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5 posts from September 2014



I am living in paradise.

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Samaná is a stunning peninsula on the north east coast of the island, a region that I cannot believe I knew nothing about just a few weeks ago.

On our bus ride across the island I couldn’t help staring out the window to see the amazing foliage.  As we got closer to the peninsula we drove on a long twisty-turny highway that weaved in and out of the mountains and overlooked miles of virgin beaches lined with palm trees. I still have trouble believing I was not in a dream.
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We stopped along the way to check out a cave that abutted the highway. The view of the ocean and the mountainside was breath taking! We all filed into the cave and learned about the geographic history of the island. Little did I know what the entire island of Hispaniola was once a giant coral reef. Through the movement of tectonic plates the reefs raised above sea level, creating the island and along with it a hilly terrain. Although these old coral reefs are not affected by salt water, rain water often erodes them and therefore creates phenomenal caves where the weaker parts of the coral once existed.2014-09-25 22.55.51
We arrived at our beautiful hotel in Las Terrenas that was steps away from the ocean. We unpacked our things in adorable decorated apartments and made our way back to the bus for another adventure.P9280297

Before I knew it we were embarking on a hike to Salto Limón. Leading the way was fabulous guide who taught us so much about the flora and fauna in this region.  We saw plants that would shrink when touched by humans, hundreds of fruit trees, fossils, and the nests of Cigua Palmeras (the national bird) high up in the tops of palm trees. I even learned about the different medicinal properties some leaves and flowers have.P9260097
Parts of the hike made me feel as if I were in a Dr. Suess book. Palm trees lined the trail and speckled the hillside and only a couple brightly painted houses populated the area.P9260089P9260095
After our short hike we arrived at the top of a beautiful waterfall! I have never seen something so lush and spectacular. We scrambled down steep steps to get to the bottom of the waterfall. The moss that clung to the rock was luminescent.  The cascading water formed a deep pool at the bottom that I was swimming in in no time!
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There were small crevices and caves to discover and the water was so refreshing! I could not fathom the beauty that surrounded me.
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That night we had a delicious dinner on the beach as the sun set.  Paradise.
Saturday we had the opportunity to explore Parque National Los Haitíses. During our bus ride to the dock I got to learn about the fascinating history of Samaná. This region of the Dominican Republic is well known for all the influences that blend to create a unique regional culture. Samaná has a strong French, Haitian, English, and Dominican influence. During the Haitian “occupation” of the Dominican Republic, many slaves that had escaped the U.S. through the Underground Railroad were welcomed by boat as they sailed from Philadelphia in the 1800s. The mix of cultures is evident in the unique architecture as well. On route we got to see some of the most spectacular views in the country as we looked from high up into the mountains down to the palm tree filled shoreline. 10388582_10202879841141876_8742765412764648836_n

During our boat ride to Los Haitises we learned so much about the humpback whale. The bay of Samaná is where humpback whales mate. The whales make their journey from all the way up near Canada and New England to the bay to mate and to give birth to their young. During mating season (January through March) there are hundreds of whales that come to the Dominican Republic. Who knew that all North Atlantic humpback whales were Dominican?

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As we entered Los Haitíses there were tall islands with so many birds circling the top. I felt like I was in the beginning of the King Kong movie when they land on the island. As we grew closer we got to observe so many varieties of birds that were perched on the tree branches and flying around the island. The size of these birds was amazing. My camera couldn’t capture their impressive wing span or vibrant colors.P9260136 P9260128

Once the boat docked we paired up and boarded kayaks. We paddled our way through turquoise water while surrounded by the steep cliffs of all the different islands.  Vine-like roots hung down to the water from the trees whose home lay far up on the top of the islands. Moss covered the rocky sides, bordering the small caves that appeared, hidden by roots and vegetation. As we paddled we made our way deeper through the mangroves.  The root systems of the mangroves are simply stunning. They weave through each other creating an intricate nest of roots through the water. From the branches are hanging roots that almost seem to have knuckles, as if they were arms reaching for water.  There were crabs crawling up the moss covered roots that were freckled with snails. I even caught a glimpse of a few birds gliding on top of the water.P9270210
Upon returning to the boat we went swimming. Jumping into the water was refreshing and the water felt like bath water almost sweet tasting. Around us were jellyfish who were almost impossible to catch but you could feel them as the brushed by you. It started to rain while we were in the water and I couldn’t believe that I was actually living this dream.


