That morning, we went back down from the top of Casa Bonita to the edge of the Caribbean Sea.
We take Marginal Road 4 heading north instead of the usual south. We cross Santa Cruz de Barahona, the big city in these parts. From Barahona, we head towards the interior of Hispaniola.
"Let's try to stop as little as possible on the way, shall we?" Suggests us the guide and driver Carlos. If you see something that you are interested in photographing, let me know and we will memorize it for the return.
Lake Enriquillo is a place apart. If you think you've been hot since landing in Santo Domingo, just wait a few more hours and you'll see!” and laughs like a proud guardian of a mystery. From the experience and conviviality of the previous days - including one incursion to another saline lake, that of Oviedo – we could only trust the Sir Carlos.
We continue the journey, first towards Laguna del Rincón, where we pass from the province of Barahona to that of Independencia. And, already in the vicinity of the large lake that moved us, at the height of a certain Caño del Muerto, again from Independencia to Baoruco, to which a vast northeastern sector of the Enriquillo belonged.
We crossed Neiba. Shortly thereafter, Villa Jaragua. On a Saturday morning, they were both engaged in a delicious frenzy, either mercantile or sporting.
Pleasant and genuine, the Dominican life we were passing left us frustrated that we could not interrupt our trip. “In about twenty minutes, we're really going to stop, but forget about the street markets. From Jaragua onwards, these masses of people no longer appear.”
We continued along Route 48, which eventually became Avenida Joaquín Aybar, a long promenade that fitted the line at the top of the lake. We still cross Las Clavellinas, Los Rios and Postrer Rio, any of the villages, much smaller than Jaragua.
Due to the vagaries of the demarcation of the Dominican provinces in Postrer Rio, the path returned us to the province of Independencia.
The Cueva de las Caritas de Los Indios and the view over Lake Enriquillo
“They see those handrails up there. It's right there. Follow the trail carefully as the floor is dry and, here and there, it slips. If they fall, it will be a drama.” It takes us a moment to understand why. The trail was flanked by vegetation on a slope as verdant as it was thorny.
We arrived, without a start, on an observation platform. This platform, in turn, facilitated access to a cave carved into the slope, more a wide hole than a cave, even if the Dominicans called it a cave.
We ascend to the dreary interior. From there, we gazed at the large, shadow-framed Lake Enriquillo, stretched between the cactus-studded forest at the bottom and a caravan of white clouds above the far bank.
The one that welcomed us was one of several caves of the slope and peaks that the natives call "hills of Caritas de los Indios”.
Tender, the name came from the abundance of rounded faces carved into the porous rock.
The authors of such works were the Taínos, indigenous people who, upon the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, dominated a large part of the Caribbean: the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and others north of the Lesser Antilles, at least these.
The Taínos are one of the most relevant genetic ancestors of the current populations of the Caribbean.
In the early XNUMXth century, Enriquillo, one of its prominent chieftains, led a revolt and a kind of guerrilla against the Spanish invaders from the mountains south of the lake.
The revolt lasted what it did. His courage and determination earned him the baptism of the largest lake in the Antilles and a statue highlighted above the Duvergê – Barahona – Neyba junction.
There we stopped, on the way back, determined to pay him a photographic tribute.
Admired the view and the prints caritas indigenous people, we return to the van and Carlos.
The guide takes us to the entrance to the Lago Enriquillo y Isla Cabritos National Park, where we were supposed to embark for a discovery tour.
At last, Exploring the Enigmatic Lake Enriquillo
We found the park's facilities in the shade of a forest even more leafy than the one we had seen from the top of the cueva.
When we get out of the car, dozens of iguanas approach us, we estimate that they have become used to the visitors' offer of snacks.
A Dominican lady makes an effort to get her boyfriend to photograph her in the company of the animals. Gradually, these increase in number and surround her, closer and closer to her legs.
Amused at first, the girl panics.
