fathom Journey - Day 5 - Dominican Republic

Okay, so...up early again, wolf down a couple bites of breakfast and jump on the bus.

THIS is what I came here for. Yesterday was spent pouring concrete floors. Talk about Impact! All of the activities have been good. But, just the way I'm wired I guess, the nebulous and entirely intellectual understanding of how increasing production in a paper recycling operation, or the clear but future and global (rather than personal to any one person) benefits of restoring the decimated forests are all well and good but they don't really grab me by the gut and the heart.

But meeting this family - mom, 14 year old daughter and two boys 10 and 7 if I recall correctly - and putting in a floor so these lovely children don't have to live in dirt and mud...that's real, that's now, that's (pardon the pun) CONCRETE. And here's the thing: I understand poverty has many causes. Some imposed on people by outside powers. Some boil down to bad life choices. But in no case is a kid responsible for their circumstances of their birth. Whether their parents are victims of volunteers, no one asked them. So, in my mind, it's just never not a good idea to help a child. And these three kids were just incredibly sweet.

So it was really a life changing (as well as a leg cramping back aching) day. I've poured plenty of concrete in my life, but where I'm from we have mixing machines. and work at ground level and/our make ramps so the concrete can be brought in by the wheelbarrow full. Or, on a job this big, you call in the Red E Mix truck and he just pumps in the product. Where we were, trucks can't get. and the houses are 10 feet apart. and the dirt floors are built up several feet. So, it's all about mixing small batches on the ground and making a bucket brigade to carry the concrete in a one gallon bucket at a time. Like the folks at the reforestating project, I think the IDDI facilitators were really surprised how many of us showed up to work. They kept talking and hinting around at what we were going to do. Finally some of us just grabbed a wheelbarrow and some shovels and started shoveling. And mixing. and filling buckets. and dumping them in. and in about 3 hours we were done.

And then the most amazing thing:

So, yeah...I came back to the ship tired, sore and joyful. Because I really KNOW I helped some random family improve their lives. Also really grateful - to be able to do something for others. to be blessed by being born in better circumstances than a large part of humanity. and to fathom for the opportunity to flex my gratitude muscles.

Then...back to the ship and another wonderful dinner at Ocean Grill, etc. I could go in to detail about the dinner and the party I stumbled in to later, but honestly...I want to just leave it here, and bask in the glow.

I'm not even going to hustle you to book a journey. But I do believe if you try to live any kind of other-centered life - fathom journeys might be exactly the trip you've been looking for.

So...manana we'll be heading back to Miami.


fathom Journey, Day 4 - Dominican Republic

Wednesday was my day for RePapel, a women's cooperative enterprise recycling paper, which is turned in to stationery, greeting cards, etc.  RePapel naw has 4 locations around the island, starting from one in Santo Domingo back in 1999 or so.  They are tyring to open them in strategic locations around the country, so that women who are in need of employment can stay close to their children rather than commute for hours.  Important in a country where gender roles (and the idea that women first and foremost are responsible for child-rearing) are still pretty sharply defined.  Welcome to the U.S., circa 1940.

