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!


Zona Colonial – Santo Domingo

mapa del ciudad colonial

Paseo El Conde is the Zona Colonial Walking Street. This gives a mini-map of the historic district.

The Zona Colonial is Santo Domingo’s historic heart and cultural center. It’s also quite touristy, and therefore relatively safe. I took a “guagua” down by myself to meet up with the group as I had what turned out to be a “not-so-mandatory” meeting the morning they left. That afternoon we toured the Biblioteca Infantil y Juvenil (I’ll add more info in a later post), Casa CIEE Santo Domingo, then enjoyed a cena (dinner) with Carolina Contreras – owner of Miss Rizos Salon and her roommate. Later, a few of us explored a bit of SD’s more chill nightlife at spots such as Parque Duarte and Falafel. On Saturday we had an enlightening walking tour of the Zona Colonial – expertly guided by Rudi, then lunch and tiempo libre until the guaguas returned us to Santiago. This was just a glimpse of all that SD has to offer, so I’ll include mostly pictures here.  Hopefully, I’ll return to Santo Domingo later during my stay and therefore will have more to offer. Enjoy the “gallery”! 



Inspiring DR: Miss Rizos Salon

One of the things I was most excited about experiencing here in the DR was seeing what opportunities would arise. Throughout my trip, I hope to share stories of people I encounter whose stories inspire me. My weekend trip to Santo Domingo introduced me to a couple people I want to do mini-profiles of because of the lovely things they are doing and because of the surprising nature of how they “fell into” their callings by recognizing a space for opportunity. Below is the story of one.

arco de jardin

Buscando tesoro de oportunidades

People doing lovely things: Santo Domingo

“¡Hazlo con miedo!” Do it with fear!

Carolina Contreras moved to the D.R. to reconnect with her roots, but without being entirely sure what else would come out of it. Since then, her Miss Rizos Salon for natural hair in the heart of Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial has exploded onto the Dominican beauty scene. There’s a troubling tension here in the DR along the lines of color, race, and ethnicity. One way this is shown is through the ubiquitous “salons de belleza.” Part of my pre-departure orientation explained that long, straight hair and lighter skin is preferred. This is hard for me to understand as I’ve always found the variety of different colors and ethnicities one of the most beautiful parts of human life.

natural hair pic

Natural Hair

To me, the mezcla – blend or mix – of cultural and ethnic backgrounds is the epitome of gorgeous. Nonetheless, here lighter – really whiter – is better. Some of the African-American students I’ve talked with who are here from the states have complained of discrimination or of being on the receiving end of assumptions that they are Haitian. Such actions are partly why many Dominican women of African heritage have been opposed to natural hair or pajóns (puffy hair, afros). Carolina has been changing this stereotype by first blogging in Spanish about how to care for curly hair, and now by opening her salon. By showing women that natural is beautiful and that there are ways to care for natural hair that go beyond straightening, she’s inspiring many to own their own identity, to dream big, and to go after their dreams.

I got to meet Carolina briefly during our group dinner in Santo Domingo. Her words to the students with us were inspiring and humbling. She told a couple of us afterward that she and her roommate have a saying between them:  “Hazlo con miedo” which means do it with fear. In this way they counteract the idea of “no fear” or of waiting until you’re sure of success. She told us that although she didn’t move to the DR with the intention of DSCN1833.JPGcreating a salon, doing so has been amazing.  It’s been the hardest thing she’s ever done, but it’s also been extremely rewarding and completely worth the pain. Taking a step to turn a problem into an opportunity also continues to surprise her by how ready others are to help and promote her work. Talking with her reminded me of one of my favorite Paolo Coehlo books, the Alchemist. Carolina would agree that truly when you are doing the hard work of following your path, the universe comes alongside to help you.

Below I’ll include a link to a New York Times article about Miss Rizos salon as well as a link to her blog. I don’t have a good picture right now, but hope to go back and get one during my time here. Crossing paths with Carolina, however briefly, was encouraging and hope-giving. Who knows what can happen!

