Category Archives: Botanical Gardens

Parque Ecologico Historico Cuevas, Cabarete, Dominican Republic

A recent trip to the Dominican Republic led me to a gem of an experience and full adventure afternoon. I discovered the Parque Ecologico Historico Cuevas near the town of Cabarete. While the goal was to visit underground stalactites and stalagmites crystal rock formations found in  caves deep inside a mountain; the trek quickly became an herbalists ideal garden walk as our guide took the time to chat about local growing plants and herbs nearby, I was in my element!

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quicksandOur tour (just us and our guide) began with some meandering around quick sand, which our guide called fast mud as we learned some history about the parque, originally established by the man whose name is carved into the rock, John Dittrich. We nibbles on the tart fruit of almonds before opening to savor the almond meat inside and munched on scented leaves of medicinal plants, taking time to admire moringa, noni, verbena, lemongrass, bitter orange, hibiscus, caoba and tiny pineapple and papaya plants and other medicinal plants along our path.

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Finally we arrived at the caves, the bowl shaped Voodoo cave was the first, after admiring the impressive throne once used for ceremonies and above our heads, hanging roots of trees determined to find moisture, we put on our hard hats and turned on flashlights to meander down hundreds of steps into the dark caves.

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I was in awe – the stalagmite formations are simply incredible, such a stunning creation of nature. Crystal spheres, rounded shapes, we entered a room where clear water beckoned at our feet, our guide said there is a saying… that to swim in the water of the underground caves one would merge with the spirit of the Dominican Republic and develop healing capacities! HA! Of course I had to take a quick dip! The water was clean, clear and refreshing and apparently travels from cave to cave in connected underground  streams. We also ventured into the Museum cave, and the crystal cave where we gently tapped on the stalagmite formations like crystal glassware – creating various harmonic tunes  echoing throughout the cave. A tiny frog sang back. The last part of our tour was a stop at an open cave and watering hole where I again took a refreshing swim. Men with machetes were working outside the cave clearing the path.

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** note these 3 photos of the caves are NOT my photos (in the humidity all my underground photos were sadly blurry)- these 3 cave photos were  borrowed from the internet –  http://www.cabaretesurfcamp.com/ and http://cabaretecamping.com/ and http://youtubekeylargo.com/

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For more information on the caves and a beautiful short video visit Dominicantreasures.com The Cuevas de Cabarete in Puerto Plata.  I highly and enthusiastically recommend the tour – our guide was amazing and the caves are impressive beyond words! The Tour is locally run and more tours are in the works of development.photo 4 (17)

There was some mix up on our arrival – (humor is important while travelling) -the location is in the Parque Nacional El Choco, so when we told our motorcycle guide please take us to “El Choco” he was unclear of the destination, taking us first on a ride on the highway to Sosua. The road and entry point to the Caves is actually by the traffic light in Cabarete, just outside of town, walking distance actually from the town centre. Later we understood that an entire area of land (75 km?)  is the National Park, El Chocho with numerous entrances- one near Sosua; with the underground caves, las cuevas, being at the other end of the park closer to Cabarete.

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Jardin Botanico ~ Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marin- Puerto Moreles, Mexico

Tulum 008One of the very top highlights about being an herbalist is learning about plant medicine and the diverse variation of plant species found in every country. The learning never ends, and since it is a learning which I am passionate about… “double bonus!!” When I travel I welcome the opportunity to visit local botanical gardens. There are ALWAYS more medicinal plants to discover and learn of their traditional application.

This particular journey took me to the lush Mayan jungle where I looked forward to visiting one of the largest botanical gardens in Mexico, Jardin Botanico, named after ethnobotanical researcher Alfredo Barrera Marin, a cultural expert in Mayan and Nahuatl history. Established in 1982 outside of Puerto Morelos, on the coast of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Tulum 015This 160 acre reserve contains kilometers of meandering trails, intermingled with mayan ruins; the lush jungle and mangroves are home to a vast selection of endangered  plant species and is a conservation project intended to protect regional flora and conserve biodiversity in the Yucatan Peninsula. The plant collection was rumored to contain more than half of the plant species identified in the Yucatan Peninsula, both ornamental and medicinal. I was excited to visit the garden to see orchids, palms, ferns, and a huge selection of cactus and over 60 species of medicinal plants used in traditional Mayan herbal medicine. A herbalists dream! In fact many of the conserved plants, such as palm leaves were used for crafts, preservation of food and the roofs of houses. And many species are now endangered.

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Jardin Botanico is one of  the featured gardens of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). The BGCI provides recognition for all botanic gardens worldwide and is one of the largest plant conservation network in the world (featuring over 500 botanical gardens in over 100 countries), taking care to preserve and grow some of the world’s endangered plant species.The BGCI  botanical gardens provide a collection of extensive plants from a local region, supplies seed banks and is a knowledge network focusing on aspects of plant conservation including  education. Its mission is “To mobilise botanic gardens and engage partners in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet”.

plantSo preparing to visit the Gardens early morning- before the heat became the focus of the day. I was awoken early in my tiny stone and clay mayan hut to the sound of a odd bird – clearly pretending to be a rooster (and did I mention that it was early?) – in short order other harmonies of various birds chirped in to welcome the new day and then finally a real rooster. It was still early – way before my alarm. The morning sun was now just starting to peak. Time to get up and begin the adventure.

There was a rumor that the botanical garden also holds a large animal population, including the only coastal troops of curious spider monkeys still left in the region, colorful birds, sunning iguanas and wild boars. As I love monkeys, I was hope-filled to spot some and inquired about their general location on the kilometers of meandering trails.

On the path I discovered a traditional mayan house- an example of traditional architecture and also archaeological Mayan ruins of an alter dating back to 1400 AD. Various sink holes are also  visible, and scattered shells from sea life visible underneath…. and a special collection of Mayan Medicinal Plants. I am not certain if I visited off season- but I was disappointed by the lack of selection of flourishing plants in the medicinal garden.

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Tulum 114As I neared the last third of the walk, my heart began to sink… there were still no monkeys. I was holding back my disappointment and kept my hears open. Rounding a corner I startled a shy wild boar, who ran for the exit … still no monkeys.Tulum 117

 

 

Another turn in the path and I discovered an amazing mushroom and I stopped to take some photos of this impressive fungi.

Once quiet I could hear some rustling in the far off distance… could it be a troop of monkeys? I wait, quiet, not moving…. strangely after a time, I begin to feel like I am being watched and I have a sense to look up above my head into the towering trees.

There is a monkey- quietly sitting in branches directly above my head -observing me.  I bring out my camera and begin taking photographs – thrilled that my wish was granted.

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The last section of the garden consists of the evergreen tropical forest reaching up to  25 meters in height. With a 130-foot suspension bridge (or wooden slat bridge), which climbed up to a scenic tower overlooking a panoramic view of one of the last preserved areas of mangrove in the region. Off in the distance impending construction and development can be seen.

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So when I speak of jungles and mangroves… I need to emphasize, this is one area is of the LAST conserved forest areas between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. And this is also one of the last undisturbed ecosystems and homes to thousands of rare animal species (including black spiny-tailed iguanas, leopard frogs, and swamp crocodiles.

During my entire stay I read and hear of protests from locals over the large amount hectares of jungle which are being destroyed IN A DAY to make room for concrete developments of condos and tourist properties at the cost of the  homes of rare animal ecosystems and plant biodiversity. Protesters make note to mention that no animals were re-located, instead they were simply a part of the bulldozed mix of destruction.

Over the past 40 years, the coastal state of Quintana Roo has lost nearly 55 percent of its mangroves to developers in real estate and tourism. The village of Puerto Morelos had 409 hotel beds in 2003; now it has over10,000. Referenced from Mother Jones. In 2016, Santiago Tello from the Riviera Maya News quotes local biologists and environmentalists observing the growing extent of deforestation in northern Quintana Roo, “We went from 3,429 hectares of mangrove to 1,569 hectares” in 1976 to 2013. Countless acres of mangrove forests on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast have been lost — to make way for tourism chain hotels.