Upon arrival we were introduced to the women who work there.  They all gave their story, briefly.  I noted a couple of them, single mothers, talking around the basic issue no one wants to really talk about, which is that Puerto Plata is a sex tourism capital, and that many of these women, if not for RePapel and similar enterprises would have no other choice than prostitution.  I have to say, as a libertarian, I am not in the belief that prostitution should necesarily be illegal...when a woman chooses it.  But, as in many impoverished countries, in the DR there is an element of coercion, or maybe duress is a better word.  Women are denied the education to hold down good jobs, there are few jobs available, and there is no social safety net for women whose husbands die or leave them, etc.  "Sell yourself or starve" is not really a choice.  So, if nothing else, the idea that fathom and IDDI and RePapel might save a woman from that choice makes my day of paper making, hot glue burns and needle stick injuries worth it.
The first part of the day was spent learning and doing the entire process, from shredding waste paper (seperating out the clean white from printed), to blending it in to a pulp, dipping screened trays in to the pulp (with a little jute fiber added to strengthen the paper), draining them, rolling the resultant paper to get most of the water out, and then drying the sheets before cutting.  Personally I loved making paper.  I might try it at home.  The other part of the day...not my thing.  The women also do a variety of artsy-craftsy things like making bead jewelry, coasters and candles...all of which required me to either burn, cut or stick myself with sewing needles.  But paper making?  Cool.  No sharps, no hots.
The whole day was fun though, as it's a very casual atmosphere, with ladies randomly breaking in to song and eager to show the old white guy how to get a giant thread through the eye of a tiny needle.
After we finished that up, and got back to the ship, I decided it was time for an adventure.  So I walked out to the main highway, thinking to catch a bus in to Puerto Plata.  Amber Cove is what it is, and not my kind of place.  Just too artificial.  Anyway, on my way to the bus stop, I was accosted by a moto-taxi driver.  There had been much discussion of how crazy the Dominicans drive/ride.  So, HELL YES!!!  I hopped on back and, for $25 got a ride and a guide for the next few hours.  He took me to La Fortaleza (the fort protecting Spanish ships in the harbor back in the 16th century.  Then along the Malecon to a seafood restaurant right where the local fishermen keep their boats on the beach.  I enjoyed a fried Dorado with red beans and rice, and some interesting local company...including a German and Canadian couple who met here 35 years ago, married and have been here ever since.  They were a hoot.  Then over to a cigar store to buy some handmade cigars, and finally to the Church of San Felipe.  The current structure is relatively new, but there has been a church on that site since 1612.  Earthquakes and storms have destroyed 3, and the current one was built just in the last century.
So, after that little sojourn it was back to the ship to do some laundry (I am consuming clothes at a terrifying rate doing hard work in hot humid weather), eating again, trying to get a decent wifi connection (the ships wifi has issues.  It's sporadically fine, followed by inexplicable death-to-all-connection episodes).  Finally, around 5 I decided to rest for a few minutes before getting ready for dinner at 7.  I woke up at 7:30.
So, I didn't make it to dinner til about 8:15ish.  Which was actually a great boon.  When I entered the Ocean Grill, I saw one of my co-workers the last two days dining alone.  The lovely Gretchen from San Francisco.  She was just starting her appetizer and invited me over to join her.  So we ate, exchanged life stories, talked Cuban politics and Dominican economics and travel and Design Thinking.  She is actually one of the people who put together the Curiousity Advantage workshop I enjoyed so much.  For dinner I started with the Ananas (Shrimp/pineapple/avocado with a rum sauce), moved to the black bean soup and, as I had promised Emil and myself...the Chivo Guisado (stewed goat).  Gretchen had the lobster.  I am saving that for the last night, as it does look delish.
I am not a big fan of goat, having only ever had it spit-roasted Texas/Mexico style.  In a guisado it's a whole different animal, so to speak.  The spices, the marinating all day, etc, takes the edge off the gamy/oily thing I didn't like about goat meat.  And for desert, she had the bread pudding while I had the rice pudding.  Both looked great, mine tasted great. ;)
After dinner, I thought to write for a while, but got frustrated trying to upload stuff, so about 10pm  i went up on deck for a smoke break and walked in to a party.  Some of the folks that were supposed to be leaving to go home had a flight cancellation and came back, quite a few of the Impact Guides seemed to be up and partying.  And a poker game was happening in one corner.  Somehow my quick smoked turned in to 2.5 hours, and at some time after midnight I finally made it back home to more frustration with wifi, when I finally gave up and went to bed, as my alarm was set for 6am.  Again.
Tomorrw I'll be putting a concrete floor in some family's home.  Which sounds like exactly what I was looking for when I booked this interesting journey.
So, HASTA MANANA mi amigos!

fathom Journey - Day 3, pt II

So, I told you I'd be back with details...and it's taken me this long.  Sorry.
I was lite on details about dinner...which is good, because it deserves it's own blog post.  I am seriously loving the Ocean Grill.  Last nights dinner started with a mahi ceviche that was terrific.  Less lime, and more spice (including a touch of tomato as well), but with mango for a sweet touch...I would say SUBLIME, but it would sound to contrived.  Oops.
After that I had the Mofongo.  Interesting.  Unlike anything I've ever heard called mofongo.  It had all the ingredients, but in little deep fried balls, like croquets.  Emil explained it was all about presentation.  Which I can see.  Whether you are in the Puerto Rico camp or the Dominican Republic camp on who invented the stuff, in either place it is delicious, but not real pretty.  And this is his solution to making it pretty, while preserving the basic flavor.
For the entre I had the Bistec Cubano.  Your basic steak served on a red chili sauce, with a couple fried plaintain slices and some yuca fries that were excellent.  It wasn't til the second or third bite that the dusting of cayenne really came thru, elevating the humble and basically insipid yuca to new heights of flavorosityness.  ( that's probably not a word, but it should be.)
 For desert I chose what was called a creme brule, but based on  a traditional Cuban corn custard.  I have to say, I am still deciding whether I liked it or not.  It was interesting, not too sweet, but not savory, and a texture thicker than creme brule should be.  The corn was a bit overpowering, though, and I am not sure where corn fits in the basic dessert flavor profile.  So, yeah...not bad, but not sure I would order it again.
After dinner, I was totally shot and went to bed and didn't move until 6am, when I got up to do it all again.
And that, mes amies, is a story for a different day...though it shall probably be delivered soon, as this afternoon I took an inadvertent power nap, and am wide awake...so just hold on, I may have DAY 4 coming soon to a laptop or mobile device NEAR YOU!!!


