We said goodbye to the guides Hector and Saturnino and the Interpretation Center that serves as a portal to the UNESCO Biosphere domain of Jaragua and which we had explored for hours on end. We stopped again at Colmado Alba.
There we refueled for the still long and arid journey towards the border with Haiti that we were about to complete.
Route 44 takes us from the north bank of the Oviedo Lagoon inland from Pedernales, through the upper limit of Jaragua National Park, the largest protected area in the Dominican Republic.
It's almost 1400 km2 mostly arid forest, which extends to the extreme south of the Hispaniola Island, with marine extension in two smaller offshore islands, Beata and Alto Velo.
There are small villages lost in the vastness parched by the tropical sun, such as Tres Charcos and Manuel Goya.
As we approach the border town of Pedernales, the terrain becomes whimsical. We snake among cactuses, thorny bushes and, here and there, among large limestone rocks laden with sharp edges.
Carlos, the guide and driver explains that the hostile climate, flora and terrain, the 190km dividing wall and the regular patrols of the Dominican authorities have prevented the passage of Haitian migrants to the eastern part of Hispaniola.
Not on purpose, moments later, we come across a truck loaded with an almost multicolored pyramid, made of large sacks of who knows what.
A dense network of tight ropes kept the load stacked and stable. Enough so that, at its top, three passengers can still be stretched out.
The Historic and Territorial Split Complex of the Island of Hispaniola
See them up there? They are Haitians. These passed through the customs of Pedernales. They are at work and should be back at the end of the day. But like them, many others enter on foot along narrow paths known only to them.
No matter how bad the crossing goes, it will never be worse than the life Haitians have over there.”
This current reality and the evolution of the neighboring nations of Hispaniola after the split dictated by the Dominican triumph in the Dominican Republic's War of Independence (1844-56) formed a theme that intrigued us.
At the time of the split in 1844, Dominican territory was part of greater Haiti, which had grown when 22 years earlier, Francophone Haiti had invaded the Republic of Spanish Haiti.
Until 1790, Haiti was the richest French colony in the Americas, thanks in large part to the astronomical profits generated by the export of sugar and indigo produced by hundreds of thousands of kidnapped slaves in Africa.
The winds blew beautifully for unscrupulous settlers when the ideals of the French Revolution of 1789 reached the Americas.
Haiti: the First Country in the World to Result in a Slave Revolt
Just four years later, a first slave revolt broke out in Haiti that succeeded in abolishing slavery. In this context, the settlers disbanded. They fled in great numbers to North American Louisiana territory.
Instigated by the (also financial) support of these frustrated colonists, Napoleon Bonaparte still tried to dominate the revolting forces.
His men withstood a short time of yellow fever and the ambushes of the insurgent forces of Jean-Jacques Salines, victorious to the point that, in 1804, they had proclaimed independent Haiti, the first country in the world, resulting from a slave revolt.
The self-determination and freedom that followed did not generate enough prosperity. Far from it. Henceforth, without the enlightened but oppressive economic guideline for the settlers, Haiti only deteriorated.
Peoples who had everything to be one and the same, separated forever.
If, in 1790, it was considered the wealthiest French colony in the Americas, at the time of our tour of the Dominican Republic, it remained, alone and abandoned, in the position of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Unexpectedly, we also found ourselves victims of the vulnerability and instability in which we had long lived.
Incursion into Haiti Failed, More Time in Southwest Dominican Republic
As we passed a small tourist fair taking place in Puerto Plata, we visited the stands of two Haitian companies that organized tours to unmissable places in the Pearl of the Antilles.
We agreed that, in a few days, they would guide us on one of their itineraries. We keep in touch.
The more days that passed, the more the wave of demonstrations, riots and violence caused, first, by the increase in fuel prices, worsened.
Therefore, due to its dramatic unavailability, which led the Haitian people, led by the opposition, to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, in order to end widespread corruption and give way to politicians who would enable the establishment of programs with genuine social concerns .
