Thursday, July 19, 2007

As they say in the yearbooks: "Always Remember"

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so for this final post, I’m going to try to be less wordy and more picturey. So, like a student signing a yearbook, I’ll say “never forget” the things that the pictures below can remind us of:

For Picture 1. The joy of learning (as we did on our guided tour of the gardens). I was really impressed by the fact that the resort grew so much of its own food organically and sustainably and I loved learning about it all from Heidie (I’m not too sure on that spelling and Chrissy)

For Picture 2. How cool some animals are. How can you not love a rhinoceros iguana?

For Picture 3. The kids. For educators, we were didn’t spend a whole lot of time with kids down there, but it’s always great to see them.

For Picture 4. How ridiculously nice-looking the resort was.

For Picture 5. The beach! A terrific site to do an experiment, and not a bad place to just play around or lounge.

For Picture 6. What a nice treat it was to get some actual Dominican food while we were in the Dominican Republic.
For Pictures 7 and 8. Discovery!

Environmental Education- The Best of Both Worlds!

The process of carrying out a natural experiment has really confirmed some of the career/life choices that I’ve made. One of the great things about being a teacher, particularly an independent school teacher, is that one gains the ability to dabble thoughtfully in a lot of things. This trip in general, and the experiment in particular, was an example of having a great time dabbling in something I couldn't do forever. I long ago decided that being a professional environmentalist would be too depressing for me to handle, but I’m finding that being an environmental educator is actually not depressing at all. Working with kids, especially the kind of kids that get motivated by environmental issues, is fun and leads to a more optimistic view of the future. Nonetheless, because I still feel the fundamental work of a teacher is a better match for my personality than the work of “professional environmentalist” is, I continue to feel I made the right basic choice, at least so far.

It turns out to be a similar situation for the kind of small-scale experiments you do on program like this. I don’t think I would like to be a full-time ecologist. When I did an Earthwatch program two years ago (assisting an ecological scientist with research in a reef area of the Bahamas) I had a great time for the first few days. Eventually, however, counting mollusks or staring at algae for hours at a time got a little old. The problem was complicated by the fact that we didn’t ever get to see much of a clear outcome from our work.

For this project, it was extremely gratifying and even fun to be able to design an experiment (especially one that let me spend all my time on a beautiful beach) and carry it through to the end. It was also nice to be able to show it to people and get positive feedback. However, during the research time itself, I did find myself feeling that the classroom is a better place for me than the field. After two and a half hours of staring into the water, I would find that my eyes were getting a bit bleary, my patience a bit short and the exact connection between saving the planet and determining whether that blur I saw in the water was a large or small fish was becoming a bit unclear.

In short: the research was fun, but I like being with kids. And I really like the idea of being an environmental educator.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What an experience

First let me thank everyone for an experience of a lifetime. It was definitely an example of discovery at it's best. My trip to Punta Cana held a dual purpose for me. The first was to experience something new and the second was to experience an unmolested environment. I consider myself an accidental environmentalist. I was given this class to teach and had only a rudimentary knowledge of all things natural, however I found I was passionate when discussing mother earth. I have to admit I was an
awe of all of you. You were all well-traveled and had been passionate about nature and were ready for an adventure. I knew I was in good company. I enjoyed the vibe of the group. Every one had a good sense of humor and were so intelligent in their discourse. It was new for me and I have to say I studied each of you and wondered what made this group of teachers different from any other staff development I had taken part in. I hypothesized it was your education. Each one of you were educated by your experiences, not necessarily in the classroom. Each one of you had experienced life outside of the US. Living in America can spoil you for the simple things life has to offer. The excesses we are used to make us a little jaded. MY group was filled with people who took pleasure in observing a beetle, or a lizard, or some crabs. We had a great professor whom always had an answer for my simple questions. She was always a wealth of information and humorous and engaging. Dan was an excellent TA. He allowed us to explore and was non-invasive in our discovery. I feel as though I was well modeled into an environmentalist and my classmates had enriched my experience. I snorkeled over a coral reef, swam in a natural spring lagoon, and hiked through the jungle. A great experience for a girl from the rough side of Brooklyn, NY. An even better experience for a veteran teacher from Queens. I'm including some pictures that made me feel as though I discovered DISCOVERY.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

random thoughts

Yesterday was our day off and I went to Bavaros and got some food from the supermarket. I'm glad that I bought some interesting looking Dominican food that I can share with my family and friends. It's funny how I did not really have any real Dominican food (other than plantains) until I went to the supermarkets yesterday. But it's all good~

I will have to start packing and get ready to head back home soon. I'm just so glad that I ended up taking this class this summer. We just had all the nicest and the most interesting people in our group. Richie, Katie and Tim were our helpful translators that really clear up a lot of misunderstandings during our stay at Punta Cana. Richie especially taught me a lot about Dominican culture, which I'm grateful for. Katie and Jaime just had the most interesting stories that really let me know how much fun they were. It was always fascinating when Ashiviah talked about her unique culture. Elijah always cracked me up with his jokes and at times amazed me with his intelligence. Dan and Sara took care of us in various way. They were just so sweet, and they never complained with our requests. Lastly, the amazing Chrissy, Elle Wood in person, is always generous in sharing her knowledge. She is super smart and cool, I really learned so much from her.

