Thursday, March 26, 2015

CONCHOS: Getting Around in the DR IS CRAZY!

In the Dominican Republic the fastest, easiest and CHEAPEST way to get around town is to take a Concho. Taking a Concho is an ADVETURE each time.  SIX to SEVEN  people  are crammed tightly into car. FOUR people can sit in the back and THREE in the front.

A Picture is worth  1,000 Words:
  It's NO Fun when you're the one  in the
middle with a Gear Shift poking you in
the butt. It's cheap, so I'll stop complaining!
On this particular day,  I was stuck in the front, between the driver and another passenger (UGH...lucky me). My left butt cheek kept knocking the gear in neutral each time I tried to adjust myself into a semi-comfortable position. Then the driver would slowly ease his hand under my butt to grab the gear-shift back into drive position. I guess he knew that if he had made a QUICK MOVE to grab the shift gear under my butt, I probably would have caused a wreck.  My Expression in the picture tells you EXACTLY how I and my butt felt the whole time!!  You can see my FULL VIDEO here.

Then on another particular day, I recorded a video which shows a MASSIVE HOLE in the floor board of the Concho.  It was SO FUNNY. I hate that I can't find the video to post. That day  I felt like a character from the Flintstones as I watched the street pass underneath my feet. GOD, I love this country!

What is a Concho:
A concho is a regular size\small car (i.e Honda Civic/Toyota Corolla) that drives around town picking people up and dropping them off  24/7..  Each driver has a specific route that he/she drives...similar to a city bus route or a subway system.  One route may go from East to West and the other route goes from North-to-South.  Additionally, other conchos will drive to/from certain neighborhoods.

Each driver has a specific day that he/she can chauffer patrons. If a driver is caught driving someone around on a day that IS NOT designated for them, then they would have to sacrifice giving up one of their "other" working days.  For Example, there are 2 groups of Concho drivers here in Santiago: A BLUE Team and a YELLOW Team. They both drive the same routes each day, but one team can ONLY drive on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. The other team Can ONLY drive on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I think both can drive on Sunday.

 Another difference is that conchos don’t follow a certain speed limit, nor do they use lanes. They drive all over the street. Pedestrians DO NOT have the right-of-way.  Your behind better LOOK 2ce before stepping on the street!!

How much does it cost:
It only cost 20 Pesos. This is only 44 Cents...SO FREAKING CHEAP...WOW!

Can I request a specific destination upon entering?
NO. They don't drive you to a SPECIFIC destination like a taxi does.  Instead, they run similar to a bus line route...since there's no bus line system here.  They constantly drive around a designated route picking people up and dropping them off.

How do you know Which Concho to take?
In the front window of each car (on the passenger side) is an alphabet letter (sometimes 2 letters).  The letter indicates which route that driver goes.  When you see a concho with  the letter(s) of the route you want to take, flag him down.  Actually, you really won't have to flag him down, because Conchos are constantly honking their horns to get people's attention in order to ensure that you see the route they're heading on.  This is ONE of the many reasons WHY YOU HEAR SO MANY HORNS HONKING HERE!! 

NOTE: You should ask a local person which concho to take until you get familiar with their routes.

What if a concho's route is NOT on the same route as my destination?
Just like a bus system, you can ride a concho to a specific point on his route, then get out and take another one.  OR take a taxi...which are also extremely inexpensive for one-to-two trips here and there.  Using a taxi everyday is can be very expensive ($6-8\day round trip).But paying $6-$8 once or twice a month isn't bad...

Lessons Learned and Tips that I've been given:
  • You CAN pay for 2-3 seats if you DO NOT want to have anyone sitting next to you. This is convenient when your packing several bags and need more room or if you just don't want anyone sitting beside you.
  • I no longer get into the concho when the front MIDDLE position is the only one left.
  • I no longer get into the concho if they already have 3 people (large) in the back.
  • I no longer take conchos very late in the day because it always seems hard to find one to bring me back. They tend to run less in the evenings...
  • Update from Puerto Plata (4/7/2015): Conchos in Puerto Plato are 10 pesos more than Santiago. Also, in Puerto Plato the drivers will ask you if you want this to be a PRIVADO. Which means If you're the 1st person to get the car., you have the option to make this a private car (which is more, but worth it if you're running many errands w\several bags.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Different Greetings

I was just thinking back upon my arrival into Peru last month and I can recall the 1st time I extended my hand out to someone as we met. As I extended my hand to them for a handshake, they instead leaned forward, placed one of their hands on my shoulder, leaned toward my cheek and simply gestured a kissing motion on both sides.