Miss Rizos Salon NYT



La Vida Dominicana Begins

Beginning a new adventure in the middle of the night due to flight delays does not make for the most coherent of transitions. Arising early the next day and joining a “guagua” full of students from the U.S. for a trip up to Jarabacoa in the “Dominican Alps” followed by a week of orientation activities was lovely, but also a bit surreal. The CIEE staff and students, my department colleagues, and my wonderful mamá afitriona (host mother) Maria have helped immensely. However,  despite the fact that I’ve been in country for more than a week, I’m only now beginning to find my footing. Nevertheless, I wanted to capture a few first impressions of life in Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.


Santiago as seen from Camp David Ranch – Dominican Style


First of all, the people are incredibly beautiful. Walking through the streets of town, looking around a classroom or a club, there are so many different shades and tones. Of skin color, eye color, even hair color. And, as we learned during our first excursion to the center of town, the people here call things like they see them. “Rubia” (blondie), “Morena” (brown), “Negra” (black), and even “gordita” (literally, fatty, but here without the negative connotation) are “piropos” that are thrown your way as you pass by.  On our first excursion, a few of us almost started counting how many we received. The amount can definitely be disconcerting, but if I look at them through the lens of culture instead of as simply catcalls, it’s not as hard for me to accept – at least right now. So far, no one’s been overly obnoxious.

Duarte on guard

Duarte presiding over campus

The naturaleza here is also beautiful, especially Jarabacoa and the university campus. The land is dressed completely in green, such that everywhere you turn are lush and growing things. Fruit trees, gorgeous pink and coral flowers, evergreens that are softer and curvier than those in the States. Most days the sky is the truest of blues, all have been kissed by the sun. Considering I left lots of snow in Colorado, walking around in a curtain of warmth has been pleasant except for the hours closest to the midday heat, or when traveling Calle del Sol, the busiest shopping street in Santiago.

Vibrant, but loud

Music often blares from cars, conchos, and houses here. Some of the most animated conversations among the students from the US and the DR have been about music and places to go out.  I myself have been trying to catch up on my knowledge of Reggaeton which seems to be quite popular. Two artists I’ve recently discovered are Amara la Negra, and J. Balvin. And, of course, there’s still a lot of merengue, salsa, bachata, and jazz, all of which I already love. During my first evening out, the DJ let me watch him in action for a bit which was fascinating! Clubs here in Santiago love to crank up the volume, so if you want a place for conversation, perhaps a neighborhood bar would be better.

Somewhat challenging

Admittedly, a few things have taken a bit of getting used to. The sheer volume of food per


My rooftop view of Autopista Duarte

meal, which – although very good- is often more than I’m used to eating in an entire day, is rough. And, the traffic is crazy! My host home is right next to Autopista Duarte and my room fronts on the highway. On weekend nights, one of the favored pastimes is to have illegal car or motorcycle races a la Fast and Furious flying along the highway. The last lap apparently happens between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings. Sleeping, therefore, is sometimes difficult.

Finally, I’m still struggling to balance other peoples’ version of caution with my own. My host mother, the CIEE staff, and many of my colleagues have warned me about theft and about walking alone, even for the less than five minutes it takes to reach the university gates from my home. For someone who’s lived alone in multiple other countries, and who leans toward a belief that if people are living in a “dangerous” area, or doing certain daily activities safely, there must be a way of my doing the same; this overly protective stance can be frustrating. One of the other students and I had a conversation about deciding to believe the best in people until proven otherwise, while still taking common-sense precautions to mitigate the risk. Hopefully, I’ll grow more confident venturing out on my own, or better yet, find “criollas” to help me navigate more independently. Don’t worry, I’ll still be careful!

Okay, I know this first post got a bit long. I’ll try to keep future ones shorter, or at least vary the length. But, there’s so much to share and experience, even from a still slightly displaced observer’s standpoint that I wanted to include as much as possible. Hopefully, this at least gives  a snapshot. Stay tuned for future adventures!







