Saturday, June 11, 2011

Highlights from the first half of 2011

As yet another year is flying by, I find myself recounting the first half of 2011 when it seems like just yesterday that I was recapping the latter half of 2010.

Highlights from the first half of 2011 (get ready for the marathon....):

  • Photos from a boat trip in Monte Cristi, a town in the northwest of the DR, nearby the border with Haiti in January:
Top to bottom: (mangroves, famous "morro" rock in Monte Cristi, rocky coastal area, the shoe rock, salt mines on caye off the coast)

 Trainings for FRUTICOOP: Four trainings in February

This February 17 women in the cooperative participated in four trainings over the course of five days. The trainings covered various topics ranging from business plan development, business management and administration, commercialization and sales strategy, transportation, distribution and logistics.

Construye Tus Suenos (CTS) or “Build Your Dreams” 2011

This year I have become more involved in Construye tus Suenos (CTS), or the Build Your Dreams program. CTS consists of two parts, the first is a 14 session business course curriculum designed to help youth gain invaluable entrepreneurial and life skills, learning how to write a business plan and how to implement a small business. The second part is to enter to compete in the business plan competition. Twenty plus talented youth and their business plans will be selected to compete in this year’s competition, which will take place in October. Winners will walk away with seed money to fund their small businesses and other prizes.

  • Revising the CTS Manual:  In the beginning of the year I turned a lot of my energy towards revising parts of the CTS curriculum. A small group of volunteers and I sat down with the manual and revised each section, aiming to clarify confusing sections, correct spelling/grammar errors and add more detail to certain sections. It may sound like an easy task but ended up being pretty time consuming-- in the end I think we have an excellent manual that volunteers can continue to work with and improve as CTS grows.           
  • This year we received funding from the Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), and therefore incorporated a responsibility and healthy decision-making component in the curriculum. The new component doesn’t directly address HIV/AIDS relief, but rather approaches it through preventative methods through healthy decision-making and responsibility. Youth that become involved in the course are working on their personal and professional development. Through involving themselves in a course such as CTS, youth can work on developing skills that can help them to get on the right track by making good and informed decisions that will help them to achieve their goals and get where they want to be in life.
  • Train the trainers:  At the end of March, we held a train the trainers course with 20 or so participants across sectors. The training goal was to encourage volunteers from other sectors to teach the course even though they are not business volunteers. In the daylong event, business volunteers facilitated a crash course on the CTS curriculum, including walking through sessions and lesson plans to help new facilitators feel comfortable with the course material. Hopefully we see some of the new facilitators bringing their kids to the competition this year!
  • The CTS class in my town (Beginning of May):  I started my class this year with less interest from the community than last year. After promoting the course in the local high school, youth groups, and community groups, I was surprised at the weak turnout.  I have 11 participants, two of which are older women who wanted to take the course, which I had no problem with. So far attendance varies from week to week, directly correlating with incidence of local baseball games.  At least there are a couple of dedicated students—that’s all you need really! We will see how many finish…
 Congressional Visit to Batey Experimental

A Congressional Delegation arrived several week into March to commemorate 50 years of the Peace Corps. Among them were Senator Kent Conrad (N. Dakota), Senator Hagan (N. Carolina), Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Representative Becerra (California, LA),  Representative Welch (Vermont), Ambassador Raul Yzaguirre and worldwide Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams. Director Williams served in the late 60's in the DR where he met his wife, a Dominican woman to whom he is still married. Four other volunteers and I, the country director and other PC employees accompanied the delegation to a site visit to PCV Kerri Magee's site, Batey Experimental in the East.