fathom Journey, Day 3, On The Ground

I'm going to make this one short and sweet, as it's 6:30 am and I have to be off making paper in 45 minutes.
I got up yesterday morning, had breakfast, bopped around for a little bit, went to another orientation meeting and then we made landfall.  Immediately after the meeting I headed off the ship to Amber Cove, which is a beautiful brand new cruise facility.  Shops, pools, slides, zipline, cabanas...everything you need for a typical cruise ship day.
THere was, of course, a big party going on for this inaugural event, with drinks and snacks, music and dancing.  And of course speeches.  By the fathom and Carnival execs, and the local politicians.  From there I found my bus and headed off to the Impact Activity.
I chose to do the Reforestation project.  We headed out to the nursery/headquarters.  No actual tree planting today.  We instead planted seeds and cuttings.  Basically filling bags with compost/soil, planting, and lining them up in the greenhouse, where someone else can take them out in a couple months to one of the project areas for planting.  It was hard work and fun, and I think the project workers were pleasantly surprised that everyone really was there to work.  We sorted ourselves in to teams and set up an assembly line and in a few hours we planted, by the guides count, 1,237 trees.  Not bad.  And a nice feeling knowing that for the next 100 years our handiwork will be helping the environment of the Dominican Republic, and, frankly...the world.  We can never have too many trees. ;)

But the best part of the afternoon was getting in to not just one but two serious discussions with IDDI workers.  IDDI is fathom's partner on the ground here in the DR.  They are local people working in various ways to help their countrymen.  So, you know...idealistic young people for the most part.  They were surprisingly open about the problems in their country.  We talked about culture, and politics (there's an election here in May and signs are everywhere), racism, corruption, religion, the futility of government to government foreign aid from the US, the lack of an entrepeneurial drive, etc.  They were also quick to point out the virtues of the locals and explain how they were drawn to this work as a way to help and teach them, hoping to break the cycle and enable the Dominicans to lift their country.  And it is a beautiful country.  With adequate resources, arable land, tourism and trade opportunities, to sustain a large middle class.

So, enough of all that...after the planting we headed back to the ship where I had another brilliant dinner, which i shall detail later, and headed to bed...only to be awoke at 6 for another go at impacting.  This time at RePapel, a recycled paper co-op.  And off I go!



fathom Journey, Day Two - At Sea

Before getting in to yesterday, let me tell you about the passengers.  It's a very eclectic mix on this journey.  Heavily waited towards media types, both mass and social, with a good number of travel professionals.  And then a large number of first time cruisers, who tend to be here for the impact activities, more than the cruise ship.  Ages range from way old to mid 20's and a few families with teens or younger.  I am seeing, after spending one session with a family with two tween/teen boys, this would actually make a great family vacation.  We also have a few Brits, a large contingent of Aussies, some Canuckistani's, but it's overwhelmingly people from the US.
Anyway...it was a day at sea, so a lot of sitting around talking to people.  I attended two of the orientation type sessions.  They have put everyone into "cohorts" of 50 to a dozen people for the training.  The first one was  "Being a fathom Traveler" which was mostly getting to know your cohort a little as well as what to expect during the impact activities.  The other was a more free-flowing session "The Curiousity Advantage" with several exercises and quizzes about waht exactly drives curiousity, they signs and symptoms, etc, and an interesting test on what types and degrees of curiousity each of us exhibits.  I am glad I chose to attend that one.  After all, most travelers are driven by curiousity - about places, people, cultures, experiences.  Good to see where I have it and where i'm a little weak on it.

Lunch was  a bbq on deck with live music.  Standard food, good sounds.

Amongst the people I talked to was a great young couple from D.C.  They were at CruiseWorld last November and attended my presentation there.  Some of you might remember what a near fiasco that was, when I woke up the morning of my talk unable to...talk.  Personally, I thought it might have been the worst public speaking I ever did, as I was barely able to rasp and croak thru it with the help of tea and Cloraseptic.  But they seemed to think I did good.  And I don't care who you are, that's a nice little self-esteem booster right there.

