“Where are you vacationing again?” asked a business client.
“Haiti” I responded in excitement and smiled at the thought of not being at work for an entire week.
“Tahiti?” he asked with a perplexed look on his face.
I sighed and said “No, Haiti, H-A-I-T-I. It’s located in the Caribbean.”
“Ah ok….I’ve never heard anyone go there before….wait isn’t it where the earth—–“
“Yes!” I interrupted. “There was an earthquake a few years ago.”
“Ok….so um have a great trip.”
*awkward conversation ends*
Although I was slightly annoyed by this conversation, I understand that Haiti is probably not a popular tourist destination. It’s a beautiful country that has been plagued by natural disasters and political instability. Haiti has even been ranked #11 as one of the world’s most corrupt countries (https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/ranking-worlds-corrupt-countries.html/?a=viewall). With all these factors against them, it’s clearly a country that needs to work on not only its image but in providing basic needs to its citizens.
Despite all this, Haiti has my heart. I grew to appreciate it on my first trip to Haiti back in 2013 to celebrate my cousin’s nuptials. Since that trip, I told myself I had to go back and discover the whole island and not only spend time in the beautiful resorts, but encourage the local communities as well.
When I found out a friend of mine was moving to Haiti for work, my other friends and I were ecstatic and immediately started planning a trip. We narrowed down the dates, bought our tickets and four weeks later, as the plane descended at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Haiti, we had no idea what was in store for us. This trip ended up being an amazing adventure that definitely changed our perspective on life.
Here are the top five things I learned about Haiti:
5. Haiti is a beautiful mountainous country.
According to Wikipedia, it is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean and I can confirm that. Every time we drove to nearby communities, we were either driving up or down on the treacherous roads. The views were spectacular and the lush sceneries left me wanting more. I had always heard relatives talking about the mountains in Haiti, but now I truly appreciated and understood its beauty.
Tip: To enjoy the view even more, grab dinner at L’observatoire. The views of Port-au Prince are stunning.
L’Observatoire de Boutilliers is a restaurant that has one the best views of the city.
4. Haitian food is delicious.
I’m biased and growing up in a Haitian family, I grew to love the food but going to Haiti made me appreciate the food even more. The banan peze (flattened fried plantains that is fried twice) and picklies (a vinegar based slaw that you eat with meats and rice) and the other fried delicacies that I don’t get to indulge very often gave me life. Rice and beans is a major element to any meal, however; mushroom rice (better known as du riz djon djon) is a treat. Djon djon are dried mushrooms grown in Haiti that are used to flavor the rice and give it that exquisite black color. Other delicacies I enjoyed was the local Haitian beer, Prestige, which can be bought anywhere in Haiti. I’m not a beer connoisseur at all but I grew to appreciate the mild flavor as I savored the fried delicacies.
Tip: Purchase a bag of djon djon before you leave Haiti.
Rice with fried meat and fried plantains
3. Haitian art is beautiful.
On day two on my Haitian adventure; my friends and I visited a city named Jacmel, located in southern Haiti, about a two hour drive from the capital city, Port-au-Prince. It had a cool, artsy vibe where we even met a Canadian expat who had been living there since the earthquake. The architecture was beautiful, with European style buildings and bright colors. It’s probably where a lot of Haitian artists get their inspirations from. Haitian art is sold everywhere in Haiti, but in Jacmel, the art was different and blended so well with the scenery that you couldn’t help but admire it. It reminded me of visiting an art gallery at a lounge in an urban area. The attention to detail and the level of talent amazed me and my friends and I all bought some art.
Art is such an important representation of the culture and history of Haiti. A prime example I can think of is Jean- Michel Basquiat, a famous New Yorker with Haitian roots who made beautiful and sometimes controversial art. People are still flocking to see his work and buy his art in 2017.
Tip: Support the local economy and purchase a piece of art. You won’t regret it. Have lunch at Café Koze, a quaint spot that sells wraps, salads and freshly squeezed fruit juice.
Lovely art that is sold on the streets in Haiti
Cool sculptures sold on the streets of Jacmel
2. Bassin Bleu is a must see.
Bassin Bleu is a natural water site located in Jacmel. It’s a series of basins that lead you to a clear blue body of water. The road to Bassin Bleu is a little treacherous but the twenty minute hike my friends and I took was challenging. (Our cardio wasn’t up to par either but I digress!) The wide steps and sometimes slippery rocks made it hard, especially if your shoes didn’t have a good grip. At one point, we even wondered if that hike was worth it but when we stopped and saw the view, it was all worth it. To swim to the Bassin Bleu, there is a rope that takes you down to the water. (Mind you, if you are not a good swimmer, you might want to avoid swimming there. The current is strong and there are no lifeguards.) Since we were there during rainy season, it had rained the previous night and we didn’t see the clear, turquoise color water. Instead, we saw a brown colored body of water. Although we were a little disappointed, it was still beautiful.
Tip: Get a local guide to take you there and you will enjoy it even more.
Hiking towards Bassin Bleu
The beautiful clear waters of Bassin Bleu
What we saw lol
1. Haitians are strong.
Despite being plagued by political instability and natural disasters, Haitians are resilient people. Driving through Port-au-Prince, (and driving during chaotic rush hour), I looked around and saw the markets where people sold anything and everything. A woman had a stand of papayas and mangoes next to another woman, busy making fried plantains to sell and a man, walking around with basket full of unmarked antibiotics and random pills. Everyone is hustling, trying to provide for their families and making a life for themselves. Posters of the current president could be seen around the city, with graffiti calling him a liar. Little kids, selling water on the street and the construction worker, attempting to clean the road in the middle of rush hour were all things that I observed and discussed with my friends. The country has so much potential. As foreigners visiting the country, we could see the problems and provide solutions. But where do we start? I feel in order to make a change, it doesn’t have to be big. My friends and I met a man in Haiti who was grateful for a Canadian couple who had visited Haiti years prior and had seen the potential in this man’s life as he worked in a resort as a young boy and decided to pay for his schooling. He was forever indebted to that couple and to Canada for changing his life. All it takes is one small act.
Haiti has my heart and I’m looking forward to going back someday soon and exploring other parts of the island. Stay tuned!