Our final two collecting sites in the Dominican Republic were Cachóte and Bahía de las Águilas in the SW corner of the country, nestled within the UNESCO biosphere reserve. These sites were chosen with extreme care when we realized the brevity of our remaining time and the vast number of possible sites to collect. Our aim was to target habit types that were underrepresented within our survey and relatively understudied by arachnologists.
Cachóte is a former coffee plantation turned cloud forest located on the eastern edge of Parque Nacional de Bahorouco. The park is reached via a horrific dirt road, which our Lonely Planet guidebook suggested to be attempted only by “expert rally car drivers.” Despite this warning, we pushed on late into the evening, yet were eventually thwarted by a flat tire. We were forced to spend the night at a nearby hotel, and carry on the next morning after fixing the flat. On the way to the summit “Party Car”, driven by Micah, plowed through the uneven dirt road with its undercarriage, sometimes only on two wheels and other times aided by a team of four pushing from behind (shhh don’t tell Thrifty Car Rental). Once on top, we sampled the young forest surrounding our camp. Superficially, the site seemed nothing out of the ordinary, but the moist leaf litter yielded a high density of spiders including some awesome little Oonopids. At night, the lights of our headlamps were diffused by the dense fog, which enveloped us as we hunted for orbweavers and scorpions.
We celebrated our successful descent with a trip to the breathtaking Bahía de las Águilas on the farthest SE corner of the island in Parque Nacional Jaragua. Our drive was bordered by silky blue waves crashing on white pebble sands. The final few miles to our final destination, a 14km stretch of beach was especially challenging and the” Party Car” was emptied and left behind. Even “Alpha Truck,” professionally maneuvered by Lauren, bottomed out in waist deep depressions on the road leading down a cliffside. Once there, the only thing able to distract us from arachnids was the breathtaking views and endless hordes of mosquitoes and bees. We woke at 6am to beat the heat, and among the spiky, unforgiving, vegetation and shallow caves in the desert environment we collected many focal arachnids including Loxoceles, Argiope and Amblypygi. The team finished the six-week expedition sitting on a dock, miles from the nearest living soul, watching the sunset over crystal blue waters.