Listen. If a branch falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, yes, the branch has fallen; just ask the twigs crunching noisily beneath my boots. A cacophony reaches my ears while nature’s beauty informs my eyes — the forest has its own language. The central mountain range near Bonoa, Dominican Republic speaks a distinct, mellifluous dialect.
Rio Blanco Ecotourism Complex is a 2-hour drive from our hotel in Zona Colonia. A day spent learning about local agricultural issues and the intricacies of coffee production and communing with the environment during free time overwhelms my heart with a sense of privilege, social responsibility and appreciation for the Cordillera Centra.
“Every sense is alive. Thankful, joyous, triumphant tears roll unabashedly down my face like the clear-water streams over the river rocks.”
The terrain transitions from palm trees and sugar cane fields into dense, lush forest as our chartered bus winds along the twisting mountain road to Rio Blanco. On arrival, a wooden sign welcomes; “Bienvenidos, Rancho Don José, Proyecto Financiado con Fondo de la Union Europea.” Exiting the vehicle, I assume curiosity mode and listen mindfully as our host Enrique describes the situation.
Rio Blanco Complex contains forest, farms and — most importantly — the origin of three rivers: Yuna, Yaque del Norte and Yaque del Sur — primary tributaries to the country’s limited water supply. Rancho Don José is a bamboo and coffee farm whose owner is part of the local Farmer’s Association. The Association has agreed to cooperate with the European Union and stakeholders in sustaining clean water and preserving the pristine mountain environment. Ecotourism helps support those efforts.
The Rio Blanco region has a complex history. Enrique declares in Spanish; “These mountains belong to the people!” Attempts to strongarm the land away from local farmers met with resistance. Farmers organized, educating spokespeople to negotiate with officials and corporate honchos on their behalf, to combat agribusiness — accused of contaminating the mountain water and soil with pesticides, increasing illness and mortality rates. Enrique displays his hands, horrifically scarred from burns suffered extinguishing a burning home — a fire set by vengeful politicos.
As it stands, farmers export cash crops and import food staples, a cause of concern for farmers like Enrique who lament high food prices. “We’re exporting food we should be eating ourselves,” he says.
Coffee is a mountain cash crop. Organically grown coffee is a huge farming expense, although it reaps the best price. Organic certification is a luxury for small farms competing with larger farms. Moreover, there are too many hands in the pot. Exportation is primarily government-driven, highly regulated. Enrique dreams of having his own website, a site where he can independently access the global marketplace.
At last, the moment arrives; the heavenly aroma of Enrique’s product permeates the space: Río Yuma, Café Natural, Bonao, Rep. Dom. This is coffee! The flavor — exquisite — is smooth, without bitterness or aftertaste.
“Dos bolsas, señor, por favor.”
Next, the group moves to investigate a scenic waterfall. Feeling the call of solitude within these beatific boundaries I diverge from the group to enjoy my free time alone on El Higo hiking trail. First, I imagine that I’m lost in the forest. I look for signs of other hikers. I discover green bananas, colorful birds and lizards, sturdy poplars live among pines and bamboo. Following the trickling sound of a river, I find my way to a stream. I sit upon moist earth and experience the moment.
Tears flow — from deep within, my own personal waterfall. Through my nostrils, I taste fresh air, smell unadulterated dirt. My fingers massage the mud underneath my hands. Harmonious echoes pervade my awareness: The creek gurgles, birds chirp, branches fall — clamoring as they break free to join others on the ground. Every sense is alive. Thankful, joyous, triumphant tears roll unabashedly down my face like the clear-water streams over the river rocks.
I feel … refreshed, renewed, inspirited. Spreading my arms wide, I embrace the entirety of the scene. A broad smile breaks loose. I tilt my head upward and see — bubbles!? Breezing gently by, it’s cottonwood. Dozens of fluffy cottonwood tufts softly shower the air. The occasion evokes gratitude; I’m experiencing the fullness of nature’s interactive conversation, sprawled beside a forest stream in the middle of a Dominican mountainside as it rains cottonwood bubbles.
*Featured photo by Corina Land.
Lorise A. Diamond is a fourth-year communication major, double minoring in sociology and honors interdisciplinary studies. She is on a 16-day adventure with the College of Extended Studies program Global Leadership and Diversity Identities in Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic.