Monday, January 2, 2012

Short misc posts. Cave exploration, solenodon.

Kiki is out of jail. He was found innocent of killing Carlos and the six months were enough for the other charges. He is staying in Elias Piña.

Chavela’s baby, Chanel, is almost 2½ and is a happy baby although Chavela is a careless mother. Chavela has left Calderon, again, and is living in the pink wood house across the street where La Rubia, who butchered chickens in the front yard, used to live. Chanel has been sent to the colmado across the street barefoot, with 10 pesos to buy a pat of butter by herself.  She is tiny but spunky and chatty. She loves to drink coffee with Altagracia after lunch on the galería. Sugar and Nesquick in her milk, daily icecream and frequent candies have resulted in her having all her front teeth pulled. Nickname is Vampira.

We had lunch at Peperoni with George and Mitzi Stein on Wednesday. The dinner at Vesuvio last year was more fun since it was her first fancy restaurant and had never seen so many glasses and silverware on one table. She picked at her salmon and did not like the risotto. She loved her margarita but not the chardonnay. No time for desert, George and Mitzi had to catch a plane for Chile.

Things in the house have been mostly ok although there was a explosion last week that sent me looking for an apartment downtown. I actually looked at one on the edge of the Zona Colonial—decent location behind the Shell station on Independencia but on the third floor, through the landlady’s living room and out onto a rooftop hallway to a room in which the bed fit but nothing more. The private bathroom measured about 3 square feet and the toilet was directly underneath the showerhead. $5000 pesos or $140 a month. I declined.

            A few weeks ago Altagracia and I stopped at EPS, the mail service I use, so I could pick up a package and the New Yorker. She waited outside while I went in. While she was standing on the sidewalk a bunch of motorcycle cops drove by followed by a series of limousines in one of which was Leonel Fernandez, the president of the country. She waved and he waved back.

I now rent a street level stairwell on El Conde Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays where I sell the cave photos. I rent it from Jeanette who has two hair salons on el Conde. About 10 nieces and nephews live upstairs all of whom, except the very littlest, work in the salons. Sundays I still sell in the Plaza Maria de Toledo in the antiques flea market.

In February and March Alain Gilbert was here and we searched for and mapped caves Mons, Tues, and Wednesdays. We worked in Cumayasa, Hato Mayor and el Seibo mostly.
One of our searches concerned the alleged Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) reported in Pedernales, a desert region in the south near the Haitian border.  Alain and I rode with Domingo Abreu, who is the government official in charge of all the caves in the country. The two of them know more caves than anybody in the Dominican Republic—Alain has measured and mapped 400 caves and Domingo has been exploring them for 40 years. The cave we were looking for had been reported in about 1990 by Morban Laucer, then director of the Museo del Hombre, now deceased, in his book Arte Rupestre in the Sierra Bahoruco. There is a photograph of Laucer in the book standing next to a guide named Donovan, or Nóvan, Pérez a montero who lives by hunting feral goats and cattle in the mountains around Pedernales. There were also black and white photographs of handprints on the cave walls We eventually found Nován’s house in Enriquillo by asking random people on the street. His wife was home but Novan was out hunting. She said she had just spoken with him by cell phone, that he had just shot a goat, but when we tried calling there was no signal meaning he had moved into a valley. Armed with his cell phone number we continued driving on towards the town of Pedernales trying to call him every hour or so.
On our way we stopped at two caves near the highway that Alain and Domingo knew and photographed the rock art in them. We ate lunch in Pedernales (waitress named Misou) and continued to ask people if they knew someone who might know where the Cueva de Las Manos was. We eventually located a lawyer who had reconnoitered many of the caves of the area—he showed us a human skull he found in one—who said that Nicolas Corona might know. We called Nicolas but he was working in Bayahibe on the other side of the country. We drove around a barrio of Pedernales and found a brother of Nicolas but he did not know where the Cueva de las Manos was. We slept at a $10 hotel in town.
The next morning on our way back toward Enriquillo we toured a limestone quarry as part of Domingo’s job with the Dept of the Environment and then stopped back at Novan’s house. There were twenty or so people outside the house sitting on plastic chairs under an improvised blue poly tarp awning. Novan’s mother-in-law had died that night. He was hiking out of the mountains to attend the wake.  We offered our condolences to his wife and started the 4-hour drive back to the capital.
Eventually Domingo called Nóvan and made a date and the next week we drove back to Enriquillo. We arrived at night, Novan found us an $8 hotel and the next morning we picked him and drove as far as we could to the cave. We parked off the road in a gravelbed. Following Novan through the cactus and spurge desert we arrived at an enormous sinkhole in red limestone after about a 20-minute hike. If you trip it is better to fall than to grab a branch to steady yourself—the spines can take weeks to get out of your skin and become infected easily. Our friend Eric Labarre who I hiked with through mountains for 11 hours to reach the Cueva de la Cidra a few years ago refuses to explore Pedernales anymore because of the cactus and rough walking. Four years ago he and Alain spent three days traipsing through this same desert looking for this same cave unsuccessfully. The jagged rocks tear up shoes, there is permanent drought and the sun is ferocious.
The sinkhole contained many petroglyphs and a few paintings, and was very interesting, but did not turn out to be the Cueva de las Manos but to be a cave called Póciman Jé. I photographed everything including an iguana turd the size of a German Shepherd’s. Novan admitted that he could not remember where the Cueva de Las manos might be.
We went on into Pedernales, lunched in Misou’s restaurant and I remembered that I still had Nicolas’s phone number. We called him. He was in town but about to leave but could meet us for a few minutes. We met him at a nearby gas station and he drew us quick directions on how to find the cave, two caves in fact.
We found the first cave; in fact, we drove right up to it at the end of a 4wd only track. The entrance was about 15meters up a sheer cliff face. We could see red paintings on the cave ceiling from the ground. To get to it we had to climb up around the back of the promontory and then descend down to a skinny ledge, step over a gap in the ledge in which was a colony of honeybees. (Novan stuck a smoldering branch in the hole to keep the bees calm) and belly crawl into the small cave.  The ceiling and walls were covered with mostly geometric designs in red pigment. Since it was already middle afternoon I only had time to photograph rapidly and we climbed back down to go to the Cueva de las Manos. Following the map Nicolas had given us we searched up one dry ravine called the Cañada de los Huesos or Bones Creek and then down the other until dark. There were clouds of small mosquitoes—but slow and slappable unlike the lightning quick mosquitoes in Villa Mella—there were interesting natural red patterns in some of the cliff walls that I think might have inspired the indigenous artists’s abstract designs—but we found no Cueva de las Manos.
Now, weeks later, Alain has gone back to France to his job as architect of historic buildings for the Dept of Culture, and Domingo is still trying to track down Nicolas for a better map, and Novan, who has forgotten where the cave is, is trying to relocate it when he is not hunting wild goats.

Last week I came across a web page that reported that some kids had captured a live solenodon in Hato Mayor. There was a link to another page called Save the Survivors Solenodon and Hutia, which was run by Joe Nuñez. Nuñez had recorded the first ever video of a wild solenodon in Pedernales—as cute as a venomous insectivore that looks like a small opossum can be. There was a photograph of Nuñez wearing a heavy leather falconry glove with a solenodon perched on his hand. I joined his Facebook page.
Two days later I am sitting on the bench in front of my tiny gallery on El Conde when two men stopped in their tracks in front of the gallery. I had put my photograph of a cave painting of a solenodon in the front of the display that day and one of the men was Joe Nuñez. He bought the picture. He had actually been up the Cañada de los Huesos and had visited the same cave full of red paintings that we had, but knew nothing of the Cueva de Manos.

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