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22 posts categorized "Student"

11/07/2015

Thoughts of Every Study Abroad Student: Santiago Edition

Santiago

Studying abroad is an incredible experience, and it’s different for every person. However, there are many thoughts that every student in any given city share. These differ from city to city and program to program. So here at CIEE Santiago, we thought we would share our typical thoughts on living in Santiago.

 

  • How can I put on this much bug spray and still get bitten this much?
  • Please, no, no more rice!
  • How on earth is it possible to fit 23 people in this van?
  • Do I even know how to Spanish?
  • What do you mean, you don't know what iced coffee is?
  • THERE'S A TACO BELL HERE? WHY DIDN'T I KNOW ABOUT THIS 2 MONTHS AGO?!
  • My favorite part of Samana? Definitely being able to lie in bed and be on wifi at the same time. Oh, and the beach was kind of nice, too...
  • Wait, Thanksgiving isn't a world-wide holiday?
  • Well, I don’t understand much in my classes, but I’m going to guess Trujillo is something pretty important here...
  • Does anyone here actually know what a stoplight is and what it means?
  • Why don't they make body wash with bug spray in it?
  • I should bathe in deet.
  • Ok, I think I got it, but just in case, can you re-explain that entire 2-hour class to me, but in English this time?
  • You have a mosquito bite? Dengue, you definitely have dengue.
  • My parents always taught me about Stranger Danger, but my program is encouraging me to get into cars and vans with complete strangers? Seems legit.
  • Oh no, I think I swallowed a drop of water in the shower. I’m probably going to die of amoebas now…
  • Since when is a page and a half double-spaced considered an essay? That’s a passing thought!

 

All jokes aside, we love it here and are learning so much about both the culture and language and about ourselves. I know that, for me personally, I have spent a lot of time reflecting lately, and I can see clear growth in my life in many areas. I know that this is where I’m supposed to be right now and that this is exactly what I needed, and I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity!

03/12/2015

Beach Adventures

Originally posted on my blog January 26th. Someday we´ll get you all caught up I promise!!!

This week was more play hard than work hard. There were national holidays Wednesday and today, Monday. But, a little update on the school front, all my classes are set. They are: Advanced Spanish II, Socioeconomic and Political Processes in the Contemporary Dominican Republic, Afrocaribbean Cultures, and Dominican-Haitian Relations, Intro to Singing, Dance for Foreigners, and Theater Arts. Woo! So much fun to be had. And an ultimate frisbee update - I have practice tomorrow!
Well that was my "work" update and it doesn't really sound like work. Well here goes the fun update:
Wednesday a group of exchange students from CIEE and ISA as well as PUCMM students hopped on a couple guaguas and made our way to Playa Alicia. This is close to Playa Sosua but is less populated and has bigger waves. It was a fun day complete with Spikeball, frisbee, and a pair of sunglasses lost to the joys of body surfing.

 
Saturday was a planned CIEE day trip to Playa Ensenada but Brianne had been doing some scheming and the two of us headed North a day early. We left Santiago around nine on a public guagua to La Isabella. From there we took a motoconcho to our hotel - Casa Libre. The journey was relatively easy. Definitely could have been a lot more interesting! We got to Casa Libre and promptly realized we were in paradise. The place consists of three cabins on stilts overlooking the beach. There is greenery everywhere except for a little path that connects the cabins and winds down to the beach. 
View from the room
 
Pathway to the beach
 
Super fancy hotel sign
 
The cabin's porch
 
Once were a bit settled in we made arrangements to get to the manatee reservation. Turns out the best option is to rent a 4x4, a deal which also got us a guide and some side stops to even more remote beaches with coral cliffs that had once been under water. It made for quite the adventure, especially since we were expected to drive, which we did quite capably upon receiving some instruction. 
Here I am enjoying the vistas. 
 