We scrambled onto the boat for a delicious lunch and then made our way into the cave. The cave we entered had pictographs that had been painted by Taino Indians hundreds of years ago. The cave had been used by the Tainos as a spiritual sanctuary. Caves were seen as a place to connect with the gods. Many Tainos would consume hallucinogenic plants to allow them to foster a stronger spiritual connection.  Being in the caves felt like such a spiritual experience. Seeing the stalactites, stalagmites, columns and intricate patterns made into the cave walls was mind blowing.P9270181
There was one area in the cave where there was a “skylight”. Through the opening was a tree that was rooted in the cave and that had roots the spiraled together and made its way out of the cave.  It was an enchanting experience.
On our way back we saw the beautiful sunset coloring the sky above the ocean.
That night a bunch of the students had a party on the beach outside the hotel. We had a blast chatting and dancing. I have never seen the stars shine so brightly. Swimming in the water and looking up at the sky was surreal. The next day we got to relax on the beach and eat a leisurely breakfast and lunch.


We had a long trip home but I came home to the open arms of my host family. It really felt good to be home. I am starting to get really close with my host mom and have had some wonderful deep conversations with her over the past few weeks. She makes me feel like my home is in Santiago.

26 People and a Chicken on a 15 Passenger Van

24 de Septiembre 2014

This weekend a couple of my girlfriends and I decided we needed a relaxing weekend at the beach. After making last minute plans Thursday night, we met at the bus station Friday morning to make our way to Sosua. Once we arrived the first order of business was lunch. We walked down to the beach to a family restaurant my friends had already created a friendship with. We feasted on fresh Parrot Fish and tostones (I dare describe how delicious it was, knowing that will end up occupying most of this post).

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We stayed at the beach all day, enjoying the crystal clear water and good company. As the sun started to set we decided that all we wanted more of the delicious fish we had for lunch. We ordered Parrot Fish for everyone and ate dinner right along the water’s edge as the sun set.
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We originally planned to only stay one night but we were not ready to part with our comfy hostel upgraded room in Cabarete and the beautiful beaches in Sosua quite yet. We booked the rooms for another night and two of our friends came to join us.

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On our way to Sosua that morning, we caught another concho. The most popular conchos in this area are 15-passanger vans that travel the main road connecting Sosua and Cabarete. They are what most locals use as transport to get to and from work as they run from 6am to 6pm. The concho that stopped to pick us up looked pretty full, and when I say that, that means more full than the day before when there were 20 people squeezed into the back of the van. However, the driver had no concern that we would not fit. He quickly asked people to squeeze in a little tighter and we somehow jammed ourselves into the van. I ended up sitting on a small ledge near the door. With the tropical climate the van tends to get pretty hot. All the windows and the sliding door are usually kept open to help with air flow. I was precariously perched right next to the open door that had 3 passengers hanging on outside of it. As the concho bumped along the road I held tight chuckling with the Dominicans I was sitting next to.  All the sudden heard a squawk.  I looked to my right and saw one of the men had a chicken on his lap. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it earlier! I counted the number of the people on the bus and there were 26 people (and a chicken) piled onto a van. This was in addition to the large bags of grain that some people were carrying to the markets that they worked at. Half way through the ride the man with the chicken got off the concho. Before getting off he handed the chicken to the driver. Now I am not sure, but it looked to me that he paid for his transportation with a chicken! I regret that I didn’t take a photo of this experience with Dominican public transportation but as you may have gathered there wasn’t too much room to go rummaging through by bag in search of my camera.2014-09-20 23.55.42

On the topic of public transportation, I love the conversations I have with my favorite taxista (taxi driver) Rafael. Tonight he told me there are 3 phases in life. The first, el león (lion) where you are young and on top of the world and partying all day and night. The second is the burro (donkey) where you work day in and day out (this is the stage he is in now). Lastly is the stage of el mono (monkey) where you are bald and hunched over and wrinkled with saggy eyes. I told him that I am determined to stay a leona for as long as I can his reply: bueno suerte -good luck. Feeling lucky to experience this country as a young leona. I can only hope that I am as animated as Rafael in my burro years.


