As of yesterday, I have embarked upon a mysterious journey of adventure and intrigue, a trip which I know next to nothing about. I am merely along for the ride, and after my first day I know that there will be a lot in store.
A few months ago, it came time to register for spring semester classes. Imagine my excitement as I read through the offerings and found that for the first time ever, my school would be testing a new program on the student body. Ten days in the Dominican Republic for three course credits. It was called “Culinary Tourism in the Caribbean”, and from the moment I read the title I knew that this would be perfect for me. Travel and knocking credits out of the way?! Of course I was interested. Within a day I had completed the application essays and obtained all of the necessary recommendations, all I had to do was wait. After a month I was accepted into the program and joyfully awaited the beginning of the trip, set to leave on January 15th. Little did I realize that there would be immense amounts of reading and writing in preparation for the class, but that ended up being very interesting as it gave me insight into the culture I was about to visit and the economy and industry that I would soon observe. As the January 15th approached, I realized that I still knew very little about what I would be doing during this ten day trip, all I knew was a tentative schedule filled with excursions to places such as coffee plantations and cruise ships to learn about business in the Dominican Republic. Even now, after my first full day here, I still have no idea what will be around each corner, but the last twelve hours have me convinced that it will not be short of new experiences and excitement.
I arrived at the Santo Domingo airport at about noon, having woken up at three am to get to JFK on time for the flight. I then took a two-hour shuttle bus to Altos De Chavon, a large resort famed for its well-known clientele and picturesque setting on the cliff-sides next to the Chavon river. The resort itself was built as a movie set to depict an old but grand setting, so it therefore looks ancient and beautiful even though it is not very old. I came into this with no expectations so I was immediately blown away by the beauty of our residence. We are staying in sparse, dorm-style apartments but the architecture is gorgeous and the buildings are situated in a square around a large courtyard. I spent the afternoon getting better acquainted with the ten strangers from my university, with whom I am to spend the next ten days with. We all come from extremely different backgrounds, from different countries and all possess different interests and passions, so we are bound to learn a lot from one another. We also met a number of different students who reside here year round for school, they are mostly Latin American and speak English much better than I speak Spanish. We began by meeting our “RA”, a girl named Aime. She took us on a tour of the campus and then of the surrounding resort. The views were absolutely breathtaking! Cobblestone roads lead winding roads around foliage until you reach a number of different courtyards. The main courtyard has a quaint little church that overlooks the Chavon River.
For lunch we dined at one of the four restaurants. For weeks I have been dreaming about pork! Not to disappoint, pork is one of the signature meats used in Dominican cooking so I opted to have the pork lion with passion fruit sauce and white rice. The pork tore away from itself at the touch of a fork and was highly flavorful with a salty finish. Delicious. My Friend Emerald had a less pleasant experience when she ordered the Pork Mofongo and ended up finding out that this version was a rendition that included crispy fried pork fat instead of actual meat. Naturally I helped her to finish it off since I have a recently acquired an appreciation for the flavor of straight up fat….(I’m actually serious, don’t knock until you have sat in a hole-in-the-wall authentic Asian restaurant in the middle of Chinatown and have pulled apart the layers of crispy bubbling Peking duck skin from the layer of tender meat and melt-in-your-mouth fat. Stay tuned for more on that later.)
In the evening we went to dinner as a group at a nearby restaurant. I ordered the “Dominican Chicken”, a dish that reminded me of chicken parmesan. A bed of rice topped with a chicken cutlet, bacon, plantains and melted mozzarella cheese. The dish was very heavy. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting and the peso to American dollar conversion still has me extremely confused.
During the meal I couldn’t help but notice the rather old man sitting at the table across from me who was eating dinner with a very beautiful and flashy young woman. Towards the end of the meal, the man approached our group, at which point it became apparent that he was severely inebriated. All the woman said was that she could not speak English, which she explained with a meek smile. The man then proceeded to go on and on about how he just met his “girlfriend” and how he knew they were certainly going to have an excellent time together later in the night. He went on with this description while she stood next to him silently smiling! The woman then had to lead him away in the right direction of the exist so that he didn’t walk into the wall instead. Eventually the night turned into drinking and dancing. I was tired and overwhelmed from a day of learning that my language skills were seriously under par and thus I was not feeling in the mood to spend the whole night out. I left alone for my dorm room feeling uncomfortable and angry with myself for not participating. It’s unlike me to shy away from social opportunities and I felt as though I was putting out the wrong impression to the people on this trip. I drifted off in my sleeping bag on the student mattress with no pillow, hoping that the next day would be better.