My life in Sosua, Dominican Republic amid Corona virus Pandemic

I’ve been in Sosua, Dominican Republic for three weeks now. I have settled into a routine that is simple yet tiresome in a different way than my routine back in the States. Well, my routine before the quarantine. I was suppose to put this blog out a week ago and now that this pandemic has taken over, I have had to revise. So here it goes from beginning to now…

 I spent 4 days in at Piergiorgio Palace Hotel upon arrival and soon found a place at Sosua Sweet Vacations. The apartment is comfortable and cute with a shared kitchen, small dining room, & living room area, along with a pool and gazebo outside. I hadn’t gotten the chance to take advantage of it all as I was only there to sleep and shower, but with this pandemic going on now I have the time to. That leads me to my daily schedule and of course my temporary job while I am here and life amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

My friend Mosha (owner and cook of Mosha’s Reggae Lounge) cooking oxtail over a handmade fire

I am currently helping out my friend Mosha at his highly rated Jamaican restaurant, Mosha’s Reggae Lounge, on Sosua beach. It is  #1 in Sosua with 151 five star ratings on Tripadvisor! The work is a bit different than what I am accustomed to in the States, but it provides me with first-hand experience in operating a small, yet thriving business. I’ve also come to understand the hard work and labor put in by small business owners and their few employees in order to make a living every day. I work for about 9 hours, 7 days a week but it varies. I serve guests, run food, set up and breakdown the furniture, wash the dishes, stock and organize the fridge and anything else that needs to be done. My pay fluctuates based on the traffic of people. Some days we have a good amount of customers, and other days (like today) there are none. So far, the minimum amount I have earned is 400 pesos (approx. $7 USD) and the maximum amount was 2000 pesos (approx. $37 USD).  This is significantly less than what I am accustomed to earning as a server/ bartender in the USA but it is also a different way of life. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t take the money, but Mosha insists, and it does help to buy food each day. This experience continues to stress the importance of humility and appreciation for the small things in life. I may not earn the same money I do back home, but I am thankful to spend my time with a good friend who’s heart and life are not tied to materialistic desires. 

Me cleaning the kitchen at Mosha’s Reggae Lounge

However, with Corona virus restrictions, things are becoming difficult. Starting today, the Dominican Republic is now under quarantine for the next 15 days, following the actions of other countries. The rules for the quarantine are changing every minute. One minute something is allowed, the next minute, it is not. All of the shops along the beach are closed and tourists trying to enjoy the beach were just recently kicked off as I was writing this. The supermarkets are open, with the touristy supermarket having empty shelves and the local supermarket still having fully stocked shelves (interesting dynamic). I am happy to say I am safe, but the restrictions have shortened or canceled majority of my plans. As preventative measures due to the pandemic continue, I find that it will be best for me to return home, organize myself, and return. Thing is I feel safer here, but I will think about the feasibility of staying longer until this virus blows over. My original fear was dengue as dengue is always a risk here and I had heard of the number of cases rising. So all in all I have to take care of myself, despite being eaten alive some days. I swear my repellent is water in a bottle.

Best thing about the DR is all of the fresh food! Especially the fruits!
Mosha’s famous Jerk chicken and rice & peas. The picture does not do it justice. AT ALL

Good thing is that I wake up every day only concerned about my tasks for the current day and being present. I wake up around 5:30 am Monday through Friday to get to the gym by 6 am, but that may be interrupted if the gym is closed. Mosha has been teaching me to train properly and if you could feel how sore I am, you might give up on exercise altogether. After my workout, I shower and get ready for work. I arrive to work around 9/9:30 am, do all of my cleanings and prepare the restaurant for the day. Around 6 pm, I clean the kitchen, break down and pack up the furniture, then head to a restaurant in town for dinner. Our favorite place is Fresh Fresh in Cabarete, the neighboring beach town. The food is exactly as advertised FRESH and very healthy and tasty. At about 10 pm, I head home to shower and sleep. Then I wake up and do it all over again, except no gym on the weekends. 

The ATV that we basically use as a car. ( No I don’t know how to ride it. It was just a good pic lol!)