Until we left the Dominican Republic for a long journey to the bottom of the Lesser Antilles stepping stone, nothing had been resolved. The hosts recognized that we would take too many risks.
With the Haiti project postponed to the next opportunity, we spent some additional time in the alternative southwest of the Barahona and Pedernales regions. Where Carlos, a real Dominican, continued to lead us.
Cabo Rojo: Semi-Lost Corner and Brazier of the Dominican Republic
Hundreds of meanders followed, still and always, through the green but thorny and rough landscape of Jaragua. We left behind Monte Llano and the Las Abejas and Romeo Francés Ecological Pools, crystalline springs that spring from the limestone depths of the area.
A few kilometers later, the 44 road it merges with the Cabo Rojo perpendicular. On the map, only this hushed and ocher promontory separated us from our final destination.
On the other hand, through a road domain of sandier than beaten earth, we skimmed the western end of the local domestic airport, a pharaonic work, if we take into account the almost zero airflow that it sustains.
Then, still in a surreal and desolate Caribbean backwater scenario, we come across the equally or more inactive Porto de Cabo Rojo.
The sun walked by its zenith. When we leave the van, the dry heat oppresses us far more than we were counting. In addition to being imminent, the swell of the Caribbean Sea sounded urgent to us.
The Stranded Tragedy of the “Fayal” Freighter
We were already dreaming of a delicious dive when Carlos tells us the reason why we had stopped there. “See that monster? No one is going to get him out of there anytime soon.”
It referred to the “fayal” a cargo ship from Cementos Andinos Dominicano which, at the time of the tragedy that ran aground, had been at anchor for more than a year by court order.
Because, in August 2017, without the crew at that time, a furious fire broke out on board, which the Ministry of the Environment and the Dominican Republic's Navy were anxious to control.
At that time, the port of Cabo Rojo was inoperative due to damage caused by some of the cyclones that, from time to time, devastate Hispaniola.
We contemplate the freighter trapped by the shallow, greenish seabed, its aged and rusty corpse contrasting with the coral whiteness of the sand and the festive painting of a small boat in dry dock, “La Chucha”.
We continue along the Cueva Los Pescadores road to the long La Cueva Beach.
La Cueva de Los Pescadores Beach, a Short Preamble to the Final Destination
Carlos parks in a village that grouped together some restaurants, inns and operational headquarters of companies that provided visitors with incursions to the top coast of the Jaragua National Park.
The driver leaves us in the hands of Wilson, local guide and helmsman of the boat we are rushing to board.
"It's too beautiful, let's go quickly because there are some heavy clouds coming from the horizon to here." justifies us with the reason for his experience.
We set sail. We leave behind the Poblado de la Cueva de los Pescadores, so called because, in times prior to tourism, a fishing community inhabited caves excavated there by erosion.
In a flash, the sand disappears.
We navigate along the foot of these jagged cliffs from which sprout more cactuses and thorny bushes. We skirted a final boulder crowned by a small tightrope walker tree.
Bahia de Las Águilas: 8km of Caribbean Beach and Pure Nature
On the other side, we enter Jaragua National Park and a bathing haven as far as the eye can see, with no sign of civilization.
Wilson makes us disembark in the middle of the cove, known as Bahia de Las Águilas.
Not because these birds abound there, but because of the way that blessed coastline boasts, when seen from the air.
“Have fun friends! When you want me to come pick you up, call Carlos.”, Wilson says goodbye and thus leaves us as the only users of that irreproachable seaside.
We detected a hidden wooden tower at the bottom of the sand. We went up to its top floor.
From there, we contemplate the extreme contrast of the Caribbean. The thorny green immensity of Jaragua, delimited by the indented line of the cliffs.
And the rival, the emerald-turquoise Caribbean Sea that has long banished them. We were aware of how much, since the 70s, the tourism tsunami had altered the Dominican Republic's natural and tropical landscapes.
Until sunset forced us to return, we enjoyed that landscape as if it were the only one in old Hispaniola.