D is for Divine, R is for Respite: My Dominican Republic Trip

3 Apr

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been a bit bad about updating the ol’ blog lately, which is damn shame since a LOT has been happening.  You got to see how Kenz and I whooped it up a couple weekends ago, and that came on the tail of my family visiting me in CO (finally learned to ski!) and my trip up to the Northwest to see the sights in Seattle I didn’t get to enjoy while there for Thanksgiving, and I also finally got to visit the great state of Oregon and the city of Portland which people have managed to keep weird, as you can see here:

Just another one of my famous "jump" shots

Along with all of the trips and fun, I’ve been non-stop with school along with my school-related jobs as a teaching assistant and writing tutor.  Working with undergrads has proven interesting -but more on that later.  It will take a special post to do justice to all of the entertainment (and gray hairs) they’ve given me.

I finally got a chance to really cut back and relax this past week over spring break.  I don’t think words can describe how happy I was to have this built-in break back in my life again.  It gave me the fantastic opportunity to visit the lovely Kayla and Jason Burkhiser Reynolds who have been gone out of my life for the past year doing wonderful work with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.  Since I hadn’t taken a trip out of the country since visiting China at the tail-end of college, I had plenty of pent-up wanderlust to burn, and I couldn’t very well pass-up the opportunity to travel somewhere where I already have hosts/tour guides/translators just waiting for me to come visit.

I began my adventure the Friday before spring break officially started (why not cheat in one more day?).  I spent most of the first day traveling and arrived in the capital, Santo Domingo, at 2 AM on Saturday morning.  I was on a plane with a bunch of people from New York City who were visiting family, so it made it pretty easy for Kayla and Jason to spot me . . . because of the spring fedora I was wearing, you see.  Not because I should be recruited on to Pale Force. 😉

After getting a few hours of sleep, Saturday was spent touring Santo Domingo.  We were staying in the Colonial Zone (or La Zona Colonial for those es-pan-ol speakers) which is the area of the city settled by the likes of everyone’s favorite STD-ridden a’hole, Christopher Columbus.  Despite the connection to one of the biggest douches who ever existed, this part of the city is chock full of beautiful old structures and streets.  It seems that everywhere we walked we ran into old buildings like this one:

Gives me goosebumps to think about what kind of historical events may have happened here

Right down the road from this particular building, we stopped at a cigar shop to get some fresh hand-rolled cigars.  I have an inherited love of cigars from my dear Grandpa Doug, and I was able to buy him a very nice box of them in honor of his retirement this past month.  Jason, being Jason, got really chummy with the resident cigar roller and got a special one rolled just for him.

 Of course, we got ourselves some to smoke on the beach -but more on that bit of wonderfulness later.

One of my other favorite parts of the day was getting to meet Mama Nini.  Mama Nini was Kayla and Jason’s host mother for a while when they first came to the D.R.  They stay with her almost every time they’re back in the capital, and she was kind enough to want to fix lunch for us.  She fed us shrimp, rice, fried veggies, and tamarind juice (which is freaking amazing, by the by) and we played with the puppy who’s living with her now named Okie Dokie.  Sitting out on her back patio enjoying the food underneath an avocado tree was absolutely delightful, and helped put me in full Vacation Mode.

Jason with Mama Nini

After getting a bit tipsy on mojitos and sangria on Saturday night, we spent Sunday morning traveling to Kayla and Jason’s volunteer site, which is in a rural community (called a “campo”) outside of a town called El Seibo.  After traveling by bus to El Seibo, to get to the campo we had to ride on motorcycles driven by men who are for hire to take you wherever you need to go.  Even with my roll-along bag, my driver wasn’t even remotely daunted by the prospect of carrying me as well as my luggage on several miles of dirt road.  The drive there in fact, turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip.  Since I was just riding along I was able to take in all of the amazing scenery.  The rural areas are so beautiful and green and are filled with low mountains, and of course, palm trees.  Here’s a view of the landscape from Kayla and Jason’s yard:

Note the perfect little Dr. Seussian trees along the top ridge of the hills.

I did more than a little hammock-laying while I was there, not going to lie.

My shoes match the house!

Kayla and Jason have really become a part of their community in the campo.  Kayla and I took a long walk, and it seemed that everyone greeted her and knew who she was and was happy to see her.  My favorite was getting to meet some of the little girls who Kayla has been working with.  They very adorably introduced themselves to me in Von Trapp family fashion by stepping forward with their hands behind their backs and stating their names and that it was nice to meet me.  Freaking. Adorable.  We also had several visitors to the house who stopped to chat for a while.  One older gentleman informed me (in Spanish, of course) that I would be marrying his son.  He assured me that I would be very happy with him.  (You’ve heard my dating stories -I’ve had worse offers.)  All-in-all, they live in a very kind and welcoming community.  Kayla and I even got our nails done for free!

You know those scary long painted nails at most nail salons? That's the kind of patterns Kayla and I got.

