"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Luperon, DR

>> Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Luperon Day 1
• By 1000 we had boarded our bus for Puerto Plata, it was an adventurous ride. Baggage, students and a few foreign guests crammed in to view the country- side as we rattled up and down mountains, past stray donkeys, meandering cows and a million and one motorbikes. Our journey was marked with a pit stop to add air to a tire, a second stop to change said tire and a final, slow, stall as we entered our destination of Puerto Plata and ran out of gas. Personally, I have experienced such situations a million times, but the tropical backdrop made it seem more exciting, more urgent. In reality, it was your average delay, and I have never had such a short wait after running out of gas. Our leader from the Village Mountain Mission, Chris Percy, was there to pick us up in under ten minutes. We were off to Luperon.

• Once we arrived in Luperon we talked with Chris about the living quarters, settled in, and took a walking tour of the town.

• That evening we enjoyed our first home-cooked meal of the week and prepared for our first night in our snug hammocks. I am rather embarrassed to admit that I was the first to flip over, but not the last.

Day 2
•We awoke to a cacophony of roosters, insects, lizards, donkeys, cows, screeching pigs, and the rev of early morning motorbikes. The students had taken to their hammocks and enjoyed a restful sleep despite the unfamiliar surroundings.

• After breakfast we piled into the work truck to head out into the country. We spent the morning touring two villages in which VMM had built homes. The students were able to meet a variety of families who welcomed us into their homes for a tour, allowing the students an opportunity to observe the style of home we would be building.

• We returned to the compound for lunch and to change into our work clothes.

• The village we would be spending the week in is known as Diecisiete. On our arrival we were met by the family we would be building for, Seneida, Antonio & Meiri. Looking back it seems like we were always there, as if the village had somehow always been familiar. Like it was waiting for us.

• On the first afternoon we managed to dig out the foundation and move all the cinder blocks to the site. All the while, playing with the local children, learning better Spanish and working as a team. It will remain one of my favorite memories to think of my students jumping into the project with such efficiency and grace. As they carried blocks, they also carried children in piggyback or on their shoulders. They never once complained about the mud or heat or heavy labor. The feeling of pride is a great gift to be given by those you invest so much energy into teaching.

• The crew of the Harvey Gamage ended the day tired and happy…

• We spent the day on site laying blocks and mixing our first massive batch of cement. Blisters began to form as the gravity of this project began to take hold. The monotony of this work was interspersed with children coming home from school and looking to play games and our students comparing new-formed blisters and bulging biceps.

• After work we made a brief stop at a local beach to cool off and relax for a few moments. The irony of this visit was that backing the beach was a giant, gated resort standing in complete juxtaposition to the emaciated village we had just returned from.
This irony was not lost on the students, after dinner we had a great discussion about the day’s events and many of them brought up this observation. This is another great example of how the students are truly living in the moment.

• Another full day of work, mixing cement, paving blocks, the transportation of endless buckets and wheel barrels full of sand, gravel, cement, and water. The result was amazing, we had completed five layers of block, framed out the doors & windows and under Charlie’s carpentry eye, built the frames for the windows and doors. The blank piece of land from a few days ago was beginning to resemble a house!

• I must mention that every day we spent on the worksite we were treated like old friends by the locals. Carmen, one of Seneida’s new neighbors, made us homemade treats every day; fried plantains, empanadas, fried onions & cornmeal, vanilla pudding. Always a delicious treat. The language barrier dwindled everyday added by the patience of people like Carmen, Seneida and {some of the best teachers} the children.

• At the end of the workday we went to town to use the internet and make phone calls, always exciting for sailors at sea.

• That night we had quite a bit of rain and wind, no better time to tell ghost stories. After bouts of laughter and screams we zipped into our hammocks questioning every nighttime sound…


• A well deserved day off ! The day began with a gorgeous sunrise, not a rain cloud to be seen. The students were ready and waiting by 0800, ready to explore the Isabella, Columbus’s first settlement in the Caribbean. I will never forget their faces when they heard the roar of 17 motorbikes pull into the driveway instead of our typical mode of transportation. Cheers and a standing ovation greeted the surprise. The students quickly chose their driver, hopped on back and poof – instant biker gang. We were motley looking bunch attracting lots of attention as we drove through many small villages en route to Isabella.

• Our destination in Isabella was the Columbus museum, located at the site of his first settlement in the Caribbean. The museum was built in 1992 to celebrate the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World. The museum contained the site of Columbus’s home, a few interesting artifacts and a cemetario that is most likely a replica, The students had a history class to discuss the aspects of the museum and the Dominican’s feeling on this historical figure. The Dominican government had planned it to become a huge tourist attraction, opening in 1992 to celebrate the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s landing. A bit of irony as Columbus’s occupation of the area brought tragedy to the natives, and 500 years later building such monuments taps economic resources that could be better used for the welfare of the people.

• After our return from Isabella the students divided in to two groups to alternate between horseback riding and a couple hours at the beach. For many of the students it was their first experience on a horse, yet within minutes they were at ease in their saddles. Apparently we have quite a few natural cowboys in the mix.