                                                  Director Williams and me (above)

Reconstruction of Community Space San Juan Bautista:                       
                                                                                                                                                               Another project that has been in the works for quite some time is the reconstruction of a dilapidated community space in the community. I was set to help out with the project a year ago, but it fell off the radar until now. Community space San Juan Bautista was built in the 1960’s  and is used by various community groups to host weekly meetings, community events, special courses and weekly services.  In addition, it is used as a refuge for up to 130 men, women and children during times of natural disaster such as hurricanes and tropical storms that frequent the  country.                                                                                                                                                        
      I wrote a Peace Corps Partnerships Program (PCPP) grant which should be posted on the website any day now. The project goal is to renovate the community space by replacing the zinc roof with better material and replacing a door. Since its' inception, the space has become worn down. The zinc roof is littered with holes, with rain leaking in during bad weather. One of the large three-part doors no longer works. It is still being used regardless of its' physical state, which has become a danger to community members and groups who use it weekly.          

          The project idea was first raised over ten years ago as the space began to wear down. After years of effort the community has come together and raised a large sum of money to contribute to the majority of the project cost, including building materials and manual labor. The PCPP grant will cover the cost of the roofing materials.  Stay tuned for info on how to contribute to the project!

Industrial Fruit Dryers:

     The industrial fruit dryers were finally installed in the plant at the end of April/beginning of May after months of waiting. They were ordered back in December and arrived on February 17th. The ten weeks they spent in customs felt like a never-ending, stressful bureaucratic battle to get them out.

     One of the reasons it took so long was the lengthy process of exonerating taxes. The taxes alone were a healthy sum of 450,000 pesos (around 13,000 USD), which made the process worth it.  For any small business this is a lot of money, for a small women’s cooperative in the rural DR this is a WHOLE lot of money. The exoneration process was an exhausting one of seemingly endless formalities, bureaucracies, and inefficiencies abound. Time is money, and the 10 weeks it took two government institutions to process a request to exonerate the taxes for a cooperative racked up a hefty sum in storage fees at the customs port. If they weren’t going to get our tax money, they certainly took their time so they could still get their money’s worth in storage fees (which ended up being one fourth the cost of the taxes in the end).

     But in the end the dryers finally arrived. We hired a tow truck driver out of Bani to come out and unload the dryers, which were enormous. They were much larger than any of us had imagined, and of course the main consultant did not measure the size of the equipment. We had to break the front door of the plant to make the entrance larger so they could even make it inside the plant. After the dryers spent several days covered by tarps outside we were finally able to find a fork lift the machines and place them in their final resting place in the back corner of the plant (see photo below).

    Now FRUTICOOP has really transformed from a small operation to a semi industrial operation with the arrival of this machinery, in terms of product quality and output. There will be no shortage of work for the women of Villa Fundacion!

Advancements with FRUTICOOP 

Of course, we weren't completely idle while waiting for the dryers to arrive.... here are several advancement with FRUTICOOP that took place while either waiting for the dryers or preparing for the inauguration!
  • Hired a part time secretary, who has been working with me and the two managers in organization, inventory, and is learning the digital accounting program. 
  • Organized the offices files with hanging file organizers (surprisingly hard to find in the DR!), plastic organizers and laminated labeling system in the finished product storage.  
  • Bought and installed an air conditioning in the finished product storage area to keep products cool.
  • Printed and laminated production process flow labels in Spanish and English and put them up around the plant based on the new production line and processes.
  • Got a flota (business unlimited phone plan) with five phones so the main project trainer, me, the two managers and the security guard all have unlimited calling time between us. We also have internet at the plant now.
  • Bought a new computer and installed the new HP Photosmart printer donated by my family (thanks Dad and Nancy!!).
  • Organizational chart and description of positions for new cooperative management structure.
  • Redesigned product labels according to FDA/EU standards; sent out for nutritional analysis of pineapple marmalade product.
  • Two new publicity signs: One at the entrance into Villa Fundacion indicating “Cooperative Fruticoop- FRUTISOL, Frutas Deshidratadas, 800 KM, and the other with FRUTISOL (the brand name) and an arrow indicating the entrance to the plant. 
  • Painted the cement block walls an outer storage area a nice green color and repainted the plant yellow. Repainted the cistern.
  • Opened a separate entrance into the business office to eliminate potential contamination in the production area. Put up soap dispensers in the bathrooms.
  • Bought a pineapple de-corer and peeler to speed up production process and improve pineapple product quality.
  • Created a new passageway from the raw material reception area to the production area, complete with a alucin roof and anti-virus screen walls, and a new roll down door at the entrance.

