Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Week with Casey

The rest of my week with Casey was wonderful and we were so lucky that it only rained right after we had finished an activity and never during.
We arrived in Santiago Monday night after a full day of diving and riding in a really cold bus and just went to bed. Tuesday, I had a pretty full day of classes. During my break, we went to my host family’s house for lunch and to just relax. We were both feeling incredibly lazy on Tuesday.
Wednesday after my morning class, we went to the Central Leon, which is a museum of Dominican art and anthropology. There is also a cigar factory, but by the time we made it through the museum, the factory was closed. Casey did buy a box of the cigars though. That night, we ate really bad Chinese food and went to bed early so we could be rested for 27 Charcos on Thursday.
I had so much the last time I did 27 Charcos that I just had to do it again. We had a blast! It was amazing though how much more calm the water falls were this time as opposed to last. Last time I went, it was right after the week and half of rain so the river was crazy. While last time I felt like I was going to die, this time I did not. That night, we also went to a liquor store/bar and a discoteca to celebrate my friend Adam’s birthday. The next morning when we woke up at 7:30am, we were really regretting staying out dancing until 2, but it sure was fun!
Friday we went to Charco de los Indios with my program. Only like 8 people signed up for the hike and it was so much fun. We went to the only monumental artifact left of the Tainos. It is in ruins, but you can still easily see that it was once a face. The place we went was considered sacred by the Tainos and it was absolutely gorgeous. Casey, Nathaniel, Erin, Kori and I figured out a way to climb to the top of the face. I’m kind of scratched up from it, but it was definitely worth it. The view from the top was wonderful. After the hike, we stopped at a place where you can find clam and tube worm fossils that are between 55 and 100 million years old. It’s amazing because we were way up in the mountains. The clams are from the time millions of years ago when the island was under water. It’s amazing to me how much the world has changed since it first began. Friday night, we went to Santo Domingo. We checked into our hotel at 11:00pm and fell asleep pretty much instantly.
Saturday, we walked around Zona Colonial for a couple hours before heading to the airport. Getting to the airport was a frustrating, expensive process that I’d rather not discuss because it makes me so mad. Casey barely made his flight on time, but now he’s back in Savannah. I sure miss having him here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sosua with Casey

Casey arrived on Friday and I love having him here! We had a wonderful weekend in Sosua snorkeling, laying on the beach and scuba diving! We did four dives in two days and had the best time ever! We had a very international group leading our dive, taking photos and giving instructions. Everyone was super nice and hillarious as well. Casey got his open water certification and I was finally able to do my deep dive for my advanced certification. :) While diving, we saw a ton of fish including a sting ray, a spotted eel and a gorgeous lime green moray eel. The coral was also gorgeous.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Playa Ensenada y Punta Rusia

Last Friday, CIEE took an excursion to the isolated beach of Playa Ensenada. The beach consisted of nearly white sands, a few people, and lots of great little restaurants serving fresh sea food and chicken dishes. The main reason why any tourist would come to Playa Ensenada is get on a boat and head out to "la isla". Everyone was talking about how great the island was and that you just have to go, so me and 10 others chartered a boat and headed out to the island which turned out to be a lump of sand in the middle of the ocean renting snorkel gear and selling rum and coke. It was paradise! The snorkeling around the area was absolutely gorgous. within the reefs, fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes were swimming about. Upon returning to Playa Ensenada, we were told to get ready to board the gua gua and head back to Santiago, but Stacey, Kori, and I were not ready to do so and with and decided to stay the night. We had no plans, no clean clothes, a little bit of money, and no knowledge about the area, but were convinced that it would be fun to stay.

We were walking down the street towards Punta Rusia asking around if anyone knew of a hotel and that's how we buddied up with Myra. She took us to La Tortuga, where she was friends with the owner and we were given a room for RD$700 (roughly US$21.00). We had to sleep three to a bed, but all in all we were extremely comfortable and happy.

We had to call our host families and let them know we wouldn't be coming home, but we had a problem: no cell phone signal. We asked the hotel owner if he knew where we could find signal and he directed down the road and up a hill which is the only place in town with cell phone service! On the way up the hill, we saw discarde phone cards giving us an indication that we were heading in the right direction and we did see other people on top talking on their phones. We had found signal. :)

When we returned to La Tortuga, we waited around for a bit for Myra was taking us to her friend's restaurant. This place was amazing! The food was so delicious (and I don't even like seafood, but loved this fish!) and the workers were extremely friendly. After we finished eating, we were lucky enough to get to listen to the owner tell us stories of his adventures fishing in the ocean and he said that sometimes he takes people out on his boat for the day.
After dinner, we were pretty tired, so Mrya and her daughter walked us home and after talking the couple that runs the hotel for a bit, we went to bed.

The next morning, while sitting on the beach, the hotel owner came out to tell us he had made us coffee and it was waiting for us in the lobby. Thank goodness we had that coffee because we sure didn't have money for food! We had to save every peso to get back to Santiago, which we were beginning to get the inclination that that would be an adventure in itself.
We had met up with the guys who took us out to the island the day before and they had a friend with a gua gua who was willing to come out a little farther past his route and pick us up at Playa Ensenada. We walked along the beach to find sea shells, some dead, but still cool sea life, and isolated white sand beaches with crystal clear shallow turquiose water.

We waited around for about and hour and half talking to Falto and Danny, the guys who found us our ride, and then hopped in a gua gua to La Isabela.

In La Isabela, we had to get on another gua gua to Santiago. On that gua gua, the people were again extremely. Every now and then we would slip into English while talking to eachother and were quickly reminded to speak Spanish so everyone could enjoy our stories. It was hillarious trying to explain ugly Christmas sweater parties and other themed parties where it's a theme to wear ugly clothes to the Dominicans who dress to nines for every social outing!

