Verb: LET GO!

After a wonderful time dancing the night away, we got back with just enough time for a catnap before the next day’s adventure: ZIPLINING! Christina had no idea what was in store. All she knew was there was a harness involved. To keep the nerves away, she began cooking our first breakfast while everyone else got ready. Just as the huevos began to sizzle in the pan, there was a knock on our door and a friendly voice called out to us, “Hola! Que lo que!”

Christina and I were a little startled. Were we that friendly last night and gained a stalker?!? Naaah. So I went outside to see what was going on. The guy introduced himself and explained that he was the transportation that was going to take us to the ziplining transportation. . .a taxi to take us to the taxi? #sketch. I went back inside to check for any email updates from the company that booked our tour and sure enough there was a new email validating his story. The only discrepancy: he was 45 minutes early. He told us there was a change in the ziplining transportation’s schedule and they were already waiting for us, so we must hurry. #facepalm

Christina finished up the eggs as I finished drying my hair and brushing my teeth. Then we switched positions so she could dry her hair and brush her teeth while I put the food away. . .

As we apologetically climbed into the zipline truck, we were greeted by warm smiles (and a wink from the guide Elvio). On the way to Monkey Jungle, the warm wind whipped our hair, the sun melted our worries, and the excitement was additive as we all chatted to calm our nerves. Two girls from Oklahoma were also on their first trip abroad, and they were staying at the resort we were headed to later in our trip, so we were excited to hear their stories. They told us about all the great music and clubs they’d been to and all the great food they had. Assuming the places they were talking about were outside of the resort, we asked if their taxi experience was as crazy as ours. Shockingly, they actually never left the resort for their experiences. They only left for excursions like today, and that transportation was door to door. They had NO IDEA what it was like in the actual city. . .and they didn’t think they were missing out on anything. Seriously?! How can you say you experienced the Dominican Republic without actually leaving the walls that confine you? 

Thankfully Elvio gracefully inserted himself into our conversation to avoid the awkward silence that was sure to come. Elvio was intrigued by our expression to experience the true Dominican Republic. His green eyes sparkled as he shared stories about his family and his favorite things to do in the city. He and Christina “clicked” on the topic of baseball. He told us about his son who was a professional baseball player getting ready to sign a US professional contract until he got bit by a mosquito and contracted malaria. Despite the tragedy of the story, he had a jovial outlook on life. He was even looking forward to getting married! Soon! To Christina! Hahahaha He announced his ‘engagement’ to the passengers as we pulled up to Monkey Jungle and told the guides to take extra care of his future wife and ‘sister’-in-law (me).

Monkey Jungle is a 280 acre working farm with nearly a mile of ACCT Certified Zip Line. There are 7 Stations and a free fall fan descender, which drops almost 60 feet into an ancient cave! After Ziplining, there is a tour of a botanical garden with rabbits, peacocks, turkeys, and squirrel monkeys! There is also a large enclosure that houses rescue capuchins who entertain and provide countless memories. The extra special thing about Monkey Jungle is that all proceeds benefit the onsite medical/dental clinic which provides FREE service to the community!

Aside from a great adventure, ziplining was a lesson in letting go. You’re strapped to a cable, on a ledge, and you can’t go anywhere if you don’t take the leap. Sometimes you’re on a ledge that is in the middle of nowehere and you can’t go back to where you were. You can only trust life, let go, and move forward. And when you do that, you might be surprised at how enjoyable the journey is. This is important to overcoming things that may be holding us back in life. Maybe you have the death grip on your comfort zone, or you’re dragging out your latest relationship (job, friend, love included). Whatever has you stuck, you’ve got to let go.

We truly enjoyed the experience at Monkey Jungle. From the jolly Southern-accented, Tennessee-native owner, to the guides nicknamed after celebrities (Eddie Murphy, Will.I.Am, Kobe, Chris Brown, Mariah Carey, and later we met Usher), to feeding the squirrel monkeys, parrots, and rescue ashy-faced owl. . .this experience was more than words could express. So enjoy the pictures and video of our experience!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Advertisements

Verb: BAILA! (Dance!)

After spending way too much time in the grocery store, we finally headed to our humble abode at SunCamp DR Apartments in Munoz, a lovely village just outside Puerto Plata. We had a spacious 2 bedroom apartment with a very comfy living and kitchen area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As is standard travel customs, we excitedly unpacked then headed out of the room to see who and what was around. After finding No-one and Nothing, we lounged by the river to figure out what to do with the remaining daylight hours. It wasn’t long before adventure found us again. A few minutes into our chat, we heard laughter coming from the front of the complex. Ariel and Silvia, affectionately called “Margarita” by Ariel, were returning from horseback riding (initially we thought her name was really Margarita; he said it so sweetly!). We went out to introduce ourselves and ended up getting invited to a night on the town. Silvia wanted to venture into the city and explore El Malecon – the stretch of street that runs along the edge of the island – and we absolutely wanted to tag along. Plus we were HUNGRY and Hugo, the chef, was not in yet.

