After the Bargain Hunt: 10 Things I Learned at My Friends' Beachfront Bungalow

What happens after those "congratulations on moving to paradise!" toasts at the end of TV shows? My husband and I finally found out.

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I’ve always longed to be a cocktail-party guest at the end of a tropical property-hunt show. You know these parties: family and friends get together in strappy sundresses and pastel shirts to toast the new homeowners who have just plated their own slice of paradise. Not only did I figure I would never find myself in that position, I couldn’t even imagine knowing people who did. 

The picture-perfect beach at our friends' place in the Dominican Republic.

The picture-perfect beach at our friends' place in the Dominican Republic.

Then my husband Joe and I received a “birth” announcement from our dear friends Sarah and Judd. After suffering through lousy winter after lousy winter in New York and wishing their vacations in warmer climes never had to end, they decided to put their money where their hearts were: they downsized to a much smaller apartment in the city and built themselves a sun-drenched retreat in the Dominican Republic. (It turns out that really, really hating freezing temperatures is excellent inspiration for the kind of aggressive financial planning you have to do to become half-time expats.)

We congratulated our super-motivated friends on realizing their dream, oohed and ahhed at photos of their new "baby" — and, at their invitation, booked a flight to congratulate them in person. Here’s what we learned about beachfront life after that housewarming toast. 

It's a living room! It's a pool patio! Stop, you're both right!

It's a living room! It's a pool patio! Stop, you're both right!

1: An indoor-outdoor living room is the best thing ever. 

This seems like a fairly obvious point, but it wasn’t until I was able to engage in two of my favorite activities (that is, floating in a pool and sipping my morning coffee) simultaneously that I truly appreciated how boss it is when one space flows into another. I am now considering both a chaise with durable outdoor fabric and an illegal hot tub for our small balcony here in the city.

2: A pineapple corer will change your life. 

At our friends’ request, we hunted down and brought a pineapple corer with us to the DR. To me it sounded like a half-baked late-night infomercial gadget — who needs mechanical assistance to butcher a plant? — but the elegant spiral Judd produced with that thing was a work of art (and it took no time, and it wasted much less fruit than my serrated knife and I usually do). Well played, pineapple corer.

3: Choose your beach read wisely.

I thought I’d be cute and try to read Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s historical novel about Cromwell’s rise to power in King Henry VIII’s court, on the beach. For reasons known only to him, Joe brought Philip Roth’s American Pastoral with his towel and flip flops. He ended up reading nothing at all, and I found myself tearing through Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night, which opens with a famous opera singer letting two noblemen cut her ball gown apart with swords. Bottom line: If you’re going to read in paradise, read something delicious.

Buying shrimp on the beach.

Buying shrimp on the beach.

4: Food tastes better when you meet the person who harvested it.

Whether you’re interested in the freshest tropical fruit or the best of the day’s catch, it’s well worth your time to find a local farmer’s market or hike down the beach until you find the fishermen and their coolers. (I took this picture as inconspicuously as possible, to avoid complicating Judd’s shrimp-price negotiations with my touristy photography.) 

Our friends' home bar.

Our friends' home bar.

5: Home-infused booze is all you need to get fancy. 

Dominican supermarkets aren’t known for their wide variety of adult beverages, but they do have the base ingredients for spectacular infusions; we bought an inexpensive bottle of tequila, tucked a few slivers of julienned Scotch bonnet peppers inside before going to bed one night, and made extremely tasty spicy margaritas by the pool the next day. 

6: Embrace scaly neighbors.

I found a conga line of tiny ants on my laptop’s keyboard one morning, and a little spring-green lizard doing his best to eat said conga line the next. Sarah and Judd know their reptile pals so well that they’ve named them, and they’re grateful for their help with pest control—which strikes me as an exceedingly healthy way to think about nonhuman locals. (No word yet on what they call their giant spiders.)

7: Being a good guest isn’t hard — nor is being a good host.

Our friends showed us where and how to make coffee in the morning, where they kept clean beach towels and a variety of sunscreens, and encouraged us to make ourselves at home in the fridge. When we followed their instructions, they thanked us for making it easy for them. Huh.

Our friends' outdoor shower and laundry room.

Our friends' outdoor shower and laundry room.

8: Even chores are better when you can do them outside.

After years of either hauling dirty clothes to a laundromat or paying strangers to wash and squash them into baked-cloth cubes, Sarah was ready to have her own washer and dryer at the house in the DR. Surprise: When you get to fold your own clothes in the sunshine in your bikini, it’s not only not unpleasant—it’s actually kind of nice.

9: You know you’ve made the right life choices when you find a firefly in the WC. 

On our last night in the DR, a little beetle landed on my foot; when I bent down to pick him up and set him outside, he rose into the air and winked on like a fairy light. A peak bathroom experience, that.  

10: Sometimes the best thing to do in paradise is a...puzzle. 

I grew up in southern California, and the beach is my happy place. That said, I think the high point of our trip to the DR was the in-between time we spent in the living room, working on a jigsaw puzzle and singing along with the stereo. That’s what makes those end-of-the-show housewarming toasts glow with happiness: There’s nothing like watching the people you care about make themselves at home in their dreams. 

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