Donkeys and Dresses

After a full day out in the sun and enjoying Los Haitises, we decided we wanted to have a night out in the town. For the first time since we visited Santo Domingo, our second week in the DR, we got dressed up. We wanted to go dancing after dinner, so all of the girls did their make up and wore dresses. Once the gang was ready, we headed out the blue iron gate and down the dirt road. Luckily, it had been a beautiful day without rain, so the mud puddles weren’t too big. We hadn’t gone too far when we noticed Jess wasn’t with us, so we stopped and waited. When five minutes turned to ten, Natalie decided to go back to see where she was. After Natalie being gone for a minute or two, we start to hear yelling in the distance.

When we look around the corner, Paco, the donkey from our hostel, is bookin’ it towards us! Someone is yelling for us to stop him, but stopping a determined donkey isn’t an easy task. We blocked him from going down the dirt road, so he turned into a near by field. Brenda, in her bright yellow dress, went running after him. Luckily the neighbors were outside and gave Ryan a rope to better his chances at catching Paco. I know they got a good laugh in watching the Americans chase down a donkey. With Brenda on one side, and Ryan on the other, we were sure they were going to get him…and then Paco out ran both of them and went the other direction. At this point, the neighbors are laughing hysterically, along with all of us entertained on the sidelines. Finally, one of the neighbors took the rope from Ryan and got it around Paco’s neck. After much continual struggle, we finally got Paco on the other side of the blue gate, where he belonged. Once we were all reunited, we asked Jess how in the world Paco got out. Turns out, Susie, the puppy with a white coat and the newest member to the hostel animal family, kept crawling under the gate and following us, so Jess went back in and put her in the kitchen. In the mean time, Paco saw his opportunity to escape, and he took it! Jess felt bad of course, but we found it quite amusing that the one night we got dressed up, we ended up chasing down a donkey.

Because of the whole donkey ordeal, it was already getting dark when we left, and we didn’t want to make the 30 min trek into town at night, so we decided to take moto conchos. So fun. A few of the girls had never been on a motorcycle before, so they were a bit hesitant, but once we reached our destination, they we glad they took the risk. Dinner was fabulous.

The restaurant was right on the beach, and the food was great. When we were done eating, we took a stroll on along the coast. It was such a great way to end a wonderful day. There was one thing that paradise didn’t have, though…Matt :[
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Los Haitises National Park

Fortunately for us, Edit, the wonderful owner of our hostel, is a guide for the Los Haitises National Park. At 1500 pesos a head, we were a little hesitant to agree, but we decided to go for it anyway, and no one regretted the decision. We started off our morning with a short walk to where we loaded on the guagua. This particular guagua was a truck, so most of us got to sit in the bed, and enjoy the same beautiful view overlooking the bay, as we did on our way to Las Terrenas the first day. Once we got down to the water, we walked along the dock, got in our boat, and off we went!
The boat ride was wonderful. It was about 45 minutes long, and included all the drinks and sunshine you wanted. Once we got close to the national park, we noticed little islands off the coast, made up solely of rock and trees. The boat took us from the salty sea to a fresh water river, and into a cave. We were then instructed to jump out and let the current take us to the shore. The water was a little cold, unlike the ocean, and current was pretty strong. The shore was only a five-minute swim away, and the island made me feel like I was in paradise. The trees, coast, sand, and numerous yellow butterflies that sprinkled the air made this moment picture perfect.

Edit explained the different species of trees to us; which were imported from different countries, which were used as food for the slaves, and which were used to build houses. After this 20-minute stop, we jumped back on the boat. We weaved in and out of the tree filled islands that surrounded the main island, and Edit told us lots of fun facts about the different species of birds that lived there; like the pelicans only live to about 25 years old because they dive into the water with their eyes open, and after a while they go blind. Once this happens, they can’t dive to find food anymore, and they starve to death. [This became a joke the rest of the week. Whenever we were at the beach, and anyone said, "I wish I had goggles", someone else would say, "So do the pelicans!"]

Our next destination was a cave where indigenous people once lived. It was huge. I was grateful I brought along my flashlight. I went off exploring because I wanted to take pictures, so I didn’t hear all of the fun facts about it, but I did see the drawings they made on the walls that Edit pointed out. After spending a good amount of time exploring, we jumped back on the boat. Our next stop: the mangroves.

The mangroves were SO neat. Picture huge trees growing out of the ocean, with their thick, tangled roots resting above water level. They grow in water that is about a foot deep, and when the water gets too shallow, it can’t survive. So, to prevent its certain death, it walks to deeper water. That’s right. It walks. When the water level lowers, the side of the tree that is growing in deeper water produces a bundle of roots that hang down from the top of the tree, and grow until they get long enough to reach the ocean floor, where it becomes rooted. So, if there were a video camera taping one of these trees for 50 years, it would look like it was walking. So cool! I couldn’t help but think of my mom while I was here, because of her love for trees. :]

After the mangroves, we went to another cave. Again, I went off exploring, so I didn’t get the educational experience, but I sure did have fun. I set up my camera to have a long exposure, and I had everyone use their flashlights to paint!

