Traveling Haiti Emperors Palace and Citadel

Cap Hatien Hills

When I told my friend Michael I was going to be visiting the REAL Haiti and not some resort and looking for a real adventure, he called me crazy at first.  He says I don’t know anyone but you that would be looking to take their family to Haiti on spring break.  My kids had a break coming up and two new UN countries was sounding really good.  There were plenty of ways to spend a week in Dominican Republic and people seem to not have an issue with the idea of a vacation there, but when I mentioned Haiti, people get confused.  Even in DR people were confused.  Why would we want to visit Haiti?  That’s truly what makes it a treat.  It’s virgin travel territory.  There are so few tourists. There’s this assumption that there is danger and security issues.  Sure crime rates are high, but the murder rate is actually higher in DR.  That’s not to say I don’t love DR.  Great place.  Save that for another travel post.

My trip to Haiti started with a border crossing.  One of the most fascinating border crossings in the world.  While crossing I saw a nude guy bathing in the river, as well as a baptism off in the distance in the same river.  People were crossing back and forth across the river as if there was no border.  I’d later find out that this no mans land of the border has a lot of vendors that live on one side and work on the other without actually going across the final border crossing.  They vendor there wares which may simply be a sack of used clothes.

Haitian Baptism

The Haitians are clever people that see the world in a different way.

Catcus Fence

It was only recently that I started seeing the cactus fence.  Very clever.  The animals stay out because otherwise they get poked by the spikes.

My favorite part of Haiti was simply the unexpected.  There was so much to experience that I had not seen anywhere.  While I have participated in Carnival festivities in Trinidad and spent plenty of time across the caribbean islands, I found a culture, and a people that are so fascinating and resourceful.  With 40% unemployment, and a non functioning system to really take care of them, the people find ways of keeping busy and really begging really doesn’t make sense since everyone around them is in a similar situation.

There were a few things that really surprised me.

slave beans

These beans were awesome!  These beans have probably been boiling for days.

lunch in Haiti

Add some fresh rice and chicken and stewed veggies and you have an incredible street meal for less than 2 dollars.

 

ecology

Before I went to Haiti, I had imagined it as a place with no trees across the country with only mud and dirt.  There are plenty of trees, they are a valuable commodity.  I saw a group pushing a big tree across the border and over the course of my time I saw them push the tree more than 10 Kilometers.

 

zombies

Voodoo is a strong tradition in Haiti…  So are zombies.  I jumped out of the car to take this quick photo with these boys in a small little village.  I was happy to see that even in the most dire circumstances, the people knew how to have fun.

 

poor kids haiti

I’m not sure why this kid has ripped pants that seem to not have much left of them.  We simply stopped to see what was going on after seeing some of the zombie looking guys.

whip it haitiCar Jacking

Had I not had a driver who was use to being stopped on the road with a whip and a chain stretched across the road, I may have freaked out.  The masked men dressed head to toe might have looked like criminals, but apparently this is like trick or treating in the road.  Due to the holidays, they’d stop the cars and ask for money or food.  Some would dance and

 

Haiti Hulk

Hulk mask is a nice touch, so is the cool whistle.  His buddy with the goggles is definitely pulling off a great trick or treat vibe… right?

Haiti Festival

The back pack makes it easy to put the food or goods.  It’s like the sack during trick or treat.

 

Haiti Domed Church

This was the first building I saw as we pulled into the UNESCO Herigate site of Sans Souci

 

These Haitian monuments date from the beginning of the 19th century, when Haiti proclaimed its independence. The Palace of Sans Souci, the buildings at Ramiers and, in particular, the Citadel serve as universal symbols of liberty, being the first monuments to be constructed by black slaves who had gained their freedom.

Glory of Sans Souci UNESCO Haiti

This bust gives you a bit of the glory days for this once amazing palace built for the first emperor of Haiti.  King Henri I.  The history of the building, takes one back to the founding of Haiti and it’s amazing fight to independence.  This is where slavery began its end… as they held off and defeated the Spanish, French, and English.  The only island in the Caribbean to have done so.

Henri Christophe (Henry Christopher) (6 October 1767 – 8 October 1820) was a former slave and key leader in the Haitian Revolution, which succeeded in gaining independence from France in 1804. In 1805 he took part under Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the capturing of Santo Domingo (now Dominican Republic), against French forces who acquired the colony from Spain in the Treaty of Basel.

