“The pirate Robert Cofres buried some treasure right here when he was being chased by the Spaniards,” says our loquacious guide, Harry. He nods toward a conspicuous depression in the floor of this cavern known as San Gabriel.
You know that feeling when you’re being had, when a guide trots out arcane historical trivia to a group of tourists as they wander from one sight to the next? I feel like this may be one of those times.
Caves with phantasmagorical chandeliers of stalactites and bats clinging to the ceiling overhead—why not throw some pirate booty and a little colonial intrigue into the mix?
Harry could fabricate any history he wanted for this cave and it wouldn’t make a difference to me, as long as he’s a good story teller—and he is.
But in Los Haitises National Park, there’s no need to make up tall tales.
Inside Los Haitises National Park
Harry’s also an authority on the flora, fauna and human history of Los Haitises National Park (pronounced High-tee-sis), a 800-square-kilometre park that as established in 1974 along the Bahia de Samana.
The geology of Los Haitises is called Karst, its rocks dominated by water soluble limestone that time has transformed into caves, sinkholes and disappearing rivers.
The park is also rich in bird life, home to some of the only known nesting sites of the rare Ridgway’s hawk.
Bird Lovers, Take Note
When I informed photographer Steve Ogle, a bird biologist in his other life, that we’d be visiting Los Haitises while on assignment in the Dominican Republic, he was giddy.
Immediately, he downloaded an app that plays the distinctive songs of all birds endemic to this Caribbean country.
Consequently his iPhone was chirping bird calls at me from the minute we landed in the Dominican Republic, presumably in an effort to boost my ornithological knowledge.
As we move through this magical subterranean world, Harry stops at another point of interest—a petroglyph of indeterminate age that shows figures of an almost extra-terrestrial appearance.
It is crude yet mysteriously beautiful, a lonely piece of art that emerged from the mind of a Taino, the indigenous people who inhabited this part of Hispaniola (the island that contains both Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
The Taino are no more, having met a rapid and brutal demise after European contact.
“The Tainos were the original inhabitants of the Dominican Republic,” Harry says, “but they were killed off by the Spaniards through warfare and disease.”
A hush falls across our group as we stare at this intriguing petroglyph, a snapshot of a vanished culture and society.
I think of the person who entered this cave so long ago to immortalize in stone something from their imagination. Or perhaps they knew something about extraterrestrial life that we do not?
Los Haitises National Park is open daily from dawn until dusk. It’s only accessible by boat, so taking a guided tour is highly recommended.
Moto Marina Club offers several tours per week (809-538-2302).