  • First test run using the new dryers:

     Inauguration (End of May):

    After we finally installed the dryers, the mad dash ensued to get the plant up to speed for the inauguration in just ten days. The inauguration was a successful event, with some 125 guests, including eight guests of honor that included his Taiwanese Ambassador Isaac Tsai, FRUTICOOP president (my project partner) Maria Castillo, the town mayor, representatives from IDECOOP and the Secretary of Agriculture, amongst others. The event lasted two hours, with coverage from The Listin Diario newspaper out of Santo Domingo and a local news source. There were four speakers (including an impromptu speech from yours truly),  a prayer, national anthem, ribbon cutting, a tour of the plant and demonstration, a slideshow that no one could see because of the sun, and dried fruit, sandwiches and punch to enjoy at the end. All in all it went well!

    Below: (1) Taiwanese Ambassador Isaac Tsai speaking at the Inauguration, (2) cutting the ribbon

    All Volunteer Conference:  

    Every May Peace Corps DR has an All-Volunteer Conference, where all volunteers are required to attend a day long networking event. This year there were around 235 volunteers who are currently serving in country present, many familiar faces and even more new faces! It was surreal to have so many volunteers in one place. It was also the last event for the PCDR country director for the last five years, Romeo Massey, who did an excellent job and will be missed.

    Family Visit to the East: 

    Family came to visit twice this year. First, my sister Stefany and her husband Sean came in March. they came to my site for a night and then we went up to Cabarete on the north coast for the weekend. I took them to Playa Grande and then by Monday was back at my site while they spent the rest of the week at a resort. It was really fun, and I am still waiting to get the pictures! Here are photos from a long weekend in La Romana when my Dad, Nancy and my niece Lily's visit to the DR in May:

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    The second half of 2010 and then some

    Time flies! The last six months of year flew by. So much has happened, here is a review of the second half of 2010, starting after my trip back home:

    • Mesa de Honor:  The day after I returned from California, my town had a graduation ceremony for the graduates of the local computer training center.  To begin the ceremony, graduates took photos at the computer center, where everyone met up that afternoon. The parade began, where they marched around town until reaching the community center where the actual ceremony took place.  I suspect I may be asked to give a speech, since the computer training center staff assisted in the enrollment and publicity process of my Construir tus Suenos youth entrepreneurial business class. Also, a couple of the first classes were held at the center. To be sure I ask the day before, but am assured that I will not be making a speech. Of course, right as the parade begins I am told I will be sitting at the mesa de honor or honorary table on stage and will be expected to give a speech about the CTS class, etc. I run home to change out of my jeans and come back to the parade arriving at the Community Center, with people filing in. I am pretty nervous as the room fills with some 200 plus people and I have nothing prepared. Someone whispers to me that I should read the first and last names of the 21 youth that graduated from my CTS class, a list that I do not have on me and definitely do not remember off hand. I struggle to remember at least the first names of each, especially Fulano’s name that is escaping me. I am sweating bullets as every mesa de honor member goes to the podium complete with their prepared speech in hand. Three hours pass, the graduation happens, the crowd gets very anxious, and ultimately I am never called up to the podium. Although I was confident that my ad-lib speech would have run smoothly I had to laugh at the whole situation after and was honored to be seated at the mesa de honor.
    (photo: Villa Fundacion, the view from my roof)