The days are long but full of fulfillment (or maybe I should say they “were”). Now there’s not much to do but workout, sleep, eat and do everything that I have been procrastinating on. Anyway, coming here was actually a harder decision than some may think. I confided in mentors and close friends for guidance and received a huge YES from everyone. I also felt that I would have a huge cloud of regret if I did not follow through. I was stuck on what I thought people expected of me instead of what I expected of me. Even during this crisis, I do not regret coming at all. I learn something new every day, and I am excited to see what opportunities arrive during this time despite this pandemic. A part of me has a desire to migrate here, while the other half is pulling me back to the States (but its a lot crazier there right now so I will stay put). I think once I get organized, I will have a clearer idea of what I will do in the near future. Until then, its Que lo Que and Presidente (jajaja just kidding, I only drink water here. :)) and in the meantime please wash your hands and take care of yourselves. One love.

Cabarete Beach, Dominican Republic 3.17.2020
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So What Now?- Why I booked a one way flight after graduating Grad school …

I am currently on a flight to the Dominican Republic as I am writing this. Today, for the first time, I felt nervous about traveling. I stared out the window at the clouds and tears came to my eyes. This time it’s not for study abroad,an internship, volunteering or a short vacation. I bought a one way ticket with the intention of staying for about 2 months or so just for the heck of it. I didn’t pack until 4pm the day before my flight. As I packed, I continued to ask myself “Are you doing the right thing ?” “Is this a responsible thing to do?” 

I graduated in December of 2019  from the University of Pennsylvania with my Masters in International Educational Development. I was so excited to begin searching for positions and doing work that was going to make a difference but I also felt burnt out. Despite ending my last semester with straight A’s , I struggled to maintain motivation. I knew the end was near and I had no idea what I would do next. I saw my peers accepting jobs at the United Nations or International organizations in DC & New York. But not me. Despite the countless resumes sent and cover letters. I felt like I had to be doing something wrong. I have always been one to have high expectations and strive for perfection in everything. This mindset not only resulted in burn out, but also in difficulty adapting when things didn’t go as I had planned. 

Yet, life is teaching me that plans are good, but I have to start planning differently. For example, about 2 months ago I connected with a woman that I met at a networking event. I followed up and had a meeting with her and she gave me a print out of “Planning to Fail” by Dr. Stephen J. Majercik, which was taped to her wall. The article has been sitting on my night stand in my room untouched and unread until today. Today, something told me to pick it up and read it. Though short, the author describes how temporary things in life can be, like our jobs for example. It taught me that everyone should have a plan and ultimately one may have to fail in order to succeed , but that failure is outlined in one’s plan before it happens. Therefore when that failure does come, it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t throw you off course, it just pushes you along to the next opportunity. 

Upon graduating , I felt a huge weight that only got heavier. I have so many people that have invested in my personal growth and my education. I wanted to be sure that they were satisfied with their investment,  which I thought would be done by getting a good job or doing something impactful or significant . In the end, I understand that they invested in me because they know what I am capable of and desire for me to be happy in all that I do. 

As a traveler , and I’m sure many travelers can relate , we get in this mode that I call “travelers blues” . This happens when there is no trip in sight, no adventure set, and we are living a routine life that is repetitive everyday. A life we are not built to live . I found myself anxious after graduation. The days seemed to fly by and I felt like I was running to catch up with time . So I’ve decided to go to the place that makes me feel at home besides my own house with my family. The Dominican Republic has had my heart since I was a volunteer for Amigos de Las Americas at the age of 16. The host families I’ve stayed with are no longer just familias anfitrionas. They ARE my family and I am thankful to return to my happy place all for self-love, self-care, and tranquility. I used an American Airlines voucher that I saved and booked a one way flight. Ultimately, I hope to come back to the States with a clearer mind, stronger motivation and a fire that can’t be put out. 

Traveling Solo- 5 things I learned from my trip in Asia

I first traveled alone at the age of 14 to study abroad, however, this was my first completely solo and solo planned adventure on the opposite side of the world. I have so many major takeaways but here are 5 of them: 