Sans Souci

Haiti Emperors palace

sans souci palace

motor bike ride

We rode motorbikes up to the Citadel.  It was one of the steepest and craziest roads to drive on.  Drivers really didn’t want to take us.  We got 3 quotes for $100 to drive us to the Citadel.  The motorbikes were $10 to drive the crazy road, but we negotiated them down to $6 which still seemed steep until we actually started the trek.

 

Citadel Haiti UNESCO

The Citadel – Citadelle Laferrière another UNESCO Heritage site… rising out of the clouds.  Largest fortress in the Caribbean.  What would end up being the seriously craziest ride negotiation ever, would end with this view.  I had left my family back at the emperors palace and needed to get back. We were then on to Cap Hatien for the night and a night we’ll never forget in joining in Hatian Carnival.  Simply getting to the Citdel is a real challenge.  Getting from the town where the palace is to the horses is $10 by motorbike, and then once you get to the donkeys/horses, it’s $15 by horse or a steep walk of 45min-1hr or so. Negotiation is possible, but very difficult to get more than 50% off.

 

Cap Hatien

Cap Hatian – view from our hotel balcony.

haiti tv watching

Wandering through the streets of Cap Haiten Haiti, I found this group of kids gathered around this open window watching what they said was a Jackie Chan movie on a 20 inch TV from the 80s.  There were nearly 20 kids.  It was a Bollywood movie and not even in French, but they were watching it intently.

hatian carnivale wolf man haiti

Haitian Carnivale!  The crowds came out by the thousands and filled the streets.  People dressed up in whatever fun outfits they had. In largest conga lines I’ve ever seen in my life, the crowds started to slowly move at a snails pace.  After a half hour of hearing the music we could see lights up a head.  Preceding the carnival float was a UN truck with armed men that would slowly push the crowd forward. That scene was a bit scary.  The army men didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves very much, but the people were relaxed and having the time of their lives.

cap hatien carnival

Seas of people.  The tall truck had popular musicians playing carnival songs.  As was related in Port of Prince as the tall lighted trucks passed under power lines, the people would use sticks to lift the power lines over the truck.

happy hatian kids

Something I really loved about my trip to Haiti was the kids.  So happy.

 

Is Haiti worth visiting?  Oh, Yes!  Is it setup as a tourist destination.  Far from it.  This is virgin travel territory.  The taxis barely know how to negotiate.  They aren’t use to negotiating very well.  There really are 2 price levels.  Those at the local level and those at what I refer to as the Mafia level.  There are a few that artificially inflate some of the services.  We negotiated a ride from the Dominican Republic border to take us to the Emperors Palace Sans Souci and the Citadel and to then take us to Cap Hatien hotel, and then back to the border.  The first offer was $200 which was too much.  When we agreed on a $65 price and started driving, the driver changed and by the time we got to the palace, he was telling us that was only for 1 day and not for both.  We ended up paying $65 per day reluctantly after some fierce war of words.  That was really our only challenge.  We never felt for our safety outside of the van driver situation confusion.  My friend Michael had a couple of years of high school French, which was very useful.  We did find some who spoke spanish in our wandering around the city.  There are still some very poor conditions, but the food was amazing.  The Creole food was great, amazing flavor.

Haiti hotel room

The hotel conditions were quite simple.  Our night with approximately $20 in gourdes.  Not something you could book ahead online.  There’s a big delta between what is available online verses on the ground.  This place was near the bus station.  Notice no glass window and no air conditioning.  The bathrooms were shared, and no sink in the bathroom.  It was definitely an adventure.

chicken foot rice and beans

Getting back across the border and having a chicken foot breakfast while in a mass of crowded vendors like a mosh pit was another first for me.  They setup a temporary city on the border and much to my surprise didn’t even get in the passport control lines.  I happened to have arrived on a morning they setup an impromptu market at the border for exchanging goods.

If you want to go to a place where you can make a difference, or where people don’t don’t frequently visit… Haiti is adventure travel.  It’s fascinating and could use your assistance to grow.  There are good people there looking to have a better life and you can make a difference.

Help Stop Brain Cancer

Cancer Family

Wanted to share my brother in law Robert’s new blog:

Stop Brain Cancer.

