“Memorable and Informative” — Next Step Travel Trip to the Dominican Republic
By Guest Contributor on Friday, November 22nd, 2013
I must admit that I had some reservations about going on the National Peace Corps Association’s Next Step Travel trip to the Dominican Republic due to a heavy schedule the past few months. But I had made a commitment to NPCA to accompany the group leaving for the D.R. on November 11 and I wanted to carry out that commitment.
In retrospect, I’m not at all sorry I went along. This trip had to be one of the most exciting and informative experiences I’ve ever had. I traveled to the country with two other participants, Carole Hawkins and Lindsay Cocheran, neither of whom had ever served in the Peace Corps. Together we had ten action-packed days of Peace Corps-like experiences in a beautiful tropical country with the friendliest people in the world.
Our on-site host, Dr. Dave Addison, picked me and Carole up at the Puerto Plata airport while Dave’s son, Cameron, picked Linday up in Santo Domingo. Dave has a wealth of knowledge about the country and the culture of the Dominican Republic. Traveling with him was like taking a crash graduate course in history, community development, health, water and sanitation, education, environmental problems, and Dominican-Haitian relations. Because of Dave’s close relationship with the people across the island, we were able to do and see things which would never be available otherwise. We had an opportunity to work with Haitians on a garden in Asension, one of the poorest areas of the island, and see how the people are being exploited by overseas companies. We met with teachers and observed classes at “Project Dream,” a Montessori school in Cabarete, and we joined a family near the base for their Sunday evening dance. We also took the Teleferico (cable car) in Puerta Plata to the top of the mountain where we had an incredible view of the city followed by a tour of an incredible series of botanical gardens.
There was an overnight visit to the capitol city, Santo Domingo, where we received a briefing from the Peace Corps Country Director, and had a two-hour tour of the old Colonial District where the Spaniards massacred thousands of Indians in the 16th century and saw the fortress where Rafael Trujillo imprisoned his political opponents. We visited the Amber Museum and the Brugal Rum factory and later Lindsay and Carole had an opportunity to go shopping in the huge market area.
The next day, after a great breakfast, we journeyed to Mocca where we met with Aqua Pure, a company that makes water filtration systems and efficient stove systems which are distributed in the various barrios and bateys. After we returned to our camp at Las Canas we had a few hours to enjoy the beautiful tropical beach down the road.
On Saturday we traveled to the town of Yassica and then hiked to the village of La Batata where we learned about rural culture and agricultural practices. We had another delicious lunch at a mountainside cafe. In the evening we saw a documentary video about the life of Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps.
The following day was spent snorkeling in Sosua Bay from a small catamaran. Lindsay and Carole had an opportunity to observe three coral heads and a row of reef balls used for reef restoration in Sosua Bay, Afterwards, the ladies sunbathed on Sosua Beach while I went off to have lunch with an old friend who served with me as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone in the 1960s.
The visit ended as it began, at the Puerto Plata Airport. Without any doubt it was one of the most memorable and informative trips I have ever made. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of the Dominican people and I can’t recommend the Next Step Travel program more highly.
Learn how you can join future Next Step Travel programs in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala: travel.peacecorpsconnect.org.
Gary Schulze (Sierra Leone 1961-63) is a member of the NPCA board of directors.