Thank you everyone for a great time here in DR!!
So, we actually compiled our data and put together the PowerPoint presentation. Woohoo! Then I went over to the center alone to return some supplies. It was kind of dark and empty. Weird. I feel strange that we are leaving already tomorrow. On the one hand it feels as if we just got here, but on the other, it seems we have seen and done so much. I will not miss the mosquitoes, though, and I must admit I won’t need to see pizza for a long while! Am craving Asian food like mad. But it's been such a cool crew of people - I hope everyone stays in touch for a while!

Episode 1: Heart of Darkness

THE MISSION: Forest Reconnaisance at Night

OBJECTIVE: Get out alive and acquire knowledge to save the planet

Chrissy "Lieutenant Ohura" Colon
Elijah "Woody" Sivin
Dan Strauss codename Desperado
Richie "Buck" G.
Tim AKA The Magnet

Some may find it hard to believe how this uncanny crew survived the jungles of Punta Cana ecoforest located next to the hotel and resort. Yes! a jungle next to the hotel - I kid you not. This treacherous journey began with our clever leader, Chrissy, leaving a walkie talkie behind with Ashivia (in her air-conditioned rm# 3010). As I recall Chrissy said it was important to have communication with the outside world in case we are surrounded by a swarm of tarantulas or liquid magma.

In less than a minute into our journey we were swallowed up by the "selva" with darkness all around us. As we crossed this unforgiving terrain led by our charismatic leader I offered to take the lead in case we should come upon a predator. I am a quixotic individual and my "machismo" told me to protect our dear leader, however I realized that I am unable to distinguish between a water bug or the man-eating beetles from "The Mummy" (we acually saw a few of them!). In the end I decided to let Chrissy go ahead because of her expertise of the fauna; I would better be able to guard her from the back with greater time to react in case the need should arise.

As the team moved steathily through the forest, we began to see animals of proportions that were probably last seen on Land of the Lost. We stopped to investigate a gargantuan tarantula. Dan had the brilliant idea of putting something next to it for scale; and our fearless Tim sacrificed himself and put his most prized possession(A pen he received as a gift from the Queen of England) near the ravenous creature. As he furtively placed the pen down, the savage tarantula leaped and pounced on the unsuspecting object. There were screams everywhere; chaos; disorientation. SILENCE! we need silence! wait I'm the one screaming. I was alarmed to see that my normally steely nerves had disintegrated like a wet tissue.

After that incident our faithful leader chose to leave behind tim and me in this infernal place. I suppose it was a training operation for the new recruits. Unfortunately our cherished leader had never seen Backdraft ("If you go we go"). Luckily, we were able to use our apt survival skills
that we learned from watching "man vs. wild" to overcome these insurmountable odds. On our way back to safety we encountered some giant crabs and the invisible creature from the movie Predator.

Punta Cana with all its high end shi shi tourism should sell a T-shirt: I survived the Jungles of P.C.


Researching for my Ethnobotanical project has provided me the cultural element I was longing for upon arrival to the Dominican Republic. Though the biodiversity, in certain areas, was abundant, there was a definite lack of cultural diversity. However I was able to find an appropriate balance through my research project. After learning Miskitu in Nicaragua, it was fascinating to learn a few Arawakan words such as wanábana, mamey, hiwéra which are now understood in Spanish as guanábana, zapote and higuero.

I am proud to have completed 22 interviews with staff members here in Punta Cana. Many of the people I interviewed took me under their wing and proudly showed me the plants and fruits of my study. I will share with you the stories of Rubio and Leonor.

Rubio is the head of apicultura, beekeeping, at the Biodiversity Center. He was very eager to discuss his wisdom of medicinal plants and our interview lasted many hours because of his extensive knowledge. In addition to the sample set I presented, Rubio informed me of native Taíno plants such as guayiga and alamo, gave me a personal tour of the medicinal gardens, the fruit orchard, and the area where sugarcane and yucca are planted. He also gave me the opportunity to observe the beekeeping process, view the bones of a Taíno Indian, observe iguanas and follow the beautiful braying of Pedro el Burro.

