There are no words for the experience I had in the Dominican Republic at El Castillo. It is without a question the most incredible experience I have ever had in my life. I will never forget my first day there. I had a 4 hr plane ride from NYC then after waiting at the airport for an hour, my group leaders picked us up and then it was a 3 hr bus ride through the mountains and then we had to get on a safari truck to drive another hour up into the mountains on this dirt path that was too bumpy for regular cars. The entire way I was terrified of what I had signed up for. There was no cell service. When we got to the cabins where we were staying, there was limited hot water and electricity only for a few hours each day. The water from the faucets was not drinkable. There were no screens in the windows. This was the most remote place I had ever been in my life. But I had promised myself to be open to the experience before I left. The next 2 weeks were a challenge to make friends, to use my high school Spanish to communicate, to try new foods, to deal with a different climate and another culture, but after my initial feelings of being overwhelmed faded, I began to love it.
My group had about 20 kids in it. We all go super close within just a few days. The way it worked was that we split up into 2 groups of 10. Everyday one group would go to work on construction in the village and the other group would go to the school with lesson plans we prepared as a group and run a sort of summer camp/ school program with the kids. We had 2 group leaders who would take turns being with the different groups. Both group leaders were fluent in English and Spanish. On the weekends we did excursions. One was to Constanza (the town at the bottom of the hill where we had gotten into the Safari trucks) and the other was a trip to Aguas Blancas, the tallest waterfall in the Caribbean.
I highly recommend this experience to anyone/everyone. It was so eye opening to see a culture so different from my own. I am a very well traveled person. I used to live in Germany, have been to Italy, Spain, Canada, France, Austria and Denmark, but this trip was different. I felt like I was making a difference in the world. After seeing people live such simple lifestyles, it struck me (especially upon returning home) how much material stuff we have and how unnecessary it is to be happy. The village in which we worked had no running water, no plumbing, no electricity, and most families lived in a 1 room house often with a dirt floor (sometimes cement). Yet, these people living in El Castillo were some of the most welcoming and happiest I've ever met. It really gives you something to think about.