The manatee reservation was cool, quite rustic, but had lots of mangroves and our guide was able to tell us quite a bit about the ecosystem. The manatees showed their noses here and there but were not very photographable. After all this we made our way back to Casa Libre and with a few hours before dinner we went for a sunset walk. It was beautiful!!! 
Dinner was pork tenderloin with a white wine sauce and mozzarella for Brianne and potatoes, broccoli, salad and french bread for me (and Brianne). We were joined for dinner by a Swiss man who had been living in the DR for 11 years, his Ugandan wife, and the man who was currently filming a documentary of the couple. I failed to accurately extract the reason for the documentation. Dinner was a mix of French, German and English, with English being the most successful common denominator. (Breakfast the next morning was enjoyed with a french couple that knew little Spanish and less English, so French became the common denominator for that meal.) Brianne accurately pointed out that it felt a lot more like we were in Europe than the Caribbean. After dinner we headed back to the beach for a late night dip and some stargazing. The water was a tad chilly so I only floated and stargazed for a minute or two, but the view was just as epic lying in the sand. The stars were visible from horizon to horizon as there is very little light pollution. I saw two shooting stars. I had not seen shooting stars since I was on the shore of Flagstaff Lake with my FOP trip freshman year. 
This is the sunset from that night in Maine - remarkably similar, but a lot colder...
 
After our star gazing we went to bed. Breakfast the next morning was eggs, wheat toast, fresh fruit and tea. We went for a post breakfast walk up to the fishing town of Punta Rucia. Then we came back to collect our things before walking the other direction along the beach to Playa Ensenada where the rest of CIEE had arrived. We joined them for the day, shich included lunch at Teo's - typical Dominican fare - yum! And snorkeling at "Paradise Island" which is essentially a sand dune six miles off the coast where you can snorkel. It was nice. Not the most colorful reef, but there were lots pretty fishies. It was a pretty touristy event, but other guests at Casa Libre said it was less crowded other times of the day so that would be something to keep in mind if I were to return. All in all it was fabulous week full of fun in the sun!
 
 

 

03/05/2015

First Excursion for Spring Semester: January 16-17

This is a delayed post from my personal blog! We've got some catching up to do on the CIEE blog so I'd thought with a piece I wrote about the group's excursion to Santo Domingo.

Friday morning the CIEE group left for Santo Domingo. In an unpredictably predictable manner, getting there, in and of itself, was an adventure. One of our two guaguas (buses) broke down about half an hour from our first stop so we all piled into one guagua. It was quite cozy. (AKA 41 of us in a minibus with luggage.) And when I say cozy, I actually mean relatively uncomfortable at many points. (Shoutout to Elainer for letting me sit on her lap. MVP!)

 
Our first stop of the day was at Alta Gracia, a Zona Franca, unlike any other.  Zona Francas (perhaps known in the US/English as Free Ports) are areas with loosened customs and other regulations. There are many in the DR and Haiti as well as around the world. They have a tendency to have horrible conditions and do more harm than good for the economy. They do little to support the local economy because of the emphasis on exportation and the lack of relationship with the communities. Alta Gracia is a Zona Franca with a very different story. Workers get three times the minimum wage, three square meals a day, access to childcare, educational opportunities, and transportation. They can play music while working and take as many bathroom/water breaks as needed. Someone who starts out with a low-level job has the opportunity to move up the ranks, especially if s/he takes advantage of the educational opportunities available. Alta Gracia makes T-shirts and other customizable apparel, which is predominantly sold to colleges and universities in the United States. Here are some photos from our tour/ conversation with the jefas/jefes (bosses).
 
 

 

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Our second stop of the day was lunch. It was amazing. I had the best eggplant parmesan I have ever had. (They are really good at eggplant here.) I also had three pieces of cake....After lunch we were relieved to learn a second guagua had been acquired and our group bonding could be a little less physical.
 
After that we went to Ingenio Boca de Nigua a former sugar cane plantation. It was really powerful to stand on the same ground as the slaves who were worked to death making sugar did. Ingenio literally means genius. Originally it referred to the machine that pressed sugar (liquid form) from the cane using animal power (mule, horse or slave) but later came to refer to the whole plantation because that one ingenious invention was so integral to the process. Slaves on this type of plantation had a life span of approximately seven years once they stepped into their new world.
 


