Corazón Atento

I Peter 3:15 Msg
(NVI – también)
Msg:  Through thick and thin, 15 keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, 16 and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.
NVI:  15 Más bien, honren en su corazón a Cristo como Señor. Estén siempre preparados para responder a todo el que les pida razón de la esperanza que hay en ustedes. 16 Pero háganlo con gentileza y respeto, manteniendo la conciencia limpia, para que los que hablan mal de la buena conducta de ustedes en Cristo, se avergüencen de sus calumnias. 
dscn1960

“Los Politicos”

Corazón Atento 

All is tranquil and calm, expectant, but content. “Los politicos” are taking their ease at stations around the buttercream courtyard. A few are huddled together, curled in the shade of the king tree on cement pavers dislodged by roots harnessing the power of earthquakes. Others lazily clamber over the picnic table checking the remains of the food bowls while still others tumble together cuffing and nipping each other in play and practice.

“Ven politicos!” a voice rings out, strong and sure, gentle, but in charge. As with one mind, a river of cats arcs to follow, all other actions instantaneously left behind. The artist chuckles as he strides across the courtyard, “I call them politicos because they’re like a congress with marginally greater sense.”  He hasn’t brought food at this moment, but the stream converges nonetheless until he waves them back to their positions.

A cavernous room of stone, cool even in the early afternoon heat whose unframed openings set high in the walls permit the playful caribbean breezes to criss-cross through – teasing the occupants gently and preventing the air from growing stale, appears much better suited to its role as overseer of creation instead of guardian of punishment. Inside, the living detritus of sculpture, canvas, forms, and tools rests with haphazard intentionality against nearly every junction of floor and wall.  Two oblong work tables serve as twin foci for the room. creamsicle kitten 2One is tucked back into shadow at the moment. On the other, a creamsicle striped junior cat stands and arches her back as the artist approaches to give her a few pats while chatting with his apprentice. Even though the artist’s attention is clearly divided between the kitten and the other occupants of the space, the kitten is 100% focused, trying to twine ever closer to the gentle hands of rescue and preservation.

A small book and wooden rule clatter to the floor, interrupting the artist’s words. “Princesa,” directed at the cat, “I understand it was a mistake, but no más.” He admonishes as he retrieves the casualties of teenage feline adoration and then follows up the scold with a gentle pat or two knowing full well it won’t be the last moment requiring absolution.

The devotion of “los politicos” strikes me. Is that what it means to have an attentive heart? To remain occupied, but always alert; waiting, expecting, relying on the call of the master, the caretaker, the adored one?  Is that what it means to honor?  To love?

~Selah~Creamsicle kitten

Soundtracks of Life Revisited

Birth of a song

A friend of mine used to joke that she wished she had a band or small orchestra that would follow her around like in the golden age of musicals so she could just burst into song or dance and have an accompaniment uniquely attached to her life. It always made me laugh affectionately, and beg to disagree.  But then I hear a song on the radio and instantly I’m back in my college dorm room dancing with roommates to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun;” or walking into my first club in Japan to the strains of “Heya;” or thinking of romances long-since fizzled out to “Crazy in Love;” or excitedly driving one of the many highways criss-crossing this country on to the next adventure accompanied by Evanescence.  We do all have a soundtrack to our life, even if it doesn’t take the form of strolling minstrels or personalized orchestras. 

 Last week I  had the privilege of revisiting one of the artists that made up my own past soundtrack when I saw Chrisette Michele live at a theater in my town. I’ll admit, I wasn’t cruising her website looking for tour dates. In fact, I only actually own her first album so far, although every now and then one of her newer songs will show up on my Pandora feed. But, I happened upon a groupon for tickets to her show and thought it was one show I’d hate to miss. The first few people I asked to join me hadn’t ever heard of her and were less-than-thrilled about the prospect (their loss), but finally  I found one of my friends who shares similarly eclectic music tastes to mine and when I spur of the moment asked if she was interested she was all in. So, groupon purchased, we braved the crazy cold and latest snow storm to attend the show. 

