Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My First Casino Experience

Saturday night, my friends and I went to the Casino. Expecting to lose anything I brought, I only played with RD$350.00 (approx. $11.25) and yes, I lost it all to the slot machines. There is an itty bit of strategy, but they are mostly luck. It was hillarious how much we stood out. We could get so excited whenever we won anything or got a Babooshka Bonus on out favorite machine. Everyone else, much older and spending much more money, never showed emotion. So long as I was playing (or pretending to) I was entitled to free drinks and food for the entire evening. The casino also provided us with a chauffer to drive us home. I made sure I got my $350 worth of fun, drinks, and food for the night and in the end a ride home. :) Even though I left with nothing, it was still a really fun night and I'll probably be going back again.

Jacob was the only person who won anything. At one point, I'm pretty sure he had RD$1,000.00 and he only started with $200. He left the casino with $400. He was holding on to my keys for the night because my dress didn't have pockets and it wasn't until he had arrived at home and I was on my way when we realized that Jacob still had my keys. In the end he broke even, but he spent his $200 on a taxi ride to my house at 2:30am to drop of my keys and then return home.

Monday, February 23, 2009

27 Charcos

This past Friday went on the tour of the 27 Charcos near Puerto Plata and it was amazing! First, we had to climb to the top of this chain of 27 waterfalls which meant holding onto a rope and trying to climb up rediculously strong water falls as guides assisted in hoisting us up. We were all equiped with shoes, life jackets, and helmets while the guides were barefood and without life jackets and vests and hopping up those waterfalls with incredible ease. When we got to the top, the journey down was a series of high jumps and slides down waterfalls. It's so difficult to describe and there's no way I can do it justice by simply typing it.

17 of us from the CIEE group went on this tour and in general, though we all made it out alive, we were pretty beat up. On one of the first jumps down, Amanda landed wrong on a rock and her ankle swelled up pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the only way down was to continue jumping and sliding. She grinned and beared it and said she still had a lot of fun. Erin hurt her foot on the way up, but kept going and then at the end was in a lot of pain and her food was also swollen. I only have a couple scrapes and blisters. Most everyone has a couple scrapes and blisters from the weekend.

Like I said, it's incredibly difficult to describe. The image that I had in my head was completely different than what actually happened. Check out the website www.27charcos.com to see a video of it and learn more about the tour itself. It was set up as a Peace Corps project to help build the local economy and give jobs to people in the area. It has been really successful. :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Disneyland Dominicana

A friend of mine got this email forward from her dad. It's hillarious. I especially love the sections about the Gua Gua Ride and The Valley of Darkness.

Disneyland to open in Puerto Plata

10 FREE Tickets Up for Grabs...

Disney's share price rocketed last week on the announcement of Disney's plans to build a theme park on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. Disneyland in the Dominican Republic...

The new resort, dubbed "Disneyland Dominicana" is set increase Disney's theme park empire while boosting the local economy and providing thousands of new jobs for the area. Allegedly, Disney has already purchased several large tracts of land using various holding corporations around the Long Beach and Costa Dorada area of Puerto Plata. We went to talk with Disney's head of PR, Lyon King and find out more about their plans. He was keen to fill us in...

-"We're really pleased to be opening up in the Caribbean. We don't want to ruin the local Dominican culture and make the resort too Americanized. Local food such as plantain and mangu will be served to visitors. Hot-dogs will be offered when they wander in."

Disneyland Hotdogs: two for 100 pesos

-"To transport visitors around the resort, we're investing in some two-wheeled vehicles with their own autonomous pilots. Although they are only about 5 feet long with one seat, they can carry 6 people comfortably. These things do make quite a noise, a cross between a hair-dryer and a grass cutter. And they emit some noxious gases, so should be entertaining while at the same time functional."

Disneyland Rollercoaster: Coming soon to Puerto Plata - Dominican Republic Some of the local Dominican companies are keen to be involved. Brugal Rum will be sponsoring the Brugal Run roller-coaster.