We loaded on the boat, for the last time, and enjoyed the long boat ride back to the peninsula, where an all you can eat buffet was waiting for us! The food, our guide, the boat ride, the sunshine, and all of God's creation that we saw, was so wonderful. It had been such a fabulous day :]
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Las Terrenas

Its been a while since I’ve updated this, and so much has happened these past few weeks. I’ll try to remember all the good stuff!

We headed to the bus stop right after school. The bus didn’t leave for another couple hours, but we wanted to make sure we got our tickets. I sat next to Cecilia on the bus, and we had some good conversations, in Spanish. :] There was a man and his daughter sitting across the row from us and we were talking to him for a bit. When we got to Sanchez, a town about 30 minutes outside of Las Terrenas, he told us that when we got to the hill that we would be able to see the national park and the bay. He was sitting on the side of the bus with the view, so he switched seats with us so we could take pictures. He was so kind. :] When we got to the top, this is what we saw. It was beautiful.

As we entered into Las Terrenas, there was a lot to see. The town was definitely geared more for tourists than Santiago. There were shops lining the streets, and they all led to one place…the beach! We didn’t know where in Las Terrenas our hostel was, but fortunately for us, the driver did! He took us down a dirt road, until it forked and we got out. It had been raining, so the road was very muddy. Good thing I was wearing my tennies :]

Our hostel, Fata Morgana, was great! Each of the rooms has a bathroom, a hammock on the patio, and a clothesline for wet towels. There is a community kitchen, which definitely came in handy, and tons of animal friends. Paco and Flor, the donkeys, were my favorite, but the cats, chickens, and dogs were fun too. Edit, the owner of the hostel, is wonderful. She provided us with drinking water, and was always willing to help us if we had any questions or concerns. By the time we got settled, it was pretty late. Edit told us about a restaurant not too far from the hostel, so we headed over. The pouring rain set the mood of relaxation and tranquility while eating dinner, and it made the walk, or run, back to the hostel a little more exhilarating.

The next morning we headed to Playa Bonita. It wasn’t too far form our hostel so we walked. Little did we know, the road was made up of thick mud and huge puddles. Some people literally sank to their ankles as they walked. Fortunately, about half way there, we got a bola! The beach was beautiful, and we had it all to ourselves, minus a couple and a few dogs. It was lined with palm trees, and had some patches of flowers. Like almost all of the beaches here, the water was perfect, the sand was soft, and the sun was bright. :]

The next day we went into town for lunch. While searching for a good place to eat, we stumbled across a cute colonial plaza that reminded us of Santo Domingo, and we stopped to take pictures :]

Because Las Terrenas is for tourists, everything is more expensive, so we decided to eat at a Dominican restaurant instead of an American or French one [About 10% of the people that live in Las Terrenas are French. A lot of them moved here because they weren’t successful in France]. I ordered a tuna sandwich, and it was so yummy. Dominican food, besides the fruit, is typically not healthy, entonces, I was grateful for the tuna sandwich. As we were finishing up our lunch, our server, who had been talking to us throughout our meal, offered us a round of shots! It didn’t matter that it was only 11am, they were free. ;) The Dominicans like to put their rum in a bottle, full of a type of bark called Mamajuana, and it is supposed to enhance the flavor. I hadn’t tried it before, so I was quite intrigued. Our server gave us the choice of having a shot of just rum, or a shot of chinola juice and rum. If you know me at all, you knew which one I chose, and it was good!

After lunch, we walked less than five minutes to where the edge of town and the coast met. It was the first time we strolled along the beautiful beach of Las Terrenas, but it definitely would not be our last. After the beach, we made a pit stop at the grocery store so we could make dinner at the hostel. We had pasta, chicken, salad, green beans, and bread. It was so good, and cheap too. :]
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I Wish Everyday was Like Today

Every Saturday we have an excursion planned, but out leader was unable to take us anywhere, so we decided to plan the day ourselves! Our first stop was 27 Charcos--a beautiful collection of 27 waterfalls nestled away in the mountains behind sugar-cane fields. We took a gua gua, a public transportation bus, for 60 pesos, which is less than $2. On the way there, I was sitting across the aisle from a guy, who was probably about 27, who would not stop telling me how beautiful American girls are and how badly he wanted an American girlfriend. After I made it clear to him that I had a boyfriend, he asked me if all the girls in our group had a boyfriend. I then tried to explain to him that if he wanted an American girlfriend so badly, he would have to just go the US.  Luckily my stop was shortly after this.

The gua gua dropped us of off next to a dirt road that lined a sugar-cane field and ran into lush green mountains. Chad and Andrew pulled a stalk of sugar-cane, which looks kind of like bamboo, broke it into smaller pieces, and passed it around. Not really knowing how to eat it, I just took a bit out of it, and it was sweet and juicy--and was soo good! Eating it made me feel like I was indigenous. :]
After a short walk down the road, we come to the entrance. It cost 250 pesos, about $7, to see seven waterfalls, 310 pesos, about $9, to see 12 waterfalls, and 460 pesos, about $13, to see all 27 waterfalls. We originally thought it was going to cost a lot less, and we would be able to to how ever many waterfalls we wanted, so many of us did not have enough money. A lot of us borrowed money from each other, and we were all able to go to the seven. After we paid, we were given helmets and life vests, and started our on journey!

