STAYING SELF-MOTIVATED AS A SOLO SWIMMER

After writing two articles for Swimspire , I was asked by Julia Galan to continue with my “Solo Swimmer” theme and write a series of articles for her website.  The following article was recently published, and appears here:

Whether you swim with a team or solo, all of us swimmers have had our issues staying motivated at one time or another. Being a solo swimmer can make it even more difficult if there isn’t anyone around to encourage you. Self-motivation is the key to happiness and success when going it alone as a swimmer, so read on for tips on how to stay fired up to keep on swimmin’!

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Why do you swim?

First, it’s important to answer this basic question: Why do you swim? It’s very difficult to stay motivated to do anything you don’t really want to do. Are you swimming just because your doctor told you to swim for health reasons? Is it because you love running and cycling, but you have to swim to compete in triathlons (your latest New Year’s resolution)? Or, do you love the way swimming makes you feel, both mentally and physically? Maybe it’s because you swam as a kid, and you want to do it as an adult on your terms, rather than having a coach constantly barking orders at you. Hey, maybe it’s even for several of these reasons.

The bottom line is this: If you know why you swim, it will help keep you motivated to get wet.

Embrace habits that make you happy

Are you a morning person or a night owl? What time of day are you more likely to make swimming a habit? Work, family, and other commitments will dictate your available time slot for swim workouts; but, if you have a choice, swim at a time you are most likely to stick with on a regular basis. This is one of the advantages of being a solo swimmer – we have more control over our swim schedules than team or workout group swimmers do.

For me, I find it easiest to stick with a routine of swimming first thing in the morning. I’m not necessarily an early riser, but swimming is my first appointment of the day. Nothing else gets scheduled on any day until the afternoon, whether it’s helping my husband with his part-time business, doing volunteer work, scheduling appointments, or running errands. My friends also know I don’t check e-mail or make phone calls until after I return from the pool. Besides, I don’t function optimally until after a workout, so it’s just as well! I’m a much happier person during and after a swim!

Set flexible goals

By now, you have probably heard and read plenty about the benefits and how-to’s of setting goals; but I’ve learned a few things about my personal goal-setting that puts a different spin on the well-known S.M.A.R.T method of setting goals (Specific. Measurable. Achievable/Attainable. Realistic. Time-bound. There are variations on this acronym, but you get the picture.)

I add an “F” to my acronym. S.M.A.R.T.F. isn’t a word, I know, but the “F” is the most important part of my goal-setting: FLEXIBLE.

Until I added “flexible” to the equation, nothing took a hit to my self-motivation more than the constant frustration of failing to achieve my specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals!

Case in point: After nailing U.S. Masters Swimming National Qualifying Times (NQT’s) in the 50 Yard Breaststroke at a September of 2010 meet, I thought a S.M.A.R.T. goal would be to aim to achieve NQT’s every year. Congenital physical issues led to a series of repetitive stress injuries (mostly non-swimming related), though; so, my goals were constantly derailed. Ultimately, I had hip surgery in late 2014, resulting in a multi-year succession of failed S.M.A.R.T. goals. Can you say, “FRUSTRATION”?

The moral of the story? Write your goals in PENCIL! Being flexible will help you stay motivated. If a road-block conspires to keep you from achieving your specific goal, reassess your situation, shift gears; and, start the S.M.A.R.T. process over again.

Although my hip injury prevented me from making NQT’s, I still wanted to compete at a swim meet that took place just a few days before my hip surgery. I was unable to kick breaststroke (or kick much of any other stroke for that matter), so I needed to reassess my situation. Rather than miss competing at one of my favorite meets of the year, I got my surgeons approval to compete, and then asked him to write a medical excuse to the chief official explaining I couldn’t kick breaststroke. My breaststroke races were swum instead with an in-pool start, breaststroke pulls, and no pull-outs, while my legs flopped behind like an injured frog. The 400 Freestyle was swum without a block start or kicking, and no hard pushes off the walls at each turn. My race times suffered tremendously, but I still won the points I needed to achieve one of my other goals of winning the Georgia Grand Prix Series for my age group. Had I not raced that day, I would have failed at a goal that took the entire year (and several meets) to achieve; and, I would have missed out on a trophy that I now enjoy as a symbol of my perseverance.

Set long-term and short-term goals

What do you hope to gain from swimming? For me it provides so many physical, mental, and social benefits that my long-term goal is a no-brainer: I want to be able to swim and compete for the rest of my life. In order to be able to achieve that goal, I need to stay healthy and avoid injuries that force me out of the water. Working backwards from there, that long-term goal dictates how I set all of my short-term swimming goals. I may have a goal to make NQT’s in breaststroke; but, if my hip starts feeling the effects of my training schedule, I need to reassess, switch gears, and adjust my goals until I’m ready to ramp up again.

Often, my workout goal (a very short-term goal) changes multiple times in a single workout. I may go to the pool on “Fast Friday” with the goal of conquering a USRPT (Ultra Short Race Pace Training) set of breaststroke, but if my hip is fatigued or sore, swimming multiple race-pace 50’s of full breaststroke is out of the question. Out goes the kick, and I swim it as breaststroke pulls instead to avoid injury. Then, the remainder of my workout gets adjusted accordingly, depending on how my body feels.

What is your long-term goal? Keep it in mind as you work backwards and break it down into shorter segments; and, remember that flexibility is key!

Variety is the spice of life!

Are you having a difficult time staying motivated because you are bored or burned out with your current swimming routine? Adding variety will help keep things fun and challenging—keys to staying self-motivated.

If you are a lap swimmer who only swims freestyle to stay fit, but you get bored staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool as you swim lap after lap, consider learning another stroke. In addition to taking adult swim lessons or hiring a coach by the hour to teach you, there are plenty of free resources available to teach yourself backstroke, breaststroke, or even butterfly. My favorite videos are at http://www.GoSwim.TV (you can subscribe for free), but there are also many other good ones on YouTube.

