MY HAITIAN EXPERIENCE - PART 3

One of the things that stood out most during my visit was how much artistic expression was entrenched in Haitian life. I suppose this could be said of all Caribbean islands but I was particularly impressed by Haiti`s distinct expression of individuality. From the gingerbread houses of Petionville to the artists and artisans of Jacmel, it was clear that creative expression was a large part of the cultural fabric.

Gingerbread-style architecture that originated in Haiti

Gingerbread-style architecture that originated in Haiti

I was quite excited about visiting Jacmel as it was one of the sites that I had been looking forward to the most. This seaside town  has become renowned as the cultural and artistic center of Haiti and it did not disappoint.  We had the opportunity to visit the atelier of prominent Haitian artist, Ronald Mevs whose work has been exhibited and lauded internationally.  We bonded over our mutual adoration of Jamaica as he had spent a lot of time working in Kingston.

Ronald Mevs

Ronald Mevs

Walking through the old streets of Jacmel was such an evocative experience.  The cobbled streets and French colonial architecture was transportative and I could almost hear the clickety-clack of the horse-drawn carriages going by.   We were fortunate enough to get a personalized tour from Michaelle Craan (Madame Jacmel) who has lived in Jacmel all her life and was happy to rattle off historical events.

Cobblestone and French Colonial architecture in Jacmel

Cobblestone and French Colonial architecture in Jacmel

Madam Jacmel

Madam Jacmel

French courtyard in Jacmel

French courtyard in Jacmel

Seafront boardwalk in Jacmel

Seafront boardwalk in Jacmel

As our trip started to wind down, I was ready for some good old sun, sea and sand. After all, we were in the Caribbean. While it wasn't exactly the Caribbean Sea, Bassin Bleu was a welcomed respite from the heat. The stunning series of natural water holes were the most inviting teal. It wasn't easy to get to as it was well nestled into the mountainside, but it was certainly well worth the trek. And I wasted no time getting in :)

Bassin Bleu

Bassin Bleu

Tourists and locals at Bassin Bleu

Tourists and locals at Bassin Bleu

If there was anything that surprised me about Haitian tourism, it was that there was so much to see and experience. There's something for nature lovers and history buffs and beach bums and art connoisseurs. So from the mountains to the cultural hub to the refreshing waters of Bassin Bleu, it was on to Musee Ogier Fombrun at Moulin Sur Mer. This former sugar plantation still bares gripping and painful reminders of Haiti's turbulent past as one of the most lucrative colonies of the Caribbean.  But while the past has shaped so much of Haiti's fragile present,  the goal is always to keep moving forward.

Entrance of Museum Ogier-Fombrun

Entrance of Museum Ogier-Fombrun

Slave-operated sugar mill

Slave-operated sugar mill

Model of the Santa Maria on display at Museum Ogier-Fombrun

Model of the Santa Maria on display at Museum Ogier-Fombrun

Finally, it was our last stop of the trip and I have to say that even though I have a love-hate relationship with large chain all-inclusive resorts, checking into The Royal Decameron Indigo Beach Resort & Spa was a treat. The island's first and only all-inclusive resort was bustling with activity, an auspicious sign for Haiti's tourism reboot. 

Poolside at Royal Decameron Indigo Resort & Spa

Poolside at Royal Decameron Indigo Resort & Spa

Beach at Royal Decameron Indigo & Spa

Beach at Royal Decameron Indigo & Spa

On our final night in Haiti we had the opportunity to attend an authentic Voodoo ceremony. Perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented aspects of Haitian culture, having had the experience first-hand was such an incredibly eye-opening experience. While most people think of Haitian Voodoo as sinister and diabolical, that couldn't be further from actuality. And while the intricacies of this tradition are undoubtedly foreign to me and, jarring, even, the truth is that Voodoo is an inextricable part of Haiti's story. And one that should be rightfully celebrated and preserved for future generations. It is through the covert practice of Voodoo that slaves were able to congregate and subsequently orchestrate their revolt against their oppressors which ultimately led to Haiti's independence more than a century before any other Caribbbean island.

