Rio Grande Abajo


Hola a todos!

This week as part of our ecotourism, we visited the campo of Rio Grande Abajo which is a rural community in the region of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. There we learned all about the cultivation and harvest of cacao. In Rio Grande Abajo the main source of income for all the families comes from the cacao.

The people of this community do all the processes required to farm the cacao fruit then isolate the cacao seed which is used for the production chocolate. The cacao grown here is actually exported to buyers in Europe. Unfortunately, we were informed that there is a reselling process that occurs with the cacao which leaves the community of Rio Grande Abajo on the lower end of this negotiation. This makes the community more vunerable socioeconomically considering that cacao is their main source of income.

We went up to Chocolate Mountain as they call it where we picked the cacao fruit off the trees and then opened them up and actually ate the fruit which coats the cacao seed. Prior to this, I had no idea that there was actually fruit around the cacao seed. It was actually really tasty. They then explained how they must dry the fruit out in the sun in order to get the cacao seed within alone which is also then dried out.

We had the opportunity taste the dried cacao seed and it tasted like a coffee bean which was interesting because I expected it to taste a lot sweeter than it actually did. We also had the chance to use the molino (grinder) to crush up the cacao seed to make a mixture that is used to make hot chocolate. In the mixture they added cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. They also recommended to add un chin (a little bit) of salt to the hot chocolate because it brings out the flavor of the cacao.

We stayed the night with host families in Rio Grande Abajo which ended up being a real eye opening experience. Up until this visit, I have been staying in the city of Santiago with a well off family with all many commodities. Being in the rural community, I had no access electricity for certain time periods and the running water was limited.

I also learned that although the community does have a health center, the physicians only go on Tuesdays which becomes a huge issue in how the people of Rio Grande Abajo are able to get the medical attention they need. It was a different reality that I experienced of the Dominican Republic than I was used to. Even though it was different than my Santiago stay, I enjoyed every second of it because I felt at home.

There was a strong sense of community and family which made it seem like everything else didn’t matter. The people of the community were very amicable and actually included us in their activities that night. I learned how to play Dominoes which is a very common Dominican pastime. I felt time fly by when playing Dominoes because of how much fun we all were having. There was also Bachata, Merengue, & Salsa music playing in the background with people dancing which made the whole atmosphere even livelier.  It was such a culturally enriching experience which is why it is one of my favorite memories of my program thus far.

I can’t wait to see what this beautiful country of the Dominican Republic has in store.

Until next time,

Crystal Alcala