The People of the Dominican Republic: AKA a huge part of my heart

image6 (3)Since being home from the Dominican Republic, I’ve had a lot of people ask me my absolute favorite thing about my experience. While I can think of and type a long list of things that I absolutely loved, one specific thing comes to mind that fills my heart a little more than the beautiful sunsets, and living within walking distance from the ocean.

And that is: the people.image2 (6)Since we’ve been home, we’ve been in contact with a few of these wonderful individuals, but that doesn’t make me miss them any less. Derek and I both bonded with them in a way that I didn’t think was possible with a language barrier. They all welcomed us with open arms, showed us love, and taught us that it is possible to have close to nothing besides human connection, and still have genuine happiness. Only a couple of these people speak English, but I love each and every single one of them as if they were family. So this post is to them! (and to my future myself as a promise that I will see them again one day.)

image7 (2)Amarillis-

Our local coordinator. This lady was our go to person for questions regarding the schools, health issues, the culture, and pretty much a shoulder to lean on anytime we felt uncomfortable, unsafe, or homesick. She worked directly with ILP, made sure that we were doing our duties as head teachers, and always double checked that all of the volunteers were having a good time.

She also set up our service projects, taught us Spanish lessons, and occasionally checked in on the house to make sure the power and water were working correctly. She was our local coordinator, but to me, she was so much more than that. The first time we met Amarillis at the airport she hugged me and said “Welcome to the DR, I love you very much.” And even though I knew this lady for 5 seconds, I never felt anything less from her than love.

The day that our house got engulfed by smoke from a wild fire was the same day that I found out I was pregnant. Since we had to evacuate our house, Amarillis found a different house for all of us 30 volunteers to sleep at, but I told her I wasn’t comfortable staying there because I was very sick that day. She looked at me with worry and asked “what are you so sick with?!” And that made her the first person Derek and I told. She jumped up and down for 5 minutes with joy, saying “I am going to be a grandma again, but this time to an American baby!” She then let us stay in her home, made sure I slept okay, and even woke us up with Dominican breakfast to say “congratulations.”

Amarillis was the most busy person I’ve ever met. She workd with our volunteer group, taught adults English, had 9 grandkids of her own, and was constantly giving back to her community with service projects. Between all of this, she has checked in on us and “baby” 3 times since we’ve been home to make sure we are doing okay and to let us know that she misses us. I’ll never be able to repay her for the love she showed us in the 3 months of knowing her, but I am so thankful that I had the chance to meet someone like her.image5 (2)Tamari-

Also known as a literal angel. This lady was the cook at our house. She made our group lunch and dinner every single day, in a small little kitchen that didn’t have AC or even a fan. She didn’t speak a word of English, but she was constantly showing us love and laughs by giving us hugs, flashing her bright smile, and dancing to her loud Dominican music. She couldn’t pronounce our names correctly, but she always called us her son and daughter.

On our first day in the DR, Derek and I really wanted our usual morning cup of coffee, and since the volunteer program is mostly LDS, not a lot of people in our group drank coffee, so our house didn’t have a coffee pot (until we bought one later.) We walked down to the kitchen to ask Tamari if she had any coffee, or where to get some, and to our surprise, she acted so excited that we asked! She pulled up two chairs, directed us to sit down, and then proceeded to spend 40 minutes making us Dominican coffee from scratch with a manual coffee pot. And that was only the first act of love she showed us.

When I started getting my daily morning sickness, I had to stop going to the kitchen as often because the smells would make me nauseous. Derek would still go visit her every day, and loved helping her (since cooking is one of his favorite hobbies.) He also practiced his Spanish, and she practiced her English while they cooked together. Since I wouldn’t see her as often, she would ask Derek what specific food I wanted every day, and would go out of her way to cook me something completely different than the rest of the group. Derek once told her that a hard boiled egg sounded good to me, and she made me 5 eggs every day for the week!