La Solapa


If only I could loan you my eyes, my ears, my hands, my nose, and my mouth, you could truly share the profound experiences I have had this far. I will do my best with my words and pictures to capture some of the most amazing moments. Where should I begin?
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This past weekend a group of CIEE students had the opportunity to embark on a three day work retreat in “el campo”. Friday we arrived in La Solapa, a small town located in the middle of the beautiful countryside. With the support of multiple community organizations we were able to help build a farmacia with the goal to improve the community’s access to health supplies. Solapa is known primarily for its organic cacao production.  Yes, organic cocoa. I can’t believe that, before this weekend, I had no idea how my favorite sweet was actually produced, or even what a cocoa tree looked like! Now I have seen first had what it takes to harvest, dry, ferment, and EAT cocoa. 

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In el campo, a traditional breakfast consists of a FRESH cup of “leche de cocoa” or what you may call hot chocolate milk, bread, and coffee. Hot chocolate I used to conjure of fond memories of cozy fire places, winter, and the holiday season. For some reason, maybe because I am a New Englander, I had a special pride about my relationship with hot cocoa. I must admit, I had no idea what I was talking about.

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For breakfast I sipped a mug of hot chocolate milk as if I had never tasted something so delicious in my life. The leche de cacao is warmed in a giant pot over a fire and spiced with fresh cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and of course sugar. I think I died and went to heaven with every sip. The flavors of this weekend are enough to populate a blog for the entire year! I tried so many new things. I ate limón dulce (sweet lime) which tastes like limeade in fruit form and is so basic that it is actually used as eyewash by many of the locals! I gnawed on sugar cane, consumed so many fresh avocados, mandarin oranges, and at least 4 fruits that I don’t know how to translate into English. I ate the gel around cacao seeds that tastes like candy and sun roasted cacao seeds (a true treat for any dark chocolate lover). I also had sancocho, a traditional Dominican stew with chicken, rice, yucca, taro and plantain, for the first time. I am simply going to have to leave the food experience here because I could go on for hours. “Barriga llena, corazón contento.” A full stomach, a happy heart.

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We were greeted with open arms and a heartwarming welcome when we arrived at our worksite. We divided into groups and brought our bags to the homes where we would be staying for the next two nights. After changing into work clothes we wasted no time as we took advantage of the daylight, mixing cement to prep the walls for the next day of work.  2014-09-13 00.12.35

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. We were served at a long table a delicious spread of traditional Dominican food; fried cheese, spiced chicken, yucca, plantain, sautéed red onions, salad, rice and habichuelas (red beans). I’ve never seen a group of people eat so quickly and intently.

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We continued to chat after dinner and had some great conversations about sustainable development. I cannot emphasize enough how happy I am to be a part of a program that helps me reflect on my experiences and pushes me out of my comfort zone (into my “learning zone”).  Although I have kept most of the topics on my blog light, my experiences here have already allowed me to explore so much about race, education, politics, privilege, development, corruption,  poverty, fidelity, global citizenship, religion, culture, vulnerability, humility,  nationality, language, relationships, awareness and mindfulness.  I have already opened my mind to so many new things and I know that there are so many more experiences and learning yet to come.

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After dinner, the girls in the community were waiting for us outside. They loved to play with our hair. They were equipped with hair ties, brushed, bows, and smiles. We giggled together the whole time, even when they adopted more aggressive braiding techniques that my scalp was not used to.  La Solapa is part of the safest region in the entire country. The sense of community pride and support is evident. After our braiding party, the girls took us by the hand and led us down the road in the pitch dark, laughing as we ran down hills lit up by fireflies. We ended up at a community building where we all sang together and danced. Smiles were contagious and I fell asleep that night grinning to myself, in awe of all the love in one community.

