La Saline beach in Jacmel Haiti

La saline is one of Jacmel’s hidden gems. You won’t find it on any tourist brochure but it’s a favorite among locals for several reasons. Most people will tell you to visit Ti Mouillage or Raymond or Kabik. But La Saline shouldn’t be left out. It’s perfect do to its proximity to the city center. It can take between five to seven minutes on a motor bike to get there. If you feel like going on an adventure and you can walk; it will probably anywhere between thirty to forty-five minutes.

I first heard about La Saline from one of the locals that I befriended over the last month or so. I wanted to relax somewhere nice but I didn’t want to go far. To be honest when he said La saline I wasn’t sure what it was. My friend didn’t really explain it well or at all. He just said to go there and bring a friend. So that’s what I did. I took a friend with me, grabbed the nearest moto taxi and went on an adventure. Off the beaten path I would call it because we went from paved roads to dirt paths! On the way there the taxi driver asked if I wanted to go to the front or the back. Not knowing the difference he explained that the front is where people relax and the back is where people swim. Not knowing which was the front or the back, I chose where people relaxed.

La saline Beach

When we got to the entrance of La saline, the view was beautiful. On the shoulders of the rocks there were beautiful homes, one had a beautiful deck; the colors on the homes were beautiful. There were kids playing, swimming, eating, listening to great music and enjoying their time. I immediately felt lucky that my friend told me about this place and I was able to share that moment with my friend that came along the ride. We got to an area where most of the moto taxis and some cars were stationed and got off.

La Saline Beach in Jacmel

We walked over to this cliff area where we could see out into the ocean and the area that the locals were swimming. The only thing I wish I had were some swimming drunks and something to drink. We decided to sit down and watch everyone else run out into the ocean. Little crabs were crawling near the cliff and the ocean was crashing into the rocks. The sound of the water crashing was beautiful. For a moment, I fell asleep because it was so relaxing.

Jacmel Haiti La Saline Beach

Being at La Saline was one of the best moments of living in Jacmel. It’s a hidden gem that needs to be publicized more. Whenever I return to Jacmel, I will be sure to bring some swimming trunks a few drinks and head out to La Saline.

 

West Indian Day Parade

West Indian Day Parade

Every year the West Indian Day parade is held on the first Monday of September. Which is also known as Labor Day in the United States. Months of planning culminate into that one-day. As of 2013 the parade has been going strong for 46 years. The parade is held on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn every year. Millions of people attend the event it’s the largest West Indian Day parade in the United States.

West Indian Day Parade Rain

How to get there

Getting there depends on your original destination. You can drive into the nearby neighborhoods of the Barkley Center on Atlantic Avenue to park and walk your way towards the parade. New York City does a great job of adding additional subway trains and buses to and from the area.  The best option is to check your local news listings or transportation station for news and updates.

 Safety

Over the last few years, the West Indian Day Parade has caught a lot of bad publicity for some of the violence that takes place because of a few individuals. However, each year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and other law enforcement agencies add extra security and check points to keep everyone safe. Officers in street clothing and uniform walk along the parkway and make sure justice is being served.  There are a few things you can do on your own to keep yourself safe. Take care of your personal valuables, don’t pull out large amounts of cash, don’t accept drinks and other beverages from people you don’t know, and travel with a buddy.

 The Food

If you haven’t been to the parade, I suggest you attend.  The food is amazing. It’s a great way to get a crash course into Caribbean cuisine. Each country has it’s own special dish and it’s on full display at the parade. The quality of the food determines whether vendors will have repeat costumers. The usual attendees of the parade know where to buy the best food according to their taste, so if you are not sure and its your first time at the parade, I suggest you come hungry and try them all. Let your tastes buds and your stomach decide which island has the best food.

Jamaican Food

 Culture

Whether you are Caribbean or other nationality, the sense of pride that you see at the West Indian Day Parade is incredible.  You can feel the music through your bones and the core of your body. You can’t help but dance when you hear the music from the islands. When each float passes by, representatives from that island are waving their flags, cheering, dancing, and yelling, with joy and excitement. You can feel the energy and the love in the air. The event is a chance for every nation to represent their home country and to showcase to the world their dance, music, food, costumes, and the love of country.

