My Rain Forest Dream Come True - Cruise Recap Part Three

Continuing with the vacation story . . . this one is long, but it will probably be the most amusing recap post, so bear with me.

The next stop after St. Thomas was the Dominican Republic. When I saw that on the itinerary it seemed like a strange place to stop. The Dominican Republic is somewhere you go for mission trips and things like that, not for vacation, so I was interested to see what it would be like.

We had to wake up pretty early that day and proceed to the ship's theater, where we got a number assigned to us and waited for our excursion group to depart.

We had signed up for a horse-back riding trip to a waterfall back in the rain forest, so we wore our swimsuits under our clothes. I was excited, because as a kid I always dreamed of seeing the rain forest - it fascinated me.

This port was a "tether" port, where we had to be shuttled from the cruise ship to the land in these boats. We arrived on the land and proceeded to board a bus that would take us to our destination.

The cruise ship from the tether boat:

Derek and me before boarding the bus:

On the way the tour guide told us a little bit about the Dominican Republic. I guess their main sources of revenue are growing and exporting coconuts, and tourism (they love us tourists, bringing the money in). That made me feel better about being there on for a leisure trip, because it's not like they look at us as "those rich Americans" or anything, they want us to come there on vacation!

We stopped at a little gift shop and cigar "factory". The factory consisted of a little building with a little workstation for rolling cigars. It was interesting to watch.

Derek and I bought a postcard at the souvenir shop, and climbed back on the bus to wait for departure. As we got back on the bus we noticed these little kids standing near the stop. They brought a scrawny little dog with them (cats everywhere in Puerto Rico, dogs everywhere in Dominican Republic) and just stood there, staring at the tourists.

Derek and I kept watching them out the window once we were on the bus, and we saw one of our fellow travelers pull out their wallet and hand the kids some money. As we watched those kids must have gotten money from six or more different people.

Derek and I were laughing, wondering how much they made, without even having to do anything but stand there! We were laughing at ourselves too, because before we boarded the bus we were thinking how if we had brought extra, we might have wanted to give them each a dollar as well.

In front of the cigar factory.

Finally we arrived at the ranch, and we were each given a pair of rubber boots to wear so we could keep our shoes clean. After that we proceeded to the beginning of the trail to wait to be assigned a horse.

The horses were really little, as in short, and Derek thought they looked a little skinny too. Each horse was led by a native of the Dominican Republic.

As the people ahead of us started mounting their horses, we realized that those people leading the horses were going to lead them all the way to the waterfall! We thought we were going to handle our own horses, but we each got our own personal guide for the entire trip. It was kind of cool, but kind of funny too, because we didn't expect it.

Derek got his horse before me - he's the one in the blue shirt with the backpack.

My guide's name was Manuel. He looked to be about ten or eleven years old, and he had this grin that could just melt your heart!

We tried to communicate as best we could. We established that he only spoke a little English, and I only spoke a little Spanish (don't be too impressed people - when I say "a little Spanish", I mean a grand total of about four phrases).

I tried to take a good picture of Manuel, but he turned his head right as I was taking this one. And he was so focused on doing his job well that I didn't want to stop him to take another one.

We rode through the rain forest for a while. Manuel would point out various vegetation, like mangoes, or bananas, or coconut. Once he stopped the horse so I could take a picture of a pineapple! It was cute.

Derek, in the meantime, was getting to know his guide a little better too. He speaks and understands a respectable amount of Spanish, and he learned that his guide was a single mother with two little kids.

Sometimes we saw Derek on his horse, and sometimes we didn't. Manuel seemed to like to get ahead of everyone - he kept switching my horse's backside to make him run around all the other tourists and guides, running alongide the horse as he did it. I tell you, we must have run at least halfway up that mountain! He didn't even look tired.

One of the river crossings.

We were behind Derek and his guide for a little while before we left him in the dust again!

Another crossing.

When we got close to the top, my little guide took a couple pictures for us! The picture of us together didn't turn out, but here's one of me:

And here's one of Derek:

I thought it was so funny, because after Manuel took that first one, he bent down to take another one. I thought maybe he just wanted to get a couple pictures to be sure they turned out alright.