A guide leaded us over a bridge, and through the river, about thigh high, and onto trial into the lush green tropical forest. We were all so excited. This, by far, had been the most adventurous thing we had done here. The trail took us through the river several times, which was a bit cooler than the beaches, but very refreshing.

When we arrived at the first charco, there was a guy there that would watch our stuff while ventured up the waterfalls. It was absolutely stunning. We had two guides help hoist us up from one to the other, and good thing, because it would have been almost impossible without them. The current was very strong, and climbing up waterfalls isn't exactly an easy task. I was definitely bummed when we reached the 7th one because I wanted to keep going, but we still had the way down :] Slipping and sliding was great, and we were able to jump off the last one.

Everyone wants to go back to see all 27, and I'm definitely going to buy a water proof camera so I can capture all of its beauty! If you come to the Dominican Republic, this is a must see. Just make sure to bring tennies that can get wet, and board shorts are always better than a bikini.

We followed the trial back into the forest, through the river and over the bridge. We took a pit stop for lunch and decided we wanted to go to Puerto Plata, a beach not too far away. After hiking back up the dirt road, we waiting for another gua gua to come by.

While waiting, a red flat bed truck pulled over to the side of the road. I don't know who ran over first, but everyone followed! We all climbed up and got comfortable. It was our first bola, or ride, and it was pretty exciting :] The kind man who picked us up took us straight to another gua gua, where we climbed aboard. For 30 pesos, about $1, we got dropped off in Puerto Plata. The walk to the beach was a little further than we had expected, but it was well worth it. The Amber Coast was gorgeous.

After enjoying the warm waters, much-needed sun rays, and friendly dogs, we headed back. Not looking forward to the walk back, we hitched a second bola to the main road where we got on the gua gua for Santiago. This adventurous fun was just what everyone needed. We were missing the fun and exciting part of studying abroad because all we were really doing was our daily routines of going to school, doing homework, eating with the family and going to bed. Today was a blast, to say the least, and I wish everyday was like today.
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Sick as a dog

That night, I had such a hard time staying asleep. I kept waking up throughout the night feeling nauseas. Saturday morning, I threw up twice. Unfortunately, we were checking out of our hotel at 9am so we could do more sight seeing before heading back to Santiago. I really wanted to stay behind and sleep in one of the rooms occupied by the missions team because they were at our same hotel, but they were leaving at 9:30 that same morning. We headed to Dumbo’s for breakfasts, the same sandwich place we ate at the morning before, and the Bri’s convinced me to lay down on a few chairs they had pushed together in a corner. I was content laying there in the air conditioning while the group ate their breakfast. Once they were finished, we headed to the museum Las Americas. I was feeling too sick to pay attention to the Spanish-speaking guide, so I don’t know much information about what I saw. I do remember a pope-mobile though. I guess the pope came to visit and he rode in style—bulletproof car! They have it on display in front of the museum. After the long tour, we headed over to las Tres Ojos, three underground lakes. It was SO beautiful, but I was feeling so under the weather, I only took a few pictures. At around two o’clock we headed home. I was in the front seat; sitting on Cecilia’s lap, for the three-hour drive home. When I got home, I crashed. I slept for about two hours, and my mom woke me up for dinner. She made me soup. I felt bad that I was only able to eat about five bites, but I think she understood. After I was done eating, I went straight back to bed; it was about 8:30.
My mom woke up the next morning at 8:30 with breakfast. I gave my mom a bracelet with 5 silver crosses on it; it was Mother’s day. I felt better, so I ate the pancakes she made me. After I took a shower, I felt nauseas again, so I went back to sleep. I got up around 12 and got ready because my dad was coming to pick me up. I went to Bri’s house for lunch, where many people were gathered. My plate was already served, like it always is, with heaping amounts of food. I didn’t want to eat at all, but I ate some to be polite. Bri’s dad kept telling me I needed to eat more, so I ate a little more. When I stopped eating again, my mom told me I ate nothing, and needed to eat more. Praise God Bri was sitting next to me, and came to my rescue. She told my mom is was okay that I wasn’t eating because I was sick and that I would eat more, little by little, as time went on. My mom took my plate, giving about half of the food on it to Bri. Not only did she eat my left over food, but drank gulps of a Gatorade that my dad had bought for me, when no one was looking, because apparently Gatorade is good for a sick stomach. She is such a blessing. :] After that, we all went to another family-friend’s house. I didn’t get much homework done at all that weekend because I left it all for when I got back from Santo Domingo, but I wasn’t expecting to get sick. I stayed up late Sunday, doing what homework I could.
I had a long week of studying ahead of me. Test in all my classes!
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An Unexpected Adventure continued...

Sorry the last post stopped so abruptly. I had to go to class.

