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Homeless Poker Player’s Punta Cana Trip Report

November 18th, 2015 by Carlos Welch
Li Li and Los watching Bob Esponja aka Sponge Bob

Li Li and Los watching Bob Esponja aka Sponge Bob


After the Dallas trip, I was back in Atlanta for a few days before abandoning the Nitmobile once again and heading down to the Dominican Republic for two weeks. My friend Gareth Chantler has been living in Punta Cana for the past four months and offered me a couch to crash on in Paradise. How could I not take him up on it when the alternative was sleeping in a van in rainy Atlanta?

Gareth is a Cardrunner’s pro and fellow frequent guest on the Thinking Poker Podcast. He is yet another example of the high quality people I have met through the game of poker. Last year, he invited me down and paid for damn near everything but the plane ticket. At the time, I had very little money to my name. This year is different. I have a bit of money and so I am able to fend for myself, but having the couch for free is still very nice.

Having been in Punta Cana for a few months and being somewhat fluent in Spanish, Gareth made many local friends that he introduced me to. My favorites were Judy, Yaqueline, and Li Li. Judy was a nice waitress from a local bakery who I met last year. She was very excited to see me again on this trip and always makes me feel like a million bucks. Yaqueline, aka, “Yackie” cleans the apartment complex near Gareth’s place. In the south where I am from, they would refer to her as a “hoot.” Constantly laughing and joking with the tourists, she seems to put a smile on the faces of everyone she meets.

Li Li may be my favorite of the three Dominican girls I met here. She couldn’t have cared less about making sure us tourists had a good time, which was understandable because she didn’t work there and because she is four years old. She is the sister of another waitress I met through Gareth named Yessica. They came over to have dinner with Gareth and I one day. Li Li was very shy and confused by the two strange men speaking foreign languages like English and Poker. She was finally able to join in on the conversation when I YouTubed an episode of Bob Esponja, aka “Sponge Bob” in Spanish.


Gareth’s apartment was directly on the beach. It was a prime location for my favorite beach activity – falling asleep to the sounds of waves coming through an open window. In front of the apartment, there was a beach bar where I often hung out and sipped expensive fruit juices in the sun protected by inexpensive melanin. You can catch my Twitch stream of one such day here.

A stream from the beach, brought to you by melanin, because sunscreen is expensive.

A stream from the beach, brought to you by melanin, because sunscreen is expensive.

The one place I did not visit as planned was the Hard Rock Casino here in Punta Cana. Besides the before mentioned awesomeness, one of my main motivations for coming down at this time of year was because the Hard Rock was hosting the Punta Cana Poker Classic during the first week of November.

I had no intentions of playing, but I had a couple of friends and people I look up to in the poker world who I wanted to see. Unfortunately, it was pretty hard to get a reputable ride to the casino from here for a decent price. The only alternative was to pay one of the motorcycle taxis to take me there via the highway on the back of a bike with no helmet in the rain. I’m sure you can understand why I passed.


The price for a taxi would have been something like $30 each way whereas the price for the motorcycle taxi would have been 100 pesos each way. That roughly converts to a little more than $2. This brings me to my primary take away from this trip. The people here make very little money and in spite of this, they find a way to be happy and make others around them happy. The waitresses and cleaning lady I mentioned earlier make what amounts to around $2000 or $3000 a year.

With my wacky Nitmobile idea, I’ve taken a step towards appreciating life more than most, but the Dominican people I met on this trip put even me to shame. Most of them make less than $1 an hour and don’t complain about it or try to hurt others to get more.

They don’t worry about what they don’t have or compare themselves to us relatively wealthy tourists. Instead, they just try to find ways to enjoy their lives as much as possible. In that way, they live far richer than I did in my life before the van. Every day I spend in the Nitmobile gets me closer and closer to the appreciation of life on life’s terms that I’ve seen in the people here. They are the embodiment of a line I heard in a song by rapper Yamin Semali, “The most beautiful smile belongs to ones with every reason to frown.”

Tomorrow, I hope I can be more like the poor singing cleaning lady and less like the rich whining poker pro.


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