The day before we left, Amarillis came to tell us goodbye and told us that she’s never seen volunteers get so close to Tamari, and that Tamari was so sad to see us to leave back home. It made Derek and I sad, but also feel so good, knowing that we changed this lady’s summer like she had changed ours.

image4 (2)Papi-

Oh, Papi. Where do I even begin? This man was our next door neighbor, and he was also our go to taxi driver. Any day that I saw Papi was a good day. We bonded over our weekly grocery store runs, and practicing Spanish while driving around in his beat up taxi that didn’t have a working door or any AC.

Just like Tamari, Papi didn’t speak any English and couldn’t pronounce or remember our names. So a month in, he renamed Derek and I. And from then on out, we were known as Pedro and Mari by all of our neighbors and community. Most mornings I’d wake up, and go outside and there Papi would be yelling “Hola hola hola Mari!! como esta!” It was always followed by “where’s pedro?” He loved both Derek and I, but could speak to Derek better, so he always wanted to talk to him and he always worried when I was alone without Derek, in case I wasn’t feeling good.

Papi lived in a little 2 bedroom (seperated by a sheet) shack, that was painted bright pink and didn’t have any AC. He lived there with his wife, Frecia (she’s next!) his son Davey, their two dogs Toby and Bronco, and his grand daughter, Denise, who occasionally stayed with them. They had close to nothing, and as a taxi driver, he was the provider of the household. Frecia was in and out of the hospital all summer getting surgery on her legs, and he would tell us all the time that he was stressed with money, but he was one of the happiest person I’ve ever known.

image4image3 (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image2 (5)Frecia-

Frecia was the sassiest, most hilarious person, and the definition of a Dominican woman. She was Papi’s wife, our neighbor, and she was also in charge of the school that was in the lower level of our house. She would walk around the school with curlers in her hair, and smack the walls with a fly swatter or a ruler to get the kids to behave. Some of the kids found her “scary and strict”, but she really had a heart of gold.

Frecia loved dancing, but would tell us that she couldn’t dance good anymore because she had to have leg surgery. That never stopped her from trying though. She would rock back and forth on her front porch whenever the neighborhood would play loud music, and laugh at Derek and I for dancing (because she knew she could once do so much better).

My most favorite thing about Frecia was that, much like Papi, she would always greet me with a “buenos dias Mari, como esta?” But before I could ever answer she would ask how the baby was. She was so excited for us, so much that she would tell all of her friends and family who visited her house, that I was pregnant. Frecia always cared about how I was feeling and how the baby was. And when we left, she begged for me to visit in the future with the baby, so that she could meet the human she already loved so much.image3 (3)image6 (2)Colasa-

Colasa was another neighbor of our’s. If I could think of one word to describe this woman it would be, giving. Her whole life revolved around serving others, and giving way more than she personally had. She was always in and out of our house to visit with us, but to also clean our toilets, mop our floors, and help us with our laundry. And even when we told her no thank you, she persisted to help. She was always so happy to do it. Just like Papi, Colasa lived in a small little house with close to nothing, but she was always welcoming us into her home to visit, and loved to show off photos of her sons, who she was so proud of.

When Colasa found out I was pregnant, I woke up to fresh fruit on my kitchen counter every morning, even when I told her I didn’t need anymore. She would insist, because “the baby needed it.” She would always leave my room with a “I love you, Mari” because I love you was the only thing she knew how to say in English. And I loved her right back!image2 (7)Marteen-

Marteen also lived in our neighborhood, and he sold handmade jewelry out of his little house. He lived with his wife, and his autistic son, who was always so shy when we came around, but would randomly break out with the best dance moves. Other than constantly trying to sell us jewelry, Marteen invited us to his home for dinner twice. His wife spent all day cooking for a large group of us, and they never let us leave hungry. Even though, we knew they didn’t eat much themselves, they always gave us seconds and even thirds.

