• Language and Culture in the Dominican Republic and Cuba

Weekend Excursions

Friday

Today we went to a “sendero de cacao,” or a cocoa farm. It took about two hours to get to the farm because it is in a different province. We got to see the whole process of how chocolate is made. It starts with the planting of a germinated seed. Then once the tree has grown and has pods, the pods are broken open and the seeds are taken out.

We actually got to try the seeds. They are covered in a slimy, white substance that you can suck off the seed. It has a citrus taste—very different from what I imagined it would taste like. The seeds are then fermented for five days before they are put in drying houses. They dry for five to seven days—depending on the weather—and then they are ready to be made into chocolate.

We got to see two ways to make chocolate—the way it used to be made hundreds of years ago and how it is made today with machines. Before machines, the cocoa beans were roasted over a fire for 25 minutes and then chopped up. In order to separate the shell from the bean, the chopped beans were placed on a large wooden platter-like thing and tossed lightly in the air so that the light shell material falls to the ground and the cocoa beans remain on the platter. Then, the cocoa beans are placed into a large wooden bowl on a pedestal (like what used to be used for grinding corn, etc.) and are mashed with a little bit of sugar until it forms a paste-like, solid substance. It actually doesn’t take much to form the paste and it is delicious!

After we made that chocolate, we went inside to see how it is made using machines. First, the beans are chopped up in a machine by running the beans through the machine several times. Then, the beans are put into another machine that separates the bean from the shell. Once it is all separated, the beans are put into a machine that forms them into a paste. After that, the paste is put into a machine that turns it into a liquid. Once in liquid form, the chocolate is taken and put into molds that go in the freezer to harden. We got to try the chocolate and it was delicious! We were all able to make our own molds with chocolate and take them with us when we left.

After our tour, we ate lunch at the cocoa farm. They have a really nice set-up with nice tables and chairs. The food was delicious—salad with cucumbers and tomatoes, rice, chicken, and eggplant. I forgot to mention this earlier but before we even started the tour, we got to try the hot chocolate that they make with the cocoa beans. It was easily the best hot chocolate I have ever had!

Next, we went to the house of the Mirabal sisters. The Mirabal sisters—Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa—were heroines of the movement against the Trujillo-era dictatorship. From 1930-1961, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo reigned as dictator of the Dominican Republic. He came to power in February 1930 through rigged elections and remained in control until he was assassinated in May 1961. He was relatively popular until the 1950s, when Trujillo’s personal greed for power and wealth led to a plethora of questionable actions.

While many people thought that Trujillo was only doing good things, he took control of Congress and other governmental branches, private organizations, and even had the Catholic Church working within his guidelines. Trujillo also had the army firmly in his control and used the army to dispose of any serious threats to his career or anyone who opposed him. Mysterious accidents and suicides scarred the exterior image of his government. In 1937, Trujillo ordered a massacre of more than 20,000 Haitians who were living in the Dominican Republic.

In 1960, Trujillo tried to have the president of Venezuela assassinated because he spoke out and denounced Trujillo’s dictatorship. Through this incident, the world began to realize the real situation in the Dominican Republic. At this time, the Organization of American Sates (OAS) banned the Dominican Republic and the United States broke off all relations. Soon after in 1961, Trujillo was assassinated in an ambush. There is speculation that the CIA supplied the weapons used in the ambush.

In the Mirabal family, there were four daughters who lived during Trujillo’s reign. When the people started to figure out what Trujillo was really up to, three of the sisters and their husbands decided to do something about. They formed a group of revolutionaries and fought against the government, importing weapons and informing the public of the reality of the Dominican Republic and Trujillo’s reign of terror. Only one of the sisters did not participate, because her husband didn’t want to be involved and she respected his wishes.

After some time, the three sisters and their husbands were caught and arrested. They were all thrown into prison for quite some time. The sisters were released after a period of time, but their husbands were still incarcerated and were moved to a different prison that was further away. The three sisters were brutally murdered on November 25, 1960 on their way back home from visiting their husbands in prison. Their deaths were made to look like a car accident, but they were murdered on orders of Trujillo. They were murdered then put back in the car, which was rolled down the hill.

They are considered heroines and were referred to as “Las Mariposas,” or “The Butterflies.” The day of their death, November 25, is recognized as the International Day Against Violence Against Women. The story is more elaborate than this, but this is a short history. I highly recommend learning more about the Mirabal sisters. In terms of literature, I recommend In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Álvarez and the movie by the same name, starring Salma Hayek.

We toured the house that the Mirabal sisters lived in while their husbands were in jail. It is well-preserved and has many of the things the sisters used and wore. The grounds are beautiful, filled with beautiful flowers and trees. The graves of the three sisters and Manolo, Minerva’s husband, are all on the grounds of the house. There are also busts of the three girls in the yard, honoring them and their courage.