After an interview with Leonor, she took me to the side alley of the hotel where the staff members eat lunch. Alas, traditional Dominican food! Leonor gave me a glass of jugo de chinola and I was able to speak with many staff members in many different positions. When they saw my sample set of fruits and plants, it was a race to the kitchen for them to see who could find the fruits and plants first. It was instructive to see the contrast of eating at the open air, scenic view La Cana, La Choza, Anais and Mama Venezia restaurants to the cafeteria style enclosed back alley staff dining room. The difference is ambiance could not be more disparate. Additionally, there were two separate dining areas for the Dominican employees and the Haitian employees. The segregation was very apparent from the beginning from the difference in uniform and status of job but I was surprised to see the lack of integration during staff mealtime.

Though my enthobotanical research project was a challenging task for the little time we had here, I feel fulfilled in the sense that I was able to learn more about Taíno,Dominican and Haitian culture and language and common uses of medicinal plants.

the final countdown

Yesterday was our day off, though, to be fair, I felt quite pressured in terms of work (both for school and an unexpected free-lance article deadline that the whole class heard me whinge about (sorry guys!). Thankfully, I still had the chance to go kayaking with Katie, Dan and Elijah (aka Bonobo ;>) It was really great. I think I picked up some good kayaking tips and skills from Katie (who graciously shared a two person kayak with me), along with a bit of her laugh! It was just really great to be out on the water for a couple hours, enjoying nature and good company and a couple good laughs. Not to mention that my arms got a good workout – as well as a mild sunburn!

It’s strange that we’re all parting ways tomorrow. It’s such a gorgeous setting and I don’t think I can get enough of amazing water! Now, I just have to compile all the data from the field project and put together our power point presentation with Ashivia and Joanne. It’s crunch time…………………

Tarantulas in the Dark

Chrissy led us on a night walk into the eco reserve the other night. It was an interesting mix of emotions: excitement, curiousity, fear, awe, disillusionment, sadness. The exciting part was just entering the dark trail, hearing all the sounds of the forest and seeing that first huge moth we came across with the glowing eyes reflected in the light of our head-lamps. At the first ojo indigena (they call them lagunas here - Chrissy says they're technically sink-holes. Sink-holes? Who wants to swim in a sink-hole?) a big bird came swooping at me from across the water, screeching. Chrissy identified it as a black crowned night heron. The curiousity of what was making all those different sounds in the dark, what was lurking just beyond those trees, just out of reach of the beams of our intrusive flashlights. The awe of seeing tarantulas that big, just by the path or on top of a termite mound - huge, huge, huge, and hairy - gargantuan was the word that struck me. They have an almost purply tint to them, they are so black. As we took pictures, I had the brilliant idea of laying a pen near the tarantula for scale - just as I laid it down, the monster attacked the pen, lunging at it, jumping on top of it and grapping it with its mighty, venemous fangs. We all jumped back in fear, startled - it had looked so docile, so dormant, just sitting there, until the pen got too close. I barely had my hand away when it pounced. We took plenty of pictures with the tarantula with the pen - I checked back on it twice to see if it had lost interest in the pen, but the first time I checked back, although it had let it go from its fangs, it was still sitting on top of it. The second time I checked, on our way out of the reserve, both the pen and the tarantula were gone. Where did it take my pen? If a thousand tarantulas were given a thousand pens and a thousand years, what masterpiece could they create? The disillusionment came when we all turned out our headlamps and flashlights, trying to experience something of the mystery and inky blackness of nature at night the wilderness. We got quiet and peered around in the dark...we were just starting to appreciate the magic when the distinctively aggravating music from the kiddy center at the hotel came drifting through the trees, reminding us that we had not gone anywhere, that although this beach area was once covered with forest like this, it had mostly all been killed, knocked down, developed, golf-coursed, paved, etc. On the way out, it was sad to see a dead hermit crab - like the ones Ritchie and I are studying, crunched and on the border of death in the gravel at the entrance - we had trampled it either on entering or exiting the reserve. How many other little animals had we unknowingly trampled in there? So, a bittersweet end to an amazing night - I wonder how many visitors to the hotel even bother exploring the reserve, to see what was left of we've done away with...(thank God that the founders had some sort of eco vision for the place - I can't imagine that Club Med or any of the other resorts have any sort of eco-reserve at all).

Pigs in the Trash!

Pigs in the trash!

I have been very intrigued by the variety of signs I have witnessed here in Punta Cana specifically for the staff members of the Punta Cana Club. Everyday as I would walk from the beach via the employee walk to the biodiversity center, I would pass signs that caught my attention. I especially loved the sign depicting that pregnant women got priority parking! Additionally, there were at least ten signs that read, “No Seas ‘foto de chanco’, Pon la basura en el zafacón”- Don’t be a ‘picture of pig’, put your trash in the trashcan. Everyday as I walked to the biodiversity center, I admired these signs especially with the irony of the plastic water bottles and other rubbish decorating the fields by these signs. The day I decided to bring my camera to take photos of these signs, I discovered that all ten signs were removed. I was surprised to see them missing as they were a part of my everyday scenery. What happened to the “Don’t Be A Pig” sign? It was then that I realized that though the trash remained on the ground and not in the trashcan as the pig signs pleaded, the pigs themselves were put in the trashcan. Pobre Chancos!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Back on the Island

I'm back in Manhattan while the class finishes it's final days in Punta Cana.