    •  The Cooperative’s Peace Corps Partnership’s grant got filled, thanks to donors Steve and Nancy Hopkins, Ryan Hopkins (on behalf of himself and Steve, Scott and Kevin Hopkins), Brianna Russell, Rod and Sally Marquardt and the UPS Foundation, Ltd. The grant will cover the cost of the accounting program Monica 8.5, Fair trade certification, a quality domestic blender, redesign and printing of labels and other promotional materials. 
    • At the end of July/beginning of August four youth and I headed to Neiba for Celebrando el Sur, a youth conference celebrating youth diversity of the southern regions. The volunteer organizaed conference took place over two and a half days at an ecological center in the mountains of Neyba, complete  fun and games, charlas on diversity, a world trip to the seven continents, health, etc.

      •  I bought a bike! My neighbors graciously took me to the town next door to check out used bikes. I sat in the back of a tinted van as they got out of the van an investigated the non-Americana prices. I bartered down to about 50 bucks for a used huffy beach cruiser with its original tires. Now that I have replaced one of the tires I have a maroon bike, with a black tire, a green tire, pink and grey handle bars. Nothing short of awesome. So far, I have been on a few bike rides out of town to nearby beaches Palmar de Ocoa (10 plus kilometers) and Los Corbanitos. No easy task on a one speed, but well worth it!

        • My friend Christina came to visit in September for some Campo, city and beach time. We had a wonderful time and narrowly missed daytime rain in Cabarete in the north, Playa Grande and Samana Peninsula at Playa Rincon.  (Below: Playa Rincon in Samana)

        • Once a year, cooperatives have to hold a General Assembly to elect new leadership positions, as well as provide reports for what has happened in the year to cooperative members, etc. (Below: Directing the meeting, members participating in the General Assembly

        • Big news for FRUTICOOP, INC. in September, when a grant was a approved by Mission Taiwan to fun new industrial gas dryers, various training, operational costs, industrial cutters and peelers, and much more over the course of three years. The grant was written by an engineer working for the Secretary of Agriculture who has been involved in the project since its inception in 2004. (Below: FRUTICOOP President Maria Castillo, my project partner accepting a check from Taiwanese Ambassador at a publicized event at the Secretary of Agriculture)

        • Construir Tus Suenos 2010: Build Your Dreams Competition took place at the beginning of October. Two groups from my class and three kids submitted plans, both were accepted to compete. One youth submitted a business plan for an internet shop and two sisters submitted a plan for a fruit shop. Both plans were excellent and they put in a lot of hard work! The competition was a great experience for the youth to get to know other ambitious kids from around the country, learn about locating seed money to fund their business even if they did not take home the prize money (three prizes of up to 70,000 pesos each to fund the full budget of the winners). All the groups did an excellent job, the competition was fierce, and in the end all were winners. The fruit shop took home most innovative. 

