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So when I went up with Anna to visit Robin after our medical appointments, I planned to return to my site directly from there.  However, in the capital, Ellen who was visiting the Samana area for her birthday was talking about stopping at el Salto de Limon (Waterfall of Lemon (or possibly Lime since they think limon is green and tastes remarkably like lime)).  Anna still had not been, even with living in the region.  So when we are chilling in the ocean, I just casually mention that we could make a side trip there and then I could stay at her house before making my trip home.  She was open to that, so we did take a trip.

We slept at her house and took a bus partway to Samana and then another bus up towards Las Terranas.  Just asking the driver, we picked one of the stops for the waterfall (there are a few stops to give you options.  And then once there, we let it be known that we would like to ride horses.  My horse was quite truculent, it had not interest in going anywhere.  My guide on the other hand was quite a bonus.  He told me about the plants of the area (much of which I did know from my 2 years, gave me a passion fruit (which makes my favorite juice) and shared that he was singer, even singing a little song for me.

Rough Guides provides a good overview on visiting.  The waterfall is tall enough, that getting a full picture is not just a snap (I know lame, but really wanted to).  Being river fed, the water is very cold.  (not North East Coast Atlantic in June cold, I didn’t feel I was being frozen), however, with movement a person feels fine.  I even went under the waterfall and waited for Anna to take a picture with the water pelting me.  There was also a outpost with snacks for sale and artisan crafts set up at the entrance where we changed from horseback to foot.

It was a quite enjoyable activity with the transport included cost around 15 dollars.  Definitely worth delaying my trip home by a day (of course it was, I got to ride a horse), especially considering that was Labor Day.

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So as a treat after the medical trip we went up to Las Galeras, Samana to visit with Robin.  Robin once lived by me, but extending her service she went up to work with a group of crafters who make palm frond baskets.  Some other volunteers were also going to be up in the area at the same time, so Robin arranged for us all to take a boat out to Playa Fronton.  On Saturday morning, we got the supplies (there is not an operational restaurant out there) and went to Playa Grande to meet the others.  We texted them to let them know we were there and Anna, who had texted Ellen gets a response of “where” and “who is this?”.  Seemed like a strange thing for Ellen to send.  Once Ellen arrived, we found out Anna did not have her current number and Ellen did not have her phone cause it was charging.  Quite a typical story a few weeks later my sim card was mistakenly put out of service and I got a new number so when I ran into Ashley later that night and she said she had texted me I said well it wouldn’t have worked even if I had bothered to bring my phone.

Eventually we go in the motorize boat and took a 20 minute ride along the coast and around the bend to see a beach coming out of that dark volcanic rock.  It made me thing of the edge of the world.  Although the setting is incredible and sea gorgeous, there is a flaw to Playa Fronton.  In many parts you have to be careful of sea urchins, however, there is a safe part to go into.  I made it clear to Robin when she was planning, if I could not go into the sea, I did not want to bother paying for a ride.

Robin started preparing moro (rice with peas mixed in) and the fish.  We had an issue getting the fugon (fire) lit, but luckily a Dominican eventually came over and helped us out.  The meal was quite delicious.

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That night we go out for dinner at a French pizza place (sadly pepperoni was not an option, I think any pizza place should offer that, I cannot wait to go back to the east coast.  Although first dinner is a Lenape Burger and a Yuengling.)  Eventually we went to a free bachata concert and just enjoyed ourselves dancing bachata and merenge.  It was one of those nights where we kept saying just one more song, best dancing night of my 2 years.

The next morning our plans feel through to see Playa Rincon, so we went to Playita instead.  Which is quite beautiful in its own way.  And interesting with the pathway to walk through the sea plants.

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What guagua means is many things.  Like I said in a post ages ago  , they can be family pick up trucks.  However, they are also a form of public transportation.  It may still be a pickup truck but you will be paying (and you may be riding in the truck bed).

Now the type of guagua you take depends on the route and how much you are willing to pay.

For a short route that is less traveled in the rural areas, you will take a pick up most likely.

For a short route in the capital you will take a very old large capacity (from 3 rows of seats to around 8 or 10) van.  It will be a caliente (hot), so there will be no air conditioning and when you get stuck in traffic misery will commence.