DOAH, I had already knew that this is their (and many other countries) cultural way of greeting people, but I was fresh off the plane and had totally forgotten!! I felt so awkward as I slowly retracted my right hand back to my side and proceeded to mirror their gesture. In Peru this was done pretty much EVERYTIME you saw that person as well as any new introductions.

Well after doing this every day for a month with my students and the people I met in Peru, it started to be second nature for me. THAT IS UNTIL I arrived here in the Dominican Republic. 


During my 1st weekend here, I was invited to a birthday party of one of the neighbors.  I went with my homestay hostess who had made some VERY GOOD appetizers for the party.  Anyway, it was a surprise birthday party and I was really excited to go. The party was for a woman who had just turned 70 or 75 (I think), but I promise that she looked at least 55 (amazing) and she had a bounce in her can tell she LOVES LIFE. Well, some of her family members & friends were arriving to the party.  They all greeted each other with a gesture of  a small kiss on one side of the cheek.  However, as they approached me for a greeting, Unbeknownst to me, I was STILL greeting them in the "Latin American" way (the 2 sided/cheek kiss.).    After I had greeted one of the ladies that way...she had looked at me for a brief moment...smiled and then tilted her head a bit. She proceeded to greet others. But at that very moment, I still didn't realize what I had done. Now looking back on hindsight, the look she had given me said " she Dominicano or Latina". It wasn't a bad was just a look of confusion, I suppose.


Side Note:

I 100% blend- in with the rest of the Dominicans, UNTIL I open my mouth and speak!  Domincanos come in primarily ALL shades of Browns, Blacks and Mulatto due to the vast mixture of the Taino Indians, Latinos and Africans on the island.   However, ONCE they hear that you're speaking FLUENT EUNOUNCIATED English words (with a North American accent), it's a dead give away that I'm from the United States


So since I had only been in the DR less than one week, I didn't feel comfortable striking up any open conversations in Spanish, so I quietly sat at the party and smiled trying to hear and listen for the words and phrases I knew in Spanish...but MAN, Dominicanos SPEAK REALLY REALLY FAST. Faster than ANY Spanish speaking culture I've EVER heard.  I now LOVE  my Tejano Spanish speakers more THAN EVER now...their Spanish dialect is superbly enunciated (to me) compared to Dominican Spanish...LOL!!!!  None-the-less, I was able to hear \ understand  bits and pieces of some of the many conversations that was taking place.

At one point, I noticed that the lady who had  previously given me a sideways look was staring at me. I just smiled at her as I continued to glance around the room to catch bits and pieces of other conversations.  Shortly thereafter, I heard her ask the hostess of that party a question, but I didn't catch what the question was. I only heard the hostess' respond outloud  (in Spanish) "WHY DO YOU THINK SHE HAS TO BE ONE OF MY RELITIVES...JUST BECAUSE SHE CHOCOLATE LIKE ME? I busted out laughing... everyone in the room started laughing because obviously the lady was trying to quietly ask her that question and she put her on blast.  The hostess has a milk chocolate skin complexion like me. But everyone else at the party had a peanut butter skin-tone complexion which is why the hostess made a joke about it and put her on blast...It was soo funny.  In the DR, if you're skin is chocolate, you're Moreno\a...same in Peru. 


The hostess, told her (in Spanish)  "NOOOO, just because she's chocolate like me doesn't mean we're related. She's Americano".  That's when the room got silent a bit and I finally spoke and said " "Hola, Yes, I'm from America and my name is Sonya."  Monica (my homestay hostess) proceeded to tell them that I'm living with her while I'm attending school. Then everyone re-greeted me and we continued to have a nice time.  Come to find out...the lady in question spoke English (fairly well), but simply couldn't figure out WHAT I WAS (culture-wise)...because of the way I had originally greeted her. Additionally no one at the party hadn't heard my voice yet to determine  WHAT I WAS either.  With that being said, I still find myself greeting Dominicanos in the Latin American way and NOW I must re-adjust to the ONE cheek kiss so that I DO NOT confuse anyone again....LOL!!!