        • For the first time since 2006, the women of FRUTICOOP got paid! For years they have not had the resources to pay the women for their work in fruit production, but now they are paid to date. Of course this has rejuvenated the work force and generated interest in more women becoming involved in the operation. 
        • IDECOOP, the national institute that supports cooperatives set up a jornada educativa for the cooperative, giving presentations on entrepreneurial spirit, business management, etc. One of the trainers who showed up is the daughter of my host family in Pantoja, who I had not seen in a year. It was good to reconnect.
        • Just two days earlier, I reconnected with my other host family in the campo outside of Altamira when I went up to give charlas on Organizational Diagnostics and Leadership to the new business training group. I left Santo Domingo at 7 in the morning to get to my host mom's house by 11 AM in Los Claveles, where I had my training a year ago. My host mom was happy to see me and expressed her disappointment that I was only staying for lunch and not for the whole weekend. After saying hi to some of the neighbors I headed down the hill with the others, gave the charlas and then got a ride with the technical trainer to Santiago where I would catch the bus to Santo Domingo. My stomach was rumbling and I knew something was up. The next three hours seemed endless as I held back projectile fluids coming from all ends. I managed to make it to the bathroom to projectile vomit, and camped at the back of the bus until I was able to get to the Caribe tours bus station to take care of other business. This was by far one of the most uncomfortable bus rides of my life and (there have been worse believe it or not) luckily there were no sharts involved (in this case it would have been far worse...). By the next day I felt better, I thought for sure I had giardea but luckily I didn't. Not sure what it was that made me sick, something I ate at lunch I guess!
        • After receiving the money from Mission Taiwan, FRUTICOOP opened two checking accounts, one for themselves and one to manage the grant money. If you can believe it, due to the overly complicated bureaucracy of the banking system here this process has taken months. Next step, internet at the office and internet banking! We have now begun the planning and budgeting process.
        • Funded by the PCPP grant, we purchased the accounting program Monica 8.5. This month four women and I went to the capital to receive an initial training on the program and we are now holding individual training sessions at the plant.
        • Cholera outbreak! The cholera outbreak in Haiti prompted an emergency and mandatory cholera training session at the training center in Pantoja. From there all of the 517-09-02 group boarded a bus to head down south for our OYA One Year Anniversary in site. The party bus did not disappoint and a good five hours later we arrived in San Rafael after sunset. The next day we boarded the back of a truck for the three hour bumpy ride down to the southern point of the Dominican Republic to a remote beach called Bahia de las Alguilas. No easy task to get to but well worth the trip.  That night we had a Halloween celebration and all headed back the next day.

        (Above: sunrise in San Rafael; Below: View from San Rafael) 

        (Below: Bahia de las Alguilas, Pedernales)

        (Our group at Bahi de las Alguilas!)


        • This month began with an end of the season, hurricane. Due to the hurricane’s unpredictability, most of the regions where called to consolidate in our respective consolidation points (also known as nice hotels). I hurricane proofed my home, putting books in bags, moving items away from doors, and then headed into the capital for five nights of buffet food, h-o-t showers, cable in bed and a view. 

        (Above: photo of men working construction from the Barcelo)

         (Above: View across Maximo Gomez)

         (Above: View down below)
        • The last training for cohort 517 09-02 took place over three days in Santo Domingo where we shared our successes and lessons learned, and planned for the second year of service. We spent some quality time complete with a trip to the play to see a local baseball game. Good times. 
        • Thanksgiving followed, with the annual brunch at the Arroyo Hondo country club. A delicious lunch thanks to a group of volunteers gracious enough to cook mashed potatoes, sweet mashed potatos (yum!), turkey with gravy, salad, stuffing, and an array of delicious pies. All this followed by some poker, Presidente, an endlessly entertaining talent show and a debaucherous evening of dancing at the after party in the colonial zone wrapped up a wonderful and satisfying Thanksgiving.   (Below:  Kaitlyn, who helped organize the event and me at Arroyo Hondo Country Club, thanksgiving)


        •  We had a short taller at the Institute for Innovation and Technology in the capital to test out some equipment that will be similar to the fruit dryers we are getting at the end of January. The tests for dried pineapple and papaya came out well, now we just have to wait for our dryers to get here so we can get moving! 
        • California!! Half way through the month I headed back to California for nearly three weeks of family and friend time, and got in my fill of winter apparel and hot showers. I was back in the DR in time to head back to the campo and then out for New Years in the capital where I had a late dinner of traditional sancocho soup right before midnight with Gabriel and his family. We then went out for some rooftop dancing afterwards to bring in the New Year.


        • Now I am back in the campo and was surprised to find that it was actually kind of comforting to come back. Everything is calm, slow, and not too hot. It gives me time to process my trip home, the last year and my service, and just breath! I also now do not have a working inverter  anymore so that means no electricity when there is no electricity. Back to candlelight and lamps for me in the evenings like most other people. I did some heavy duty cleaning to eradicate and rat proof my house and have killed an enormous tarantula in my silverware drawer, an entire family of rats (including a baby, I'm so soulless now), endless cucarachas and a scorpion. Yes, I am back, and this year will better than the last.