Dinner on the other hand was a truly memorable experience.  I am so glad I decided to check out my new friend Emil's Ocean Grill.  I started with a Dominican Chicharron - spicy roasted pork belly with a chimichuri sauce.  Awesome, but rich.  This starter was 5 thick pieces of pork belly.  3 would have been enough.  I love a well seasoned hunk of pig fat as much as the next guy, but a little goes a long way.  Then a Cuban Ropa Vieja served with a fried plantain shell.  The shell was almost like a thick potato chip, and the crunch factor was the perfect counterbalance to the shredded beef/chilis.  For my entree I did the Sanchocho.  DA BOMB!!!  Not exactly as one would likely find it in a Dominican house, but the flavors were all there.  A small pork chop, chicken thigh, and beef filet with pumpkin and yuca in a slightly sweet stew.  It was accompanied by a small green salad, and a tray with red beans, tostones, rice and yuca croquets.  One of the things Emil and I had talked about the day before was how Caribbean cuisine was typically huge on flavors but lacking in presentation.  This was a beautiful little spread.  If you want to see pictures, check out my facebook page (www.facebook.com/daveholmantravel) for a little food porn.

So, as I was digging in to the Sanchocho, Mr Vega came out of the kitchen and sat down with me, and asked for feed back.  He was genuinely interested in whether the food was too spicy or not spicy enough, if the portions were right, etc.  He also apologized for the sancocho being too sweet, in his view, because the pumpkins he was able to source in Miami aren't quite the same as he gets in the DR.  I disagreed, but what do I know?  I atually thought it was just right.  I did let him know I felt the portion on the Chicharon was too big and the tostones were way over-salted, though.  But the meal, altogether, hit all the right notes.  Some spice, some sweet, great textures and most definitely beautiful presentations on everything.

Desert was a Dulce de Leche with vanilla ice cream, salted carmel ice cream and sweet yuca fritters.  Brilliant!  The Mexican dulce de leche tends to be custardy - this was definitely curds, with a slightly grainy texture.  Well set off by the ice creams.  And, using the fritters to mop up the melted ice cream?  Heaven...I'm in heaven. ;-)

After dinner there was a Superpower Party on deck.  Kind of fun.  Having people dress up to represent their superpowers, and music by the DJ to complement their choices.  Which sequed in to karaoke a little later.  And then I decided to pack it in for the night.  Big day tomorrow as we get to the DR.  As the Inaugural, there will be dockside celebrations and speechifying.  The bigwigs on board will by joined by local politicians and tourism officials, I'm sure.  And then straight to work planting some trees and what not, as I finally get a chance to #TravelDeep.

