GADLING’S TAKE FIVE: Week of June 3

Take5Another adventure awaits me and so I must pack, but before running off to do so let me point you to some of this week’s fun-filled and informative posts touching on food, islands, business travel and one of the best Talking Travel interviews yet!

5. Haiti Part 6: A Few Last Words:
My quick weekend trip to the Caribbean land of Haiti in summary can be found by visiting the link above along with other links packed with pictures of Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, Haiti. Check out the lesser explored Carib nation.

4. Hey Americans! Take a Vacation:
It is so true – Americans vacation the least compared to the rest of the world. What gives? Read Gadling’s cry out for more Americans to start taking time off and start planning your own escape.

3. Combining Business and Pleasure and how to Write it Off:
As someone who does a lot of travel for work related purposes it can be both enjoyable and a pain. The painful part if the expense reporting and keeping track of every single receipt. For those that experience the same kind of write-off and tax issues check out this how-to Neil does a fine job pointing us all to. Hopefully, this will help decrease some of the headache.

2. Top Ten Restaurants You Can Take a Boat To:

Ready for a hot, but cool dinner date? Taking a boat to a restaurant might just be the spice or icing (whichever you prefer) your dinner date is in need of and with that we present you with some of the top ten restaurants to make it happen.

1. Talking Travel with Conor Grennan:
If you haven’t been acquainted with Conor Grennan yet – NOW is the time! In this amazing and touching Talking Travel piece we learn that Conor is doing more than just hanging out in Nepal. He has been trekking through the Himalayas, reuniting trafficked children with their parents… WOW. How is that for meaningful travel? Read the full scoop for yourself!

Haiti Part 6: A Few Last Words

Airport
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.
A&F
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.
Country View
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

Haiti Part 2: Kreyól Cuisine

Belle
One might imagine that food and its preparation between each Caribbean island couldn’t possibly vary drastically in taste, but then one would be wrong. I’ve learned now through an odd handful of islands visited; St. Lucia, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago and now Haiti, that the art and science of cooking and eating a good meal on each is an experience of its own. No where else have I been able to feast upon conch salad the way I had in the Bahamas or the doubles and roti found in T&T and in Haiti, Creole cabrit, picklise, and lambi. The islands are without a doubt full of flavors. I’m sure I did not come close to taste-testing every Haitian delight on the menu or even the grilled corn on the cob which I longed for from one of the street vendors, but what I have here is only a glance of what savory, mouth-watering dishes await the visitor hoping to dig into Kreyól Cuisine during a weekend, week or months stay in the country.
Angosta
Pasta Nostra was not the first sit down restaurant I dined at, but it easily became my favorite. It possibly was the story behind the place alone that won my affection. As the story goes the breath-taking, beautiful mademoiselle pictured above had once been involved with an Italian man who taught her the art of cooking pasta and other Italian dishes. While the man in the story is somewhat of a ghost now, the beautiful chef can still be found preparing fresh seafood and pasta dishes across from the quiet beach of Ti Mouillage.

The establishment is cool, casual and comfortable like most situated next to the beach. Wooden chairs and tables sit atop of a small deck and small, bright, colorful artwork hangs from the wooden pools along the restaurant. Come before you feel you will absolutely faint of hunger because it is a one-woman operation in the kitchen and so it will be a moment before the food arrives. If you’ve come all the way to Haiti only to sample items typical to the country and wish not to have what I call ‘Italian fare remixed’ there is enough delicious fresh seafood to fill you right on up and if you weren’t aware – seafood is pretty typical for most islands.