Below: Here we are looking down on the Ingenio. Slaves fed cane back and forth on the lower level as animals (or slaves) walked in a circle on the upper level generating the power to squeeze the liquid from the cane. Working for hours on end and struck with fatigue, slaves often lost fingers, a hand or even an arm when unable to maintain the focus required to safely do this job. 

 
 
 
This sunken area is the slave yard, where punishment was doled out daily in the mornings. It is a lower level so as to inhibit slaves form running away upon hearing they were to be punished.
 


Here we see where the liquid was heated to its crystallization stage. Slaves below ground were chained up an forced to feed the fire. The intolerable heat necessitated the chains on the slaves with this task. The resulting sugar is what we know as brown sugar. Through the drying process excess molasses would drip off the sugar and be used to feed livestock and slaves. Brown sugar was the final product, which was shipped off to Europe to be treated and become white sugar.

 

This climbable structure was a hell hole of a bunkhouse. Inside, slaves slept in layers on wooden slats in shifts of eight hours, again chained in place to prevent escape.

 
This particular plantation was the site of a failed slave revolt. The attempt, however, is a source of pride for locals and those beyond. At one point Toussaint Louverture, the predominant leader of the Haitian Revolution, stood at this location when France formally handed Haiti over and peace with the Spanish was negotiated. 
 
We piled back into our TWO (phew thank goodness we were back to two) guaguas and headed to Santo Domingo and our hotel. Once we were all checked in and a little bit settled, we went to dinner. On our way to dinner we stopped at a salon. "Sophie, why did you guys stop at a salon???" Well, let me tell you. Because this salon, albeit little, is kind of a big deal. And when I say kind of a big deal I actually mean a really big deal as it represents part of a social and more broadly political movement. "Sophie! I still don't get it. How?" Well, let me tell you. Because it caters to women who wear their hair naturally. You will not get your hair relaxed or straightened our otherwise treated to conform to Eurocentric norms regarding hair. Women come here to embrace their roots (pun intended). This salon is one of three in the country that provide services for natural hair. Miss Rizos (the salon) was a beautiful space with a beautiful story. Several of the chicas in our group went back the next day for an appointment or to purchase amazing Yo <3 Mi Pajón shirts.  
 
That night we were free to do as we pleased and many of us headed out for various amounts of time to practice our merengue, salsa, and bachata skills, but many of us called it quits fairly early because of the promise of the next days adventure (and the threat of the hour at which they began).
 
The next day my body was kind of rejecting the Caribbean, or at least something I'd eaten, so I had to lay low for the morning. I headed out with the group but was not feeling great enough to continue. The group went on a walking tour of the Zona Colonial and Los Tros Ojos. The link at the end of this post has photos taken by Brianne of these adventures. In the afternoon I rejoined the group as we walked around and had lunch before heading back to the guaguas and Santiago. 
 
Hydrating

The trip back to Santiago involved a lot of sleeping, no breakdowns, and a warm greeting from my host family!

 
 

01/11/2015

El fin de mi primero semestre en la República Dominicana

My last two weeks on the island before the holiday break were a whirlwind. I took advantage of every moment I have left with my friends.

The first week of December was my last week of classes. It was filled with finals, presentations, and essays. Although I turned in a lot of work and took a handful of exams, I have to say this was the most relaxed finals week I have ever experienced.

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Thursday the 4th was our Fiesta de Despedida with CIEE and our host families. Before the fiesta we had a group meeting to talk about reverse culture shock. We remeniced about our experiences and what we learned during our time here. This reflection has really changed the way I have looked at my time here. I have cherished every moment since then and have enjoyed reflecting on how much I have grown over the semester. After our meeting our families arrived. We had a great party in a function section of a local restaurant. Of course there were lots of thank-yous and gift exchanges during the party but for the most part lots dancing and laughs. After dinner the host families made their way back home while all of the students in the program and Estudiantes de Apoyo (our friends from the university) danced the night away. We danced in the party hall until it closed at 12; however a handful of us went out to continue the celebration at a club afterward. This party was a great way to kick of the last 2 weeks I we had left together.