I'm grateful for the time I got to spend with all of you in the DR and hope your last days are wonderful despite the food frustrations, sunburns, and bouts of stomach upset. I so love being with a new group of people that are excited about learning and the environment and who are thoughtful about the new experiences and ideas.

It's a bit shocking to go from Punta Cana - land of bright sun, blue green seas, starry nights, exotic flora and fauna, and warm natural architecture -to the industrial greys, brick oranges, busy streets and artificial lights of the city.

The best part of being back? Cold, clean, NYC water! (that I can drink without having to throw away endless plastic bottles). Thank you to the Big Apple for the wonderful H20.

school trips and coffee

Not only have I learned a lot about Dominican Republic's ecology and the environment in general, such as; marshes can be a natural way to purify water. I have also been learning a lot about my environment in New York. For example, I have learned that there is a water purification site on 145 street and riverside park, NY; there are bat tours in Prospect Park, Brooklyn given by Paul Klein; the train station on Stillwell Avenue Coney Island, Brooklyn is solar powered; and lastlyChrissy, our amazing instructor, with a plethora of knowledge works at the botanical gardens in the Bronx.

I hope to bring these discoveries back to my classroom and share them with my students. I plan on making trips to some of these locations so that my students and I can become more consciously aware of the environment we live in and what is necessary to help maintain it.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this learning process is that is done while sipping delicious "Santo Domingo" coffee. The coffee is as rich in body and flavor as "Cafe Bustelo" but "Santo Domingo" coffee is a bit sweeter. Even though I prefer a more bitter tasting coffee and Bustelo is my coffee of choice back in the US, drinking "SD" coffee has made our lectures an even more delightful experience.

Messy Science

One of the things that Chrissy said in lecture has been sort of echoing in my mind - although we really try hard to create these charts and graphs and rules and organizing shemes (like Kingdom, Phylum, etc.), nature can not be placed neatly in a box. As Ritchie and I do our project, looking at the color of hermit crab shells and the color of their background where they move and rest to see if there is a correlation - if they are somehow camouflaging themselves such that crabs with light colored shells tend to spend more time in light colored areas and if crabs with dark colored shells spend more time in dark colored areas - the messiness of science is something with which I find myself grappling. For example, distinguishing the colors of the backgrounds of the crabs, asking questions like "Is that dark sand or light sand?" and "If the hermit crab was on light sand but was mostly hidden underneath a dark leaft, what color is the background?" Also, with the colors of the shells themselves - some are clearly light or dark, but many require some thinking and more tough questions: "Is that dark grey or light grey?" and "What about that shell there that's sort of half black and half white?" Also, are we not seeing as many resting crabs because they tend to move when we get near, or is it just that the moving crabs are easier to spot? Regardless of the messiness, I have to say that I'm enjoying the data collection process - we go out early in the morning and late at night, thus avoiding the sun at its hottest and freeing up our mornings after we finish in the field, and the hermit crabs are just plain cool. I'm enjoying watching them in action and it motivates me to ask more questions on my own about what exactly they eat, how and when they mate, who their predators are, what their relationships among each other are like, etc.

What I'm taking from this

Blog Posting #2

This experience has been quite enjoyable and educational. It may be hard to believe that while hanging out at such a beautiful place I could also be doing valuable work towards a future as an environmental educator, I actually believe that I am. I'll lsit the ways:

  1. Reviewing the basics of ecology. I had learned about the role of populations in creating the structure of ecosystems, the roles of producers, consumers and decomposers in the biological movement of energy and material, but it had been a while. Thanks to the extremely clear lecture and powerpoints of Professor Colon and the clarity of the readings (especially the one from Miller’s textbook) I would definitely feel comfortable teaching this material to a class.
  1. Practicing a skill: nature journaling. I’ve only done two so far, but I really liked them. It’s a great mix of learning styles and a nice compromise between work that is teacher-centered (there’s a clear thought process behind the structure of the assignment) and student centered (as the student, you pick your own site and what you want to focus on). All in all, it’s a terrific way to experience an ecosystem and generate ideas for field study. Which leads me to…
  1. Getting experience in the construction of field studies and experiments. This has probably been the best thing so far. I don’t think I’ve done anything like this since 8th grade. It's been very thought-provoking and, again, I would now feel comfortable leading students through an experience like this. It's also a nice reminder of how inexact the basis of our knowledge really is. Facts aren't there unless we go and find them, conclusions can be very sloppy unless we hold ourselves to high standards. It’s up to us in each generation to remember how fragile understanding is and to reestablish knowledge for ourselves, not to mention to pass it on to the next generation. I do think I should include some of this kind of work in the Environmental History and Policy class I’m planning.
  1. A nice period of focus on environmental policy in today’s class with the it’s viewing of Inconvenient Truth. I will definitely use that film as the basis for a unit in the class, both because of what it does so well (convince the audience that global climate change is an enormous problem) and because of what it doesn’t do (provide much a policy blueprint). It would be both the basis of a good test on the film's content and the springboard for a powerful debate on what to do about the problem.
  1. Developing contacts to pursue the related issues of constructing the environmental policy course, getting help with the advising of the garden club, developing a stronger model of “green schooling” for Poly to pursue and, in general, furthering my own professional development.