How about entering a competition? Although I highly recommend joining U.S. Masters Swimming for their numerous motivating resources (and to be able to compete at USMS swim meets), there are other options available. YMCA has excellent swim programs and competitions, or you could check with your local recreation department. Another option is to compete in your state’s annual pool or open water swim meet that is open to all ages (stategamesofamerica.com). If you are 50+ years of age, check out your state’s Senior Olympicsprogram. None of these organizations require you to be an expert swimmer, and you will find competitors of all skill levels and ages at these meets.

Having a competitive event to look forward to will keep you motivated to train and give you a built-in goal to shoot for.

On the flip side, if you are a burned out competitive swimmer, how about changing it up a bit to fire up your motivation? If you are a stroke specialist, give yourself permission to take a year (or season) off from your best stroke and focus on a different one. Can’t decide which stroke? Train for the individual medley, and you will get to add three other strokes to your specialty! This give you plenty of training options and adds a lot of variety to your training.

Are you a sprinter? Try long distance events, and add an open water race into your meet line-up for the year. If you are an open water swimmer, see what it’s like to race between the lane lines and add a flip turn to your freestyle.

Perhaps your motivation has reached such a low point that you don’t even want to get out of bed to swim. If that happens, just think about how good it feels after a workout. You’re energized and feel a sense of satisfaction afterwards, right? If you skip your workout, you will deprive yourself of those great, healthy feelings! Get up and just go swim for ten minutes. If after that time your motivation still hasn’t kicked in, try doing something fun. Join the water walkers at the shallow end and socialize with them as you walk laps in the pool, go for a walk on the beach or bodysurf (if you’re at the ocean), or get out on deck and do some yoga. ANY exercise will feel better than NO exercise; and, perhaps you will regain your motivation to swim a few laps. If not, don’t beat yourself up; tomorrow is always another day!

Remember, as a solo swimmer, you have complete control over what, where, when, and how you train and swim! Just never take your eye off your long-term goal and forget the “why”, because “why” you swim is what will keep you motivated to take the plunge, time after time.


Elaine Krugman is a U.S. Masters Swimmer (55-59 age group) and writes articles for the Georgia Masters Newsletter.  She also writes a blog about three of her passions:  travel, swimming, and chocolate; and, she’s happiest when the three intersect! Check out Elaine’s blog here!

FATHOM: OUR FINAL CHAPTER

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“Gratitude” doesn’t fully describe how I feel about the experiences Bruce and I shared during our three Fathom Impact Travel cruises.  There were so many memorable experiences that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.  Any impact we made in the Dominican Republic and Cuba came back around in such wonderful ways—all described in the many blog posts I have written about our January, March, and April visits.  Search “Fathom” on this blog site, and you can read about them all.

On our last cruise, as planned, we reunited with some passengers we had previously met aboard Adonia; but, we also unexpectedly saw others from our January and March cruises.

Each one of us had re-booked a Fathom Impact Travel cruise for similar reasons, and all of us were eager to continue making an impact.

When Fathom’s Adonia sets sail on May 21 to the Dominican Republic, it will be her last sailing under the Fathom flag.  Her lease expires, and then she will sail to Europe to become a P&O ship once again.  All of her crew with the exception of the Impact Travel Staff will sail with her.

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The Dominican Republic flag (left) is the only national flag with a bible on it.

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Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

Adonia will be missed.  As a former 6-star Renaissance ship (before the company folded), she’s a classic beauty built in a style no longer seen in new ships.  Beautiful mahogany, crown molding, etched glass, impeccable craftsmanship—these are all abundantly featured throughout the 704-passenger ship.

Fathom may be all about “Impact Travel” rather than the vehicle getting us to our destinations; but, what Adonia did for Fathom was to provide a more intimate atmosphere for its passengers, enabling them to meet and share experiences more easily.

A favorite place to bond with our fellow cruisers was on the aft deck outside of “The Conservatory”, the buffet and casual dining area of the ship.  It became a popular meeting place for travelers to hang out with a cold drink, and swap stories of their Impact Travel activities.  Friendships were made and cemented, especially during sea days when there was no concern about the time.

When Bruce and I taught arts and crafts classes aboard larger Royal Caribbean ships, we often commented about the many people we saw disembarking that we never saw during the cruise.

Not so aboard Adonia.  Between the cohort meetings, workshops, dining room unassigned seating, and Impact Travel activities; we at least recognized everybody during disembarkation.  We also left with many more e-mail addresses and friendships than we ever had before.

On May 28, Fathom as we know it will end.  The following is an official statement I received upon request from Tara Russell, President of Fathom, regarding Fathom’s future:

There is a macro trend around the hunger for greater meaning and purpose in our everyday lives – people want to live their best story and long to go deeper. This exists independent of Fathom and manifests daily as a growing audience of consumers work to combine their purchases and experiences with their values. Fathom addresses this growing desire through travel experiences. Fathom invites travelers to get closer by traveling in new and exciting ways. Fathom heightens human connections between travelers, with new local friends and other cultures, and in any relationship a traveler may touch.

During our first season, Fathom trialed this purpose-driven concept by testing traveler appetites for travel-deep experiences with 7-day journeys on the MV Adonia to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Nearly 10 percent of Fathom travelers who joined these sailings returned quickly to participate again and our customer satisfaction scores were among the highest in the corporation. In short, the Fathom concept was very well received.

We always intended to serve our much broader corporate audience of 12 million travelers. The popularity of the Fathom experience with travelers who sailed with us inspired us to move quickly to expand the Fathom concept – onboard, onshore and in new and creative ways to serve an even greater audience.

Going forward, Fathom Travel experiences will live aboard countless other ships operated by our nine sister brands and offer beyond immersive experiences in many geographies. Fathom is designed to intersect and inspire the lives of travelers anywhere through heightened human connections that unlock human potential and connect travelers to a bigger story.

