Posted by: stacylynn12 | December 16, 2011

The Two Faces of Cabarete

On the North Coast of the Dominican Republic there is a town called Cabarete. It is a world renowned destination for wind and water sports. Kite surfing is king – or queen, depending on who is doing the surfing. On any given day when there is sufficient wind you can walk on the beach and see dozens of large parachute-like kites catching the wind and hauling thrill seeking Dominicans and gringos (foreigners) alike through the water. Their kites are attached to them via a long tether and a padded harness that wraps around their waist and hips. The kite is controlled much like any typical kite and the surfer’s feet are attached to a board similar to a snowboard that allows them to fly across the water. Those that are advanced catch big air and turn flips using the power of the wind.

Kite BeachKite Surfers at Kite Beach, Cabarete


It’s totally cool to watch and I have to say I was envious of those getting lessons and having a go at it for their first time. My adventurous soul wanted to soar with the wind and waves. Alas, the lessons are quite expensive and require about 3 days before you even get out onto the water. It just wasn’t practical from a monetary or a logistical standpoint. Sadly, I do not need another expensive sport in my life for which I have no time. Plus, kiteboarding in the frigid northwest waters is about as appealing to me as cold, gas station coffee and after this year I doubt I’ll be traveling to the tropics again for a while.

For us, the appeal of Cabarete was not the adrenaline packed sports that most flock here for. It was the opportunity to enjoy some of the surrounding beaches (there are a few in the area that have tranquil waters good for swimming) and to indulge in some of the amazing food to be savored while kicking back… drink in hand… children playing happily in the sand. Our guidebook describes Cabarete’s beach restaurants as “the quintessential Carribbean experience” and they are not far off the mark. We also wanted to visit The DREAM Project. (More on that shortly.)

We arrived in town and checked into Ali’s Surf Camp, a hip little backpacker’s oasis with a great pool. The scene at Ali’s was much more international and much less Dominican. During our first night there we met people from the US, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Canada and Germany.

The sweet pool at Ali’s Surf Camp

The popularity of Cabarete means that there are more souvenir shops, more restaurants catering to western tastes, more creature comforts that us westerners are accustomed to. I was able to take fantastic yoga classes in an open air hut overlooking the ocean. We drank mojitos and cervezas seaside while the ocean breeze kept the mosquitos at bay and we ate incredible shrimp and lobster sautéed in a divine garlic cream sauce. Oh, and we discovered the Cabarete Coffee Company. They serve delicious fresh fruit smoothies, bagels, yogurt parfaits and of course coffee. Organic, locally grown Dominican coffee. And not just coffee but lattes and mochas that were yummy and amazing. Dominicans may know how to grow really good coffee but until now we had yet to have anything that scored above mediocre on our albeit somewhat snobby scale.

Mmmmmmmmmm…..

For a week we whiled away the hours barely leaving our cabina. I cooked my first Dominican meal without tutelage or supervision from a bona-fide Dominican cook. It wasn’t bad. Bodhi plugged away diligently at his homeschool work in between long swim sessions (aka… recess!). I took 3 hours of Spanish lessons every day at a highly recommended school that we quite literally stumbled upon one morning. It was right next door to the Surf Camp. Fantastico!

The following week I met Catherine – our new friend from Las Galeras – for a visit to the DREAM Project. Catherine divides her time between Las Galeras and Cabarete where she is the Executive Director of this non profit organization. DREAM stands for Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring. Their mission is to provide quality, early and continuing education in order to break the cycle of poverty and change destinies. The DREAM Project has a variety of programs including excellent Montessori pre school classes, summer camps and before and after school programs.

DREAM supplements an otherwise “strained” public education system here in the Dominican Republic. The ratio of children to public school resources (buildings, qualified teachers, money, etc…) is very high and because of this children do not receive an adequate public school education. Children typically attend public school for about 3 hours each day. Usually, the young kids attend the school in the morning and then the older kids attend the same school with the same teacher(s) in the afternoon. The DREAM Project picks up where public school leaves off.