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On Saturday, I got to help one of my best friends, Riley, get ready for a Dominican wedding. Annie’s host mom, Caridad, and her neighbors helped put together her whole outfit. This wedding was much more formal than we had expected. Riley wore a gorgeous black and white full length dress that was accessorized perfectly, thanks to Caridad. Riley and I left her room all ready to go after doing her hair and makeup. Her host mom had just got back from work and told Riley she wanted to do her hair and makeup. Riley repliied "But I just got ready". We both got a kick out of the experience as her host mom did her make up to look “more sexy” and crafted a beautiful up-do. Although the end product may have been different that Riley expected, she looked stunning.  Her host mom was so excited and sung around the house until Riley's boyfriend came to pick her up.

 That night I went out to a bar with some of my closest Dominican friends. We ended up having a blast and going to a concert at a nearby club. I originally planned Sunday to be a day of rest and studying however my friends convinced me to come over for a barbeque instead. My exams on Monday actually went really well despite the fact that I did not spend all Sunday studying. It was well worth spending Sunday relaxing with my friends.

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Tuesday ended up being filled with some of my favorite memories. My sister presented her thesis in arquetecture that morning. I got to go and support her with my host mom and her friends.  I felt so lucky to share the excitement with everyone as Alejandra received an A!  My mom’s face was glowing with pride all day.  I couldn’t have been more proud of her either. It also warmed my heart to see that my sister wore the earrings my mom had given her when my parents came last month.  We had the family and friends come over for lunch after the presentation. The joy of that day filled every nook and cranny of the apartment. After the lunch was over and the guest headed back home the family hung out in the living room. It was nice to see my sister so relaxed again after a long semester of stressful all-nighters and piles of work.

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Tuesday night I, along with a handful of other students, went over to one of our professor’s house to make cookies, drink homemade hot chocolate, and chat. We had a blast and one of the students make gluten-free dough so I could eat some of the cookies. It was a nice way to say good-bye to some of my friends in the program. After our get together I went with my friend Valerie to her sister’s dance recital. It was so much fun to watch all the performances and wonderful to see the confidence and love of dance the young women and girls exuded while they were on stage.

Wednesday morning was my last exam. Right after I passed in my exam I went home, packed, and made my way to the South with my friends Riley and Tim. Tim and I had both volunteered with the sustainable development organization Bridges to Community, in Nicaragua, when we were in high school. Since then the organization has expanded to the Dominican Republic and one of the trip leaders Tim had during one of his service trips to Nicaragua is now working in the DR. She invited us to visit her in the South and to join her on a day in the community that Bridges was working with.

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We made the long journey down to the providence of San Juan which geographically is really close to Santiago. When looking at a map the two locations are extremely close, however, they are separated by a huge mountain range that does not have any roads through it. So we had to travel southeast to the capital and northwest again to arrive at our destination. After a long day of travel we made it to the small city of San Juan de las Maguanas. Sabrina, the trip leader, met us at the bus station and took us to a local restaurant. I got to try chinchin, a local polenta-like dish that was delicious, creamy, and perfect for a late night dinner. She took us around the city and we got to see a bunch of beautiful parks the were designed by a local artist, most of which had interesting social, political, or cultural themes.

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Bright and early the next morning we head out to the community Sabrina works in. On our way we picked up one of her co-workers and stopped at an extremely interesting landmark called El Corral de los Indios.  San Juan is the providence that was once home to the post powerful chiefdom of Taino Indians on the island. The landmark we visited was a legendary rock that is located in the very center of the island surrounded by a perfect ring of rocks that are 7 meters aprart and the circle measures 757 meters in circumfrance. Thousands of years ago this, relatively phallic-looking, rock stood straight up and was used for many fertility rituals by the Tainos. Rumor has it that when the Spanish first arrived to the island the rock fell down. Since then the rock has never been erect, not even with the help of a cement foundation. Another eerie rumor is that once, when the rock was moved to be displayed in the Museum of Human History in Santo Domingo, there were seismic storms that did not cease until the rock was returned to its original spot.