Another thing that I have to get use to here is the Touchy-Feely greetings.  I don't find it a's just one of those things I now have to be mindful of. In America, we ONLY touch someone during a greeting (and kiss their cheek) if we REALLY are close to the person or KNOW them quite well (like a family member and\or best friend).  Even then, it's a ONE ARM hug where both of you are semi side-by-side (no full frontal). But I've noticed here that most people I've come in contact with will not only lightly touch you when greeting you, but will slightly touch your shoulder or back as they're saying "Adios". Well that's what catches me off guard big time - no matter where I'm at. I don't know why it does, but when you touch my back or shoulder AND I'm not expecting it, I JUMP which in turns makes it look as if I didn't want you near me...and that's not the message I was trying to send. 

Quite honestly, since I've been here, I've actually given SEVERAL people DAP (this is a fist bump for those of you that don't know). I do this ONLY BECAUSE I'm such a huge germ-a-phobic. This is something I am truly working on to stop.  I'm actually forced to work on this personal issue MORESO than ever NOW. But that's a whole 'nother story! Anyone that knows me, knows that I don't go ANYWHERE without my Wet One wipes and a bottle of Purell. I had packed SO MANY bottles it's ridiculous!

What are your thoughts on shaking other peoples hands and\or touching cheeks during a greeting? I Am truly a big fan of giving Dap and I wish more people would do so, but every culture is different. In the African American culture it is pretty much  done all the's only when we get around other races that we decide to extend out our hand (or if we're in a professional environment...). I think dap should be viewed as the NEW professional American handshake!!! LOL!!!  WHAT DO YOU THINK?



Monday, March 23, 2015

Mi Comida...MMMM

One of the joys of living with a host familia is the homecook food they serve or the local dishes they buy from the  "hole in the walls" nearby.


As I mentioned in a previous post, my host is a caterer. She makes the best food around..especially postres.  Well, One night she severed me one of the best tamales I had ever eaten.  It was a giant chicken tamale which is wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf.  I told her that it was VERY GOOD. She told me that the neighbor upstairs actually cooked it. 

SIDE NOTE: The other best tamale that I had ever eaten before was a Cuban Tamale in Miami.


Well, one night this past weekend, I had it for dinner again and I was so happy...but she had only given me one.  I TORE IT UP and said to her "esta es bueno, puedo tengo mas?" She told me in Spanish that the neighbor is still cooking the others but that she'll get me another one as soon as it's done. I patiently waited at the dinning room table.  I didn't move!! Five minutes later, she brought this STEAMING HOT FOIL wrapped tamale to my plate and I couldn't get it open fast enough. When I tell that  I
burned my finger tips trying to get that thing open...I'm not lying!!  That stuff WAS GOOD!!  Man I had looked like a crack head trying to hurry up and open up the last dime bag on earth.  But I didn't care!

There was also another night when she stopped at  a local place nearby to pick me up some dinner. Before she left the house, she knocked on my bedroom door and asked me if I wanted a sandwich or papa fritas blah blah blah... for dinner? I didn't quite understand the last part of the 2nd meal option. I just knew that I didn't want any bread, so I said NO to the sandwich and said SI, to the Papa fritas blah blah blah... since I knew EXACTLY what papa fritas meant and I love French fries. 


Well, when she made it home, she severed me a plate that had the following in layers in it: French Fries, smothered in grilled onions, chopped up fried hot dog wieners and topped with queso (their version) ketchup...yes ketchup and some other sauce I couldn't quite make out.  I picked around everything at first just to make sure I knew what all the ingredients were and then slowly began to eat the fries...the part that wasn't touching anything else.  Afterwards I slowing began to eat a fry w/a piece of the fried hot dog and the next thing you know, I had ate the whole meal!!  When she passed by the table, I asked her the name of the plate again.  She told me, BUT I ALREADY forgot it again...uhg!  Anyways. she went on to tell me (in Spanish) that the place she got if from makes the best in the area. She said that there are many places nearby that make this dish, but they all have her stomach hurting afterwards and the place she got my dinner from is the best around.  I thanked her for not going to "The Other Places"...LOL!  It was actually quite good.  Your first thought would be "ghetto", but overall it was really good.  It put me in the mindset of what me and my brothers and sister use to make for ourselves when mama was at work or not around.  When we were kids we were creative like that. LOL!!! You can make a meal out of anything!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

