All My Bags Aren’t Packed Yet…
By Guest Contributor on Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
Sharon Keld (Morocco 2006-08, Peace Corps Response Philippines 2009-10, Peace Corps Response Armenia 2011) will be the NPCA host on the upcoming Next Step Travel trip to the Dominican Republic. She’ll be sharing her experience with us via blog posts, Twitter (#nextsteptravel), and photos on our Facebook page. Sharon is a member elected member of the NPCA board representing Europe, North and East Africa.
A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) friend noted that I was packing for my Next Step Travel trip and emailed to ask me for an honest assessment when I get back; she’s thinking of going to Guatemala in the fall. I told her that I didn’t need to wait until I came back – I could tell her now to sign up.
First of all, the concept of Next Step Travel is enough of a selling point – traveling with other RPCVs, on a trip designed to reflect Peace Corps values. It provides a unique opportunity to see meet current Peace Corps volunteers and hear about their lives, their communities and their projects. We’re also visiting the country headquarters and meeting with the Country Director. We’re getting a chance to work on Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) projects or with NGOs that have partnered with PCV projects in the past. And we also have a good chunk of time for tourism, with beach time, hiking and sites of historical significance; I really think it’s a perfect balance. Plus we have nightly programs to further educate us on issues facing the country. It really does seem extremely well-designed. And I am very impressed with the Next Step Travel provider, Discover Corps. Their communications are clear and the staff is ready to answer any questions (such as, should I buy a disposable waterproof camera for the 27 Waterfalls - yes!). The head of Discover Corps, Andrew Motiwalla, is an RPCV, so he is particularly attuned to the desires of the target audience.
I also told my friend that if she signs up now with a partner, there’s a very attractive holiday discount! Even without it, I have been on similar alumni travel programs and feel that this one is a good value for the money.
I’m also very glad to be going to the Dominican Republic. In my pre-Peace Corps corporate life, I went to Casa de Campo on a business trip. I thought the beach was beautiful and the vibe tranquil, but also I felt like I saw only Casa de Campo and not the Dominican Republic. From my pre-trip reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a very interesting country. First of all, Columbus landed here and established a colony – to say the rest is history is an understatement. The fact that we’ll be seeing buildings from that colonial era – the early 1500s – including the first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere, inspires awe. Hispaniola has possibly a more checkered history than other Caribbean Islands, with the Spanish, French, English, independent Haitians and the United States all claiming it at some point, and with the Tainos who were there beforehand and some slaves who were brought in having an influence. Various influences are still at play, and the relationship to Haiti, which occupies the western third of the island, is still complex. There’s a lot more to this country than one might think at first glance.
From what I’ve read, the combination of cultures left legacies that include two very important aspects of the culture – baseball and music/dancing. I don’t know how much of either we’ll have a chance to see, but I’m looking forward to at least hearing more about them. The country also seems to have so much variety in its topography and climates – yes, there are the palm-fringed beaches of the imagination, but also the highest mountain in the Caribbean and a desert created by its rain shadow. We won’t get to either of those, but I’m already thinking that a return trip is in order! I’m also looking forward to trying some of the local cuisine –beans, rice, plantains, fresh seafood, tropical fruit.
And then my mind goes back to the Peace Corps aspect of the trip and to knowing that there are a lot of Dominicans who live in poverty and who want a better life. PCVs work in several sectors, including community economic development, education, environment, youth development, health and appropriate technologies. The 27 waterfalls was an Eco-tourism project developed by a PCV with quite a legacy – Joe Kennedy, great-nephew of JFK and one of the members of the incoming Congress. I feel good that my trip adds to the Peace Corps efforts in the Dominican Republic and therefore to its mission of world peace and friendship.
Okay, back to packing!
Take advantage of the special holiday discount being offered on Next Step Travel trips for 2013! Book by December 31, 2012, and bring a companion for $1,200 off a 14-day trip ($800 off a 10-day trip). Just submit the registration form with both of your names and pay the $395 deposit per person. Don’t worry! Everything is refundable if you cancel more than 60 days before the start of the program. There is no risk to submitting your registration and locking in the discount now! Find out more.