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I find this legend to be an extremely poignant metaphor in relation to the history of exploitation the violation of the island that began when the Spanish arrived. Not only did the Spanish rape and pillage the Tainos, they extracted the majority of gold from the island and continued to exploit the earth with sugar cane production. The environmental exploitation continues today with the extraction of natural resources through mining and tilling. Moreover, the tourist industry, a huge part of the Dominican Republic’s GDP, pollutes, disrupts, and kills delicate ecosystems while overusing scarce resources.   In a way the discovery of the new world has lead to the slow death of the new world through the exploitation of its people and environment.

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After stopping at the landmark we drove through beautiful farmland and up windy hillsides to get to the community. We made a quick stop at a market filled with colorful produce and homemade elixirs.  Upon arriving at the community we made many stops to chat with local community leaders. Sabrina gave us a tour of the projects that Bridges to Community has worked on such as building more classrooms and schools, constructing latrines, installing environmentally friendly stoves, and creating a collective organic farm to promote biodiversity along the deforested hillside. One project that was in progress was the construction of a youth center. Instead of using cement blocks, Sabrina had the idea to construct it from plastic water bottles filled with sand. Not only does this use less cement but it also repurposes discarded plastic bottles and shows the community how much they consume and throw away.

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We had the opportunity to attend community meetings with Sabrina and see what goes on behind the scenes of an organization like Bridges and the challenges organizations face when recreating a development model to function well in a different culture. We had an amazing lunch in the house of one of the community leaders who hosts and cooks for service groups. To say the least, lunch was spectacular. We also met the oldest person in the community who is somewhere between 104 and 108 years old. Although no one remembers when he was born, he remembers an epidemic that took place in 1914. He was still very sharp and extremely kind. I wish I had more time to speak with him.

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That evening Riley and I started our journey to Barahona, a small coastal city in the southwest of the country. We had to catch a guaguita and then change gauguitas half way through. On the first leg of the trip we drove through the countryside during sunset. We literally got to see the country through rose-tinted glasses. It was stunning! Everything glowed in the pink light. We arrived at Quince, a crossing point, and waited for the second guaguita for a long time. It starting to get darkre bought come casave and ate that with some peanut butter we bought from a women’s collective we passed along the way. It ended up being a surprisingly satisfying dinner.

We finally caught a packed guaguita just as the night became extremely dark. The bus was so packed that I had to sit on Riley’s lap almost the entire ride. We did make friends with a handful of Dominicans as we were all squeezed in the back of the bus. One of the young women on the bus offered to give us a ride to the hotel we were staying at seeing as it was unsafe to travel as foreigners at night in the city. We were extremely grateful and lucky to have met someone so kind. When we got to our hotel, we settled in and went to sleep within an hour. Unfortunately the hotel was located next to a gallero (a cock fighting club). The roosters started calling at 2am and did not stop all night. I stuffed paper towel in my ears which cut some of the sound. Let's just say we were not very well rested that morning.

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Early the next morning Riley and I made our way to San Rafael, a gorgeous beach 30 minutes outside Baraona. The ride there via guagua was breathtaking. The guaguita wove in and out of a jungle passing by small communities perched on the mountainsides with the stunning aquamarine Caribbean Sea twinkling in the morning light. Since there is no formal/ well-functioning postal service, guaguas often function as a local delivery service. It was interesting to see how our driver knew where and when to drop things off. We drove down to see the stunning beach just ahead. We got off the bus and walked down the hill to realized we were the only people on the beach except for the few people working at the fishshacks. It was beyond stunning. Instead of sand, the beach was covered in the smoothest rounded stones you could imagine. Walking along the beach was like getting a foot massage.  Although the giant waves made it a little too dangerous for swimming, the mist from the waves cooled us off as we rested on the warm smooth rocks. I had never been at such peace. Unfortunately we could only stay there for the morning since we had a long journey back to Santiago. Although the ride back was long and exhausting, it gave me ample time to reflect on all of what I had seen.