• Before dinner the students had the opportunity to meet with students from the George Washington after school English program. The Dominican peers were eager to practice their English, learn about the crew of Harvey Gamage and their homes abroad, and even shared with us a touching skit demonstrating the amnesty of the Dominican Republic in Haiti’s time of need…

• Dinner was quite eventful as it began in the middle of a torrential downpour. We were all huddled in the girls’ sleeping quarters eating supper when we had an unexpected guest, a not so cute and furry tarantula. Screams erupted as we scattered in all directions away from the beast. Despite the fact that these arachnids are harmless, they still posses an alarming presence. It seems the rain had brought out all sorts of 8-legged critters. All around are specimens of a dozen different spiders displaying their agility at catching passing months and mosquitoes; of course this led to more story telling…

• As the evening approached, what better way to end then with Literature class? The students gathered together to discuss their reading of Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat. It was a lively discussion as the students applied their experiences in the DR to the opinions and experiences of the characters. There is nothing better then reading a story and living in the location in which it takes place, it almost feels as if you may encounter one of these characters as you cross the street.

• Back to work with one major goal in mind- finish the walls, 5 more layers of block. Once the students got into the groove of squaring up walls and lying on the block, progress was rampant. By 1600 we had finished the last layer, cleaned up and ready for a stop at a local swim hole.

• After dinner we all sat around a nice big bonfire and enjoyed some fine music by our resident artists Ian and Abi. Unfortunately, the rain cut the camp-side hour a bit short, so we once again huddled up for some ghost stories. Yet again the rain brought out a few 8-legged creatures to clear the night of pesky skeeters. Most of us had become accustomed to their presence and sat watching their delicate movements. Still, it wasn’t uncommon to hear a scream echo from the head as a critter startled the occupant. We all agreed that one of the many wonderful aspects of sailing, is the absence of bugs at sea.

• Another day of mixing cement… hard, dirty, work worth every second. By the end of the day we had poured the header, after leaving it to dry for the night we would be ready to put the roof on. Before us stood a slightly unfinished home, all the more motivation to work through the next day- full force.

• That night after dinner three couples, who were past years’ recipients of homes through Village Mountain Mission, stopped in to share with us a bit of Dominican culture. Their objective: to teach 17 gringos how to dance meringue and bachata. A fun-filled night ensued as myriad left feet marched and slid along to the percussive taps of a torrential down pour on the zinc roof that accompanied the music pumping out of the speakers. At the end of the night our twinkle toes turned into lead weights as we made our way through the mud and back to camp. Needless to say, a good work out all around.

• Our last day on the site…it sort of feels like we have always been here. I stand amazed as I look at the structure before us, we just built a house! It truly is amazing what a group of people can accomplish by working together. What an amazing gift to give someone, a new home.

• After our last day on the site the general mood was one of joy. We returned to the compound to clean up and enjoy one of our last nights in Luperon.

• We all seemed to gravitate together, discussing the past week and plans for the next day. We shared stories as we cleaned the last bits of cement from our toes. Then, of course, gave each other pedicures. The boys even joined in… all for one and one for all.

• Our last day in Luperon was filled with activity. We began the day with a visit to the 27 cascades, a series of waterfalls falling through a rainforest. As we donned lifejackets and helmets it became obvious this was not going to be your typical hike. The guides hiked us up the first 7 waterfalls, teasing us the entire way. Once we reached the top, it was time to go back down… jumping and sliding down the falls back to the first clear pool of water. It was great fun and left us feeling elated and cleaner then we had been since arriving in St.Thomas.

• After lunch we loaded back into the truck and headed out to a neighboring village where we hosted a mini carnival for some local children. We set up outside of their one-room schoolhouse and invited them to join us in a variety of games. Dan had an instant basketball game underway, the girls began face painting and polishing nails, kite flying, 3 legged races, pato, pato, ganzo {duck, duck, goose}, tug-of-war and freeze tag filled the rest of the afternoon.
• The moment of truth came after the carnival. We brought Seneida and her children back to her new home. Johnny, Dylan, Charlie, Chris and Jesse had volunteered to put the last few pieces of zinc roofing on. It was an emotional experience to stand with this family that had been living in a dwelling no better then a shack for the last few years, watching as new homes were built all around them. Tears were certainly shed and the gravity of this experience began to descend upon us.

• For our last evening we had a crew dinner at one of the local restaurants. It was a fantastic meal, and well deserved. We returned to the compound for a few hours sleep, as we needed to be on the go by 0230.

DAY 10
• We arrived home safe and sound after wicked long day of traveling. The students held up well despite the early departure. We all eyed Gamage with appreciation and affection as we neared the harbor. After a week of manual labor and sleeping in hammocks the schooner life feels like 4 star accommodations.

This week was an extraordinary experience that is difficult to put in words. I only wish I could bottle the sounds, smells, colors and voices of the world around us. I imagine that it will take a few days at sea before I {we} are able to fully articulate the significance of this experience. At this moment I know two things; none of us are the same people as we were before this project and I am extremely proud of these students. I am grateful to have them as my shipmates and look forward to the next two months of this fine journey.


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