Every summer growing up I’ve traveled to the Dominican Republic. This beautiful island is where both of my parents were born and raised, and where a large portion of my family still lives. My extended family all spent at least a month living a 5- to 10-minute walk apart in the northern Region of the Dominican Republic, right outside of Santiago. But we spent most of the time on my great grandfather’s farm—all of my cousins together exploring his land and using the mountains as our playground. No matter how old, we all would return to this magical place where our childhood memories lived and turned into kids once again. Running through fields of platano trees, avoiding the inescapable smell of the pigs and cows, climbing mountains and mango trees.
Over time, we stopped our annual trips to Dominican together. We reunited again for the celebration of my great grandfather’s 100th birthday—it was an incredible moment to have been a part of. Unfortunately two years later he passed away, leaving behind a giant family that will continue his legacy. After his passing, it dawned on me that the place that I know and love will never be the same. Although I have family that still lives in the Domincian Republic, I wondered if I went back, would it hold that same magic and memories?
Over the course of the next year, I would explore this topic through my thesis project entitled >Mis Raíces, meaning “my Roots”, which is a series of photographs that I created surrounding his farmland to explore the idea that although he is physically absent, his memory will always be alive there. During this reflection, I discovered Rustic Pathways and a few months later had the incredible opportunity to work as a Program Leader in the Dominican Republic. I was able to travel this entire country that I consider home with an entirely new purpose, new lens, and new people.
I discovered so many places that I’ve yet to see and learned about the complexities of this island first hand. During my time working on Life in the Bateyes, I dove into the history of the bateyes, learning about these communities home to sugarcane workers and their families. Sugar is one of the Dominican Republic’s main exports; the country depends heavily on the production to help keep the economy healthy. Many of the field workers migrated from neighboring Haiti and stayed for work or were even born in in the Dominican Republic, and many lack citizenship. Learning about the complex relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti has been an eye-opener. We’ve made steps to improve this situation but there are still strides that have to be made.
When I worked as a Program Leader for Island Living and Eco-Service, I was able to experience the lush mountains of Jarabacoa, spend time learning about permaculture in the beach town of Las Galeras, discover the importance of mangroves, and explore hidden caves while nestled on the borders of Los Haitises National Park in the town of Sabana de la Mar.
I also had the opportunity to lead Bateyes and Baseball, furthering my knowledge of the importance of baseball in the Dominican Republic culture and society.
It’s been an incredible journey to learn more about the complexities of this country, as well as explore some of the most beautiful landscapes and oceans that the Caribbean has to offer. Through Rustic Pathways, I discovered more about the country my family and I call home. Rustic Pathways helped me reconnect and fall in love with the Dominican Republic and I’m forever grateful for this experience.
Growing up outside of New York City and spending summers with family in the Dominican Republic, AnaMaria has always wanted to travel and capture the world around her—whether through a lens or writing short stories. AnaMaria thrives in a space of creativity, inspired by people and places she visits, which cultivates an environment for fearless creation. AnaMaria joined the Rustic family as a Program Leader in the Dominican Republic in 2018 and then as a member of the International Business Development Team in October 2018. Now taking over the role of Global Communications Coordinator for Dominican Republic and the United States!