Reforestation in the Dominican Republic
The main reason I decided to go on a cruise with Fathom Travel is because they promised an opportunity to volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I had always wanted to visit the Dominican Republic but I refused to do so by sitting by a pool at a resort. I even cancelled a press trip to the DR because the company basically told me I would be unable to explore on my own, and would see the country through the filter of a luxury hotel and their organized excursions. Fathom not only gave me the chance to see the Dominican Republic in the way I wanted to, but also provided me with an opportunity to give back through a reforestation volunteering project.
Fathom Travel prides themselves on what they call “Impact Travel.” The idea is to connect travelers with local organizations and leave a lasting impact. What I love about Fathom is that they didn’t just show up in the Dominican Republic and say, “this is what you need, let us swoop in and save you” with the American arrogance I see all too often in my travels. Instead, Fathom worked with organizations that already existed in the Dominican Republic and asked, “What can we do to help?”
Before I embarked on my cruise, I was able to choose which “Impact Activities” I wanted to do. (More on the options here) I was tempted to choose something that Pedro and I were both incredibly qualified to do, such as teach English or work with kids, but we wanted to do something outside of our normal skill sets. We chose Reforestation because planting trees is definitely not something we do on a regular basis.
Tricked into hiking
In case you don’t know this about me, I hate hiking. I get bad allergic reactions to bug bites and plants and it’s just not my favorite form of exercise, but I’m constantly getting tricked into going on hikes. To be fair, I knew the plan was to plant trees, so I should have known that the chances of hiking were pretty high.
The walk was steep, but not too long. I do think that Fathom should have been clearer about the physical strain of the day’s activities, as we had a couple of older travelers that had a lot of trouble dealing with the heat and the climb. From what I was told, there are 4 different reforestation locations, some of which are easier to access, but climbing up a mountain in the rainforest is not for the weak.
The reforestation process actually begins before we arrive. Volunteers at the Amber Cove Port plant seedlings and nurture them until they begin to grow. The baby trees are packaged for transport, and brought to the reforestation locations. My group worked with Cedar trees, which the amazing local impact guides carried up the mountain in large palm leaves.
The volunteers were separated into groups to create an assembly line of sorts. Group 1 ensured that the sticks that marked where to plant the trees were all 2 meters apart so that the trees would have room to thrive. The Impact Guides did the grueling work of digging holes at each of the planting sites. I suspect this was to avoid any accidents caused by overzealous volunteers being allowed to wield machetes, picks, and shovels. Group 2, which I was a part of, gathered small trees to deliver to Group 3, the planters.
At the end of the day, our group had planted 280 Cedar trees. We actually ran out of room to place new trees in the area, which is pretty amazing. While there are certainly plenty of other areas that will need more reforestation efforts, the hope is that eventually, this project will no longer be necessary. The Dominican Republic is very aware of the dangers of cutting down trees. Unfortunately, their neighbors, Haiti, cut down trees in mass to burn for fuel and now have very few trees left. The Dominican Republic realized that they were on the same track, so the government has subsidized energy costs in order to discourage people from chopping down trees for fuel. Organizations like the one Fathom has partnered with are working hard to plant trees to replace those that were cut down.
At the end of the day, I was covered in scratches and cuts from the plants and welts from bug bite allergic reactions, but I felt really great. The local guides were incredible and I had just as much fun chatting with them as I did planting the trees. It was hot, sweaty work, but it was incredibly rewarding.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary trip with Fathom Travel in exchange for writing about my experiences. All opinions are my own. In fact, I liked my cruise to the Dominican Republic so much that I chose to purchase a spot on the cruise to Cuba. I do receive some affiliate earnings if you choose to book a cruise through me, but you also get a discount.