Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mulos, Mud, and Marshmallows

I can’t believe the holidays have come and gone so quickly. Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to all!!! I hope everyone was able to celebrate the holidays with friends, family, and all the typical traditions. Being away from home yet again for the holidays has left me a little sad, but I found ways to enjoy the holidays in a less than typical way.

For Thanksgiving, I found myself surrounded by my Peace Corps “family.” Almost all of the volunteers in the country as well as office staff and a few Dominican friends joined together in a country club to celebrate. We enjoyed a full-course turkey dinner with all the fixins including pumpkin pie (my favorite)! It was such a treat to eat the traditional dinner after being used to rice, beans, and fried plantains. We also enjoyed dancing, a swimming pool, and a Dominoes tournament.

My parents and sister came to visit me the second week of December, and we had such a wonderful time. You can only imagine how happy I was to see them walk through the airport doors. After 15 months, I was truly ecstatic. The trip started with trying to figure out how to fill the taxi with all of their luggage and still have room for us. They each brought along two suitcases and a carry-on because they had suitcases full of donations for my community from many generous people. If you are one them reading, thank you so much!!! I’m so lucky to have so many supporters.

The rest of their visit went quite smoothly considering how often things usually don’t go as planned. I forced them up at 4:30am (I know, some vacation, right??) to take public transportation to my campo in order to be there by the 9am church service. My community went all out to welcome them. I noticed that every one was dressed up more than usual and they planned a beautiful service. My host family also served us a delicious Dominican meal. They even used their special tablecloth, and I was shocked to see a forks and knives. I’m still not sure how my dad felt about the campo, but I know my mom would love to return. The kids absolutely adored her. And I think Jackie enjoyed the visit as well even though she was crying before we even set foot into the campo. At the entrance, they just so happened to be slaying a pig when we stepped off the bus.

After the campo experience, we did some touristy stuff around Santo Domingo before embarking on a 5-hour bus ride to Bavaro where we stayed in the Iberostar Punta Cana all-inclusive resort for 5 days. We enjoyed being pampered with delicious buffets, restaurants, dancing, shows, pool, beach, ect. My dad even won the mini-golf tournament and did water aerobics with all the ladies. You can bet the experience was a total shock to me as I hadn’t taken a hot shower for months. I still can’t believe I was in the same country! Thank you so much Mom, Dad, and Jackie for coming. It was a family vacation that I will never forget.

From the 15th to the 23rd, my community woke me up by banging on plastic jugs, cans, etc. with sticks and caroling throughout the community at 5am. I tried to force myself up to join them every morning, but I only made it twice. (I’m not a morning person at all.) The first time, we had a short service in my host family’s home with candles and prayers for God to bless this time of the year. The second time, we caroled through the street to the church for a service by candlelight and guitar music. I also had three Christmas parties for my groups. My house was all decorated with streamers and ornaments, and we all enjoyed playing Secret Santa and decorating Christmas cookies. I´m glad I could show everyone some of our American Christmas traditions.

Christmas Eve found me spending time with my friend and fellow volunteer, Jenn, in Santiago. We rented the cheapest hotel we could find with cable tv and splurged on TGI Fridays as our Christmas meal. We also talked a lot about how much we missed our families. Christmas away from home is really difficult. At least The Christmas Story was on tv to lighten the spirit.

For Christmas, Jenn and I enjoyed McDonald’s breakfast and spent hours waiting in the rain for guaguas (pick-up trucks and small buses) to take us to the base of Pico Duarte. We met up with Teo (Tod) for a macaroni dinner and to prepare for our upcoming hike. The park rangers were nice enough to let us stay in their cabin for the night, but as we walked in, we found a huuuuge rat running in circles on one of the top bunk mattresses. Jenn and I screamed and ran around like schoolgirls while Teo shooed out the rat. You can bet we set up the tent in the middle of the room for the night.

The hike to the top of Pico Duarte was definitely worth it. Teo, Jenn, and I set off with a fellow volunteer’s host dad and brother as our guides, two horses, a mule, camping gear, and positive attitudes. Teo, Jenn, and I were all surprised with the strenuous ascents, and we weren’t as prepared as we should have been. I froze at night even with my sleeping bag, fleece lining, and sweatshirts. Who knew the Caribbean could be soo cold? We made the best of it though and tried to stay warm with hot cocoa and marshmallows, lots of coffee, and tea. I also don’t think I’ve laughed so much in this country. It was great to spend a few days with a couple of fun-loving Americans in the great outdoors. Once we got up the mountain, we took a few pictures and enjoyed the view. Unfortunately, it was mostly cloudy and we weren’t able to see the entire island like we normally would have if it were clear. I think God heard my prayers though, and cleared part of the skies just long enough to see an amazing view. His world truly is beautiful. On the way down, we were supposed to go to a valley with supposedly incredible scenery, but we decided to cut the trip a day short due to the cold, wind, and rain. I tried to hike the whole trip, but a third of the way down, I decided to ride Morena, the mule. My feet were so blistered. Jenn and Teo were a little bitter I think once they started trekking though all the mud. I’ve never seen anything like it. So many people and mules were going down in calf-high mud for miles. Jenn and Teo said it was incredibly hard and kind of fun at the same time, while I feared for my life on Morena. She slid around a lot and I almost fell off at one point. She also took me through some tree branches, which wasn’t very fun. Luckily, we all made it back safely and the memories are unforgettable.

Right after Pico Duarte, Jenn and I decided that we needed to enjoy this country’s beaches for a few days. As a PC New Years tradition, we went to Cabarete on the north coast and met up with about 50 other volunteers to ring in the New Year with fireworks and dancing on the beach.

Now that the holidays are done and over, I’m back to full-force work. My women’s and youth groups will be starting back up soon and I’m busy working on all sorts of secondary projects. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep my spirits up especially when things don’t go as planned, but now that I’ve climbed to the top of the Caribbean, I feel like I can take on anything.

Hope you are all doing well and thanks for reading!

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