...Boca Chica was great. Andrew, mister adventerous, decided he wanted a coconut. So what does he do? Climb the tree, of course. I wasn't there to watch him do this, so I don't know exactly how he managed, but I saw the scrapes along his sides as a result. He's crazy.

After Boca Chica, we went to a couple different museums. They were really interesting. I didn't really understand much of what the guides said, but they were visually appealing. [the museums, not the guides.] One of them had peacocks! :]

After touring the city, we went back to the hotel and had a couple hours to wash up and rest. At 9pm we headed out to the boardwalk. It was the first time we had been outside at night as a group. There was live music playing, and I enjoyed watching the natives dance. Even though it started to rain, we all couldn't help dancing. It was great :]
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The Unexpected Adventure

Last Wednesday, the professors in charge of our program, Guerrero and Reyes, had a meeting with us about our break, Aug 23-30. Once that was done, Guerrero mentioned that the DR/Haiti team from APU would be arriving in Santo Domingo the following day and he was going to take three students with him. Obviously, everyone in the group wanted to go, and we found out it would only cost about $12 in bus fares for us to get there and back. Reyes, being the generous man that he is, offered to take his car as well, so we could go as a team, free of charge. Sweeeet. We planned to head out at 6am the following morning. It was about a three hour drive, because early morning traffic entering into the city was awful, and becuase Guerrero didn't know where exactly he was going. My car, the one Reyes was driving, found it quite comical that everytime Guerrero stopped to ask someone for directions, they pointed the opposite way than the person before; but we made it!

The missions team from APU raised money to buy medications so they could host free clinics to those who coulndn't afford it. The clinic was set up in a church, with a Pharmacy table in the back, and different stations set up throughout the church. Our job was to translate! Fortunately, there were more of us than there were stations, so i was able to listen to someone else translate. Some of the people from my team played outside with children while their parents waiting inside to be seen. It was great. This was the first time that I felt like I was being used to do ministry here. Even though I personally didn't do much, our team was actually helping people. It gave us a greater purpose of just learning Spanish. And it was great to see some familiar faces. :]

After the clinic, we went back to the hotel and rested. That night, we had a big dinner with the head director of the university we attend here. From what I understand, there are many branches of our university throughout the country, and this guy was the head honcho. There was also other important people there, but I don't really know their titles. They brought in a photographer, videographer, and an interviewer as well. The university is trying to promote this program to other universities around the world, so they wanted to know what our experience had been like so far. I think it made us all feel pretty important. We didnt get our food until about 10:20, and we had had a pretty long day already, so we were exhausted.

Friday morning we went to the beach, Boca Chica. Beautiful. It had small islands of trees that you could practically walk to. The water was only about waist deep for most of the way. Once you got closer to the islands, it was really shallow and rocky, so floating the best way to go. The water was so clear, I saw a good amount of fish.
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Monte Cristi!

It was Saturday, and you know what that means—beach day! We were going to Monte Cristi, a beach on the northwest coast of the island. On the way, we stopped at Salinas, where salt, o sal en espanol, is produced for the country. If there were a sign that said Salinas, I totally would have taken a picture by it. But I did take plenty of other pictures there :] It was interesting to see men harvesting salt and pouring barrels of it into a huge shed, creating mountains of salt! It looked like snow. That’s quite the mirage in the desert. You don’t want to take a mouthful of that. There were actually a couple people that tasted some of the salt, and they said it was so strong, that it burnt their tongue. Goes to show how many preservatives and such go into our table salt. Walking back to the bus, I notice some movement in the mud and water below a small bridge, and I stood there for a bit to see what it was. I continued to see little movements in different places, and I realized they were crabs! The salty water enabled them to survive here. But how did they get there in the first place?

We were back on the road shortly after our stop at Salinas. Once we arrived, it was a short hike to the beach. Huge cliffs protruded into the ocean on either side, forming the infamous crescent-moon-shape. It was hotter here than Sosua, and the water was not as blue, but definitely more salty! A few people, myself included, had to get out at one point because it burned their eyes, throat or nose. Other than that, it was great. The water temperature could not have been better and it’s always nice to spend time with the group. There was a group of older men there, probably in their forties, wearing only tighty whiteys. It was slightly uncomfortable, but we just made an effort not to look in their direction. This effort became impossible when one of then sat directly in front of us, laying on his side and pouring wet sand all over his body. -_- really? Despite this awkward episode, we had a great time.

Sunday was hard. This weekend at church, there was an event called Twelve hours with the Holy Spirit. There was a service the night before, from 4-10pm, but fortunately my family left for church before I got home from Monti Cristi. We got to church at 9am that morning and didn’t leave until 3pm. Six hours of sitting in the heat without fans all while listening to something I didn’t understand = not a fun situation. When I got to Bri’s house I was just emotional. I was frustrated that I still didn’t have internet, even though my mom said we would have it on Friday, I hadn’t been able to post any pictures, or even update my blog. Sitting in church for six hours was just the icing on the cake. It had been a week since my last breakdown, and I couldn’t hold it in any longer. Bri’s mom came in and comforted me, and shortly after she left, Phoebe, Bri’s sister, she came in and invited me over to her home for dinner. After she left the room, I composed myself, and we started working on homework. About 15 minutes later my mom walks in and climbs on the bed, asking me why I was so sad and I start crying—again. Not only am I embarrassed for crying in front of three people I have only known for about a week, but I feel bad because I don’t want them to think I’m upset because of anything they have done. Bri and I got some homework done and went with Aibid and her boyfriend, Isaac, to Phoebe’s house. The power goes out very often at her house, so there were candles lit all throughout the house. Isaac and Pheobe’s husband Audi taught Bri and I how to play dominoes. After couple games, dinner was ready. Italian sausage and pepper sandwiches. Yum. After dinner, we had Bon, kind of like a Baskin Robins/21 Flavors in the US, but way better. I spent the night at Bri’s house, so that means internet! I was able to post pictures, update my blog, and skype con mi novio :] A nice ending to my day was just what I needed.

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The adventure continues...

Friday morning, Bri and I taught my mom how to make pancakes. When I asked her if she was eating, she said it would depend on whether she likes it or not. I’ve been eating weird food all week and when I made food for her, she was picky before she even tried it. I may have been slightly offended. I’m just glad she liked it, or that she said she did. Bri and I took the concho to school. On Fridays we don’t have any classes, so we begin the day with devotional, and then go on a little tour of the city. Devotional started off well. We prayed and sang in both English and Spanish. After that Bri’s dad began discussing the chosen verses. I didn’t really understand much of anything, because when someone is speaking for a long period of time, I tend to zone out, especially when that someone is not speaking English. Towards the end, he asked if anyone had anything they wanted to add. No one said anything, so he called on people, starting from one end to the other. My friend Andrew was sitting next to me, and he has never taken a Spanish class before this program, so he just said he needs to learn more Spanish. When it was my turn, I meant to say, “Estoy en la misma barca de mi amigo” / “I’m in the same boat as my firend” BUT I accidentally said, “Estoy en la misma boca de mi amigo” / “I’m in the same mouth as my friend. I chuckled, not even realizing what I said until the next person was talking. It was quite embarrassing, but pretty hysterical. I don’t want to know what Bri’s dad was thinking.

After devotional, we piled into a van and drove into town. El Centro de la ciudad has a lot of stores, a lot of people, and a lot of cheap stuff. It reminded me of china town without the Asian theme. After spending a little time here, we walked to the monument. 

The Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración was constructed by Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the 1940's as an honor to himself. For 60 pesos, we climbed the spiral staircase to the top, and enjoyed a view of the city. While I was enjoying the view, I noticed something fall on my shirt, so I look down and find BIRD POOP! Disgusting right? Luckily, one of the girls had a napkin in her purse, and I was able to get it off easily. Then I look over, and it pooped all down the side of my purse! If this was any old purse, I would not have bothered me as much, but it was a gift from Matt. Unfortunately, it didn’t come out so easily this time and I had to use water sparingly because its leather. After all of this commotion, I take out my camera, turn it on, the lens come out, and the screen stays black with a “Lens error, restart camera” sign, they turns off. I repeatedly turn it off and on, with the battery and without—nothing. Not only does it not work, but the lens is open, so it can be easily damaged. Fortunately, the same girl that had the napkins in her purse also had a sock that she kept her camera in, which she let me borrow. Thanks Cecilia! :]

When we got back to school, Bri Sperber invited me and Bri Martindale over for lunch. Her mom made hamburgers—amazing. Probably the best lunch I’ve had her so far. We were then invited to go to her grandma’s house to go swimming. We were told the walk wouldn’t be far and swimming sounded heavenly. We begin walking, and kept walking, and walked a little further and walked a lot further! I don’t think I had ever been so hot in my entire life. To top it of, I had bug bites that were so irritated, I wanted to sit down and give up. When we finally arrived at the gate of her grandma’s house, we were so relieved and couldn’t wait to jump in the refreshing pool of water. As we walked through the gate we all glance at the pool and look at each other—its green! The pool is green. We were tempted to go an anyways, but Bri’s mom wouldn’t allow us to. So we laid down on the tile floor, with the fan on high, not moving for a good 15 minutes. Once we were cooled down, we moved into the living room and notice it was not only raining, it was pouring. How could it be pouring after an afternoon like that? We were grateful that it would cool things down a bit. Bri’s dad took me home and I opened all of my windows in my room. It was the coolest night since I had been here.
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la primera semana

After showing me around my new home, my mom asked me if I was hungry. I said no because I ate at the airport, but I noticed she was already cooking something on the stove. I didn’t want to be rude, so I said I would have a little bit. She served me a heaping plate of mangu con cebolla, which I believe was some sort of mashed vegetable with onions on top. She also gave me a plate of pavo y salami, turkey sandwich meat and salami. Even though it didn’t want any of it, I tried to clear about half of my plate. First impressions are important…verdad? After dinner I unpacked my bags and went to bed. I did not sleep very well the first night. I woke up about every two hours, thinking it was already time to get up. I decided to finally get out of bed around 6. I was going to Sosua, a beautiful beach, with the group today. I try fumbling with the shower knobs, but couldn’t seem to get any of them to work. So I knock on my host mom’s door, and she walks into the kitchen and turns a knob that turns on the water. I go back into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and it has warm water! At this point, I’m really excited. The water pressure is very low, so it takes a while to wash the shampoo out of my hair, and as soon as I’m all soapy, BAM the warm water disappears and its freezing. I know what you’re thinking… “I thought it was ridiculously hot there, what’s the problem?” The problem is its 6am and NO ONE likes a cold shower at 6am. 

Once I’m ready, we all pile in the truck. Every time my dad opens the door, the alarm goes off. My mom sits in the back, holding the baby, and Linette is standing in the middle, keeping her eye on me, but refuses to smile. Car seats? Nope. [I actually was thinking about buying them one, but when I went into the girl’s room I saw one in the closet. They have one, but don’t use it. Why? Probably because it takes up too much room. This will make more sense later.] The streets of Santiago are nothing less than chaos. There are lanes painted on streets that are wide enough for two cars, but no one obeys them. On the streets that are paved, pot wholes are everywhere. Cars dive in and out of lanes like they are invincible. Helmets are rarely worn by motorcyclists, and its common to see up to three people on a motorcycle, even really little kids. The only person that ever wears a seat belt, and that’s not even all the time, is the driver. And there are always people standing in the middle of the street and put their face in your window holding up goods they are trying to sell. Next to the signal, there is a countdown until the light turns red and green, so everyone knows when the light is going to turn. Pretty clever, I think. When I arrived at the school, almost everyone from my group was there.
About and hour and a half later, we were en la playa Sosua! It was so beautiful. The coast was shaped like a crescent moon and there were little tiendas lining the coast. At the opposite end, there were hotels over looking bright blue ocean, where a few boats were anchored. It wasn’t long before everyone was in the water. It was perfect. After walking along the coast, Cecelia, Natalie, Brenda and I went on the “glass bottom boat” to go snorkeling. The glass bottom was about a foot wide and four feet long, and was so opaque it was difficult to see much of anything. Our driver, Miguel, had bread that he threw in the water, so fish came right up to the surface. Once he anchored the boat, we jumped in with our fancy snorkeling equipment that has probably never been properly cleaned. Miguel went with us, and took some bread under water so the fish came really close. It was so neat, and I was regretting not purchasing an underwater camera. After about 45 minutes, we returned to the coast. For about $5, I’d say it was worth it. 

Later that afternoon, we returned to the university, and from there we took separate cars to la plaza to buy cell phones. We were there for probably two and a half hours. When I got home around 9:30, I ate dinner, and my parents were leaving for church. They expected me to go, but I was too tired, looked horrible, and still had beach clothes on; so I told them I wanted to go to bed. I think my mom was offended, but they did go without me.

In the morning, I got ready for church, and off we went. My mom was already gone, so it was just my dad and I. We picked up a family of four on the way, and they all sat in back. When we pulled onto the dirt road where my new church is located, it was flooded so my dad had to drop of us right at the doorstep. The church could probably fit about seventy people, and everything inside is cement—the walls, floors, and ceiling. We got there pretty early, and there was a group of prayer warriors at the front, praising God and asking for provision. It was comforting to see and hear them, because even though I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, I could feel the Holy Spirit in the room. A feeling I get when I go to my church en Los Estados Unidos. I could have listened to them for hours, because the power/passion/spirit was there. When church started, I was surprised how similar it was. It began with worship, and proceeded with the message. During worship there were four girls on stage, varying in age from 13-23, singing to up beat music. Then dancers came out and I really enjoyed watching their expressions as they sang along. There was so much joy in the room. The message was hard to sit through because I only understood about 20%. After church we went to mi amiga Bri’s house, whose host dad is the pastor of my church and my mom’s uncle.
 After we ate lunch, we went to the high school where the church’s basketball team was playing. Bri’s sister Aibid [pronounced Ivy], and her family/friends were here, so it was nice to make some Dominican friends. We were here for about an hour or two, then went across the street with Bri’s dad and mom to witness las elecciones. It was a little disheartening seeing three men at the entrance, dressed in camouflage holding big guns—but I just smiled when I walked by.  Bri’s dad showed us his ballot, which had pictures and the candidates and all he had to do was put an X on the picture of the person he wanted. That’s it! Esta mas facil aqui. Despues, we went back to the high school, where friends and family just hung out, some not even watching the game, for hours. Bri and I were noticing how people just are not in a hurry here. Life is very slow pace. Almost too slow. Bri and I wanted to leave, but we ended up being there all day. I think I got about 10 bug bites that day. After a long day with the family, I broke down. Its not that I didn’t like them, but I just felt so incredibly lost. I didn’t understand much of anything anyone was saying. The food was for the most part okay, but very different. I missed having a hot shower. I wasn’t able to connect with anyone from home because I didn’t have internet, I couldn’t figure out how to use the calling cards, I still had not been able to get a hold of either of my parents because neither of them answered their phones, and I was questioning why I even came in the first place. I was expecting to experience culture shock at one point, but not this early on. I was really overwhelmed and realizing that its only been two days and I’m going to be here for three months. 

