Dominican Republic: Socially conscious travel
Monday, 2 December 2019
When I used to think about cruising--the kind you do on a big boat --I envisioned magnificent ice sculptures glistening amid all-you-can-eat buffets of chilled crab legs, tourists baking to a crisp by the pool, and Vegas-worthy shows with costumed dancers twirling audience members around the floor. While I could see how a cruise would be an ideal vacation for some, it just wasn't my kind of trip.
Recently, I had an opportunity to experience some of the comforts of the traditional cruise while also fulfilling my desire to be more than a tourist. I was invited to do some “impact" traveling with Fathom, an effort of the Carnival family of cruise lines.
The Fathom Dominican Republic cruise aboard the Adonia gives passengers a chance to help provide long-term sustainable solutions for a country struggling with poverty, lack of access to clean water, intermittent electricity, and other challenges.
The Dominican Republic depends on tourism, and those with English-language skills will have an easier time getting jobs. Travelers to the country help teach community members and students from prepared materials.
Travelers can sign up for a number of land activities to help the local economy and environment. You also have options onboard: Hit the gym and bask by the pool while sipping a mojito, or take a workshop on how to cultivate curiosity in your life or raise a new generation of change makers. That's my kind of trip.
Day One: We hired a cab ($35 per person plus tip) to take us around. Though it seems steep for a trip only a few miles away, the driver will take you anywhere you want and wait indefinitely for you to get back. We did the cable car ride ($10 per person) up to the Loma Isabel de Torres national monument in Puerto Plata, a protected nature preserve established in 1966. It was an amazing way to understand the island landscape
One of Fathom's commitments to the Dominican Republic is a reforestation initiative, which includes the planting of 20,000 trees a year on private land. As part of the initiative, the landowner can harvest only a certain amount of trees at maturity (in about 20 years) and must also replace them. Here, a local boy scout works with a Fathom passenger to plant a seedling.
The reforestation activity lasted half a day, got us good and sweaty, and felt really rewarding. Pro-tip: Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long pants, long socks. I got attacked by some vicious ants and still have bite marks, weeks later.
The Chocal chocolate factory is a collective run by 18 women, no small feat in this economically disadvantaged country. They make it a point to be accommodating for those with children at home, breaking for lunch so that the women can go home and feed the kids, or covering for each other when family duties call.
Here are cacao beans, raw on the left, toasted in the sun on the right. The beans come in from providers all over the Dominican Republic. They are transformed into artisanal chocolate happens in the factory. Travelers help to sort beans, pick out tiny pieces of shells from cocoa nibs, fill molds with melted chocolate, and wrap the final product. The bars sell for $2 in the gift shop, at Amber Cove, and in grocery stores all over the Dominican Republic.
Repapel paper recycling is another women-run business. Here, employees and friends who make crafts in the building greet visitors with a joyous song and hearty hellos.
Local offices donate white paper. Volunteers rip it into tiny pieces, separating the all white areas from those with print. The paper is washed until it gets completely saturated and takes on a slimy, soapy quality. It's then pulverized in a regular blender and strained through a special frame and then left to dry in the sun. The result is a thick, creamy stock that will be used for stationary, business cards, and art paper. It sells for 50 cents a sheet at the gift shop.
On the last day, I lounged by the pool and cracked open a book from the ship's library about how to forge a more authentic path for my life. I slathered on some suntan lotion, and sipped a frosty drink. And I slept with the depth of someone who made a positive impact.
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