Sunday, April 6, 2008

My Spring Break - Day Four

We got up early... well early for vacation, and got some breakfast. We really did not know what to expect on the Outback tour. We were told we were to see a typical Dominican home, get to try some native drinks, and go boogie boarding.

We first met out tour guide, Omar, and his trusty driver Ramon in the distinctive tiger striped Isuzu trucks.

Omar first let us know the rules of the trip, the usual stuff, keep you seat belt on, don't stick your hands out of the truck, and, interestingly, never give children or any body else candy or presents while on the tour. They said that this encourages the children to beg when the trucks come by and they want to discourage that behavior. It gives future tour members an incorrect image of the Dominican country side.
I liked this tour already.

Omar first talked about how most drivers in the Dominican were not licensed, and that many drivers liked to drink rum while they drove. He told us not to worry because Ramon was fully licensed. He asked Ramon to show us his license, and he promptly passed back a bottle of 151 rum. Ha. Ha. Ha. I thought it was hilarious.

We saw first hand that the people of the Dominican are very very poor. They live in little more than shacks. I noticed that some buildings were made of concrete, and I asked Omar about this. He said that anybody who has the money will build in concrete because it can survive the hurricanes that blow over the island. Anything that is not made of concrete is destroyed. I realized that was one of the main reasons that the people were so very poor. Every 5 to 10 years, the would loose everything they had. Their homes, their positions, everything. Think of a nation wide Hurricane Katrina every 5 years. That scale of devastation works to keep the people destitute.
Despite this, we saw that the Dominicans are, rightly, very proud of their homes, and the ones we saw were very clean.
We made our first stop at the home of a man who makes coconut oil for a living. His name was Bimbo. He allowed us to tour his house so that we could see how the Dominican people lived.
The house was constructed of the wood of the Grand Palm tree, with a tin roof. The foundation was concrete, and it was polished inside to look almost like tile or marble. There was no running water, no plumbing, no electricity, and barely any room. He and his family lived in a two room building with one bed for the whole family.

Outside we saw that the gutters on the house were constructed to empty in to a large tank. This rain water was used for washing and cleaning. Water for cooking and drinking has to be purified, thus had to be bought in town.

We then went outside to see how he made coconut oil. It is tedious backbreaking labor. First he had to cut open the coconut with a machete. He then took the seed and shelled it, the then grated the fruit on a grater, much like a cheese grater. From there he took the filings and put them in a press to squeeze out the milk. The milk was then heated, and left to separate. The oil is then skimmed off of the top. Very hard work for not a lot of money.

We left Bimbo's place and headed out to see a cocoa and coffee plantation.
The Dominican Republic is known for its organic coffee and cocoa, but I did not know that they grew together, but there they were. Side by side. Little red coffee beans and big cocoa pods. We learned that cocoa actually grows in a large pod. This pod is harvested and cut open. Inside there are the cocoa beans that are used to make chocolate. When we saw the beans from a freshly harvested pod it rocked our world... Cocoa beans are WHITE, with a PURPLE center!

The beans are set out to dry on big flat trays where they change color. Drying usually takes about 5 to 6 days. You need a relatively hot dry climate to do this, so some of the trays have movable tin roofs that protect the beans when it rains. Harvest can only be done in certain times of the year, because it is too wet to dry them during the hurricane and rainy seasons. The cocoa bean is rather fragile, and concocts mold very fast. When one bean gets the mold the others soon follow. Kind of like Ebola.

This plantation also made the traditional Dominican drink Mamajuana. Mamajuana apparently cures everything. Stomach ache, head ache, tooth ache, joint ache, lengthens life, and, apparently most importantly, keeps men virile... While noting that it cures all of these things, the tour guides were quick to point out that the Dominican people use it most often to make children. The natives like to call it Dominican Viagra. They sell it to you with a wink and a nod, and tell you to bring all of the children that you will make back to the Dominican for vacation some time.

The plantation owners had a little garden where we learned about coffee, cocoa, and mamajuana. In the US we like to grow corn, potatoes, and cabbage in our gardens. There, they grow vanilla, bananas, and *gasp* pineapples. Freaking pineapples grow in bush like things a few inches above the ground. I saw them and it was a life altering experience... Those things were supposed to grow on trees!

From there we moved on to our place for lunch. Along the way we saw a town's cock fighting ring... Apparently it is not only legal, but it is the place to go after mass on Sunday.

We had a nice lunch then it was off to the beach for Boogie Boarding!

I had never boogie boarded before so it took me a few tries to get it right. You have to time it right so that you stay just ahead of the wave. That way the wave pushes you forward.

Beautiful Macao Beach

All too soon we were called back to the trucks and we were headed back to the hotel. As we were leaving the beach, Omar pointed out a government building just off of the beach. It was a Dominican Coast Guard building... but they did not have any boats. Apparently, the job of the Coast Guard is to report to the police when people are trying to leave for Puerto Rico...

We made it back to the hotel, where we hung out at the pool and relaxed the rest of the afternoon. We were tired and ready for our final day at the resort.

The show that night was their tribute to Hollywood. They lip synced and danced to several famous songs from the movies. They did a very exciting rendition of the Blues Brothers, a very funny Village People, and a kind of strange take from Chicago.

Overall I was struck with the beauty of the landscape, but also how only plants that either grew fast, or were very bendy really survived. The hurricanes dictate so much of what lives and what dies on the island.

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