Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dios mio keepin up on this blog thing takes time especially when sitting in front of the screen is the last thing I want to do. Nonetheless I've gotten to visit some pretty amazing places in the past few weeks. Most of them have been for research and in the process I've stumbled upon some real unique and secluded spots that most people traveling to this area (and locals for that matter) probably would/have not experienced. 

         Like I mentioned before my research is basically on opportunities available to women in communities that take on ecotourism ventures. In the past week I've visited three small communities en el campo otherwise known as the countryside/mountainside. Angostura, Los Calabazos, and El Salto, all of which are located in the region surrounding Jarabacoa and all of which are at different stages in development of ecotourism projects. Getting the funding for these projects and supplies and electricity to some of these places in the mountains is no small feat. Meeting the people that have plowed through the sometimes slow and lengthy process of building establishments (to "ecotourism" standards as well) that will generate revenue to benefit the local economy has been a treat. On my trip to Ebano Verde Reserve I met Rildes Sanchez and over the past few weeks I've had the chance to meet with him and discuss the ecotourism industry in greater depth. Being Dominican well traveled, and exceptionally knowledgeable on environmental issues specific to the region, I've gotten to hear a very well rounded explanation of the some of the cultural elements that factor into the projects development process. 

For example, there are some people in communities that have a hard time comprehending some of the ecotourism projects such as cabañas, restaurants, or trails take lots of time, dedication and patience and that they might not see the benefits for some time. That rarely is there instant satisfaction so community members do not invest as much as is possible to the projects. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Here are some shots of Reserva Ebano Verde that I took on our hike through the forest. 

July 12, 2010

            Today I met with Rildes Sanchez. He works for Reservo Ebano Verde y la Funcación Progressio en el Desarrollo del Ecoturismo en los Municipios de Constanza y Jarabacoa as an environmentalist. I first met him on a trip to Ebano Verde to hike through the cloud forest, talked with him on the trail a bit about his job and later if it would be possible to get in contact with some of the people he knows who do community based projects in ecotourism. I couldn’t have ever imagined that someone would be so helpful.

            For my research here in the Dominican I will be investigating whether working in ecotourism influence on women’s have access to resources that facilitate gender equality. He told me about a couple different communities surrounding Jarabacoa where there are small, community ecotourism projects taking place, who they work with, some of their networks, and expectations they have for the future as far as being self-sustainable. He also said he’d help me set up some time to meet with women and men working with these organizations and conduct some interviews. I’m really interested to learn more about what they’ve done and what their plans are for the future.

            Los Calabazos is community that has had some success with small ecotourism endeavors and is hoping expand their operations so that they are able to generate more money. El Salto is also another community that I’ll be visiting that collaborates with the people in Los Calabazos. Tomorrow I will be leaving for El Campo and spending the next few days living with a host family in the countryside of Manabao and on the way to Manabao I’m told there is an ecoagriculture operation called Los Dajaos which I would like to check out while out in the country. Its not ecotourism, but I’m sure a lot of the same principals apply to both kinds of endeavors.

            So what exactly classifies something as “ecotourism”?

 -Minimize impact.

 -Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.

 -Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.

 -Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.

 -Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.

 -Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

This morning I rose in Santo Domingo, and as I’ve come to realize where ever it is I am in the world, I instinctively put on my shoes and shorts, and started running towards the sea. When she came into view it was somewhat of a surprise that I naturally headed South to water, but then again it wasn’t more than two weeks ago I found myself longing for more of Hispanola and its coast upon returning to the states from a ten day trip to Haiti. 

This blog has been a long time comin’. I should have started it before I left for Haiti. I should have started it five years ago when I took my first trip abroad to visit my best friend Jess who was going to school in Aix-en-Provence. But all my travels up to this point, although many memories may be lost, have nonetheless shaped how I experience and consume culture. For this reason its priceless to have a good travel buddy because I’ll never be able to capture all the splendor that was, at a single moment in time, in a photograph just like I will never be capable of remembering all the ups and downs of traveling unknown territories. I came to that realization after backpacking in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with Megan, who continually reminds me of all the shanagins we got into, there and since we met in high school. 