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Saturday was a long, tiring, exciting and rewarding day of work. After waking up to the rooster’s calls and a delicious breakfast we divided into groups; some of us, working on the farmacia, and others, creating cacao tree starters at the local nursery.   When there was a lull in the afternoon, the kids in the community took us on a hike up one of the mountains. We made our way up with steep countryside to see the most stunning view of the campo. As far as we could see were rolling mountains.  No camera can eloquently capture the beauty of the campo and the depth of the experience I have only scratched the surface of.  2014-09-13 03.24.38
We had another opportunity to take a hike to see some of the projects done in the past. We hiked up a mountain to see the aqueduct that had been created several years ago. High up the mountain is a natural spring with delicious, sweet water. Much of the water makes its way—via gravity—down a series of pipes that fill the tank and help capture more water for the community to utilize. On our way up the mountain we stopped in a community members’ yard and got to try so many of the delicious fruits grown on his land. Organic farming in the campo is simply utilizing the natural biodiversity. All the trees and plants are intertwined, not only creating a beautiful array of colors and the ideal place to take a snack break, but function as a perfect ecosystem, as it should.

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After feasting on another delicious meal and chatting about our day we were invited to a wonderful community party where we danced the night away!

Sunday was another day of hard work but the progress made was so wonderful to see. We were able to cover all the interior walls and half the exterior with stucco, make a bridge to the front of the building, finish the roof, the floor, and some exterior aesthetics. We said a bitter sweet goodbye to the community before we boarded back onto the guagua.2014-09-14 03.06.49

The personal connections that are made across cultures with experiences like this one are something I find so profound.  To me, bridging the cultural gap starts with making relationships that foster fond memories and peaceful futures.  10665861_787755300046_4681728367539621475_n


Sirena en el mar de maravillas


This Sunday, I had an experience like no other. The CIEE crew boarded onto two busses at 8am to start our journey to Playa La Ensenada. The two hour bus ride flew by as I feasted my eyes on the mountainous campo. Never ending hills surrounded us as the bus twisted through winding roads that gave us an ever so brief view into the lives of the people living in the farm towns. We made a quick pit stop along the way at a small family food stand situated with a backdrop of rolling mountains and small ranches populating the landscape. There, we tasted “queso de hoja”, a traditional Dominican cheese that is thick and salty in its unique flavor.2014-09-06 23.18.41

Arriving at Playa La Ensenada felt like a truly authentic Dominican experience. We poured off the bus eager to see the beach after the long ride. We walk through a line of restaurants that bordered the entire beach in a colorful array of painted scrap metal and plastic tarps. The air was filled the spices, salt, and MUSIC. A dirt pathway divided the food vendors from the array of covered tables which looked out onto the white sand and aquamarine water of the Atlantic Ocean. With a tall rocky boarder to our right, rolling mountains covered by a light haze to our left and never-ending crystal clear water in front of us, I felt as if I got a glimpse of heaven.

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Soon after we arrived a handful of us boarded boats with brightly colored life jackets and made our way to Cayo Arena, a coral reef not too far off of the shore. Our fearless captains had us flying over the waves. My eyes have never had such a feast. Looking out onto the rolling hills was just spectacular while I was surrounded by angelic waters. We stopped to swim in a piscina natural (natural pool) on our way. Swimming in the crystal clear water was surreal and felt so cleansing.

We journeyed farther into the ocean and started to draw closer to these little shacks in the distance. As we got closer I couldn’t believe my eyes. There lay six or seven thatch huts mounted on top of a sand bar that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Our boat reared to a stop and we all frantically jumped off the sides to get a closer look. We were hung our towels in the huts, creating a colorful banner that waved in the wind.


The next thing I knew, I was given a mask and snorkel and followed our captain out into the ocean. Neon fish darted between my legs as I waded through the shallow water. I couldn’t contain my excitement! It just seemed too good to be true. I put my mask on and submerged myself in the water. I had no idea that what was under the water would be even more spectacular that the view above. Without a doubt, my childhood dream to become a mermaid came true as I swam with the fish all around a huge coral reef. I wish words or pictures could eloquently explain my experience that day. I felt as if I was dreaming.