West Indian Day Parade 2013  West Indian Day parade Snakes

 Personal Experience

Being born in Haiti and for the most part growing up in the United States, I love going to these type of events and seeing the floats of each country. I love tasting new food, so I will try the cuisine from each country.  The parade is a great opportunity to network and get to know the people and culture of the islands. It’s  exciting to see which country has the most flags or people following their floats. It’s a great competition and bragging rights and it makes every other country want to make their floats even better for next year. I’ve been to the parade several times now and I always try to bring someone who hasn’t experienced the parade with me. I love watching the look on their faces when they taste Caribbean food for the first time or see the beautiful people of the Caribbean islands.  Everyone that I’ve brought to the West Indian Day Parade always has a good time and I hope to continue that. Don’t be shy and come to the parade the next time around.

West Indian Day Parade James

You Better Belize It!

You Better Belize It!

Placencia, Belize. Not the average Honeymoon Getaway and precisely the allure. We married on July 6, 2013 and took flight on July 8, 2013 as husband and wife. We booked our trip back in April on Hotwire.com. We did a flight and hotel bundle booking and saved.

IMG-20130708-00282

Our trip began on a 5:30am flight for five hours, arriving in Belize City, Belize at 10:30am that included a connecting flight in Texas. Once in Belize we still had not reached our destination of Placencia. We boarded a smaller aircraft for 40min, an 8 minute cab ride later we had arrived!

Laru Beya Beach Resort. Front desk receptionist escorted us to our one bedroom villa. It consisted of an open concept full kitchen, living room views out to the patio where we were mere steps from the warm beach. The bedroom had a king size bed with an on suite bathroom included double vanity and a large glass shower, cannot forget the large window that overlooked the beach. Basically all that you could ask for in a relaxing vacation and in this case, Honeymoon! The resort has a Restaurant and an Outdoor Pool. Delicious fresh food and drinks delivered poolside. We were literally in paradise for a week.

IMG-20130708-00132IMG-20130708-00133

Front Desk was very nice and accommodating when we wanted to book any tours or relaxation treatments. We took full advantage booking tours, adventures and massages! We booked the Lubaantun & Nim Li Punit Mayan Ruin Tours, I had an In-Room one-hour massage (Patricia is amazing) and we also did a daring Zip-Lining and Cave Tubing adventure.

IMG-20130710-00328 IMG-20130710-00316

Respectively quite educational, ultra relaxing and extremely exhilarating! On our less adventurous days we took to the town by taxi and then again by golf cart. In town, there were stores with hand crafted gifts and jewelry made from the stones and rocks of the beach, we visit a delicious ice cream parlor, TuttiFrutti, best Carmel and Cappuccino flavored ice cream  you’ve ever tasted and of course we took a trip to several of the bars and restaurants.

IMG-20130711-00154 IMG-20130712-00372

Belize was different and not the cliché for the average Honeymoon. We are sure any resort would have given us the same experience, but it was the country that made the trip. The people, the water and cannot forget the food, we will certainly return to the country of Belize for future vacations. Another great reason to  try something different is the reasonable cost of this trip. We spent in total about $3000, that included our flights, resort, food and all the little extra adventures we took part in. Cannot wait to do it again!

IMG-20130710-00306IMG-20130711-00354

How to get a local number in the Dominican Republic

How to get a local number in the Dominican Republic

When traveling abroad it’s always a good idea to get a local number in case of emergencies. Most of the time it’s cheaper to have a local number than to pay the international roaming rights by your home provider. From what I’ve learned, most countries are on the GSM network. Companies like T-Mobile and AT&T in the United States use GSM.

When you are in the Dominican Republic, the two major phone companies are Claro and Orange. Orange is a GSM network. In order to get a local number you need a passport to open an account and an unlocked phone that takes sim cards. You can decide to add data to your number such as being able to use the internet without wi-fi or a pay as you go basic plan. It’s not necessary to have a contract.

You can refill your minutes by buying minutes at Claro or Orange store or you can get them at the local gas stations, liquor stores, or at a kiosk. All you need is your phone number and any of the employees at the stations can add the minutes to your phone for you. You don’t have to carry your passport with you to refill your minutes.

 

taken from Google. i do not own this image.
taken from Google. i do not own this image.

