A STOP AT LOS HAITISES

Cruising World - - Underway - —Joanna Hutchin­son

While cruis­ing the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, my part­ner, Michael, and I stum­bled across a hid­den gem when we de­cided to check out an an­chor­age off the beaten track. Bahia de San Lorenzo lies on the south­ern coast of Sa­mana Bay and is a gate­way to Los Haitises Na­tional Park.

Bright-green palms peep their heads above the dense for­est bor­der­ing the 6-mile perime­ter of the bay. Moun­tains rise up in the back­ground, misty from the last rain, and patches of yel­low sand are sprin­kled be­neath. Birds of prey and frigate birds cir­cle above the tree­tops, and shoals of fish leap out of the wa­ter in uni­son.

The spec­tac­u­lar karst land­scape (a to­pog­ra­phy formed from sol­u­ble rocks such as lime­stone) and wild un­touched veg­e­ta­tion made us feel as if we’d en­tered an­other world, one from many years ago. We half ex­pected crea­tures with long necks and three horns to tram­ple through the for­est at any mo­ment.

We an­chored Pan­ta­gruel, our 60-foot clas­sic wooden yawl, in 4 me­ters of wa­ter, close to the ranger sta­tion just vis­i­ble among the un­der­growth, and took our dinghy to the shore, where a wooden pier jut­ted out from a small palm-tree-lined beach. The two rangers didn’t speak any English, and our Span­ish is very lim­ited, but one of them beck­oned us to fol­low him around the cor­ner to an en­trance to a se­ries of caves. He led us inside and pro­ceeded to give us an im­promptu guided tour. The ranger pointed out in­ter­est­ing

Pan­ta­gruel rests at an­chor in the peace­ful Bahia de San Lorenzo, Do­mini­can Repub­lic. lime­stone for­ma­tions along with faces etched into the stone walls — pic­tographs and pet­ro­glyphs drawn by na­tive Taino peo­ple hun­dreds of years ago — and tracked down small bats hang­ing up­side down in the nooks and crevices above us. We wove our way in and out of open­ings in this un­der­ground cav­ern, ad­mired pools of wa­ter, clam­bered up steep rock faces af­ter our guide and swung down on tree vines.

Michael and I kayaked around the rugged coast­line, mar­veling at the man­grove forests and the im­pos­ing lime­stone cliff faces tinted pink and or­ange. Pel­i­cans flew past, and dolphins ap­peared along­side. We then ex­plored a river in our dinghy, twist­ing and turn­ing for 2 miles in­land, hop­ing we would re­mem­ber our path back. Herons took flight as we ap­proached their perches, and crabs scut­tled up the man­grove roots. About a mile in­land, we be­gan to see mucky foot­prints along the wa­ter’s edge, stir­ring our imag­i­na­tion even more. Could it be a jaguar? Around an­other few bends we came across the source of the foot­prints — a cow.

As the sun be­gan to set, we found our­selves com­pletely alone in this peace­ful oasis un­der­neath a crim­son sky. Where was ev­ery­body? Michael and I ate din­ner on the fore­deck in the moon­light, en­joy­ing the tran­quil­ity of our sur­round­ings. The only other signs of life came from the dis­tant lights of fishing boats and the town of Santa Bar­bara twin­kling 10 miles away. Ducks quacked as they flew past, and crick­ets could be heard chirp­ing faintly as we re­tired be­neath a star-filled sky.

Af­ter the crowded an­chor­ages of the Lesser An­tilles, this patch of par­adise was a re­fresh­ing in­ter­lude, def­i­nitely not to be missed.

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