For me it was an experience that absolutely submerged me back into the sometime of my past. I happened upon Chrisette Michele’s first album after walking into a music store and dscn1526asking what was currently playing – two of my favorite artists have entered my life in that same way. After purchasing “I Am”, it quickly became one of my standby favorites.  I have frequently jammed out to it during solitary road trips brought on by military PCS’s and post-military moves literally from east coast to west coast, and then repeatedly cruising up and down California’s Highways between the central coast and the Sacramento area during grad school.

I fell in love with the album during my own past love story. I’d even picked out a few of the songs to be sung or played during dancing at my wedding (which hadn’t even entered the picture when the CD first arrived on scene.) The positivity and purity of her lyrics combined with the uniqueness of her voice had me hooked.  The other half of my love story would sometimes tease me for not responding to texts or phone calls because he knew I’d been blasting my music and singing my heart out in the car on the way up. Chrisette Michele’s album was one of my favorites and became even more so once I did finally have that ring and the wedding became a legitimate future for me. It spoke of hope, it thrilled of love, and as my friend said tonight – the music smiled. It was the perfect soundtrack for that stage of my journey.
dscn0741

I stopped listening to the album a few years back.

It was becoming a hazard to my health since every time I put it in on the road, many of the songs would cloud my eyes, blinding my vision with tears and making me an unsafe driver.

You see, my perfect love story didn’t actually turn out the way we hoped, but not for lack of desire on either my part or my husband’s. We were married, we did live together and united our lives, but we never got to dance to the songs I’d picked out in my head during those long drives dreaming. Midway through our journey, brain cancer reared it’s ugly head and ravaged him, eventually taking his life after far too short a “forever.”

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself crying my way through much of the concert even though I enjoyed her performance immensely. Songs like A Couple of Forevers, Be OK, and Golden  just touched too many heart strings and flashed too many scenes from the past for me to not be affected emotionally.

Soundtracks do that to you; it’s part of their beauty.

emotional-music

One of the things I enjoyed most about the concert though, was seeing how Chrisette Michele had changed and matured as a singer and, it appeared, as a woman. Throughout the performance she shared snippets of her own journey between “I Am” and this tour; love lost then regained, fighting fear, struggling with self-doubt and so on. I hadn’t heard her new album before the show, but I could tell which pieces were a part of it. They were deeper, in some ways rawer (if that’s a word), and even possibly richer than the first. 

I know growth and change is supposed to be part of every artist’s journey, and I’m sure it is. Last week’s concert however, was the first time I had the privilege of witnessing it in quite this same way. I think, and hope, that I too have exhibited some growth, maturity, and change through all of my own hurts and curveballs. The change I saw in this artist’s new album sparked my curiosity and made me wonder if her latest music and her music-yet-to-come might also contribute to the future soundtracks of my own life. 

I’m not the same person I was when I first happened upon her music. I’m still growing, still hoping, still trying to find my way, and apparently still fighting the demons of grief and loss in certain moments. Chrisette Michele’s latest offering reflects that life-growth, acknowledges the life-struggle, and celebrates her coming into her own at this point in her journey. Even if the events being soundtracked and the backgrounds she and I come from are vastly different, still I left the concert feeling an almost kinship. 

We are women. We have hurt.

BUT, we have also survived and we will thrive – no matter what.

                    Let’s see where we go from here. 

 mix-tape-love

Straighten up and fly right…

lockheed_c-130_hercules

On lessons learned late…

Ever have one of those moments when you realize you were super slow on the uptake? I have had ever so many of them. It’s like I have all these awesome teachers and life lessons from mentors/leaders/friends/etc, and yet somehow the message never sinks in until I’ve royally screwed something up. This is a pattern I have. It’s been going on for years.  Of course, the first time I really became aware of it was a shock to me and came from my mother.

I was in Nav School, and I think I’d had my first (or only?) failed check ride. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure it came during the radar phase of training, phase three. I was on the phone talking to my mom about it, hoping she’d cheer me up and instead, these words came out.

“You can’t just slide by in this like you did in college. You’ll fail. This is real life here.”