Traditional Haitian Voodoo Ceremony

Traditional Haitian Voodoo Ceremony

Traditional Haitian Voodoo Ceremony

Traditional Haitian Voodoo Ceremony

Traditional Haitian Voodoo Ceremony

Traditional Haitian Voodoo Ceremony

So, after a week, what do I have to say about Haiti? Yes, it is very poor. But you already knew that. And it hasn't had a stable government for much of it's existence. But you already knew that too. Mainstream media has done a good job of keeping us abreast of the ills and challenges that Haiti faces. While those truths are very evident, that isn't all there is. 

As our speedboat approached the coast of Gonaives to some of the clearest waters I've ever seen, I couldn't help but think about all the beauty I had seen and experienced. The captivating culture. The staggering history of this great island. The warmth...and pride...and resilience of a people who, everyday, continue to defy the odds. If I have one thing to say about Haiti, I say...go. Vivez l'experience.

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Photocred: Julien Bourque

Photocred: Julien Bourque

MY HAITIAN EXPERIENCE - PART 2

Having had the warmest of welcomes and my appetite for Haitian authenticity having been well whetted, on our third morning, I was quite excited to venture off the beaten path. Now, had I known how far off the beaten path we were headed, I probably would have had some reservations. Piled in a pick-up truck and navigating across a river and through a busy market, we drove and drove and drove until, at some points, there was no more road. Literally. And then we drove some more. Although the drive was preeetty arduous, our ascent into the mountains afforded us some spectacular views. There's a saying in Haiti: Behind the mountains there are more mountains. Well, we saw why. I'll admit that this leg of the trip would probably not have been something I would have signed up for and probably falls more into the sphere of adventure/alternative travel, but this turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the trip. 

3000 m high in Séguin

3000 m high in Séguin

Landscapes carved by erosion due to deforestation

Landscapes carved by erosion due to deforestation

By the time we got to our destination at what seemed like the summit of Haiti, having traversed the other-wordly landscape caused by soil erosion, it felt like we were no longer in the tropics.  Here we had the pleasure of meeting Winthrop "Winnie" Attie, founder of the Seguin Foundation, a grassroots non-profit organization committed to combating deforestation and to preserving and protecting natural resources whilst educating and empowering locals from the surrounding communities through tree plantations. We sat and listened to him talk, hanging on to his every word. His passion was so palpable and one could not help but be inspired by every word that came out his mouth.

Rock formation caused by soil erosion

Rock formation caused by soil erosion

Being inspired by passionate people

Being inspired by passionate people

While the objective of the the Seguin Foundation is to raise awareness about deforestation, there is  also  a natural reserve (Parc La Visiste) that offers tourists a serene and no-frills experience in tune with nature. And nothing says 'in tune with nature' quite like camping in the mountains. And in case you're wondering, I slept like a wee baby :)

Pine forest, perfect for an early morning trek

Pine forest, perfect for an early morning trek

Waterfall in the forest

Waterfall in the forest

Now, some might call my experience at Seguin 'roughing it'. And who goes on a vacation to 'rough it'? Well, one of the objectives of ExploreHaiti is to facilitate opportunities that allow for enriching experiences and exchanges between visitors and locals. Experiences such as the one I had at Seguin where I played an impromptu game of dominoes with some of the children from the community. And danced around a bonfire to a tam-tam beat. If I learned anything in the mountains of Seguin, it is how the love of one's country drives vision and feeds passion. We often hear so much about the foreign aid but rarely do we ever hear of the people who work tirelessly and thanklessly for the improvement of their country and the lives of their countrymen.

Delicious, home-cooked vegetarian dish at Seguin

Delicious, home-cooked vegetarian dish at Seguin

I know a thing or two about dominoes :)

I know a thing or two about dominoes :)

New friends :)

New friends :)

Over the next couple of days I had the opportunity to visit some of the establishments at the forefront of Haiti's eco-tourism upsurge. As the country grapples with many ecological challenges, hoteliers are well aware of the importance of responsible and sustainable tourism and, as such, have taken steps to playing their part in preserving Haiti's natural bounty.

The Ranch Montcel, an expansive ecological property in the hills of Kenscoff, operates completely off-grid and is almost 100% farm-to-table. The yield from the on-site farm also supplies supermarkets in Petionville. 