On Monday, we traveled to the beach town of Las Galeras in the area of the D.R. called Samana.  To put it directly, the beach there was Paradise.  I was blown away by how perfect it was.  Crystal clear water, palm trees, mountains in the distance, beautiful sand -it was the whole package.  We even rented chairs under a tiki-themed canopy so we could sip our cups of Presidente beer and smoke our stogies in the shade, if we wished.  Here’s some visual:

Jason needed a bit more sun

Green with envy yet?

Kayla and I blew through the Hunger Games over the course of the week, so that mixed in with all of the lounging and relaxing worked very well for me.  I also got to meet some of Kayla and Jason’s fellow Peace Corps volunteers since some of them were in town to get their scuba certification.  We were able to watch them in their lessons right from our chairs, and we were even nice enough to get off our chairs and swim near them.

Besides the reading and the swimming, we of course took some time to take some sexy beach pics.  Apparently, along with any  narcissistic 16-year-old you could find, people from the Dominican Republic love to take sexy pics on the beach.  We complied with this tradition, and I got the perfect opportunity to show this island nation what Ali Sexy is made of: sheer, unadulterated awkwardness.

Oddly bent legs: check, sticking my stomach out: check, contorted torso: check, unattractive facial expression: check.

Ultimately, we ended up doing a very good job of making the trip fun as well as thrifty, and our “fancy” night out, while more expensive than some of our other meals, was not bad.  This was especially awesome because the place we went, El Cabito, landed on my Top Favorite Restaurants list not even five minutes after we arrived.  El Cabito is the kind of place you think only exists on movie sets.  It’s that awesome.  Check it out:

We sat at the table on the far right

Restaurant on a cliff

Our view to the west

El Cabito ledge

If the location and view wasn’t enough, the food was awesome as well.  I’m all about seafood, and they had plenty to offer.  They also had several other kinds of dishes to choose from, if you’re not a fan of the fishies.  Another feature of the restaurant that I loved was that it featured a full bar and sitting area with a couch underneath the canopy if you just felt like stopping by for a drink. If I were you, I would get myself there between January and early March to watch the thousands of whales that come to spawn in the bay.  I would have loved to see this natural phenomenon, but really, it was a little hard to be disappointed with a place that’s so beautiful.

After four days in Las Galeras, we returned to Santo Domingo for my last day in the country.  Part of the day was spent on the bus, but we were able to squeeze in a few more sights as well as a lovely dinner along the water.  I didn’t get picked up to head to the airport until 11 PM, so we spent my last few hours chatting on the roof over beer and one last cigar.

Drinkin' and smokin'

It was hard saying goodbye, but I was comforted by the fact that Kayla and Jason were really excited about getting going on one of their main projects -building stoves for their community -and the fact that they are already making plans for what they’ll do when they return to the States in May 2013.  It seems a long way off, but time keeps going faster and faster, so it will be here before we know it.

Pt. 2 – Returning to the Real World

Fast forward several hours to me at JFK Airport in New York.  Let me tell you, after sitting on a beach all week drinking out of a pineapple and the fact that I now live in a mountain hippie town, I wasn’t really prepared to deal with any kind of stress.  Add to this the fact that JFK is a terrible place filled to the brim with rude, unprofessional assfaces, and you have an Ali who is just waiting for the opportunity to spew vitriol so venomous, it would make the most seasoned New Yorker cry on the spot.  After receiving a condescending comment from a customs agent, getting turned around due to the lack of signs and ridiculously-named terminals (I was in the area for terminals A and B, but I needed terminal 2 . . . what the eff happened to C or D??), watching a security agent tell people who were waiting for their baggage to “get out” of the area, and hearing a TSA agent complaining and cussing like a 13-year-old while holding up the line for body scans, I was about ready to take someone down a peg or fifteen.  I had just gotten to my seat to text my mom how much I hated the place, when the announcer for our gate let us know that they “couldn’t find our flight crew” and had to delay the flight.  Right as that happened, a pigeon sauntered right by me  as if it had every right to be there (pigeons are the only animal on God’s green earth besides centipedes and big fat houseflies that I wish would just fall over dead).  I wanted to burn the place down and squat on the ashes.  I tell you all this as trip advice.  Apparently JFK already has a poor reputation, so if possible, fly into La Guardia the next time you want to visit the Big Apple.  Just my humble little opinion.

Once I finally left Hell, I made it to Detroit-Wayne just in time to make my connecting flight.  However, I was called up to the ticket counter since they had oversold the flight and wanted to offer me a voucher for $400.   I wasn’t about to pass up a free trip, so I took it in exchange for leaving a few hours later than expected.  This left me with a lot of time to kill.  Besides starting Girl With A Dragon Tattoo and making several calls, I wandered around making a couple dorky videos. And with a little help from Kenz you can now enjoy them!

I hope this encourages all of you to take a trip to the D.R. sometime soon.  It’s a cheap way to get out of the country and enjoy a very beautiful place.  Or, at the very least, I hope I saved you a terrible layover at JFK.  Either way, you’re welcome.


One Response to “D is for Divine, R is for Respite: My Dominican Republic Trip”

  1. purplecrayondraws April 4, 2012 at 4:48 AM #

    Ali, just post the video to youtube, and then link the youtube URL to the blog. Magic to behold!

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