A big thank you to Fathom Travel for providing this impact + travel opportunity so we can share their good work. As always, all opinions are our own.
When we heard there's a cruise that focuses on making a positive impact in the community it visits, we immediately thought, "where do we sign up?"
Join us LIVE as we train -- while sailing -- for our volunteer activities aboard the Adonia, plant trees in an ongoing reforestation project, construct water filters with a clean water initiative, and pour concrete floors in homes in the community.
But all work and no play make your GypsyNesters dull boys - so we're going to show you the beauty of the Dominican Republic - and hit the beach!
DAY ONE: All Aboard the Adonia!
Afternoon: We Arrive
Boarding the Adonia on a gorgeous South Florida Sunday afternoon and after a quick check on our stateroom, we head out to explore our home for the next seven days.
Veronica looks like she's ready for fun in the sun and water… can't wait to get started!
Evening: Sailing Through Miami
Pulling out of the port of Miami, we give a wave goodbye to the skyline.
Within minutes a pack of wave-runners chase us past South Beach while jumping and playing in our wake.
Let's call them bikers of the bay.
It was a tad windy looking over South Beach from the Sky Deck!
Night: Uh, yum.
What a feast!
After a spirited (and a bit scary!) game of giant Jenga - complete with live music on a rocking boat, we head to our stateroom.
We have a big day of impact training activities tomorrow and had a big travel day today, so we're going to lay it down.
We can't wait to dive into our studies - see you in the morning!
DAY TWO: A Full Day at Sea - Learning How to Do Good and #TravelDeep
Morning: A different kind of cruise experience
We awoke to a great surprise - fair trade bath products in our bathroo - uh, is it called a head on a cruise ship?
Perusing this morning's Soundings -- the daily summary of what's happening onboard-- is quite overwhelming. So many Impact + Travel Training choices!
With a full day at sea we have time to study up for our duties once we arrive in the Dominican Republic tomorrow.
First we meet up with some of our fellow passengers, or cohorts as Fathom calls us, for an orientation on just what travel with Fathom is all about.
Our Impact Guide, Michelle, gives us the highlights and high points of their philosophy in her presentation, Being a Fathom Traveler:
1. Transformation through travel. That goes both for us, and the people we will be visiting.
2. Alongsidedness. Michelle is quick to point out that this is a made-up word, but sums up the attitude of doing things together. Together with each other, as well as together with our host Dominican community.
3. Exploration. By spending more time in one destination than the usual cruise voyage we will get to explore more in depth.
As writers, we love learning new words. Michelle assured us
the eduaimonia is a real word - we're hoping to become
eduaimoniacs (pretty sure we invented the moniac part!)
4. Outcomes. This is very important for any impact travel; Fathom tracks their outcomes to make sure that everybody is getting the most out of the programs.
To help ensure this, Dominican representatives oversee the shore operations focusing on needs that we, as visitors, may not be aware of.
Last but not least, Michelle instills in us a very valuable distinction: We need to understand our roles as volunteers with empathy as opposed to sympathy. Something akin to the old idea of walking a mile in someone's shoes.
The preparations don't end there; we also get a lesson in Spanish phrases that will come in handy over the next few days.
With all of that knowledge stuffed into our heads, we're ready to balance things out by stuffing some pool side BBQ down our gullets.
After all, how can we be expected to get our sea legs without some ballast to hold us steady?
Afternoon/Evening: Dramatic Social Change and Moving to the Beat
Between workshops, many of our cohorts enjoy some pool time
An after lunch power walk around the track above the pool has us ready for a meal of a different kind, brain food.
A seminar entitled Social Innovation in Action introduces us to entrepreneurs from around the world who have found unique solutions to large social problems.
Our favorite is a story of a regular guy who trained rats to sniff out land mines left over from conflicts in Africa.
His solution worked so well that he now runs a non-profit organization that has made a true difference in the world.
The rodents do an amazing job of finding the unexploded weapons and are much faster and more efficient than humans (no worries, they are too light to trip the mines).
The story inspired us (though we know nothing about rat wrangling) to recognize even the craziest ideas can sometimes lead to radical change.
Cocktails and music in the Crow's Nest
We end our day with a dance lesson - the merengue. Now we are really ready for the Dominican Republic!
DAY THREE: Hola Dominican Republic!
Morning: Getting to know you
Pulling into Amber Cove
Our morning seminar, Getting to Know the Dominican Republic, has us chomping at the bit to begin the onshore portion of our journey. Michelle's quick overview of the history, culture, and social norms prepares us to navigate our next few days problem free.
Land Ho! We pull into port at midday and are ready to hit the ground running. This afternoon we will be joining the Community Empowerment Though English group.
Our home for the next few days!
