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3 posts from November 2014

11/22/2014

The O'Rourke's Adventures in the DR

 My parents arrived in Santiago on Thursday! It was such a thrill picking them up at the airport. I got to introduce them to my trusted taxi driver and good friend Rafeal. I still cannot believe they are here. I took them for a tour of the University and had a tasty Dominican dinner with them right down the street.

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Friday morning we got up bright and early to make our way to Las Galeras, a part of the Samaná peninsula. We piled into a van and started our journey. The drive is beautiful as we traveled through farm lands and a plethora of small towns. It was definitely a great way to see the island. This van took us to the city of Samaná and from there we had to catch public transport to Las Galeras. I ran and got lunch from a Comedor before we hoisted ourselves onto the back of a truck to make the second leg of our journey. Along the drive we picked up many Dominicans with all the goods they were transporting. I was so proud to see my parents enjoying an authentic Dominican experience.

On our dive up the twisty roads we passed through a majestic arch of trees that seemed to continue for miles. The road was covered by an interlaced canopy that created a natural tunnel.

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We passed a car that gave a public announcement about preventing violence against women. One of the men in the back of the truck asked me if I had heard it and told me how important it was to treat women well. I told him I have been volunteering for an organization in Santiago that works to prevent violence against women. He took my hand and looked into my eyes and thanked me. His eyes started to tear us and my heart was warmed for the rest of the day from that powerful connection.

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We arrived at our striking hotel that afternoon. We brought our things to a delightful room with an ocean view. Before we knew it we were out in the ocean looking back at the striking plantation style architecture behind us and the aquamarine Atlantic Ocean in front.

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The next morning we took a boat to Playa Rincón which is the most beautiful beach on the island. The entire beach spans about 3km. When we arrived that morning we were the only people on the beach. There was a fish shack and small restaurant there but due to the difficulty of accessing the beach, even when more people arrived it continued to be pretty quiet.

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We enjoyed snorkeling, wading in the clear water, walking the beach and of course a delicious fish lunch. We got to try to traditional prescado de coco, fish with coconut, which is one of the dishes Samaná is famous for. Our meal was accompanied my fresh pina coladas served to us in the pineapple.

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Sunday we had a lazy day. We slept in and walked over to Playita which is only 10 minutes from the hotel. Since it was Sunday there were a lot of locals at the beach. 

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 Although Rincón was gorgeous, Playita has a wonderful open view of the ocean and in my opinion was more authentic. We each got coconuts to drink and eat, a treat my mom hadn’t had since she was in Jamaica in her 20’s and something I don’t think my dad has ever tried.  I had such a blast showing them things I had tried and what I have learned during my time here.

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 I was sad to leave the following day but I didn’t think I could miss my dance class on Tuesday. We started learning Salsa and, to say the least, I have a lot to learn.

My parents explored the Samaná peninsula for a few more days and made their way back to Santiago on Thursday afternoon. Thursday night we enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal with my host family. My host mom made all my favorite things! Rice with garbanzo means, berenjena (eggplant) cooked with her special recipe, aguacate (avocado), platino maduro (ripe sautéed plantains, my mom’s favorite), casabe, veggies, and jugo de chinola (passion fruit juice). I love my host mom’s cooking and my parents did too. We were all stuffed after a non-traditionally big Dominican dinner.

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I had such a blast introducing my families. They got along so well and we shared many laughs. My host mom told me later that she felt as if there was no language barrier at all and that she is sure that if my mom lived closer, they would be best of friends. It was a truly heartwarming experience.

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The next morning my parents met up with me bright and early to go on an excursion with CIEE to Dajabón and Montecristi. I intentionally snagged a spot on the bus close to Ryan and Lynne so my parents could hear about their stories in the DR and their extensive knowledge about the history and culture.

Dajabón is a town in northwestern Dominican Republic that borders Haiti. Every Monday and Friday, the governments open the boarder to let thousands of Haitians into Dajabón to sell their goods in the market. Dajabón alone is actually the Dominican Republic’s third top source of income (next to tourism and remesas, the money sent to the DR from families in the US and other countries).