Backpacking and Community Service

While in Santo Domingo I met two great people by the name of Jay and Ryan who presented me with the opportunity to help one of the local communities in the San Jose de Ocoa area. The organization they represented titled “The New World Community (thenwc.com)” and in association with “Adesjo” were helping out the local communities in the mountains. Every year high schools and universities from Canada fly down to the Dominican Republic to perform community service with the local organizations. Organizations such as Adesjo has been helping with building houses, aqueducts, schools, in the outskirts of the mountains for over 50 years. Working with a Adesjo and Thenwc we went out to a small community in the mountains called La Bocaina. We were to build a house for one of the families in the area.

Adesjo San Jose de Ocoa DSCN1490

The People

On the first day in La Bocaina we got a tour of the local community from Louis. He was the community police and a teacher of mathematics. He introduced us to a the local families in the area. They were grateful to meet us and happy that we were there to help their community. Louis himself was very funny. The men in that area were huge fans of baseball and loved the New York Yankees and any team that had Dominicans. They were proud of the players that came from the small island and became super stars like Jose Reyes. They knew all the stats. One of the men we spoke with was telling us that Jose Reyes played near their hometown and he wasn’t as good as he is now. But they are happy for his success. Speaking to the the men through broken Spanish, I explained to them that I was Haitian American and they seemed intrigued. They don’t encounter to many of Haitian Americans in the mountains. Through translation, one of the men said that Haitians and Dominicans go through similar struggles and I was lucky to grow up in the states. One of the college volunteers had blonde hair which is rare to see in the area. They were really fascinated by her.

DSCN1304

The Landscape

The houses in the area are made of wood and some of them are made of concrete. I didn’t notice internal plumbing. Outhouses were located a few feet from the house and showers were taken outside. There was little to no insulation. It wasn’t like the houses you would see in Santo Domingo. The people were proud of there homes and were happy for what they had. Living on these mountains you are one with nature. The people wore rain boots because when it rains it pours. I’ve seen bugs that I’ve never encountered before. The mosquito’s are relentless. The mountains had a river flowing through it.

La Bocaina Adesjo Adesjo

The Worksite

When we arrived at the work site, the family we were helping wanted a picture before we broke ground. It showed how much they appreciated what we were doing. The ground was already lined out in chalk to show us where we would start shoveling.The men explained what they wanted us to do. We were to shovel within the white lines and save any big stones we came across. Surrounding us were trees, fruit plants, small lizards, and chickens. We worked everyday for 6-8hrs and took lunch and water breaks. The area was filled with mosquito’s but they didn’t seem to bother the locals. Maybe it was because they were wearing pants and we came with shorts. We worked as a team filling buckets with water, mixing in the dirt and cement, filter the rocks from the pile. It was a great working at the site. These workers had years of experience building houses. Home and Garden TV would be proud. They used fish hooks to tighten up loose metal. They used wheel barrels as a measurement to figure out how much sand or cement to mix. It reminded me of all those math classes that I took and that I thought would never apply in real life. The men were impressed with our work effort.

La Bocaina  Bringing out the cement

Adesjo and Thenwc Community Service meeting

Adesjo and Thenwc had a meeting in their second location on the mountain tops of El Huguito. At this location they were repairing the roof of one of the residents of that community. The meeting was a chance for the executives of Adesjo to thank everyone for helping. Each leader thanked everyone for sharing the vision of the founder of Adesjo and their continued support of the local communities. They wanted the youths that came in from Canada to be ambassadors of Adesjo in Canada. They were grateful for the youths for coming and helping the community and instilling hope to the people. They were glad we took our time to help the poorest of the poorest. The message the community leaders wanted us to take home was this”Adesjo is interested in the people coming, the money is the least important to them, it’s our time and energy and physically helping the locals that matter.” The dedication is what’s important. They wanted us to get the experience of helping others. They love their small community despite the advantages of the city. They are grateful to live in their community with the advantages of water, electricity, and their music. As gifts for helping they gave everyone hats with the Adesjo logo.