Ranch Montcel

Ranch Montcel

Ranch Montcel property

Ranch Montcel property

Fresh, organic produce from Ranch Montcel

Fresh, organic produce from Ranch Montcel

The Lodge, Furcy started out as a family summer retreat but has since evolved into a stunning 26-room retreat nestled amongst the lush native flora.

The Lodge, Furcy

The Lodge, Furcy

View of mountains from The Lodge, Furcy

View of mountains from The Lodge, Furcy

Flower at The Lodge, Furcy

Flower at The Lodge, Furcy

Upon descending the hills of Haiti, I was left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated as a retreat into nature usually does. I also felt very inspired by  everyone I had met. People seemed to be genuinely passionate about playing their part in advancing Haiti's welfare and it was really a beautiful and inspiring thing to see.

We had one last stop before the final leg of the trip.  Haiti Surf Guesthouse was a serene retreat, in keeping with the eco-friendly theme of the previous days. The cozy individual cabins, soothing sounds of a gurgling stream below and stunning morning views were very well appreciated. After 2 years of operation, Haiti Surf Guesthouse has since spearheaded the island's foray into surfing. A foray that has been garnering attention from surfers worldwide. Nearby Kabic Beach has become something of a surfing hotspot and was even the site of Haiti's first surfing competition against the Dominican Republic in April of this year.

Views from Haiti Surf Guesthouse

Views from Haiti Surf Guesthouse

Cozy cabin at Haiti Surf Guesthouse

Cozy cabin at Haiti Surf Guesthouse

Kabic Beach PhtoCred: Julien Bourque

Kabic Beach

PhtoCred: Julien Bourque

Read part 3 of My Haitian Experience here.

 

 

 

 

MY HAITIAN EXPERIENCE PART 1

 

A few weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with ExploreHaiti and was hosted for a week in Haiti. I have to be honest, prior to my trip, what little I knew of Haiti was sparse and largely influenced by the media’s depiction of the country. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that my knowledge of Haiti could be summed up in three words: Poverty, Earthquake and Voodoo. Yes, I’ll shamefully admit that my recognition of the world’s first black republic had been whittled down to three dejected words.  But I was curious, nonetheless, to see what Haiti had to offer in terms of tourism. Boy, was I in for a treat! I must admit that coming from Jamaica, I wasn't going to be easily impressed but Haiti definitely charmed me in a way that I had not anticipated. Most might be surprised to know that once upon a time, in the 50s and 60s, Haiti was one of the most popular Caribbean destinations and it's easy to see why. Beneath the rugged exterior and the grime of hardship, Haiti is a gem, teeming with untapped potential. ExploreHaiti is now at the forefront of reinvigorating Haiti's tourism brand and I couldn't be happier to help spread the word!

Our first night was spent at the stately Villa Thèrése located in Petionville, an upscale commune of Port-au-Prince .  After checking in and getting some much needed rest, we were whisked off to L’Observatoire de Boutilliers for a night on the town, Haitian style. And what a night it was! The ambience was quintessentially Caribbean, albeit noticeably different from that which I had grown accustomed to in Jamaica. The sweet sounds of reggae were replaced by Konpa and even though I was at a complete loss to the lyrics, it was the sultry melody that forced me to sway to beat. The breeze...the food...and that view! The lights of Port-au-Prince twinkling in the distance some 3,000 feet below was nothing short of sublime, giving new meaning to dining with a view. At some points during the evening, I remember thinking to myself, “Am I really in...Haiti?”

Villa Thèrése

Villa Thèrése

Villa Thèrése

Villa Thèrése

Villa Thèrése

Villa Thèrése

L'Observertoire de Boutilliers

L'Observertoire de Boutilliers

On our second day we visited the National Museum in Port-au-Prince or MUPANAH (Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien) I was truly impressed by all the exhibits and artifacts on display. Haitian history is incredibly rich and it really is a shame that it is not celebrated more. After all, it is the Haitian Revolution that incited the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, an integral part of world history. It is Toussaint L’Ouverture, father of the Haitian Revolution who orchestrated the defeat of Napoleon’s revered and much storied army; no small feat.  I remember getting quite emotional upon seeing the Anchor of Santa Maria. Simply because much of the country’s current plight can be directly attributed to the moment that that anchor was cast at the shores of Hispaniola. But if this trip to Haiti has taught me anything, it is that Haitians are a proud people and they don’t want pity, but acknowledgement of their invaluable contributions that have shaped the world as we know it.

