SOULFUL CRUISING

08/03/2016 04:24 pm ET

PUERTO PLATA, THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC…Although I have been to the Dominican Republic many times before kite-boarding, whale watching, or immersing in the meringue beat pulsating throughout this tropical paradise, this trip is a first.  I am helping precious little Lucia with her English vocabulary in her pre-school and learning more about the education system here in Hispaniola.  I have participated in many home-stay programs from the jungles of Thailand to Malaysia, Mexico, or villages in Kenya.  But here I am giving back in a new way.

UP CLOSE

Escaping to an exotic locale in the lush tapestry of our global village can appear in unique packages.

If you’re seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures and opportunities to totally immerse your heart, mind and soul in other cultures, look no further.  Social impact travel or volunteer tourism (“voluntourism”) is on the horizon.  Roll up your sleeves and get ready to work!  Travel deep!  The 7-day cruise of the MV ADONIA from Port of Miami to Amber Cove in the northern region of the Dominican Republic focuses on Puerto Plata, the first partner destination for FATHOM.  These bi-weekly voyages on the roughly 700-passenger vessel help locals.  You might assist by planting cacao, or toil as a teacher’s aide in a pre-school.  Other social impact itineraries offered are pitching in at a women’s coop, or building ceramic water systems.  The intertwined mutual compassion provides a life-long bonding I will forever cherish.   Lucia taught me more about the history, culture and architecture of the Dominican Republic, and I helped her fine-tune some of her English.  We both worked on our Merengue together!  Of course, no tasks are mandatory and you might choose a simple tour/excursion package instead of a social impact itinerary.  You and your fellow sojourners may work side-by-side in a global impact trek to Cuba on FATHOM, as well.  If your wanderlust and passion for great escapes also mean a desire to make a difference in the world, this might be right for you.  The community projects offered vary and there’s a myriad of altruistic possibilities.  Gone are the casinos and piano bars.  The on-board activities focus on innovation, honing volunteer skills and team-building with classes in English tutoring, or ASHOKA workshops for resolving global challenges using creative, collaborative solutions.  I spent the greatest part of my cruise at Fe y Alegria (FAITH AND HAPPINESS) School teaching Lucia, mi amiga Dominicana!

SUN AND SURF

Don’t fret if you want to dutifully volunteer and toil less, and play more.  Obviously participation is not mandatory.  Azure, pristine waters and enchanting beaches beckon!  For culture and history, sleepy Puerto Plata showcases verdant intriguing coves, sizzling scenery and Fortaleza San Felipe, one of the first Spanish forts in the Americas.  If the allure of voluntourism has waned, check out the lush ecotourism, a challenging adrenaline-laced mountain biking tour, breathless jeep ride, or zip line adventure. 

For every Neptune in the crowd, there’s a rainbow parfait of watersports, from snorkeling to kite-boarding, or diving some stunning reefs and wrecks.  Mother Nature showcases her best and you’re a voluntary voyeur.  There’s a rich bonanza of ecotourism for all levels and skills. 

Whether you’re touring, trekking or volunteering, the rose-hued Dominican sunset will pull at your heart strings and provide memory insurance for years to come.  FATHOM offers the hybrid adventure of both small vessel intimacy and amenities, and a window of compassion and immersion with the local culture.  I’m already planning my next cruise!

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