Wait, what? How could she say something like that? What was wrong with my college career? I’d been super on top of things my first two years. Perhaps even in over my head a bit what with crew, ROTC, band and choir, a work-study job, and an overload nearly every quarter. What did she mean slip by? I worked my tail off – staying up to finish projects till midnight then getting up at 4am and hitting the river for 3 hours, coming back, going to work, then class, then homework, right up until midnight the next night. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Of course, once I knew my ROTC place was secure, had received my scholarship and stipend, and then determined that I’d get an aircrew assignment after I graduated; I’ll admit, I did slack. Too mudiploma-pixabaych. I loved and respected my primary professors and thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter of my major and minor courses, and yet, they were easy for me. So, while I worked hard-ish on my few remaining core courses, I’ll admit, I took advantage of the ease of the Spanish and communications courses, and of my professors’ good faith based on my earlier performance in their courses. Still, my mother shouldn’t have known any of that, I’d never given her details.

My second “lesson learned late” moment came near the end of my Air Force career. I chose to separate honorably. I’d served my time, and opted out of an assignment that was just a bit too late in coming. Of course, my aha moment came a little bit before this, maybe 6 months to a year earlier.

I had somehow ended up on the fast track to a good Air Force career. I didn’t consciously intend to end up there, but I had taken my mother’s warning to heart and repackaged it as “straighten up and fly right.” So, as I had never been one to back down from a challenge that was handed to me, and  was a people pleaser who in some ways lived to serve, I did well in the military. However,  I was probably one who over-volunteered and had a pattern of doing so.

On the second day of field training (the officer’s version of basic), I found myself stepping up to take over the position of Flight Physical Training Officer when the cadet who was intended for it injured his back and had to withdraw from training. Our Officer in Charge (OIC) called us all together and told us what had happened and then asked for a volunteer to take over. As you may imagine, crickets. He asked again, and then again, and finally, I rolled my eyes and said I would do it. I was not cut out for it truly, and I think my OIC knew this, but when he asked if I could handle it, strong rower that I was, I said I could. I was fit, sure, but didn’t really know how to train others. He gave me the benefit of the doubt and the group PTO who happened to be assigned to our flight helped me out a lot. A week or two in though, another cadet emerged as far better prepared for the job and he took over while I moved on to something else.

Later, after arriving at my second permanent base after flight training, I was moved quite quickly from just being one of the squadron navigators to flight commander (CC) for 11 of the guys. I happened to be one of the more senior navs in the squadron, so while it volunteers-pixabaycaught me by surprise, it wasn’t all that unexpected. My mentor in this case gave me the bare minimums of a briefing on what was required – showed me how to use the computer software needed to manage the paperwork that went along with the position, imparted his impressions of my guys and then took off for another duty title. I lasted a few months and did fine from my superiors’ perspective, but when a position for a squadron executive officer opened up I asked for volunteers from my guys as instructed. When none appeared, I again stepped up to the plate martyr-like and took what I knew was a not-very-desirable-job from the flyer’s perspective.

Similarly, after the squadron drawdown due to BRAC was underway, my boss came to me and asked if I wanted to be the Wing Air Force Assistance Fundraiser Officer. I absolutely did not, but again, my eager to please and live-to-serve attitude kicked in and I accepted. It was just as tough as I’d imagined, but I managed to do well enough to later be offered a position at the group level doing a lot of the same things I’d been doing as a squadron exec. Again, I worked hard, but I got so caught up in the details that I was taken aback a year later when my boss came to me and said he was bringing up another airman from my squadron because he wanted to be able to mentor someone who intended to stay in.

That comment finally made it click. I’d been doing all the things a good follower should do, and somehow performed well enough in the leadership positions I was given to please those above me. But, the heart of the positions didn’t reveal itself to me until that conversation. As a leader, it wasn’t really my job to be volunteering for all the “un-wanted” jobs. Instead, I should have been getting to know my own people and grooming them for or sometimes pushing them into positions that while not necessarily flyer-desirable would be good for their growth, fit them, and benefit their career. Leadership isn’t just about being able to “straighten up and fly right,” it’s about taking time to mentor, to learn about, and then to encourage in the right direction.  I’d learned all about leadership during ROTC in college and field training, yet somehow, I didn’t truly comprehend those lessons until it was almost after the fact.20160709_120136

More recently, I recognized a missed lesson when I started a creative writing course after grad school. I was a media communications major in college with a focus on video production. As mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed the material we covered in classes. It was very practical, hands-on, and fun. I especially loved being behind the camera – framing, calling shots live, and editing after the fact. My final project for video production was to make a short film. The idea (I now realize) was to apply everything we’d learned over our four years from story-boarding to screen-writing to selecting actors, directing production, filming, and then finally editing in post-process.