        Canning Workshop January 6 2011

        I am back in the campo and fully recharged from my lengthy holiday vacation to California. The first event of the year was held this Thursday at the FRUTICOOP, INC. plant (and in the first week of the year, impressive since it is usually a no work 'flojo' week here). Peace Corps trainers came out to hold a canning workshop, using imported bottles located the capital (finally!) to can fruits and marmalades. This is a big step for us!

        Here are photos of the 15 women and Peace Corps counterparts that participated in the workshop:

        (Preparing pineapple for canning and for pineapple marmalade)

        (Canning pineapple marmalade using Bano Maria)

        (Sealing after Bano Maria, pineapple slices and marmalade)

        (Leaving the office....)

        Tuesday, June 22, 2010

        Construir tus Sueños, Mango Festival and Patronales

        A couple of months have passed since my last blog, and several things have happened. Beginning in April and ending in June, I taught a business class under the Peace Corps youth entrepreneurship curriculum of Construir tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams). There was a lot of interested youth in my community, so I formed two classes at the request of students, one section held on Sunday afternoons for four hours in the community center and the other section for two hours on Tuesday and Thursday nights in a community church space. The Sunday class was much calmer, with only six students sticking it out to the end from the initial 14. The Tuesday and Thursday group was a much rowdier bunch, with 15 remaining from the initial 25 students that showed up on the first night. Through hours of working through 14 sessions exploring different business themes from entrepreneurship to feasibility studies, business plans, marketing, basic accounting, budgeting, cost and pricing analysis, etc. In the end 21 students graduated from the course on Monday, June 13th. We had our last session followed by a party, giving out certificates, playing a common game El Secreto,  lots of photos, soda, salami, cheese and crackers. 

        After completing the course, they now have the option to work on their business plans individually or in groups to enter into a national competition that will take place over three days at the end of September. If their plans are selected they will compete to win various prizes including the opportunity to have their business fully or partially financed. Many are up to the challenge and excited for the competition, and are working out the details of their plans that they started while in the course.
        (Photo: Class of 2010, Constriur tus Suenos)


        Another happening in June is the Mango Festival/Expo, that takes place annually in Bani. Sun Fruits Cooperative, Inc. (Fruticoop) was there selling their products, along with many other producers and stands. It is incredible I had no idea that there were so many varieties of mango—well over 25 (not sure how many exactly)! The festival was inaugurated on a Wednesday night, with traditional dance and costume performances by youth,  as well as colorful modern dance performances featuring booty shaking provocative routines ‘fit family fun’. Workshops, food, free coffee, mangos to your hearts delight, and live music. And let us not forget the inescapable heat of Bani! I worked three of the four days and we moved a fair amount of product, our new and improved mango marmalade was a big hit.

        Photos: Band with traditional dance; Mango Madness at Mango Expo 2010; Mangos
        (photos by Gabriel Socias):

        It is Patronales season in Villa Fundacion, and the town is alive with nightly live music, DJs, dancing, and fritura (fried foods) on the central plaza. Patronales is an annual 10-day celebration honoring the town’s patron saint, San Juan Bautista. Every town has one that all fall on different weeks of the year. There are nine days of prayer or novena, starting two days before Patronales begins. So far we’ve had an array of musical guests, including Dominican singer Juliana, los Pepes, infamous for their hit single repeating Pepe over and over again with illicit undertones and double entendres. Still to come is Alex Bueno, who sings bachata, salsa, merengue and more, Los Años Dorados, Los Hermanos Rosario (merengue) and and bachatero El Chaval. Relatives living afuera (outside) in the US in NY, Boston, Florida and elsewhere sign into live video chats and feeds of the party, with a camera scanning the crowd and relatives greeting each other via live feed. All is featured on a large screen in the park.