Marteen offered us a certain flavor of soda once, and when all of us politely declined, he went all the way back to the store, to buy us a different flavor, just to make us happy! He was always so fun to visit, and like most of the people we met, was always so willing to give.image2 (4)image7Jose Luis-

Even though Jose Luis is a kid, he deserves to be mentioned, because he taught me so much and holds a huge place in my heart. He lived with his grandparents just a few blocks from our house. And every time I saw him, he was either smiling the biggest grin, or making the most angry face. His facial expressions were my absolute favorite, because they always made me laugh.

Last year, Jose Luis walked on his mother who committed suicide, and after this heart breaking incident, his father stopped coming around, which is why he lived with his grandparents. Sadly, just before we were leaving to come back home, his grandfather passed away. This kid had been through more in his lifetime than any kid (or even adult) should go through, especially at his age. He always acted out in school, and had a hard time listening to his teachers and Frecia, but watching him act that way just made me want to love him more.

He just needed some extra attention and love, and Derek and I were always happy to give it. He was so sad when I told him Derek and I were heading back to the US, but then he quickly smiled and said “yay that means new teachers” in his perfect English, that he loved to pretend he didn’t know. I know he didn’t mean it though. 😉image1 (5)image3 (4)I apologize for the long post, but if I’m being honest, I could probably write a whole novel for each of these people. I’ve never felt so welcomed, and so loved by a community in such little time. They always told us volunteers that the work we were doing was so incredible, and how thankful they were for us, and for what we do. But I don’t think it would be possible to do any of it without them.image5 (3)image6image5image1 (6)I learned a lot this summer (lessons learned posts still pending), but my greatest lesson of all, was this:

You can meet complete strangers, who have a completely different life than the one you have back home, who speak a different language, and believe in different cultures and lifestyles, but love is universal, and it is the one thing that connects us all as a world. Even though I’ve always known this, I will forever be thankful for the people of the Dominican Republic for showing me it.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Our calm weekend in Cabarete

IMG_7689Between a big service project, not feeling very good, enjoying our last weeks here, and not having the best wifi…it’s taken me a while to get to this post.IMG_7708About a week ago, Derek and I enjoyed our last “vacation” time while we’re here in the Dominican Republic. All of our vacations have been so adventurous and go go go, so for this one we wanted to just take things slow and relax. We decided to go to a surf town called Cabarete, which is only about 45 minutes from our house.IMG_7711IMG_7712We splurged and stayed in a very nice Airbnb called Seawinds. It had hot water, AC, views of the ocean, a very nice swimming pool, and it even had an american washer and dryer. (Like I’ve said before, it’s the little things.)IMG_7696IMG_7699IMG_7694IMG_7709IMG_7698

As always here is the link to this wonderful airbnb:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/20832743?source_impression_id=p3_1565100537_3io1xswO1RvsCDdw

We spent our weekend binge watching Netflix, finding yummy food, spending time at the pool, and enjoyed watching the kite surfers. The beach we stayed on is called Kite Beach for a good reason.IMG_7714IMG_7724IMG_7684

IMG_7719IMG_7723IMG_7717On our last day of our vacation, we celebrated our 10 year “anniversary” of being together. A whole decade of him by my side, and I am still in awe of how I got so lucky.  (here’s a cute throwback 😉 )

To celebrate our special milestone, we visited Playa Alicia, which is a beach that was about 20 minutes away from our Air BNB. We’ve been wanting to go there since we’ve been in the DR, but hadn’t made it yet. It was a little more touristy, and most visitors are on the beach were from Europe, but the sand and the waves were perfect. I could’ve stayed there all day, so we did. 😉

IMG_7703IMG_7706

IMG_7702IMG_77001We ended our night with dinner at a  restaurant that was right on the beach, with one of the most beautiful views of the ocean that I’ve ever seen..and that’s saying something! Unfortunately, I didn’t snap a photo because my camera died and my iphone didn’t do justice, so that view is just in my memory. Sometimes not capturing a moment makes it more special. IMG_7710Derek and I talked a lot about how our time here is coming to an end, and how bittersweet it feels to be leaving this chapter behind, but also looking forward to going back home to the lives we love there.2IMG_7718IMG_7713IMG_7580

IMG_7692

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_7720With only less than a week left here, I can’t help but feel grateful for the growth we’ve both had this summer. It’s been such a beautiful experience for us, and I am already looking forward to reading these posts, and looking at these photos with nostalgia in the future.3I am hoping to write one more post while we are here, but with the way life (and the wifi) has been lately, my next post might be written cuddled up to Harvey in my air conditioned house. (hooray!)