So with that, we headed to the taxi stand that would take us into the city. Ruta Munoz was the taxi of choice. It only cost 30 pesos ($0.75) per person and drove a specific route all day long. Perfect! On the short walk to the stand, we couldn’t help but wonder how this was going to work. . .There were a total of 5 of us going (Ariel and our photographer joined us). Obviously we wouldn’t all fit in one car. . .and with no real destination in mind, how would we know where to meet up? Ariel read our minds (or our confused faces) and intruded upon our thoughts:

Ariel: “No problem! We’re all going in the same car.”

Us: O_o

Silvia: “Ruta Munoz taxis carry 7 people: 6 passengers plus the driver!”

Us: “Whaaaaat?” Jesus be a fence!

After arriving in El Malecon unscathed, we found a local restaurant and had our first Dominican meal. The food was AMAZING! It was so fresh, very flavorful, and paired perfectly with our El Presidente beers (the national beer). After dinner, we walked down El Malecon and ran into our dessert: Daikiris! As we continued on, with drinks in tow, we found ourselves in a mixture of rhythms and beats blaring from all directions. Parked cars were setting up speakers the size of me. Moving cars had windows all the way down and volume all the way up. Motorcycles didn’t skip a beat either, as they equipped themselves with musical backpacks (aka subwoofers and bungee cords)! This was clearly “la lleca” (slang for “the spot”). And we weren’t just IN the mix, we WERE the mix! With all the wonderful music surrounding us, we couldn’t resist dancing! The police officers hanging out (apparently after work because they weren’t regulating the crazy traffic) enjoyed our salsa 😉 The young boy next to us with his family enjoyed schooling us with his reggaeton moves. And we enjoyed dancing the night away. Silvia even said a few times throughout the night, “Ayana, music is IN your blood!”

We bonded, practiced Spanish, and shared stories. . .mainly our top lessons from the DR thus far:

  • The answer to everything is “No problem!”
  • Avoid public “Dominican bathrooms” (aka that bush over there) at all costs – even if it means begging the Daikiri lady to let us use her apartment.
  • Don’t try the “fries” – especially when the fries are actually lambi and NOT potatoes (but DO try the lambi).

Check out pictures and video of our El Malecon adventures:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Verb: SHOP! Our first experience in DR

In May 2013, Christina and I embarked on the VERY FIRST Insert(VERB)Here travel project. It was Christina’s first time traveling outside the United States (check our her story here). With nerves in overdrive and excitement on turbo, we dove head first into accomplishing the goals of the travel project:

  1. Empathy training through complete immersion
  2. Eliminating stigmas through out of the box experiences
  3. Public service through volunteer work

As soon as we left the airport, we headed to our first challenge: GROCERY SHOPPING. Now, this first challenge may sound easy. . .and  it was intended to be easy. . .but adventure had another idea in mind. Our new amigo Sam took us to the local one-stop-shop “La Sirena” – basically the Dominican Walmart. We only needed food for 3 days (we were heading to an all-inclusive resort later in the week), so we thought this would be a no-brainer.

As it turns out, shopping in a foreign country was more of an experience than we were expecting! For starters, let’s talk about personal space. “Which aisle is that on?” Other shoppers would park their cart and block you in, then proceed to reach over you for their desired food. . .all without ever making eye contact with you and seeing the horror in your face. Those that did make eye contact with you simply smiled and moved on, completely oblivious to your confusion.

Next, let’s address the blinking sign and arrow saying “THE FOREIGNERS ARE HERE!” We became a spectacle (not in a bad way) when our Spanish conversation ended at “chorizo y huevos” and circled the ENTIRE meat department looking for breakfast sausages. We circled several times – feigning looking for other items to feel less lost – until one of the employees had mercy on us and directed us via interpretive dance to the chorizo freezer.

Lastly, the conversions were a beast. This goes for language as well as currency (PhD candidates use calculators too!!). Grocery shopping definitely poked holes and sank our ship S.S. Spanish-We-Thought-We-Knew. Notably, the items that caused us THE MOST grief was SALT and PEPPER! There were 20 versions of salt, minimum, ranging from $40RD to $400RD ($1USD to $10USD)! And mostly salts costing hundreds of $RD (NOTE: the higher price did NOT translate to bulk size, rather American brands -___-). Is it THAT serious? There was no ground black pepper in regular size. There was ground white pepper in regular size or ground black pepper in Feed America size. Good thing our challenge was to try all things Dominican. We just never imagined salt and pepper to be one of them 🙂