        Besides that, I have the usual trips to Santo Domingo to multi-task and get everything done at once.  Beach trips to Juan Dolio and Derrumbao, which is the Caribbean side of Punto Salinas that has beautiful snorkeling. Tarantula hunting in my house (they like to kick it at my place), this usually consists of me grabbing a stack of four or five books for the battle and hurling them across the room. Just living that relaxing campo life, reading, listening to the chorus of farm animals and working on projects. My project is up on the Peace Corps Partnership Program website, check it out and make a tax-deductible donation today to support the women of Fruticoop, Inc. working in dried fruit and marmalade production using solar technology:

        Most of all right now I am looking forward to my visit to California in just one week! Cannot wait for a break and two weeks with friends and family!

        Photos: On way to snorkeling spot Derrumbao walking past salt pools in Salinas, sand dunes of Bani in background in middle photo, man working in salt pools: 

        Wednesday, March 31, 2010

        Samana and familiar faces

        My friend Mariange came to visit from home and we went to Samana for a few days. Samana is a gorgeous, idyllic peninsula that juts out in the north east, filled with rolling hills of palm trees, turquoise Caribbean waters, and white/yellow sands- truly breathtaking. We met up with another volunteer in the capital who lives in Samana and headed up to her site for the day.  After getting to her house we got ready to go to the beach in her town, across the road, down a river where locals bathe and wash everything you can think of, and down a dirt road to the beach. The beach is beautiful, and has an enclave of Italian summer (or year round) bungalow dwellers who try to claim one side of the beach is ‘theirs’ with no legal backing whatsoever. So the kids from the town still head down to their beach and enjoy the seaside swimming despite the foreigners protests, as they should.

        Kaitlin’s Brigada Verde ('Green Brigade') group came down for Water Day activities, with another volunteer and her brother visiting, my friend and I. We swam in the warm water with a nice crisp breeze upon exiting. While there I got to see the site and the town, and meet my dog Choco’s parents. He kind of looks like his mom, a yellow lab type happy dog that looks like she has gotten in a few fights in her life. And the father is an unlikely match- he looks nothing like the dad, who is short, spotted and well…. lets just say Choco takes after his mom.

        That night we got a ride to Samana to head to a resort. Equipped with wrist bands for an all inclusive, we covertly slinked pass the armed guards of the place to mingle amongst the guests of the all inclusive- enjoying an all you can eat buffet and cocktails galore on the house.  A little piece of heaven.

        The next morning Mariange and I decided to stay the night in Las Terrenas, a small touristy fishing town about an hour away on the north coast.

        Fisherman at Las Terrenas:

        After several gua guas (buses), we reached the town and found a reasonably priced place right across the street from the beach. The crystal clear blue waters and white sands make for mouth watering beach enjoyment, with the only downfalls being topless European tourists (not exactly culturally respectful here) and a narrow beach that lines the main road.

        There are pleasantly decorated, not too crowded beachfront restaurants, and bars with beanbags right on the sand.  The few bar/discoteques at one end of the town had an interesting crowd, lined on one side with sex workers and the other with awkwardly dancing tourists, waiting for the rum to kick to make some questionable decisions... slightly disturbing.

        The next morning after a brief beach stint, we began the 6 hour trek back to my town (4 gua guas and a taxi), with a three hour stop in the capital for groceries and a late lunch. By 9 we were back for the next few days in my town.  The next few days were spent with many rich meals, experimenting nervously with my gas oven, walks with the dog around town, and compartir-ing in many a plastic chairs along the way. Thursday night we had a late night domino match with an older couple that lives next door and then went to the beach at Punto Salinas with them the next afternoon for okay snorkeling, Presidente at the colmado and stopping to try majarete, a sweet corn desert on the way home. And Mariange was off the next day, closing a wonderful week—so nice to have company from home!

        Punto Salinas, Caribbean side; Mariange and a starfish; Me and Mariange: