Monday, March 24, 2014

Traveling in Context (Series Part 2 of 2)

Travelling in Haiti as a tourist is a pleasure full of unexpected deviations, surprising discoveries, and rich culture. I'm grateful to be well traveled, but nowhere have I experienced the intimacy and diversity of a new place like I have when traveling around Haiti.

My most recent Haiti adventure involved hiking through the Massif de la Selle from Kenscoff just south of Petionville to Jacmel on the coast with fellow Cange ex-pats Nicole Bryant and Jenn Summers.

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We started off at the Wynne Farm Ecological Reserve, where we learned about some amazing new reforestation and agricultural initiatives in that area. Kenscoff is a wealthy part of Haiti--where many Haitians have second homes (more like estates with names) in the cooler, cleaner air of the high mountains. But even around all of this, poverty is still visible.

From Kescoff, we hiked about two hours to Furcy, after stopping in the larger portion of the reserve, where USAID has many projects. We also stopped for a wonderful meal in a very small restaurant--we were essentially sitting in this family's dining room.

Throughout this part of the hike, my senses were all turned on in ways I never expected in Haiti--the cool air gave me goosebumps, yet refreshed my lungs with each breath. The damp forest ground gave off the scent of decomposing plants, but from that the nutrients for life. And all around were the clinking echoes of frogs.

Lavi pa fasil neg--Life's not easy, man
Once in Furcy, where we met up with some Italian geologists and dentists doing the same trip, we settled in at Rustik, an eco-lodge made of recycled materials like wooden crates and rum bottles. It was a reasonable place to stay, but the menu for food was a bit pricey and lacking in availability. The best part was leaving the hostel and sitting in a small town center while drinking a Prestige and listening to several Haitian musicians sing and play some relaxing tunes on guitars.

We tried to get an early start the next morning, to make as much of the cool(er) morning daylight as possible, but like usual in Haiti, we had to wait a while for the complementary breakfast to be served at Rustik. Fortunately, the rest of the hike was still high enough in the mountains that, despite the lack of shade and extensive tree cover for the next section of the hike, the air remained cool and breezy for most of the day.

Though we knew the hike could be done in a day, we couldn't get a certain answer on how long we would be walking. We asked for local's input and got mixed reactions from, "Sure you can do it, but it will take a while," to, "you'll never get there."

But our concerns for time were mitigated when we were overtaken by a Brazilian UN vehicle on their way to the village of Seguin, our next stop. We asked if we could ride with them, and the one person who spoke broken English said sure. So we hopped in the back of this topless white Land Rover and donned the figurative mask of the UN. It was rather fascinating to roll past small houses and groups of children in this loud and imposing vehicle. But with a few waves and smiles, most people responded warmly to the car going by this rather impassable road.

Though we were happy for the ride, we became quite nervous as the driver continued down this incredibly steep ridge-line road. There were parts where I felt like the car was nearly vertical descending down the tips of the mountains, with the land dropping away on either side of the single-track road for thousands of feet. After an hour or so in the vehicle, we reached a point in the road where the Brazilians felt uncomfortable continuing and decided to turn around. We continued on foot until we reached the wonderful pine forest just before arriving in Seguin for a great lunch of lamb steaks, beet salad and potatoes. 

We ate a Winnies, another mountain hostel, where we were received with great hospitality and good conversation over a meal. Our plans, however, took us to the coast near Cayes-de-Jacmel, after bumming a ride from one of the people visiting Winnies for the day.

In Cayes-de-Jacmel, we slept in our hammocks between palm trees outside a beachfront hotel (such a pleasure) before continuing on to explore the city of Jacmel. Jacmel is known for its artist community, Haiti's only film production center, and cuisine. It did not disappoint, we we visited numerous artisan shops, meandered along the mosaic sidewalk at the Jacmel waterfront, and ate some delicious lambi kreyol (creole conch). 

We stayed at Guy's Guest House--reasonably priced, no frills lodging--where the three of us split one room for three with a private bath. 

Once we left Jacmel, we spent one more night visiting fellow YASCer Julie Burd in Leogane. It was great to see her, even if just for a short night's stay.

Haiti is a gorgeous, diverse country to explore. It has a rich culture that is alive everywhere you go. Haiti was once a tourist destination of note in the Caribbean (Bill and Hillary Clinton honeymooned there), and there's no reason why it can't be now. 

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome adventure...When reading about your hike to Sequim I was feeling nervous about the trip over the mountains in the Land Rover but then reading on saw that you completed that on foot...Looks like the better choice of both you and the driver...Looks as though you are learning to eat lots of different kinds of food...Sounds good to me...Keep on spreading around the good word and cheer...Carolyn