After grocery shopping (we’re pretty sure Sam took a nap while waiting for us), we headed to our humble abode: Suncamp DR Apartments! We had our own 2 bedroom apartment with a large living area, kitchen area, and a bathroom to share. The water was warm (most of the time) and the regular bugs stayed outside. The Jurassic bugs somehow snuck in unnoticed. Don’t they always?! It’s like they receive stealth training or something! Fortunately, this only happened the last day of our stay in the apartment. The people at Suncamp were so warm and welcoming! The owner, Diane, was so passionate about helping the community in Munoz. She knew EVERYONE by name and what everyone’s individual needs were. It was clear how priceless she was to the community. Her son Sam and his girlfriend Jen were so down to earth and very cool to hang out with. It immediately felt like we were old friends. Ariel was extremely fun! He was our guide for several of our activities, as you’ll see in the coming stories. And Hugo was just too cool! He was the French chef, with wonderful music taste, who dabbled in photography/videography, and was always willing to have a laugh and a drink with us! Silvia, one of the regular visitors, was super sweet and relatable! (We now have a reason to visit Spain!) But our favorite friend, hands down, was Bobby! Bobby was the sweetest dog who never wanted to leave our side. He was always on welcome duty when we returned from an adventure and was always in chill mode.

Check out the pictures to get an idea of how we got to live in Puerto Plata, DR!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Tick Tock. . .

We are embarking on the first Insert(VERB)Here organized trip in less than 3 weeks! The official FundRazr has ended and I am ecstatic about the turn out! We raised $571 because of YOU!! This may not have been 100%, but it made a significant dent! YOU raised enough to cover the cost of our lodging and 2 activities for Christina. YOU ROCK!!

Updates on the trip:

  1. All flights have been booked. Adventure begins on Day 1 of the trip. Christina is flying to Puerto Plata on her own and must navigate her way out of the airport. This may sound like a small task, but in Christina’s eyes it’s HUGE. She has to figure out where to get her tourist visa, how to get through customs, and find baggage claim. . .in a foreign language! Considering it’s an airport, there should be some bilingual people around to help her out – she just needs the confidence to ask for help 😉 You’d be surprised how many people are afraid of that simple task!
  2. The apartment is booked! We will be staying at SunCamp DR in the village of Munoz, right outside the city. Here we will spend time with the community members. Our volunteer activities include teaching arts&crafts, science, and playing sports (per our specialties).
  3. Christina has begun to journal about her feelings leading up to the trip! Check out her thoughts:

“It. . .is getting. . .real. I am extremely excited to go and experience this new adventure. However, with that excitement I have fears: boarding my first international flight, expecting the unexpected, the language barrier that I will encounter, and being away from from my daughter and family – OUT OF THE COUNTRY – for this length of time. But I won’t let these fears stop me from experiencing the amazing things that I know are coming.

I was recently updated today with the next thing that I have to do: make a doctor’s appointment and get a few prescriptions. I need to get an anti-malarial and cipro antibiotic. So, today I made that appointment with doctor. However, when I read the email for my next step I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was like, “I have to do WHAT to go out of the country??? NO WAY! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” I couldn’t help thinking, “what am I getting myself into. . .this is crazy.” I have never had to do that the few times I have traveled through the United States. Anti-malarial meds are some serious meds and this scares me to think that I am going to a country where I can get malaria and I have to take preventatives for like 7 or so weeks. I can understand the cipro antibiotic because that is for traveler’s upset stomach. With the food (and standards) being different it makes sense to have the medication on hand. My doctor’s appointment is in 4 days….and just the thought of it makes my stomach turn more and more because that confirms that things are starting to become real.

With that going on in my head, I have also been visually and mentally packing and deciding what clothes, bathing suits, shoes, and jewelry to bring. Not to mention how am I going to do my hair (because I will need to change it up on the regular! #style). I realize I’m going to need to do some shopping for myself…*oh yes*. When I get paid, I hardly ever spend more on myself since I have to take care of my daughter. So it’s nice to be forced to focus on me a little more and what I will need to have for this trip. *Excitement*

I am extremely thankful for InsertVerbHere for making this trip possible. Dominican Republic, in exactly 3 weeks I will boarding my flight and on my way to check you out!”

©2013 by Ayana Martin

T-28 Days!

This is getting real! We have entered the 30 day countdown and it’s time to get the pieces together.

The first and most important part of this trip is Christina. Without her, Insert(VERB)Here would not have a mission to fulfill. She has accepted the offer and we have officially set the date of the trip: May 25-June 1! Exactly 4 weeks from today, she will be boarding her very first international flight. During these next 4 weeks, you will get to read about her emotions in anticipation of this trip.

The second part of this trip is YOU! Your support has been humbling and amazing throughout this process. There are still 3 days left in the official FundRazr to donate money specifically for this project. Past this deadline, general donations will be accepted at http://www.insertverbhere.com. All money donated to Insert(VERB)Here will continue to receive a reward.

