How much adventure can you pack into a single day? I found out last Saturday when I shared not one but two unforgettable experiences with a group of new found friends.
Gina, a friend of Yvrose from Nantucket, Massachusetts, and her friend, Jordan, had come to spend a week’s holiday in Haiti. For them it was as much a chance to see old friends and reconnect with the spiritual side of life as it was to enjoy some rest and relaxation. Gina has also been supporting a local school p in the mountains by paying the salaries of the two teachers there, 50US dollars a month. She had timed her trip to coincide with the graduation of the school’s first class, an important milestone, so it was with much anticipation that we set off soon after dawn on Saturday morning to attend the ceremony.
Our party consisted of Yvrose, Gina, Jordan, myself and Lisa, a fellow Brit. Gina, I had discovered, was an incredibly cheerful and energetic, Brazilian-born Mum who loved to chat over freshly brewed coffee. Her travelling companion, Jordan, was a carpenter from Nantucket who grew up in Jamaica spending his childhood pumping water from the local well and enjoying fresh mangoes, so a trip to House House had a resonance for him that puts modern US living into perspective. Lisa, a fellow Brit, had also been staying at Hope House for a few weeks, doing Art with the kids and creating a fantastic ‘Arbre de Valuers’ for the school. As for Yvrose, I could not hope to do her justice in just a sentence suffice to say she was our group leader for the day, and oversaw the running of the mountain school.
Our journey was to be made on motorbikes. A band of dusty looking extras from a Mad Max film pulled up by appointment and after the briefest of introductions, we each picked a ride and took our seats behind. As I may have mentioned before, the tracks here are extremely rocky and as we pulled off I could feel every bump. With white knuckles I held on tight, putting my faith in the driver as the bike bucked and rolled up through the valley. Steep cliffs soon enveloped us and we found ourselves crossing a huge dry river bed of chalky white rock. Then up a steep mountain path that wounded and twisted up slopes with gradients over 20%. We passed other bikes on the way and donkeys laded with sacks and boxes. Children gathered outside the occasional cluster of concrete block houses shouting excitedly at me, ‘blanc, blanc!’
We must have climbed a couple of thousand feet before we reached the top of the ridge. From here we could look down on Fond Parisien and the lake spread out below but we still had a little way to go, through winding and undulating dirt paths that took us through the high countryside of the mountain tops. From here we could see peaks, ridges and valleys, rising, falling and weaving in and out of each other, dotted with block houses and clumps of trees. The land was green, with avocado trees and crops of corn in the fields, providing enough for people up here to get by.
Arriving at our destination, a small community called Pourri we pulled up next to a wooden framed shack with dried leaves on the roof, no walls and benches made from thin wooden planks. At first I thought it was a shelter, maybe for people waiting for a bike ride, but Yvrose explained that this simple structure was the school. I was quite taken aback at how humble it was and yet it was under this roof that a group of adults had taken the massive step of learning to read.
Soon, members of the community started to gather, men in shirts and trousers, women in simple dresses, and we filed into the Catholic church next door. This was a more substantial concrete structure with pin holes drilled into the tin roof, causing spots of light like stars to shine down into the dark, cool interior. Garlands of plastic flowers hung from the columns and a fait perfume wafted through the room. We were given seats at the front as guests of honour though I was given the job of official photographer so I was soon on my feet taking pictures of Gina handing over certificates to all the adults, who had passed the First Grade exam. It was a proud day for these people and there were readings from the Bible and singing. When I was asked to say a few words, I said how books would open up a whole new world for them; after all you can go anywhere, and any time, with a good book and a bit of imagination.
After the ceremony we returned to our posse of bikers and left the community to continue their celebrations as we headed back down the mountain. Mercifully, the pace was fairly gentle as our drivers favoured turning off the engine and saving on petrol. Apparently the track had been widened over the the last year too and Gina was most relieved that the hairpin bends were far less hair-raising than on her last trip.
The journey was the best part of an hour and as we pulled back into the Hope House compound we stretched our aching limbs and admired the new coating of dust that we had each acquired over our legs shoulders and faces. The return journey cost 500G, about 10GBP, though I was so pleased to be back on terra firma I would have happily paid double.
There was barely enough time to freshen up before we piled into Pierre-Richard’s 4×4 for the next adventure of the day, a trip to the beach. With six of us going, I offered to sit in the boot so the others would have more space on the back seat. What it lacked in comfort it made up for with leg room and we were soon cruising along the same roads as I took with PR last week on our trip to the market. We stopped off briefly for mangos and avocados, two sacks being deposited in the boot with me, and as we pulled off, Jordan caught the drama of Police confronting a man waving a firearm in the street. Sadly I missed it, too busy tucking into a slice of avocado.
Heading north along the coast, again the landscape became more verdant and eventually we pulled though some large gates that marked the entrance to Club Indigo, a hotel complex specializing in rest and relaxation. The driveway was lined with tall palms and sprinklers watered the manicured lawns. We pulled up under an almond tree looking over a lake covered with lily pads. This was a side to Haiti I had not been expecting. The hotel was a low rise structure with wide balconies and tiled floors walkways that took us past wicker chairs, swimming pools and sun loungers. We bought a day ticket, and strolled down to the beach.
The beach was idyllic. More palm trees, fine yellow sand and clear blue water lapping the shore. There were a few people around, a mix of black, white, Hispanic and Asian, but largely we were free to stretch out and make the place our own. While the ladies settled back on sun loungers, Pierre Richard, Jordan and myself went for a swim. The water was so warm, it was almost like being in the bath. I settled into doing some lazy backstroke, staring up at a cloudless sky and letting the aches and pains from the day’s travelling melt away.
Later, I ordered a pineapple slush, shortly followed by another, as I lapped up the luxury of this resort. Yvrose told me that the resort had once welcomed cruise ships which moored off shore and ferried in guests for day trips. Sadly those days are gone, but surely, I thought, this place will be rediscovered before too long. Then, the Sun sank into the Carribbean and for a while the whole sea turned to quicksilver, sprinkled with crystals shimmering on the surface.
As night fell, we returned to the car and I cosied up to the bag of mangoes, now glowing with heat and giving off a sweet perfume after being left to bake under the glass of the rear windscreen all afternoon. It was a relaxed and uneventful journey back; clearly Club Indigo had done its job. But I was left to reflect on the price tag; I had spent 40USD on entry, drinks and food in one afternoon. Good value by western standards but when compared to the 50USD that Gina’s teachers in the mountains receive each month, it puts in perspective how out of reach this kind of luxury is for the majority of Haitians and how privileged we are in the UK.