Friday, April 12, 2013


My aunt and uncle are here in the DR on vacation, and I took a trip out to see them today. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of them, but if you don't know them, it doesn't matter, and if you do know them, you've already seen them.

Besides getting a nice lunch at the Hard Rock Café (oh, yeah, and seeing those relatives...hi Aunt Karen and Uncle Dean!), I took the opportunity to visit the eastern city of Higüey. Specifically, I visited the Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia. I haven't made a point to see many tourist destinations, but this was one I'd been meaning to check out, mainly because it's a church and not just a spot for tourists.


As you can see, it has a modernist style, something that's often disastrous for a church, but it manages (especially inside) to pull it off while still having majesty and solemnity. I was repeatedly reminded of the principle of Catholic architecture drawing your gaze upward toward heaven.

It was surrounded by a beautiful and very well-kept park of palm trees, some of which you can see here. On the other side is a museum dedicated to the Basilica and to La Virgen de la Altagracia (the Virgin of High Grace), which is the title of Mary as patron saint of the Dominican Republic.


When I went to catch a bus home, I noticed street vendors selling something I'd never seen before, so I bought a bottle.

I was a little nervous when I read the label, because 'chicharrones' are deep-fried pig skin, and leche is milk. Chunks of pork floating in milk doesn't sound appetizing or sanitary when sold on plastic jars on the side of the road.

While chewing on the first one, I looked it up and confirmed that it doesn't pork (or any meat for that matter). They're a type of cheese curd floating in a light syrup, and as far as I know, they're local to Higüey. They're not bad, try it if you get the chance.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Independence Day

February 27 is Dominican Independence Day! The Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haiti in 1844, making it the only country in the western hemisphere that doesn't celebrate its independence from a European country.

Instead of fireworks, Dominicans celebrate Independence Day with noise. Lots of noise. They take the mufflers off of the few motorcycles that actually have them and tear up and down the street. Or they just blast music at full volume. Hey, it's safer than explosives, and nobody can sleep through this holiday!

There's also dressing up and dancing at Carnaval, but not much happened in my site this year. That's not to say there wasn't any festive spirit. Plenty of people got dressed up anyway.
 And even the ones who didn't go for the crazy carnaval outfits found ways to have fun.
The Spiderman mask work particularly well with the Tinkerbell dress, don't you think?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies!

When I was home for Christmas, I picked up an item that's a crucial part of American culture:

They don't have chocolate chips in this country, so they don't have chocolate chip cookies. As a Peace Corps volunteer, it's one of my duties to help Dominicans learn about the important aspects of American culture (and the world at large) that aren't part of Dominican life. So, obviously, I was obligated to bake cookies with some friends.

I got most of the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) from supermarkets here in the DR. I didn't want to use up my friends' food, but I did depend on them for bowls and pans and a stove (and gas for the stove, which isn't always available).

I started at the house of my friend Eliza, who loves baking and has plenty of supplies. She's mostly familiar with cakes, but picked up on cookies quickly and we ended up with a good batch.
As I said, she mainly bakes cakes, so we ended up baking cookies in cake pans!

The next week, I went to my former host family. They weren't quite as well equipped, and their oven didn't get very hot, and I didn't add enough flour, but they were still the best chocolate chip cookies they'd ever tasted.

Finally, I baked with the family of one of my first reading students. I'd brought them the Spanish version of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," and that was where I got the idea of baking cookies in the first place. They had the least supplies of anyone, but we made do.
They didn't have a 1 Cup measure, so we filled a pitcher with 1 Cup of water, poured it into this cup, and marked it off with a pencil. I think we made it too small, but it worked. More or less.

I left the recipe at all three houses, but I don't know how often they'll get a chance to use it (and they'll have to break up their own pieces of chocolate). It made me wonder which is worse: never having chocolate chip cookies at all, or only having them once?