The third part of this trip is travel arrangements! The internet makes flight searches fairly effortless. Most travel search engines offer fare alerts and price trackers that will watch ticket prices for you and alert you when deals are available. My top 3 favorite travel search engines are:

  1. Google Flights – This search engine takes the cake for 1 reason: I can search several departure airports AND several arrival airports in a single search and Google searches all the combinations #atthesamedamntime. *cue heavenly chorus* Another pro is the stats info about cheaper travel days for you flexible travelers. The cons of Google Flights include lack of a mobile app for those impulsive urges, lack of flight alerts for the less flexible travelers, and lack of other travel conveniences such as hotels and rental cars (although in their defense this is Google Flights. . .)
  2. Kayak.com – This search engine scans all the other search engines to find the best price. It offers flexible travel, hotels, and rental car searches. It also offers comparison of other sites and fare alerts. The feature that stole my heart is their Price Trend stats. This feature advises you to wait or buy and includes a confidence percentage explaining that it predicts prices to drop or rise soon. The only con is that the prices are not very different from any other site.
  3. Tripadvisor.com – This search engine is great for all the same reasons as  the standard search engine. The unique feature I love about this site is that it doesn’t stop at flight, hotel, and car searches. It allows vacation rental, restaurant, and destination searches too for the non-tourist traveler! Additionally, it offers a personal touch if you log in using Facebook. It shows places your friends (and friends of friends) have stayed and/or reviewed and offers reviews of other travelers as well.

Honorable mention goes to Cheapoair.com for having additional booking deals and instant savings promos off the lowest prices. Who doesn’t love additional discounts?! These search engines have also made apartment hunting in DR a breeze as well. I think I found our home away from home for this trip courtesy of TripAdvisor 🙂 Details coming soon.

The fourth part of this trip is health and safety. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers health information to travelers such as disease outbreaks, safety concerns, and advice on packing smart to stay safe while traveling. They offer a list of useful items to pack in a travel first aid kit.

Now that we are 4 weeks away, action time is now. Starting today, I will getting our ducks in a row to pull this trip off. So while the internet searches for the best flight prices in the last 3 days of the FundRazr, I will put together the travel first aid kit. Wish me luck!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Strength in numbers!

How many believe that? It only takes $1 to make a difference. If everyone gives just $1, how much do you think we can raise?!

I believe we can do this! Please take a little time to check out the fundraiser. If you have it to give, I thank you tremendously in advance. If not, give a word of encouragement! Christina is nervous, as this is her first trip abroad (read about her here); I’m balancing travel planning with thesis writing; the universe is testing the strength of the Insert(VERB)Here team. . .encouragement would be DEEPLY appreciated 🙂

All gifts in any form are a blessing to me that I will pass on to others through Insert(VERB)Here! If you have any questions/comments/concerns, feel free to voice them! The open invitation still stands (see previous post)!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Meet our Rookie Traveler!!

We have reached our $300 mark!!!! As promised, I would like to introduce you to our Rookie Traveler!

Meet Christina!

Christina
John Witherspoon was on one of my first flights! This MUST be a sign!

“My name is Christina S. I am 25 years old, the youngest of 4, and new to travel. Growing up, I was terrified to fly because my dad would always say that he hated flying and it installed so many fears in me. My family took many vacations, but no matter how far we went, we ALWAYS drove. I was 22 years old when I got on my first flight and that opened my eyes up to a new world! It made me realize that my parents choice to not fly didn’t have to influence my choice to fly. However, I still have a slight fear of flying out of the country for the first time. But I am excited for this opportunity. I bought my passport JUST FOR THIS TRIP!

This opportunity means so much to me for a couple reasons.

Reason #1: I am a young mom. I was 17, fresh out of high school, and having a baby. This caused me to drop out of college after only one semester in order to find a job to support my daughter. I love being a mom, but single motherhood has brought on many challenges that have caused me to sacrifice many opportunities.

Reason #2: I am out of touch with my heritage. My father is African American and my mother is Honduran. My mother has never taken me to visit Honduras, probably because she has not gone back herself. But she had no desire, so I had no desire. But, it’s worse than that. . .My mom, her extended family, even my two oldest siblings speak fluent Spanish. I have tried for many years and taken many classes, and yet I still am unable to speak the language. Although this trip is to the Dominican Republic and not to Honduras, it is a culture that will make me feel that much closer to my own.

To all of the current backers and future backers of this trip, THANK YOU SO MUCH!! You’re truly changing my life.”

We still need your support to make this trip happen. Every dollar helps and will be rewarded with a gift from Insert(VERB)Here! Check out the video and details in the donation site to learn more. To donate to this project, click here.

©2013 by Ayana Martin