July 7 to July 15, 2007: Annual Trip - Dominican Republic


Report by Olasee Davis:

The St.Croix Hiking Association was off again on its annual trek in the Caribbean. This time, the members decided on the Dominican Republic. The goal was to make history by climbing the highest mountain in the Caribbean. But before I recount the rigors of this endeavor, let me give a brief history of the country.

On December 5, 1492, Christopher Columbus came upon the island of Hispaniola known to the Taino Indians as Babeque or Haiti. His rediscovery of the Caribbean region opened the gateway to the conquest and colonization where many America’s first took place. Throughout the history of Hispaniola, the first Spanish colony experienced many highs and lows. Among them was the 1605 and 1606 elimination of the island’s northwestern and southwestern native inhabitant giving away to pirate and buccaneer settlements.

In 1697, the Treaty of Rysewick that divided the island by surrendering the western portion to France giving birth to the French colony of Saint Domingue. Later on, the Treaty of Aranjuez ratified the first treaty by establishing the boundaries between the two colonies. By 1795, the entire island was ceded to France through the Peace Treaty of Basel. During this period, the French dominated Santo Domingo.

It was not until 1804 that the Haitian forces occupied and later surrendered old Spanish colony, the Republic of Haiti was founded on the western side of the island. However, the French era ended in Santo Domingo with Spain’s military triumph at the battle of Palo Hincadio with the help of the British Royal Navy in 1809. In1844, Dominican Republic independence was established by its founding fathers: Ramon Matias Mella, Francisco del Rosario Scanchez, and Juan Pablo Duarte, after whom the Caribbean’s highest mountain - Pico Duarte - was named.

From where we stayed at Rancho Wendy, we drove over 3 hours to Bermudez National Park. At the beginning of the trail, there were men known as mulateers that loaded our supplies of goods upon the mule backs. The summit to Pico Duarte took us two nights three days round trip to climb 10,197 feet above sea level.

Pico Duarte is part of the mountain chain of the Cordillera Central region which house two huge national parks wilderness areas. On the first day, we crossed one of twelve rivers in the region and hiked over 4,000 feet. That night, we stayed at Los Tablones, one of two shelters on the trails. As some hikers tried to swim at the nearby river, the water was not welcoming with temperatures ranging from 45 to 50 degree.

That afternoon we cooked, ate, and explored the area. At night, we had a large camp fire and listened to jumbie stories by an elder hiker. While most hikers slept inside the shelter with sleeping bags, some of us decided to tough it out by sleeping outside under the dark sky with bright stars near the camp fire. To our surprise, the temperature dropped below the 50’s. If we didn’t have sleeping bags, our butts would have been frozen.

Before sunrise, we had breakfast and the mules were loaded again to carry our supplies up the mountain. We crossed the river again for the third time knowing nothing of how the day will turn out. The landscapes of the mountain region were dominated by tropical pine trees with ferns and mosses being the carpet of the forest floor. As we climbed higher, the air changed. Some hiker’s feet began to give away with pain as we climbed steeper trails with higher altitude.

One individual got mountain sickness. Big clumps of sweat dripped like water falling from the sky from the body of a hiker. This person was dehydrated. Others staggered up the mountain trails like a drunken person. We stopped several times to rest. It helped. Then, again, it seemed not to make much difference when your body feels totally “mash up.” As things got tougher for some hikers, ambulance mules were provided for them to ride on the trail.

Dr. Carolyn Merritt a member of the Hiking Association also assisted hikers with certain medicine for altitude illness. Like many of us, some mules were also tried carrying large load on their backs. Nonetheless, before night fall, we arrived to the second shelter on the trail. Everyone got something to eat and lodged in for the night. At this point, we were about 7,000 feet in elevation with night temperatures in the 30’s.

Around 4:00 am, a small group with flashlights started the final assault on the summit of Pico Duarte. The peak is marked with the statue of Duarte and the Dominican Republic flag. We held up the Virgin Islands flag and took pictures. And yes, the hike was worth every pain, sore butt, and bruise, especially for Jose Rivera who made the summit in his 70’s.

Other activities were whitewater kayaking in the river, enjoying waterfalls, hiking the Indian trail, associating with locals, touring museums and shopping in Puerto Plata, Santiago, and Santo Domingo. What can I say, it was an awesome trip!

Olasee Davis, St.Croix ecologist

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