A few days into our beaching routine, we decided to switch things up a bit by heading to the Punta Cana Resort & Club to explore their Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve.
Conservation as I know and love it doesn’t quite exist for the most part in the Dominican Republic, making this protected land a gem in what is already a field of sparkly, if not lesser-valued stones. All of the beaches in the region are beautiful, but what has been largely lost to development are the mangrove forest and freshwater springs that once sat just beyond the shore. The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve is a beneficiary of the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation, which has partnered with Harvard, Cornell, and other American universities to study and protect these beautiful ecosystems.
The downside? It’s not entirely accessible to the public. Touring on your own is only permitted for resort guests and club members. Otherwise you must visit as part of a guided tour organized through a visitor center and on Dominican time.
Luckily for me, I have family who are members of the club, so all it took was a flash of a card and we were in.
Walking past the welcome kiosk we were immediately swallowed by dense vegetation. Beams of sun shot through layers of lazy leaves as tree roots crisscrossed our path. The first of several freshwater lagoons (called the indigenous eyes and hence the name of the reserve) materialized almost immediately before us. We stopped to look, but my youngest cousin hastened us along. “The best one is at the end!” he told us, towel flung over his shoulder.
I didn’t linger long. I couldn’t wait to dip my toes in these crisp clear waters. We walked past another crystal pool, and then another. We stopped at a third to admire a cluster of turtles sunning on a central rock. We giggled as my cousins looked for Ninja, the pet turtle that had been ‘set free’ to what surely had to be turtle heaven (*Note: The Park Ranger in me must point out that it is generally not a good idea to ‘set free’ your pets in protected places. But that’s a lecture for another day…).
Finally we reached it – the carefully selected pool designated ‘Best Swimming Spot’ by my excited cousins. To be fair, I had visited this park once before and agreed with them whole-heartedly. Despite a few other groups we passed on the trail, we found ‘our’ pool quiet and empty. I stopped to absorb the silence. It didn’t last long. My youngest cousin had jumped in. 9-year-olds don’t have a lot of patience for peace.
Austin and I weren’t far behind. The water was cool, but refreshing. If there’s a downside to these forests it’s the way those dense canopies hold the humidity close to the ground. Even though our walk was short and flat, I had already worked up a good sweat. Surfacing in the middle of my own private lagoon I felt as clean as earthly possible.
Bavaro, where we are staying, is many things – but quiet is not one of them. Between music blaring from dozens of competing speakers, the crowds, and the sounds of the ocean itself there aren’t many discreet moments. But in addition to holding in the humidity, this beautiful forest also holds in the silence. The dense vegetation acts as a shield as if the thick vibrant green canopy was impermeable to the outside world.
As I swam in that beautiful place I was struck by the realization that even at my most relaxed I still carry the weight of whatever my worries of the day/week/month/year might be. But under the water, especially water as clear and clean as this, I feel light. I feel calm. I feel free. I feel at peace.
And I feel thankful that someone had the mind to protect this place for me, and for all the other people that may find peace in this same way.
Oh yeah, and Happy 2013!!