Alf Stalsberg, 1997
Cichlid Room Companion

Oh, Island in the Sun. The Dominican Republic

By , 1994. image

Classification: Distribution and exploration, North America.

In the year 1994 in the end of July I was on my way to visit The Dominican Republic. After one and a half weeks on the Island I would continue to Peru, but that would be another story. With me on this trip was a friend of mine from Norway and his name is Fred Solli. The second member and friend of the group is a rather well known person in the aquarium hobby, namely Dr. Patrick de Rham. The Island is probably well known by most of you, but some of you might not know much about it. The Island is divided in two parts: one third is Haiti and two thirds is The Dominican Republic. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, and he named it Hispaniola.

Dominican republic
Dominican Republic. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

In the beginning the Arawak Indians who lived on Hispaniola were used as slaves, but they were quickly reduced by diseases the Spanish brought to the Island, and they started the import of slaves from Africa. In 1697 the western part of the Island was declared a French colony under the name Saint Domingue, and the Spanish were quite happy with the eastern part of the Island, which is nearly the same size today as then. Spanish Creoles tried together with black rebels to take back the western part, but the Spanish were defeated by the leader of the Negro slaves Toussaint L'Ouverture. He not only beat the Spanish, but also made it possible to regain liberty from French dominion, and in 1804 the first black state was declared under the name Haiti.

I wanted to collect Nandopsis haitiensis Tee-Van 1935. Rumors were told that I might not find it.

Haitians also managed to conquer the eastern part of the Island in 1821, but the Spanish patriot Juan Pablo Duarte managed, after a newly gained freedom in 1844, to declare it The Dominican Republic. There had been several revolutions, and USA occupied the Island for a period, when they felt a threat to their economic interest. First in The Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924 and in Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Today, both Republics have elected presidents. In Haiti, "Baby Doc" Jean Claude Duvalier was elected as president for life in 1971, but this was fortunately interrupted. In The Dominican Republic, Salvador Jorge Blanco was elected as president in 1981. In Haiti, 80% of the population is Negroes, 20% is mulatto, and the population in 1981 was between 5.5-6 million. Most of Haiti is mountains and the population is gathered together in the cities. There is not much land to cultivate. This gives Haiti big economical and social problems. The Dominican Republic had, in 1981, a population of 5.7 million, and this is 60% mulatto, or other mix, and 12% black, and the rest, about 20%, is white, most of them with Spanish origin.

Well, this was a little history about the Island. Maybe it's not so interesting for most of you, but what do I know? But, the Island is very interesting even only from a tourist point of view, and for aquarists it is top. Maybe for aquarists with a special interest in livebearers, there is a lot to be found.

My main interest is cichlids, and I wanted to collect Nandopsis haitiensis Tee-Van 1935. Rumors were told that I might not find it, because of "Tilapias", they would be all over. We also found the "Tilapias" all over, but our fear was exaggerated. We did find the Nandopsis haitiensis nearly all over, and in some places the Nandopsis haitiensis was even in majority.

We came to the Island in the evening and after we paid $10 tourist tax, we got through the pass control, and then we picked up our baggage and got safely through the custom. Outside we were "attacked" by taxi drivers who all had the best car, but after arguing about the price we settled for one. I had booked a room at a Hotel in the center of Santo Domingo the first night. The Hotel was not a luxurious one, but was a triple room with air conditioning and a bath. After breakfast the day after, we took a taxi with all baggage down to the Hertz office to pick up the rental car. The car also had air-conditioning and Fred and I loved it, but Patrick was not so happy with the air-conditioning. We loaded all our baggage in to the car and hit the road west.

Our first stop was San Cristobal, because we had to change dollars to local currency which is peso. After that we continued to Bani. When we were about 36 kilometer west of St. Domingo we stopped at a small stream. It was not very clean, and there were only Guppies there. Next stop was after 40 kilometers and this stream looked more promising. Not that it was much cleaner, but we found more fish there. We baptized it "The Pig Stream", because all the pigs in the local village were tied to a pole close to the water, and the pigs were drinking the water. They did something else too, we could smell it, but this does not scare a true aquarist. But there were plenty with "Tilapia", and the thoughts run through my mind, was it true? Had the Nandopsis haitiensis vanished ? But Patrick managed to collect two small cichlids, and these were Nandopsis haitiensis. Other fish in the stream were Gambusia sp. and a Poecilia sp. The water had a temperature of 32.5°, pH 8.2-8.3, dH 17, kH 17 Nitrate 12.5 mg/l and 700 m.

Nandopsis haitiensis

Nandopsis haitiensis, Dominican Republic. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Nandopsis haitiensis

Nandopsis haitiensis, Dominican Republic. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Nandopsis haitiensis

Nandopsis haitiensis, Dominican Republic. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

After collecting in the "Pig Stream" we were all rather hot, and just on the other side of the bridge we got COLD beer. We asked the locals if there were any rivers with clear water, and a boy told as that there was a river a few kilometers ahead, and he came along to show us the way. This had not been necessary, because the road crossed the bridge over the river. We drove the car down to the riverside. We wanted to have the car in sight and we did not have to carry the collecting gear to far. The boy called the river Lucas Diaz, but we found out later that the river was Rio Nizao. There was not too much water in the river, but enough to use the mask and snorkel, and the water was warm and clean. The first fishes I manage to collect were some Gobi's and using my small Canon underwater camera I also managed to take my first underwater photo of Nandopsis haitiensis. I also managed to collect 4-5 N. haitiensis and some Limia ? I think. The distance from St. Domingo was 43-45 kilometers. Fred managed to collect a Sygnathus sp. and there were also "Tilapias" there. I use "Tilapia" with quotations marks because I don't know if the fish is Tilapia, Sarotherodon or Oreochromis, because most of the fish were too small to make a positive identification. After some nice hours we took water samples, and the water temperature was 29°, pH 9, dH 11, kH 9 and 300 ms.

We decided to look for a place to stay because we would not have daylight to go any further, and the boy told us that there would be several places near the sea where we could find a hotel. We drove down to the coast and came to a place called Playa Najayo and there we found a hotel called Hotel Najayo Beach Club. After dinner we changed water on the fishes we had collected and then it was bed time.

Next morning we started with a swim in the Caribbean sea, then breakfast, and then on the road again. We stopped at a couple of small streams and collected Guppies and a Limia sp. Then we did not stop before we came to Rio Nizao. This was a larger river, but the water was low. We drove the car down to the waterfront and took out the things we needed to make the collections. The fish we collected was Nandopsis haitiensis, two Gobi's sp. and an Eleotridae sp. We did not collect any livebearers there because we were working in the middle of the river, collecting Nandopsis haitiensis. The livebearers were hiding among the vegetation along the riverside. By using the net across the river we managed to collect some bigger Nandopsis haitiensis and Gobi's. Rio Nizao was the same river we were in the day before, which the boy called Lucas Diaz. The water was very clear and we had some very nice hours in the river, taking photos under and above the water. It was 29 July 1994 around noon, and the water temperature was 30°C. (Nice water !!) Air temperature was 34.5°, pH 8.5, dH 12, kH 11 and 310 ms. There was a lot of long thread algae in the water, so we had a job cleaning the net afterwards.

After a couple of cold beers at the nearest cafe, we continued west to Barahona. The part of the country we were driving through on our way to Barahona was very dry. Only cactus and dry rivers. It was not until we came nearer Barahona it became better. We saw rivers with water, but it was already late afternoon so we decided to look for a place to stay for the night. We looked at the map and saw that there should be several on the other side of Barahona, so we drove through the town and out to a place called Campo Suizo. It was owned by a young fellow from Switzerland. This place became our base for a couple of days. The next day we decided to go south to a town called Oviedo. Near the town there should have been a lake called Lago Oviedo. When we came down to the town we could not find a road that led to the lake, and we passed the town Oviedo. After a while we decided to turn around, because we came close to the border to Haiti, and there were some riots at the time we were there. We would not cross the border. Well, we turned around and when we had driven for awhile, Fred shouted "water!" from the back seat of the car. We turned around again and Fred was right, there was a small river or a canal. We had to get under the barbed wire and climb over another before we reached the water. There were some women washing clothes there and we asked them about the name of this river, but it was a watering canal with water from the river we were looking after. The water was muddy, and we just stood in the water and used our bigger hand net. We caught a Gambusia sp. and a Limia sp. and nothing else. The water samples were: 27°C. in the water, air temp. was 34°, pH 8.3, dH 8, kH 8 and micro siemens were 730.

When we were finished there we drove slowly to look for a "road" to the lake, and we found one and drove down to the water. The water was milky white, and when I tasted the water it was salty. This has probably been connected with the sea for a long time, and might still have underground connections to it. Where should we start? We could not see anything, we could not even see our toes in shallow water. There were no rocks or anything where we thought we could find fish. There were some small fishing boats there, and Patrick started the collecting with his big hand net close to one of the boats. Then suddenly he shouted out that he had caught a fish, and it was a Cyprinodon nichollsi, with very silvery white color. Then he collected a Poecilia sp. also very silvery white. So we found out that the fish were standing under things that gave shadow. We could not collect anything in the open water, but if we pushed the boats aside and then quickly used our net, we could catch all the livebearers we wanted. We did not catch anything else, but we believed that there were bigger fish there, because in one of the boats there was a net with larger mesh width. And on the side of the boat it was written World Wildlife Foundation. The water temperature in Lago Oviedo was 30°, pH 8.5, dH over 60 and the micro siemens were above 10,000 m, and the water was very salty. It was getting late so we decided to go back to Barahona and Campo Suizo.

The next day we decided to visit another lake more inland called Lago Enriquillo. There should be a type of American crocodile there. Not that we needed to see the crocodiles but the lake was interesting. On our way there we stopped outside the town, Cabral, up in the hills in a place called "El Pollo de Magnetico". This place was very special. On a part of the road you could park your car in neutral, and the car would start running upwards !!!!! Yes, it's true. None of us would or could believe what our eyes saw. And I can't show you any pictures, but I have it on video. I have no idea what this was. We had a compass and it showed no disturbance, so there was not a magnetic field there. Children were playing with empty bottles and empty coca cola boxes and they were rolling upwards!!!!! Well we could not find any simple explanation for it, so we gave up. Maybe it was an optical solution on it, it just looks like the road went upwards, but it was flat? Or was it optical delusion?? It was something funny.

We drove down to the town Cabral and decided to take a look at the lake by the town. On the map the lake was called Lago del Rincón, but the locals called it Lago Cabral. The water in the lake was low so we had to walk a couple of kilometers to get to the water. The water was muddy and we could not reach the water for all the mud. A canoe with two fisherman came in with two big plastic bags full of fish, and we were of course curious to see what the contents were, but they were full of "Tilapias", so we lost interest right away. Near the shore there was a very beautiful plant. I had never seen this plant, but it looks like a Nymphaea, and Patrick said it was called the American Lotus. It was bright yellow and very beautiful and Patrick collected some seed from a plant too. We found a plant standing on dry land that we recognized as an Echinodorus sp. The plant would of course stand in the water when the water was high, but we know that plants belonging to Echinodorus can stand above water, as long as the soil is moist. We took photos of both plants and continued on to Lago Enriquillo. We were not sure if we were on the main road or a smaller road, but we knew if we came to Duverge then we were on the small road, and if it was the main road then we would hit the small town Galvan, or the bigger town Neiba.

Well, it was the small road, so when we came to the main road which is going around the lake we turned right, because it looked like the road was closer to the lake from the other side. In Neiba we turned left and drove through several small towns. They were Villa Jaragua, Los Rios and Postrer Rio and after we passed Postrer Rio we came to a place that looked promising and where we could drive down to the lake. But there was a catch with the place. There was a park guard there and it was a National Park, including the Island out in the lake called Isla Cabritos, and he said if we wanted to look at the crocodiles we had to go out to the Island. Well our highest wish was not to look at the crocodiles, so we said thank you and got into our car again.

There were lots of Nandopsis haitiensis, Limia zonata, Poecilia elegans and more.

We continued to La Descubierta and drove past that town too, and after a while we saw a dust road on our left side, that seemed to lead to the lake. I turned off the main road and drove down this dust road. Well, we did not get very far before we had to stop. Since we did not have a 4x4 wheel jeep we had to park the car and start walking, because we wanted to look at the lake and to see what kind of fish we could find. The part we walked through was a forest with large cactus and then we saw something else too: we were actually walking among old coral reef !! Strange as it sounds, it was correct. There was coral skeleton laying all around us. When we came down to the water we started wading out into the water. The water was warm and we estimate the temperature to about 33-34°C. We did not bring with us the tools for taking water samples so that's why we only estimated the temperature. But I tasted the water and it was salty, so this lake had probably, a very, very long time ago, been a part of, or connected with, the sea. The fish we collected there was a Cyprinodon sp. and a Poecilia/Limia sp. When we came back to the car we were very warm and there was a strong sweaty smell, so we decided to make a stop in La Descubierta to cool down with some cold beer.