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Somehow Riley and I mustered up the energy to go out with our friends for one last time as a group that night. We had a blast and danced the night away. The days up until my departure were lived to the fullest. I was able to support my two best Dominican friends present their thesis, celebrate with them, spend time with my closest American friends and have an absolutely fabulous time. I lived in the present and learned how to appreciate the moment. Although the tear-filled good-byes pulled at my heartstrings, I know that the experiences I shared with my friends here and the depth of our friendships will be something that are going to last a life time.  

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12/05/2014

En la cocina con Arecelys

After partying to hard with my parents I ended up coming down with a pretty bad strep infection. Since getting sick I spent a week at home recovering. Although my sickness put a damper on going out and having fun with my friends I have learned a lot during my time at home.

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I got to spend some time in the kitchen with my host mom and I learned how to make some of my favorite Dominican dishes. My mom makes a killer berenjena (eggplant) dish that I have been dying to learn how to make. I diligently followed her around the kitchen taking notes on everything she told me. I love cooking and being an active participant in the kitchen but my host mom insists on doing all the grunt work and chopping. In the end, that was probably better because I was frantically trying to write down all her advice.

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She also taught me how to fry plátano maduro (ripe plantain) to perfection. The real skill is to know when your plantain is ripe enough for frying. Once you have that down you simply peal it, slice it, and throw it in the pan with some oil and you have a sweet treat.

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Being away from home for Thanksgiving pulled at my heart strings. This was the first year I was away from home for my favorite holiday. My mom and I usually spend days together cooking in the kitchen and catching each other up on all that happened during the past 3 months. But this year I learned how to make things that were not the traditional recipes we make for the holiday in the US. And although we do not have any snow here, the holiday decorations are in full swing, snowmen decorations and all!

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Another learning experience I had while I was sick was navigating a new healthcare system. At first I started my treatment by going to the clinic at the university. Seeing as my infection was extremely advanced I eventually had to seek out a specialist.

In the DR there are two types of facilities where you can go for treatment; clinics and hospitals. Generally clinics are much more affordable and are much easier to access. Hospitals on the other hand tend to be much more expensive and for people who can afford to pay for high quality care. I was lucky enough to have insurance and the financial ability to see a specialist.
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In order to see a doctor you do not call and make an appointment. Culturally, that just would not make sense. Instead, doctors have visitation hours and your appointments are determines on a first come first serve basis. I was able to get a good spot on the waiting list however the doctor showed up almost 2 hours late. Although staying in a chilly hospital was not ideal for a sick person I did get to observe a lot of things in the waiting room.

First of all, the waiting room in combined with that of many doctors. The room is filled with doors to different doctor’s offices with desks in front for the receptionists. Most of the people waiting were dressed quite nicely.  Many people were carrying copies of x-rays and other folders. There was a heartwarming interaction next to me as a young man read a pamphlet and prescription to an older woman who did not have her glasses. Most of the people waiting were adults and were with another person.

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When I was called in to see the doctor I walked into a room that was far more elegant than what I have ever seen in any medical facility. Behind a grandiose chestnut desk was my doctor. The whole room was rounded with beautiful dark wooden drawers.  I felt like I was in Downton Abbey, medical suite, DR addition. After looking at my throat in the fancy patient’s chair he gave me his diagnosis and a new prescription which included an injection of a steroid to reduce the swelling. To my surprise the injection prescribed is purchased at the pharmacy located downstairs and brought to a nurse to administer in the emergency ward. I navigated my way through the hospital and got everything I needed however it was a learning experience to not have everything simply brought to you as it is in the US.

Thankfully my treatment is working and I am finally getting better. I want to make the best of my last three weeks on the island. I am still in awe at how quickly time has flown by and am so grateful that I get another semester to continue living in this beautiful country!

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.

 

 

 

 

10/10/2014

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The whole day was wonderful. I tried fresh cassava bread that was to die for, talked with some of Lynne’s Taino friends, ate a hearty Dominican lunch, and enjoyed all the festivities.PA050166

 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.

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09/30/2014

Samaná

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.
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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.

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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.
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On our way back we saw the beautiful sunset coloring the sky above the ocean.
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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.

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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.