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Dominican Republic - April 2004 by Marcus Coltro

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
We had always heard of landshell collecting in the Dominican Republic and also of some nice Conus cardinalis coming from there. So I booked a trip with our friend Alfredo and took a flight from São Paulo to Panama and from there to Santo Domingo. We arrived at night and the next morning rented a car and drove up north. The road to Santiago is very good, three lanes most of the time. Before arriving in Santiago we took a smaller road to see what kind of vegetation we would find on our trip. To our chagrin, the entire way was built up which made it very difficult to stop and look for shells. Besides, the smaller roads didn't have any shoulder to park our car - we did it a few times but it was a great risk since people drove quite close to the road's edge.

We stayed in a very nice all-inclusive hotel, located in Sosua near Puerto Plata. It was part of our package air-hotel-car, however we hardly took advantage of it since we dived and collected landshells all day long (and some days we had to stay in other hotels). We soon found out that the sea is very rough in the northern part even though it was pretty smooth when we got there. The waves can reach 3-4 meters high - a surfer's paradise, shell collector's nightmare... Also, the rain ruined any good chance of diving. I took two pictures seen at the bottom of this page, the first one on the day we arrived and the last one by the end of our trip.

It rained every day, sometimes so hard that I couldn't see the road. Luckily we had landshells to collect! Since collecting in Sosua became impossible due to the rough sea and the kind of bottom (dead coral only, no rocks) I drove toward Samaná, at the far eastern end of the peninsula. When we asked in Sosua how long it would take to drive there to Samaná they told us 5½ hours; I made it in 2½ hours, so I am not sure if my car was better than theirs or whether I drove too fast!

Samaná is not a very touristy place, poor-looking but they are building a nice hotel which will probably improve the city soon. We snorkeled there and found some common shells in shallow water. Not many landshells in this area, but we were taking the opportunity to dive while the water was still good. It was quite clear and warm, however on the very next day it turned very murky so we drove back to Sosua. We stopped on the way several times to collect landshells since it was raining and we found some nice spots. I parked the car on the side of the road and looked for shells on huge limestone walls. Most of the cars passing by honked and people yelled at us (lets say I preferred to turn off my Spanish translator so as not to yell back and avoid possible soda cans flying at my head...). Glad that it was me on this trip and not Jose: I ran into spiderwebs all the time and some of them burned our skin. I took a picture of a large specimen of Eurycratera dominicensis and put it in my bag. Alfredo called me seconds later and pointed out what was a few centimeters below it: a giant spider! It was hiding inside a hole so he poked it so that I could take a picture. It was so large and heavy that when it climbed a tree it bent a branch!

I then went to the western end, Monte Cristi which was about the same distance from Sosua as Samaná The western part of the country is a bit dryer and the vegetation is very different. My intention was to find a place to stay since driving was very tiring, especially at night. We found a nice beach to dive, but very difficult to reach. The road was terrible, full of holes and after rain it became pure mud. The beach was beautiful, but no hotels, no place to eat, and as we found later, no shells. We wanted to make a night dive anyway, so we stayed until it was dark. During the day some tourists were on the beach, and some booths which appeared to be full in better days were selling food. But I was not prepared to visit a hospital in case of food poisoning, so we did not eat there. At night, no living soul was there, nor any light. I was afraid that Alfredo and I could get lost so I told him to go into the water while I stayed in the car with the lights on. I didn't want to simply leave the lights on and dive with him since on the previous night I forgot to turn off the lights in the parking lot and the battery died. I turned on the car to charge the battery from time to time to make sure we would not get stuck there and have to sleep in the car. So there was me, locked inside the car, in a very dark place by myself. I noticed some mosquitoes had entered the car when I closed the door. I was getting really annoyed with their bites and buzzing in my ears. I turned the inside light on and found a zillion of them flying inside the car. Let's say they had to wash the roof liner after I returned the car... Although I had the lights on most of the time, Alfredo got lost and luckily swam in the right direction back to the beach only one kilometer away. To make things worse - no shells!

On the way back, cars drove all the time with their high beams in my face and there were thousands of motorcycles on the road. Most of them had no lights, which made things worse in the heavy rain. There were no markings on the pavement on most of the road, and the rain was so heavy that I couldn't even see the car's hood. It took three hours to go back to Sosua - a very stressful trip, Alfredo wanted to step on the brake all the time, pushing it hard with his foot (the only problem: I was the driver all the time!).

We found nice species of landshells, and a few marine too. And I have one more adventure to tell my grandchildren!

English revision kindly made by John Wolff


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