I decided to do a music video to one of my favorite songs, Be Still by the Newsboys. I took a video camera with me on a trip to our family farm in Nebraska and filmed some scenes of my sister and cousin in the snow. I think I forgot the story-board part, or did it after the fact. At any rate, I got hung up mostly on the post-production and editing part. This was in the earlier days of AVID’s video editing, long before iMovie and Movie Maker had become ubiquitous. I was, true-to-form, working late the night before it was due – so late that Campus Safety kicked me out of the editing lab and sent me home. I thought I’d recorded my tightly edited work well, but didn’t have time to check it. I submitted it the next day, and was chagrined to get the feedback from my prof that it was a blank tape. I’d saved my work on the hard drive of the computer as well, but the day it was due, the football team came in and deleted everything, so they’d have space to edit their end-of-season video. My prof gave me grace, I’d always done pretty good work for him in the past, and assigned me a passing grade, which looking back I may not have fully deserved despite the hours of work.

dsc_8445My first creative writing conference in 2014 taught me that my problem then as now has always been plot. I’m good, or at least decent, at capturing scenes or moments, in writing as well as in film. Blending those moments into something more coherent that demonstrates character growth and entrances the reader or viewer however?  Well, that’s not my strong suit. Sure, I can have a vague idea of where I want my characters to get to in the end – sometimes, but getting them there…um, not so much. It’s not my professors’ fault, this lack of mine. My media prof did everything right. I remember my notes, impressions, and respect for him and his work. And, while I was enrolled in his courses I’m sure that I was really trying to apply those principles. I think though that here too, I got bogged down in the details and lost the big picture.

I just sent an extremely rough and incomplete first draft to a dear writing friend of mine and as I clicked send, I realized that even though I’ve now “learned” this lesson about plot, it’s extremely hard to put into practice. Although I don’t think I’ve screwed up beyond repair yet, I’ll admit it is disheartening. But, contrary to the lessons learned post-college and post-AF; I’m not post-leading, post-learning, post-writing. I’m just beginning these really. So, it’s time to “straighten up and fly right” once again and keep working to really implement these going forward. Thanks to all the teachers, mentors, and friends – writing and otherwise, who keep imparting lessons as we walk through life. As my wise mother often says, “please (continue to) be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.”

Surface – Bayahibe

Dumb thing to do, that. Tapping wouldn’t change anything. She tapped again. 900 psi. When had that happened? Just a minute ago she swore she’d been just under half a tank. Taryn recognized the beginnings of concern, but checked them. 

In two, three. 
Out two, three, four, five. 
In two, three. 
Out two, three, four five. 
Better, it was holding steady around 900. 

Where was Jered?  She finned her way out of the larger of the three rooms they’d determined were safe for exploration. At the far side of the medium room there was a stairwell clear enough to allow descent into the wreck’s lower hold. Her kicks guided her toward it. Maybe he was down there. Their dive plan had called for meeting up at the top of the wreck when they hit 1000. She checked her gauge again – 850. 

Diving part way into the stairwell she glimpsed the yellow of his fins below and to the left. Perfect. Conscious of her breath rate she descended the stairwell and reached back to tap her tank with one of the metal D-rings attaching her compass to the BCD.  The fin didn’t move. She’d have to go farther in. As she made her way below the stairs to the far side of the room she tapped her tank at intervals. Still no response.  Something was wrong. 

Coming alongside him, She noticed his eyes were closed and he was drifting at an odd angle against the ship’s wall. Somehow his regulator was still in place. She grabbed his gauge, her breathing accelerating without heed. 1200.  Transferring her hand to his arm, she tugged gently. No response.  