This was taken in the bathroom after exiting my flight and taking off my many layers of clothing
  1. Don’t overpack! – I see this on so many travel blogs and it is true. Pack as little as you can, then go back and pack half of that! There is a reason its called “backpacking”. I was unable to go to some places that I wanted to because I had a large suitcase with me. This was not my choice due to a change in plans. Instead of going back to the States from India, I was going back to the States from Vietnam, and this was a hassle. Thankfully, my hostels were kind enough to store my luggage when I left for another part of the country for a short time (use luggage locks!). Also, because I had souvenirs for people, and 2 months’ worth of clothes, my bags were overweight when leaving India, which was one of the worst traveling experiences. I almost missed my flight trying to adjust the weight, and I resorted to layering on a ton of clothes (Because I definitely wasn’t paying that ridiculous baggage fee). It was hectic and very annoying. 
  2. Hostels are AMAZING (if you stay in the right ones)! – I had never stayed in a hostel abroad, but I regret not doing so sooner. Hostels are great! You meet so many different people from all walks of life. The friendships I have gained in my little time during my trip are ones that I will cherish forever. I now have people to visit and new countries to go to. I know you’re probably asking, “Are they clean?”, “It’s weird sleeping in a room with strangers.”,” Is it safe?”. These are all valid concerns. But yes, I have found the hostels I’ve stayed in to be clean, safe, and not weird. Also if bed bugs are a big concern of yours ( they are my worst fear!), just remember that five-star hotels can have them too. They do not discriminate. 
My capsule- like bed in Sogor Dormitory for Girls- Penang Malaysia
Travelers I met in the LaLa house in Vietnam

Due to it being my first time in hostels abroad and having so much luggage, I was keen to find a place that was clean and secure. I stayed in a newly opened all-girls dorm in Penang, Sogor. It was very clean, with FREE laundry, and great security measures (cameras, a locker that needed a key card, front door that needed key card, etc). In Langkawai, I stayed in a mixed dorm, Indiana Cafe and Dorm. The security of it wasn’t all that great, but it was clean and I met the most amazing people. The locals felt like family. Lastly, I stayed in another hostel in Vietnam (called the LaLa House, lovely name!) it was more like a house and I stayed in the all-girls dorm. Again, very clean, security was good and met great people. If you’re interested in checking out some hostels for your next trip, you can always search and read reviews on HostelBookers, HostelWorld, and Trip Advisor. Reviews are very useful sometimes, and you can cross-check platforms. Some places will have the most amazing reviews on one website and really bad ones on another. You can find the links to all the great places I stayed by clicking on the hyperlinks! Oh and my fav place by far was Winter Spring Homestay in Cần Thơ, Vietnam! I was only charged $5 for a gorgeous room and $30 for an all-day tour of the floating markets. And they have homemade yogurt!!

Whats a trip without food?!
Locals and travelers I met at Indiana Cafe & dorm in Langkawi, Malaysia
  1. You will take risks!– Traveling alone is a risk in general, but to survive and have a great trip, small risks are sometimes necessary. It can be hard to trust people you only met for a few hours or trying food from a questionable street vendor. My advice is to stay vigilant and alert at all times, but let the walls down a little when you can. I am not saying you should put yourself in a dangerous situation, but I have learned that as travelers we take a lot of risks, and sometimes those risks turn out to be the best experiences. However, I have also learned to trust my intuition and not minimize that “gut feeling” as being paranoid. Better safe than sorry in some circumstances, but you will know that situation and that “feeling”. Understand your limits, but challenge your comfort zone. Trust me it will be worth it. For example, I was in a rural part of Vietnam for my second to last night. I loved the area and really wanted an authentic experience. However, I did not feel that the community took to me well and I had a gut feeling to leave. I woke up at 7 am (on my 23rd birthday might I add) to explore the community and I was on the next bus back to Ho Chi Minh at 9 am. 
  2. One week in a country is not enough!- I spent 6 days in Malaysia, and about 5 days in Vietnam. Needless to say, that was nowhere near enough. I spoke to many travelers that had traveled the entire coastal line of Vietnam from the North to the South. Many had been in the country for about a month or more. There is so much to see and do and travel time can take up a large portion of your trip (something I certainly forgot about). Also, when visiting for a week, you are trying to cram in as much as possible, which can cause you to burn out very quickly. My mom used to tell me, “The country isn’t going anywhere. You can come back. It will be there.” She is right (kinda, cuz the way climate change is looking ….). When time (and yes, money) permits, you can return. Now that I have gotten my feet wet with traveling in Asia, there is so much more I want to see and explore. 
  3. LIFE is truly a wonderful gift!-  On my trip, I met so many people that had saved up what they could, quit their jobs, and now are traveling. Of course, this is not a possibility for many of us, but the one thing many seasoned travelers did teach me was that we are meant to enjoy life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but yet many of us live life like it is. You are waiting to travel because you want to be “stable” or “settled”, but where is the guarantee that will happen? If you are traveling for luxury, then certainly, you should have the finances to do so, but there is pleasure in traveling for the experience of culture and a curiosity of the world, even if it means taking that uncomfortable local bus, or staying the night in a $5 hostel bed with 8 other people in the room. We stress due to work and work with the hopes of relieving the stress. I find myself consumed by the anxieties of life, the thought of doing things the “right way” or living up to the expectations of others. I have been reminded to live life to the fullest and take the leap when I feel the most hesitant. 
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly nervous in this picture!