In Santo Domingo today

I woke up fairly early to head down to Santo Domingo this morning.  This was my first time visiting the capital.
I caught one of the island's travel buses called the METRO .  The DR has a couple of major bus lines (they're like a Greyhound buses) this bus can take you ANYWHERE on the island and is EXTREMELY inexpensive, extremely clean and the A/C was EXTREMLY COLD!  A one-way ticket ANYWHERE on the island is just 330 Pesos ($7.38USD) For me to travel roundtrip from Santiago to Santo Domingo was a total of 800 just can't beat it! This is how the Domincanos visist their familias and this is how they simply travel their island.  I was the only foreigner on the bus :-/.  The ride lasted 2 and 1/2 hours. Their freeways and roads are very well developed like ours so the ride was smooth all the way.  I was able to doze off a bit. I only woke up after I realized I had NO BLOOD FLOWING to my legs and toes due to the fact that the A/C had FROZE them. I was advised to bring a jacket because the bus gets cold. I brought my jacket, but I totally didn't think to bring SOCKS or wear pants.  My host family also advised me that Santo Domingo is EXTREMELY more HOTTER than here in Santiago and suggested that I should cover up.  I'm so glad I brought my jacket, a hat and umbrella. That jacket protected my skin tremendously and I actually wasn't too hot because a breeze was blowing off the ocean, but that SUN WAS KICKING MY BUTT!!  It was SO HOT that I ended up with a Heat migraine. I tried to catch it ASAP by taking some migraine pills ,but it was too late it had already set in. I took at least 3 more pills during my visit, still no luck. That still didn't stop me from enjoying myself!  I drunk plenty of water.

 Now, initially I was going to start my Dominican Republic expat adventures in Santo Domingo.  I had originally planned on spending my 1st 2 months in Santo Domingo. BOY AM I GLAD I DIDN'T TAKE THAT ROUTE!!!  I truly despise "vacationing" tourist...and Santo Domingo is filled with them which is why I ultimately chose against it at the last moment...when I was going through all of my Passport issues....(you know everything happens for a reason).

Oh yeah, where was I....AAhhh,...Vacationing Tourist...You know the type of people I'm talking about...Hell, some of them are probably reading this blog right now and they don't have a clue how miserable & brain-washed they REALLY are.  Just the thought of being around IGNORANT/Close-Minded Americans and other foreigners can rob you of SO MANY  joys in life.  I no longer have the tolerance for that type of mindset in my presence.  There truly is elegance in PURE SIMPLICITY. But this statement alone...they'll never understand.

Here in Santo Domingo, along with the many tourist areas, you'll find many locals willing to take advantage of foreigner and jacking up the prices for "junk".  There is a HUGE difference in being "around the locals" and being "around the locals in tourist areas".  As soon as I got off the Metro bus, I pulled my cell out to capture a photo of something.  I was advised, not to pull the phone out again "while on the street". Now it was cool and okay to pull it out in the tourist areas to take pictures(because cops are everywhere), but just not while you're simply walking around the street being oblivious to whose scoping you out for a opportunity to perform a "grab and run" drive by. Looking like a complete tourist.  I ended up taking LOTS of photos and videos.  I cautioned myself in the taxis and as we walked to the next tourist spots nearby.
 My greatest advantage during this day excursions was that it was provided free of charge by the Spanish school I'm attending. The majority of their excursions are free. I only had to pay for my inexpensive bus ride. Originally,  I was suppose to be heading down there with this other family (from America) that attends the school with me, but they cancelled at the last minute due to an illness.  So that left me  BY MYSELF with the student coordinator\guides...YAAAYY!!! During our excursions we are to only speak in Spanish, but of course from time-to-time, I slip up and\or can't find the words I want to I begin asking my questions in English (big no-no).   But they know that this is all a learning experience, nonetheless. 

This BY FAR was the best excursion I had ever been on.  I didn't have to revolve it around ANYONE but myself and MY time and the conversations we had in Spanish and Span-glish were very enlightening.  I learned so much about the city...not JUST THE TYPICAL TOURSIT stuff (areas).  Of course I visited the tourist spots, but I blended right in with the locals (in part because I had my school guides with me showing me the ropes. We went of the beaten path. I was shown where their families live, jumped on/off different buses and in/out of different taxis.  It was fun! Meeting and chatting with the locals along the way.  This adventure was an excellent learning experience through and through!

I think that the foreigners were far and few-in-between because it was a Sunday.  I actually didn't see too many foreigners in the touristy areas...There were A LOT of estudiantes de La Universidads and local Dominican families. I guess most foreigner perform their excursions on the weekends and during the week.  Any ways, The city was extremely busy, but this was of NO surprise. 

I'll be back to Santo Domingo in a couple of months with mi esposo. I'll show him around the city before we head to other parts of the island. I can't wait...for mi esposo to arrive that is :-)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

No Class Today - YAAY!

My Spanish teacher called in sick today so I had to come back to the house this morning.  MAN, I actually did some extra stuff on my homework last night and studied my behind off for today. Oh well, this was really a hidden blessing because I needed this day to recoup from traveling and hitting the ground running.  So I had spent the day tying up a few loose ends that really needed my attention.

It also gave me time to move all the videos and pictures from my phone so that I can be post\update them soon to the website & blog (hopefully soon) .

The OTHER GREAT THING that happened to me today was that Caitlin (The Project Esperanza founder) sent me an email. The subject was titled "Ironically".

SIDE NOTE:  Last week when I arrived in Santiago, I started looking\soliciting for someone to drive me up to Puerto Plata in April. I started by asking the school's student coordinator (Melyssa) since she's my "go to girl" for EVERYTHING.  She recommended that our school taxi drive  take me, but then she also mentioned that she and her dad can take me for much cheaper and that she'll double-check with her dad. The one big problem for me is that I have 3 VERY LARGE suitcases (shut up Indie) 2 of my bags weigh 100 pounds (shut up Indie).  Melyssa already knows this because she and her boyfriend were the ones that picked me up from the airport.  Her boyfriend carried my bags up 2 flights of stairs!  Bless his heart - but he's a young'n - LOL!

Okay back to the point...while looking for a ride, I reached out to Caitlin to ask her if she knew of a reputable person/company that could drive me and my 3 large bags.  She didn't know of any and recommended that I get a rental car (which are fairly inexpensive).  Eh, I'm not too keen with driving yet in the DR by myself. So I didn't pursue that option any further. WELL TODAY, she sent me an email stating that ironically, she and one of her sponsor coordinators have an appointment with some schools  in Santiago  THE SAME DAY that I'm expected to be in Puerto Plata. She stated that they are renting a large SUV and asked me if I still needed a ride.  I was surprised that she EVEN REMEMBERED that I was still looking. When I told my husband, he simply said "GOD is good".  Amen to that!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Finally, In the DR!

I arrived today and will have to update you once I get settled in.  So far I'm waiting for one more of my suitcases to arrive from Miami.  Last time I was in the DR, American Airlines delayed my bag...dang!

I'm presently settling into my bedroom.  As I mentioned in previous blogs, I'm staying with a host family. I'll be living with them for the next month..  I'm presently in Santiago for the next month staying with a lovely family of 3. They speak no English, which is perfect for me!  I want to fully immerse myself!!

There's the husband, the wife and their 9 yr old son.  The wife's cooking is SOOO FREAKING GOOD. She's a caterer\chef. I was greeted with a nice generous portion of homemade bread pudding and a tall, cold glass of coke.  AWESOME!

I'll fill everyone in later...



During my time in Peru, I haven't blogged about the #1 reason why I chose to visit Peru. I chose it to complete my TEFL certification with TEFL ZORRITOS.  They offered far more of a quality experience than ANY other TEFL schools that I had researched...and please trust me when I say I had RESEARCHED HUNDREDS all around the world!! Additionally, Ellie, our instructor, played a key role.  SHE'S AN AMAZING INSTRUCTOR and she runs this company extremely well!  This learning experience is like no other!! I simply can't say enough about it.  I'm glad I made the right choice.