After this break we continued to Postrer Rio and stopped by a river called El Mion. Since we could not come to the river with the car and could not let it stay unguarded, I stayed in the car while Fred and Patrick went down to have a look. They came back with a Limia sp. ? We started up and drove for a while when we saw a pond near the road. We decided to make a stop and look. We never drove past water without making a stop, and this pond looked promising. I wanted to dive in the water to have a look, while Fred and Patrick went along the shore and used the large hand net. The water was clear, but the bottom layer was very soft, so it was easy to stir up the mud, and you could not see anything. But, before I had made the water cloudy, I not only managed to see different livebearers, but also Nandopsis haitiensis.

Since the day was coming to an end, we decided that we would come back to this pond the next morning. The name of the pond was La Maria, and it was close to the small town Galvan. But, a little bit closer to Galvan there was a large pond, and this was a public place to swim. We were not quite sure if the pond was a part of a well or if it was made by the streams. The water samples showed that the water temperature in the afternoon was: 24°, pH 7.3, dH 13 and kH 13 too. It was just turning right when we came to Galvan and followed the main road right to Barahona and Campo Suizo, where we could relax with dinner and cold beer.

The next morning, after a good night's sleep and breakfast, we were ready for the pond La Maria. But, as I said, we could not pass water without making a stop, and 17 kilometer north from Barahona we came to a canal called Palo Leche. The water was rather cloudy, so we used our square hand net and collected some small Nandopsis haitiensis, Limia "perugia" ? and a Gambusia sp., and after a hour we continued up to Galvan. The water temperature in The canal Palo Leche was 30°, air temperature was 39°, pH 8.1, dH 12, kH 13 and Micro S was 850. The canal went into the river Yaque del Sur. When we came to the pond La Maria, we decided to go further to get down to the lake Lago Enriquillo on this side too. In the small town Postrer Rio we saw a bad road leading down to the lake and asked the local people if we could go down there, and they said yes. A lot of boys climbed up on the rear bumper when we started driving down this bad dust road. I had to stop and tell the boys to get off the car, because the weight was too much. We were hitting rocks and taller things in the road, and I was afraid to damage the car. This car was an ordinary sedan and was very low. With a jeep there would have been no problem, but with this car it was different. Well, we collected more of the Cyprinodon sp. while a crocodile was lying a little further out in the water, but we thought as long as the crocodile was lying at the water's surface there was no problem. It was when it dived that we should be on the alert, but it came up to the surface again and we could breath easily once more. We did not go very far into the water, as none of us wanted to be crocodile food. On our way back we stopped at the pond and collected some of the fish and took some photos. One of the livebearers we collected in the pond was probably Limia perugia.

Patrick de Rham and Alf Stalsberg together with enthusiastic locals
Patrick de Rham and Alf Stalsberg together with enthusiastic locals.

We did not start the next day so early. We had breakfast, changed water on our fish, and Patrick packed the fish we have had in formalin and marked them. We took a trip down to the beach and snorkeled there a hour or so. When we came out of the water, Patrick was missing his slippers, and wondered if some of us had hidden them just for fun. We had been in the water all the time too, but when I looked up from the water one time I saw a couple of boys watching us from the beach. I did not think about our slippers standing on the beach. So we looked around but did not see anything. Patricks slippers were gone. He had some fancy Nike slippers, very good ones, and the boys knew what quality they had. My slippers were made of rubber/plastic and were quite simple, and they did not steal them. Lucky for me, because walking bare foot on the rocks was not good. So we had to look for a new pair of slippers for Patrick, because he knew that he would not find size 46 in Peru.

After packing all the stuff we had in the car, we started on our way back. Our plan was to go back and then north. We had to go back to before we turned of to Constanza and according to the map we could continue up to Jarabacoa. But the map was not correct, because when we came up to a village called Padres Las Casas after 40 kilometer from the main road, it was it. We could not get any further, at least not by a car, so we had to turn and go back up to Santo Domingo and take the main road north to Santiago. Since this was a quite a distance we decided to stay the night at the Hotel at Najayo Beach Hotel, and start after breakfast the next day.

We started the next day by changing water and then breakfast and then on the road again. When we came up to Santo Domingo we turned left and followed the sign to Santiago. We made some stops and looked in some small rivers and collected wild platies in one of them. When we came up to the river Rio Acapulco the water was clear and nice temperature, I had to get into the water. There were lots of Nandopsis haitiensis, Limia zonata, Poecilia elegans and more, but since I'm not an expert on livebearers I'm not sure the ones I mention is right too. Water temperature was 26°, and the air temperature in the sun was 44°, then it was very nice to be in the water. pH 8, dH 5, kH 5 and 180 ms.