During my trip, I began reading the popular autobiography, “Becoming Michelle Obama”. In it, Michelle Obama talks about her best friend, Suzanne, an energetic Caribbean girl with a desire to live a life of adventure and happiness. Suzanne never did anything she thought wouldn’t be fun or enjoyable and in the beginning, Michelle felt that this thought was a bit irresponsible. Suzanne had such a free soul and love for life, but she passed away due to cancer at the age of 26. When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of all the friends and family I see stressed about what they don’t have. Yet, we have life. Every day we open our eyes is not only a blessing but surviving each day is a challenge in and of itself. The blessing of life was something that Suzanne appreciated and made the most out of, and it was taken from her all too soon. At 23 years old, I have the energy and time now. I don’t think there is ever a “perfect time” for anything, so I just enjoy the ride. 

Walking along the infamous Sky Bridge in Langkawi Malaysia

Why do people keep telling me I’m small?

Being 4’11 ( AND ¾ ) was not on my list of life’s goals as a child,

Me as an average height 4 year old.

and yet.. here we are.

I don’t think I go one day without hearing “ OMG you’re so small”, “How tall are you?”, “I didn’t realize you were that short”, “Are you shrinking” blah blah blah. From family to classmates to co-workers, it is a broken record. But honestly, I think they all just need glasses (sorry for all my dear loved ones reading this. I mean no harm.), but seriously, I wear glasses and I still don’t see what you all are seeing.

Thing is my height may be lower than average, but so many other attributes make up for it. Of course, there were times when I felt insecure about my height. Thinking I wasn’t as attractive as other girls or feeling like I looked like a little kid all of the time, when I wanted to look grown & sexy, not “cute”. Yet, for the most part, I always wondered why I never felt as small as people made me out to be, or why they felt the need to remind me every day. No exaggeration, I really and truly feel “tall” most of the time. I don’t ever think about my physical height limitations because my attitude reaches far beyond my physical appearance. Passion and drive will make a person walk “tall”. I mean don’t get me wrong, being short can get annoying. At 22-years-old, I still have to jump or climb the kitchen counters to reach things, 6-year-old kids think I’m their age, and the chances of me winning America’s Next Top Model are slim to none. But when I look in the mirror, I can’t imagine seeing myself any way else. Lets quickly list all the wonderful advantages I have:

  • I can curl up on the plane
  • I can fit in small places ( closets, lockers, etc)
  • I can convince people to carry me
  • I always have more space
  • I’m closer to the ground if I drop something or fall
  • I don’t have to duck under things, for the most part
  • I can disguise myself as a 10-year-old if I ever need to
  • I wear kids sizes ( cheaper! ayyyeee)
  • I get to be in the front of all the pictures

If I was any taller, I’d fear for mankind. I mean some of the smallest things in life do the most damage anyway (*cough* to men’s hearts *cough*).

But on a lighter note, I make it a personal goal to walk the way I want every young woman in this world to walk. With their head held high, shoulders back, and quick strides of determination because we have places to go, lives to change, and a world to progress.

So to all my fellow Reinas who are constantly told how “short” or “small” you are, just know your height doesn’t define you nor limit you. Remember the poetic words of the unparalleled Maya Angelou:

“I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,   

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.” – Maya Angelou, Phenomenal Woman

You don’t have to walk like you have anything to prove, walk like people have to prove themselves to you. People will tell you-you’re short forever, yet Shaquille O’Neal has nothing on you boo. Plus that’s what camera angles are for.  

OKUUURRR!

As my line sisters would say… Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Ladies & Gentleman, Please Prepare For Takeoff…

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou

So I finally got up the courage to attempt to enhance my terrible technology skills and create the blog site I always wished to create. Hello and thank you for visiting! My name is La India Santos. I am a 22-year-old graduate student with a passion for traveling, dancing, and teaching. Therefore, you will see the hashtag #DanceTeachTravel. Yes, I am one of those millennials set out to change the world. With this blog site, I hope to bring some insight to current events in the field of girls’ education and issues, highlight great travel destinations and programs (both from my past and present), and provide details and tips into life as a graduate student. Now that probably sounds like a lot… because it is! I want my blog to be useful and very diverse in topics. Maybe I’ll even learn a bit more about myself in this process! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight! Stay Tuned!