On my plate: Grilled red snapper with plantains covered in a spicy red leafy sauce. The fish was cooked wonderfully and the sauce (I cannot remember the name – pictured below) had the right amount of kick. My companions all had the same with the exception of one who sampled the lobster and noted it was delicious. To wash it all down I sipped on cold cherry juice which I expressed some initial skepticism over as I’m not wild about cherry flavored foods/beverages in the States, yet the taste of cherry in Haiti is much different. The gelato featured on the desert menu was not available, so I skipped on having sweets afterwards. The rest of the bunch ordered crepes, which I took only a bite of found tasty as well. After you’ve refueled head across to the beach for a snooze underneath the island sun. ($$)

Pasta Nostra is located in Ti Mouillage, up the road from Jacmel. Ph. 509.453.3413
Cyvadier Restaurant
The restaurant at Hotel Cyvadier was the first I ate at and found the food appetizing. It wasn’t until we’d made the long three hour drive from Port-au-Prince and got all checked in did I finally rest my limbs and gobble down my first real meal. The restaurant as best described on the hotel website ‘seats up to 70 people and specializes in a diverse variety of fish, crawfish and lobster delivered daily from the local fishermen.’ The atmosphere is casual for breakfast and lunch which were the only two times I actually dined at the Cyvadier. Views of the hotel, swimming pool and the alluring Cyadier Plage (beach) can all be seen from the restaurant.

On my breakfast plate: I usually went the light way for breakfast having fruits (mango, banana, pineapple and/or melon) and bread with confiture (jelly or peanut butter). Simple and yummy! On the lunch plate: Spaghetti with ham and onions. If my memory serves me correctly I believe it may have been called Creole spaghetti, but I could also be wrong. For the first meal it wasn’t too bad. It was not mind-blowing, but highly satisfying. I would have liked to have explored other dishes on the menu, but didn’t want to stick exclusively to the hotel restaurant. ($$$)

Hotel Cyvadier Restaurant Plage is located in Jacmel off of Avenue Baranquilla in the direction towards Marigot. Ph. 509.288.3323

Ambiance was the dinner stop right before heading out to the second night of Festival Mizik Jakmel. It sits on the second floor above a business which I did not bother taking notice of and has a nice view of the activity taking place on the streets below. There isn’t a ton of ‘ambiance’ with the speeding motor ‘taxi’ bikes passing along, but once your meal is served you forget about all that is surrounding you including the screeching tires. The dishes took a while to prepare and by the time my Cabrit Creole (Creole goat) arrived I had lost the sense to take a photo of it and instead dug right in.

It was accompanied by a small field salad and a plate of red beans and rice far to large for me to tackle alone. The goat itself was very tasty and the meat was falling off the bone. Considering how different the taste was from the curry goat I’d had in T&T so many times and how easy it was to rip right into the meal I questioned whether I was truly having goat, but only for a short few seconds. I cannot recall what was on everyone else’s plate, but the overall reaction to the food was a good one. ($$)

Ambiance is located at Avenue Baranquilla, Jacmel, Haiti. Ph. 509.288.3067
Grilled Lambi
There were a few things on my wish list that I still hadn’t eaten and I didn’t want to wait anymore. I had been told about how delicious the picklese and Creole lambi was in Haiti and I didn’t want to miss either and in the process I still managed to miss one. The last sit-down spot where I had the opportunity and sadly failed was at Le Lambi Beach Hotel near Carrefour.

Le Lambi is HUGE! It was by far the biggest place we’d been to and during the time of our visit one of the quietest. It was obvious the restaurant had been there for ages as it was decorated from every inch of the ceiling in colorful baskets and every inch of the walls in conch shells. When you walk in your attention is split between the dance floor to the right and the open floor in the center where one can look down into the sea beneath. Old kompa tunes hum from the stereo system calling music lovers to the dance floor on a packed night I’m sure, but for lunch every patron in the restaurant was either far too hungry or too relaxed. I was so thrilled that they had picklese (a chopped cabbage in an extra delectable vinegar dressing) that I made the mistake of ordering my lambi grille
d and not the typical way which is served in Creole sauces.