-"We were going to build a vertical drop ride, but we've got permission to use the cable car on the Isabela de Torres mountain which we'll tie in with the Moto Ride. We'll add in some wind machines and some waterfalls to increase the cable car drop speed. Should be quite a ride!"

Disneyland Rollercoaster: Engineer's sketch of one of the planned rides...

-"Instead of the Swiss Family Robinson house, we'll have the Casa Dominicana, which will never be finished. Every week, we'll add a couple more blocks to it."

Disneyland Prototype Ride:A prototype of one of the rides...

-"We've got some great new rides planned, some of them will be unique to Disneyland Dominicana. The Valley of Darkness is where people take a trip underground. Every so often, the ride will stop and they'll be plunged into darkness.Thankfully, we don't need any special equipment for this. We've spoken to the local electricity provider and they've assured us that the power will go on and off intermittently anyway, so this ride will be easy to set up."

Disney Gua-Gua Ride: A design for one of the new attractions

-"We've got some 30 foot tall screens coming for our new Gua-Gua 3D simulation. The idea is to simulate the experience of being a passenger in the local minibuses that travel around to the Dominican cities. We'll squash 40 people, some chickens and a donkey into a 10 foot by 6 foot room and try to create a real Gua-Gua experience. There will only be 6 seats, so people will have to stand or sit on each other. There'll be no air-conditioning, and we've got a great merengue soundtrack to liven things up. Since the ride isn't long enough to play the entire soundtrack on repeat, we plan to play the same 3 songs on repeat to get a real taste of the culture. The big screens will show motorcycles coming at you from all directions, loud horns blaring, trucks and SUV's narrowly missing you, and people crossing your path pretending you aren't there. We still have some work to do on this one, as in early tests people were so frazzled by the experience they couldn't last the whole simulation."

Instead of "Sleeping Beauty's Castle", we're planning the "Sleeping Watchey-Man's Castle".

Obviously, we'll be doing a Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but we'll be using real pirates this time.

- "We're training up some local staff to be able to give a great local feeling. They'll be trained to ask all visitors where they are from and ask if they can they polish their flip-flops. Any visitors who avoid eye contact or look like they haven't been there before will be offered a free tour of the facilities for just $20USD."

"How much will entrance to the theme park cost?" we asked. "Well, we've decided to leave that up to the staff. As long as we get 50 dollars each entry, they're free to charge what they want. I imagine they'll probably quote around 300 dollars and then it'll be up to each customer to haggle them down."
"But won't that mean customers will have to wait longer just to get into the park?" Well yes, I guess so. But hey, it's the Caribbean. They shouldn't be rushing around. They should relax while they're queuing. I'm, sure there'll be lots of street vendors providing the queues with interesting items to buy."

Taken from the Gringo Times

"Would you rather be sitting on a root waiting for an unknown objective or in the kiosk eating a sandwich?" - Constanza part 2

Saturday, we piled into three "Safari" strucks to embark on a gringo parade around the town. First, we took about an hour ride to a breathtaking water fall. From there, we had to option to take a pretty difficult hike to the tallest water fall in the Caribbean or go to the kiosk and eat a sandwich. Many, including me, chose the waterfall.

Due to the rain, the path we were supposed to take was flooded, so we found ourselves sitting on roots, rocks, and mud, very high up for roughly an hour and half waiting for the guide to make a new path. We then started playing "would you rather" which led to the question "Would you rather be sitting on a root waiting for an unknown objective or in the kiosk eating a sandwich?" The new path was a 85 degree incline while we needed a rope to climb and could only do it one at time.

Susan, Leidy, Sarah-Naomi and I were the last to go up and see the waterfall and it was really breathtaking. I wish we could've had more time to just sit up there, but we were running so behind that we just had time to snap a few photos and then head back.