I was impressed with DREAM’s facility and the programs I saw in action. It was by far the nicest school I’d seen in the country and the children were thoughtfully and actively engaged in their work when I was there. Parents are expected to volunteer regularly. The teachers were Dominicans, some of whom had not had the opportunity to go to school themselves. After an intensive Montessori training they not only had jobs but they also had the opportunity to finish high school.

The library at the DREAM Project

My visit to DREAM, on the heels of our trip to Los Marranitos – the tiny mountain village from my last post – prompted more thoughts about what it means to create a better life.

Catherine joined us for dinner on the beach one evening and we had a lively discussion over glasses of wine and that tasty shrimp and lobster I mentioned above. Somehow I’d convinced myself that in order to secure a better life in developing countries, the people would have to give up some of their cultural identity and become more “westernized”.

Catherine shared with us that many of the children who attend DREAM programs live in homes that routinely flood with heavy rains (the likes of which we had been experiencing during our time in Cabarete). Their possessions all get wet and then they are not able to attend school due to the perils of frequent real life catastrophes. I began to sense my thoughts shifting though I still could not articulate my hesitancy over this concept of obtaining a better life.

In stark juxtaposition to the relative luxury of the tourist scene at Cabarete Beach, there is the Callejón (pronounced kai-ah-hone) – the Dominican neighborhood located near the center of town. Strolling through the Callejón, one gets a good taste of local life. Grandfatherly men tightly circled around a table playing Dominos with the emotional intensity of a two year old who just dropped his ice cream cone. Children playing the very popular game of marbles. Music streaming out of every little colmado where people are gathered to sit, talk and drink. Motoconchos zipping by ferrying loads of all manner of things. It’s an energizing place!

We strolled through the Callejón one day on our way to visit El Choco National Park – a reserve on the outskirts of town. On the rutted, dirt road leading deeper into the forest, there were houses scattered here and there. These families were there before there was a park and have been allowed to stay. The homes were small and constructed of wood. Some were painted brightly while others were weathered wood. In the Caribbean, wood houses are not ideal due to the high humidity and the prevalence of tropical storms and hurricanes. Concrete is the preferred building material but it is more costly than wood. Thus, poorer neighborhoods have homes constructed of wood and in turn suffer more loss when mother nature unleashes her fury. The cycle of poverty is relentless.

A brightly painted house in El Choco

A simply constructed, unpainted house in El Choco.

In the Dominican Republic there are doctors and lawyers, engineers and business professionals. There are people who live in grand homes and plenty of others who live in modest but nice middle class homes. There are Dominicans who can send their children to elite private schools and travel the world as they please. There are also people so poor that their homes are constantly threatened by the tropical weather, they cannot afford much beyond rice and beans and chicken to eat and if they get sick, they may not be able to afford the cost of the care they need. According to one web statistic more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line. (www.ruralpovertyportal.org)

As our days in the DR came to a close, what I realized was that having a better life means having opportunity. What I choose to do with my opportunities is my choice. With little opportunities there is little choice and with little choice there is little freedom. I witnessed a tremendous amount of progressive, positive change happening here in the Dominican Republic. I hope the country of the future is filled with opportunities, choice and freedom for every person.

Change may be slow, but it is happening one day at a time.

Until next time DR…

Gracias.
Adios!

Ahhhh…. Presidente!

A few last photos from La Republica Dominicana…

A sample of Dominican Art.

Young girl at the Colmado.

A heated game of Dominoes.

A sight for sore eyes!

Niños in El Choco

A man sits outside his home in El Choco.

The sweet swimming cave we hiked to.

Inside the cave.

Walking the road in El Choco.

Hiking in the park.

The ugly side of Dominican life…A trash pile in the Callejón.


The mother of all sandcastles!

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Responses

  1. Glad you guys had a memorable experience in the DR. I can’t help but admire your intrepid and positive spirit. Good luck the rest of the way.

  2. These caves are amazing, I`ve been around for a while here but just now took time to visit with a group of friends, did amazing photos. The one you did the swimming at with the kids was not in our tour, it looks great!

    We`ll post our photos in our website soon, and will be back to get more done at the other caves.


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