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Between cities there will be both callientes and expresos (express) guaguas.  This depends on the length of the route and the volume of people.  To San Cristobal, I have the option of taking a caliente or an expreso.  The difference in price is 15 pesos (less than 40 cents) but the difference in time in the trip can vary by 45 minutes.  That is because an expreso generally will have a part of the route it does not stop during.  The expreso also is generally in better condition and will have air conditioning.  Yesterday I grabbed one and was surprised to find not only a movie (not the first time I have seen one on my bus, but still I don’t understand when the ride is generally under an hour), but also wi-fi.  I tested it with my kindle and it worked.  I talked to Ashley E. and she said about two weeks ago she first noticed it on her bus to Bani.  Bani is the next major town west of San Cristobal. Taking a guagua from San Cristobal to Bani, there is no expreso option.

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For an expreso to a major destination along the southeast coast you will actually get a ticket (sometimes with a seat number) and climb on a coach sized guagua.  The one to Higuey shows a movie, one time I saw a dubbed Rocky.

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The final option for longer travel is through Caribe Tours or Metrobus.  These are the Peter Pan/Greyhound companies of the Dominican republic.  For these, you have to get on at a stop and buy a ticket beforehand.  Other guaguas unless they are passing through a union regulated part of the route where they cannot stop, will pick you up on the side of the road when you flag them down.

Final thing to know is that unless you are on a bus that sells tickets, the seats are put in for very thin humans, and not evreyone in the country is the size the seats are, so you may be touching someone for part of the ride or you may even be contorted to fit.

 

I split the trip last week into to parts, because I thought each location deserved its own post.  I wanted to explain why we had to get up so early for the Los Haitises portion of the trip.  We needed a place to sleep for 2 nights and nothing good was coming up for hotels, so Anna suggested we hit up Turner, who works with a group that runs a kayak tour on Laguna Limon,  Turner lives in the region, and I originally met him when it was Evan’s site and tried the tour.  He was kind enough to host us, although Trivial Pursuit was still in his mailbox in the capital.  But in order to make it to his site on Thursday night, we had to get to Miches by 5:30, and therefore we had to leave Sabana del Mar by 3:30, so we had to pick the 10 am tour over the 2 pm tour.

After the tour, we did travel several more hours to get to Turner’s. There is a nice change in the form of an elevated proper bridge.  And they are making a shiny new road from Higuey, so it will be much easier for people to travel there in the future.

But what did Anna, Robin, and I do the next day.  First, we got Turner to take us out for a short trip on the lagoon and startled some cows.  Then we gathered lunch supplies and grabbed a bus heading towards Miches (coming from Higuey).  We got off in Las Minas, where there is a nice sign pointing down the dirt track to the beach.  We arranged another moto trip.  This trip included the joy of mud holes, luckily it had not rained much lately up there (as opposed to my summer of rain).  Turner told me, that if it is too muddy you will have to get off the moto on parts. At the end of a 30 minute ride, we arrived on a gorgeous beach.  I was really to fight for the supremacy of Bahia de Las Aguilas visited on the 5th of July, but Playa Esmeralda won with the existence of shade.  The water was gentle, the view was gorgeous (you could see the shading of where the Samana Pennisula is), we had cheese and avocado sandwiches with beverages, and the other people were far enough away.  Word is the beach will not be as secluded much longer, and that is the way of development.  Development is not just benefits of easier access and more goods, it is also the cost of a change in environment and culture.  But, I at least got to experience the beach in a pristine manner.  Robin and I even went a short walk to see a bit more and came upon a marine who called another to get us some coconuts and open them so we could drink the coconut water (although I don’t love it the way many others do).  I took a photo and Robin looks just like a tourism shot, but no it was quite natural.

Around the time we were ready to leave we got a rain shower.  After it stopped and we were attached by midges or something, we jumped back on the motos and we on the bus about 4 minutes after we got back to the main road, which was incredible timing.  I claimed first shower, and let me tell you you don’t need temperature control or running water for a great shower.  Dumping water over my head after our day and the clean feeling that came were incredible.  That night we shared the house with some interns for Esperanza (a microcredit organization working in the Dominican Republic and Haiti) who had taken the kayak tour that afternoon.  Turner got us tilapia and Robin offered to cook us moro (rice with peas mixed in.  For some reason, Robin took the Dominicans recommendation on how much rice, so there was plenty left over in the morning.  Why she should not have taken the recommendation was that Dominicans consume a greater quantity of rice than more of us volunteers.  After that we went to the colomado, where some danced and some played dominoes,

All and all a very satisfying day, and a fabulous trip.  Worth the 6 hours to get back to my site.