But as I waited on my horse behind him, I realized he had bent down like that to take a picture of the horse. He totally chopped Derek out of the picture in the process. It was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing!

After this we got to the rest area, tied the horses up, and proceeded to walk the rest of the way to the waterfall. We met up with Derek and his guide so we could walk there together.

In order to get there we had to walk down this muddy, rocky, slippery slope. In rubber boots. Pretty precarious if you ask me. Manuel gripped my wrist with his hands and led me down the hill.

Then, to my amusement, Derek's guide grabbed my other arm as well. So here I am, each arm being held out in front of me by the guides as I'm being led down the hill, while Derek is left to fend for himself! We made it down the hill long before he did, and he had to pick his way down that muddy slope in slippery rubber boots, with no assistance at all.

It was hilarious.

When we had crossed the river on foot earlier, they had done the same thing. I guess I must have looked delicate or sickly or something, because they seemed to be really afraid that I was going to fall to my death.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, there was a waterfall.

It was so pretty that I thought that was it, but Manuel looked impatient to keep going and we followed the guides up another hill.

Then we saw the big waterfall. It was huge, probably a good fifty feet tall, with this blue-green pool beneath it.

This is where Derek and I got to swim in the pool under the waterfall, and once again I wished I had brought a water-proof camera.

It was pretty warm water, with moss-covered rocks. The spray from the waterfall blew in our faces and made it difficult to look directly at it, and the noise was so loud.

At one point we swam behind the waterfall into these little rocky nooks. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things - how many people get to swim underneath a fifty-foot waterfall in the rain forest of the Dominican Republic?

All too soon they blew the whistle and we had to get out of the pool. It had started to rain, and we walked through the mud back to where our guides were standing under a plastic bag and watching our things.

We put our clothes back on, and Derek got his socks and shoes on before I did. Our feet were all muddy, but there was nothing to do but just put the socks on over the mud.

I was about to reach for my socks when Manuel told me "Un momento," grabbed one of my boots and ran off. A moment later he came back with my rubber boot filled with water, and he proceeded to rinse my feet off with water before I put my socks on, so they wouldn't get muddy!

How sweet was that? I tell you, I had the best little guide on that mountain.

It started raining very hard on our way back up that slippery hill, so hard that we were soaked through within a minute or so. I put the camera back in Derek's backpack to try to protect it, and Manuel grabbed my wrist and dragged me up the hill. He was in a hurry again - we practically ran up that mountain.

He kept looking at me on the way up and asking "Okay?", and I probably could have used a break in there, but he looked like it was imperative that we get up the hill ASAP, so I just made myself run up the hill behind him.

When we got to the top I realized what the big hurry was. Derek and I were standing underneath the picnic shelter up there as I caught my breath, when I saw a flash of light out of the corner of my eye. Immediately there was a deafening peel of thunder. I think we all jumped in unison, even the guides. It was scary to be so close to a lightening bolt like that, but it was cool at the same time!

Manuel rushed me off to our soggy little horse, and I climbed aboard and we took off galloping down the mountain again.

A little further into the forest, when it had stopped raining, we slowed down a little bit. We had given our guides their tips up on the hill, so we wouldn't forget, and Manuel started trying to talk to me in English. He said something about five dollars for him, and I was confused, because we had given them each ten.

I tried to say in as much Spanish as I could that I had given him ten (once again, don't be impressed - the only word I knew was ten). He tried to explain again to me, and then said, "Comprende?"

"Uhh," said I, and Manuel started laughing. He said something else in Spanish that included the words "Mi Amigo", as he put his arm around me, still with that heart-melting little grin on his face. I couldn't help but laugh too.

He continued to say something else to me, and then he said that I was "Muy bonita!" I knew what that meant! So I thanked him, and he laughed again.

Later we tried to talk again, and I figured out that he was saying that he was going to keep five dollars for himself and give five dollars to his "madre". I thought that was sweet.

I asked where his madre was, and he indicated that she was ahead, "a la casa". I knew that meant "at the house", so I was pretty proud of myself that I figured that out! Since it's obvious how adept I am at interpreting Spanish.