She looked down at her gauge – 800.  Okay. Time to get up and out. She didn’t see any blood floating in the water near his head, but he was definitely non-responsive. She pulled alongside him and began maneuvering his body ahead of her up the stairs. At least the water made his 200 pound bulk less of a factor.  Once she had him aligned with the stairwell’s entrance, she inflated his BCD slightly and pushed him up, following immediately. Safely in the middle room it was a straight swim through to the larger salon and out the front where large window frames offered the least hazardous exit. Safely out, but keeping one hand firmly on Jered’s BCD she realized she’d need to tie him off to her so she had both hands free to manage the ascent and keep them along the dive line. They didn’t have rope, but Jered had some longer device attachment strings and she had extra carabiners. 

750. She checked his gauge again – 1100. Enough to buddy breathe off his tank during the safety stop. Up now. She inflated his BCD slightly again and began their controlled ascent keeping one hand on the guide line and the other on her dive computer. The needle of her gauge dipped into the red reserve area – definitely below 700. 
In two, three. 
Out, two, three, four, five. 
In two, three. 
Out…

At 60 feet she stopped their ascent for one minute. It was hard enough keeping herself stationary, managing Jered’s still unresponsive bulk was not helping. 500. 

Finally, the minute was over. 60 feet and five minutes left. Here’s hoping.  At 15 feet her gauge was dangerously close to empty. Jered still had 800. Not a lot, but enough. Keeping one hand on the rope, she reached for his secondary regulator. She’d never buddy breathed off someone without them knowing. Oh well, no choice. Two minutes left. Taking one more deep drag from her own regulator, she transferred her grip on the rope to the crook of her elbow and used her right hand to take it out while simultaneously pulling Jered’s backup toward her.   

Please work, please work, please work. 

She inhaled carefully – air! One minute left. 30 seconds. Time. She released the pressure of her elbow and followed the bubbles to the surface. Gratefully, she exchanged the regulator for the freedom of fresh air. She wasn’t sure she should or could remove Jered’s. Fortunately the captain of their boat was at the stern ready to help them out. 

“He’s unconscious. I can’t lift him myself.”  She called out. With a splash, Rafa hit the water and grabbed Jered by the BCD/Tank connection.

 “I’ve got him. Take out the regulator if you can.” 

“We’re attached, give me a sec.”  She unclipped the carabiner she’d used to get him up with her and then pried the regulator out of his mouth. How he’d managed to keep the tension to keep it in even while unconscious was beyond her.   Rafa swam his burden to the ladder and Taryn followed. 

“Can you undo the weight belt?” Rafa grunted.

She did so. “Got it.” She handed it up to Rafa’s second, José, and then the mask. “Fins next.”  These were harder, but after a moment she fumbled them off. 

“I’m going to swim him over to the stern and see if we can get him up by the engine where it’s a bit closer to the water level. I may need you to push too.” Rafa directed.

Taryn nodded and complied. José returned from stowing the other equipment and passed a rope to Taryn. 