We turned left off from the main road and wanted to go to Constanza. We stopped a few times on the road, but saw nothing special. We spent the night in Constanza, and went the same way back to the main road. There we turned left and went north on the road. When we came to La Vega, we decided to go more east to Nagua, then we had to go a little back to find the right road to Nagua. We passed San Francisco De Macoris where we turned in the direction to Castillo, and then Nagua, which is lying at the coast. We followed the road to Sánchez and find a hotel after a few kilometers, which is called Hotel Matauzas Real. The hotel cost us 127 US dollars for two rooms with dinner and breakfast for one night, and was among the most expensive we had stayed in.

After breakfast we changed water on the fish, packed our car and went into the "city" Nagua to look for sandals for Patrick, and we found them. It was close to the end on our stay at the Island, so we had to start thinking on our way back to Santo Domingo, but we would of course use another road back, to see if we could find some other fishes. We had to follow the same route back to Castillo where we turned left just after we had passed Castillo towards Pimentel, and then Cotui, and then we would get on the freeway to Santo Domingo. But before we came so far, we stopped at a small stream, 9.4 kilometers outside Nagua in the forest, and a woman was washing clothes in the stream. She was not very happy when three men jumped into the water to catch fish. We stirred up the water so she could not finish her washing before we left. So we were not very popular, but we found our first Killifish (Rivulus roloffi) in the stream there, and Patrick would nearly not stop, but after a while Fred and I managed to persuade him to go to a new place and said we might find more Killies. The water temperature in that stream was 27.5°, pH 7.5, dH 9 and the kH was also 9.

We then drove to 19 kilometers from Nagua and found an even smaller stream, and there were more Rivulus roloffi there and plenty mosquitoes too. The water temperature was: 26°, pH 7.5, dH 9, kH 8, and 380 S, nearly identical to the former stream. After we finished the collecting in this last stream, we continued and did not stop until we came to a bigger river, then we were 108 km. away from Nagua. We needed to change water on the Rivulus roloffi because the water was very muddy, and we wanted to split the fish into several plastic bags. We stopped to fill the car up with gas and went through the main city Santo Domingo to a place on the east side of the city called Boca Chica. This place was closer to the airport and we should deliver the car there.

We found a small hotel in Boca Chica called Caney in Duarte Street and should deliver the car the day after. When we delivered the car at the airport, one off the Hertz staff offered to drive us back to Boca Chica free. That's what I call service. Well, back in Boca Chica, we went down to the beach to take a swim. Patrick was swimming out to the reef but Fred and I stayed closer to the beach. Then we went back to write some postcards, and when Patrick came back we went out to eat, just across the street. After that I started changing water on the fish, make the bags very small and making the rest of my luggage ready. The plane would leave in the morning at 07:15 and we had to be there a couple of hours before, so we had order a taxi for five o'clock in the morning. And funny enough, the taxi came at the order time too !! At the airport we checked in our luggage and sat down and waited, and were thinking about a nice stay at "The Island in the Sun" the Dominican Republic. And who knows, I might go back some time.

Oviedo lake The white waters of the Oviedo lake, Dominican Republic. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Patrick de Rham (left) and Fred Solli Patrick de Rham (left) and Fred Solli collecting fishes in the shallow beaches of Enriquillo lake, Dominican Republic. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

The pig stream We baptized this stream "The Pig Stream", because all the pigs in the local village were tied to a pole close to the water, and the pigs were drinking the water, and they did something else too, we could smell it, but this does not scare a true aquarist.Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Canal Palo Leche Caption: Here in the Canal Palo Leche. Patrick and I did collect Gambusia and Nandopsis haithiensis and I think Poecilia perugia, but they were not so beautiful as the ones we collected near Galvan. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Pond near Galvan This photo is from the pond or they said it was a well near Galvan. It was clear nice water, and we collected beautiful Poecilia perugia. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Cyprinodon nichollsi

Cyprinodon nichollsi, Male in the inset, female in the tank. Both specimens collected in the white waters of the Oviedo lake in the Dominican Republic.Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Echinodorus sp. This photo is from the shore of the lago Cabral outside the small city with the same name, and it is of Echinodorus sp. emerse form. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.

Nymphea sp. This is a beautiful American Lotus (Nymphea sp.) which was standing beside the Echinodorus sp. Photo by Alf Stalsberg.


Stalsberg, Alf. (Jul 02, 1997). "Oh, Island in the Sun. The Dominican Republic". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Feb 24, 2024, from: