Day 11 – Santo Domingo

On our last day of the trip, we explored the capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo!

We started out at the Museo del Hombre Dominicano. We learned about the original people group who lived on Hispanola, the Taino. We were surprised to read that the population was almost completely decimated just 20 years after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, and the European diseases he brought with him.

We also saw very unique exhibits about the Dominican Carnival. The costumes were awesome – scary looking somewhat – but awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

Afterwards, the kids got free time to walk around the Zona Colonial, the safest and most historic place of Santo Domingo. The street is filled with shops, restaurants, historical sites, ย and museums. We loved exploring the city! While the students’ favorite spot was the chocolate store, the teachers loved the Museo del Casas Reales! By Ms. Eckhardt and Mr. Pope’s standards, it was a fabulous museum. ๐Ÿ™‚

After lunch, we headed to our Dominican Segway tour. The kids were extremely excited about this! We had a hilarious guide who told us stories about the history of the Dominican Republic. Everyone loved zooming around the city on these trekkes.

Afterwards, we were able to go to the Colonial Gate 4D cinema. While we were hesitant about a 4D theater at first, we quickly fell in love. It was similar to a simulation ride at Disney World. On the first two short films, it felt like we were on a roller coaster! Mrs. Hermosillo could be found giggling throughout the entire “Great Wall of China” ride, while Ms. Powell closed her eyes throughout the “Zombie Attack” ride (probably a smart decision).

However, the real reason that we were there was to watch the award winning short (International Berlin Film Festival 2016) about the Battle of Santo Domingo. It told the details of the battle with the “savage Briton Sir Francis Drake” (their words, not mine). It felt like we were actually back in time watching the battle happen! Ms. Eckhardt wishes she could have a 4D cinema with historical films in her own classroom. ๐Ÿ™‚

Later that evening, we got dressed up into our “nice” outfits and headed out to a dinner right next to the water. We enjoyed each other’s company and celebrated a successful trip!

When we got back to the hotel, we had to say goodbye to our good friend from Haiti, Jose. ๐Ÿ™ He was such a pleasure to have with us on our trip! He is a medical student in Port Au Prince and helped us translate on every step of the journey. Jose speaks Creole, French, English, and Spanish. Impressive! He will surely be missed. See you on the next trip, Jose!

And now, we wake up on Monday morning at 5am to start our day of traveling back to Atlanta! We are traveling through Miami. See you all soon!

Day 10 – Snorkeling at Cayo Arena

Happy Saturday! We woke up early in Punta Rusia and had a delicious breakfast of German pancakes that Rene (our host who is German) made for us. Around 8:30am, we headed to the beach where two boats with Dominican drivers were waiting for us. They took us about twenty minutes out to a sand dune where tourists come from all over the world to snorkel. We took turns swimming around the island to snorkel, and relaxing in the shallow, clear water on the dune.

Snorkeling was amazing! Our guides were feeding the fish as we swam, so we had colorful fish surrounding us as we absorbed the beautiful coral and sights in the Caribbean Sea. Personally, I was struck by all of the intricate details in the life under the sea. On this trip, we’ve really gotten to see how beautiful our earth is – both above and below water.

On the way back to shore, our boat drivers surprised us and took us through the mangroves and to a private lagoon. It was so unique! We loved the peaceful nature of the trees and windy ways of the mangroves.

Around 2pm, we left Punta Rusia and headed to the capital of the Domincan Republic, Santo Domingo. Our hotel is much more modern than the other ones on our trip, so we are certainly enjoying the air conditioning and indoor pool. The hotel staff even cooked us a barbecue dinner tonight! Tomorrow we explore the city on segways. Can’t wait!

Day 9 – Last day in Puerto Plata

We spent our last day in Puerto Plata with our campers at the beach. It was a bit chaotic because each of us were responsible for the safety of four campers, but it was such a fun morning and everyone was safe! We swam, ate, took pictures, hugged, and said our goodbyes. It was both happy and sad. We have already had discussions on which kids we want to sponsor in the upcoming year. It is only $100 a year to sponsor a kid in Project Esperanza, and we all have names in mind. The idea of helping these kids that we have gotten to know this week is something that is close to all of our hearts. We can’t wait to continue the relationships we have already built! We love Project Esperanza!

Some of the pictures below are a part of a modeling campaign for Project Esperanza that Pace kids were a part of. Project Esperanza sells locally made jewelry as a means of fundraising, and some of the pictures below will go on the Project Esperanza website in order to help sell the jewelry. Check it out!

After our beach day, we got ice cream and then headed to Punta Rusia. We are staying at hotels steps away from the beach, and will be snorkeling first thing in the morning. We can’t wait! After snorkeling, we will be driving to the capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo. We are cherishing these last few days of the trip!

We are currently enjoyed a delicious spaghetti meal made by our German host, Rene. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sending love to America from Punta Rusia!

Day 8 – Reflections on camp and Aquapark

Today was our last day of English camp at Project Esperanza. We haven’t said our goodbyes yet, because we are going to the beach with our campers tomorrow. However, we spent a lot of time tonight discussing and reflecting all that we learned by teaching English this week. It is difficult to articulate all the spoken and unspoken lessons that we learned! Some of our students wrote their reflections after a such a full week. They are shared below.

“It is easier to leave an impact on someone’s life than you think. If you remember, you will be remembered.” Davis Mathis

“I need to remember and appreciate where I am from. I’m lucky to be born in America where I grew up with an education and a house. The kids here go to school to take a break, where in America, we don’t want to be in school. After I come back to America, I need to remember the poverty in Haiti and the DR and remind myself of what I have. I also need to give back in anyway to the kids in the school and the community. I need to constantly remember the trip. I also need to respect my teachers, family, and my belongings.” Ben Crawford

“Tonight, we talked about the differences between our lives and our campers, and the discussion was amazing. Our ideas on everyday life are so different from those in the DR…such as an education and its purposes. We at Pace have high expectations to get great jobs one day…while they just want to get any job at all.” Evan Duncan

“I can’t believe that after tomorrow I’m not going to see all of these little kids again. As hot and tired as I am at camp everyday, I am going to miss hearing the kids shout,”Mira! Mira!”, or telling me long paragraphs in Creole and assuming I will understand. When I look at them, their faces are so full of hope (or “Esperanza”). I hope that they will learn, hope ย that they will grow up to be successful, but most prominent is just the hope that I will be their friend. When I am dusty and tired and frustrated, they are still smiling like they are having the time of their lives, and truthfully it is because they are.” Abigail Lund

“Amalie, the little girl who kept hugging me, was one of my favorite parts of camp. She was so cute and really nice. I’m going to miss her when I leave camp. She kept waiting for me after class and before camp. While we were at camp, I realized how many things I have. Most of the kids have almost nothing. I have so many excessive things. One of the things I was asked a lot at the end of the day was if there was any water. In the US, if I’m thirsty, I walk over to my personal bathroom sink and get as much clean water as I want. None of these kids ย can do that…something as simple as water can be a luxury here.” Emma Shelton

“This place taught me that I can love without a plan. I have kids that are a part of me that will stay with me forever. I am in a place that actually needs me. I’m needed here – not by my parents or my friends. These kids need love, and I will give it to them. I do not understand how I did not realize these places existed before I came here. It is my goal to get back here and make a difference. Every child in camp, as well as every person in the United States needs love. The United States needs me to shout at them the problems here. I need to come back for them and for me.” Molly Buffenbarger

“I want to cry just thinking about leaving my favorite three year old tomorrow, because I might never see her again.” Isabel Battista

After camp, we went with our buddies to a Dominican aquapark. It was certainly louder than American swimming pools, but waterslides are universally fun!

After the pool, we headed for a very healthy meal of pizza and ice cream. ๐Ÿ™‚ There was a playground at the restaurant, and we all had a blast acting like little kids with our buddies. We also exchanged our buddy gifts. It was a great way to end such a full day!