Adesjo  2013-05-02 19.58.26 DSCN1509

What I learned

It made me think about all the 1st world problems that I complained about and how they don’t matter. I should be doing more to help myself and others. I’m thankful that I was able to meet Jay and Ryan who brought me along. It was a real chance for me to interact with the local community and the Canadian students who took time out from their college break to help communities such as this. This has been an inspirational and life changing. It was a great break from the tourists world into the reality of how Dominicans outside of the city continue to live.

 

Petionville

The streets of Petionville are busy and filled with life. There are many schools in the area, so you will see lots of school children with uniforms on. If you are not from the area, people will be able to tell. You will stick out like a sore thumb. Every corner is covered with people trying to sell items such as meat, diapers, clothing, fruits, cell phones, water, and anything else to make some money to provide for their family. Every corner has professional shoe cleaners that do an excellent job of shinning your shoes after a long day of walking.

I am amazed by the lack of accidents in the city. The roads are filled with trucks and motorbikes zooming by and not caring for the stop signs. The moment a car is stopped, the car behind them is beeping their horn urging them to move it along. To get to the other side of the road, you must use extreme caution. Look both ways before you walk. Don’t walk behind a car when they are backing up. If you are walking behind or in front of a vehicle, be sure to hit the hood or the trunk of the vehicle to make sure they know you are there. The residents and visitors are used to the traffic, if you take a second to watch how everyone moves, you will notice a certain flow to it all.

Banks and western unions are guarded by men in uniform bearing shotguns. To get inside the banks or western unions, you have to be patted down. The hotels are guarded by security and police. United Nations trucks drive up and down the streets. The police are either carrying pistols or AK47’s as they patrol the area. I noticed a few people including children being taken away in trucks for either stealing or causing a disturbance.

The streets of Petionville are organized chaos. Depending on where you go, you can see views of the homes on the mountains. Most of the homes are not painted. But the buildings on the streets are painted.

Petionville, Haiti Petionville Haiti

Internet Cafes and Recharge stations

Almost every corner of Petionville has an internet cafe and recharge stations for your electronics. These cafe’s are used for playing video games and surfing the net.

 

Communication

Everyone calls each other chéri” everywhere you go you hear people calling each other “chéri” this is a term of endearment and flirtation

Some of the guys refer to each other as “Boss” not in sense of calling each other boss in a working situation but as friends or to show a mutual respect

its hard to tell who is or who isn’t Haitian or who is from the area unless they speak

Petionville Haiti

 

 

Haitian Taxi’s

While on my visit to Haiti the two transportation systems I used the most were the Tap-tap buses and the motor bikes. The Tap-tap didn’t require any negotiations with the driver. The prices are all set. The motorbikes however, required some negotiating to get to your destination. The motor bikes are the fastest means of transportation because they can move through traffic quickly.

 

Tap-Tap buses

The Haitian Tap- tap buses are usually around $15GUD. These Tap-tap buses are the modern day taxi services that take you anywhere. They are located in several locations throughout cities such as Petionville and Port-au-Prince. All the Tap-taps have specified routes that they take. When passengers hop on the Tap-tap buses, everyone on the Tap-tap greets the newcomer by saying “bonjour,” ” bonsoir,” or “bon nuit,” depending on the time of  day. When you want to get off at your stop, you hit the glass behind the driver so the driver knows to stop. If you are sitting at the end of the Tap-tap bus, any one of the passengers will hit the glass for you and the driver will stop. Once you get off at your stop, you pay the driver.

Haiti Tap-tap Taxi

Motorbikes

Motorbikes or “moto” are other means of transportation in Haiti.  They are more expensive than the Tap-tap, but they get you to your destination quicker. Motorbikes are found in the same areas as Tap-tap buses. The motorbike drivers travel in packs. They all know each other. Its a form of safety. All the prices can be negotiated  Locals usually use the same person for traveling on motorbikes because the locals want to build a relationship and set a firm price. It’s always good to go with the same motorbike driver in case an  emergency situation.

 

motorbikes

Shopping in Santo Domingo

El Conde

If you are a tourist in Santo Domingo such as myself. The Typical tourist spot is located in the Conde or El Conde, it starts on the intersection of Calle Palo Hincado and continues down to the Harbor. This one street  goes down a little more than 2 miles, you can find hotels, hostels, restaurants, tourist gift shops, cellphone stores, massage, paintings, barbershops, bars, clubs, historic sites, and street performers. El Conde is a one stop shop to everything you need.

