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Monday, May 28, 2018

Family trip to Punta Cana, The Dominican Republic

Shortly after dad's funeral, mom decided that this year instead of our normal North Carolina beach trip in May, she wanted to do something different and something all-inclusive, so we didn't have to worry about anything. She, Dad, and I had gone to Punta Cana in 2011 and she had always wanted to go back.  I called Delta Vacations and we made arrangements to go.

When the time came, I flew back to NC so we could all fly together as a family. I flew in on May 18, rented a car, and mom and I drove back to the airport on May 19 to fly to Punta Cana, back through Atlanta. We met Chris, Angela, Carrie and Catherine at the airport, checked in their bags since I got four free bags, and we were on our way. Since we got to the airport early, we had plenty of time to watch the Royal Wedding -- Prince Harry marrying Meghan Markle.

Mom and I had gotten upgraded to Economy Comfort from Raleigh to Atlanta, but then from Atlanta to Punta Cana we got upgraded to First Class. (We weren't sitting all together on these legs anyway, so I didn't feel too bad. We did arrange to all sit in row 18 for the trip home from Punta Cana, and I declined any upgrades for that leg.)

First Class!

The Camerons arrive in Punta Cana

There was about a half hour drive to our resort, the Riu Palace Bavaro.

Riu Palace Bavaro
Saturday night we had dinner at the Steakhouse (I had the lobster), followed by the show which had a circus theme. We were all exhausted that night, so we didn't stay long for the show.

Sunday and Monday were beach and pool days.

Sunday night, we had dinner in the Italian restaurant, La Bambola, followed by a magic show. Angela was asked to come onstage to assist. Before the magic show, there was dancing, and Angela and I shagged to Stand By Me.

On Monday, while we were at the beach, guy came by with parrots and an iguana to take pictures. We all took pictures. While I was taking mine, the parrot decided to attack the iguana, but not before we got the picture.

Monday night, Chris, mama, and I had dinner at Geisha, the Japanese restaurant. Monday night's show, I ordered an espresso martini and a chocolate martini for mom. The chocolate martini would become one of our most ordered drinks, particularly by the pool in a cup with ice! Monday night's show was a burlesque show. Before the burlesque show, an older guy played violin. He played several times over the week - he was really good, particularly when he played Patsy Cline's Crazy. Chris, mom, and I stayed for the burlesque show. The burlesque show was more "show tunes" than burlesque, but still really fun.

On Tuesday morning, we went to Dolphin Discovery in downtown Punta Cana where Angela and the girls got to swim with the dolphins. Mom, Chris and I watched. It was so fun to see how excited the girls were with their dolphin experience.

Angela and Nimbe the Dolphin 
Tuesday night we all had dinner at the main buffet restaurant, Montecristo.

Delicious fruits in the Montecristo! 
Tuesday night's show we thought was going to be "Latin Night" but it turned out to be more like a "Legends" show where the the they lip synched as famous performers while the back up dancers danced. Mom, Angela, and I stayed for that show.

Wednesday was our big day out and about. We met our tour ("Caribbean VIP Safari") at 7:30 am. We drove out to a "typical house" -- a woman named Maria who with her husband had raised five kids. We got to tour their house and see how they lived - supporting themselves with the crops they grew on their land -- coffee, cocoa, vanilla, pineapples, and bananas.

Inside Maria's house
Mama and Maria 

Our guide Samuel shows us how to tell when bananas can be harvested. 


Cacao Beans -- like this, they taste kind of like mango 
After leaving the house and farm, we drove to a sugar cane field to see learn about sugar cane, how it is processed into sugar and rum, and its importance to the Dominican Republic.

Mom in the sugar cane
Then, we saw how cigars are made:

Leaving there, we drove to the Chavon River to get on a barge to enjoy a river cruise and a lobster (or chicken) lunch and a little dancing.

Our ride for the afternoon 

Family Cruising down the river


On the way back to our resort we drove through Higüey, the capital of the province. There, we stopped to visit the Cathedral, Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia.

On Wednesday night, the show was an acrobatics show. Carrie really loved it.

Thursday and Friday were both pool and beach days, with really fun times at the pool. Late afternoons, the Riu's entertainment team always had pool entertainment, ranging from bubbles in the pool to outrageous skits to contests. We made pool friends with Jared and Jeff from Canada, Prince and Fausel from Belgium, and "Uncle Jules" and Sophia from New York. On Thursday, I competed in one of the contests with Jules and Prince. We had to swim across the pool, do 10 pushups, 5 jumping jacks, swim back, chug a beer, and say "Hakuna Matata." I messed up because I forgot to stop doing jumping jacks and kept going to 10.

