Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vida diaria

Now that my time here is almost done, I might as well give you all a glimpse into my daily life. I didn’t really have a routine until the second week of classes, which was the third week here. I meant to write this last week, but it’s obvious how good I have been about that. It’s hard to believe it’s almost time to leave. This week will be more studying and homework than what I am about to describe, but I will share my ideal DR week.

6:30 AM- I wake up, get dressed, and wait for whoever is in the bathroom. Then, I review my homework for the day until breakfast is ready. After breakfast, I usual have to grab my stuff and go to class right away.

7:45 AM- I leave for class. It’s about a 12 minute walk to Ayula III, so if I’m lucky I will be early. I have to walk around to gate three and show my school ID. There are only three gates and one is only accessible to pedestrians with IDs with the rest of the campus fenced off. It is very regulated and safe with the patrolled gates and gunned guachiman (watchmen) everywhere. 

8:00-9:40 or 10:10 AM- Depending on the day, the end time of my Literature class alternates, but I can never remember the schedule. I just go with the flow because the time on my phone is rarely right anyway. I have a twenty minute break after class to run to the student center, check my email and message, and sometimes grab a snack.

10:00 or 10:30-12:10 PM- Advanced Grammar and Composition always seem too long. There are only so many times you can learn the preterit tense. I decide in the morning when I am going to spend time online, so I either run to the student center after class or go straight home.

12:30 PM- First I have lunch, then do homework, blog, read or nap. La siesta, is really important everywhere except the US. Imagine business closing and people going home to have lunch with their families in our work-a-holic country. Plus, it’s too hot to do anything else.

3:00 PM- I usually try to do something before dinner, either going shopping and doing errands, hanging out with friends, or going to use the internet.

7:30 PM- Dinner time, if this early; like I said, I don’t often know what time it is. Also, I do Insanity with Lina sometime after 6. We’ve been trying to do it early, but it doesn’t always work that way. Before bed I read, relax, watch TV, or do whatever I didn’t do after lunch.

I try to go to bed at 11 or 12, unless I’m going out. Wednesday we go out dancing because it’s ladies night at a lot of the clubs. Almost every Friday and Saturday has been talked about in my blog, so what I do on those days is pretty straight forward. We go out on Friday and Saturday nights and everyone stays out really late on Saturday night…. Or really early, depending on how you look at it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Vacation from a Vacation

The Tuesday after Santo Domingo, Taylor left for Bolivia. She wasn’t able to get into the classes she wanted to take her and decided her time would be better spent in Bolivia with her friend. It was nice to have someone around while I was getting comfortable with the country and the culture. But Taylor, if you read this, man did you miss a great excursion!

I cannot explain with words the La Cueva de las Maravillas (Cave of Wonders). Unfortunately, I also cannot explain with pictures because photography in the cave is not permitted. Someone is obviously allowed to take pictures, just not everyday visitors. It might be just as well seeing how my camera reacted to the last cave experience. Click here to see pictures of the cave.

Isn’t it amazing? I really thought that it would be the highlight of the trip, but the entire trip was phenomenal. Our final destination on Friday was Bayahibe, but we made several stops along the way. The other point of interest was Altos de Chavón, a city that sits 50 meters about the Chavón River and looks like it was taken from 16th century Italy. I had to keep reminding myself that it is barely more than thirty years old. It was stunning. The city is populated by artists and a prestigious art school. I could not imagine going to school somewhere like that. I wish Central would start designing their buildings to look five centuries old.

Even though I was expecting Bayahibe to be a little more touristy, the hotel was quaint and nice. The ocean was maybe fifty yards from the hotel and I just wanted to dive in. Down the street we had a four course dinner that did not look happy to see me.

When I hear “fried fish,” I think of fish and chips before I think of an entire fish thrown on the grill. That was a first for me, but my only real problem with it was that it was a little dry. The restaurant was only open for us, and some local troubadours stopped by to play for us. The singer was very good and sang songs that I knew. 

We all wanted to go out to dance, but as it turns out, not every city in the country is big on dancing. There were two bars close to the hotel: one on the beach that closed at midnight and one that was supposed to be a dance club, but nobody was dancing and it was very small. We went in and shook things up by dancing for about twenty minutes before we vamanos-ed out of there (my Spanglish is getting so much better). We spent the rest of the night wandering around and chilling by the ocean.

