Saturday, May 14, 2016

Belle Marche

Yesterday, our school conducted what is apparently a Dominican tradition. Rather than attend classes on Friday, our students (accompanied by some parents and staff) set forth on a long hike from the school, which is known as a “Belle Marche” (or perhaps Bel Mache in kweyol). It seems to be part exercise, part bonding experience, and part exploration of their nearby world.
To beat the heat, students came to school two hours early—7:00 AM rather than the normal starting time of 9:00 AM. From the school, we hiked on our road up the initial hill (pictured above), where at the top we took a smaller back road along a ridge to the next little town. Then we dropped down to the main road and walked along it, until we finally reached the high point that separates the watershed that drains into the Atlantic from the watershed that drains into the Caribbean. At the steps of the Seventh Day Adventist Church there, we took a group picture.
We then continued down the hill, past the old, giant palm trees that line the road near what must have once been a plantation estate house. [This section of the main road with these majestic trees reminds me of a jungle version of Beverly Hills.]
The students were real troopers as we hiked along the main road (see below). They have often traveled on this road, primarily inside the vans (called transports) that comprise the public transportation system here. Hopefully, in the future when they gaze out a van window, they will remember the day that their feet marched step by step along this roadway.
We walked about five miles before turning off the main road, just short of the Agricultural Station at One Mile, which we had visited a few weeks ago. Because we had hiked the one mile from the Ag Station to get ice cream in Portsmouth (as described in this previous story), the children have basically now covered every step of the road from our village to Portsmouth.
Once off the main road and on a small dirt road, we enjoyed a couple of river crossings (as shown above and below). The sound of the water tumbling through the rocks and rapids reminded so much of my native West Virginia, even if the plants and trees were different than back home (notice the roots on the tree in the picture above).
We marched higher and higher up the old dirt road, which might be compared to an old abandoned logging road back home. There is supposedly a waterfall somewhere up there, but we were not able to find the proper pathway from the road (in the past, some of the adults had remembered a sign, but it was no longer there). However, I still had a good time observing the beautiful views, plus seeing things growing like pineapples, oranges, sugar cane, and other crops.
Although we didn't make it to the elusive waterfall, it was not a disappointing trip. The students got to visit the Brandy Manor Riding Center and see the horses there. Plus any day spent hiking in this beautiful country—even a road hike that didn't find its intended target—is still better than spending the day in a hot classroom doing normal school work.
After marching about seven miles, it was decided that we would catch transports to get back to our village, rather than march all the way home. Once we were back, I joined some of the kids for a swim in the Atlantic. After we were done in the salt water, we headed up through the village to shower off in the cold natural spring water of La Soose. It was a nice way to end the afternoon.

Although I didn't know about it at the time, in some respects the Belle Marche tradition is similar to an activity I have been doing with my students for some time. I enjoy exploring our neighborhood through group hikes, and will continue to do so through the rest of my service here. My only suggestion for next year's Belle Marche is that we should avoid scheduling it for Friday the Thirteenth—perhaps that is the reason why they had bad luck finding the waterfall!

P.S. The previous Friday, I led my own unofficial Belle Marche that eventually resulted in a pool party at a nice hotel (see that story here). I wrote about my “stupid tax” of forgetting to get my $25 of change back before I left the hotel. The good news is that the hotel arranged with a resident of my village to deliver my money to me. That was really nice of them! The people of Dominica have been wonderful to me!

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