Bubble Party in the Pool (Sunday)

Thursday night, mom and I had dinner at Krystal. She said it was the best meal she had - her steak came under a glass dome, filled with smoke. The server uncovered it and the smoke went everywhere. The meat had the great smoky flavor.
At dinner at Krystal 
The show Thursday night was "the sorriest," mama said, though it was entertaining. They basically brought men on stage after four women went out and had to find men to give them their shirts. Then all the shirtless men came onstage and had to compete against one another in silly games and contests.

Friday was the last full day to enjoy so mama, Chris and I went for Blood Marys in the Sports Bar after breakfast. When we went down to the beach, mom and I decided to go for a walk up the beach. We walked up to some cute little shops where mom bought lots of souvenirs. Later in the afternoon, mom decided she wanted some braids.

Shops on the Beach
Monkeying Around
Edwin, who managed the pool bar and perfected the chocolate martini
The Friday afternoon pool show included acrobatics.

The last night, we all had dinner together at Steakhouse. The Friday show was the Dominican Show.

Just before dinner on the last night
Saturday we had our final big breakfast and got picked up at 10:00 to go to the airport.

Hating to leave

We were all in Row 18 going from Punta Cana to Detroit. (Mama got first class on the way home from Detroit to Raleigh-Durham).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Habitat Build in Chimtewadi Village

This year, I lead a group of 12 people to build with Habitat for Humanity of India in a small rural village 3 hours outside of Mumbai (Bombay) called Chimtewadi. I wanted to return to India because my very first Habitat Build outside of the USA was in India exactly 10 years before in November of 2007.

Most of my team arrived from the USA around the same time – around 1:00 am after 16 hours of flying. After a couple of hours, everyone landed and got through security and we headed to the hotel in Mumbai around 3:00 am for a few hours sleep. The next morning we went to the Habitat offices in Mumbai to learn about the work Habitat is doing in India in housing, sanitation, and market development. After lunch, we loaded up in a small bus for the 3 hour drive to Karjat, where we would be staying at the Rivergate Hotel, the same place where I stayed when I built in the region in 2007

My "tent" at the Rivergate

Each morning, we would drive another hour to Chimtewadi village. The family we were building with lived on the outskirts of the mountain village. Ankush and Sunita had raised their two kids there in huts made of thatch and manure, vulnerable to snakes and scorpions. (And we saw both!) They had prepared for our arrival for over a year, making their own bricks from the red mud that flowed down from the mountains during the rainy season. They had made over 30,000 bricks and arranged them in a pyramid to form their kiln to bake the bricks.

Women washing clothes - a sight we'd see each day on the drive to the build 

The pyramid of bricks

Ankush performing a blessing on the house as the doorframe is installed

On the morning we arrived, only the foundation was there. By the time we left, we had four walls and part of an interior wall built. Ankush was a mason and farmer by trade (growing rice), so he and one other mason hired by Habitat were primarily laying the bricks with some assistance from my team, but my team was primarily moving thousands of bricks from the brick pyramid up the hill to the house and carrying mud which we used as mortar. Just as in the US, Habitat homeowners in India work side by side with volunteers for the construction of their homes.

Preparing rice
Moving bricks

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip was the opportunity to return to the village where I built in 2007. I never thought I would be able to return to this remote place, but I there I was, back in Nagachiwadi Village, seeing the house I helped to build 10 years ago and reuniting with the homeowner whose life we helped to change.

The house I helped build in 2007, with the same  homeowner

How we looked in 2007
In 2007, I became friends with Kashav, a 15 year old who helped us build.
Now I got to meet his wife and kid. (Photo courtesy of Indra Tobias)

Me and Kashav in 2007
This mango tree had grown so much!

As we neared the end of the build, our goal was to get all of the walls up. 

Bhau and his boy.
Bhau and his wife Asha were on the brick pile helping us every day. 

The team with Ankush and Sunita on the final day

Are you interested in participating in Habitat’s “Global Village” program? Check out upcoming trips at .

Postscript: Back in Mumbai at the Hotel Silver Inn, on the last night of the trip, before the team went their separate ways, they surprised me with a birthday cake. I love celebrating my birthday on Habitat trips! 

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