Saturday was amazing and I spent the entire day in awe of the beauty of the ocean. Even though my waitress denied me pancakes for breakfast (when Mike got pancakes ten minutes later) and the entire way to the island I was dying to swim, I was happy. The sailboat ride was nice; I met someone from Flint, of all places. Seriously though, what is it with Michigan people and the Dominican Republic? I have met more people from the US from Michigan than any other state, besides wherever the mission group we met was from. Still, there have been more unrelated people from Michigan and I do not understand it. There are only eleven public universities and I have seven covered. /EndRant

I got very sun burnt on the island along with almost everybody else. I tried to combat it with Aloe, but I peeled anyway after a week. The bus ride back to Santiago felt never-ending, even though I passed out for the first hour. The three hours I was awake were uncomfortable and long. I planned to go out that night and got all ready, then fell asleep with the light on all dressed up on my bed while waiting. It was probably for the best because spending the day in a tropical paradise really does take a lot out of you. Speaking of being tired, I wonder if I have time for a nap…

Monday, July 9, 2012

La Capital

It’s been like three weeks, right? I don’t know why I’ve been so busy, but combined with the issues uploading pictures and the access to internet, I haven’t posted on schedule.

Side note: DON’T use Picasa to store pictures because if you have more than 200 pictures or 1 GB, they want you to pay. I switched back to Facebook because people wanted to be tagged in pictures anyway. I am very unhappy about it, but it’s time to move on.

What has three eyes, a long list of firsts, the voice of an angel, and pours out all it has? If you answered Santo Domingo, how smart you are. It is also home to the capital building, museums, and an aquarium.
Santo Domingo is a great place for anyone who loves history…. Which doesn’t happen to be me, but that’s beside the point. I like experiencing history and that’s what matters. Everything is “The First of the New World.” Santo Domingo is NOT the first place that Columbus (or Colón in Spanish) landed, but it was the first place he colonized (get it COLONized, funny how this things are realized).  Below are the map of the exploration route, and the map of my own route.

As I said, that Friday involved a lot of history, a lot of touring, and a lot of heat. We also did some shopping, but the prices were much higher than Santiago unless you bartered down. I didn’t really get the chance to do that much, but I will get what I want here for much less.

Santo Domingo was my third (that I can remember) Aquarium experience. I don’t think we have Aquariums in Michigan, but if they do I need to get to one when I get home to make it four months in a row.  It was pretty cool, better than the Boston aquarium (which I have yet to blog about), and interestingly open air.
After that I had a brand new experience when we toured the Tres Ojos caves. That was awesome, impressive, and beautiful. The downside was that I was fairly disappointed with my cameras performance. The lighting was just not on my side, but that’s alright.

While touring with ISA was all good and fun, the stories that will stick with me happened during the rest of the weekend. Ten of us stayed in Santo Domingo for the weekend to go to a concert. It was a bit more stressful and a lot more wet than I anticipated. Checking into the hostel was a mess and a half because of confusion over rooms. Taylor and I had booked separately, but after seeing the room we were supposed to stay in with a small fan and an outdoor bathroom, we weren’t that into it. I spent an hour trying to work out pricing and rooming with the manager. Luckily he spoke English and was very nice, but it still took him awhile for him to understand me. I think we still would be there debating it if I had to explain to him in Spanish. The owner did give me a thirty pesos discount after all the trouble instead of giving me change.
The hostel was not what you would typically expect. Four of us shared a room with a full size bed, a bunk bed, the smallest bathroom in the world, a TV, and air conditioning for $10 per night each. It was more like a motel than any hostel that I have heard of, but an amazing price. Granted, in addition to the check-in issue, we had to have our doorknob taken off because the key got stuck, none of our keys to the hostel entrance worked, and our water stopped working in the middle of our last night. The water part is ironic, because it rained buckets that night.

I have never stood out in rain that bad in my life. We arrived at the stadium three hours before the concert was scheduled to start on recommendation of my family. Taylor and I had different tickets than the rest of the group, so we were in the back half of the standing section on the field. The crowd was huge and had a ton of energy with their thunder sticks. It would have been a real great concert without the rain.

It rained a couple times before the concert started, but as soon as the opener went on, it began to pour. I could barely see the stage when Juan Luis Guerra went on. I was wringing my shirt out every two minutes to try to protect my phone (which hates it here and barely functions for anything) and my camera (which I forgot to put batteries in and was completely useless either way). The only way I could have taken pictures is if I had brought my camera (with batteries) in my waterproof bag. We decided to stick it out until the song “Como Yo” played and left the stadium right after.