In such a hysterical way, that she forces her boyfriend to bring her a chair, on which she takes refuge, until the park's creak, in disbelief, is encouraged to face the heat and drive away the reptiles.
In this hilarious however, Carlos greets and introduces us to the guys responsible for showing us the lake. We board a topless motorboat.
“We'd better start later,” one of them tells us, as they slip into long-sleeved clothes with bonnets. "But since they want to take a long walk, well...let's toast...we have to leave now."
As soon as we left the protection of the forest, 46 meters below sea level, we felt in our skin what Carlos and the boatmen were referring to.
The Salty and Atrocious Brazier of Lake Enriquillo
We were immediately struck by a humid heat, between hypersaline (up to three times saltier than the sea) and unhealthy. It took us some time to understand the harm it was doing to us because the movement of the boat aired us.
Still, little by little, it cooked and dehydrated us without appeal.
The duo of the lake maneuvers the boat, between trunks of trees that the rise of the salt water had left dead, in some areas, with almost only the branches of the crowns exposed, providential landings for dozens of white herons, little fleeting.
We love in other superficial areas, almost dry. In these, we disembarked and examined the profusion of large, horizontally collapsed trunks.
There, the hosts of the lake remain alert.
They manage to locate a few juvenile specimens of recharging crocodiles, along with moistened stumps. “Before, we saw huge numbers and everywhere” informs us Ináci, aware that the scarcity and size of reptiles let us down.
The Unrestrained Increase of Lake Enriquillo
“But it's just that this lake keeps getting bigger, in a way that even crocodiles affect. They realized that they can no longer lay eggs in the usual places because the banks change from day to day.
Instead, they climb higher on the rocky slopes around the lake, where the nests are at the mercy of everything. Also for this reason, now, crocodiles are dispersed over a much wider area.”
All the species that made up the lake's ecosystem found themselves in trouble. Palm crows and several other birds have lost their habitat in the now-dead trees.
A vast community of iguanas cyclura and the Hispaniola rhinoceros were forced to migrate from Ilha Cabritos (almost submerged) and compete with rival species, higher on the margins.
Also the human inhabitants suffered.
By the end of the XNUMXth century, the lake had withered so much that its people were certain that it would soon disappear. Instead, a few years later, it increased visibly.
To the point where tens of thousands of families have been forced to abandon their riverside homes, supported by various institutions – including the European Union – which granted them emergency funds.
A Ten-Meter Ascent of the Waters in just one Decade
The question was never whether Lake Enriquillo increased. Between 2006 and 2016 alone, its waters rose more than eleven meters, doubled in size and submerged more than 160km2 of arable land, inhabited by subsistence peasants.
What has intrigued scientists for a long time is why this growth, which has paralleled, and generated an even worse drama, in Lake Azuéi, located next door Haiti.
The scientific community remains at odds. Part, argues that the responsibility lies in global warming and more frequent and intense rains.
In a discordant sector, there are apologists that the phenomenon is due to changes in the flow of the Yaque del Sur river.
Those who guarantee that it started to bring much more water to Lake Enriquillo and thus validated the Dominican government's plans to build an upstream dam.
At that time, more than the water reality of the region, we were worried about the growing dehydration and an indisposition that not even with frequent sips of water we were able to avoid.
Ináci makes the boat speed up and wind between the mouths of the La Descoberta and Amada rivers, whose fresh, sweet waters sustain the life of a small, lively jungle, covered with palm trees and contrasting with the plant corpses closer to the lake.
From there, some native teenagers greet us, intrigued by the masochistic embarked demand we were on.
The Antecipated End of Navigation on Lake Enriquillo
“Well, guys, so within reach of this boat, we've already shown you the most interesting and log filled areas.
Crocodiles, we can walk around all afternoon and not find any more. Tell us what you want to do.”
The furnace heat and the evaporating salt continued to ruin our bodies at a rapid rate, so we were forced to anticipate our return to the park.
The setback proved negligible, considering the damage caused by the uncontrolled Lake Enriquillo in recent decades.