Already, we are providing Fathom Travel experiences on-ground to travelers across six Carnival Corporation brands in the Dominican Republic. We are honored to leverage our collective scale as we come alongside our Dominican friends to create enduring contributions to the lives of families and communities. Soon Fathom experiences will also be offered on board our sister brands.

Fathom looks forward to serving the 12 million people who annually travel with Carnival Corporation, as well as the millions of new travelers who long to go deeper into our growing community. We’re nearing the end of chapter one, but there is much ahead for the rest of the Fathom story and the best is yet to come! 

As of today, I have not received any definitive answer if Fathom will ever again have a dedicated ship for its Impact Travel mission.  If it does, I doubt it will be intimate and casino-less like Adonia. 

Thanks for the memories!

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Marcia (IDDI), Steven (IDDI), Me, Wilmers (IDDI), Colin (Fathom Impact Travel Staff Manager), Bruce, Raymond (IDDI)

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Frank (Entrena)

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Marvin (wait staff) remembered us from our previous cruise and visited us often on the aft deck for chats.

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Tomasito, leader of the Cuban band aboard ship

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Mauritza, Jessica, Brandon, and Len.  We cruised with Jessica and her dad on the January 1st and April 9th sailings.

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Mauritza and Jessica

 

 

HABLA INGLES? TEACHING ENGLISH IN THE DR

Before I post “FATHOM:  OUR FINAL CHAPTER”, I can’t locate the article I wrote about teaching community English in the Dominican Republic during our second cruise in March.  (Either I forgot to post it, or it disappeared from my blog!)

In between our two morning work sessions at Chocal, we spent an afternoon teaching “community English” in the small farming town of Cupey, Dominican Republic.  The bus ride to this community of 4,000 was an extremely bumpy one in some areas where we traversed unpaved rocky roads with large pot holes.  What a relief when we finally arrived into town and were able to drive over paved roads once again!

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Along the way, there was some interesting scenery, to say the least.  Although I managed to get a quick picture out the window of this cattle drive, I missed one when a man was walking his two bulls alongside the roadside.

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The best shot that got away, though, was the guy walking a pig.  Yes, you read that right—a PIG!  He even had a leash of rope around its neck.  This wasn’t just some small pot belly pig, mind you; this was a HUGE pink pig munching away happily at the grass along the roadside!

When we arrived at the community center, we were greeted by the families who would become our students for the afternoon.  After introducing themselves to us, one-on-one, we were divided into groups and assigned to a student for each teacher.  A few of the families had opened their homes as a meeting place for the days’ lesson, so we walked down the street to the house where we would be teaching.

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Milagras

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Bruce was assigned to a cute little girl, and I was assigned to a woman by the name of Doris.  We sat on the front porch facing our students and used the manual we were provided to conduct our lesson.

The students had been taking classes and studying on their own, but working with Fathom passengers was a supplemental opportunity to converse with Americans and learn more.

The lesson they had worked on prior to our arrival was entitled “Nature”.  They had learned the English name for several animals, so we were instructed by the facilitators from Entrena to review the lesson before moving on to “Classroom”.

My student, Doris, was a bit shy and unsure of herself.  To break the ice, I thought it would be fun to make the sound of the animal I wanted her to say in English.  I also had pictures to point to that had the English word written under each animal; but, I thought making her laugh would ease her nervousness.  At least, I thought it would make her laugh.

Imagine my dismay when I started barking (a pretty good rendition of a dog, I thought), and she pointed to the horse and said, “Horse”.  Ohhh boy; this was going to be a long afternoon…

Knowing my bark was the best animal sound in my bag of tricks, I immediately switched tactics and pointed to each animal for Doris to say in English.

NEXT!

The “Classroom” lesson had items such as a pencil, ruler, desk, chair, chalkboard, teacher, student, etc.  One of the students in the picture was wearing a backpack, and that was one of the words Doris needed to learn.  No can do; she just couldn’t get that one down.  I had offered her plenty of positive feedback (“Good!” and high-fives) when she got even close on the other words, but she couldn’t get past “back” to even get to the “pack”.  How I wish the little girl in the picture had carried her books to school in her arms, instead…

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My student, Doris

Bruce’s student got bored quickly, so he was moving on to other lessons to keep her interest.  She wanted to stick with the ones she was good at, though, and move on to a new one when she found the lesson to be too difficult.

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Bruce and his student

They were sitting right next to me and Doris, so it was easy enough to ease drop.  I only wish the little girl had ease-dropped on my barking and yelled out, “Dog!”

It was an enjoyable afternoon, though, and the students appreciated our efforts.  After the lesson, we met back up at the community center for some group photos.

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OUR REUNION WITH THE WOMEN OF REPAPEL

Although we were hoping to teach English at the University for our final Impact Travel activity, the students were on break for the Easter holiday.  Instead, we returned to RePapel, the women’s co-op that turns waste paper from the local community into recycled paper products that are sold for a profit.

I knew from our previous visit that our group of fellow Fathom passengers would be greeted by the women with enthusiastic singing and clapping.  It was fun, though, to watch the surprised expressions on the group as they walked up the street to the co-op and heard the women singing up ahead.  Smiles broke out as they rounded the corner and saw the women of RePapel dancing and clapping as they sang to us.

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One-by-one, I scanned over the singing ladies and recognized each one from our January visit.  It was Claribel I was looking for, though, because we had made such a positive connection when we worked together last time.  Would she remember me?

Claribel was off to the left side, and I quickly took a photo of the women.  When she spotted me, her expression changed as if she was deep in thought.  A few seconds later, she flashed a huge grin as she remembered who I was.  I made a heart sign with my hands (as she did to me when we said goodbye in January), and she ran over to greet me with a big hug.

Making paper with the ladies is so much fun, because they keep up a positive energy with their singing.  In between songs, Claribel and I communicated as we did last time—through hand gestures and my (very) broken Spanish.  She asked me if Bruce and I had children, and then I asked her the same question.  Claribel responded that two of her seven children were twins.