Afternoon: On the ground
We hit the ground running!
It's time to use our new skills that we learned on the ship during our voyage to the Dominican Republic.
Stephanie demonstrates how each lesson builds on the next
Our Impact Travel Facilitator, Stephanie, who works with Etrena -- one of the on-the-ground Dominican organizations with which Fathom works to access the needs of the community -- takes us to the village of Monte Rico.
By meeting with local adults, we are building on the English lesson plans that Etrena has created to bring people together in a cross-cultural manner.
Our goal is to interact with folks in their homes and, in the process, interact in a manner that eludes most travelers.
But it is the social aspect of our visit that blows us away.
With our lessons finished, we walk around the village as our hosts show us around, learning about each others' lives and finding the magical mix of English and Spanish that makes journeys like this so memorable.
DAY FOUR: Going Deeper
Morning: Clean Water is VERY important:
I traveled to the village of Higuerito with my Fathom Cohorts under the guidance of Frank, our Impact Facilitator du jour, to work with Wine to Water.
By teaming up with Fathom, Wine to Water hopes to make 1,500 clay water filters in a year's time, impacting 7,500 people in the Dominican Republic.
Participating in most every step of the production process, I sifted sawdust, worked the clay, molded the filters, and helped check safety levels of water after initial filtration.
As I worked I spoke with Wendy Lemus, who heads Wine to Water with her husband, Carlos, and learned about the innovative way the filters work.
I'll be writing about more details in the future , but the quick and dirty is this:
The materials used to create the filters are all locally sourced, except for the liquid silver needed to kill bacteria.
When the filters our Fathom team molded are later fired in the kiln, a layer of charcoal is created from the sawdust - trapping the bacteria to allow the silver to do its damage.
Snaps to our team for making 30 filters - touching the lives of 150 people!
Have to say, I really feel like I made an impact today!
Afternoon/Evening: Venturing Out on our own and Finding Traditional Grub
Venturing out on our own into the little village of Maimon, just a quick taxi jaunt away from our docking spot in Amber Cove, we stroll the little neighborhood to work up an appetite.
It's an election year in the Dominican Republic and the mood is festive with colorful signs everywhere, vehicles blaring music and candidate endorsements from speakers mounted on their roofs, and spontaneous parades of flag waving supporters taking to the streets.
Our walk brought us to a small pescaderia - fresh fish sounds like just the thing for dinner!
Our meal, a beautiful combo of a whole red snapper, spiny lobster, seafood soup, and tostones -- washed down with a couple of almost-frozen Presidentes -- was the perfect end to a day of service.
This ought to give us enough energy to head into the forest to plant trees as part of Fathom's ongoing reforestation program in the morning.
DAY FIVE: Getting Grubby - For Good
Morning: A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. -- Greek Proverb
Our task today is to work with IDDI, Fathom, and the government's Ministry of Environment to plant endemic tropical cedar trees along the slopes of the mountains in the Yasica region.
Large swaths of rainforest had been cleared for agricultural purposes, which leads to erosion and loss of water in the river that gives the area its name.
The negative effects are felt downstream in the city of Puerto Plata because Rio Yasica feeds the municipal water supply.
We drive deep into the mountains and hike into our chosen valley, passing by thousands of baby trees planted by prior Fathom travelers.
We start by measuring the distance between the spots for planting with a four-meter pole.
Each little seedling needs plenty of room to grow into a mature tree, so they start life by saying, "I wouldn't touch you with a four meter pole."
Once the spots are marked, we dig holes and plant our babies.
WATCH: It's not exactly high tech, but gets the job done.
Our crew spreads across the hillside, measuring, digging, and planting until we have 380 new trees ready to grow in the warm Dominican sun.
A dirty job to say the least, but it feels good to get really filthy sometimes.
Ask any kid.
The fruit of our labors may not be apparent for several decades but, as the trees mature, they will provide stability to the soil, habitat for wildlife, help clean the air, or perhaps a shady spot for us to visit should we return in thirty or forty years.
How's that for optimistic?
Afternoon: Well deserved beach time and a special treat!
After our tree-planting escapades earlier today, we head to the beach for some serious R&R.
Turquoise sea and sky, perfect temps in the water and out - we can't think of a better way to unwind.
Returning to the Adonia, rested and hopped up on much needed vitamin d, we were surprised by a gift from our on-top-of-our-every-need steward, Bosco.
Veronica loves cruise towel animals more that any human should, and when Bosco gained that knowledge, he made sure a jaunty two-toned puppy was awaiting her on our stateroom bed!
Snuggled up with her new pet, Veronica fell asleep and dreamed of her baby trees growing tall in the Dominican mountains.