When my meal arrived I looked down at what seemed like an appetizer. My companions then confessed that they’d never eaten the lambi (conch) grilled before and always order it in Creole sauce. I thought to myself why they hadn’t shared that valuable information before I ordered and let it slide as they were probably only trying to provide me with a reason to come back. In the end the grilled lambi was ‘OK’ and the picklese amazing! In fact I had everyone else’s picklese too. They were more than happy to share. And yes, I must finish what I started and return to sample more. ($$)

Le Lambi Beach Hotel is located in/near Carrefour at Mariani Mer Frayyte, Haiti. Ph. 509.234.0272

Dollar Guide: ($) Under U.S. $10 ($$) Under U.S. $20 ($$$) Over U.S. $20. While some restaurants are pricey and there is much street food to devour there are cheap tasty items on most if not all menus. Menu prices are noted in Haitian dollars (which do not actually exist) and can be paid for in Gourdes or U.S. dollars. To get the price in Gourdes multiply the Haitian dollar amount by five. For the price in U.S. dollars divide the amount of Gourdes by the going exchange rate approx 35-37. After you’ve done all the math treat yourself to a cocktail.

Want to go cheaper and hit the streets! Go for it! Among most busy town roadsides you can find chicken, plantains, sugarcane, juices, you name it! Just be careful to always have bottled water.
Fruit Punch Lambi
Pasta Nostra Pasta Nostra
Red Snapper Plantains
Pasta Nostra Cherry Juice
Spicy Sauce Crepe
Pasta Nostra Pasta Nostra
Ambians Ambians
Breakfast Menu
Red Snapper Rice & Beans
Creole Cooking Lambi

Yesterday: A Country with a VERY Bad Reputation
Tomorrow: Hotel Cyvadier & Other Jacmel Hotels

Haiti Part 1: A Country with a VERY Bad Reputation

National Palace
None of my close friends and family was sure why exactly I wanted to visit the western most side of Hispaniola, also known as Haiti. Like most people their minds had been beset by images of rallying city folk advancing the streets with machetes in hand, spirits flying loose and free from voodoo ceremonies taking place around the clock, acute poverty and so much political turmoil that Haiti would forever remain a no-man’s land for leisure travel.

Guess again.

Yes, ongoing political instability has been an issue the country has been dealing with for years and while all those images combined make for great nightly news stories and horror films the greater Haiti does not live up to the negative hype or stereotypes. Sorry folks, this is not going to be your guide to slum tourism or the darker side of the country. My primary reason for visiting the country was to explore the brighter opposites and there are many.
Tap Tap
During the next few days I will share with you the details of my journey into Port-au-Prince, the long drive to island paradise known as Jacmel, as well as arts, culture, cuisine, events and perhaps I’ll even suggest a place or two to stay. It would provide me with much delight to learn that one or two curious travelers find inspiration over the next few days to haul off to Haiti and in my wildest dreams many more travelers, but not all destinations are built for everyone.
For those who have decided to read further, I applaud your interest and invite you to continue down to a small selection of photos taken in both Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. Feast your eyes now on monuments, colorful tap-taps, beach hideaways and more.

One of my greatest beliefs is if you feed the people food and wisdom they’ll always look for ways to come back. Tomorrow I’ll start by exploring one of my favorite topics on any excursion: the local delicacies.











Tomorrow:
Kreyól Cuisine

Spirit Airlines to Offer Flights to Port-au-Prince

Port-au-PrinceIn today’s competitive airline industry carriers have to think outside of the box, be sharper than a razor’s edge and fly to destinations where many dare not to go. As of recent, the low-cost carrier, Spirit Airlines, has filed an application with the federal government to fly out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL and into Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Me, personally, I think the news is great and will be all the merrier if things go in favor for Spirit Airlines. First off, it would make the carrier the only big U.S. low-cost airline to offer regularly scheduled service to Haiti. Secondly, I live only a few hours drive from Ft. Lauderdale and I wouldn’t mind checking out Haiti for a weekend or so.

However, this short news update from USA Today’s blog gets mixed reviews and heated in the comments. If the news sounds good to you keep your fingers crossed or just go check out what some of the other people seem to think about traveling to Haiti.