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As it turned out, there was a family on board with teenage fraternal triplets, and they were standing right behind me as Claribel and I talked.  The mom chimed in saying, “You have twins?  I have triplets!”  Claribel didn’t quite understand the word “triplets” until I grabbed three of my fingers and held them together with my other hand and held it up.  In perfect English, Claribel exclaimed, “Oh my GAAAD!!”  We couldn’t stop laughing.

This is typical of what it’s like to make recycled paper (and paper bead necklaces) with the women of RePapel.  Never a dull moment!

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My friend, Claribel

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Fredy is from Colombia and also has an apartment in Atlanta.  We enjoyed getting to know him during the cruise.

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The women were ripping up waste paper into small pieces that will get thrown in a washing machine for a cycle– the early steps of the paper recycling process.

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After a cycle in the washing machine, the paper/water mixture gets scooped up and tossed into the blender for a whirl.  Next, it is dumped into this bin.  Bruce was given a framed screen to dunk into the mixture.  Once the screen is covered, it is lifted and drained.

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The IDDI facilitator joined in the production line. Here,  she is taking the piece of paper she had removed from her screen and getting it ready to place on the drying rack out in the sun.

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We also made paper beads and strung necklaces to be sold in the gift shop.  Bruce and Fredy show off their creations.

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I’m modeling the necklace I made.

The following are scenes from the community.  Some of the pictures were shot from the bus window as we arrived, and others were taken during a walking tour we took after we worked at RePapel.

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This concrete floor was made by Fathom Adonia passengers.  The homeowner was given the choice of what color to paint it, and yellow is the most popular choice.

Next up:  FATHOM:  OUR FINAL CHAPTER

OUR THIRD VISIT TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC; OUR SIXTH AND SEVENTH TO CHOCAL

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Type “Chocal” into the search box above, and a list of several blog posts will appear that I have written about Chocal, the women’s cooperative chocolate factory and cacao plantation in the Dominican Republic (the DR).  In all, Bruce and I participated in Fathom’s Impact Travel program at Chocal seven times; three visits during our January 1st Fathom Adonia cruise, twice on our March 12 cruise, and twice on our final visit to the DR, during the week of April 9, 2017.

Those earlier blog posts included information about how Chocal was established (although I didn’t mention how the factory replaced what was once a nightclub hangout for drug dealers and other criminals).  I wrote about the benefits Chocal has provided the thirty women and 130 families of the Altamira community.  The chocolate-making process was also described, from bean to bar, including photos I shot of the cacao processing machinery.  Our volunteer contributions were also detailed including the impact our work groups made on Chocal’s production.

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Although cacao beans are very bitter to bite into, the white pulp surrounding the beans is sweet and delicious!  I was given the remainder of the seeds in this pod to suck on and enjoy– about half of the 50 seeds it contained.  

Since then, the cumulative impact has grown as more and more Fathom passengers volunteered at Chocal.  As of April 15 of this year (the one year anniversary of Fathom Adonia’s first sailing), 4,419 passengers have visited Chocal and sorted 5,186 pounds of cacao nibs, resulting in 152,994 finished chocolate products.  In addition, since the neighboring cacao plantation nursery was added to the Impact Travel program, 29,920 cacao seeds were planted.  Of those, roughly 75% will grow to become cacao trees. In three years, those trees will be each produce about 20 pods ready to harvest each May and November for the next 30-40 years.  Each of those pods will contain about 50 seeds—enough to produce a 2-ounce bar of chocolate to be sold in the Dominican Republic.  (In addition, Chocal exports cacao nibs to Canada and the U.S.A., earning $2 per pound.)

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The inside of a cacao seed is very bitter!

Bruce and I made a personal impact at Chocal as well, bringing a box of ear plugs to the factory workers (when we visited in March) with promises to send more if the workers cared enough about preserving their hearing to use the ear plugs regularly.

I also brought memories with me during that second visit, giving each of the workers photo notecards I had made of the photos I had taken of them last January.  Their reactions and expressed gratitude was gratifying and left a lasting warmth in our hearts.

Our final Fathom Adonia voyage was during the week before Easter (a very important holiday in the DR), and we were there the day before and day of Good Friday.  As a result, many of the women of Chocal were home cooking and preparing for the holiday, so we didn’t get to see some of them again as we had hoped.  Still, our two visits were special, memorable, and heart-warming.

We arrived once again with an armful of photo notecards—this time, made with photos of our Chocal friends holding the cards I had given them in March; and, we brought another box of ear plugs to keep them well-stocked for a while.

Our bus driver, Diosiris Dipre (“Dipre”) was the same one we had last March, and he appeared very happy to see us again!  His sincere gratitude for such a simple gesture of giving a photograph reminded me of how random acts of kindness can make such a positive impact.

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Our bus driver, Dipre & IDDI facilitator, Juan

Gumarcindo, the nursery’s manager, also welcomed us warmly once again and laughed heartily when I gave him another photo card.  I wish I would have remembered to take another picture of him holding his card, because the photo on the card showed him holding the card I gave him in March that had the picture I took of him in January on it! We got so busy working at the nursery, I completely forgot.  It’s another one of those photos that got away…

Our IDDI facilitator on the bus with us this time was Juan, an IDDI rep we had seen during previous visits, but hadn’t gotten to know, since he was on the other bus in the past.  The guy is a hoot, and we had a lot of laughs with him during both of our days going to Chocal.  His grandmother works at the factory, and even though she didn’t speak any English, we managed to form a bond through smiles and gestures.

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Juan

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Juan’s grandmother

Steven, another IDDI facilitator was there once again, and he seemed happy to see us and start another round of teasing, picking up from where we left off in March.

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Steven & Bruce

As we saw the women, one-by-one, throughout our time at the factory, each one recognized us and greeted us with hugs.  It was nice to be remembered once again!

