Whenever I am asked, “why would you ever go to Haiti?” I have the urge to shake the hell out of that person and somehow project my experiences and memories into their brain. That happens a lot. In my head, I think “how could you not want to go?!”In reality, I can’t blame most for their preconceived notions with the way the media paints a picture of destruction and violence and squalor to deter you. I mean, after all, the USA has had it’s hand in Haiti’s issues (and politics/resources) for decades. In the past, I’ve gone through and given my reasons why you shouldn’t judge Haiti by its media coverage, but I’ll give you some fresh views. Let me paint a different picture from my second trip to Haiti, my favorite country in the world.
I have been to Haiti twice now; once in 2013 and recently at the end of 2014 to 2015. When I traveled to Haiti in the summer of 2013, it was to help a Haitian friend to document the progress of an energy project he was developing in the country. You see, many young Haitians of the diaspora (populations of young Haitians that have moved abroad) live and work in the United States or other countries for various reasons including education, jobs, or the potential of a more successful life than in their home country. Then most never return.For my friend Vicky, he became a very successful, excelling in government positions of the United States. He scored a nice ride, comfortable apartment, great education, and success. But he wanted to use his personal successes to give back to Haiti. And as much as everyone warned me of the dangers of traveling to a country like Haiti, I went anyway.I documented everything of the experience.I told of my travels in Haiti.I told people all about my deep and everlasting love of a country so often misjudged.
The first trip was just a taste of Haiti.
We had tapped into Haiti in a small way, only spending time in the larger cities like the capital of Port Au Prince or Cap Haitian so Vick could sign land permits for his prototypes.We did see some of the incredible history of Haiti, like the mountain fortress Citadel or the untouched beaches of Labadee, but when I left, I knew that there was so to see. So much deeper I could go into the culture and history and beauty of Haiti. I hoped I would return.
Then came my second trip to Haiti.
And at the end of 2014, that same friend asked me if I wanted to come with him to Haiti for the holidays. Not for work this time — to see the country in a way he had never even seen it. To just explore the country and enjoy the experience. I replied, “I’ll quit my job if they won’t let me go“. He laughed, but I was serious. Nothing would stop me from traveling to Haiti again.I did get fired for leaving. And it was worth it.Both times I was overwhelmed by a tingling sensation rarely felt, a sensation as if I have traveled to an uncharted place full of mystery and surprise. A feeling that needles my skin, like the kind you get when you arrive at home, because I feel at home in Haiti.Even through the madness and traffic and flow of everyday life in the bustling capital, a hush falls over my being, because I realize that I am the sole traveler there. Each time I’ve been, I’ve always been the sole foreigner in most areas. It’s exhilarating and sad. Nobody else I know goes to Haiti for leisure, and it’s a damn shame. And even so, nobody treated me like I didn’t belong.When I arrived in Haiti this time, I was still surprised to have that feeling again. On the flight over I worried if the attachment I had to Haiti was fleeting and simply because it was one of the first countries I traveled to. I had already been there, and even in the hectic airport of the capital where I was a nervous wreck last time, I was completely calm. The goosebumps were just from excitement.
Haiti is unique and filled with natural beauty.
Once you leave Port Au Prince’s symphony of steel behind, life slows down and you find yourself lost in a lush and unique landscape. Down every dirt path lies a waterfall. Mountains rise up around you lined with terraced fields being tended. Steep valleys descend to the rivers that carved them, lined by the villages who have relied on them for ages. When you make it to the coastlines, untouched beaches and crystal blue waters –you haven’t gone too far, but just far enough.One doesn’t have to go far, either way, to be engulfed by the rich culture. From the young art students painting masterpieces in repurposed abandoned coffee factories of Jacmel, to the bustling markets at the heart of Haitian life, to the Voodoo caves of Kounoubwa in the hills of Camp-Perrin, or up to the mountaintop fortress of La Citadel standing proud above the clouds.It’s all there, hidden from the world by the media except for those who are willing to not judge a country by its media coverage. The true and everlasting untold beauty is not of what you see, it’s in the people that you meet — for Haitians are the most hard-willed people, yet still know the value of compassion and friendship. And would gladly invite you in for an ice-cold Prestige beer or a cup of coffee and a chat.You will leave saying, “Mwen Renmen Ayiti.” or I love Haiti.
Road trippin’ around Haiti!
It has been nearly a month since I returned from the road-trip around Haiti with over 100GB of photos and videos and countless experiences that I’ll remember forever. I was asked recently by Nomads World to share my Top 3 Destinations of 2015, and I was so happy to see that along with numerous other travel bloggers, Haiti was the 2nd most voted country behind Cuba.Haiti is getting exposure, but still needs more!Here is a photo essay of the places I visited during my trip to Haiti over the 3 weeks. Enjoy, and tell me your thoughts in the end and what place you would want to see in Haiti!
Furcy is about an hour south of Port Au Prince, and after a ways on paved road, it becomes rugged and rocky to get the rest of the way. But it is worth it. We stayed at Rustik, a fantastical treehouse hotel made of all recycled material. Waking up in the valley to roosters cocka-doodlin’ and golden sunrise in this place was breathtaking. We spent the day hiking through the valley surrounding us to waterfalls and terraced farmland.