“Tie it under Jered’s arms once we get the BCD and tank unstrapped. Rafa will work him out of it one side at a time.” This done and the BCD stowed, José returned to the stern and between the three of them they finally heaved Jered onto the deck of the boat. As soon as Taryn and Rafa were out of the water, José freed the mooring line and turned the boat toward shore. 

~~~~~

While the above short story is a creation of my imagination alone, it was jointly inspired by WordPress’ Postaday prompt for today and my own experiences SCUBA diving in the DR after my teaching job ended. Following the recommendation of a visiting professor and RPCV whom I met shortly after I returned to Santiago for my second semester, I took five days and traveled to Bayahibe on the southeastern side of the island to complete a dive course. I’ve had my Open Water Diver certification since before I got out of the military (thanks to Todd!), but I hadn’t logged any dives since before we knew he was sick. Because of this, I decided that completing another course with an instructor would probably be the best way to travel and dive by myself, something I’ve never done before. 

Five days later, I completed the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course and now have a new certification and seven more dives added to my dive experience. Four were wreck dives – one of which was at night and two of which were deep dives at 100+ feet, and the others were underwater navigation (somewhat easy for a former Nav), fish-ID, and gorgeous reef dives. I also discovered that doing a dive trip is one of the best ways to travel solo! Since boat dives generally require at least 2 or more interested divers, it’s an outstanding way to meet like minded people also out for adventure.  Dive towns are fun places to hang out too.

On my second deep wreck dive, I actually nearly did run out of air and had to buddy-breathe off our guide for a bit at the final safety stop. As a result, one of my dive companions gave me some much-needed and extremely helpful breathing instruction so that my final dive was much more successful as far as air management went. The last dive also revealed some amazing sea life such as dozens of sea stars, a glimpse of a black and yellow polka-dot moray eel, little coral jack-in-the-box fish that hide when you pass a hand close to them and then pop back out, romantic butterfly fish who always travel in pairs, retiring flounders, minuscule jellies that don’t sting, and myriad other beautiful sea creatures and corals.

Unfortunately, I did not have an underwater camera with me (something I definitely need to rectify sooner rather than later), so most of the memories are in my mind alone. However, the first and last set of pics are representative of what I saw and the shoreline is actually Bayahibe. Can’t wait to go back!

Relationship Rules – Student Creations

So I just had to share the gallery of creations my students came up with. We had a discussion in class about gender and machismo and I gave them a follow-up assignment to create 5 Relationship Rules and share them in a poem, song, rap, cartoon, poster, etc.  I love giving students creative freedom – the results always make me smile. Here are some of the simple but wise submissions from my pre-med students! Enjoy!  Please forgive the shadows on some of the pictures.

Teaching Abroad – after all, that’s why I’m here right?

When you’re busy balancing the desire for living the life with the need to support that life, months can easily pass without your complete awareness. Now it’s time to play a bit of catch-up on adventure-telling as the second installment of life in the DR unfolds.

20160307_184729

Students hard at work

The spring semester ended in mid-April and I was able to wrap up my four (!) advanced writing courses with a minimum of setbacks. Despite the grading workload that the 180 essays and 180 exams called for, the semester ended successfully and I survived. In fact, I was able to get leave approved so as to sign up for another semester which is now over 1/2 of the way complete.

Pontifícia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, affectionately known as PUCMM, is a private Catholic university here in the Dominican Republic. It has two campuses; one in the capital – Santo Domingo, and one in Santiago de los Caballeros – the DR’s “ciudad corazón” or heart city.  I am teaching at the one in Santiago.

PUCMM Vista del monumento

View of El Monumento from campus

PUCMM students are required to reach an advanced level of English language proficiency before graduating; therefore the Department of Applied Linguistics is very robust and a lovely mix of native speakers of English and native speakers of Spanish and other languages. My colleagues come from many different walks of life and one of the benefits of extending a semester is that now I’m finally starting to interact with them as a whole group through professional development seminars and meetings. Interestingly enough, the department and the university have been going through some restructuring/revamping of courses and mission, so I’ve once again gotten drawn into a bit of curriculum re-design and been part of an informal working group for restructuring the writing course. PUCMM Blblioteca and sculptureThe summer semester is only 10 weeks long (as opposed to 15 or 16 weeks), but they still have the same number of hours required which adds a third two-hour class session each week, so the weeks are a bit more jammed and it definitely feels like things are moving at an accelerated pace.  However, teaching one section of advanced writing and two sections of advanced conversation has been nice because I can put into place some of the suggestions for revision while learning how another aspect of the department works as well.

