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.

 

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

Taking the bus from Haiti to the Dominican Republic

You can book the bus either by internet or person. I suggest you do it in person if possible. Book your tip in advance. Only tickets purchased in advance are guaranteed a spot on the bus. The staff speaks good enough English to help you with your transaction. For a directory of buses and other services in Haiti, use FlashHaiti.com

 

Key things you need to know. If you want to read my experience go further down.

1. Price of ticket is $40 and $30 tax for single trip

2. Price for round trip ticket is $65-70USD and $30 tax

3. They provide food on the bus

4. The Bus arrives between 6-7hrs depending on traffic

5. You will not get world class service but service none the less

6. The morning shift workers will carry your bags to the bus and you do not have to tip, these guys will be wearing red shirts

7. The bus is clean and up to date, no wifi, but has a car charger, toilet, and AC

8. One of the Terra Bus workers exchanges money to Dominican DOP if you require it

9. No ATM at the border so bring cash in case you want to purchase anything

10. They provide immigration/customs cards to fill out for when you get to the DR border and they handle your immigration paper (green paper) from when you entered Haiti

While visiting family in Petionville, I decided to take a vacation in Santo Domingo. Depending on the company, the first bust leaves at 8am and the 2nd bus leaves at 10pm. I decided to use Terra Buses services to get me to Santo Domingo. After we left Petionville, the bus stops at another Terra bus station where the passengers are going through the same process that you went through this morning. These passengers will be added to your bus. While at the station you could use the restroom and buy something to eat and enjoy the nice weather. Please note that the bus does provide food service for you. Around noon they served rice and beans, griyo (pork), and salad, and either water or soda to drink.The Terra bus arrived at the DR/Haiti border immigration around 4.5hrs 12:30pm) after our departure from Petionville. The place looks underdeveloped and unmanaged. Its made up of 3 construction type buildings.  Basically an open layout, where anyone could come in and out regardless or not if they are crossing the border. The employees who are traveling with us did not explain what was going on, all they did was give us our passport and told us to get outside. Using common sense, we walked over to the immigration line that said enter and handed the man our passport and the immigration/customs card and received a stamp. As you are doing this, you are bombarded by Dominicans and Haitians who work the area. They are selling drinks, sim cards, chargers, candy, and services to take your bag to the checkout counter. The problem with this whole situation is the employees are dressed like the hustlers working the area, you can’t tell who is trying to help or hustle you. It’s a huge mess of people just walking around and talking in your ear. Unless you are not capable of doing so, I suggest you carry your own luggage to and from the bus because the staff at Terra bus will not help you. If you are strapped for cash, you might want to change some of your Haitian Gourde to Dominican Pesos, they give you within 10 pesos of the actual exchange rate. If you haven’t been to the Dominican Republic and didn’t plan ahead, I suggest you exchange a small amount of cash. As we were leaving, I expected the Terra bus to do a headcount of passengers, they failed to do so. On top of that we received additional passengers.

Bus to Santo Domingo from Petionville

The People of Kabwa Haiti

The village of Kabwa is located on the outskirts of the capital city. It overlooks Petionville, Marlique, and other areas. A lot of the people living there are my relatives. It’s where my mother is from and currently resides. The people are known as the people from the mountains. I haven’t been there in over 20yrs just to give you some background information. Driving up to Kabwa, you either need a Truck or SUV with 4 wheel drive or a motorbike/dirt bike. Part of the roads are paved on the way up and the majority of it is dirt and rocks that formed into a road as trucks and local villagers walk down to the city. There’s no guardrail to keep you from falling off the edge. Speeding is not advised. If you walk the path, you better adjust your body weight accordingly or else you will feel pain. Walking to the city takes about an hour.

 

Overlooking the capital
Overlooking the capital

 

 

With that being said, the area is very beautiful and well maintained. Deforestation doesn’t seem to be a problem. Which each step that you take, you will be amazed by the view of the city, the ocean, and the mountains across the way. As I walked through the path, I just wanted to take a moment and take it all in. I wondered if the villagers even bothered to take notice of the beauty in front of them anymore. After awhile, they probably get used to seeing it and it becomes mundane. With me seeing it for the first time, I stopped and take it all in. I take a few pictures and move on.

in Kabwa, Haiti
in Kabwa, Haiti

Homes are build all over these mountains. They are mostly made of concrete and stone from the neighboring rocks. Goats are walking around freely, dogs, cats, chickens, cows, all taking the same path or stopping by to eat. Farmers were tending to their flock and their land, growing corn, and whatever else they needed to get by. Some of the homes had outhouses a few minutes away, some were connected, the roofs were made from metal and wood, others were made from cement. There was no need for carpet or wood floors. Just cement, easier to clean and didn’t deteriorate as fast over time.