The market place is packed and filled with vendors and buyers. You have to be alert as people carting their goods in wheelbarrows and motorcycles wiz past you every second. I must admit, I was wondering how my parents would deal with this craziness because at first I was pretty overwhelmed. I was yet again pleasantly surprised by my parent’s adventurous attitudes and ability to adapt so quickly. We explored this colorful and kinetic flea market and scored some great deals. Lynne came out with 7 pair of Birkenstocks for under $40US and Ryan found some great cookware and some dock martins. The prices were unbeatable but the experience was priceless

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We all grabbed lunch in Montecristi where my parents had a chance to meet lots of my friends from the program. The little restaurant we ate at happened to be an anti-Trujillo meeting place back in the day! For those of you who do not know, Trujillo was an oppressive dictator in the DR for 30 years (1930-1961). Before the 1950s Montecristi was the most profitable port in the country until Trujillo closed it due to the groups conspiring against him in the area.

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After lunch we drove along the seaside and arrived at a virgin beach. Due to the dry climate in this area the beach was different than most I have seen on the island. The beach was boarded by stunning rocky cliffs the glowed as the sun set behind them. We enjoyed wading in the water and my parents found some unique rocks along the shoreline.

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That night I took my parents out to one of my favorite restaurants, Satay. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and my dad was happy to smoke a Dominican cigar, designed by one of my friends, after his meal. I was pleasantly surprised when my parents told me they wanted to go to a club to see the traditional dancing I talk about so fondly. I took my parents to Lovera, a club with música tipica that is very local. We were definitely the only gringos in the club. After a few drinks my parents were willing to take a stab at some dancing. My dad caught onto the merengue in no time and my mom followed suit. We had a blast and laughed the night away.

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Saturday I took my parents around to see the city of Santiago. Of course, we went to the monument. The view is always spectacular because you can see the entire valley that the city is situated in. We actually went up to the top of the monument, which I had never done before! Little did I know, there is a museum that explains the history of the restoration as you climb up to the top. The highest level has intricate costumes from Carnival and an impressive view of the city.

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After our sightseeing and history lesson at the monument we went to Centro Leon, one of the most well knows museums on the island. We ate a delicious lunch in the restaurant there and went to a local artisan fair where my mom and I got some fabulous earrings made from recycled bottle caps! After the fair we explored the museum. We were fascinated by the birds in the aviary as well as the ancient trees all around the grounds. We even got to eat some tamarind from some fallen seedpods. Inside the museum we explored the anthropological exhibit as well as two impressive art exhibits. For the size of the museum we were so impressed by the quality and diversity of the art there.

That night we enjoyed another delicious dinner and then went to a tabaqueria or smoke shop where one of my friends, the cigar designer I mentioned earlier, invited us. My dad got some of the best advice you could ask for and left with a wonderful assortment of some of the finest Dominican cigars. We enjoyed some rum while my dad tried one of the cigars suggested for him. We had a great chat with my friend any we even had a change to meet the owner of the smoke lounge who happens to also be the owner of Davidoff Cigars, one of the most famous cigar brands in the world. My dad got a personal invitation to their VIP lounge in NYC. Cigars in hand, my dad left the tabaqueria with a huge smile on his face.

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For my parents last day we spent the morning in Jarabacoa, a mountainous and refreshing ecotourism hub about 30 minutes outside the city. My good friend and trusted driver Rafael or Rafie took us all around Jarabacoa. We went to Salto Jimenoa, a waterfall where Jurassic Park was filmed. The only way to get to the waterfall is via a series of suspension bridges.  After that adventure we went to La Confluencia, where two rivers meet. There were tons of young boys on horseback encouraging us to take a ride down the shore. If only we had more time.

