One of the things that stood out most during my visit was how much artistic expression was entrenched in Haitian life. I suppose this could be said of all Caribbean islands but I was particularly impressed by Haiti`s distinct expression of individuality. From the gingerbread houses of Petionville to the artists and artisans of Jacmel, it was clear that creative expression was a large part of the cultural fabric.
I was quite excited about visiting Jacmel as it was one of the sites that I had been looking forward to the most. This seaside town has become renowned as the cultural and artistic center of Haiti and it did not disappoint. We had the opportunity to visit the atelier of prominent Haitian artist, Ronald Mevs whose work has been exhibited and lauded internationally. We bonded over our mutual adoration of Jamaica as he had spent a lot of time working in Kingston.
Walking through the old streets of Jacmel was such an evocative experience. The cobbled streets and French colonial architecture was transportative and I could almost hear the clickety-clack of the horse-drawn carriages going by. We were fortunate enough to get a personalized tour from Michaelle Craan (Madame Jacmel) who has lived in Jacmel all her life and was happy to rattle off historical events.
As our trip started to wind down, I was ready for some good old sun, sea and sand. After all, we were in the Caribbean. While it wasn't exactly the Caribbean Sea, Bassin Bleu was a welcomed respite from the heat. The stunning series of natural water holes were the most inviting teal. It wasn't easy to get to as it was well nestled into the mountainside, but it was certainly well worth the trek. And I wasted no time getting in :)
If there was anything that surprised me about Haitian tourism, it was that there was so much to see and experience. There's something for nature lovers and history buffs and beach bums and art connoisseurs. So from the mountains to the cultural hub to the refreshing waters of Bassin Bleu, it was on to Musee Ogier Fombrun at Moulin Sur Mer. This former sugar plantation still bares gripping and painful reminders of Haiti's turbulent past as one of the most lucrative colonies of the Caribbean. But while the past has shaped so much of Haiti's fragile present, the goal is always to keep moving forward.
Finally, it was our last stop of the trip and I have to say that even though I have a love-hate relationship with large chain all-inclusive resorts, checking into The Royal Decameron Indigo Beach Resort & Spa was a treat. The island's first and only all-inclusive resort was bustling with activity, an auspicious sign for Haiti's tourism reboot.
On our final night in Haiti we had the opportunity to attend an authentic Voodoo ceremony. Perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented aspects of Haitian culture, having had the experience first-hand was such an incredibly eye-opening experience. While most people think of Haitian Voodoo as sinister and diabolical, that couldn't be further from actuality. And while the intricacies of this tradition are undoubtedly foreign to me and, jarring, even, the truth is that Voodoo is an inextricable part of Haiti's story. And one that should be rightfully celebrated and preserved for future generations. It is through the covert practice of Voodoo that slaves were able to congregate and subsequently orchestrate their revolt against their oppressors which ultimately led to Haiti's independence more than a century before any other Caribbbean island.
So, after a week, what do I have to say about Haiti? Yes, it is very poor. But you already knew that. And it hasn't had a stable government for much of it's existence. But you already knew that too. Mainstream media has done a good job of keeping us abreast of the ills and challenges that Haiti faces. While those truths are very evident, that isn't all there is.
As our speedboat approached the coast of Gonaives to some of the clearest waters I've ever seen, I couldn't help but think about all the beauty I had seen and experienced. The captivating culture. The staggering history of this great island. The warmth...and pride...and resilience of a people who, everyday, continue to defy the odds. If I have one thing to say about Haiti, I say...go. Vivez l'experience.