We then went into town for lunch. After lunch a tour of the different farms was scheduled and were all dreading it due to being hot, tired, and exhausted from the waterfall adventure. There wasn't a tour guide in my safari truck so we were driving around for roughly an hour and half through farms wondering where the farm we were going to tour was. Then, out of nowhere, we arrived at our hotel and it turns out that the ride was our tour! It was the most fun agriculture tour I've ever been on!
In the evening, we had a barbeque and hung out by a fire.
It was a really good day and weekend in general! :) The three guys in our group sure enjoyed being surrounded by 35 girls all day!
Also, note that I'm wearing a Moosejaw t-shirt... I'll finally get in the photo album at the store! Now I just need to take a picture with a bagel to get on the wall at Bloomington Bagel Company!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Bring comfortable shoes. We're going on a little walk" Weekend in Constanza

Not too intense of a hike, but definately more than little walk. Constanza is the chilliest part of the DR and the only place that can grow roses and strawberries. It's gorgeous. I'll post more pictures later.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When it rains, it pours

It rained here consistently for about a week. My host mom said that this is really strange because February is usually very sunny and perfect for Carnaval, but so far, it's been rainy.

The rain has caused a ton of problems here. As far as I know, three towns have been flooded, many people have died, and many homes and a school has been destroyed. This has happened in rural villages and in the mountains near Santiago.

Santiago hasn't suffered great damage and the rain ceased yesterday. Today is nice and sunny and I hope it remains.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


<-- Haiti from the border

Me on the Dominican side of the border
This past weekend, my family and I went to Dajabon, the town on the Dominican side of the Dominican/Haitian border. We stayed in my dad's friend's house and it was very different from my apartment in Santiago. Dajabon is a much smaller town and is more of a campo than a city like Santiago. It was a really neat experience.

Saturday night, we went over to my dad's friend's uncle's house to make pastels, play dominoes, and just relax. There were so many people there and my family didn't know anyone, but it was still fun. I really enjoyed making the pastels. You put a pumkiny paste in a banana leaf, then on top of the paste put pork and olives and then you fold it all up and tie it with string and cook it for what seemed like hours because I was so hungry and the pork I nibbled on while we were making them was so good! They were delicous and it was really fun to prepare them with my dad's friend's uncle, his niece, sister, wife, and my mom. After we were done eating, my family and I played dominoes for a bit before heading back to where we were staying.

Sunday, I woke up to roosters, for it's impossible to sleep when they are awake. We went to visit more people on their farms. My dad gave one man medicine in return for an enormous amount of grapefruit and some coconuts. I love drinking the coconut milk straight from the coconut.

Also on Sunday, we went to the Dominican/Haitian border, which was a bit overwhelming. The difference between the Dominican Republic and Haiti is immediate. Dajabon is not a major city, but in crossing the border, you go from a thriving town into desolate and extreme poverty. I didn't expect the difference to be so drastic. Haitians cross the border the sell things in the DR. The border isn't very secure. The people who have passports go through the official gate, but then there are also many people who just walk across a shallow river that is the border. Throughout Dajabon, there are military stops to attempt and control people who cross illegally and drugs, but their method of the checking seemed so superficial. Here, dark skin is immediately associated with Haiti, however, there are many dark complected Dominicans and I'm friends with two very light skinned Haitians. When we were get stopped at the military check points, we would roll down our windows, and they would look at my family, whose all lighter complected and let us go with out any questioning. All in all, it was a very eye opening weekend.

Two different people this weekend, asked if I was from Europe and I thought that was funny. :) One asked me if I was from Spain and another from France.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Least Favorite Place

There is this place on campus called Copy City and it is my least favorite place in the Dominican Republic, perhaps the whole world.

Most of my professors don't have books for us to buy, they have articles that we need to buy copies of. Sometimes they make you buy all the articles for the class at once, but some teachers make you go to Copy City weekly to pick up your articles.

It's horrible in there.

It's always so jam packed with people that you can't even move and you have to wait for the workers to call you number before they will help you. Then trying to explain what you want it another adventure. I never know what I want because my instructions are always this "go pick up the reading in the copy center". Also, depending on what day you go, you may or may not get the right articles.

