After a great night of sleep, the group woke up well rested and ready for our white water rafting adventure. We went over to Rancho Baiguate to watch a safety video to prepare us for the upcoming journey. We then drove to the drop-off spot on the Rio Yaque and began rafting. Kaela was a bit nervous to white water raft because she had never been before, but she had a blast and loved it! We rode down rapids named ¨Mike Tyson Jr,¨ ¨Mike Tyson Sr,¨ and ¨Cemetery.¨ Our guide pointed out a bridge that was NOT in Jurassic Park. Everyone made it safely off the river, and we were rewarded with a delicious lunch buffet when we arrived back at the ranch. After lunch, we went back to our hotel and loaded up the van to transfer to Cabarete. Upon driving to Cabarete, we were mesmerized by the views of the sandy beaches and the waves of the ocean. Ali´s Surf Camp, our home in Cabarete, is a cute, casita-style hotel located on a lagoon. We had a yummy dinner and went to sleep excited for the next day´s activity.
Today was the day most people were very excited for… the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua! We drove about an hour and a half to get to the base of the mountain and then hiked up about an hour to get to the starting point of the waterfalls. The ¨hike¨ was a breeze compared to Pico Duarte. We slipped and slid down countless waterfall slides and jumped into the pools at the bottoms of the falls. The tallest waterfall we jumped off of was 25 feet, and Liz was the first of the students to take the plunge! Almost everyone followed suit and screamed a little on the way down. It was so much fun! When we walked back to the bottom, we ate a satisfying buffet meal. Afterwards, we came back to the hotel and decided to walk around the town of Cabarete for a bit. Everything was closed because it was Sunday, but we popped into a grocery store and bought some goodies. We ate a scrumptious dinner of fresh fish, steamed veggies, and white rice.
Today was the first service day, and everyone woke up ready to start making a difference in people´s lives. John, the director of the Dream Project, and Otto, his helper, met us at our hotel to give us an overview of the Dream Project and the work we would be doing for the next three days. We then headed over to the Dream Project´s main building to get a tour and see who our work would benefit. We learned that we would be making a cement patio at Dream Project´s Montessori School located in Caraballo, a community of extreme poverty. Each family survives on less than one U.S. dollar per day. As soon as we arrived at the school, we went right to work. We first had to use pick axes, axes, and hammers to break up the old and broken cement. Jake instantly picked up a pick axe and went to town picking away at the cement. We took a break for lunch and were served an authentic Dominican meal of beef, rice, beans, and salad at a local family´s house. The food was absolutely delicious! We ate mangos for dessert and then walked back to the school to resume work. We continued to pick away at the cement and removed all the pieces. After an exhausting day of hard work, we left the site eager to continue working the next day.
Day 2 of service work went really well. We finished clearing away all the tiny remaining pieces of rock and began the cement making process. There was a huge pile of sand outside the fenced in area we were working in, and our first task was to carry most of it inside. At first, the group just used shovels to carry the sand back and forth, but Millie had a great idea that we should use buckets and have a rotation system to move the sand. The work went much faster. We then carried heavy bags of cement over and mixed the cement and sand with water. Some of the local guys helped us out, and we enjoyed the opportunity to practice our Spanish. We loaded buckets of cement for Simon, a helper, to lay down. After a few hours, we took our lunch break at the same local family´s home and ate pork, moro (a rice and bean dish), and a potato-egg combo salad. We went straight to work after lunch. Some of the kids continued to carry buckets of cement to Simon while others helped pick up trash around the school yard. With only a quarter of the patio left to cement, we said ¨thank you¨ and ¨good bye¨ to our friends for the day. Everyone was drenched with sweat when we got back to the hotel, so we took a refreshing dip in the pool. The girls wanted to do some shopping and the guys wanted to go to the beach so we split up for part of the afternoon. After our adventures in town, we ate a nice dinner together and went to sleep.
This morning we woke up to see and hear the effects of the tropical storm that was passing through the Caribbean. We were lucky that it was safe to surf in a downpour, because that´s exactly what we did! When we arrived at the surf spot, our instructor, Antonio, gave us a quick lesson, and then we grabbed our boards and paddled straight into the waves. We would lay on our boards and Antonio would push us through the waves and say when to stand up. Sabrina was the first one up and rode the wave like a champ! We were not able to surf for very long because it started to thunder and lightning. Antonio said the weather was not going to get better so we went back to the hotel and warmed up in the showers. John, the Dream Project Director, told us it would not be possible to go to Caraballo today because it was flooding everywhere from the massive amount of heavy rain, so we went to the Dream Project center to help out for the afternoon. During times of flood or natural disasters, the Dream Project site serves as a sort of refugee center for anyone who is in danger or needs a place to stay. We organized a classroom so that a couple families could sleep in it overnight. We also organized a closet of supplies and arranged books in the library. After our work was done, we rewarded ourselves with some ice cream from Bon, a Dominican ice cream chain. Everyone was sad that our last day of service had ended but felt proud of our hard work and all the we accomplished.
As bummed as the group was to miss free slurpee day from 7-11 in the states, we were stoked to hit the beach and catch some waves. The water temperature was a bit cooler from all the rain the day before, but it felt great. There was very rarely a lull between waves, so everyone was always at the ready to pop up and hang 10. Andrew caught some great waves before taking a nap on the beach. The rest of the gang surfed for a while and then worked on their tans. The sun finally came out as we ate lunch on the beach. It was the perfect ending to a great morning. From surfing, we showered quickly at the hotel and drove 4 hours to Santo Domingo. We ate a delicious dinner and had a fun final banquet. Everyone hit the hay early because we have to wake up at 4 am! Everyone is sad to leave because they´ve had such an awesome time, but they can´t wait to get their cell phones back!