It took an hour to get a cab between the large crowd leaving, taxis asking for 700 pesos (US $17.50), and no one wanting to drive gringas mojadas. It probably would have made just as much sense to stay, and had I know that JUANES(!!!!) was making a guest appearance, I would have just resolved to buy a new phone. I will probably be kicking myself until I see Juanes in concert.

Even though the taxi driver was not happy with us for making his seats wet, we reached the hostel successfully. After changing out of my sopping wet clothes, I joined Kara, Leandra, and some other people staying at the hostel for a long game of “Nunca en mi vida.” It was probably my favorite part of the weekend, because of the simplicity of it. Sitting on a covered patio, getting to know people, listening to the rain, and hunting down the mangos that rolled off the tin roof from the tree above…

The next morning I had the best mango for breakfast before checking out and heading back to Santiago.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Puerto Plata

The days here are long, but I don’t know where they go half the time. I am always tired and always praying for una briza. Yes, the girl who hates wind and air conditioning has now become a fan. Speaking of fans, I don’t know how I would survive without the one above my bed. In all seriousness though, I am still loving it here. Today there was an international fair outside the student center. It was a little delayed by a short downpour, as all rain showers occur here, but picked right back up after. There was dancing, performances, booths of places I’d love to go, and an American booth giving out PB&J. I’m not quite an expert at dancing yet, but I’m trying. My host brother is trying to teach me because he is much better. Here’s a riddle for you—what do dancing, Jesus, and the ocean have in common? They comprise how I spent my first Saturday in the Dominican Republic.

Entonces, let’s go back in time to last Saturday. Puerto Plata, or the port of silver, was a great first excursion outside Santiago. It took about an hour and a half to get to a place called Mount Isabel del Torros. There they have the only cable car in the Dominican Republic to take you to outstanding views, the smaller version of the Jesus statue from Rio, beautiful nature, and Dominicans trying to sell you things at tourist prices. There are pictures, some here and others in an album (click here), but I promise they don’t do it justice. You’re just going to have to go see for yourself. In the waiting area, there was also an authentic Dominican band which was awesome, even if they were just playing for tips. I will find a CD of the music before I leave.

We went quickly to the fort in Puerto Plata. I need to do more research on it, because we were a little rushed. By the time this is published, I will have more information, but for now I’m going to guess it has something to do with Trujillo. Everything in this country’s history either revolves around Trujillo or Christopher Columbus. (I was very wrong, here's some information.) After, we ate lunch in the supermarket, La Sirena, which everyone keeps calling a “Dominican Walmart.” I probably have heard that term over ten times since I got here. And because the locals are so eager to call it that, some of the Americans have started saying, “Do you want to go to the Dominican Walmart?” Anyway, there are food courts, banks, cell phone stores, and many other things besides groceries in every La Sirena. Though I really wanted to sit down a restaurant that serves seafood, I did eat four slices of Dominos pizza.

Another hour in the bus and we were at Cabarete. This is one of the most popular beach towns in the DR, behind Sosua and La Romana. It is well known for the international wind surfing competitions held there. Our group had a pretty empty part of the beach until about fifteen Haitians and Dominicans came by to sell things to us. We were offered fruit, rental chairs, drinks, massages, jewelry… and hair braids that I was literally forced into. The woman was not very happy with me when I said that I only had twenty pesos, but decided that would be the fee for the braid she had just put in my hair. A man also tried to sell us cigars while we were twenty feet off shore, however we were expected to buy and smoke cigars while swimming. Once you convince the people to leave you alone for a bit, the beach is nice. One of the ISA employees took me to look for shells and gave me all the ones she found. I now have an excessive amount for only my first beach trip, but it was fun and we did find some good ones.

It was an exhausting day and it took two hours to get back home, but Taylor and I still wanted to go out as we had planned. In retrospect, we probably could have taken naps because our brother didn’t come home until 10 PM to get us, but showers, aloe, and other things took priority. I may or may not have forgotten to put sun screen on my back at the beach, so I was a mixture of red and green. It’s turned into a nice tan by now and I keep looking at my arms unable to believe how tan I am. I was glad it was dark on Saturday though, so I looked less like a traffic light. It didn’t stop anyone from checking out the gringas, but I felt better about it.