We made it back to Santiago safely, hungry, and very satisfied with our decision to stay the night in Punta Rusia. We had an amazing time and met some of the nicest people. I'm planning on returning in April for Semana Santa and I want to go snorkeling again, fishing, and go to the near by manetee reserve.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Carnaval Santo Domingo

Sunday, we met up with Lynne and Jacob and went to the national carnaval parade in Santo Domingo. It was amazing. There were groups from all over the country coming to show off their carnaval get ups. This was just a parade and we were in no danger of being hit. Even the on lookers were dressed up.

Many of the regions had costumes themed with something special about their region. Many coastal cities had a huge emphasis on marine life in their outfits.

It is impossible to try to describe, so I will just post a lot of pictures. Click on the photos to enlarge them and then just go back to view the rest.

El Violista en el Tejado

The Fiddler on the Roof translates surprising well into Spanish! Going to the theater was so much fun! We had second row orchestra seats. The music was all the same, just the words changed. Not everything translated exactly, but most of it was really close and there were some songs where I liked the Spanish version better.

It was so relaxing to relax and watch Fiddler, a show I know so well since I was in it my junior year of high school. Kori and Susan were a bit confused because they didn’t know the story at all, but Stacey and I followed all of it. Everyone loved it. The guy who played Tevye was so cute and the daughters were excellent as well as their boyfriends. The dancing was absolutely incredible! I loved it.

It was hilarious for us to leave the theater where everyone was dressed to the nines and on their best behavior and go back to Hotel Independencia.

Fiesta del Palos

I almost forgot to write a post about the Fiesta del Palos in Case de Arte Thursday night. It was so much fun! Palo drumming is an Afro-Dominican Religious ceremony that involves worshipping Catholic saints with incredibly lively music and dancing. The group mainly consists of three large drums playing complex rhythms and singing call and response songs. There isn’t choreography to the dancing. I was told to simply “feel” the music and then I’d know what to do. It was a great night of people of all ages and backgrounds dancing and having the best time ever.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Los Tres Ojos

Saturday after getting all settled in Hotel Independencia we went to Los Tres Ojos, where we met Martha and her boyfriend Francis as well. The park was gorgeous. The main attraction is the three lakes underground in a cave. There are indicators that the Tainos used this cave as well for healing, religious ceremonies, and as a hiding place from the Spaniards. There is something in the rocks that causes the water to be a really bright blue. In the lakes are fish and turtles as well. There’s a fourth lake, which is not considered to be one of the ojos, that you need to can only get to by crossing the third on a little boat. The path way between the third and fourth lake looked straight out of Harry Potter and Phantom of the Opera. It is the filming site for part of the first Jurassic Park movie. I was really excited to find a big Taino petroglyph, which no one believed me was real, so I called Lynne and she said that yes, the one Taino petroglyph in the cave is real and the one I saw. It was quite satisfying. Also, someone approached me and started speaking French to me. I must really give off a European vibe.

My guidebook said that this site is “mildly interesting”, but we were blown away by how pretty it was! Our description will include that it is the filming site of Phantom of the Opera and where JK Rowling got her inspiration for the 6th Harry Potter book.

"Hotel Independencia provides you with a towel and a bar of soap."

And that it did, but not much else. As soon as we entered our room, Susan, whose major is Hospitality and Tourism Managment yelled "This place is such a shit hole!" Our guide book said it provided a fan, a bar of soap, a towel, and some rooms even have windows (we were lucky!). It was extremely inexpensive, which made it quite appealing. It wasn't that awful. We had a place to rest our heads (well three of us had pillows) and were in a really good location.

Carnaval Vegano # 3 y 4

Sunday March 22 was the largest carnaval celebration in La Vega. There were so many people there and the devils just kept coming and coming! I did not get hit like I did the first time and this time for there were way more people to block me from the blow. It was nearly impossible to walk through the crowds. The costumes were absolutely gorgeous. We had to pay to enter the caves and therefore, did not. Nevertheless, Carnaval was a blast. I'm so sad it's over.

Friday, March 27 is Independance Day in the DR and therefore La Vega had one more carnaval celebration. Susan and I went with my Haitian friend Christine from sculpture class and two of her friends. This time, the masks were off, because Lent has begun, which made everything more scary because all of a sudden, they were people hitting us not devils. I got hit the most at this carnaval and it was so scary! We met one of Lynne's friends at a Fiesta del Palos the night before and ran into him at carnaval dressed up like a clown. While giving him a hug to say hello and then again to say goodbye, I was wallopped in the butt by an unseen devil. I have a huge bruise as a souvenir. I got hit a few more times after that, but not as hard. Standing at a beer tent, we made friends with tour American-Dominicans from New York and Boston, which worked out especially well when it started down pouring for they let us hide in their tent from the rain. It was POURING! The funniest image I have from the entire month of carnaval is tons of people cramming themselves into portapotties to hide from the rain.

Carnaval Santiaguero

The carnaval experience in my town of Santiago is one quite different from La Vega. First off, the costumes are not of devils, but of luchones, which are fantastical animals that appear to be a cross between a duck and a bull. There is lots of dancing, loud noises, and confetti everywhere. Instead of trying to avoid being hit by one of the things they swing around in La Vega, I spend the evening trying avoid getting confetti thrown in my face! The whips that they crack in Santiago make a terrifying noise, but they do not hit you, which is nice. All around the monument and the street of Calle del Sol carnaval was happening. There were people everywhere dancing and singing and whatching the parades. Santiago is famous for having a carnaval that has remained very traditional.