The people were humble and welcoming. Everyone knew each other in this small community. Neighboring houses were build only a few meters from each other and some hundreds of yards away. They welcomed me back into their community as if I had never left. As each person came by, they all greeted me and introduced themselves as my cousin or a family friend. It was great to be around family. My mother made me go from neighbor to neighbor introducing myself. Some of them told me stories of my father and other family members. Some of the best stories I’ve ever heard.

Cooking in this area was done through wood burning outside of the house. This is something that the people in this community, my relatives, have mastered and passed down from family to family. My mother had a gas stove that she only used for emergencies. All sorts of fruits bore from the trees which the people ate and sold down in the city. When people cooked, they ate every last drop, there were no left overs to keep in the fridge for the next day because there was no fridge. To many blackouts happened in this part of the country. The hustle and bustle of the big city took all of the power. Things like fridges, HD television, and the internet, mostly resided in the city limits. The blackouts prevented the people of Kabwa from heavily relying on such things, so they created and maintained alternative methods, such as gas lamps, battery operated flashlights, to help them see through the dark nights.Amazingly, cellphone reception was great in the area. I can’t even get my network to work in my suburban neighborhood in the States.

Life here was much simpler and I enjoyed the escape from technology driven world. I didn’t have to check my Facebook, email, text messages like my life depended on it. I was back to using things that were necessary. But I couldn’t help but think if the people were happy the way they were or thus just learned to maintain. I was visiting, so of course I could maintain this lifestyle for a week and possibly a few months. I don’t know if I could do it for years. There was a constant struggle in my head. Should I feel guilty about missing the advancements that the U.S had to offer, should I strive to get these items here to make my vacation more comfortable. I chose to shut up and live the way my mother and my other family members have lived for more than half a century. I started to get used to the lifestyle, eating what they grew, and only using the things you need. Buckets were used to hold water, cups were used to poor water on your body to bath, empty cans, sacks of rice, were further used to carry additional loads. Laundry was done outside by hand, with boiled water and cold water, and hung up to dry with the sunlight.

Meanwhile, I was wondering, why haven’t the roads been paved to make it easier for the villagers to walk to and from the city, why haven’t they maintained the conditions of the homes they build. My family owns a lot of land, more so than I could imagine. I kept wondering what will happen to the future of the land, will foreigners come and take it over, or with the continuing overcrowding of the cities, will the government find a way to seize the property and claim it as their own. Countless times in history we have seen this happen, greedy officials and greedy foreign investors plotting to take the land from the people living their and not paying them the value of that land.

If you are ever in Haiti, do  visit kabwa and see what it has to offer. I guarantee you will be amazed by the view, the people, and the pristine condition of the land. For the price of

$10-25 Haitian Gud, less than $1usd you could get a ride to the mountain top. As progress continues in the inner city, Kabwa and nearby villages will become hot spots for tourists and citizens of this great country to escape the city life and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the mountains.

First Impressions of Haiti

I haven’t been back to Haiti since I was 6yrs old. So everything I remember about the country to this point were from the view of a 6yr old. When I left it was 1993. Leaving behind my brothers, sisters, mother, cousins, nearly ¾ of my family so I could have a better life in the United States. Throughout those times and there after, Haiti was in a lot of turmoil, natural disasters, coup d’ tat, you name it and Haiti has been through it and despite all of  that, the people remain strong. A few years ago, the earthquake happened and suddenly the world knew Haiti again, every country in the world raised money to help the people of this great nation recover. I believe it was over a billion dollars. Exchange that to the Haitian Gud and that’s a whole lot of money to change the face of this country to move it to the next 3 centuries. As I the plane touched down, I didn’t arrive with any expectations but to see my family.

Toussaint Louverture
Toussaint Louverture

After passing through immigration and collecting my bags, I went outside to the embracing arms of my brother and cousins. Considering how hot it was outside, I was surprised to see people wearing jeans and boots. Taxi cabs official and unofficial were trying to give passengers rides to their destinations. From where we were standing at the airport, you could see the mountains into the distance with homes overlooking the city. It was beautiful. The photographer in me wanted to take some pictures overlooking the city. Trucks and SUV’s were everywhere, you name a brand and they had it. We walked to our truck, I hopped in the back and pulled out my camera to take pictures. My cousin who was from the states started describing the changes that were made. As we took the back roads to Marlique and Kabwa he pointed out the abundance of huts that’s the people affected by the earthquake lived in. At this point its been several years since the earthquake and these people still did not have their original homes. People were covered in dirt and just hanging around the side of the road watching cars drive by. Each hut or shelter was located right next to another hut, so privacy was at a minimum. But I’m guessing that was the least of the problems.

