On Wednesday afternoon, our group took a trip to the Parque Nacional de los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes National park). While the park is located just a few miles outside of Santo Domingo, it felt as though we had entered a whole other world. After entering the park gates, we went down a steep set of sixty stairs in single file, following one of the program leader’s rules to “keep tight, stick to the right”. At the end of our descent, we found ourselves in a labyrinthian cave where formations of limestone rock jutted out of the walls like the deformed fingers of a thousand-handed creature. Here we met our guide, a tall, lanky man who cheerily announced: “Welcome to the three eyes”, named for the three subterranean fresh-water lagoons found in the belly of the cave.
Our guide explained that the lakes had previously been one. Formed thousands of years ago, the division occurred after the roof of the once larger cave collapsed, forming three separate pools of water which were fed by an underground river: the Aguas Azufradas, la Nevera, and Las Damas. Prior to colonization, the indigenous populations of Hispaniola considered los Tres Ojos a sacred site; the Dominican government declared the park a nature preserve in 1972.
The water in the lagoons was a clear, deep turquoise and despite their depths, we could see all the way to the bottom of each pool. The Aguas Azufradas had fish, turtles, and tadpoles swimming about as we went down more steps to get a closer look. La Nevera (the fridge), the largest and deepest lagoon, was dark and cool, with a small boat manned by two more guides who accompanied us across. The boat ride was like a scene out of Harry Potter or a reenactment of what it might be like to cross the river Sticks: dark and eerie with just a hint of mystery and dread. Once safely across, we made our way to a fourth open-air lagoon, a truly spectacular site bordered by cliffs decorated with lush vegetation whose reflection gave the water a pale green tint. On our way back across la Nevera, we saw a bride and groom taking wedding photos with the cave as a backdrop - some of us decided that we too would go abroad for a major life event, just for the photo-ops.
After passing by the third and smallest lagoon, el lago de Las Damas, we climbed back up the steep set up stairs and made our way back to the bus, and back to a world with which we were more familiar.