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There are couple places I have made it my goal to get to.  The places that everyone talks about and as a person who has 2 years on a small island, I feel I should get to.  One of those places was Los Haitises.

Los Haitises National Park is is a protected environmental region on the North East of the island across from the Samana Pennisula.  The park is not the kind of place you can easily get to or hike around, considering it is largely mangroves

Let me share the journey there.  I was going with Anna and Robin who live on the Samana Pennisula.  So I decided to start the journey with them and spent the night at Anna’s, which was fun because we got to make the citronella candles.  The next morning the electricity is off so I got to shower by candlelight (Anna said to me not as romantic as you would think, to which I replied I had no thoughts it would be romantic). That was at 5:45 in the morning.  Then around 6:15 we went out to stand on the side of the road to get a ride to the ferry which would leave at 7 am.  Luckily a guagua came by after 7 fretful minutes (nothing was passing).  We even had time to grab breakfast juice and toasted sandwiches.

So we get on the ferry and cross the bay.  At the other side, the Sabana del Mar side, the ferry cannot go all the way in because of the lack of depth.  So we switched to a smaller boat, and then for some reason we switched to another boat.  When we finally got to the dock, there was no ladder (in the past tI am told there was one).  I could only reach the dock from the rocking boat.  So we handed our bags up and then reached up our arms and were lifted.

From there, we grabbed motos and bargained down on the info we had received that it should be a 100 or 150 peso, to a 200 peso ride.  After leaving the paved part of the road to a road that was dirt and rocks and being told that the distance was 12 kilometers, I have to say that was definitely at least worth 200 pesos.  I almost didn’t want to leave at the end of the tour and take the ride again it was so uncomfortable.

But finally, we arrive at Paraiso Cano Hondo through which we had book a tour.  We did not stay a the hotel, because it did not fit in our budget, but it looked very good and unique with a swimming pool and volleyball net.  The tour was a boat tour of around 2 hours through the park, including stops at 2 caves.  In one of the caves there were cave paintings and the guide told us about the meaning behind them.  The other cave had petrogylphs, bats, and swallows.  Our guide was a Dominican who was part of the original Brigrada Verde (an initiative of the environmental sector of Peace Corps to educate youth more on the environment and conservation) and told of us the volunteers who helped to build up the tour.  In additional to the caves, we saw 3 types of mangroves (simply a plant that lives on the land and in the salinated water, is you want to learn more check out the info from National Geographic Society) and many birds.  And one final interesting tidbit before pictures, Haitis means highland or mountain in Taino (the language of the inhabitants of the island when the Europeans arrived) and because of all the bumps in the park the region was named Los Haitises.  Our guide remarked it resembled an egg carton.  I have to say the tour was worth the money and the effort.

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Dana, another a business volunteer from my swear -in group, invited us during our sector portion of the COS conference to come out the following Friday for the inauguration of a basketball court in her community.  She had worked with her community and Courts for Kids, is non profit organization that works with economically disadvantaged communities to build sporting areas, in order to build a basketball half court that could double as a volleyball court (although I hope no one dives for a ball on the concrete).

 

Dana lives in a small batey (a community originally developed for sugar cane production) in the San Pedro area of the Dominican Republic.  Through another NGO, the community does have concrete housing and a community center.

 

Through a lot of work on Dana’s part and her community members, the area and initial steps for the court were prepared for the week the Americans’ came.  Courts for Kids sends down a group of highschool students or adults to work for week making the court.  Usually it is a pre-established sporting team, however, in this case there was an invitation for anyone adult who wanted to participate.

 

I arrived Friday afternoon, after hearing that the welder did not show up at 8 am as he was supposed to.  Luckily he did show up around the time I got there 3 or 4.  The court was not finished when I got there and so I got to see the process of how to make a backboard, it was a slab of plywood when I got there.  I also got to see the precision that went into painting the lines and the center court in an imitation of the Dominican flag.  Although Dana told us the celebration was to be at 4:30 pm, unsurprisingly it was not.  I think it was almost 11 when everyone gathered and Dana said thanks for all the cooking, networking, physical labor that the community had done, by reading off the many tasks and calling all those who participated to stage to celebrate.  After that, the community said their thanks to Dana, who I will say did a lot of work to get this to happen and it was not all smooth sailing.  Then the Americans  showed and gave out the things they had brought as donations, shirts, jerseys, balls (that even Michael our Assistant Program Director helped blow up), and sweatbands.  Finally music was put and there was dancing.  Around midnight some of those very dedicated Americans decided to finish up the painting.