 

Petionville-OKvaca
Okvaca-Haiti Street Vendors

As we drove up the dirt roads, it quickly became apparent why everyone drove trucks as apposed to small four door vehicles, everywhere we drove was a hill that required 4 wheel drive. In a few minutes of driving around Port-au Prince, I’ve seen more suv’s and trucks then I have in the states. If you’ve been to the USA, you know people love their big body vehicles. I remember all the commercials of trucks and Suv’s showing them overhauling big tools, and driving on dirt roads, and just doing things that trucks were made for, but most people who owned these things never did. But out here in Haiti, these trucks were doing exactly what the commercials depicted.

Okvaca-Haiti
Dirt roads of Haiti

 

 

 

At this point it was around 2pm and school kids were everywhere dressed in uniform, carrying books, laughing, buying food and beverages from local food vendors. I felt bad because the dirt from the trucks created a dust bowl that covered the kids clothing. After a few trucks drove by I suppose it was time to wash your clothes and take a shower. The dirt mixed with the heat and sweat did not make for a good day to day experience. But I guess they learned to deal with it. Driving further up into the mountains you focus less on the details in front of you and try to capture the view of the city from the mountains. Most of the homes were not painted so they were the original color of the concrete, each home looking identical. We drove past street vendors, police, poor, rich, and people of all races.

With my cousin serving as the tour guide, he pointed out house of former dictator Devouile, the home of the current president, officials from Venezuela. As you can imagine, the roads were a whole lot cleaner and paved with nicely laid out bricks or blacktop cement. These house were painted and each one designed differently, architectural masterpieces. My cousin explained that it was always this way, the current President, former world renowned musician Michel Martelly “Sweet Micky” was making a strong effort to provide bridges, paved roads with proper drainage, and garbage collectors. Trash collectors were badly needed because people just threw out their garbage where they saw fit. Overall, I thought Haiti was changing for the better.

Happy New Year and Soup Joumou

Happy New Year and Soup Joumou

The New Year is a time to start fresh, reflect on your past, and recognize the opportunities for the future. Some people celebrate the New Year by going to a party or hanging with family. It’s really a fresh start on life no matter how you look at it. It’s time to rejoice and be thankful that you survived another year living on this beautiful planet.

For many Haitians, it’s a day of celebrating our Independence from the French. Haiti, or Aiyiti as many know it, gained its independence on January 1st, 1804 and became the first black independent country in the Western Hemisphere and continues to be one the oldest black republic countries.

 The Significance of Soup Joumou

During the days of slavery, the French used to drink soup and not allow the slaves to do so. It was a way to symbolize the French’s power over the slaves. The soup for them, represented high-class society and a way to keep them different from the people they enslaved. When the Haitian slaves fought and won their independence from France, they celebrated by drinking soup Joumou. The soup symbolizes that everyone is equal and it was a chance to add insult to injury after gaining freedom from their masters.

Soup Joumou , also known as Pumpkin Soup or Squash soup is a traditional soup made by Haitian families around the globe on January 1st of every year for Haitian Independence day.  The soup is made differently at every doorstep, but you are bound to taste Soup Joumou with a variety of spices, meats, and vegetables. Soup Joumou has a wonderful characteristic of always providing your mouth with a tingling tangy feeling that usually happens after giving your taste buds something so delicious that the flavor cannot be registered right away.

It’s all about comfort. Soup Joumou is about celebrating with family and friends. If you ask any Haitian, they will tell you whom they saved soup for or how many people they brought soup to at work because that person wasn’t able to get any. Soup Joumou brings Haitian people together for at least one day. As a Haitian, if you are lucky enough to have grandparents or great grand parents, they will share stories about their childhood and how the country has changed. At my house, Kompa music is played all day, friends and family come visit and eat, some bring food from their homes, cousins are running around the house and playing, all types of alcohol is being served. What better way to start the year than by eating good food with family and friends?

When Soup Joumou is prepared

My aunt starts preparing the night before. Some items that are unique to her recipe for making the soup are prepared the night before. These include special beef, dumplings, pasta, and chopped up vegetables. Around 7am my aunt begins to cook the soup, all the ingredients are added and cooked over the stove. Now I can’t tell you exactly how she puts it together, but just know that the end result is utter bliss. The house is taken over by the smell of soup. The senses are going crazy and your mouth starts watering with anticipation.

Soup Joumou
Soup Joumou

 

The morning of new years day/independence day feels like Christmas. My friends and I talk about the soup as if we are about to unwrap gifts. Friends and coworkers remind me to save them some. By the time I wake my phone has several voice mails and text messages saying happy New Year and Haitian Independence Day. I respond to all of them. My uncle is blasting good Kompa music from popular artists such as Sweet Mickey, T-Vice, Zen, Carimi, System Band, Tropicana, and many more artists.

How it connects to me

I was fortunate enough to grow up in Haiti and in the United States. From what I can remember, I didn’t truly understand the true meaning behind the New Year, Soup Joumou, and Independence Day. It wasn’t till I had experience a few 4th of July Celebrations and met a few like minded Haitians that made me want to dig deeper into the meaning and want to find out about my own background and what it means to be Haitian. All I knew, was we drank soup every year but didn’t understand why nor did I ever ask. I decided to look it up on the internet and became fascinated with the history. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn how to make the soup and pass on to my little cousins, friends, family, about the true meaning behind the Soup Joumou. The more I learned about the history of Haiti, the prouder I became.

New Years Eve in Haiti

New Years Eve in Haiti

Vincent and I have been friends for as long as I can remember but new years eve was when I actually  got the chance to see just how much of a great friend he is. I remember that night as if it occurred moments ago. I was sitting on my living room couch just thinking to myself,  “What’s the easiest way I could fall asleep and wake up into the new year of 2013 a new man?”and if my friends knew exactly where the best party’s were.” I was rudely awaken from my brainstorming session by the vibration of my Blackberry. “Hello” I answered and the voice replied “Hey Sten, 2013 is almost here man, what are you doing tonight?” Instantly I was well aware that the caller was my colleague and good friend Vincent. “Nothing much, I was about to call this chick” I lied knowing damn well there was no chick to call. ” Yo lets go to this party at kingston18″ Demanded Vincent. “Kingston 18? Isn’t that in Jamaica? We are in Haiti, man wake up!!” I barked. “No Sten. Matter fact be ready in 15 minutes, I’ll scoop you up” and he hung up.

 

Haiti and Jamaica are two beautiful countries located in the heart of the Caribbean. The sea, climate, and beauty are some of the key things we have in common. However, the dialect, music, and cuisine are very different. The distance between Haiti and Jamaica is about 120 miles. The heart of Petionville is home to Kingston 18. If the taste buds are craving for some good ole Jamaican cuisine. Kingston 18 is surely the place. After one bite of the tasty mouth watering jerk chicken, I felt as if i was at Nikkita’s, but this was not Montego Bay. Kingston 18 is far more than just a restaurant. The floor space is immaculate, shinning bright with multi color neon lights. It has two comfortably open V.I.P sections overlooking the city of Port Au Prince, several pool tables, and flat screens occupy the wall panels near the spacious bar area. The checkered wall paper paint and graffiti paintings on the wall combined a terrific artistic touch that is pleasing to the eye. The minute you step into this place, one look around is all you need to confirm that you are in yardie town. Jamaican flags are posted on all corners. All of Kingston 18 waiters are mysteriously identical to any eye , surely on the account that they are all young and beautiful, moreover the fact they are all seductively attired in body fitting tights flaunting green, yellow and black of the Jamaican flag. Kingston 18 is  located on the final floor story of the Irish village building. Once inside, be ready to be amazed by the fantastic views of the shooting stars of the breath taking Petionville sky. The speakers are strategically placed all over the place; which forces the music to fill the air, thus the dance floor is never left unattended. “Happy new year man” proclaimed Vincent at the count of zero “Yaaa mon”.  I said in my best bob Marley tone.Irish Village front DSC02469 DSC02472 DSC02473 DSC02474 DSC02476 DSC02477 DSC02479  DSC02482 DSC02483

The best time to travel!

The best time to travel is now! Like right now! Read my article on the international checklist and drive to the nearest airport and get on the next international flight. Be spontaneous! Well at least once you are done reading this article you can go on your merry way.

There are many reasons why people don’t get out of their comfort zone and see the world or even the next state. But the worse excuse is “I’m Busy.” The last time I checked, we only had one life to live, so why waste that time being busy and not taking the time to explore this beautiful world? Now, I’m not saying you use every bit of your time traveling the world (but if you have the money for it, do it) but for the rest of us who are working a 9am-5pm or longer, ask yourself this question? When was the last time you took the time to go visit an aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, or best friend in the next town or the next country? When was the last time you and your spouse went somewhere together and just enjoyed where you are? No work deadlines, no annoying family members, insert any distraction in that sentence. The point is, when was the last time you took a break?

Some of us go through life thinking that we have an abundance of time and tomorrow is promised. When in actuality, it’s not promised. From the time you were born, your time on Earth started ticking till the day you meet your maker. I am not trying to be dramatic. Just putting things in perspective.

As a society, we need to learn to take mini vacations. You don’t have to wait till you’re retired to enjoy the good life. Enjoy it as you go. You don’t need to go around the board once to collect $200. Traveling gives you a different perspective on life that you can’t get behind a cash register or working in a cubicle. I’ve made it a personal goal to visit at least one new country every year. So far I’ve traveled to many parts of South East Asia and China and that in it’s self is a life changing experience.