If you don't mind getting a little dirt under your fingernails, you'll love working at a coffee plantation with Fathom. The activity is a bit more physically demanding than others offered on the "social impact" cruise line's Dominican Republic itinerary. While you don't have to be savvy with a shovel, you do need a tolerance for creepy, crawly critters. (Don't worry; the spiders and snakes are friendly.) Curious about Fathom's coffee plantation activity? Cruise Critic slipped on some boots and gloves, and gave it a whirl.
What It Is
On a Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic, volunteers can work alongside local farmers at a mountaintop coffee plantation. The activity spans roughly four hours and requires a bit of stamina, because it takes place on rugged terrain nearly 5,000 feet above sea level.
The farm is part of a small community whose residents spend up to 10 hours per day harvesting coffee beans, planting rust-resistant coffee trees and creating barriers out of weeds to protect the crops from erosion. Coffee rust is a common disease among crops in the Dominican Republic. Volunteers also help maintain crop sustainability.
A bumpy, hour-long bus ride takes volunteers to a coffee plantation high up in the mountains.
Volunteers start the day by meeting the residents at one of their homes and learning about the coffee-making process -- including how it's brewed using a wooden prop and sock as a filter. (Don't let the sock intimidate you; the coffee is amazing.) Then it's time to split up into three teams (planting, weeding and harvesting), each led by an experienced farmer.
Planting involves digging holes and planting coffee trees that promote healthy crop growth. Weeding itself is actually done by the farmers, who use a machete to hack away bushes and banana trees. Volunteers are in charge of stacking the weeds in parallel lines that will prevent soil runoff. Harvesting, although the least physically demanding, requires an eye for detail and patience. We had the option to try more than one activity.
The labor portion lasts about two hours. Then, volunteers are treated to an authentic home-cooked meal (vegetarian and gluten-free options are included) with time to mingle and reflect on the impact made.
Overall, our group created more than 100 meters of barriers and planted 300-plus trees. We were told the amount of work we accomplished would have taken a full day without us. The locals were genuinely appreciative; some were even surprised. Our impact was obvious, not only through barriers and planted trees, but also the lives touched and friendships made.
Worth a Try?
Absolutely. Working on a coffee plantation is ideal for active or outdoorsy types who want to see an immediate, tangible impact from their volunteer activities.
Things to Note
The program spans about six hours total, including the commute there and back. Wear long pants and all-terrain sneakers or boots, and load up on insect repellent. You will be on a fairly steep incline full of weeds and slippery banana leaves (watch out for prickly plants that can easily latch onto your clothes). Pack a rain jacket or poncho, as this activity will take place despite inclement weather.