All in all, it’s been a pretty fruitful way for me to spend my time.

Second Day Thoughts

(Apologies for the delay in getting this one on-line...)

Blog Entry #1

It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been here for two full days. It’s an easy place to adjust to. Everything is absurdly beautiful and quite luxurious. We were met at the airport and whisked here directly, setting the standard for the over-the-top ease of existence that I’m afraid the group seems to be adjusting to quite easily. With the gorgeous Caribbean views, the many available activities (some at additional prices), the possibility of establishing an exchange trip here for Poly students and the continual intellectual stimulation (to borrow a phrase from the Brady Bunch) it’s easy to feel that one has stumbled into a pretty sweet situation. And all the people are great (fun, smart, easy to talk to) which has not always been the case on past “teacher trips.”

However, there is something (genetic?) that always makes me look for the dark cloud over any silver lined experience. In this case, it has been the Punta Cana Resort and Club’s claims of sustainability in their operations. I do see some significant gestures that have been made. Clearly there is sacrifice and altruism (as well as some self-interest) in the resort’s choice to establish schools that all their employees can attend, so one feels that the Kheel family, at least, are genuinely moral people. And they have stated, in various ways, that they are committed to sustainability in the running of their resort. There are many signs that attempts have been made to “put their money where their mouth is.” There is an organic garden (really more like a small farm) growing food that is served at our meals. There is the Biodiversity center, where our class meets down the hall from a full-time researcher and below a residential hallway for American university students who come here to study ecology. The brochure touts the fact that on the Corales golf course “a plant nursery has been started, as indigenous bushes and trees will be planted throughout the course” and that “Paspalum Supreme, a new variety of water-conserving, low maintenance grass, will assure players of a finely textured playing surface.” And there is the Ecological Park we’re scheduled to visit tomorrow, a “600 acre private reserve.” So it must be acknowledged that they’ve done a lot more for the biosphere than your typical Holiday Inn or Motel 6.

But I can’t ignore the troubling signs. The Punta Cana Resort and Club’s “Navigator” brochure says the Ecological Park contains “the natural beauty that inspired us to first settle here in 1969.” Certainly, if the Kheels and Frank Raineri, their development partner, had never been so inspired there would be a lot more natural beauty here today. The corals wouldn’t be suffering from overuse and from effluent running off the golf course into the water. The ground would not be covered with plants imported from other places, no doubt sustained by artificial fertilizers and “protected” from weeds by chemical herbicides. Fossil fuel burning vehicles wouldn’t be zipping around in a constant whirl of consumption. The coastline would be full of mangrove and other appropriate tidal plants to smooth the transition from land to sea, and to protect the island from the threats of tropical weather. Instead, it has a scenic carpet of transplanted sand, an unnatural concentration of coconut palms, and virtually non-stop human traffic. There are other strange choices for a place that claims ecological awareness, such as a dearth of vegetarian options on menus that entirely lack the words “organic” and “locally grown” (why lose the opportunity to boast and educate)? Many of the indoor spaces seem overly air-conditioned, we get tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner in our rooms which need to be thrown out every third day, the biodiversity center seems to employ no full-time scientists environmental scientists with advanced degrees and the new golf course promises to be a major environmental problem, even if it sports a fancy new grass and it’s edges are decorated with native plants.

The low point in my personal assessment of the local environmental health came yesterday, when 40 minutes swimming on the featured beach with a mask and snorkel didn’t bring me across the path of a single fish. However, this morning I was assigned to do a natural observation, so I stood for about twenty five minutes in the shallow water of a beach that was labeled “temporarily out of service.” The strange signage seems to be related to the small protected bursts of mangrove, which may be there to forestall erosion and provide some protection during the next hurricane. The area is also rich in what I believe to seaweed, algae and beachgrass, although it is only about 200 feet away from the “pristine” (empty) water and sands I was surrounded by yesterday. I knew something was up when after about 30 seconds I heard what seemed like a fish splashing loudly, and then I heard another within a couple of minutes. During my brief time there I heard at least 10 such loud splashes and saw two crabs, at least 15 small white fish, 10 larger grey fish, and a striped white fish swimming around my feet for a minute or so (a nice gift from Mama Nature).