SEE MORE // A Night in a Treehouse Hotel in Haiti
We spent a few days on the southern coast in the area around Jacmel, a well-known town that has been the main area of Haitian art culture in the past. While here, we stayed at a small boutique hotel named Cotelle Breeze that hugged the beach and overlooked the sunrise. It was all hammocks and paradise here.
One night, we chose to hop on board a boat to see the south coast from the outside and ate at an arguably more upscale restaurant (which I don’t normally do) on Christmas Eve where I devoured a massive lobster. Before heading on further, we explored the town itself, stumbling upon an artist enclave set up in an abandoned coffee factory dating back to the early 1900’s. We were shown around by the owner and teacher, with various students collaborating on pieces that are so unique and beautiful.
WATCH // Video: Wandering Abandoned Coffee Factories of Jacmel
Discovering Bassin Bleu
Before leaving Jacmel, we made sure to check out the famous Bassin Bleu, one of the numerous ones, but probably the most well known. And probably the most treacherous to get to. The route was extremely rocky and at times, I thought our car wouldn’t make it.
Through rivers and mountains, a hike and a descent by rope to the area, we made it to this incredible place. Haitians were there, leaping off the tall rocks above the falls into the water, which is said to have no bottom. So, of course, I thought I would jump off with them!
Camp-Perrin is a region in southern Haiti that is lush and filled with mountains and valleys. After leaving Jacmel, we went here specifically to find another Bassin Bleu (there are like 15 in Haiti) and found so much more. On a hike to the bassin, or what I would have called a lagoon, we encountered some gnarly local kids who were leaping off the waterfall, as I had done near Jacmel. But this one was a bit too high for me. We visited an old colonial-era dam that now provides 24-hour electricity for the towns as well.
After, we met a local guy name Reggie who offered to guide us for the day and took us hiking through the valley to the ancient caves of Kounoubwa, which were used for Voodoo ceremonies in the past. We stayed the night at Reggie’s house with his family, which was one of the most profound moments I’ve had while traveling just given their hospitality.
Relaxing on Île à Vache
Île à Vache is an island off of the south coast of Haiti, about a (treacherous) 45-minute boat ride from the mainland. The Island itself has two large resorts that are teeming with rich foreigners and vacationers, but there is still a very large local population just living the island life. And that is what we wanted to do there.
We took our tents, found a nice spot on the beach, and camped under the stars. In the morning, we met some local kids who I taught how to play American football with a coconut, and they brought us food their mother had cooked. One of the most incredible beaches I had ever seen.
Experiencing Port au Prince
In the last days of our trip, we returned to Port Au Prince to spend time and the New Year with Vick’s family. It was a time to decompress after a couple of weeks of non-stop adventure, and we were all pretty exhausted. During the stay at his place in Paco Breeze, I use the time to drink tons of Haitian coffee and finish up the design for this new blog.
Also, I finally had a chance to meet Vick’s brother Verdy, who is a phenomenal photographer that I had gotten to know through Instagram. We went on a few shoots together, some at night in the busy downtown, or just around the city.
Chilling in Wahoo Bay
Wahoo Bay and Public Beach lie just an hour outside of Port Au Prince and is an escape fro Haitians and expats from the bustling capital. Not usually my kind of place to hang out, but we did go for a DJ show for another one of Vick’s brothers and to enjoy some (expensive) drinks in this upscale resort area.
Saut-d’Eau translates to waterfall and is one of the most sacred places of all Haitians, whether it be Catholic or Voodoo practitioners. The falls are supposed to have cleansing and healing properties, and many Haitians make a pilgrimage to come bathe in the waters.
Some just come to relax and enjoy the incredible beauty of this place. Like us. It definitely felt sacred, with the ferns and moss a vibrant green I had never seen before, and the vibes in the air were calming. Definitely one of the most beautiful smaller falls I have ever been to.
Saying farewell again to Haiti was hard, for I was tempted to just cancel my flight and stay a bit longer. But I know I’ll be back. The biggest difference this trip around wasn’t the contrast from the world’s perception of Haiti like last time, this time what made it special was that I was still surprised every kilometer of Haiti we traveled.It’s like there is always something that grabs a hold of your spirit there and takes it for a ride. And the Haitian people I met; from the artists of Jacmel, to Reggie and his family living in the mountains, to the cave guide, or the Haitian beach boys who brought us momma’s cooking just for acknowledging them because the resort tourists look down on them — all of the people along this great adventure are what made it everlasting.Again I say, “Mwen renmen Ayiti” which means “I love Haiti“. And I’ll be back again.
WATCH // Video: Exploring Haiti in Slow Motion
AUTHOR’S NOTE // These are only a handful of the photos that I have taken, and though I mentioned that one of the more special parts of the journey is the people I met, often I did not photograph them but enjoyed the moment. Each region will be broken down into in-depth articles, videos, and photo essays.