Onto the next adventure, Wren

Our Weekend in Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo

IMG_7205Last weekend, Derek and I visited the beautiful capital city of  Santo Domingo. We both wanted a change of scenery, and since we only have 3 weekends left in this beautiful country, we thought that the capital is a must place to visit.IMG_7224IMG_7202IMG_7143Santo Domingo was founded in 1496, and is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean. We stayed right in the Colonial zone, and some of the buildings around us dated back to the 1500s (including this beautiful cathedral) Let’s just say that my architecture loving heart was in heaven. IMG_7147IMG_7140

IMG_7142IMG_7146Not only was the architecture beautiful, the streets were filled with street art, twinkling lights, and the cutest little cafes and shops. Since we stayed about a block away, we spent most of our time walking around these shops, eating at the nearby restaurants, and admiring the beautiful buildings. We also enjoyed sleeping in, being lazy, and enjoying AC and hot water at our air bnb. IMG_7203IMG_7221IMG_7206IMG_7204IMG_7200

IMG_7201IMG_7197

 

 

 

IMG_7198If you ever find yourself in this charming city, I highly recommend this AirBNB (they even deliver breakfast to your room each morning).

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24463232?location=Santo%20Domingo%2C%20Zona%20Colonial%2C%20Distrito%20Nacional%2C%20Dominican%20Republic&source_impression_id=p3_1563629876_vQVPiQLZshFcKCnY

IMG_7196IMG_719967296219_2240762585976818_8287881782729113600_n

IMG_7144We also walked through a chocolate museum, tried delicious samples, and learned all about the history of chocolate. At this point in our day, the rain started coming down pretty heavy, but we didn’t mind. We haven’t had a good rain storm for about 5 weeks, so it felt so good to have cooler temperatures.IMG_7136

IMG_7193IMG_7192IMG_7191We also visited the Jardin Botanical gardens. By the time we arrived at the gardens, we were the only ones there since the rain was just clearing up. It was so peaceful to walk around the gardens that smelled just like fresh rain, and to be there almost completely alone.IMG_7222

IMG_7194

IMG_7195

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_7225Our time in Santo Domingo was short, but it was exactly what we needed. From the cities to the beaches, we’ve had so much fun exploring the different places on this beautiful island. We only have one more vacation planned before we head back home (where has the time gone?!) And as bittersweet it will be to leave, I am counting down the days to seeing Harvey and having AC and hot water 24/7. 😉IMG_7139IMG_7138Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

Those type of days that “can’t be real” -Barahona & Pedernales

IMG_6799Like I mentioned before, we had a 10 day vacation away from teaching and service work earlier this month. Our wonderful weekend in Jarabacoa was the fist half of that vacation (see our time spent there in my previous post). For the second half of our vacation, Derek and I met up with a few girls from group and visited the beautiful beach towns of Pedernales and Barahona.IMG_6788Pedernales is on the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The population of Pedernales is the lowest populated city in the DR and sadly, I think the beaches are that beautiful because there aren’t a lot of people there to ruin them.IMG_6798IMG_6800XQYP1467IMG_6792I’ve never seen more clear water, or white sand in my life, and the best part is that we were the only ones there.IMG_6025IMG_6052IMG_6050IMG_6053IMG_6051We spent our 3 days there walking the “ghost town” streets, trying to find restaurants that were open, and enjoying the beautiful beaches. At one point we talked about how “this place looks like a movie set, or it feels like we are living in a dream world.” And I thought to myself multiple times “this can’t be real.”IMG_6794IMG_6790IMG_6789IMG_6795IMG_600334

