Writing about my weekend fun and time spent in Haiti has been one of the most difficult dispatches to date. I spent a good number of hours in the country trying to come to terms that this magical western portion of Hispaniola was not living up to all the negative hype too often attached to the greater Haiti. On my plane back to the states I thought deeply about what I might want to tell everyone back home of the experience, of the people encountered and of the picklese I tasted on my last day. Part of me felt as though I should withhold the details of the paradise that is Jacmel as a reward to self for being “brave” enough to fly into one of the so-called “Most Dangerous” countries with one of the most unpredictable political climates. Even before I boarded my flight back I surprised many in the line waiting by telling them I had gone down to Jacmel. They were curious to know how I had found out about the area and I suppose they’ll be curious to know how you discovered the sometimes out-of-hand / many times peaceful and real Haiti when you arrive one day.
I do not believe travel to Haiti is built for all tourists and vacationing folks, just as I believe Bangkok, Paris, London and Rome travel is not meant for all and everyone. This could very well be my lame attempt in keeping the quiet beaches of Jacmel, Ti Mouillage, Kabik and Marigot quiet long enough for me to squeeze in another visit or two before they become the Caribbean’s next hot destination. However, I do believe the country is ready to welcome and receive visitors and is in need of tourism to help rebuild economy and to hopefully provide more jobs for the people of Haiti. If you are ready to ride the tap-taps in Port-au-Prince, try the food in Carrefour, dance like you’ve never danced before to the sounds of new and old Kompa or spend a day splashing in some of the coolest clearest Caribbean waters then you may already be ready to book a flight.
There are a few things you must keep in mind though. In all my good words about the country there is no denying that Haiti is still a very poor place. I witnessed the highest level of poverty my eyes I have ever laid sight on in driving through the capital. Public sanitation and restroom facilities can be a hard finds depending which direction you are headed. You will see many men peeing on the streets and if you’re a woman you may have to find a bush along your drive down to the beaches should you have to ‘go.’ Trash can be found scattered in many places and a heavy rain can bring it all into the muddy streets. You will see UN peace keepers with guns, but like it was told to me before I left on my trip: “You will not see gunfire. It is not like the situation in Iraq.” You will not see people carrying machetes unless you’re in the country and you will not need to pack one of your own. You will want to watch what you drink and eat. And if you are truly set on visiting someday plan on learning a little Kreyól if you don’t already speak French.
I’m not West Indian, but I feel very comfortable in the islands. My travel to Haiti was fashioned a little differently than I would go about most trips for a small handful of reasons. While I always try to make an effort, I speak only ‘tou-pa-ti’ or a little Kreyól and my French gets worse. Plus, there aren’t many updated guidebooks or enough online information to lead me around the volatile city that is Port-au-Prince on my own. These two things made it so I hired a driver and a translator along with the rental car for my three day sprint. As it turned out their company was nice to have and they told me many things about life in the country and helped me learn more of the lives of other Haitians through their translating. With my two-middle men or people, I didn’t feel a close, warm personal connection to the people as I might have if I spoke more of the language on my own, but that is something that can be fixed in time and does not mean that the people of Haiti are not warm-spirited.
Traveling in Haiti without a translator or driver can be done and will definitely save spending money during your trip. Should you plan on going without the help of a friend or family member in the country or even hired assistance be sure to check frequently on the current political climate. Every other day I made sure I went online to find news on Haiti a month before my trip. As of right now the only thing truly disturbing the masses is probably the early rains of Hurricane season. Traveling Haiti is a great online source of information and probably one of the best built sites with facts and basic info on planning a trip. Lonely Planet doesn’t carry much info, but they do have a picture with a view from the Citadel that makes me want to visit again ASAP. Other sites that may be of interest are Hands & Feet Project, FOSAJ and Yéle. For more Festival Mizik Jakmel pictures click here.
American Airlines has flights into PAP daily and Spirit recently started servicing the country as well. Travel within the country with a private car is easy and there are a number of rental agencies at the airport, though you may wish to have a reservation well in advance. Avis, Budget, Hertz and a number of island renters offer pretty decent rates. For a tiny 4-door Nissan Sentra I paid $76 per day.
Credit cards are accepted at most hotels, the airport and car rental offices. Expect to pay cash when dining or souvenir shopping though there are some galleries where credit cards are accepted as well. US dollars are happily welcomed, but it doesn’t hurt to have Haitian gourdes on hand. Prices are quoted in Haitian dollars which do not exist. To get the cost in gourdes, simply multiply the amount of Haitian dollars by five. To get the amount in US dollars divide the amount of gourdes by the current exchange rate (approx 35-37).
For more details and photos on food, accommodation, arts and souvenirs make sure you check out the five part series leading to this closing plug. The links for all can be found below and while I surely wouldn’t mind your taking all my experiences to shape your trip, I encourage you to make discoveries of your own. Share them later if you so please or keep them as secrets of your own. I’ll understand.
Haiti Part 1: A Country with a VERY Bad Reputation
Haiti Part 2: Kreyól Cuisine
Haiti Part 3: Hotel Cyvadier & Other Jacmel Hotels
Haiti Part 4: Arts & Souvenirs
Haiti Part 5: Festival Mizik Jakmel Update