Contentment is an elderly lady, grandmotherly type – but old school.

Her favorite place to sit is on her front or back porch in late Spring, early Summer, or anytime in the Fall. Her long chambray skirt stops just above the ankles, she wears a yellow cotton work shirt softened with age and use. Her apron hangs on the hook by the stove, exchanged for a prayer shawl knitted of pastel multi-hued-yarn. Kitteny soft peaches, pinks and lavenders predominate. Its weight around her shoulders enfolds her in the arms of family and faith – even when alone.

alternate Aprons pic

Aprons’ Rest

She rocks gently outside, sometimes occupying her hands with quilting or mending. Occasionally, she picks up embroidery although her fading eyesight makes detail work more challenging these days. In the summer, she wanders among her flowers. Clipping here, cutting back there, weeding from her perch on a little wooden milking stool. She often hums to herself: old spirituals, tried and true hymns, even snappier jazz favorites from her younger years make their way into the mix. Sometimes, she just listens to the radio or the heavenly strains drifting down from the church choir practicing up the street.

She loves it when the children come to visit; her bloodline always brings joy, but neighborhood descendants as well, the newer ones too – young families full of hope or fear, sometimes both. They represent such hope and promise. A smile kisses her face as she watches them playing in the field, the park, or the postage-stamp front yards.

In social circles, she’s quiet more often than not; listening, nodding, smiling or tsk-tsking as the occasion warrants. She rarely complains of the aches and ailments of growing old – not as the other ladies do. But, she’s happy to listen and agree or sometimes share advice and send one off with a home-baked remedy always at least 75% love.

She’s lonely at times to be truthful. Hurting at times too. Somehow, it doesn’t seem worthy of mention. Truisms are always true whether voiced or not. Having a voice and being heard doesn’t seem as important as it once was. She’s lived and done most everything she ever imagined. Some endeavors were great successes, others spectacularly less so. She’s learned something from all of them. And the stories they’ve given her to share are absolute jewels for the special people who ever really take the time to listen.

Wrapped in faith

Wrapped in faith

Yes, life is life. Mostly it’s been good to her, even in its troubles. But troubles are just a part – requiring only that you make it through them. Having companions along the way always makes the struggle easier. Nowadays, she wonders how people do it. So busy. So tech-y. How do they ever really connect? Without that reality of face-to-face, side-by-side living, she wonders how people know whom to turn to when things are less than ideal. Although her circle has often been on the smaller side, there’s usually at least one to pat a hand, dry tears, and sing or pray together. She hopes her offspring won’t lose that. Not completely.

As the sun dips behind the mountains, she slows her rocker, sighs and pushes herself to her feet. Inside, she brews a cup of tea, turns on a lamp, and sits down to read an Agatha Christie novel since it isn’t quite late enough for bed.

It’s simple, her life, but it’s cozy too. Like the old patchwork quilt covering her knees in the armchair. Each block tells a story, each stitch shows a labor of love and friendship. The whole creates a mosaic – homespun, but true.




Melting Rocks

I know it’s been awhile – I’ve been working on longer pieces. Too long for this venue. Here, however, is a short short. It was inspired by a bridging exercise, but has changed quite significantly. Forever thankful for Langston Hughes’ “The Trumpet Player” for the inspiration and two unbeatable turns of phrase, although I incorporated them a bit differently. Enjoy! 

Melting Rocks

Rocks glisten in an amber pool. Rocks that melt. Amber that’s liquified. Combined they’re both diffused, weakened. Over time the volume replenishes, but strength diminishes.

I drain it and order another.

The mahogany bar is worn russet. Smoothed by decades of wipe-downs. The gold-plate edges have tarnished the same amber sheen as the liquor. Muted, rounded, cool. Bellies and elbows need not fear. Splinters have long been eradicated. Sweat rings from cooling glasses disappear with one flick. So fast, I never quite catch it. Around me voices ebb and flow. Their dissonance is punctuated by short bursts of laughter, meltable rocks clinking, and the soda hose hissing. A saxophone croons in the distance, drowned out by the business of searching.

