Barry McNamara  |  Published January 24, 2024

Peaks, Caves and Waterfalls

Godde, students stayed warm during study-abroad adventure in Dominican Republic.

AT THE SUMMIT: A wrong turn en route to Pico Duarte delayed the arrival of part of the College's traveling party, but t... AT THE SUMMIT: A wrong turn en route to Pico Duarte delayed the arrival of part of the College's traveling party, but they eventually all made their way to the top.MONMOUTH, Ill. – A two-week January-term trip to the Dominican Republic led by Monmouth College biology professor James Godde was so full of adventures and Caribbean climate that the group almost didn’t want to come home.

“It was nice and warm while we were there,” said Godde, who has traveled internationally – usually with students – every calendar year for nearly two decades. “There were a few sprinkles, but for the most part, we had fantastic weather. It was 86 degrees on the final day. We did not come home to anything like that.”

Accompanying Godde on the trip, which was from Dec. 31 through Jan. 13, were current students Emilie Cain ’24 of Lake Villa, Illinois, and Grace Gibbons ’24 of Altona, Illinois, as well as 2023 graduates Amanda Dybal and Grace Simpson.

“I decided to take part in this trip because I’ve always wanted to travel,” said Cain. “It was the perfect opportunity for me before I graduate in May.”


Swimming while spelunking

Godde made sure that there was an “adventurous aspect” built into every day of the itinerary, and some of those experiences were found in the island nation’s caves, including one full of spiders, snakes and bats. Inside another of the caves was a lake.

“They really liked that. That was fun for them,” said Godde. “Some or all of them might say that was the highlight of the trip.”

“One of my favorite things we did was visiting Cueva del Chico. We visited multiple caves on the trip, but at Cueva Del Chico, we were able to swim.” – Emilie Cain


Cain certainly did.

“One of my favorite things we did was visiting Cueva del Chico,” said Cain. “We visited multiple caves on the trip, but at Cueva Del Chico, we were able to swim. Another thing I favored was exploring the capital, Santo Domingo,” which the group toured on their final full day.

“We never spent the night twice in one location,” said Godde. “I’m not really a spend-a-lot-of-time-in-one-place kind of person.”


Getting their steps in

But he is a let’s-go-on-a-long-hike type of person, and that wish was granted on a visit to the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, which has an elevation of just over 10,000 feet. It’s named for Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Dominican Republic’s founding fathers.

“We did that right in the middle of the trip,” said Godde. “It was one of the harder things I’ve done on a trip with students – a three-day hike of about 40 miles.”

SIGHT-SEEING: Emilie Cain, Gracie Gibbons, Amanda Dybal and Grace Simpson are pictured at the Museum of the Royal Houses (M... SIGHT-SEEING: Emilie Cain, Gracie Gibbons, Amanda Dybal and Grace Simpson are pictured at the Museum of the Royal Houses (Museo de las Casas Reales) in Santo Domingo.Two students – Dybal and Gibbons – accidentally hiked the second-highest peak, taking a wrong turn in the pre-sunrise darkness.

“They went right instead of left,” said Godde. “They got to the top and it didn’t have a flag or a bust of Duarte like they were expecting. Then they looked over at another peak and said, ‘Oh, but that one does.’ So they wound up walking 22 miles that day.”

For parts of the trip, guides were recommended, if not required. On such portions, one mule per person was provided.

“They got to the top and it didn’t have a flag or a bust of Duarte like they were expecting. Then they looked over at another peak and said, ‘Oh, but that one does.’ So they wound up walking 22 miles that day.” – James Godde


Guides were present for the whitewater rafting the group enjoyed and for the opportunity to jump or slide down seven different waterfalls, including one where visitors were encouraged to do both.

“The guides would say, ‘It’s deep enough, you’ll be fine,’” said Godde. “So if jumping was an option, I jumped. The farthest drop was close to 20 feet, but it seemed more like 40.”

Cain is glad she conquered her nerves while stepping outside her comfort zone.

“I was very nervous about going on this trip,” she said. “It was my first time going to a different country, and I was unsure if I really wanted to go. Reflecting on the trip now, I’m so glad I went. If there was something I could say to students to encourage them to study abroad, I would say, ‘Take the opportunities that are presented to you. You never know if you will get a chance to explore another country again.’”


Wait ’til next year

The next chance to do so with Godde will be in May of 2025, when he leads a walking trip across the south of England that will be reminiscent of a pilgrimage from The Canterbury Tales. The Wessex Ridgeway is a walk of 137 miles and is part of a prehistoric trade route which once stretched across England, linking the Norfolk coast to the Devon coast.

“We’ll be staying at British inns, It’s about 140 miles, and it’s a two-week trip, so we’ll be walking about 10 miles per day.” – James Godde


“We’ll be staying at British inns,” said Godde. “It’s about 140 miles, and it’s a two-week trip, so we’ll be walking about 10 miles per day.”

Still a lot of hiking, but some additional sprinkles are likely in England. And the beans and rice, plantains and fresh fruit that were staples for Godde’s group in the Dominican Republic will be replaced by plenty of bangers and mash and fish and chips.

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