I'm not going to go into all the fine details of my research findings, but I will say that you get MORE than what you're paying for at TEFL Zorritos.  Personally, the prices are too low to me. I told her this later..(smile). As such it may make you a bit skeptical.  With this course, I truly walked away with a deal!  The quality of the program is superb. Additionally, you have the option to complete up to 10 advance certifications for FREE.  As of recently they now offer the option to obtain your Bachelors Degree on-line for TEFL too. This simply can not be match.

During my investigation and research of the course, she probably thought I was being ANAL due to the nature of my questioning.  Nonetheless, she made me feel comfortable EVERY step of the way.  I emailed her nearly a year in advance with questions. I even asked her to send me several names\contacts of past students I could question ( I think that caught her off guard a bit - LOL)  She understands that some people are making a HUGE career change in addition to a major life altering decision. Ellie is simply an amazing person and will go out of her way to ensure you are satisfied.

At TEFL Zorritos, you actually get to teach REAL Spanish speaking locals whose fluency ranges from very basic to Intermediate.  During my research, I learned that other TEFL courses have you teach your fellow classmates (that already speak English)...THAT'S STUPID!!  This course was very challenging  EVERYDAY, but worth it's weight in gold. Our days were long, but the weekends and the beautiful scenery made up for it!

Ellie offers and gives advice everyday.  She goes over our teaching practice experience from the night before and offers beneficial criticism and helps you to THINK outside the box...even when you're tired from the night before and need much caffeine to get me to the 1st morning break.  The fact that our classes were held outside each day on the beautiful beach (under a breezy gazebo ) won me over...not to mention that the course included breakfast and lunch!  I told her "She should up the price, because this is hi-way robbery".

In my class there were only 4 students.  I was so glad!! I prefer the small classes. If there were more than 6 students in our course, I probably would have not enjoyed it. 

I stayed at the Sunset Hotel which is where the class is held each day. There were other options nearby, but spending the extra money to stay at the hotel saved me the headache of driving back and forth each day.  I found that staying at the hotel was MUCH MORE CONVENIENT (hot water, English staff and an on-site awesome restaurant). 

I must say HOLA to Juan who make THE BEST Pisco Sour drinks in all of Zorritos and the Tumbes area.  Indie and I fell in love with his drinks immediately...mmmm. Man, I Miss this place already!! Feel free to send me an email to ask me ANY questions about my experience.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Heading to the DR now...

However, I had made a pit stop in Texas after I left Peru and boy did I pick a bad week to do that.  It SNOWED! And it was just depressing when I arrived. I immediately started missing the 90 degree sun in Peru.

I was stuck in the Lima Airport for over 36  hours.  That was the 1st time in my life I had to sleep in an airport...not to mention with very limited Food/water and NO CASH.  I had absolutely no more cash on hand and needed to get back home to replenish my on-hand funds and MYSELF as QUICK as possible. For this trip I decided not to bring any debit\credit cards because I didn't want to over spend and start shopping for everything. So I took a specific amount - That was it!  Well,  Dumb idea. I Won't do that again. My funds lasted me up to THE LAST DAY, but I didn't like the feeling of not having ANY CASH available...

I was SOOO HUNGRY!  During my time at the airport,  I was skyping my husband...he kept me company.  Luckily I had grabbed several snacks from my hotel room in Zorritos and placed them in my bag.  I had 2 pack of crackers, 1 bottle of water and some cookies. 

When I arrived at DFW airport yesterday morning, I was happy to see my husband's smiling face at the gate. He knew that I had craved a REAL Coke-Cola and a Whataburger SOO FREAKING BAD.  He aims to that was my 1st stop before we made it home...LOL!!!  I got home and slept for at least 24 hours. I was extremely tired!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Peruvian Meals

Here are some pictures of the many wonderful meals I enjoyed while in Peru. I wish I would have taken more pics...

Grilled fish covered with shrimp and squid in a tomato basil cream sauce

Fruit Plate with a side of honey
Dinner in my room: Char-grilled white fish with rice and salad 


Stuffed Bell Pepper