El Conde Santo Domingo DSCN1123 DSCN1124 El conde DSCN1129

Chinatown or Barrio Chino

Chinatown or Barrio Chino is your other option to shopping in Santo Domingo. If you are feeling a little more adventurous and want to practice your bargaining skills, Barrio Chino is the place for you. You can either walk to Barrio Chino, take the bus, or a taxi. Walking takes about 15 minutes from El Conde, take Av.Mella. Make sure you get a map if its your first time. Like El Conde, you can find everything you want in Barrio Chino but for a cheaper price. Just make sure you check the quality before purchasing. In that same area, you will find alleyways of people selling and doing hair, sugarcane, and different types street foods.

Barrio de Chino Santo Domingo    Barrio de Chino Santo Domingo

Thrift shops and stores around Barrio Chino 

Intersections such as Ravelo and Juana Saltitopa, Ave. Jose Marti, and nearby streets a filled with street vendors selling jeans, fruits, sandals, jeans, CD’s, movies, belts, shoes, shirts and anything else you could think of. Similar to Barrio Chino, they are very cheap and you can bargain with the vendors to get a better prices. The place is usually packed with tourists and locals looking for great deals.

Santo Domingo, Av. Durate DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO

The Malls

The Mega malls are also a great place to shop. If you don’t like to bargain, these places are great to walk around and enjoy the Air conditioned environment. The malls offer local and international products.

Taking the bus from Santo Domingo to San Jose de Ocoa

Since I was staying at the Conde on Calle Palo Hincado, some friends and I took the bus on Av. Bolivar and Uruguay to San Jose de Ocoa. The first bus comes at 7am and is marked Ocoa on the back of the van. The trip is about $250 pesos and takes about 1.5hrs to 2hrs depending on the traffic. You can take the bus in several different areas, just ask the nearest taxi or hotel for information and they will know. One thing to note is they don’t except foreign money on the bus because it costs them to exchange it. Bring extra DOP if necessary. Along the way to San Jose De Ocoa, the bus makes several stops. As you wait for the bus and while at each station, people will be selling food and drinks in case you are hungry. Its part of the business, everyone has to make money. The bus has AC, a driver and another worker that collects the cash and yells out bus to Ocoa at each station we stopped. The seats are comfortable and the bus is clean. As the bus gets closer to San Jose de Ocoa, it gets a little cramped. Make sure you don’t sit on the hump or else you will get cramps.

San Jose de Ocoa  San Jose De Ocoa

I enjoyed the bus ride to Ocoa because it was scenic. It gave me the opportunity to see different parts of Santo Domingo and the nearby towns or villages in route to San Jose De Ocoa. Once you get closer to the mountains, the scenery is beautiful. As we changed elevation, you will see the beautiful landscapes that make up the Dominican Republic. At the time that we were heading to San Jose de Ocoa, they were rebuilding the roads on the mountains. It was explained to me that during the hurricane seasons or earthquakes, the road gets ruined and its hard for them to reach San Jose de Ocoa and other villages in the area. They are rebuilding the roads to make it easier to reach San Jose de Ocoa and the other small villages in times of emergency.

San Jose de Ocoa

Beeping your horn in Haiti and The Dominican Republic

When I first arrived in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I heard cars beeping everywhere. Living in the states the last several years, beeping the horn only means bad things like road rage and curse words. However, in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic, it’s more of a friendly beep. It calls for attention that the driver is coming close to an intersection or around the corner. It’s more of a “I’m coming through” watch out. In major cities such as Port-au-Prince, Petionville, and Santo Domingo, there are few stop signs in the area. So people honk their horns a lot. Signaling to change lanes seems more like an afterthought. If a car is driving to slow, the driver will beep their horn to let them know that they are going to pass them on the right or left shoulders. In the United States, when a car is driving slow, people usually drive up close behind them, flash the high beams, or drive past them real fast and flip up the middle finger. Its more of a disrespect when people beep in the United States like “Beep” “Get the freak out of my way you idiot.” One thing I’ve noticed between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is that drivers in the Dominican Republic pay more attention to pedestrians. If you get hit in Haiti, its your fault for not paying attention.