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At one point, though, I had a brief moment of sadness when we passed through the office to work in the packaging area, and Bruce noticed the box of ear plugs we had given them in March.  The box was sitting on top of a high pony wall in the exact same place where it had been left after I demonstrated to the president how to use the ear plugs.  When Bruce saw what appeared to be the unused box and told me about it, he had a disappointed look on his face.  He said, “I don’t think they’ve touched those ear plugs since you gave them the box.”  My heart sank, and I wondered whether I should even give them the second box I had brought.  Not giving it a second thought, I doubled back to check the box for myself.  Just as I opened it and noticed it only two-thirds full, Milagros (the factory manager) walked in and exclaimed, “Si!  Si!!” as she pointed to her ears and smiled.  The workers were in fact using the ear plugs, and they were very grateful to receive more!  That made my day.

After our work session officially ended and the others shopped in the gift shop, Bruce and I stayed behind to give one last push of sorting beans.  As a final parting “gift”, Steven took me back into the factory where we had molded chocolates, gave me a plastic glove, and told me to hold out my hand.  In it landed a palm-ful of warm chocolate from the bowl we had worked from to create our little chocolate works of “art”.  I will never forget how gooood that chocolate tasted as I licked every bit up!  I savored it slowly knowing it could very well be the last visit we ever make to Chocal.

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Coming up next:  OUR REUNION WITH THE WOMEN OF REPAPEL

 

 

OUR DAY WITH BENI, EDUARDO, AND GRISEL

Beni had made a noon lunch reservation for the five of us for a restaurant I had found on Trip Advisor, Restaurant San Francisco, located on San Francisco St., not far from Eduardo’s shop.  (They had an air conditioned room, so he wanted to make sure we would be able to get a table there, so we could dine in comfort.  Santiago de Cuba is hot!)

We cleared Cuban customs early enough to take in some sights before lunch.  Eduardo was anxious to experiment with his new glass, so he and Grisel agreed to meet us at the restaurant.

Since we missed seeing Santa Ifigenia Cemetery during our last cruise visit, we thought it would be interesting to go and see where Fidel Castro was laid to rest (or burn in hell, depending on your perspective and religious beliefs).  It was reputed to be a beautiful and interesting place to visit, so Beni flagged down a taxi for the three of us.

If Bruce and I as tourists had hired a taxi just outside of the port terminal gate, the cost would have been $10-$15 each way.  Just across the street and up one block, the taxi driver Beni flagged down agreed to $5 each way.  It helps having a local do the negotiating!

Although I could have spent hours poking around the cemetery and enjoying the views, we only had time for a brief stop to shoot a few photos.  The Cuban government forbids photography of their military and police, but thanks to the marvels of wide angel lenses, I pointed my lens toward Fidel Castro’s monument and caught the unsuspecting armed guard as well.

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Beni’s father, Aurelio, was also laid to rest at Santa Ifigenia, and Beni had an interesting story to tell about him.  During the revolution to dethrone Fulgencio Batista, the brutal and corrupt dictator who ruled Cuba from 1940-1944, Aurelio brought 89 men with him to the mountains to fight with Fidel.  Ultimately, as you know, they were victorious, and Fidel became the new leader of Cuba.  As a reward, Fidel made Aurelio a lieutenant in his army.  (As brutal as Batista was, Fidel seemed like the better option at the time; however, history tells us that Fidel was no angel either…)

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This shot (and the two below) were taken while making our way back to our waiting taxi.

After leaving the cemetery, Beni asked our taxi driver to give us a short city tour on the way to the restaurant, so we could see some typical neighborhoods, and observe how people live.  I wish there had been more time, because I would have loved to have done some in-depth photography rather than just grab the few shots I snapped out the window.

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As it turned out, Beni was so careful with our time, we arrived thirty minutes early to the restaurant!  To make the most of those extra minutes, Beni took us on a walking tour to see some things we had missed on our last visit to Santiago de Cuba.

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This was a (very old) local book store where tourists had added their photos and business cards to those pinned up by the locals.

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I’m guessing Cuba doesn’t have Match.com available to them!

Particularly memorable was a music venue where Cuban music legends had performed over the many years the club has been in existence.  Hundreds of pictures covered the walls, and hand-tooled leather chairs lined the floors in perfectly neat rows.  For $1 cover charge, you could occupy one of those chairs and take in the sounds of Cuban music.  (I dare you to sit still, though; the Cuban rhythms will make you want to dance!)

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In a side room, a chair was hung up on the wall along with a photo of Paul McCartney.  When the famous Beatle visited Santiago, that was the very chair he sat on to enjoy the sounds of the band performing the evening of his visit.

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We made our way back to Restaurant San Francisco and were led into a tiny air conditioned room with two tables where Eduardo and Grisel were waiting for us.  It was exactly noon, and it was quite apparent you could set your watch to Beni!

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This was a private restaurant (not a mediocre one run by the government), so the prices on the menu were in the old Cuban Pesos (CUP) rather than CUC, the newer currency.  After some quick calculations to make sure we brought enough CUC’s with us (and after realizing just how little this lunch for five would cost), I told our Cuban friends to order anything they wanted.

Good fish is very difficult to find for Cubans, and if they score some at a store, the price would be too high to afford.  All of the best fish is reserved for the tourist restaurants, and most Cubans get paid too little to afford to dine in one.  In addition, the harbor of Santiago de Cuba is not somewhere you would want to drop a line to catch your own fish.

Everybody else ordered fish from the menu, but I opted for shrimp.  After singing happy birthday and toasting Beni, we settled in for a tasty meal and interesting conversation.  Eduardo shared some cute videos of his little grandson on his cellphone (At the age of two, the tot is already learning to cook and work with glass like his grandpa.  The knife skills of this kid were amazing!), and Beni shared photos of his family.

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In all, our lovely meals and non-alcoholic drinks came to less than 23 CUC (about $23)!  Bruce gave the waitress 30 CUC and told her to keep the change.  I’m guessing that tip was the equivalent of ten days of income.