 

These are the pictures that seemed best to share, but it was easier to leave them at the end instead of trying to fit in with the text.  The words written on the court say “In the union is the strength”.

And now it is not in a cornfield, but next to sugarcane.  And it is not baseball, but volleyball and basketball.  But they did use it while the paint was still wet.  And some where on it until 4 am.  The next morning when the balls were brought out it was soon populated.  So they did indeed come.

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So even though I am not currently living in the United States, I still celebrate Independence Day.  Often many of the Peace Corps Volunteers go up to Las Galeras in Samana.  I did that last year and had a good time, but to me it had already been done and there were still parts of the island I wanted to check out.  I wanted to see some of the most talked about beaches, one being Bahia de Las Aguilas (Bay of the Eagles).  So I along with others (the whole CED contingent from the 517-11-02 swear-in group that is still in country) took a trip south. First Anna came to my house to break up her journey.  We were asked by Dana if there was a white belt to be had, and in return I offered her the results of our evening.  Although I was with Anna, I have to say it was still a Hannah Day Day.  I was trying to make red white and blue earring with food coloring.  Anna stuck to just the white feathers.  She made one set and I politely asked her (it was a request) how she would feel about making three more pairs.  She being a sweetheart agreed.  So here are the earring that were made.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning Anna and I took a car, walked down a steep dirt path and stood on the side of the highway.  Yup that’s how I catch a bus to Barahona.  When we stopped in Bani, Ashley and Dana got on as well.  A few hours later we grabbed lunch and some initial provisions.  From there we enjoyed some beer in the park and waited for the boys, Tristan and Danny to join us.  When they had, we got on another bus and got off in Los Patos.  There we spent the time until Thursday enjoying the pool, the river, the beach, and the colmado dancing.

On the 4th, we struck out for Perdanales (the end of the DR).  We tried to get a bus, but after waiting and the only coming by not stopping, we had to go a different route.  We got a bola (that is hitched a ride) in the back of a truck and it was likely more enjoyable than being crammed in a bus.  The view was amazing with driving much of it along the coast and passing some wind turbines (which were huge).  We we taking far and dropped off in the campo a little past Oviedo.  After relaxing and passing some time with some beer, we were able to get on a nice air conditioned bus that we made up half the passengers and travel the rest of the way to Perdanales.

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Once in the pueblo we told the bus drive the neighborhood name and the street name.  He took us to the neighborhood but was unsure about the street.  We thought we had a bit of walking and asking around to do, but it turns out we were dropped off right in front of the house which Ashley recognized.  The house was Erin and Tyler’s, 2 volunteers who offered us use of it while they went up to Samana.  Erin was great enough to leave us a little guide she had typed up and welcome us with scrabble letters.  Once there we went out to get more provisions.  That night I cooked up some feztival (cornbread fritters) and jerk chicken that I had to step away from, so while was good the spice was over the skin and not under.  Dana and Ashley made us a red, white, and blue cake.  And we listened to Danny’s and my contributions for 4th music, since no one else followed my request.  Then as the night wore on we dressed up in some patriotic outfits and went out dancing.

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And did we chose the right bar to go to.  We had been trying to find a truck to take us to the bay and all the numbers we had or were then given didn’t pan out.  However, we did get an offer of a ride from the bar owner in the name of his friend.  So the next morning we confirm the ride and once again get in the back of a truck and get quite a deal on the price.  Then we arrive at Las Cuevas and start to hike, a hike that begins with many stairs to climb.  The other option was to pay for a boat to take us, but we were feeling economical.  Surprisingly, the Dominicans pick us up partly up the trail so we take a very bumpy ride most of the way and got out of part of a long hike with barely any shade.  We did have to hike the last part of it and it seemed so long on the way, but on our return ended up being quite quick.  I have to say that the bay is quite gorgeous, the water was perfect temperature and calm,  the butterflies loved Dana’s sparkly suit, and we had a huge section of the beach just for us, so it was worth the effort of the trip, even though there are no eagles in the bay of eagles.  That effort includes the next morning when we crammed ourselves on a bus to ride for over 6 hours.  However next time I got, I want a car.

Isn’t it just gorgeous?

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