My students have been lovely both semesters. Although the vast majority are Spanish-speaking Dominicans, I’ve also had a few students from Haiti and other countries such as Puerto Rico and Panama.

20160411_193323

Last Day Fiesta

There is a huge contingent of medical students here at PUCMM who have their own version of the academic writing and conversation courses. Even though the material is basically the same as the normal courses, the grading system is different and, as I learned the hard way last semester, tweaking the courses for each is more effective than trying to keep them in lockstep. This is the first time I’ve taught multiple sections of the same course, so it’s been a learning experience in many ways! I’ve been extremely blessed by helpful colleagues – especially other Teach Abroad professors who’ve been here one or multiple semesters before me. Now, I’m finding myself in the role of helper to the newest Teach Abroad recruit who’s here for this summer session. Oh well, they say one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it, so hopefully this experience will bear that out!

20160414_143137Here are some pictures of my students’ end of the term send-offs. We’ll see what I learn from this next batch!

 

La Rubia’s Guide to Hiking in the DR

 We interrupt this blog to bring you “Dominican Adventure Vocabulary 101” 

  • casi (adj/adv) = almost  Used multiply as a response to a question (Are we there yet?  “casi casi”) and once for corroborating or exclaiming over everything under the sun “casi Dominicana, “casi 1 km” – more on this one later 🙂 
  • Rubia (adj or n) = blondie  Use: absolutely necessary for survival when walking Dominican streets as it’s generally how people will address you if you look Scandinavian as do I. 
  • Concho (noun) = public transportation or public cars. Used instead of an actual government-provided public transportation system. More confounding than not due to the lack of maps, and the fact that each different ruta (route) is owned by a different company, with different drivers who don’t always know where the other routes go.
    –  “Concho fail” (n – slang) is a secondary term that i’ve used frequently with other foreigners here. See steps 3 and 4 for an example. 🙂 
  • Guagua (n) = bus/van/any sort of public transport designed for more than 7 people generally having multiple rows of seats. Use: Some times like tour buses, and sometimes like 16 pax vans with 2 or 3 added removable seats to allow for closer to 18/19 people plus the driver and “bursar” if cars could have a bursar?  (Similar to micro-bus transit in Kenya, but marginally less insane!)
  • Persona de confianza = person of trust. Use 1: to imply that the person you are currently asking a question of is confident enough in the next person who will help you to trust/believe that they will in fact not rob you, hurt you, or leave you stranded somewhere, etc. Use 2: As an admonition to you – the traveler – not to go with or give money to a person whom you do not know is a person of trust.  (Problem – how do you know that this current person  that you just met 30 seconds ago is in fact un/una persona de confianza themselves? hmmmm 🙂

And now, La Rubia’s Guide to Hiking in the DR. IMG-20160220-WA0009

  1. Find a friend who’s up for adventure and okay with other than firm plans i.e. “Hey let’s see if we can figure out where the guaguas to take us to Bonao are. If we can, let’s take one, get off somewhere in the middle of nowhere, go hiking, and make it there and back before dark without getting drenched by the rain. Sound good?” “Perfect!”

2) Find a criolla (real Dominican) to ask about places to hike. ***One who knows you and your friend is a bonus, this is your first persona de confianza, and the one over which you have the most control in choosing.

3) Ask which concho ruta (route) will take you to the parrada de guagua (bus stop) for your destination city. In our case, Bonao.

Bonao Guagua from internetComplication – depending on who you ask, you may get multiple conflicting answers, from people who have no clue but want to be helpful.
Backup plan 1: Ask the concho driver in whose vehicle you are currently riding.

4) Once you realize you’re on the wrong ruta, thank the friendly concho driver to whom you just paid 20 pesos for dropping you at a place to catch the correct but longer ruta back to where you just came from for another 20 pesos. 🙂

5) After you finally arrive at the Parrada de Guagua, Pedir bolletos (ask for tickets) if you can find the correct person to ask.
5b) Check with said ticket vendor to make sure this guagua does in fact stop at the in-between place to which your criolla from step 2 directed you.

6) Wait at least 30 minutes for a guagua that is always “casi viene (coming)” to arrive to carry you to your vague but confirmed destination. Once in the concho – don’t wait too long to ask the driver or the fee-collector where your vague destination is. Fellow passengers can be “personas de confianza” in this situation by passing on/clarifying your question to the driver 4 rows ahead of you. Now, you have another set of “eyes” that will remind the driver when he goes flying past your stop that there were two of you wanting to get off back there!

