A Week of Firsts
I had to laugh when one of my friends asked me after reading my blog “So, do you do any school work or do you just travel around the country and go to the beach?” For those of you who may be asking the same question, yes, I am doing school work! In fact, this week I passed in my first 10 page Spanish research paper on the sugar revolutions in the minor Antilles, presented on the same topic to my class of all Dominicans, had my first dance exam and also did miscellaneous homework for my other classes. Although I am active academically, I still have a great deal of time to explore the country on the weekends and explore the city of Santiago during the week.
Monday night I went to Lunes de jazz at the main theater by the monument for the first time. I had such a blast! So many musicians get up and join in on the fabulous jam session on stage. There was a salsa band that played that was out of this world and got most of the people dancing out of their seats!
Wednesday I experienced my first late-night street food. Most of the dishes in the cart, apart from burgers, were foreign to me or obviously contained a large helping of red meat. My friend Fernando helped me order. I ended up ordering yaroa. I had no idea what it was other than plantains were involved. When my food came out all I could see was a layer of cheese covering a neatly folded paper fires box with a plastic fork sticking out the side. When in Rome right? (or as some of my friends and I like to say “YODRO” you only Dominican Republic once…not that I needed to add anymore cheese to this dish). When trying this dish I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly I was tasting. The base of the dish was boiled plantains that were covered with chicken, mayonnaise, ketchup, and cheese. I was told that street food doesn’t get more Dominican than that!
This weekend was a blast! Thursday night kicked it off with watching the movie “In the Time of the Butterflies”. The movie is about the Hermanas Mirabal, 3 sisters whose courageous and revolutionary actions were instrumental in taking down Trujillo, a dictator who was in power for 30 years. The sister’s legacy lived on in the Dominican Republic and heightened the awareness of violence against women. The day of their assassination, November 25 was the inspiration for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The butterfly was a symbol of their movement against Trujillo and is now a symbol that is commonly recognized for all of that the sisters stood for.
Friday we had the opportunity to visit the Museum of the Hermanas Mirabal. Having the ability to see where such inspirational and powerful women once lived was incredible. Hearing their story and the impact they have had on the island and around the world was humbling but also empowering.
After spending time and getting a tour of the museum we went to en EcoPeace Park. We walked through beautiful gardens with thoughtful plaques, outlining the importance of peace and the steps we can take to get there. Upon leaving the park a butterfly crossed my path, it was the perfect touch to an enchanting morning.
On our way home we stopped at a fresh fruit stand where the majority of us got fresh juices and fruity snacks for the ride home.
Friday evening a bunch of my friends and I got a bus to La Vega for a weekend in Jarabacoa, a beautiful mountainous area not far from the city. Or bus arrived at our second stop late and we had to haggle with a taxi driver for a ride to our friend’s house. We piled in, concho style, into the taxi and made a quick journey from the bus stop to Jarabacoa. We were welcomed by our friends host mom who we now affectionately call Tía (Auntie). We had a little fiesta that evening which was a blast! The cool mountain air was so refreshing!
In the morning we went white water rafting, another first! We had such a blast! It was definitely an adrenalin rush. I was giggling the whole way down! Our animated instructor was a riot and admitted to having the best job in the world. We all worked up quite and appetite after our morning we had a giant delicious lunch. We had some time to wade in the river and bask in the sun for a bit before we headed back to our friends house for a siesta.We had another great night of laughs and dancing out on the deck under the stars.
Bright and early, my friend Annie and I woke up to meet Lynne Guitar, our academic advisor and academic celebrity on Taino Indian anthropology, to make our way to a festival of indigenous culture in San Cristobal outside of Santo Domingo. What an amazing experience. There was a parade all the way up La Toma, a huge mountain with a famous cave at the top. The view from the mountain was incredible. It was so interesting to see people dressed up in Taino garb. Lynne brought us Taino necklaces to wear during the festival which just so happened to match perfectly with what we wore that day.
We arrived on to the cave early and took a tour. I had no idea what to expect. The caves were HUGE and went so deep into the mountainside. Inside were hundreds of Taino pictographs. It was absolutely spectacular. Lynne made this adventure truly special, being around her is such a treat, she is an oracle of knowledge. At one point, in one of the deepest chambers we had a moment of silence in complete darkness. I don’t think I have ever experienced complete darkness, the pitch black where your eyes will never adjust. All I could hear was the blood pulsing through my body as I felt a as if my ears were expanding to fill the space around me. I cannot put into words how profound and sacred that time was.
One of the most powerful aspects of this adventure was learning about the history of preservation of these sacred caves. La Toma has been exploited since the caves in this area are known for being rich with limestone. Much of the mountainside has been chewed away by large corporations and money making schemes that destroy the environment and historical artifacts all around the island. Years ago, the caves were jeopardized and almost demolished in order to harvest limestone. A group of children hid in the caves to protest the destruction. This heroic statement saved the caves by grabbing the attention of a well known Taino family. Thanks to these children the historic Pomier caves are now a national park and will be enjoyed for hundreds of years.