Robert is more than a brother.  We’be shared a lot of great times togethe including traveling in Washington DC and New York City.  As well I attribute my new appreciation for cuisine in Southern California to Robert.  He introduced me to Chicken & Waffles and my first taco truck experience was with Robert.  My interest in combining  massage with travel came from a So Cal excursion with Robert and Angela to Ensenada & Rosarito. Good old’ Bufadora!! I’ll have to share more about this trip.

Anyway, I hope you will take time to read his true story of finding and fighting brain cancer.

Brain Cancer
Robert, Angela and Ian

Social Mush: End World Hunger


There are 7 really solid Ideas that are making a difference in the world in combating world hunger which really stems from world poverty.  Many of these ideas are very entrepreneurial.  I really like Microloans and I’m sold on them.  I’ve been using Kiva, and my mom has been giving us Heifer International gifts for Christmas the last couple of years, which as well really seem to hit the problem at it’s roots by helping people gain access to loans and support in the case of Kiva, and animals for production in the case of Heifer.  The gifts that keep on giving… like a laying hen, or a pair of rabbits or nanny goat which could produce milk, cheese, and so much more.

In the end it appears to me that logistics alone keep these programs for going further.  On Kiva.org it’s local lenders and support groups.  They do work.  I’ve seen near 100% return on the Microloans I’ve participated in.  I’ve personally seen loans paid back in over 25 countries.  Impressive, this wouldn’t be possible without the speed of technology.

McDonalds has found a way to bring cheap food around the world, but it isn’t solving world hunger.  Imagine a social business that can bring food that’s sourced locally as a franchise and is cheap enough that someone who makes a dollar or two a day can afford it.  The logistics should be easy enough it could be ran out of doors without electricity or in a home, hut, or center camp or village.

Let me introduce you to Social Mush the next Social Business.  It starts with a big bowl, in some cases the bowl is so large that it could fit 5 to 10 people.  It’s also big enough that what it produces could feed 1000 people or 500 or 100 based on the village needs.  At this level the economies of scale to feed the a village could cost $10-20 or around 15 cents a day.

image

Fundamental Principles:

  1. The mush is made from local ingredients that are very accessible.  Mush recipes can be customized to ensure proper nutrition.
  2. The cost of the bowl itself and the first month of ingredients in the beginning are supported by international donors in a microloan fashion similar to the Kiva.org model
  3. Each location has a local investor known as the Chef.  This is the social entrepreneur.  They are the one that has identified the need and is trying to meet the local need.  They are responsible to build local partnerships and limited remote connections to provide necessary supplies.
  4. Bowl locations are selected based on the need and basic training qualifications of the chef.
  5. No one is turned away at Breakfast. They will pay what they can.    Customer will come with their own bowl and spoon and be given mush at breakfast.  Credits will be given based on skills earned, training attended or other productive and based on understanding the local needs.  Lunch and Dinner are provided at a standard fixed rate but highly affordable cost which is based on a rate of return which will pay for the bowl and costs to cover the service within a ~6 month period. Shouldn’t be more than $1 and realistically should be around 10-25 cents based on the maturity of the local cost of living.
  6. Customers can work with the Chef to supply and grow ingredients and become suppliers of spices, rice, milk, etc… creating a more local supply of basic ingredients increase quality and reduce cost while even more close to home promoting gardening/farming principles and self reliance.
  7. Training and skills promotion is a key principle:  The Chef will need partners and  assistants and ultimately other franchise people.  Activities that are required to get things going are organizing the supplies, gather wood, start the fire, and notify the locals (Is it a big bell?) Do people come over time based on volume?  This assistance can be repaid in credits through food.  They will also need help stirring, serving, and keeping order. In all cases I think these are volunteer opportunities that result in payment in food.
  8. Franchise.  Much of the organic spread to meet needs relies on successful deployments happening, they can train others in nearby villages and spread the success.
  9. Recipes themselves can be modified based on what is in season and based on what is available.  At some level it comes down to pooling resources.  If I bring some of what I have grown and others do the same, we can all benefit from a greater palate and cornucopia of harvest.  These recipes themselves can be shared.
  10. The organization needs to be run in such as way that social franchises can operate on their own after some period of time.

Would you fund it? What am I missing?