For example, I, like a good student, went to go pick up my copies for Procesos on a Monday at 9am. The next day in class, my professor told us of a problem: any one who picked up their copies before 5pm on the specific Monday that I went to get mine bought the packet from last semester and thus the wrong packet. There were two articles missing from my packet and I had 3 articles that I didn't need. I then went in to exchange my unneeded articles for the correct ones, which was quite the adventure. The people at Copy City were never notified of the mix up and it was so difficult to explain what I needed. I was the first one in my class to try and exchange articles... I wonder how the rest will make out in there.

There is also extreme confusion concerning articles for Community Service as well. We all only bought one packet. Our assignment was to read it and write a one page response. When we got to class on Thursday, we realized that there were three different articles circulating around that people read and wrote responses on. I hope I read the right one. I only have one.

I have to go back there to pick up more articles. I really don't want to. I hate it there so much.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Saturday, we got a dog! His name is Poochi and is is adorable. He sleeps with me every night and follows me all around. My granda says he's my "hijo"(son) My mom calls him "paloma" (pidgon/dove) because he keeps escaping through the balcony, which makes me really nervous and blows my mind. He's very small and some how jumps from the balcony to the staircase and runs out. Twice, my mom and grandma have had to walk around the street and knock on doors looking for him. The first time, they found in him someone elses apartment and the second time in the church. Now, we have to always keep the balcony shut and locked. He is really cute though and I love having an animal in the house.


Sunday was the beginning of Carnaval month! Yes, Carnaval MONTH! Every Sunday for the month of February there will be carnaval celebrations all over the country!

This past Sunday, I went to La Vega. My friend Alex runs a tour that is more like a party bus. It's round trip to and from La Vega and open bar. It was so much fun to go with a bunch of Dominicans. I went with John and Susan and there were a couple people from Nebraska as well, but the majority of the people on the bus were Dominicans. My Dominican friends Milton, Alex, and Jorge, and some of their friends whose names I forget stuck with the three us most of the protecting us from the blows and letting us in on the best places to go. It was so much fun! There were a ton of people on the street eating, drinking, dancing. Also, there were people in costume going around swinging these very hard things to hit people in the butt. The men were begging the devils to hit them. Evidently, with enough rum, you can't really feel the blow... until the next day! I got tapped a couple times, and then I got one huge blow because one of the guys in my group said I had to experience it. One of my thighs is significantly larger than the other and black and blue now, but it's all in good fun! :) In La Vega a ton of streets are blocked off and in off of main streets are "caves" that have a DJ and there's a ton of dancing. When flags are spotted, everyone rushing to sides to protect themselves from the devils and, mostly men, but some women were there too, jump into the street so the devils hit them. It's hillarious to watch people so happy and laughing and then go into intense pain after being hit.

Evidently, the first carnaval celebration is nothing compared to what's left to come!

I plan on attending carnavals in Santo Domingo, Santiago, hopefully Bonoa, and La Vega again.

I've heard two explanations for this: to get the bad spirits out of you, and in honor of the slaves when they were beat in the sugar cane fields.

This month, I'm going to many lectures, interviewing Dominican folklorists, and attending many carnaval celebrations as well to learn as much about this tradition as I can. It's so interesting... and so much fun!

There are different characters in every city. La Vega has devils. Some were gorgeous elaborate costumes, I saw people covered head to toe in mud, and then I saw these incredibly scary devils. I don't even know how to describe them, but they were the scariest creatures I've ever seen!

Pictures from El Campo

Sorry it's blurry, but you get the idea of how pretty this place it. Vargas is my father's last name.

Monday, February 2, 2009

El Campo

This past Saturday, my family and I went out to the Campo (the country side) for the day. It was gorgeous. The Vargas side (my dad's side) owns land with horses, cows, a pond, guava trees, plantain trees, and a gorgeous view. His entire family was there and they were incredibly nice. His brother and her wife are hosting exchange students from a differnt program. Some of his relatives live in the states and were down here visiting.

We spent the day relaxing, eating, drinking coffee and wine, playing dominoes, and laying around. It was so peaceful out there and so beautiful.

My mom took home a bunch of guavas and made juice. yum yum yum.

I will post pictures soon, for some reason I am unable to right now.