Haiti: Days 4 and 5

Having fully recovered from a day of hiking and conquering the mountain that literally and figuratively, day four of the journey was solely dedicated to rest, relaxation, and a bit of studying.  The day began with a breakfast of papaya, pineapple, pancakes and papaya juice.  You know, as I typed that, I noticed something very interesting.  That breakfast contained a lot of sugar, but it was natural sugar and I was on holiday.  It is not an everyday occurrence for me.

After breakfast I took to the beach for some vitamin D and to watch live streaming of a church service from my local area.  Following the church service, I hit the books for a bit to study for my upcoming test and enjoyed some music and non-alcoholic drinks for the rest of the day until dinner time.  After dinner, I called it an earlier night as my final full day would be another adventure.

Day 5, I arose early in the morning and had my breakfast of champions: pineapple, papaya, a banana and tea.  An hour later, I took the 30 minute trip down the mountain to meet my local guide for my last haitian experience – visiting a local school (École Bethesda de Madeline) in Cap Haitien.  I met my guide at the same place as the previous day and hopped on the back of his motorcycle to take the trip to the school.  Prior to visiting the school, my guide took me to his home so that I could see a local haitien home and get a feel for who haitiens live.  What stood out to me was the fact that there was no refrigerator.  The reason for the lack of refrigeration was because of the electricity issues.  Therefore, haitiens buy their food daily and only keep that which they can consume and will not spoil if left out.  This is a practice that I need to practice; it will definitely save me money on the amount of food that I throw away.

After a quick tour of the home and taking a look at the upper level that my guide is building by hand, we headed down the road for the school.  The school was a simple two level structure, with appropriately 8 classrooms and the old fashion chalkboard (nice to see that), but it was very neat and cute.  The children wear uniforms and are very well-behaved.  During the time of my visit, the older children were preparing for their year-end exams, so they gathered together during the afternoon break to practice their lessons and eat snacks.  Those who didn’t have to study for exams, played in the rather large grassy area.  To assemble the children, the principal rings a bell and all of the them go running to get in line–quietly.  Yep, that is something you will not see happen in the states.

My guide took me to each classroom and introduced me to all of the instructors and the children.  In one class (I believe grade 5), I was greeted by the children in song which almost caused the waterworks to start.  I had to will myself to keep it in, but it was such a touching moment for me.  The last grade that I visited was the 6th graders where one lovely, brave girl helped me say that it was a pleasure to meet them in their native language.

Following the visit to the school, I was taken to Heros de Vertieres (Heroes monument).  This monument is dedicated to the haitien ancestors who fought for freedom.  After that brief visit, it was off to a local haitien market to see where most haitiens buy their meats, produce and spices.  Clothing and candles used in voodoo ceremonies are sold here as well.  When my guide pointed out the voodoo candles, I quickly made a U-turn as there are just certain things that I do not even want to be near.  I love and trust Jesus, but I know that the devil and other spirits are real as well.

The day wrapped up with lunch at a local restaurant in the city.  I will not provide the name of the restaurant as I didn’t find the food to be very enjoyable.  Before heading back to the hotel, I visited a local market for my obligatory shot glass and a magnet for my friend.  My guide and I said our goodbyes and I headed back up the hill and over the mountain to rest up a bit before my last supper.

Takeaways for the day.  1. Despite the poverty and high illiteracy rate, Haiti is a very beautiful country, rich in history and steeped in tradition.  Haitiens are a very proud people who are willing to share anything they have with you and love to educate them on their way of live.  2. My bumper is not made for riding on the back of a motorcycle, especially on rough and rocky roads.

Life’s Lesson Courtesy of Citadelle Laferrière

So it’s day three in Cap Haitien and I set out to do the one and only touristy thing on the trip – visit the famed Citadelle Laferrière and Palais San-Souci.  The Citadelle, which was officially designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1982, is located approximately 1 hour away from the city of Cap Haitien by tap tap (more on that later).  Prior to my visit to O’Kap, I researched the site and took a look at the pictures, but little did I know that my visit to the site would be a life challenging and changing experience (seems to have been a trend for this trip).

The day began around 10a.m. with me meeting my guide for the day (the gentleman I met at the airport in Miami while waiting for our flight) in town.  It was a true blessing that I met this gentleman because he was able to take me to a local store where I was able to get the best exchange rate for local currency.  The currency exchange rate in Cap Haitien can range from 62HTG to 1US to 72HTG to 1US.  After I changed currency, we hopped in a tap-tap and were on our way.

Arriving in the town of Milot, we started walking in the direction of Palais San-Souci and were quickly approached by two young men.  Since the majority of the locals speak kreyol and I clearly do not, I kept my mouth shut while my guide conversed with the young men.  At one point, I heard him explain that I didn’t speak kreyol and that is when one of the young men came and started conversing with me in english.  The walk to the registration desk to pay the entry fee wasn’t long (maybe 10 minutes); however, we were swarmed even more as soon as we arrived.  Locals are able to enter the grounds of the Citadelle and Palais San-Souci free of charge, tourist must pay $30.  A steep price to pay, but hey it was my only touristy thing on the agenda– or so I thought.

After paying the entrance fee, we hopped on a motorbike to go to the “second park” which took about 20 minutes longer than I cared to be on a bike.  This is the location where our walk to the Citadelle would begin and this too is where the start of life’s lesson would begin for me.  I handed my paid voucher to the attendant and we prepared to make our way up the mountain.  Local artists stop me to ask me to have a look to which I respond “later”.  There were a couple of men following behind us on the hike up the mountain with horses in tow, just in case we wanted to catch a ride up.  So problem one.  I worked out earlier that morning and did some leg work… yeah and I was hiking a mountain.  Problem two.  We were hiking when the sun was at it’s hottest.  Problem three.  I am deathly afraid of heights and didn’t realize how high this mountain was.  Every time we turned a corner, I swore someone kept moving this huge fortress.

So after about an hour of hiking we are literally a four-minute walk from the top and I’ve decided I had enough.  At that point, I told my guide that I couldn’t do it anymore.  I quit.  It was just too much.  Now, picture this.  I am looking at the fortress, it is right in front of me, but I just want to give up and go all the way back down.  My guide keeps telling me to just rest and that this is my day.  He is encouraging me not to quit.  I keep saying that I want to go back.  Then I turn and look down from whence I came.  All that climbing and I was ready to just quite when the prize was at hand.  After some more coaxing and a few deep breaths, I talk myself into continuing.    Thank God I did.

When I reached the top and I saw this HUGE fortress in front of me, made by human labor when there were no machines to do the work, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  This site is beyond words.  The only way to truly understand the magnitude of what this site represents and to truly behold it’s beauty, you have to experience it for yourself.  For me to try to capture this awesome work in words would be disrespectful to the people of  Haiti (almost as disrespectful as the online history posts that give credit to King Henry Christophe for building this fortress.  He may have had the vision, but I am sure he didn’t lift one brick).

We spent about an hour looking around the fortress and getting a history lesson about the structure.  When I looked down, I cried out “I did that.  I climbed that!”  I could not believe that I accomplished that task and here I was beholding God’s gorgeous land all around me.  For the trip back down, I decided to take a horse because my legs were spent and I can say that I will NEVER get on a horse again.  My bumpa is not made for horses or motorbikes.  Along the way down we stop by a roadside stand so that I can refresh with some coconut water (from the actual coconut) and some coconut meat.  I got off the horse just prior to our end point, looked at a few painting and some of local artifacts and we headed to Palais Sans-Souci.

So what was the lesson that I learned– DON”T QUIT.  If I would have stopped just short of the goal, I would not have experienced this beautiful site.  If I would have quit when I faced this physical challenge, it would have only made it easy for me to quit on other things in the future.  Now I am fortified by the fortress and can face any mountain that comes my way.

Tap Tap ~400HTG
Coconut 25HTG
Tip for the young guide at Citadelle 300HTG
Motorbike rides 500HTG
Horse ride down 500HTG (including tip)
Citadelle Laferrière entry fee – $30US

Overcoming my fear of heights (kind of) and not quitting on myself – PRICELESS!