until tomorrow, my friends


fathom journey, 4/17/16 - 4/24/16 - THE JOURNEY BEGINS

Good Morning!  What a day yesterday.  My plane landed at 6:30am, grabbed an Uber to the Holiday Inn near the terminal, had a bit of breakfast, and, bored, went on over to the cruise terminal about 8ish.  And I wasn't the first one there.  So, I hung out and got to know Sarah from Boise a little.  At about 9 they let us in the terminal.  At 10 they opened the check in and I WAS FIRST IN LINE!  So, I was the first person to officially check in for a fathom journey.  Kind of cool.
Then we sat around some more...met a few more friends who are on the ship with me this week.  Saw Ron Fenska,  he told me he saw my FB post about being first in line and told the lady at the door to make sure I was first getting onboard...alas, when they opened up for boarding it was a stampede and I had to decide between knocking some nice looking kids down, or forgoing the honor.  Despite my instincts, I went with the kinder, gentler option and was about 20th onboard.  This whole Impact + Travel thing is changing me already.
Once onboard I found my cabin.  A standard balcony.  Nice.  Maybe a tad on the small side, but well laid out with lots of storage and a pretty good sized balcony.  The bathroom has one of those hateful shower curtains, but I can make do.  One funny thing:  When P&O (UK) purchased this ship in 2011, and started carrying a mostly British clientele, they put in "tea making kits with *proper mugs* as one reviewer put it  In order to keep the Brits from mutinying.  The hot pots are still there, and the teas in a nice wooden chest which also contains INSTANT COFFEE POWDER!  Now, you guys know I love my cousins from across the pond, and I'm not still angry about the Tea Tax or anything, but COME ON...we fought and won a revolution over this...screw tea...I WANT REAL COFFEE IN MY ROOM.  Seriously, it's not the end of the world, and I am fortunately one deck down from the Lido where I can get *proper* coffee, but, you know...you're in America now. okay /rant off
So, yeah, after getting settled in I decided to take a little spin around the ship and kept running out of ship.  Compared to the last few ships I've been on, she is tiny.  Which is not at all a bad thing.  I not only know the layout of the ship, but I have met about 2/3rds of my fellow passengers, and easily 1/2 the staff and crew.  Had a 20 minute conversation with the chef of Ocean Grill, an engaging Dominican by the name of Emil Vega, who is passionate about sharing his native cuisine.  He is the chef at the only alternative dining venue, Ocean Grill.  Which is a holdover name, I believe.  Because the menu is not heavy on seafood.  But it is full of Dominican staples like lechon, mofongo, and sancocho.  Can't wait to try it.  Probably tomorrow, as they aren't open tonite.
Muster drill was at 4.  Reminded me of the bad old days.  We had to bring our life vests.  And sit til everyone got there.  Then sit some more.  Then watch them put on the vests.  Then put them on ourselves...It didn't take THAT long, given there aren't that many of us, but it was certainly not as crisp and quick as most i've been to lately.
Then we sailed away to the most interesting sail away party, ever.  Drinks and snacks, and speeches with a defective PA by Arnold Donald, Carnival Corp's CEO and Tara Russell, fathom's CEO.  Which was standard stuff, but then the interesting stuff...tables around the pool area with different activities.  There was a Wisdom Wall where people could write questions on the windows, and other's would give their answers.  A name tag with, besides your name, two entries to fill out "I CAN TEACH_____" and "I WANT TO LEARN_____".  An atlas wall, where they took polaroids and you pinned them up wherever you happened to be from.  Oh, and zip messages!  There was a zipline from the upper sun deck down to the pool, you write a question for someone down below and zip it down to them attached to a carabiner.
I finally got to meet Tara Russell and get that hug she's been promising.  She has been awesome in communicating with me (and a thousand others, I'm sure) in the couple weeks leading up to this cruise.  She really is a warm, sincere, caring person, and you can tell she has invested a good deal of her soul in to this project.  I truly hope they succeed, if for no other reason than it would hurt her and so many of the team she's built if it crashes and burns.  Hearing her speak today, I can only imagine what a blow it was last week when the darned Coast Guard stopped the soft launch.
And the team, by the way, are uniformly splendid.  Sure, cruise staffers are always fun and helpful...it is their job.  But you can see, talking to these youngsters that it really is a cause for them, and not just a job.  Ditto for the higher ups running around.  It's clear that they all feel a sense of mission beyond your normal start up company.  They really do want to change the world, and bring a new thing in to fruition.  Variations on "voluntourism" or whatever have and are doing good things in the world, but they are taking it to a different level with fathom journeys.  Of course, being the first American based line in to Cuba is a big deal in itself, but the plan to combine it with the cultural immersion and alternate weeks with the Dominican Republic and all the impact activities there.  It's very ambitious.  And admirable.

And of course, I can't really tell you yet, what I think overall, as we're just floating along in the Gulf of Mexico so far.  But if the activities on land are was well thought out and executed as the little I've seen so far on the ship...I can think of dozens of my clients I'd recommend it to.
After the deck party I decided to just relax for a minute.  They had me scheduled for dinner at 9pm.  The rest of the week is open dining.  I don't remember the last time I had dinner at 9, but I know it was before the keikis became part of my life.  Sadly, they have forced me to eat dinner no later than 5, as we squeeze in an hour of family time between the end of school and the beginning of soccer, baseball, cheer etc.   One part of me thinks it's a ridiculously late hour to dine.  The other part remembers what it was like to be a grown up with no dependents, and getting to stay up past 10.
In any case, dinner was amazing.  The entrees were lobster, duck, a sampler of pork dishes and something vegetarian...I know I saw fried avocado on there.  I went with the duck and it was nomnomnom.  Served over baby spinach with a fried plantain side and some slightly sweet sauce.  And some sauted grapes.  Desert was a key lime and mint panna cota.  I love panna cota. This was a good one.  And my table mates were an interesting lot, as well.  A Carnival Corp procurement person, a friend of Tara's from Boise who had never been on a cruise, and two couples working as travel agents in their retirement.  One couple from Tampa and the other from Malibu.
After dinner (about 11pm), I was determined to head home and get some sleep.  But I passed Ron and one of his team, Bill, in the bar and just had to gab for a minute.  or 30.  So, now it's passed midnite and I decided to change things up from my usual early morning write-fest, and do a midnite missive.  Who know what tomorrow will bring?
So, for now, muchachos y muchachas, I say Hasta Luego!

oh, and I can't leave without saying - if you are already convinced this fathom thing is something you want to take a shot at, give me a call/email/pm.  or find me on FB.  Or join my latest Facebook Group, Friendly Fathom Cruisers, for a ton of good information, and video and pics.
And if you're not convinced, yet...keep reading for the rest of the week.  You will be.  Because, as Jake and Elwood once said "We're on a mission from GAHD"