IMG_6797After 3 nights in Pedernales, we headed to Barahona.  This place is right below Samana on my favorite vacation places this summer. It had beautiful green mountains, bright blue water, and the biggest waves I have ever seen. We ditched the Air BNB idea here, and instead camped 2 nights on the beach. We had a bon fire, enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets, and we even got lucky enough to have a full moon!IMG_6774IMG_6784IMG_6770IMG_6771Our time there included a beautiful hike, swimming in the river, getting swept under by the giant waves, and enjoying the camping life of tents and no shower. Derek and I have slept in some crazy places, and we both agree that this is one of our favorites.IMG_6786IMG_6787IMG_6778IMG_6776IMG_6777IMG_6779Our “vacation week” felt very long since we visited 3 different places, but it was filled with once in a life time experiences, some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen, and memories that I’ll hold on to forever. These photos make me realize just how lucky I am to live on this beautiful island.IMG_6773IMG_677212IMG_6782We have couple more vacations planned before we head home in 6 weeks, and I am looking forward to more days, more places, and moments that feel like they “can’t be real”.

Onto the next adventure,
Wren

Anniversary Getaway in Jarabacoa

IMG_6570The first weekend of this month, our group had our one “long vacation” for the time we are spending here. Which means we had 10 days to leave town and “vacation” again from our service and teaching work.

Derek and I spent the first half of our vacation in a cute little mountain town called Jarabacoa, that is about 3 hours from where we live. We went alone, to celebrate our four year wedding anniversary that was on June 5th, and we had such an adventurous and fun weekend!IMG_6573We kicked off our anniversary get away by going paragliding! Despite these awesome photos, this experience wasn’t my favorite. I actually got pretty sick from nerves and motion sickness, and it was a lot longer than I expected, but I am so glad that we did it. I’ve always wanted to, and it was so cool to see this beautiful country from above. Plus, it will always be such a fun story for Derek and I to tell!IMG_6417IMG_6581IMG_6418The next day we went canyoneering. Another adventure that neither Derek or I have ever done, but one of our favorites. We went repelling down waterfalls, hiked through the river, went down natural water slides, and even went on a small zipline! I am adding repelling and canyoneering to the list of my new favorite things, and planning on trying both when we get back home.IMG_5932IMG_6578IMG_6577IMG_5953

Even though both paragliding and canyoneering were adventurous and exhilarating, my favorite part of the weekend was where we stayed. I’ve never been a picky person when it comes to where I lay my head at night, since I am more of a “go go go” traveler, but I never cared to leave our hostel that we stayed at in Jarabacoa.

IMG_6574IMG_6569

For the first time since we’ve been here, we had air conditioning, hot water to shower, good WiFi, a big flat screen TV, and way too many throw pillows on our bed. I know these things don’t seem out of the ordinary to you, but when you go 5 weeks with out any of the above and then get them handed to you all at once, it puts a spike in your mental health. 😉

 

IMG_6431IMG_5832

IMG_5834The architecture and design of the hostel was also my favorite “style” so I felt like I was staying in my dream home the whole weekend, equipped with free coffee every morning, and 3-4 dogs that greeted us every time we “came home”.IMG_5833IMG_5830

 

IMG_6567We enjoyed this place so much that on one of the days we were there, we didn’t leave the hostel. We watched way too many movies, had food delivered to us for lunch and dinner, and watched the afternoon thunderstorm through our large windows.

If you ever find yourself in this area, or just like to browse through pretty photos of architecture and design (like me) here is the link for the hostel:

https://www.booking.com/hotel/do/jarabacoa-mountain-hostel.en-gb.html

IMG_6504IMG_6503

Our weekend together in Jarabacoa was exactly what Derek and I needed to kick off our fifth year of marriage, and to have a break of the crazy month (who am I kidding- crazy 3 months) we had prior.