Monday I was able to sleep in, which was nice. My parents didn’t have to work and I didn’t have school because it was a holiday—elections taking place the day before = holiday! I went to Bri’s house to pick up her family, then to another house to pick up another family, and we all went grocery shopping! Remember when I mentioned that my parents probably don’t use the car seat because they don’t have room? We had 12 people in a truck with 5 seats. The driver, Bri and I in the front seat, 6 in the back seat, and 3 in the bed of the truck [one being my 2 year old sister]. First we went to Price Mart—an exact replica of Costco. It even has chicken bakes! After that, we went to El Sireno, which was a mix between Wal-Mart, target, and a mall. I bought some ritz crackers and a notebook for school. One of the girls from the group called me and said a bunch of people were going to see a movie, Bri asked her parents if she could go, and they said yes. I asked my dad, and he said I could, but I wanted to ask my mom as well. When I asked, she paused for a second, and asked if I talked to my dad. I said yes, and she paused again, but ultimately agreeing. They knew what time the move was starting and I told them I would call them when it was over.
Going to the movies was great. It was nice to get away the family for a bit, and the movie we saw was in English with Spanish subtitles! Me gusta mucho! We saw Recuérdame, and it was pretty good, but the ending was so dumb! It was really sad and everyone was crying…well at least all of the American girls haha. When we walked out of the movie theater, I called my mom to let her know that I was out. We were still inside the mall and everyone in the group was getting frozen yogurt, having a good time. I turn around while I’m still on the phone and my dad is right there waiting for me. At this moment, I felt like I was in junior high again.

Tuesday was the first day of school. 

I had never been so excited to start classes before. The day began with an orientation, where the staff introduced themselves to us, and we went over the rules of the university. Before we came to the DR, we were told that we would have a weeklong break at the end of June. BUT when we got our schedule for the summer, it didn’t have a break on it. This is problematic because there are people that planned to visit during this time and we were planning to travel the country as a team. The director of the program didn’t really give us a straight answer about whether this will be fixed or not, but hopefully they will figure this out soon. After that, we went to el supermercado nacional, where there is a food court, grocery store, and library all in one! Then we went to the day care that my mom works for to eat lunch and then went to Bri’s house where I finally got to skype Matthew! It was wonderful!  That night, I actually played with Linette for a couple hours. Up until this point, she had been very timid. Sometimes she would come stand in my doorway and watch me get ready, and I would tell her to come in, but she always walked away. So tonight when she was playing with her ball, I sat on the ground and rolled the ball to her. She smiled and rolled it back. We did this for about 20 minutes, and then she grabbed her other toys and wanted me to play with them as well. After dinner I went in my room, and she stood in my doorway again. I told her to come in, and she hesitated, but came. I turned on cartoon network and we both laid in my bed for a couple hours watching tv. She kept saying, “mira” / “look” while pointing to the tv. She finally was warming up to me, and it felt pretty good. 

Wednesday I actually had classes to attend and was excited to begin. My first class, Latin-American civilization, was very overwhelming because my profesora spoke so fast and didn’t use the board at all. I didn’t understand anything she said. I was having feelings of doubt as to why I put myself in this situation in the first place and was questioning whether I would be able to succeed at all. The next class, advanced composition, was better because my profesora spoke more slowly, used the board, and I sat next to a Spanish speaker. :] My third class, advanced writing abroad, went pretty well. Bri’s dad, the pastor, is my professor, and he knows to speak slowly. After school I felt better about classes than I did that morning. Bri and I went to my mom’s day care, ate lunch, and then hitched a ride on a concho [public service car] to la plaza internacional where we were meeting the rest of our group!
It was our first time taking a concho by ourselves, and it was an adventure. We stood on the side of the street, waiting for a concho with an A on the windshield. Each one that passed by was packed full of people. When we finally got one, there were five people in the back seat, and two in the front. A little discomfort and 15 pesos later, we were at the plaza! The plaza has air conditioning and internet, so it is a very comfortable place to be. After spending most of the afternoon there, I came back to my house and had dinner. So you know when you buy fried chicken and it has the skin but its pretty fatty and doesn’t have any meat on it? Well that’s what I had for dinner tonight. Fired chicken fatty skin, without the chicken. It had a good taste, but was disgusting at the same time.

