Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brooke and John Visit

I am experiencing a bit of post-family-visit-loneliness at the moment. I just saw my brother John and his fiancé Brooke to the airport after an amazing week of activity and adventure and good conversation: all things that are not part of my daily life in Judea Nueva. I am now sitting at the Hodelpa Garden Court outside of Santiago enjoying the pool, eating fresh strawberries, and yet, even the post-gym workout endorphins surging through my body cannot buffer against the dark cloud of reality sweeping in that tells me soon I will be back on a Caribe Tours Bus rocketing back at unsafe speeds to my home and “real life.” That is, life in the campo, a life filled with lots of mosquito repellent and water-fetching, and making up games with children, silly banter with the neighbors, talking to my dog and confidant Blue, in other words, a life I have come to love. But after a week of hot showers, gourmet meals, and time with family, you can see how going back to my little hut can be a difficult transition.
The trip could not have gone better. John and Brooke were the third group of friends/family that have come down to see and experience a bit of my life as a PC volunteer in the DR. My first visitor was Laura last November, then my parents came in May, and now John and Brooke. Each visit was unique and amazing although I have learned a good deal after each one and feel I am getting much better about not trying to do so much stuff in the trip that it ends with everyone being exhausted and wearing cranky capris. That being said, because this island is so unique and has so much to offer, I cannot help but want to show my visitor a sampling of the many things to do and see here. Poor Laura suffered the worst as I attempted to take her all across the island on different forms of public transportation, something I have gotten used to but forget that it can be intense for a visitor. Ma and Pa weren’t spared either as I thought going from Punta Rucia to Samana would be a doable afternoon drive, needless to say 7 grueling hours later we arrived and if it weren’t for being family, I’m not so sure we would still be on speaking terms. So with John and Brooke, I planned lots of fun things to do but tried to keep the driving to a minimum and felt that because I had been to all the places we had been before, question marks were kept to a minimum. We had a fabulous time and I think we did a nice mix of fun touristy things with seeing things through a local lens thanks to my status as a quasi Dominicana living in the dusty border town of Judea Nueva.
My favorite part of Brooke and John’s visit was the time spent in my campo. I learned that trying to visit everyone in town is very difficult when one has visitors because everyone and everyone’s cousin wants to meet the shiny Americans. When my parents were here showing them around my community in one afternoon left me stressed out and the neighbors we didn’t get to see were disappointed that they were not included on my tour. So, I planned ahead of time and organized a sancocho or Dominican barbeque of sorts in order to relax and hang out with everyone in one location. Sancocho is the national dish of the Dominican Republic and is generally served on special occasions because it feeds lots of people, it is too time consuming to be a weekday meal. It is a stew that slow cooks various classes of viveres or tubers, vegetables, and meat. Generally, different people will bring different ingredients so that no one family needs to bear the brunt of the cost. In this case John and Brooke offered to buy the meat, by far the most expensive ingredient. We bought four pounds of goat (my regions specialty) six pounds of beef, and six pounds of pork. The neighbors contributed carrots, celery, garlic, yucca or manioc, auyama (pumpkin), taoyta (chayote), yautia, and potatos. We started cooking the meat at 2 pm. China was in charge and she set up three broken cinderblocks, got firewood, and placed a huge pot with the seasoned meat on the open flame. China, Josie, and Luisa did the prep work and cooking and were very pleased and surprised that John had some knife skills up his sleeve and wanted to help. In this very machismo society, finding a man that is interested in cooking is rare, let alone one that cooks well. We helped cut up lots of vegetables and clean the caked-on mud off the tubers. By six pm the neighbors started showing up lured to my home by wood smoke and smells of goatporkbeef stew. I tend to forget that in my community people are not all friends, it is not that they are not friends, it is just that not everyone is on hang-out terms with everyone else. Therefore, my presence brings together people that would not normally socialize together. We set up lots of plastic chairs in my carport area and I was touched to see how many people showed up. It had to be close to 50, maybe more. Everyone got something to eat although I was quickly reminded I was in the DR when several neighbors took me aside to see if I could squirrel them away some extra sancocho to take home to their family who hadn’t come. They said if I asked and said it was for me no one would mind. What a pleasant task.
All in all, it was a really pleasant gathering and no one can say they didn’t get to meet my brother and Brooke because I invited everyone I could think of. I think that was one of my best moments in Peace Corps. Anytime you can successfully share parts of your life that are important to you it is a great feeling, in this case it was my American family interacting and experiencing my Dominican life.
After two nights in Judea Nueva where we did an afternoon at the gorgeous El Morro beach in Montecristi, we packed up and set off in our little blue Kia to the remote and gorgeous beach of Punta Rucia. The sleepy beach town is a hidden gem and because it is rather difficult to get to, it attracts little tourism. Most tourists that visit Punta Rucia are driven in from nearby resorts of Puerto Plata, experience the beach and then take the bus back home to sleep at the resort the same day. We found a lovely place to stay that was QUIET! Tranquility is something very hard to find in this country. The following morning we took a boat out to the adorable circle of sand known as Cayo Arena. The little island is visited everyday by groups of tourists who descend on it in order to snorkel and see beautiful coral and fat fishies. This was then followed by a high-speed boat ride through the mangroves whereby our boat capitan almost flipped our skiff trying to take a turn at Nascar speeds. Definitely worth our money. In the afternoon we checked out the gorgeous beach of Playa Ensenada lined with fish stalls and restaurant shacks serving freshly caught octopus, conch, fish, and lobster. We relaxed and read, watching the sunset. The next morning on our way out of town, I was able to fulfill a life-long dream of mine: seeing a manatee, my favorite animal. We took a boat out to observe the gentle giants in their natural habitat and were awarded with three sitings accompanied by our boat driver tapping the boat and chanting sube! sube! sube! sube! (comeup! come up! comeup! comeup!). In the most tranquil of spots, deep in the mangroves of the National park of Montecristi our boat driver had his headset on, listening to bachata and merengue, allowing us to have mood music for the manatee watching. Never a quiet moment in the Dominican Republic.
After Manatee watching I was in a bit of shock, how many people can say they have seen a manatee??? We headed to Jarabacoa, land of eternal spring filled with pine trees that offers lots of adventure opportunities. We decided on whitewater rafting for the following day. Super fun.

John and Brooke: Thanks so much for visiting and sharing in my life in the DR...Now its back to latrine construction

Oliver with the yucca

one of the two giant stew pots

Prep work outside

China Cooking the Meat in her Backyard

Washing the dirt off the yuca

Awaiting our water taxi at Cayo Arena

Sibling Love

The happy couple

cooking breakfast in my casa

Water taxi to the isla

high speed race through the Mangroves

Beautiful Punta Rucia

Brooke and I with our highspeed boat


John and I at sunset, leaving Playa Ensenada

Our Manatee guide, calling the sea cows to the surface

Happy as clams, posing like true Dominicanos, outside of the Manatee Park

Post Rafting High speed Guagua ride through Jarabacoa

John, Rosie, baby Brian and I at the Sancocho

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