We all walked back to Artesania Art Deco to Eduardo’s shop where Bruce and Eduardo talked about glass with the help of Grisel’s translation, and I photographed the other artists to help promote Artesanias Art Deco on Trip Advisor, and elsewhere on the internet.  We also visited with Beni’s friends where Bruce had an opportunity to play catch with another baseball enthusiast.  Then, when Beni and Bruce broke into another duet, I couldn’t help asking them to start over, so I could catch it on video!

I also recorded an interesting interview with Beni, which over the coming days, weeks, months, and, hopefully years will become part of an on-going series of blog posts about my new friend.  I have saved every e-mail of substance he has sent, and at the rate we have communicated, I’m sure there will be many more.

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Watch Eduardo work the glass

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Listen to Beni & Bruce sing!

Our goodbyes at the end of the day were difficult, because our bond and affection for each other had grown stronger.  It was especially hard for me to say goodbye to Beni, and for Bruce and Eduardo bid farewell.  Eduardo’s last words through Grisel were, “Next time, you come to Cuba, you come to my house and have a meal with my family.”  It was delivered with such bravado and pride.

Beni walked us part-way to the ship.  We stopped him at a private spot where we were assured nobody would be watching us, because Bruce wanted to give him a parting gift, beside the bag of items we had brought for Beni and his family.  Since Beni isn’t a licensed guide, we didn’t want him to get in trouble with the government for receiving money from tourists.  We hadn’t hired Beni, and he wasn’t expecting payment; but we wanted to help him out as our friend.  When Bruce shook his hand, Beni felt the money Bruce had passed off to him, and Bruce told him to put it in his pocket.  Beni protested, saying he didn’t want this to be a business transaction.  We were touched that he was most concerned about our friendship enduring.   (I think I calmed his fears when I reminded him of all the e-mails we had sent back and forth before we knew we were returning to Santiago.  We never thought we would see him again, and our friendship stuck.  If anything, it has grown stronger!)

Someday, we hope to return to Cuba and have him guide us around his country.  Until then, I would like to help Beni by referring people to him to be their unofficial guide when they arrive in Santiago de Cuba.  As long as you keep it on the down low and use discretion, you all will stay off the police’s radar.  Even if he is stopped and questioned, you are friends of mine who have come to visit him at my request.  Right?  The Cuban government doesn’t check up on its citizens on the internet, so he has given me permission to give out his contact information.  Write a comment after this post with your request, and I will reply with an e-mail including all of Beni’s contact information.

Until then, here are some memories from our day in Santiago de Cuba:

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We stopped by to visit Hector, the wood carver we had purchased two carvings from during our previous visit.  At the time, I had shot a photograph of him holding our new purchase, so I made it into a card to give him.  He was so appreciate we had remembered him, he gave me this bracelet (below):

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These classic taxis dropped off some passengers at the terminal, and I was able to get a good angle from the ship’s top deck after we returned.

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A storm brewed as we made our way back to the ship, and we arrived just in time before the incoming storm hit.

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Seen during our sail out of the harbor…

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Coming up next:  Our Third Visit to The Dominican Republic; Sixth and Seventh to Chocal

SANTIAGO DE CUBA: OUR REUNION WITH BENI, EDUARDO, AND GRISEL

Leading up to our April 9th departure from Miami aboard Fathom’s Adonia, the e-mails between me and Beni were flying across the internet at a rapid pace.  Beni was so excited we were returning to Cuba and would see him on his birthday, April 11.  We planned everything out to make sure we were all prepared to take full advantage of our day together, including taking him out to lunch along with Eduardo and his assistant, Grisel.

In one of Beni’s messages, he told me he went to meet Eduardo and Grisel, so he would be familiar with them before our reunion.  As it turned out, they had known each other years before in the military!

Eduardo, a glass blower for the past thirty years, is the only glass artist in the country producing and selling his glass pieces.  Procuring supplies is extremely difficult—and expensive—so it has held him back from being able to create art without limitations.  He asked Beni to pass along the message to Bruce that if there was any glass we could bring with us to Cuba, Eduardo would buy it.  Bruce immediately scoured his studio to compile a care package of glass rods and small pieces of glass we could carry.

Meanwhile, I asked Beni what items I could bring for him and his family that are difficult for them to buy, but easy enough for us to pack.

Fathom frowns on passengers bringing items to donate arbitrarily to people on the streets, and I agree with their “give them a hand up, not a hand-out” philosophy.  Creating a begging culture among the locals and expectations of getting free hand-outs from tourists has negative long-term ramifications.

Specific gifts, on the other hand, met with the Fathom Impact Travel Staff’s approval, since the items would be distributed privately to our friends.  The glass in particular was viewed as a great way to give Eduardo a hand up.  He had planned on making a glass piece to enter into an art competition, and the glass Bruce was bringing could be used for that purpose.

For Beni, I had promised him I would make a flash drive of our favorite music; but, I also added pictures of our community and home, favorite photos I used in my photo notecard line ( www.ExquisiteCards.Fototime.com ), photos I took of Santiago de Cuba during our previous visit, the video of Beni and Bruce singing “Dock of the Bay”, and anything else I thought he would like.  Since he was in need of data storage, I loaded it all up on a 64 gb flash drive I purchased on Amazon for only $15.  (I don’t even want to THINK about what I spent on the 1 gb external hard drive when I started my document scanning business, Doc – to – Disc, back in 1993.  It was a four-figure expense!  Writeable TDK gold cd’s cost me $26 EACH!!)

I also asked Beni what I could bring his family.  His first response?  Glow-in-the-dark stars he could put up on the ceiling of his granddaughter’s bedroom.  That warmed my heart!

What else?  Beni gave me a list of ideas, but he insisted I shouldn’t buy all of the items.  They were just options:  Toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, and some other personal care items I was unable to decipher from his English usage in the e-mails.

