Knights Impact 2019: Sea day and Dominican Republic

Sunday was a full day at sea as we sailed from Port Canaveral to Amber Cove on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic. The morning was gorgeous and I got up early to have coffee on the uppermost deck before most people were out of their cabins. We planned brunch and then dinner with the students as the basis for our preliminary reflection activities but gave them a good chunk of the day to explore the ship and get to know each other. They have a photo scavenger hunt to work on as well as a door decorating contest and nightly presentations about the islands that we are visiting. At brunch we started off with some reflection questions: What was your motivation to participate in this program? What have you already learned since leaving home? What do you want to know about someone else in the group? What do you expect from our activity tomorrow? The answers were interesting and varied and overall this group continues to impress me: they like each other, the ones who didn’t know each other at first are becoming friends, the more withdrawn ones are coming out of their shells, and the more extroverted ones are acting a little more nuanced. Plus they are ALWAYS on time and in place, and often better at solving minor logistical problems than I am!

Between brunch and dinner I had planned to eat sushi with Chris (we barely ate at brunch on purpose) and then go to the pool for a while. We accomplished the sushi and it was delicious, but no sooner had I changed into my swimsuit than it started raining and Did. Not. Stop. It rained till well into dinnertime! I love a sea day more than anything but I was not quite prepared. I did try to make the most of the time by taking a few pictures around the ship:

The main dining room, which is called Sapphire. Shout-out to Nelson, the hardest working waiter in the business!

Does every ship have one of these atrium lobby situations?

The Lido deck before the rain started

Apparently it’s called a “whale tail.”

Knights Impact door-decorating prowess on display

Bonsai Sushi where Chris and I had lunch. Delicious and very affordable.

Le sigh.

And I did have other work to do so the day was not lost. Sea days are the best, no matter what the weather. This one was capped off by the first “Elegant Night” dinner. It is always cool to see our students dressed to impress!

Elegant!

This morning we arrived in Amber Cove and were off the ship for our first impact activity by about 9:15. We worked at a women’s chocolate cooperative called Chocal and got to learn about the entire process of growing cacao and making chocolate as well as how Chocal was formed and how it has grown. The town of Altamira where Chocal is located–about a 45-minute, steep, hilly, occasionally harrowing bus ride from the port–is largely agricultural. Women in particular have few job opportunities. A group of women who were doing small-scale chocolate production found a market for their product (organic, artisanal chocolate) and have grown their production through government grants and partnerships and plain hard work. It’s nothing like a factory: although they now have small drying machines and sorting machines for the cacao, a great deal of the work is still done by hand from planting seeds and transplanting seedlings to molding chocolate bars and sealing up packages of cocoa powder. We got to try out nearly every step of the process: filling bags of dirt to plant seeds in, planting the seeds, walking through the harvesting and drying process, breaking up and separating the seeds, and then molding chocolate. Most importantly, as a group we filled almost 1000 4-ounce bags of cocoa powder to help Chocal complete an order of 8000 bags that had come from a local supermarket that is now their biggest customer. I had a great time doing all the tasks, tasting everything that was handed to me, and inflicting my tiny Spanish on the staff, but as usual I was most impressed with the students, who pitched in whole-heartedly and with tremendous energy.

Learning how to plant cacao seeds.

Moving planted seeds into place.

Filling bags of dirt to hold seedlings.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

Filling the bags the seeds would be planted in.

Our guide Alexandra explains the drying process.

Look at this excellent group!

At Chocal’s processing facility, up the road from the nursery.

Molding chocolate: if your mold looked right, Raina (in the red bandana) would reward you with a spoonful of the melted chocolate.

Filling cocoa powder bags.

We were at Chocal for 4 hours and it felt like about 90 minutes. All too soon we had to head back to the port and get ready to return to the ship for our 4:00 sailing time. It was surprisingly emotional for me to see Amber Cove again and then have to leave it so quickly. It’s a beautiful country and being there in 2017 was my first experience of the Caribbean and its special way of life. I’m really glad I got to go back and I’m glad the students appreciated it too.

Late lunch in the port before boarding.

Back on board and adios, Dominican Republic!

Beyond this point: bonus pictures!

Dominican flag flying on the ship for our arrival in Amber Cove.

We have all been photographing our food:

Fruit plate at brunch

Ebi nigiri

Tuna & mango tartare

Beet carpaccio with grapefruit and blue cheese

Towel animals are mandatory:

And finally, maybe students think I am at least a little bit cool at least some of the time?

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