I felt increasingly relieved and excited as I stood there and nature performed, modestly but consistently, around me. Does this mean that the resort would only have to plant a swath of seagrass to get a sizeable population of aquatic species returning? And does the resort have much incentive do such a thing when the average tourist would probably prefer a “pristine” stretch of white sand and “clean” clear water, unsullied by the plant and animal species that would have been found there forty years ago? These questions are hard for me to answer, but I do have a model for a simple experiment that intrigues me. I’m thinking I’ll try to do surveys of the shallows in the beaches that are being used and those that aren’t and see whether the unused beach areas are, as I would expect, much richer in animal life.

Anyway, as an opportunity to explore an ecosystem this has been a decidedly mixed experience, but in terms of an experience that’s given me plenty to think about, I’d have to say “so far so good.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Life in Punta Cana

I went in to the ecological reserve today to do our fieldwork. My responsibility is to make observations and record the abundance of lizards in the area. I picked four spots and rotate between each spot for about fifteen minutes. At first, I only saw one to two lizards at each spot, and they were mostly the common brown anoles and largehead anoles. When my observation time was almost over, I saw a beautiful red head lizard with green tail passing in front of me. It was such an amazing sight to see!!

I came out of the reserve feeling pretty satisfied with my work and decided to go for a swim. When I was in the water, I was amazed to see schools of white fish swimming underneath me. I was trying to avoid to step on them, so I ended up swimming in a weird position. But they seem very comfortable to swim around disruption, so I got a good look at them for a while. In addition to that, I saw a red starfish moving along with the fish. I think it is my first time to see a living starfish moving in front of me, so I was really excited.

Today is a great day, with two discoveries being made. I can't wait for another exciting day tomorrow

RITCHIE GARCIA'S POST school trips and coffee

Not only have I learned a lot about Dominican Republic's ecology and the environment in general, such as; marshes can be a natural way to purify water. I have also been learning a lot about my environment in New York. For example, I have learned that there is a water purification site on 145 street and riverside park, NY; there are bat tours in Prospect Park, Brooklyn given by Paul Klein; the train station on Stillwell Avenue Coney Island, Brooklyn is solar powered; and lastlyChrissy, our amazing instructor, with a plethora of knowledge works at the botanical gardens in the Bronx.

I hope to bring these discoveries back to my classroom and share them with my students. I plan on making trips to some of these locations so that my students and I can become more consciously aware of the environment we live in and what is necessary to help maintain it.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this learning process is that is done while sipping delicious "Santo Domingo" coffee. The coffee is as rich in body and flavor as "Cafe Bustelo" but "Santo Domingo" coffee is a bit sweeter. Even though I prefer a more bitter tasting coffee and Bustelo is my coffee of choice back in the US, drinking "SD" coffee has made our lectures an even more delightful experience.


We went out snorkeling yesterday - Ritchie and I were laughing on the boat ride out - the turquoise waters, the blue sky, the spray of the cool water, the sun - what a way to earn credits! Much better than what we imagine the bilingual science class would be like back at TC - this is hands-on excitement! It was my second time snorkeling, but a lot harder than my first time. My first time was in Ixtapa, MX, in waist deep, very calm waters. Yesterday we rode out to the "aquarium," a ring of coral reef in front of Club Med. The water was quite deep around the reef, up to 15 feet or so, and the waves and the pull of the tide added an element of challenge that at first made me quite nervous. I got the hang of it though, and it was worth sticking it out - I saw anemones, a puffer fish, lots of beautiful black and yellow striped fish, some that were purple, irridescent blue, white - of all shapes and sizes. The land life was as interesting and varied as the fauna, with plants called sea fans growing out of the coral, with big rippling leaves that resemble fish. After what was probably about an hour (although it felt much longer, floating just below the surface and not hearing any sounds - a whole other world) we gathered back at the boat and headed back to shore. Wish I had reapplied the sunscreen before laying out on the beach and swimming some more - I am "that guy" wondering around the resort today - a veritable lobster and now refusing to expose any skin to the sun - I've got long khaki pants, a long tee-shirt, my hat, and a towel that I'm walking with wrapped around my neck and/ or over my head. I hate being that guy. Besides the emotional sting of shame, there's the physical pain as well - my shoulder is a world of fire. I'm off to six senses for the "Sunburn Soother" - hope it works!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

nature walk

Today we spent the morning and afternoon exploring the ecological reserve in Punta Cana. I must that this is one of the best courses I have ever taken at TC; it is not because I am on a beautiful island beach. I have learned more in these few days than I have in some of my other classes over an entire semester. Too many times classes are just open discussions with very litlle content being presented.

During the morning we saw some of the plants that are endemic to Dominican Republic. We also saw the organic garden. The garden is used to grow vegetables for the Punta Cana hotel and some of the hotels in Bavaro. Some of the crops have a difficult time growing because of the heat.

