Posted by: stacylynn12 | November 23, 2011

Leaving Las Galeras

It’s been almost 3 weeks; longer than we’ve ever stayed anywhere in all of our international travels. We’ve been in Las Galeras long enough that the local shop owners have stopped asking us to come have a look at their wares. Long enough that we started to be privy to the local gossip ( so and so is this… so and so does that ). Long enough that when walking home after dinner one night recently, Joshua asked where we were going and when I said “home”, he said, “I know where home is… Las Galeras!”

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“Downtown” Las Galeras

In a place this small, it doesn’t take long to start to feel a sense of community.

Much of our experience here in LG ( as the locals call it ) has been shaped by serendipity. Some may call it luck, others fate, still others divine intervention. By any name some of our most amazing travel experiences have happened this way.

Let me tell you what I mean.

On the day we arrived in LG, we asked our gua gua driver to drop us off at a place called Casa Dorado. A gua gua is a small mini van or truck that transports locals and tourists around from town to town. They often have bald tires, no seat belts and the sliding side doors wired permanently open. Oh and while they are designed to seat about 9 people max, you can count on there being 15 people or more stuffed inside.

So anyway, we asked our driver to drop us off at Casa Dorado. We had read about this place in our Lonely Planet guidebook and it looked amazing. We had wanted to stay there for a couple of nights while we tried to find a little apartment to rent with a kitchen for a more extended stay. The gua-gua driver could not, or did not want to take us there and so a posse of moto-concho drivers (small motorcycles) started bustling around us talking about taking our family of four and all our belongings – 4 backpacks and two small duffles on God knows how many motorcycles to get us there. After a 5 hour trip from Santo Domingo and with our bodies still not adjusted to the heat, our nerves were beginning to fray a bit in all of the commotion (understatement).

Then amidst all of the chaos, we saw the sign for La Isleta (our potential first choice place for a longer term stay) right across the street and decided, in our heat and hunger induced stupor to stumble over there instead. This all worked out just fine as La Isleta had very nice apartments to rent, was close to the beach and the owner spoke English very well and this helped with our transition quite a bit.

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The road to La Isleta, the gua gua “terminal” and the local car wash… Almost any time of the day,
someone was there washing their car.

But we still wanted to go to Casa Dorado for breakfast as we’d read it was delicious… “the real deal” according to our book. So I began to email with Catherine the proprietor to make arrangements for us to go for breakfast.

Meanwhile…

I’d just written my post “Primal Landscape” about our time in Maine and posted it on Facebook with a note that said “this one is for all the Mainers out there.”

Shortly thereafter my dear high school friend Liz, subscribed to my blog then emailed me to say in a word… I have a friend from business school in the DR. She owns a Bed and Breakfast in Las Galeras called Casa Dorado. Her name is Catherine. If you go there, look her up!

What are the odds, I mean, seriously.

This was the chance meeting that sparked all sorts of amazing experiences we had in Las Galeras. We went to Casa Dorado one morning for breakfast (it was indeed fantastic) and met Catherine. We marveled at the small world feeling of it all and she introduced us to Gabby, a Peace Corp volunteer who was living and working here in LG. Gabby works with the youth in the community and runs weekly boys and girls groups. We spoke with her about our interest in doing some volunteering and she invited us to come and work with her groups.

It gets even better though. Gabby’s boys group was currently exploring engineering as this is a common career path for young men in the DR. Randy, being an engineer and all, was able to spend an evening with the boys talking, with the help of Gabby as a translator, about general principles of engineering and of his career as an engineer.

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Randy and the boys talk engineering.

I had the pleasure of digging out my old dusty electronic copy (thanks Sheryl and Robin!) of the Passages Northwest curriculum guide and spent an evening with Gabby’s girls. Before we got started, Gabby had to run home to grab some tennis balls for an activity I had planned. It was just me and the girls…about 15 of them. They were all staring at me like I was supposed to be saying something. Instead of being terrified, I launched into everything I knew how to say in Spanish. Where I was from, that I was traveling with my family, that I used to work with girls groups back in Seattle… I’m sure I botched a lot of what I was saying, but they were so kind to me and through my efforts I established some good natured rapport while waiting for Gabby to return. Once she did we had the best time playing games and doing an activity that required them to tangle themselves up in a knot and then untangle themselves. I also taught them a song about peace that I had learned back in my Passages days.

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Me and the chicas.