Thursday was a pretty good day. Classes, for the most part, went well. My history class is still a struggle. I got excited when my teacher turned on the projector for PowerPoint, but most of the slides were paragraphs of information, and she sped through them so fast we weren’t even able to take notes. She said she would email it to us, so I will have to teach myself the information with a dictionary in hand. I guess I understand that she has to get through a lot of information in a short amount of time, but I’m hoping she realizes how overwhelming it is for most of the class. After school, Bri and I went to that day care to have lunch, and Bri’s dad asked me to pray in Spanish…and I think it went pretty well! But if he asks me again its going to be the same exact prayer because those are the only words I know! Haha. After lunch Bri and I walked to mi casa because she was spending the night. The walk was quite a distance, about a mile and a half. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but when its scorching hot, extremely humid, and every car, motorcycle, truck, van, and concho that passes you honks their horn and turns their heads because apparently white people are quite the attraction in the DR, the walk seems a lot further than it actually is. When we arrived at my apartment, we painted our nails and talked—you know, girl stuff—and later that night, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner that reminded me of home—tacos! It was my mom’s first time ever making tacos. And throughout the whole dinner, my dad kept basically saying that it was chick food and it wasn’t a man’s dinner…rude. I thought she did a great job :] although, here, they put corn and ketchup in their tacos. No salsa, no guacamole, no sour cream. Don’t ask me why there was mayonnaise on the table as well. Yo no sé.
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Estoy aqui!


I am finally able to post my thoughts, emotions, and experience since I have been here. I don't have internet my home, so coming on regularly is difficult, but my host mom said that we will be getting internet soon! But then again, soon in the DR could definitely mean later.

From the airport, in Santiago, we went to our new school, Universidad Nacional Evangelica, where are families were waiting for us! My parents, Jose Leonardo and Elisa, were very excited to meet me, and my sisters, Acsa who is 8 months old and Linette who is 2 years old, were a bit shy, but I was sure that was only temporary. After we introduced ourselves, we got our bags, packed the cars, and headed in our separate directions. Upon arrival, I got our of the truck and because of the humidity, my glasses fogged up! It was definitely a realization that I wasn't in California anymore! After wiping my classes clean I began the tread up the 8 flights of stairs to the 4th flour, where my family lives.

When I walked to my room, this sign was on the door. [Above] "Bienveidos a tu hogar" o "Welcome to your home". And my wonderful room has a TV, rocking chair, and connects to the bathroom. And I added the view from my window! :]

I am in the mall, La Plaza Internacional, and my computer is about to die, so unfortunately I have to continue updating you later. :[ Thank you for your continued prayers and support!!!
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Crystal :]

I was so blessed yesterday because I was able to shoot my cousin Crystal's senior portraits. She is so beautiful she makes my job easy! :] Here is a sneak peak. The rest will be up soon!
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Getting Excited

Yesterday I went to the departure meeting for the Dominican Republic Study Abroad program. Because I'm not going to APU this semester, it was really nice to see some familiar faces in that room. Really nice. Almost like a breath of fresh air. Even though I am leaving my family, friends, and boyfriend in 3 short weeks, I'm not going to be embarking on this journey alone.

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalms 37:4

I am so grateful that the Lord has put the desire to go to the DR in all of their hearts, like He has in mine. AND because he He gave us this desire, He has provided a way for all of us to go. Times are tough; I know that well. But He makes a way for His children.

Here's my story.

In Fall 2008, I was planning to study abroad in Spain the following semester. I researched programs and once I found the perfect one, I applied. When I got the acceptance letter I was ecstatic. In the next couple weeks I was planning my trip, hardly containing my excitement, only to find out my parents had been denied a loan for the second time. I was heart broken. Not only could I not study abroad, but I could not even stay at APU. Devastated, I took a leave of absence and moved back home over Christmas break.

I didn't understand why God was closing every door, and was frustrated that He wasn't making a way for me. [He was making a way for me, it just wasn't MY way]. I attended Chaffey and Tri-Community Photo School during the spring and summer 09. Because I left APU, I had time to pursue photography, a passion of mine, for the first time. I guess God knew what He was doing. :] Thankfully I was able to get a loan to return to APU fall 09 and I did not give up my dream of studying abroad. I continued to look for programs in Costa Rica and Chile and found a few that seemed wonderful, but again, finances were not promising. The financial rollercoaster ride I was on was nauseating. I had to take a second leave of absence from APU, and moved back home over Christmas break 09. Satan rushed right in. I began to doubt about my education, and God's willingness to provide for me. I began to doubt my self-worth, and my ability to succeed in anything. I began to doubt if I would ever follow God's plan for my life.

Through my prayer and fasting, Satan was trampled under my feet. God was revealing His provision for me in SO many ways. One being this trip to the DR. Because I didn't attend APU this Spring, my loans that would have went towards tuition rather went towards the DR. Not only did it help, I had enough credit on my account to cover the WHOLE trip. When I discovered this, tears of joy uncontrollably streamed down my face. God knew what He was doing all along.

He was preparing me, "For such a time as this."

p.s. During the meeting, it was mentioned that we may be able to meet up with another group from APU while we are there. They are going to the DR and Haiti for ministry. PLEASE be praying that we can do this. Even though our goal while studying there is to deepen our understanding and knowledge of Spanish, we are Christians FIRST. We are called to spread His Truth and Love to the nations.
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First Shoot!

This week I shot Nathan Keating--song writer/worship leader/aspiring model. Although it was quite a long day--we traveled around Azusa and Covina for four hours--we had fun. I was able to get some good ones, so make sure to check out my website for more shots of Nathan, they will be posted soon!
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Coming soon...
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