IMG_6572IMG_6502I love this temporary home of ours, and the adventures it’s bringing for us, I love this life I have decided to live, I love the consciousness I have to not take things for granted- like hot water and A/C, and I love the person who I get to experience it all with.

IMG_6576IMG_6566

Onto the next adventure,

Wren

 

 

 

Our Hike to Cascada El LImon

3938

When I found out we were assigned to the Dominican Republic, I did what any cliche traveler does, and searched for the best things to do/see on this island. As I scrolled through google and Pinterest, a specific waterfall kept catching my eye.

 

403734

 

 

As soon as we got our dates for our vacation, I searched where that specific waterfall was to see if it would be possible to visit. It was located in the beautiful town of Samana, so that is where Derek and I decided to “vacation” to. You can see our whole weekend spent there in my previous post.40The waterfall didn’t disappoint. The hike to the waterfall was the perfect amount of distance (1.5 miles each way). It was a bit rocky, but the hike was beautiful. At one point, we came out on top of a mountain and saw forests of palm trees. It was one of the most interesting and beautiful views I’ve ever seen.4233

As we approached the waterfall, other tourists were heading back down the trail, leaving us and our group almost completely alone to swim. The water was refreshing after our hike, and we had fun swimming under the waterfall, cliff jumping, and relaxing.41

I’ve done a lot of hiking in my life, and this one is definitely towards the top of my list. It was the perfect start to our weekend vacation, and the perfect reminder of how beautiful this world, this island, and this life of mine is.

323431

If you ever find yourself in the Dominican Republic, add the Cascada El Limon waterfall hike to your list.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

Sweet, Sweet, Samana

2This past weekend, we had 4 day vacation. I know what you’re thinking. A four day vacation from your summer long vacation? But yes. A vacation on our program means our teachers get a break from teaching or doing service work. Which means Derek and I get a break from “working” as well.

44

For our vacation, we decided to go to the beautiful beach town of Samana. Derek and I knew that we wanted to hike a certain waterfall and zipline while we are here in the Domincan Republic, so Samana was a place that was towards the top of our to see list.

3024We planned our vacation, and 9 other volunteers from our group decided to join us.  We stayed in an Airbnb that was right on the ocean. Even though we saw a total of 6 spiders the size of Derek’s hand, falling asleep and waking up to the sound of waves made up for it.

19

571If you are ever interested in ever seeing the beautiful town Samana, Domincan Republic I recommend staying in this beautiful jungle home. The hosts are so friendly, the home is beautiful, and they even have horses and a dog. (just be aware of spiders. 😉 )

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15529655?search_id=276616a1-3fc2-036c-eb9e-2d10aac0f77f&federated_search_id=0e9d392f-3022-4315-91d3-26d0d9567e8129Our first day on our vaction, we hiked the beautiful Casda el Limon waterfall. I am going to post about this hike in a seperate post because the photos I took that day are some of my favorites I’ve ever taken. (and there is a lot).31Our second day we went zip lining through the jungle. The zip line had 12 cable lines, and it was 350 ft up. Most of us have been zip lining before, but we’ve never been able to ride together, or go on one as long as this. We all had so much fun!15

136

After zip lining, we headed to Playa Rincon, which is one of the most beautiful hidden beaches on the whole island of the Dominican Republic. We were the only ones on the beach, and the water was the most beautiful, tourquise, clear water any of us have ever seen. It did not disappoint!

1011

The third day, we took a ferry to the beautiful island of Cayo Leventado. This island is known as “Bacardi Island” because this island is where they film the Bacardi commercials. On our program, we are not allowed to drink any alcohol, so I wasn’t able to drink any Bacardi on Bacardi island, but this virgin Pina Coloda almost made up for it.  🙂23

8172225Today (Sunday) we are heading back to our “home” here in the Dominican republic to do another week of service, before heading out on “vacation” again next weekend.26281218This weekend was amazing, and I am adding Samana to one of my top favorite places I’ve ever visited (spiders, bug bites, and all).

Onto the next adventure, Wren