burn) will want to explore an authentic experience to Día de los Muertos in Mexico. The trip begins on Oct. 26 and ends on Nov. 3. 

If you can’t afford this trip, we have a better suggestion. Book a cheap flight to Mexico City, and stay an inexpensive AirBnB. You can also take very reasonable bus rides to Oaxaca and Puebla because honestly, it shouldn’t be that pricey to visit Mexico. But, as we said, if you have money to burn and want to take in Day of the Dead in an Instagramable way with other likeminded travels, then this trip is definitely for you. Either way, enjoy Día de los Muertos!

Read: Mattel Is Releasing A Day Of The Dead Barbie Doll And You Better Believe Latinas Are Divided About It As Heck

New Safety Measures In The Dominican Republic Following American Deaths

Things That Matter

New Safety Measures In The Dominican Republic Following American Deaths

Joe deSousa / Flickr

It’s only common sense that tells you to watch your back when you travel, no matter where you go. After all, tourists are prime targets for scams, pickpockets, and the like. And sure, sometimes certain places give you a bad dose of something, which leaves you making best friends with the toilet bowl for a good 24 hours. But, what you most likely don’t anticipate is having to contend with death – and after the deaths of 11 American tourists in the Dominican Republic, officials have been scrambling to deal with the fallout.

New safety measures are being rolled out to protect and assist American tourists visiting the Dominican Republic.

Credit: Chrissy Anderson / Pinterest

The reason why we know this is because officials from the Dominican Republic, along with the US Ambassador, gathered in New York City to announce the new initiatives to be put in place. Talking to the media at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan, the Dominican Republic’s Minister of Tourism, Javier Garcia, said that the proposed safety measures are designed to address safety issues reported to be at the center of the tourists’ deaths. Granted, even though the safety measures were only recently announced, it’s likely that these initiatives have been in the works for a while – so here’s hoping that they’ve hashed out all the little details, and see some success!

So what was said in the announcement?

Credit: YouTube / Daily Mail

Well, there were four main changes that are gonna be made in the Dominican Republic. Firstly, the plan is to reinforce mandates requiring that both emergency information and 911 be available in guest rooms. A new emergency tourist center, manned by multi-lingual staff, is to be constructed in Bávaro, Punta Cana. The aim behind this initiative is to ensure that, should there actually be an emergency, then there is plenty of help on hand. It’s great to see that they’ve considered language barriers, too, as navigating them can be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Improved access to emergency services is not all that’s been announced.

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The Ministry of Tourism also announced a partnership with Ecolab, a U.S.-based water, hygiene, and energy technology developer. Ecolab has been brought on board as a training and certification provider for current and would-be Department of Tourism, Services and Companies inspectors. The benefit of this partnership is that the U.S. tends to set acceptable standards for lots of industries, worldwide. Granted, we’re not here to go down that rabbit hole and judge whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge the line of thinking that if inspectors from the Department of Tourism, Services, and Companies have been trained to what’s synonymous with a world-class standard, at what they do.

This means inspectors who are good at their job ensuring that accidents don’t happen.

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In terms of more general security, our man Garcia also announced that 4,000 agents would be hired across the tourist security agency and the national police. Beyond manpower, 3,000 additional public security cameras are to be installed. On the one hand, this indicates a considerable boost to security resources within the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, not many specifics were mentioned around this new personnel and cameras. For example: where exactly would these agents and cameras be stationed? It’s no good if they’re just added to the current roster of security resources, without any thought about how they could make an impact. It’s no good placing a camera in a busy thoroughfare if it’s not really an area where any crime occurs in the first place, right?

The US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic was on board with the announcement.

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Robin Bernstein reminded the press that the U.S. State Department maintains a level-two advisory on travel to the Dominican Republic – a standard that’s also been applied to countries such as Spain, Denmark, and Belgium. In fact, she declared that the deaths of the American tourists in the Dominican Republic fueled an “unfounded negative campaign,” which has created a “tourism crisis” for the country. “American tourists should feel safe and secure,” Bernstein said. “I am totally comfortable with [the Dominican Republic’s] safety level, it is one of the safest tourist destinations I have ever visited. In fact, it has now become an even safer place to come because of the initiatives.”

The ambassador is cautiously optimistic about the long-term benefits of these safety measures.

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While the Ambassador indicated that she has full faith in the safety standards of the Dominican Republic, she also addressed the reports that tainted alcohol had lead to the deaths of U.S. tourists. “If it was alcohol, people would be dropping like flies,” Bernstein said. “It is not alcohol.” However, she did not offer an alternative explanation as to why the deaths occurred.

Not all of the deaths have been attributed to compromised alcohol.

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That doesn’t mean that concerns haven’t been raised around the alcohol provided at hotels in the Caribbean country. Back in June, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino announced that it would remove liquor dispensers from the guest rooms at its Punta Cana location. Apparently, this was due to “guest feedback” and an effort to “enhance safety moving forward.” From there on in, all alcohol onsite would be brand-name and sourced from the U.S. – bar specialty beverages from the Dominican Republic. Hard Rock also announced that it would be contracting a U.S. third party organizations to assist with inspecting and testing the location’s food and beverages. Seems that it’s a bit of overkill for just merely responding to customer feedback.

Some think that the timing seems a little too coincidental to think otherwise.

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In addition to the Hard Rock Hotel’s change in company policy, Delta Airlines also decided to give its customers a bit of leeway with their flights. The most recent death of 46-year-old Denver resident, Khalid Adkins, on July 25 triggered an announcement from Delta Airlines that the airline would allow travelers with tickets to Punta Cana to cancel or reschedule their flights “due to recent events” – a euphemism for the deaths that have occurred in the region. 

Despite the reactions of these companies to the deaths, the facts still say that the Dominican Republic is a relatively safe holiday destination.

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For anyone who is planning to travel to the Dominican Republic, it’s worth thinking about this: last year, about 13 U.S. citizens died in the Dominican Republic. In 2017, the figure was 17 deaths. So, the rate of deaths is actually decreasing for U.S. citizens traveling to the Caribbean island. The Dominican Republic saw more than 2.7 million visitors from the U.S. in 2017.

Yet, it is always important to feel safe and comfortable when traveling.

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At the end of the day, there’s just not enough information out there to really say how many of the deaths could be connected – or if they were connected at all, save the fact that these US tourists traveled to the same place. Some of the US citizens who died did so due to car accidents, or heart conditions – things that, unfortunately, happen all too common in the US, too. However, some of the deaths are yet to have a particular cause attributed to them. A few of them have occurred after the tourist was drinking, exhibiting symptoms such as excessive vomiting. And, okay, entirely possible that authorities are genuinely still investigating the causes of the deaths, or even keeping the cause of the deaths quiet out of respect for the families of the victims. But, the moral of the story is that it never hurts to exercise caution when you’re in traveling overseas, babes.

READ: Dominicans Are Taking To Social Media To Make Sure That People Stop Trying To Cancel The Dominican Republic