I don’t know who had more fun, me or them. In the end Gabby talked to the girls about practicing the song, teaching it to the boys and singing it in their holiday concert. I hope they do. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of the song…. It always gives me chills.

http://m.youtube.com/index?desktop_uri=%2F&gl=US#/watch?v=nmsBsqlUC4U

As it tends to go with things like this, one chance meeting led to another and we were introduced to Cindy who runs La Escuela Libre – The Free School. It is a small organization founded by a New Yorker that provides local children, free of charge, the use of computers to learn a language of their choice – most commonly English or French – using the Rosetta Stone program.

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La Escuela Libre

We went to the school one day and also met Robert, the founder who happened to be here from the States. We talked for about an hour with Cindy and Robert (until the boys had really had enough of all this talking and wanted to go to the beach) about the school, the challenges associated with keeping the school afloat financially and of motivating students to take advantage of the opportunity.

As our 2 weeks at La Isleta drew to a close, we weren’t quite ready to leave LG so we decided to return to Casa Dorado for a few nights. It was close to our favorite beach – La Playita and also close to La Escuela Libre. Cindy and Robert had invited us to come use the Spanish Language program so the boys and I spent a few days practicing our Spanish.

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Bodhi practicar español

At Casa Dorado we met Leonel, a 14 year old at heart hiding in the body of a 21 year old who works for Catherine at Casa Dorado. Leonel was great with the kids and he and I did quite a bit of cooking together during our three night stay. He also helped us with the laundry by pointing out that we had been using fabric softener instead of detergent ( the joys and surprises of shopping in an all Spanish supermarket continue ).

The children adored Leonel too. It didn’t hurt that he snuck them candy constantly or turned on cartoons for them whenever they blinked their eyes at him. Ugh. At least the cartoons were in Spanish. We can consider that educational right? He also played games with them, chased them around the yard and made them laugh a lot. At the dinner table, Bodhi and Josh both insisted that they sit next to Leonel. I wanted to take him with us, seriously.

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Our Adiós lunch with Catherine and Leonel

We had many more experiences in Las Galeras, too numerous to name. What sets this place apart is not only the length of time we spent here but the kinds of things we did here.

Most of our travels in the past have been centered around tourist attractions. Certainly we did some beach bummin and that’s a tourist thing no doubt but the rest of the time, we did our best to engage in the community in the short time we had…to get a small taste of what life is like here. It was a refreshing change.

Here are a few more images from around town.

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La Playa

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The boat we took to Playa Rincón.

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Gas station Las Galeras style.

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Bodhi and Josh relax on the hammock terrace at Casa Dorado.

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It is common to see a ridiculous amount of people riding a motoconcho. Picture a man cradling a toddler in front of him while driving and balancing a propane tank and behind him sits Mama clutching an infant. Really. When in Rome…

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Josh samples raw sugar cane!

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Walking in the Barrio (neighborhood).

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Coconuts harvested before our eyes!

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Who could resist this muchacho?

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Lechosa (papaya)

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La Playa Bonita

A note:

Leaving Las Galeras, we headed to the mountain town of Jarabacoa, where we are now. We will be in the Dominican Republic until Dec 12th and then we will fly to Costa Rica for a month or so. Onward plans from there are still evolving!

Feliz día de acción de gracias. (Happy Thanksgiving!)

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Responses

  1. love your adventures. They are inspiring!! The ban on travel is looking more promising with with companion tickets, but alas they are only for travel within the continental US. Have you thought about Panama? the tickets there are the cheapest of any latin american country, probably because no one goes there because it is not as beautiful and travelled as other la countries. but I may be able to talk Neil into a backpackers adventure there. Ecaudor and Peru are pretty expensive to travel to, but I will keep working on neil! I hope to see you this winter and if not I will continue to live vicariously!!

  2. another beautiful post, amiga! you’ve done such an impressive job of connecting with people and making relationships in the communities you’ve visited… does it have anything to do with toting around two adorable boys? i can’t wait to spend time with you all in just a few short weeks.
    love,
    tía kelly

  3. Ah, bliss. What a great post– and how terrific that you connected to Catherine which led to other cool connections….. so glad.
    Enjoy the rest of your time in the DR before CR!!

    Wow!!!

  4. Hi Stacy and Randy and boys,
    It was nice meeting you guys @ Escuela Libre and seeing you around town. I am glad you took away lots of positive experiences from LG and I look forward to following your ongoing travels. And yes, that TS Elliot quote does speak volumes.
    Since you will be heading to Costa Rica, I will forward info. on a surfer camp a dear friend’s brother runs there.
    I am back in New York now but I did stay longer than expected, nearly a month.
    All the best,
    Robert

    • Yes, great meeting you too Robert. Please do send any Costa Rica contacts our way.

      Keep up the excellent work with La Escuela Libre.

      Best,
      Stacy


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