First, went to Victor’s friend’s graduation party from PUCMM. The journey there between a broken down jeep and a lost taxi was difficult, but I had a great time. It was fairly similar to a graduation party in the US, but a little more fancy than I am use to. Maybe it would be more closely compared to a wedding reception. I should have taken a picture because it would be easier to explain. Around one o’clock we headed to the discotheque and it was packed. It remained crowded until around 3:30 AM. The music was interesting for sure; a lot of American music was played with a techno beat along with Reggaetone and some salsa music. The strangest point of the night was when I found myself dancing fast to “Someone like You” by Adele. Sunday ending up to be a very lazy day, since we stayed out until 5 AM and I woke up four hours later. It was a lot of fun though and I hope to do it again soon.
Well, that was my weekend in 1000 words or less. Tomorrow I am headed to the capital for two days! Hasta luego! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I Never Want to See My Luggage Again


Now that I finally unpacked my room on Sunday, I feel more equipped to talk about packing and travelling. For travel to a tropical environment in the summer it is rarely necessary to wear warm clothing… ever. See, I knew this but I thought, “Hey, maybe it will get cold at night.” I was wrong. Going off of the recommendation of bringing clothes you can layer, I brought a sweater, a fleece, a very light jacket, and a long sleeve shirt. These things are now packed in a space bag ready to return to the States along with a pair of pajama pants and a pair of sweat pants that I can’t visualize wearing any time in the next five weeks. This brings me to my first set of packing tips.

1.Buy space bags
a.You will save a ton of space in your suitcase
b.More importantly, you can put almost half of your clothes in a backpack (if you get the right  
sizes in space bags) and use it as a carry on that will have no weight limit and allow for other things in your bag. Also, if your bags get lost, you will have clothes

2.Look at the most extreme possible weather you could experience and bring only one piece of clothing to suffice that need. Everything else should be fit to the average temperature. The worst thing that could happen is that you have to wear something more than once, but I would have honestly preferred that much more than having 10 pounds of extra useless weight in my bag.

3.Don’t bring things that are not tough enough to maintain their own shape. Seriously, I would be happy to never see this darn woven hat again while I am lugging around nearly 100 pounds.

Travelling has been crazy and I was so glad to hit the ground in Santiago and realize I wouldn’t have to do it again for six weeks after customs. Customs in the Dominican Republic are a piece of cake. I was expecting a torturous experience, and maybe American customs will be, but I have weeks before I have to worry about that. Of course, all of it is in the back of my mind with each purchase. Packing, luggage weight, customs allowance are all floating around… in addition to the fact that more packing will happen as soon as I get home to leave for Mount Pleasant. This is a new worry on my mind because I just got a job on Monday and need to start training July 16th. Are my Dominican Republic belongings enough to start life in an apartment? No, probably not.

After a very long wait at the airport after spending the night before catching some sleep on the floor at JFK (Yes, I live a glamorous life), I reached my home stay at 4:30 PM. This was my first experience with “Dominican time” as I arrived at the airport at 11 AM and was supposed to be picked up at 1 PM by ISA. Here they tell people that they need to be there at American time if they want to have them there on time. Clearly whoever invented this term hasn’t met my family. The must have forgotten to put (TD) next to the pick-up time, but did give me time to get to know some of the people in my group. We gradually found each other by the ISA luggage tags and because we all looked American. I was very nervous to meet my host family, but they quickly offered me Coca-cola and hot duck (which I later realized was a hot DOG, not duck).

Here’s a couple parting packing tips and some pictures. If you are not planning on studying abroad and this post has completely bored you, hopefully you will enjoy the pictures. Next post will be about Puerto Plata, so stay tuned!

4.Wear/bring things that you won’t need to bring back. A lot of us brought clothes and other things that are on the verge of falling apart. We plan to leave those things here to make room in our suitcases for souvenirs and replacements. I hope not to bring back any of the toiletry items that I brought here if I am able to use most of it. My only warning is to be careful that your things will last as long as you want them because you might end up having to buy a replacement that you don’t want.

5.This is a small thing, but I would recommend bringing scissor and tape. These are two things that I don’t have, but have asked for several times. It would be nice to have my own.
Don’t exchange money at an exchange house or the airport. You will pay a fee, you will get ripped off. 

6.You can talk to local banks and find out if they have or can get the currency you want. I would suggest only exchanging enough for your first week then waiting to exchange the rest until you find a bank at your destination. Odds are very high that they will take US dollars.

Some of my new stuff
All of my clothes
Insect repellent that I should
 have gotten two of

On the bathroom wall in JFK