Sitting in an air-conditioned hotel room for the last time before heading to Jarabacoa, DR-a pueblo situated in a mountainous region in the Western part of the country-and listening to blaring bachata rising up from el calle de la ciudad colonia, and attempting to journal online for the first time, I wonder why I’m in here and not out there. Perhaps it’s that I’ve become saturated in enjoying the nature of being in a new place and have an urge to explore it in a new way through writing. It’s amazing how I interoperate art in my mind even if it looks pretty rudimentary on paper. The music is quite tantalizing though and I’m tempted to venture a lado de la calle into the whirl of Dominican nightlife por un otro Presidente.  Our program directors weren’t kidding when they warned us of its higher alcohol content, as I’m toasty after just one cerveza. Que refrescante y peligoso! The beer just happens to be the coldest thing you can get here, and in the heat they manage to keep it so cold, an inclination as to the similarities in human priorities worldwide.

Enough rambling for now for I want to make an effort to recap some of my experiences, observations, and impressions of the past month, in order to catch up recording my adventures so its not all lost, and also practice my hand at writing in general which has never been a strength of mine. The music coming beneath the streets has turned from stereo to live drums and shakers, and the louder it gets the more I feel it just might lullaby me to sleep. At the end of my first day in the DR I have more than I can handle to look forward to. I think ill manage though, somehow. One strength however that I have managed to develop is a keen sense for being able to acclimate myself to new environments. Tomorrow I meet my new family, the beginning of my life in the DR for the next eight weeks.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled (am I’m sure my Mother back in Iowa would be too) to find out today that my host Father is a doctor. My recent and frequent episode of causing injury to myself has been a bit embarrassing. I don’t think I could have gotten this banged up though had I not been taking advantage of and enjoying various conditions I’ve encountered traveling to Haiti, California, home to Iowa, and back again, but to the sister country, the DR. Just looking down at my body now I count four bandages. Despite the fact that it may seem like I’ve become good at balancing out the spills, with two lesions on the upper left extremity and two on the lower right, my cloths hide that my left buttock and hip suffer road rash, among other scraps here and there. Alrighty then, I off to take to the streets. The music is calling my hips and feet.

This morning I woke up at seven to go for a short run and then hit Body X! before class at nine. Body X! is this awesomely old school gym that I’ve found to work out at a couple mornings a week. Its pretty grungy, nothing ever gets wiped down and the walls are decorated with posters of dudes on horse steroids. I’m really hoping to shape up a bit while I’m here if not just maintain. It should be too difficult though. The higher altitude is a nice good challenge and it’s almost a must to get out in the morning because it gets friggin’ hot. Also, my host Mom cooks some greasy, carb-loaded, food and when I don’t eat it sometimes I get the sense that she’s offended and that’s the last thing I want to do. For the most part it’s really healthy and pretty veg-friendly.

The other day at school we listened to a brief lecture on the history of the DR given by John Siebel. He quickly cover the pre-colón years to now but what I liked most was how he incorperated a lot of about Haitian/Dominican relations. The island of Hispanola is incredibly unique and the more I learn history I learn about tensions between the sister countries, more and more I’m beginning to notice and conceptualize things observing the interactions between people living their everyday lives. Similar to the U.S. immigration situation, as Mr. Siebel pointed out, the economy of the DR couldn’t function without the Haitian labor force. When I go for runs in the morning a lot of the people up early are Haitians working construction. Once in a while as I pass by people, instead of a “wow, mommy”, I’ll get a pleasant “bon-swah”, and I’m reminded of my time in Haiti earlier this summer and wonder how the friends I made there are doing.

After class I came home, relaxed, and took my time preparing an outline of my research topic to present to Christine, my program instructor, later in the day.  I was super exhausted because the night before I woke up constantly to itch the fifty mosquito bites that I had gotten the day before on our hike through Ebano Verde reserve. “Vase en pena!” It was worth it though! More on that later. It’s also just extremely hot here and at night sometimes too. No matter how much water I pour on my head, ice betides I drink, or popsicles I consume, I can’t seem to cool off.

I mentioned this a few times talking to a new friend I met at the gym Nicandro, and he made the ultimate suggestion of cooling off in the river. Jarabacoa is known for its rivers and so later in the day we did just that. We bought a bar of soap from a colmado (a little store where they sell various things and always have cold presidente) that was tucked away beneath brush and trees on the bank of the river. There were a couple other locals there just bathing and cooling off. There were two younger boys there just hanging out on the rocks and its always fun to strike up a conversation with random people I run into. Another thing about the people here is that it’s totally normal to just be with and talks to people you don’t even know.