Morning: We'll be sore, but it's soooooo worth it!
Of all the Impact Travel projects we participate in this week, the one where we see the most immediate -- pardon the pun -- concrete results is today's Concrete Floors in Community Homes.
We take a short drive into Puerto Plata and along the way our Dominican facilitator, Carlos, explains what it was like growing up in a house with a dirt floor.
When it rains, the floor becomes mud, and his firsthand knowledge really brings to life the importance of this program and inspires us to tackle the hard work ahead with gusto.
At our host family's home, we meet up with representatives of IDDI, the Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral (Institute for Integral Development), who have coordinated with Fathom to identify families in need of this valuable service.
Before we begin, we meet the family and then they all join with us and jump right in.
The youngest member of the family's ceremonial "first dig"!
The process is decidedly low tech, we mix sand, cement, and water directly on the ground using shovels.
Then as the mixture is ready to be laid inside, we send it along by bucket brigade.
Full buckets in, empty buckets out.
Because we have enough manpower, the process is very effective.
Since there is no way a big truck could ever fit into the narrow streets of this neighborhood, this proves to be an efficient alternative.
The procedure continues for several hours but, to be honest, we are so focused on our tasks that we barely notice.
Before noon we have made, mixed, and poured enough concrete to floor the entire three room home.
Our reward is to take a look inside and see the smooth, new concrete covering the old dirt, and even more so the our host family's smiling faces. There is nothing like the feeling of that before and after.
We find that we have one more reward waiting when we walk to the nearby church for an incredible lunch of stewed chicken, rice and beans, plantain, and cassava. Absolutely delicious, and couldn't be more authentically Dominican.
More than worth the sore muscles that await us.
We sadly say goodbye to Amber Cove and the Dominican Republic, but are happy and tired.
Not surprisingly, we nap.
A long, lazy dinner aboard Adonia is just the ticket, stimulating to our eyes and tongues. A cappuccino gives us a just the right amount of boost to explore what our ship has to offer for entertainment...
DAY SEVEN: A Day of Sharing - and Enjoying the Sea
There's something special about sunrise on the open sea.
The colors are phenomenal, the horizons endless, and the ability to actually see the earth turning as the burning sphere slowly enters the sky puts a perspective on our place on the planet that is rarely experienced.
We will spend most of the day sailing along the north coast of Cuba, which just happens to be the next destination for our good ship Adonia.
Tomorrow, we disembark and she will turn around and head south to Havana, before heading back to the Dominican Republic again.
Wish we were going but, for now, we settle for a view of the island off in the distance.
After breakfast, we are off to the Crow's Nest to share our adventures with our fellow Fathom Cohorts. Our group swaps stories of our adventures over the last week, and then our Fathom Impact leader, Michele, gives us a rundown of the stats from our projects.
In this time, over six thousand trees have been planted, about a third of which were done this week, including the three hundred and eighty on the morning that we participated.
It feels wonderful to know that we helped reduce erosion, provide habitat for wildlife, and clean the air and water.
Fathom volunteers have installed new concrete floors in seven homes, providing much improved living conditions for forty-nine people.
And by using locally sourced materials, the economic impact spreads beyond those families.
The Wine to Water initiative has made one hundred and fifty-six water filters that will provide clean water to over seven hundred people.
The result is a significant reduction in illness, which leads to increased work and school attendance.
Seven hundred and twenty-eight community members are participating in the Community English program, with each person receiving nearly eight hours of individual instruction.
English proficiency is the largest driver of economic success for job applicants in the Dominican Republic.
It feels good to see the impact that Fathom has already had, and know we played a small part in it - and it's only the beginning.
Afternoon/Evening: Mind and Body
The Adonia and Fathom have combined to keep both our bodies and minds fit on our days at sea with the Embody Spa, yoga and meditation, the Embody Gym with weights and cardio machines...
... a jogging track, acupuncture, a fully stocked library and game room...
David found regular-sized Jenga!
...and seminars on everything from time-saving life hacks to expanding curiosity.
There is even a wine and painting party in the evening to help us explore our artistic side… or at least attempt to...
...and movies just for fun.
The most important point we are left with is that making a difference in the world should follow us home. Wherever that may be.
There is always a way to reach out and help others - we just need to be open enough to see it, and be creative enough to jump in and do what's best.
DAY EIGHT: Land Ho
The Crack of Dawn
We pull into Miami at sunrise. We love Miami but, for today, seeing her means the end of a beautiful cruise.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Written aboard the Adonia
A big thank you to Fathom Travel for providing this impact + travel opportunity so we can share their good work. As always, all opinions are our own.
YOUR TURN: What do you think about this innovative cruise + impact + travel concept? Which impact activity are you most interested in hearing about?
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