In the meantime, Derek was chatting more with his guide somewhere back on the trail, and found out that the guides don't get paid at all by the company. The only money they get is the tips they make.

Derek figured out from her that twenty dollars was a good tip, and when we got back to the ranch, Derek told me what she said. We weren't sure what to do, because we had only brought a limited amount of cash, and we still had to tip the bus driver.

But we figured our guides did way more than the bus driver did, and we decided to give them each the twenty dollars, which was the rest of the money we had. I was kind of wanting to give my little guide more anyway, because he did such a good job.

Then we had to figure out how to explain in Spanish that we only had a twenty left, so we needed one of them to give the other the ten we gave them before so that we could give them each twenty. Thank goodness Derek speaks more Spanish than I do!

Even then, it was difficult to make ourselves totally understood. We think that Derek's guide thought that we wanted to take the money back, because she got this panicky look in her eyes! But my guide understood right away, because he said "Ohhh," and started digging in his pocket for the ten.

In the end we got it all figured out, and they were very pleased. Now my little guy can have "diez" for himself, and "diez" for his madre! I felt kind of sad to have to leave Manuel, because I had grown kind of attached to him during the trip. He was so cute. But I can always pray for him - prayer is a way you can stay connected to anyone, even if you never see them again. I'm thankful for that.

We felt kind of bad about not having any money left for the bus driver, and Derek's guide may have played us a little bit by asking for twenty, because other people we asked had tipped ten. But it's a poor country, and we knew they could use the extra money, so I was happy we gave them each twenty in the end.

Then we took our soggy, droopy selves back to the bus for the ride back. My Anne of Green Gables book got ruined - the water just cut right through the backpack and almost everything was wet. But the trip up there was worth a ruined book I think - it was a real adventure!

We went back to the dock and got ready to get back on the tether boat and ride back to the ship. It was a wet ride, because the waves were starting to get a little more choppy, but it also made the boat ride rather exciting.

As we boarded the boat I noticed a stray dog just standing there on the pier, looking lost. I had to try to get a quick picture.

It was a little bittersweet leaving that country. We had a wonderful adventure, my childhood rain forest dream come true, and when our vacation was over this would end up being the stop that we liked the best. But what of all those skinny animals and people scraping by on what little money they make? As we pulled away from the dock, I left wondering what would become become of Manuel.

I'll always think back on our rain forest adventure with a grin on my face and fond memories, and then I'll say a little prayer that Manuel and all the others would someday know the "unsearchable riches of Christ". And the rest must be left in God's capable hands.

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chloƫ. said...

great story :)

LeAnna said...

I absolutely loved reading this! What a neat, neat experience and awesome opportunity to show the love of Christ to people. An adventure, for sure!

CAC said...

love the pics!! so fun!

Jessica said...

Aww, what a sweet story! Manuel sounds like such a little gentleman! When I went to Belize we stayed at YWAM right at the edge of the rain forest. It was so beautiful, even though I was a little freaked out by all the strange reptiles, poisonous frogs, tarantulas, and creepy little scorpions. Haha...but the wild horses, tropical plants, banana trees, and fresh coconuts more than made up for it!

I bet Manuel just stole your heart! We worked at an orphanage while we were at Belize. It was 10 years ago, but I still remember the kids' names and every time I think of them, it pulls at my heart strings a bit. What a great gift Manuel has now in you as a prayer warrior for his little life! :-)

Anna said...

Great story! I read the whole thing! :)

katie said...

This is my favorite post ever. I love the story! What a special memory for you both and how cool that the Lord appointed you and Manuel to have a lovely day together.

I really want to experience something like this someday.

Jenene said...

What a great adventure! I'm glad you were able to give more money to your guides. It sounds like they really needed it, and they did a great job of taking care of you!

Felicia said...

Wow, that's a great story! I love Manuel and I didn't even spend the day with him! :D

Unknown said...

The waterfall must have been amazing! So jealous x

Anne said...

What a fun trip! It sounds like it was beautiful. I feel like I can totally relate to the bittersweet feelings of an awesome adventure, but at the same time the sadness of the poor people and skinny animals. You told the story so well though, I feel like I was there!

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