Ollie and Amy will be leaving soon. Each sip brings their heads closer together. They’ll be tonguing each other before long. Trisha, my champion, or captor, is currently bent on conquest. A compact blonde. Timid, but kinda cute. Amos is sounding off about Parker to James who wishes Parker were out of the picture. I’m on the corner, the outskirts. Present, but not really here.

I look down, unsure what else to do. This time the amber’s more viscous. Jerry must’ve taken pity on me – or been distracted. I shouldn’t have come. I want to go.

The music changes. A trumpet now. Two measures in my world stops, hitches, then starts again – altered.

Jazz trumpet The music calls and stabs and freezes me.
   It’s honey, mixed with liquid fire.

    The rhythm slams and jolts and murders me.
    It’s ecstasy, distilled from old desire. 

    Silver-tongued, bright-eyed, incomparable.
    Each rendezvous more heated than the last. 

We yearned, we danced, we shimmered. But,     passions fade, seasons change, the “cool”ness passed.

Eventually, she left. Or I did. The details have melted away. The longer we spent, we diminished. When a fire burns too hot, it goes out. Embers however, are different. Lying dormant, they flare at a spark. I didn’t know that tonight would be tinder. Liquid amber. Melting rocks. Trumpet. Out.


A Single Gal’s Guide to Condo Ownership:When it rains, it pours

Two months after I closed on the cutest condo ever in a 9-unit converted Manor House from the early 1900’s, it began raining inside.

Kitchen post-storm

Kitchen post-storm

First lesson learned: If a home inspector mentions in passing that a kitchen must have had water damage “at some time in the past,” do everything in your power to verify that it well and truly was IN THE PAST!

mixing bowls

Tip 1: Always have lots of big bowls  and pitchers on hand ready to be pressed into alternative service.

Loud crashes in the night never bode well.



Tip 2: Prominently display home warranty company and insurance company phone numbers.

Somewhere water-damage-free is preferable.




Industrial strength fans are ever so effective – but noisy.


 Tip #3: Be patient with the repair crew – especially if wood floors are involved.

Two months can definitely feel LONG though.





 Tip #4: Remember, when it rains, it pours.

While beautiful outdoors - indoor waterfalls are terrifying.

While beautiful outdoors – indoor waterfalls are terrifying.


Office mates may be perplexed when bins are removed.

Office mates may be perplexed when bins are removed.

Tip #5: Have a nearby friend or neighbor on speed dial.

One with access to trash cans and recycling bins is a bonus!





Clear signage is imperative!

Clear signage is imperative!

  Tip #6a: When moving into a new place, discover where the Water Shut-off valves are ASAP.  Especially if you have neighbors on the same line.

#6b: Keep wine handy for overwrought resident experts 😉 A glass or two does wonders for stress levels!



The power of water in enclosed spaces

The power of water in enclosed spaces

Tip #7: Never ever delete or throw away disaster restoration and repair company numbers. Always be polite with the dispatcher, even when you’re running low on patience.

Tip #8: Be polite to the insurance company as well. If you find a good one – stick with it!

Tip #9:  Home Warranty companies may be useless in a true emergency – especially if the emergency company you use is the priciest in the phone book.



Tip #10: Laughter is ALWAYS the best medicine!  While a     momentary panic is perfectly understandable – shift into survival mode quickly.

After all, what good does screaming do when there’s a six-foot wall of water crashing down around you!


Sometimes all you can do is laugh and expect the unexpected.  It could almost always be worse!  Take a breath, control what you can, and enjoy the ride! 

bubbles laughter - child

Thanks to Blogging 101 – Day 19 post about “New to you post formats” and to classmates who encouraged me to try a different style with my “flash non-fiction” assignment.