We decided to bring him everything we could figure out from the list, most importantly, the stars (and planets, too!).

Fortunately, our community had a vendor fair just days before our departure, so we gladly accepted the handouts representatives insisted in throwing into our goodie bags as we roamed from table to table to learn about their businesses.  The dental care kits were especially appreciated, as were the pens, notepads, and tote bags.  All of it went to Cuba with us for Beni and his family, where we knew it would be much appreciated.

Putting it into perspective as to why we took it with us instead of donating it to our local food bank as usual, the average salary in Cuba is about $20 a month.  When Beni completes his exams and becomes a pastor at his church, he will earn only $12 a month.  Sure, the government pays for their education, healthcare, telephone, and some food (additionally, utilities and housing are low in cost through subsidies); however, Cubans must pay for everything else on an average income of $20 per month!  The cost of a bottle of shampoo in Cuba?  $5.  A toothbrush?  About $1.  That’s more than a typical Cuban earns in a day!

Our plan was to meet up across the street from the port, once we arrived in Santiago, cleared customs, and exchanged our dollars into CUC’s (roughly an even exchange not counting fees).

We didn’t know what to expect when we put our bags through the x-ray machine after having our passports stamped.  Would we be questioned?  Would they forbid us to bring these items into the country?  Surprisingly, my bag of goodies for Beni wasn’t questioned at all.  Instead, it was the box of glass Bruce attempted to carry through in my Speedo backpack.  (Fortunately, the bracelet Bruce made for Grisel went unnoticed.)  The agent pulled us aside, opened the box, and gave Bruce a confused look.  Whether he understood our explanation (or even understood English), we’ll never know; but, I think it helped to point to my earrings, and then point to Bruce and say “artist”.  We told him the glass was for Eduardo, a glass artist at Artesanias Art Deco.  Either the customs agent understood and accepted our explanation, or he just wanted to get rid of us, once he saw we didn’t have anything illegal in the box.  Needless to say, we hustled ourselves out of there before they could change their minds!

Beni spotted us immediately and came running across the street to greet us with a big smile and bear hug.  As we discussed our plan for the day, we were disappointed to hear we wouldn’t be able to meet the rest of his family.  There was an unexpected death of someone they knew, and they had to go to the funeral.

Before walking up to Eduardo’s glass studio, I told Beni we would give him his goodie bag at the end of the day, so he wouldn’t have to carry it around; however, I wanted to give him his flash drive right away, so I wouldn’t forget about it.  You should have seen the surprised look on his face when he opened it up and saw “64 gb” printed on the plastic!  The largest size flash drive available in Cuba is about 8 gb, and it’s very expensive for them to buy.

Eduardo’s facial expression was even funnier when he opened the box of glass.  Another photo that got away; I should have been prepared…  It was priceless!  It reminded me of the look a kid gets when he walks into a candy store—pure delight!  Seeing colors of glass he otherwise has no way of obtaining was so amazing to him, we could practically see his mind wheels turning with ideas of creations he would make with his new-found glass.

Then, a serious look appeared on his face.  Through Beni’s translation, Eduardo wanted to know, “How much do I owe you for this glass?”  Bruce quickly replied, “Oh no, no, no; this is a gift!”  The look of gratitude and his sincere, “Muchas gracias!” needed no translation.

Meanwhile, Grisel smiled broadly as I put the bracelet on her wrist.  She loved it!

Bruce and I looked at each other and smiled.  This was going to be a very memorable day!

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Beni, Grisel (wearing Bruce’s bracelet), Bruce (holding Eduardo’s gift), Eduardo

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Me with my friend, Beni

 

Next up:  OUR DAY WITH BENI, EDUARDO, AND GRISEL

“WHEREVER YOU GO BECOMES A PART OF YOU SOMEHOW” – Anita Desai

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It wasn’t until our third cruise aboard Fathom’s Adonia (and multiple visits to the dining room to enjoy their superb cuisine) that I really noticed this quote on the mural located in the dining room lobby.  On every previous dinner visit, we had made a beeline right past it in excited anticipation of the meal we were about to enjoy with our fellow travelers.  During our third night aboard ship, though, we were meeting Fathom Impact Staff Member, Francisco, for dinner.  He was our cohort leader on the previous cruise, and he wanted to hear about the adventures we had experienced at Chocal and Santiago de Cuba during the last cruise, and our return to Santiago that day.

We arrived just minutes ahead of Francisco, and this time, I did a double-take when I walked past the mural.  Indian novelist, Anita Desai struck a chord in my heart with her words…

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Francisco and Bruce

I have traveled in 65 countries and 36 states, and all of those experiences have become a part of who I am.  Nothing else has had more influence on me socially, emotionally, intellectually, or politically as my travel experiences.

Feeling and expressing gratitude is one of my keys to happiness in life, and I owe my ability to appreciate to all those times I left the safety and comfort of my home, and familiar surroundings.

Although my husband, Bruce hasn’t had the extent of travel experiences I have, those we have shared have had the same positive effect on his life.  We are in sync, and we both craved to return for one last time for an Impact Travel experience in the Dominican Republic and Cuba with Fathom, aboard the beautiful Adonia.

My last blog post of our second Fathom cruise hadn’t even been written when we both agreed we had to return one last time.

We couldn’t wait to go back to see our new Cuban friends that had become a part of us.

Coming up next: SANTIAGO DE CUBA:  OUR REUNION WITH BENI, EDUARDO, AND GRISEL

LIFE ABOARD FATHOM ADONIA

The second time around, we thoroughly enjoyed our free balcony upgrade aboard Fathom’s Adonia.  Being upgraded to a room with a large window for our first cruise was wonderful, but being able to enjoy this calm, serene view was pure bliss on our first full day at sea:

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This time, there was also a Cuban band  on board to entertain us.  They were actually based out of Miami, but they were indeed Cuban, and the music they played was fun to listen to while relaxing at the pool or in the lounge.