After spending a few hours snorkeling and relaxing on the sand bar we made our way back to the main beach. The boat ride was much choppier on the way back and all of laughed to whole way, as if we were on a rollercoaster ride! We weaved in and out of mangroves, gawking at the intricate root system and the plethora of sea life that clung onto it.

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Upon arriving at the beach we wasted no time waiting for lunch. We lined up and filled our plates with fresh fish, tostones (fried plantains), fried yam, rice and beans, shredded cabbage and tomato. After all that swimming I had no trouble eating my giant plate of delicous dominican cuisine! The fish was incredible, possibly some of the best I have ever tasted. The eye-ball is supposed to be the best part; however, I could not bring myself to eat it (my inner-vegetarian was in a bit of a crisis). Maybe next time I will be able to take the plunge!


Historía del Caribe

I had my first day of classes on Thursday! I am finally getting accustomed to PUCCM’s giant campus filled with exotic blossoming trees and distinctive architecture. My last class of the day was “Historia del Caribe”. I was the first one to arrive to the classroom since I left plenty of time to find the building. As class time approached the classroom filled with more and more Dominican students. Little did I realize I was going to be the only international student in the class!  At first I was extremely nervous, however, my charismatic professor made me feel right at home and I left the class so energized and excited for the knowledge I will gain from the course and emersion!


Not only did I get a history lesson in the classroom, I got to explore the country’s capital, Santo Domingo, and expanded my knowledge about the island of Hispaniola.2014-08-29 00.44.56

While in Santo Domingo we went to the Museo del Hombre Dominicano which is filled with fascinating artifacts from the Taino Indians who inhabited the entire island for thousands of years. With Lynne Guitar, our program director and passionate historian and anthropologist, as our guide we learned so much about the history and culture of the Taino Indians. Her enthusiasm and expansive knowledge brought so much more context and meaning to the island and colored my imagination with stories of the past.  When we boarded the guagua (bus) we got to pick Lynne’s brain and hear all about the Taino creation stories and spiritual practices.
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We took a whirlwind tour through the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, admiring the architecture and history filled streets abutting el Río Ozama and the Caribbean Sea.


My history lesson didn’t end there. I continued to learn about the Spanish colonization of the island and how the legacy of Christopher Columbus still haunts the island today.

The effects of colonization continue to plague many countries and are often manifested in the exploitation of workers in developing countries. As an International Development and Social Change major as Clark University I am extremely passionate about this topic. Most workers unions in developing countries, if they exist at all, do not function and thus workers are barely paid a living wage, lack workers rights, and are often exposed to harmful and sometimes deadly working conditions. On the island of Hispanola, both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have “Zona Francas” or free trade zones, where corporations are exempt from taxes to the government and ignore workers rights.

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One of the stops we made on the way to Santo Domingo was at Alta Gracia, a non-sweat clothing factory. This unique clothing factory is one of the few that exist in the world that treats its workers the way they should be treated. Alta Gracia, validated by Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), pays its workers three times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic and prides itself on its working conditions and honoring the rights of its workers. We were able to tour the entire facility. Not only was it a fascinating experience to see how clothes are actually created, but to see a comfortable working environment. I even had an opportunity to talk to the workers directly, which was incredible! They took pride in their work and were extremely friendly and animated. We saw many things being made there including many Alta Gracia sweatshirts and t-shirts. We also saw a Starbucks bag being created. It was great to see a large corporation from the U.S. supporting just treatment of workers. I would highly encourage anyone to check out Alta Gracia's website and support their practices! Click here to learn more about Alta Gracia

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Friday night a bunch of friends and I went to a beautiful discoteca on the top floor of a mall complex. The atmosphere was fabulous and seemed relatively exclusive. To be completely honest I felt as if I was in a James Bond movie at first. The best part about the night was musica vivo (live music). There was a fantastic band playing Merengue music all night! I got so swept up in dancing I lost track of the time and danced the night away (literally…we took at taxi home at 5am). I still feel like I am living a dream!


Y al fin, la vista de mi balcón, el monumento mirando a su ciudad.

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