In the evening we walked through the forest of the reserve. There are about 7 lagoons in the reserve and we saw many spiders especially the weaver spider. On our journey we reached an area that had many burrows. The burrows were about 8-10 inches in diameter. They appeared to be made by some large snake or a small mammal such as a ferret. It wasn't unitl later that someone spotted the legs of an immense crab. The 4 visible legs were about a 1/2 inch in diameter and about 6 inches long. later we were told that those crabs have a body length of about a foot. Those crabs come out at night; so we will have to wait for a night excurison through the forest to see one upclose.

first day of program

I have been travelling to Dominican Republic since 1976 and have made more than 15 trips during that time ranging in duration from 3 weeks to 6 months. In that time drastic political and economic changes have occurred. The country went from being led by Balaguer for a 20 year period to a series of elected presidents.
When I first visited some of the two way main roads were narrow and made of dirt in some places. These roads have become 3 lane highways in each direction. The capital had one main mall (Plaza Naco) consisting of about 12 shops. Currently there are about 6 malls to rival any one that you would see in Florida. Lastly, for the American traveler there are a slew of fast food chains such as McDonalds, Pissa Hut, KFC, Baskin Robins, etc. The industry has also exploded increasing from a few hotels in Puerto Plata to a strip of hotels in the entire region including Sosua and Cabarete. Many people would agree that the country has advanced by western standards.
Yet with all this advancement Punta Cana still seems to be another world and not a location in Dominican Republic. As when enters the resort and sees the facilities it feels as if you should be seeing this on TV with Robin Leach. Unlike other tourist hotels in Dominican Republic, Punta Cana is not an all inclusive and all the menus have prices in dollars, which is very strange for a country that only accepts pesos wherever you may go. At other beaches you will encounter many Dominicans enjoying their country. Most of the Dominicans at Punta Cana resort belong to the staff. To be able to get any type of Dominican dishes you have to make a 30-45 minute drive to the closest town (Beron). Even though Punta Cana is very peaceful and tranquil, it lacks the festive nature and vibrance (la chispa) of the people that inhabit this island. Punta Cana seems to be more a place for a megastar that want to get away from the papparazzi and hide away for a week or two.

Tuesday 10 July 2007

We took the snorkeling trip this morning. It was really cool being in the water and seeing the coral and all the fish. This is the third time I ever went snorkeling – the most recent past time being about 2 weeks ago when I was on holiday in Belize. I enjoyed myself more today than I did when I went snorkeling in Belize - partially because this time I knew everyone in the water with me, and also because it was far less crowded. I totally enjoy snorkeling, although I don’t consider myself a very talented snorkeler, as I’m often trying to avoid crashing into people or kicking them in the head with my flippers, as well as trying to avoid getting close to the coral and accidentally cutting myself. That happened today to a certain someone in my class, but I swear I saw the coral jump up and bite him................

The water was quite choppy today and I kept getting water in my breathing apparatus. The part of the mouth piece couldn’t really stay in my mouth because the area I was supposed to bite down on had been bitten away. Lovely. Still, I had a really good time though.

Last night we went to the Galleria area of Punta Cana, which I think is technically the town center/village of Punta Cana. We mainly chose to go there for dinner because all of us were tired of the resort’s three restaurants. (Ain’t life tough for us?) Honestly, I have to say, by the time dinner comes around, I’m usually quite tired from spending time outside in the sun, either in the water or in the field, and then spending the afternoon in class. I think we actually are working and learning a lot. It just happens to be occurring on a Caribbean island. :)

I do feel a million miles away from reality, though. Like, what is happening in the world? I’m usually so on top of the news, and here I feel like I’m a few days behind. But it’s also kind of nice. I do know about the heat wave back in NYC, though, and I’m really glad this trip was timed perfectly so we’d miss it.

Monday 9 July 2007

I am definitely enjoying this course in the Dominican Republic. I can already feel that I’m learning a lot, just from being out and looking at elements of nature, while being led by a very knowledgeable professor. I must say, even though graduation week in mid May was strange for me – being only one of two MA’ers not actually graduating – I am so glad that I chose to take a slightly slower road, for my health’s sake, and graduate later. I mean I get to take this really interesting course in an amazing setting and devote all my energy to learning the course subject matter, without worrying about my thesis, a full semester course load and my job. It’s just really great. And the water here………wow. I love the color turquoise.

Today, after breakfast, we started the morning with discussion of our group projects. I’m working with Ashiviah and Joanne on a project looking at the diversity of lizards in three areas of the grounds at Punta Cana. While we were discussing everybody’s project themes, a really adorable baby lizard decided to hang out with us for few minutes on the table top. Definitely got plenty of attention from us.

I think our project will be fun and interesting, and we’ll definitely learn more being out in nature. Funny, I was never a huge fan of animals when I was a kid – I mean I never wanted harm to come to them, but I was usually quite uncomfortable around animals. I think I’m softening up as the years go by…. I am now quite a big fan of lizards – who would’ve guessed?!