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We even had a lot to watch during their performances.  This little gal brought her hula hoops aboard with her, and she had us all entertained!  Check this out: https://youtu.be/XGkpk8CP740

Even with several college students aboard ship during spring break, the vibe was very low key and relaxed among the passengers.  Nobody was visibly drunk or wild, and everybody coexisted comfortably for the most part (well, except for our man overboard incident).

What a great cruise it was!  After returning home, we heard from the father/daughter duo we met back in January that Vacations to Go dropped the price to $299 for some of the upcoming Cuba/ Dominican Republic cruises; so, Bruce twisted my arm (ha!) to book once again for the one available week we have before the ship returns post-lease to Europe.  It’s the same cruise our father/daughter friends will be on with big brother and Mom, so we are excited to have an onboard reunion with them!

Our new friends at Chocal are in for (another!) big surprise when we show up again, especially when we give them another box of ear plugs, along with a stack of photo note cards I made from the photos you saw in my last post.

Meanwhile, our Cuban friend, Beni, and I have had e-mails flying back and forth almost daily; so, he’s excited for our return.  We will see him on his birthday; and, we plan to take Beni out to lunch along with Eduardo (the glass artist) and his wife.  Beni is also going to take us to meet his daughters, son, and grandkids.  We have compiled a care package for all of them, and I loaded up a flash drive with music, the video of him singing “Dock of the Bay” with Bruce, as well as pictures I shot of Cuba, my community in Georgia, and Bruce’s glass work.  We are thrilled and grateful to be able to return aboard Fathom’s Adonia once again!

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Our first aboard Fathom Adonia on this cruise:  Man overboard, a female captain (and rescue boat pilot), going to cuba, and having a balcony.

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Interesting art work drawn on the walls of the top deck aboard FAthom

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Fathom Adonia returns to Miami

OUR RETURN TO CHOCAL

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The early evening light cast a beautiful golden glow on the shores of Puerto Plata, and our arrival to Amber Cove was magical.  After enjoying the sail into port from the aft deck, we took in the views of the cove from our balcony, as we got ready to head to the dining room for another delicious dinner.  That night, I was getting so excited to see our amigos and amigas at Chocal the following morning that it was difficult to get good sleep.

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Sunrise behind Amber Cove

After breakfast, we grabbed the box of ear plugs and stack of photo notecards I made for everybody and eagerly hiked out to the buses.  Leurys from IDDI (Dominican Institute for Integral Development) spotted us immediately and greeted both of us with a big hug and “thank you”.  Back in January, she had admired the fused glass earrings I had been wearing, and since Bruce had made them, it was easy enough to give her an identical pair.  Bruce offered to send her some as a gift; however, we were unsure of the mail service; so, I sent them along with a friend of mine who sailed on Fathom’s Adonia, in February.

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When we arrived to Altamira (“high view”), our bus load of volunteers started out working at the cacao plantation.  “Hola, Gumarcindo!  Que lo que?!  (What’s up?)”  As soon as he heard my voice, Gumarcindo turned around and greeted me and Bruce with a huge smile, hug, and a fist bump for Bruce.  (It’s a guy thing, I guess…)  The surprised look on his face was priceless when we gave him the photo card I had made from the picture I had shot last January.  He was so appreciative!

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It was time to get to work, though, and our group hustled filling 266 bags of dirt, and then passed them down the assembly line to receive cacao seeds.  In two months, they will look like the ones we planted in January.  It was great to see how our “babies” were doing!

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Bruce leads off the “bucket brigade”

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Our “babies” from january!

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Cacao pod and seeds.  The membrane surrounding the seeds is delicious!  Suck the membrane off the seed, but don’t bite, because the seed itself is very bitter!

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Cacao seeds drying in the sun

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Not only did Gumarcindo remember us, but Wilmers, Steven, and the bus driver, Milagras did, too.  Instead of going off with the group to tour the fermenting area (which we had seen during our last visit), I stayed back to talk with the guys.

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Diosiris, Wilmers, Steven, and Gumarcindo

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Gumarcindo and Raymond

When our time was up at the nursery, we headed over to the factory to sort beans and nibs, mold chocolate, and wrap chocolate bars.  Again, our enthusiastic greetings of “Hola!  Que lo que?” were met with big, wide-eyed smiles, and hugs.  It was nice to be remembered!  We also were so happy to see how much everybody appreciated the photo cards.  One of the ladies even went to get paper towels and carefully wrapped hers up, and then held onto it tight.  (She at least let us get another photo with her and the card first!)

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Bruce and I join Mamita

They had so much fun looking at each other’s cards and laughing at the pictures!  We may not have been able to communicate too much using words with each other; but, a smile is a smile in any language, and those ladies were all smiles!

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Augustina

After passing out the cards, my next order of business before getting down to work was to give the co-op’s president, Susan, the yellow 3M ear plugs.  As one of the other IDDI facilitators translated, I explained the importance of using ear plugs to save their hearing. I then demonstrated how to properly insert them and use the “pillow pouch” for storage afterward.  By keeping the ear plugs clean and storing them in the pouch, they would last a lot longer.

I promised Susan and Naomi (the V.P.), that if the factory workers used the ear plugs regularly, I would send more.  There is no mail service to Altamira, so I would send them to the IDDI office, and the facilitators would deliver them to Chocal.

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Bruce, Christopher, Naomi (VP), Susan “Luz” (President), and Rafael

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After distributing the cards and ear plugs, Bruce and I finally did manage to get some work done.  The best part, though, was getting to taste the spicy hot chocolate and warm molding chocolate again.  Ahhh, it was so good to be back!

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Milagros (factory manager) & Bruce

This time, when we said, “Adios!” to everybody at the end of our last day, we wondered if it would be forever.  Would we ever be back?  Never say never…

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My amigo, Steven

Next up:  HABLA INGLES?  TEACHING ENGLISH IN THE DR