Friday July 2, 2010

            I am taking this morning off from running or going to the gym. One, because I have Spanish homework to finish, and two, for the first time since I’ve been in the DR I’m experiencing diarrhea. I’m pretty sure I know the reason for it and so from now I won’t be buying the rest of the bag of Jonny Cakes from the roadside stands that line the highway leading into Jarabacoa. They’re about 15 inches in diameter and taste like a giant flour tortilla chip but they’re much greasier. I ate the last of them yesterday with a little bit of mayo spread. That any anything else deep-fried I need to do a better job of keeping to a minimum. There something fried at just about every meal from yuca to eggplant to arepitas. One green that I’ve been enjoying is the berro. I think it’s very similar to watercress but I’m 100% sure. My family likes to take the extra time and drive out to el campo (the country) to buy it because the water that drains into the berro fields isn’t as contaminated further out which makes for some very healthy and crisp green leaves. I’m not surprised that my journaling unconsciously turned to the topic of food right away. It’s probably because I haven’t had anything to eat yet and I am just enjoying tasting something new everyday. There’s not one food that I’ve been missing from back home.

July 4, 2010

            El cuatro de Julio en la Republica Dominicana! I woke up this morning from a night of camping at the base of a 40 ft. waterfall. The water that flows down from the mountains there turns into the Jiminoa River that meets the Jak River at the North end of town. Did I mention that Jarabacoa is known for its rivers?

            Stirring up last nights fire I sat next to a small American flag that I’d stuck in the sand and roasted mallows for breakfast to celebrate. It was perfecto. I got home about seven-thirty just in time to get some warm coffee and sneak my one-cig-a-day smoke that I’d missed the previous night on the roof before my host family and I left for el campo at eight. The nine of us piled into the Toyota Camry and drove South out of town up in to the mountains for a day in the Jak, way far up-stream from town and for the most part pretty clean. El campo is like the equivalent of the country here, made up mostly either extravagant houses typical of anyone who can afford materials and labor in the middle of nowhere or the very modest wooden houses of those who farm the mountainous terrain. At night sitting out on the roof its obvious there are mountains in the distance because of the lights of little cabañas scattered higher up en el campo. For about 400 pesos or eleven dollars a night you can rent a cabaña and enjoy la fresco y tranquillo air out and up away from the loud noise of town.

            After spending the morning swimming we hiked along the river and over a wooden bridge that looked like something out of a national geographic article on Patagonia. A couple of the local kids that we had been swimming with took up a winding trail in search of mango trees. We ran across a small farm to meet a farmer and his two sons who showed us where a mango tree that still was bearing fruit was as its pretty late in the season. He also showed us the gas that they used for cooking that they got from the methane produced from the pig waste.

            I have a newfound appreciation for my host mom. As I was wondering this evening I found her sitting outside on the patio patiently listening to those guys who walk door-to-door in pairs speaking the world of Christ. I think they are Mormon, but I am not sure. Anyways, I mentioned to her how nice she was for taking the time to talk and listen to them because most of the people I know, myself included, wouldn’t make the time to listen. She’s catholic but explained to me that anyone speaking the word of the Lord she listens to. Personally I haven’t found a place for Jesus Christ in my everyday life. However, I am amazed at the respect that she showed to those two people who believe something completely different and was willing to make time for them and give them a glass of homemade juice with ice-a very delightful treat in the heat of dusk. She also bought an Internet cord today so now I can work from my room instead of having to pay for Internet at a café down the street. You rock Marisol!


July 9th

            This I let the ants that had taken over the kitchen in the night bite at my feet while I made coffee. I needed it and it was worth the waiting to put on sandals if I meant I got coffee sooner. I woke up throughout the night I think because I had spent so much time the day before thinking about my research project that I wasn’t able to get it off my mind when I slept. Damn. I was hoping for a good night sleep because I’ve got a lit. review due by the end of the day, a test at eleven, and a meeting with my Spanish professor to get help translating my interview questions at nine. Regardless, I’m looking forward to another day in Jarabacoa. I was only hoping that I would be done with my assignment by now so I had the afternoon to spend with my little sisters Rocio and Massiel working on their bikes. The houses are packed in pretty close here. My room is in the back of the house and one of my windows faces the backside of our neighbor’s house. We’re literally five feet away from each other and I usually smile and wave even if I'm in my bath towel because it just seems like the courteous thing to do not to ignore someone who I’m making eye contact with. Anyways, the grandpa is always outside wondering around the five square ft. plot examining the various vegetable plants that are growing up and around the house. Just touching the leaves and giving the plants the love that they need to grow; something that often gets forgotten or thought of as trivial when attempting to grow something. This morning he was investigating a small cap gun.