After our tour, we headed back to Santo Domingo. It took us about two and a half hours and when we arrived back at FLACSO, we all headed back to our houses for dinner. It was a great day!

Saturday

We had an early morning this morning—we met a FLACSO at 6:30 am so that we could get started on the drive to Samaná. We took taxis to a hotel where there was a small bus waiting for us. Since it was early and the bus ride was pretty long, almost everyone slept on the bus. We picked up a tour guide about an hour into the ride and he talked about things we were passing, like fruit tree, sugar cane, and coffee plantations and the little towns we went through.

On our way to Samaná, we stopped on the side of the road and got out at a little house. We were able to tour the house and the property to see how people live in the rural areas of the Dominican Republic. It is a stark contrast to life in the city. The house has three rooms—a small living room and two bedrooms. One of the bedrooms is for the parents and the other bedroom is used for the kids, however many there are in the house. If there are twelve kids, they all stay in the same bedroom. There is also a little kitchen-like room in the house, but it is hardly ever used because the gas is expensive and it makes the house really hot. Instead, they have an outdoor kitchen that they use for cooking and the “stove” is made of stone and they put wood underneath to cook food and to heat it.

On the property that we saw, the family has lots of different plants growing in the yard. They have oranges, limes, cacao, pineapple, tamarinds, coffee beans, and several other plants that they can use for food. With their cacao tree, they make their own chocolate and we got to try it in the form of a hot chocolate-type drink. It was really good. They sell their chocolate and also the coffee that they make. After our tour of the property, we had fresh pineapple and some soda crackers before getting back on the bus.

Once we got further away from Santo Domingo and more into the “campo” (countryside), the roads got significantly worse. They were similar to gravel country roads, but ten times worse. It didn’t help that the bus driver drove really quickly—when we hit pot holes, we all bounced out of our seats. After two and a half hours of really bad roads, we finally made it to Los Haitises National Park in Samaná.

We got on a boat right away when we got to the park because the park has to be accessed from the water. We went through a swamp/everglade-like area first until it opened up into the ocean. It was truly breathtaking and extremely gorgeous! We got a beautiful day to be out on the water—sunny and warm.

First, we stopped at a “pirate cave,” as our guide referred to it when we arrived. The cave was pretty big, with little rooms that all looked out on the water. I can understand why it would be a good cave for pirates! The only downside to the cave was all the bugs that came with it. We all got eaten alive by the little gnats that surrounded the cave.

After our fifteen minutes of cave exploration was up, we got back on the boat to view more of the park. We saw an old railroad that was formerly used by the Germans and Swiss. It is now submerged in the ocean, but you can still see it under the water. We also saw jellyfish in the water around our boat.  

After viewing the railroad and cruising on the water for a little bit, we made our way to another cave. This cave was huge and has Taíno drawings on the walls. It is very dark, so we used flashlights that they provided on our tour. Some of the drawings show creatures with eight fingers—a drawing common to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba—and creatures with antennae. It is very interesting to see what kind of things the indigenous people were thinking about so many years ago.

The large cave concluded our tour of Los Haitises National Park. We got to enjoy the views on the way back to our bus—the water, the mountains in the distance, the rock formations in the middle of the water, and the sun reflecting off the water. It was so beautiful and so much to take in.

When we got back to the bus, we started the hour journey to the place that we were going to eat lunch. The road to our lunch destination was particularly bumpy, but we almost all ended up sleeping anyway. The place we ate at is called Yanigua. It is a little place that is set back in the woods in the middle of nowhere. They make all the food themselves and have a big dining area with serving areas. It is a really cool place and the food was incredible! The other neat aspect of Yanigua is that it is on the river and there is a waterfall. We got to swim in the river and climb up the rocks to jump off the waterfall.

After a fun afternoon in the river, we made the two and a half hour journey back to Santo Domingo. Everybody was exhausted but it was a wonderful day!

Sunday

Today was a free day and our last day in Santo Domingo. We had a goodbye lunch at a restaurant nearby called El Conuco. The restaurant was really cool—it felt like you were outside in the countryside. The food was served buffet-style and included: salad, cucumbers and tomatoes, rice and beans, arrepitas (little fried balls of cornbread-like stuff—a lot like hush puppies, but sweeter), pork, beef, fish, and mature plantains. It was all really good.

After we were done eating, we were each presented by the head of the school with a commemorating our time at FLACSO. It is very official looking and is a nice way to remember our time and studies here in the Dominican Republic. We enjoyed lunch and the atmosphere and then left to enjoy the rest of the afternoon with our host families.