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Rafael took us to one of the hotels nearby to see a beautiful view of the river. We also took his advice and went to lunch at a delicious buffet style restaurant, Restaurante Bueno Sabor. It might have been the most inexpensive meal my parents had during their time here but had the best flavor, a true testament to the name of the restaurant.

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The final touch of the gorgeous day in the mountains was Rafie’s special treat. Rafie promised to take us to the place that had the best ice cream in the whoooole world. Although I didn’t think I could eat another bite after our lunch I quickly changed my mind. We arrived at a tiny family owned store front. This ice cream shop only made flavors that were in season, some with milk and some without. All the ice cream was made without preservatives and with all local natural ingredients.  Rafie got chinola (passion fruit) and my mom got tamarind, which were flavors without milk. My dad and I indulged and I got the famous coconut while my dad tried the batata which is a Dominican equivalent to sweet potato. The ice creams came in little plastic cups with Popsicle sticks jutting out diagonally. Once the outside thawed a little you would take it out of the cup to eat as if it were a Popsicle. This was truly the best ice cream I had ever tasted in my life. Once I finished my ice cream the combination of fresh air and a full stomach eased me into a siesta on our way to the airport.

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Although I got a much needed nap in, I was sad to have to say goodbye to my parents so quickly once we arrived at the airport. Their visit seemed far too short. I couldn’t believe they were actually in the DR and the next minute I couldn’t believe they were leaving. Their visit truly seemed like a dream.

 

 



11/11/2014

Los Charcos de Los Indios

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Last weekend I had the opportunity of experiencing Caminata del Rio Gurabo or Los Charcos de los Indios. On this adventure I traveled with a group of CIEE students in a small bus up and through the mountains. We stopped on the top of one of the hills and began our adventure from there. We hiked through a beautiful river which was surrounded by lush greenery (despite the fact that this area is considered to be relatively dry region).

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Our hike was definitely rewarded with an amazing view of a colossal face of the Taino god Cohoba carved into the mountain side. This carving is possibly the only site of indigenous monumental architecture that exists in the entire Caribbean. We enjoyed a picnic lunch looking up at this face as Lynne colored our imaginations with her anthropological research. This area in the mountains was where many Tainos had fled to escape the Spaniards. The waterfalls that painted the foreground of Cohoba were where many of the Tainos would bathe.

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 After our lunch some of us ventured along the rocks to explore the area. After a long hike I was content with resting and looking at the view but my friends Valerie and Riley encouraged me to follow them as they scaled the rocks along the pools of water. Following them was not easy. Some of the rock climbing we did was definitely a little treacherous and was a true testament to the trust that has fostered the wonderful friendships I have made here.

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 After our rock climbing adventure and acquiring a few scrapes along the way we made it to the top of the monument. The view was well worth the journey. I could not believe how high up we were and how surreal the moment felt. The view was incredible and I felt as if I had a birds-eye-view of the whole area.

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After scrambling back down the rocks we swam in the charcos. We slid down one of the waterfalls and enjoyed a refreshing dunk after climbing the hot rocks. Our hike back to the bus was even more challenging seeing as it was all uphill. Our efforts were rewarded by stopping at a casabe factory what supplies the majority of the island. As you might remember from an earlier post casabe is a delicious bread/cracker-like food made from yucca. To me, being gluten intolerant, this bread is a treat for me and my host mom toasts it with olive oil and salt for me frequently. At the factory they have coconut casabe which was a special surprise. I stalked up on quite a bit of it and brought some home to share with my host family.

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 The next day a few of my friends and I went to our favorite beach, Sosua. Our friend Miguel, whose family owns our favorite restaurant there, greeted us in front of their renovated restaurant. The whole family was so proud to show us their new-and-improved storefront.

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While my friends spent the morning at the beach I took a motoconcho (motorcycle) to an interview at The Mariposa Foundation in Cabarete. The Mariposa Foundation is a girl’s empowerment organization that works to serve underprivileged girls in the community.  I got chills touring the facilities and meeting some of the staff members. After my interview I was offered a position to intern there this summer! It feels so perfect especially after my internship with Girls Inc. this past summer. If you are interested in learning mroe about the Mairposa Foundation click here! It looks like I may be staying in the DR for the summer as well!