Entrance of MUPANAH

Entrance of MUPANAH

Haitian artwork on display at MUPANAH

Haitian artwork on display at MUPANAH

Haitian coat-of-arms at MUPANAH

Haitian coat-of-arms at MUPANAH

After the museum we had lunch at Les Jardins du Mupanah, the on-site restaurant at the museum. Housed in an architecturally inspiring space, this restaurant is definitely a place to visit when in Port-au-Prince. The food was...amazing! Probably the best Tilapia I’ve ever had.

Jardins du Mupanah Restaurant

Jardins du Mupanah Restaurant

Lychee mojito at Les Jardins du Mupanah

Lychee mojito at Les Jardins du Mupanah

Appetizers at Les Jardins du Mupanah

Appetizers at Les Jardins du Mupanah

Yummy Tilapia!

Yummy Tilapia!

For our second night we were hosted at La Colline Enchantée, which translates to The Enchanted Hill. Perched atop the ‘Enchanted Hill’  were the most charming thatched cottages sprawled on acres of lush grounds and offering the most incredible views of the Caribbean Sea. I love, LOVE beachfront accommodations but waking up to panoramic views of the seawas a pretty good consolation. 

Colline Enchantée

Colline Enchantée

Morning view

Morning view

Colline Enchantée

Colline Enchantée

Lazing away in a hammock at Colline Enchantée Photocred: Julien Bourque

Lazing away in a hammock at Colline Enchantée

Photocred: Julien Bourque

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 3 of My Haitian Experience! 

Bisous,

Alicia

 

 

TRAVEL DIARY: THAILAND

After almost 5 months I had no intention of making this a blog post but after going through the pictures and reminiscing about lazy days spent poolside, I figured, what the heck! Looking at the pictures definitely has me itching to start planning my next vacation but in the meantime a stroll down memory lane will have to suffice.

Julien and I were lucky enough to get away for 10 whole days in February...sans Bubs - it was amaaaazing. We missed him terribly, of course, but it was so nice to be able to have this experience as a couple. We were in Thailand for a total of 8 days - 3 days in Bangkok, 1 day in Phuket and 4 days in Khao Lak. We knew we didn't want the stereotypical Thailand itinerary of beach and party so we rented a car in Phuket and ventured off the beaten path. 

When I left I imagined I would be able to get so many photos of me looking chic in vacation wear but, alas, it was not to be. On the first day I attempted to wear makeup and literally five minutes out the door it was sliding off my face. So for the rest of the trip I went makeup free and just allowed myself to completely relax and be immersed in the experience.

I seriously fell in love with Thailand - the warmth of the people, the food, the ancient history made for an amazing cultural experience and I can't wait to go back! So, without further ado, for your viewing pleasure, Thailand 2016 :)

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We took the skytrain everyday while in Bangkok

We took the skytrain everyday while in Bangkok

We had some crazy tuk tuk rides! 

We had some crazy tuk tuk rides! 

Car seat: Optional

Car seat: Optional

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Yummy shrimp in Chinatown

Yummy shrimp in Chinatown

Gorgeous views of Patong

Gorgeous views of Patong

Big Buddha was very big!

Big Buddha was very big!

Views!!

Views!!

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Trek in one  Khao SOk National Park  - the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world!

Trek in one  Khao SOk National Park  - the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world!

I look like I've been walking for hours but this was actually at the very beginning of the trek :(

I look like I've been walking for hours but this was actually at the very beginning of the trek :(

We were very wary of animal exploitation but were so happy to see these darlings in their natural habitat

We were very wary of animal exploitation but were so happy to see these darlings in their natural habitat

Views!!

Views!!

Sea gypsy or Moken island

Sea gypsy or Moken island

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