Tomorrow we’re going snorkeling! I am so excited! It’s such an amazing way to see the ocean.

Chrissy's Lectures

The class has been wonderful so far - I'm especially enjoying Chrissy's afternoon lectures. Three hours seems like it would be too long for a lecture session, especially day after day, but with Chrissy's energy and the participation of the class, the sessions go flying by. I really appreciate how although Chrissy comes in with a pre-planned lecture (on powerpoint slides with photos, etc.), she does not hesitate to let the coversation go where the class' interests lie. I've been in other classes where professors cut off student questions in order to get "back on track" - that is, back to the power point presentation. These professors give the impression that student questions are more of a distraction or a hindrance than a resource. Chrissy takes all of our questions and, as Dan pointed out, not only doesn't view them as distractions keeping her from her planned lecture, she actually feeds off them and the classroom conversations take us to new and interesting places that not even she had planned on. I'm constantly amazed by her ability to talk intelligently about any topic we throw at her - it seems that no matter how obscure or random the question, she knows something about it - from the fish living in the rice patties in China to the predators of Australia to the moss of England. She's obviously found her calling; her joy and enthusiasm when talking about all the earth's biodiversity is contagious.

Monday, July 9, 2007

During the afternoon lecture, we talked about DNA and cloning. I’m always debating on whether cloning is a positive or negative thing to humankind. It seems that there is always a great possibility that human will manipulate the use of new science discovery/technology to create greater damage to the world.

The lecture also reminds me of a movie about a mother who cloned her son after he passed away. However, the cloned son turned out to have a completely opposite personality and constantly felt pressured as a replacement. Ashivia also said that people tried to clone from the dead, which made me think about the clone of dinosaur DNA from the movie “Jurassic Park”. I wonder if it is possible for DNA to last for thousands of years and still be effective to use for cloning?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

There were a lot of things that went wrong in my room yesterday. The AC wasn't working, the remote control was out of battery, and the bathroom had a leak. So I asked the resort employee to report my problems. When I returned to my room in the late afternoon, I was very happy to see that everything was fixed. To my surprise, there was a very cute heart shaped decoration made with towel and red flowers on my bed. (see pic on the left) To show my appreciation to their attentiveness, I ripped a piece of my notebook and wrote down a very decorative "Gracias!" and put it next to the heart before I left this morning. When I returned back to my room after an exhausting day, I was surprised to see a beautiful, more elaborated heart decoration on my bed. (see pic on the right) I am definitely feeling the love in DR.

The first full day with everyone here in Punta Cana…we started the day visiting some of the community projects in the area including the Polytechnic School, the PUNTACANA Education center (CEPCA-right), the clinic in Veron, and the church.

The Polytechnic School, a gift from the Kheels, is under direction of the both the Sec. of Education and the Diocese of Altagracia.

CEPCA is a local private bilingual school but with scaled tuition based on income. Anthony, a 7th grade english teacher at CEPCA showed us around the classrooms and recreational space. Both the community of teachers and students is very international, drawing from the families of employees in the local tourist industry.
Both schools are in Veron, a place that sprung up not that many years ago as the local industry began to grow and is now in becoming a registered town to gain government and infrastructure functions.

The church was simple and beautiful with local stone structure, wood doors and pews, and some artwork on the walls (above).

Many thanks to Heyddy from FPC, Anthony from the Punta Cana Education Center, and the doctor at the Clinic for their time and patience!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hard to believe that a week ago I was breaking down one lab at MS 447 in Brooklyn, and yesterday I was setting one up here at the Punta Cana Biodiversity Center (see pic). It was a lot of work - organizing materials, setting up drawers and closets. Luckily, we have a good supply of walkie talkies and Dominican flags! Both nights since we arrived, it has rained and rained in the evening. Quite beautiful. Luckily, the SciFi channel had a Twilight Zone marathon on last night. That and a little reading sent me off to sleep to the sound of Carribean rain.
Today, after another fine breakfast it was off for a beach walk, a swim, and a short hike in the Ecological Preserve here. There were beautiful lagoons amidst a dense, lush forest. Lizards, spiders and butterflies abounded. Also saw some kestrals today on the shore. I am sitting in the lobby drinking a cafe con leche awaiting the arrival of our students. Life could be worse.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Our Aim?

Hello all,
As we are just a few days away, I find I'm really trying to understand what we will hope to achieve with this visit to D.R. Is it a trip devised to put us in a mind set of nature preservation while pursuing a curriculum. Is the trip the curriculum? Are we using our first hand experience on an eco- preserve to enhance ecology curriculum? We chose discovery as our concept, Are we going to stage discoveries and log the process so as to teach our students how to discover? Just wondering out loud. I want to be able to contribute as much as possible.

See ya there

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


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