7) Assure the entire guagua full of “helpful-but-now-worried-about-las-dos-rubias” Dominicans that “no, the driver does not need to turn around and drive back to drop you and Yes, you’ll be okay ‘a pié’ (walking).”  Then smile patiently while the passengers tell you to go to first one side of the guagua then the other to avoid getting hit by either the guagua itself when it pulls out, or by a camioneta (truck) casi volando (flying) down the highway that can’t see you and wouldn’t stop even if they did.  DR highways

**This I think is the most dangerous part of life in the DR – crossing auto-pistas, even with a traffic light should you be lucky enough to find one**

8) Survive Frogger!

9) Walk back up highway you just drove down until your friend sees the sign for your destination – farther back than either of you realized. Turn and walk down a dirt road until you come to a fork, assume you keep going straight. Stop at the first house you come to and ask the lady sweeping the “patio” if this is in fact the way to Saltos de Jima (Jima Falls National Park)  Walk with her up to her neighbor’s house (which happens to also be a clothing store) after she recovers sufficiently from the surprise of two rubias asking directions in her village.

Saltos de jima buildings10) Make “friends” now with the clothing store owner as he uses your friend’s cell phone to call his person of confianza who owns a moto-concho (motorbike used as a 1 or 2 person taxi in addition to the driver!) to see if he can carry these two rubias up the casi 1km (likely more) to the entrance to the national park. When the first persona de confianza doesn’t answer, watch as Varelio (he’s told you his name by now) knocks on his neighbor’s door meanwhile warning you to be careful not to go with anyone who is not a person of confianza because of robbers etc. Then watch as Varelio calls Wilson over – a young man on a motorbike who happens to be passing by and contracts for you with Wilson to carry you both up the hill to the entrance of the park.

11) Thank Varelio kindly and agree to come back if you can to share the coffee he’s now graciously offered you with his family after your hike!  (Side note – offers of coffee are quite ubiquitous and one of the ways Dominicans show hospitality to EVERYONE!  love it!)

Moto Concho Dr112)  Both of you hop on the back of Wilson’s motorbike that doesn’t have a seat or foot pegs, just the frame for a seat. Try to keep you feet from dragging on the ground, and your calf from getting burned on the exhaust pipe inches from the meaty part of your calf. Oh and keep from falling off the bike every time it hits one of the multiple holes and hazards along the muddy dirt road/path.

13) Once you safely arrive at the park entrance, ask the “park rangers” if it’s okay to hike up. Accept the strange (to a Colorado girl) offer of a guide since it’s your first time to the park.

Top of fall 1 looking down Crop

Saltos de Jima

14) Follow your friendly guide Alex as he rapidly ascends the trail, passing two of the 27 waterfalls – the only two that are easily accessible. Agree with your friend that you’ll come back sometime to have him guide you up the rock-climbing gear required remainder of the trail at some point in the future. Mairsy with cacao

15) After hiking to the top of the second waterfall, descend again to swim in the pool at the bottom of the first waterfall. Yes, it’s extremely “fria” cold, as a friendly descending hiker warned you a few moments earlier. But it’s absolutely worth it!  Pure aqua fresca replete with tiny fish that try to eat your feet if you stay in one place too long.

16) Share a raw cacao fruit (Yes, cacao like where chocolate comes from) that Alex has scampered up a tree to procure for you. Don’t eat the cacao seeds which make the chocolate, but the odd white custard-like material surrounding the seeds.

Alex picking cacao

 Alex picking cacao

17) Ride Alex’s moto-concho that delightfully has an actual seat back down muddy roads to the highway.  Since you’re now at the second entrance to the park from the highway instead of the first, unfortunately you’ll have to bail on Varelio’s offer of café. Save it for another day. Thank and tip Alex and tell him you’ll come back sometime.

18) Survive frogger again – this time over twice as many lanes.

19) Stand in the rain trying to flag down a guagua until Geraldo (owner of Geraldo’s lavanderia – “we fix washing machines”), his friend and his son encourage you to come shelter in their doorway while Geraldo tries to flag down a passing guagua in your stead. Be about to accept your second offer of coffee after 3 or 4 guaguas have passed without stopping when you see a guagua and quickly try to flag it down yourself – ultimately successfully. Graciously bail on your second coffee “date” of the afternoon and board the guagua for home.

Dulce de guyaba20) Pay the fee-collector for the two of you. Then spend 20 minutes trying to overcome your perplexity and decide if you just got cheated or not, when he gives you only 100 pesos and a dulce de guayaba back in exchange for a 500 peso note when you thought the fee was 200 pesos total. Finally, realize that he meant 200 for each person instead and laugh it off as part of the adventure!