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.
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.
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 :)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read part 3 of My Haitian Experience here.