 

 

11/05/2014

Autumn in the Tropics

 

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My apologies for neglecting to blog for almost a month now! Time flies when you are having fun but time also flies when you are used to having a drastic change in seasonal weather but the 95-degree-sunny-days continue through October and into November. Although I miss the festive feeling of autumn in New England, especially Halloween, I cannot complain seeing as I have enjoyed the beach almost every weekend since I’ve arrived here in August. However, my friends and I we could not resist the erge to carve a pumkin. We could't find find any pumpkins to carve on the island so we make do with local fruit and in honor of Halloween we carved a watermelon which we called a "wumpkin".

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One of the many things that never ceases to amaze me during my time here are the sunsets. Although my pictures may seem beautiful they do not adequately capture the cotton candy skies that drape over the ocean like a comforter gently tucking the waves into bed. My eyes have feasted on more candy here than any trick-or-treated will encounter during their lifetime. I have caught myself taking the beauty of this island for granted a few times. The spontaneity of life here continues to remind me that each moment is precious and that I need to take advantage of every moment.

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Most of the themes I have focused on in my blog have been light hearted and focus on my adventures around the island. Although my time to explore and see new sights and different parts of the island has opened my eyes to so many things, I truly think the time I have spent in Santiago de los Caballeros has been where I have grown most.

Studying abroad in a “developing country” has its perks for American students whose spending money goes a lot father here than in the States. The types of activities I get to indulge in on the island are things that I would not be able to afford back home. Getting to experience the life of luxury in Dominican Republic has been a dream but also a wakeup call.

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Studying International Development and Social Change at Clark has drawn my attention to the unsettling inequalities around the world. My time abroad has truly put me face to face with that inequality, an uncomfortable yet absolutely necessary experience. Before my time abroad I was aware that life was unfair, I was aware that I was privileged, but I never knew to what extent or truly saw what that meant.

I attend university with some of the wealthiest students in the Dominican Republic where dressing to impress is more or less the dress code. However, outside the gates campus and less than a 5 minute walk down the street is a barrio, a neighborhood that many people in the US would refer to as a slum. An institute of higher education is practically beside a neighborhood whose population often lacks the opportunity to finish elementary school.  Many wealthy neighborhoods abut extremely poor neighborhoods which creates striking visual that highlights what inequality truly means.  My reflections have yielded frustration for a corrupt system, shame for the privileges granted to me, gratitude for my opportunities, and passion to combat the inequalities I see in my lifetime.

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Another eye-opening experience has been attending a history class taught with a Caribbean point of view. As a US citizen, our history classes in grade school never taught us about the puppet governments and dictators we have supported in Latin America or the Caribbean.  I think we often learn to look at our country through rose-tinted glasses. There are many things I am so grateful for and there are many opportunities that I may not have had if it wasn’t for my nationality however, I have learned that, in order to become a global citizen, you have to reexamine yourself through many different lenses.

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One of the beauties of Santiago is that it is not a huge tourist destination. Apart from the other international students, you don’t see many foreigners walking around the city. For me this has been a wonderful way to be surrounded by Dominican culture but it also makes me stick out like a sore thumb.  Trying to blend in and have an “authentic” experience has proven to be more of a challenge than I anticipated; however, I have accepted the challenge.

I am glad to learn that my cross-cultural experience has been something that I have reflected on profoundly during my time here and has helped me grow a lot as a person. Recognizing white privilege and the opportunities granted to me for being born with US citizenship have been humbling, hard to stomach, but ultimately crucial to my growth here.  I encourage everyone who reads this to take a minute to appreciate all that you have and all that you bring to this world. Never forget how many places an open mind allows you to travel and how far reflections can lead you down the path to becoming a more global citizen.