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Port au Prince - Atlanta

The long journey home


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Today is going to be a very long day. Having got up at 04:20 to travel to the airport, we are dismayed to find that when we get there the terminal building is not even open yet, and there is already a long queue of passengers outside waiting to get in.

A small team of officials are on hand to ensure we all form an orderly queue, and to quickly admonish any would-be queue-jumpers. Suddenly there is a hive of activity, and before we know it, a porter grabs our bags and leads us past the long line of waiting passengers and in through the door. Although I am a little embarrassed by the unexpected and somewhat unnecessary VIP treatment, I am not exactly doing anything to prevent it happening either.

At the Delta check in desk I am told that Ram Ram – our beautifully wrapped wall sculpture (see yesterday's entry for details) – has to travel in the hold, and that it is going to cost me $108 through to London. I quibble that we have a free second bag from Atlanta to London and it can't possibly cost that much just from Port au Prince to Atlanta. She argues that this is the cost. We battle back and forth for some time, with me insisting to speak to the supervisor, and her insisting she is the supervisor.

Eventually, after a lot of pleading, shouting and threatening, I 'throw my toys out of the pram'. The supervisor agrees to let me try to take Ram Ram as hand luggage but warns that I am likely to be stopped at the gate and sent back to check him in. It is a risk I am willing to take, and we move on to obstacle number two: security screening (which also is not open yet). When we finally get to the front of the queue, Ram Ram is no problem at all and we breathe a sigh of relief.

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At passport control David and I go to different booths, and I am through in no time. I sit down at the gate to wait for David, and I am surprised at how long he is taking. It turns out that because we are travelling through the US, he is asked for the ESTA form (Visa Waiver Program). Despite having checked our ESTA for the security check before even being able to join the queue for check-in, as well as during the actual check-in process, and the boarding card being denoted with that fact; they won't let David go without seeing his physical ESTA form (so much for it being an Electronic System for Travel Authorization; thankfully had the sense to print it out!). There is, however, a slight problem there: I have that form and David has no way of contacting me to come back for him. Oops. They finally let him through, albeit reluctantly.

I think they have just delivered my consignment of Duty Free rum.

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When it is time to board the aircraft I notice that the same lady who checked us in is on duty and I do wonder if she is going to block Ram Ram for the sake of it so 'save face'. She doesn't. Ram Ram gets taken off for special screening, but is found to be harmless and he is allowed onto the aircraft with us. The crew put him in the coat cupboard in the first class cabin for the flight – they all love him.

Security Checks

In order to get as far as the aircraft seat we have had a number of checks, as follows:

1. Passport and tickets checked in order to be allowed to enter the terminal building.

2. Passport and ESTA documents closely examined before being allowed to join the queue for check in.

3. Passport, ticket and ESTA inspected on check-in.

4. Boarding cards checked at security, shoes off, bags x-rayed and passengers screened.

5. Passport control – passport and boarding card for me, plus the aforementioned ESTA check for David.

6. Passport and boarding card at the gate.

7. Manual pat-down and bag check before being allowed to board the plane.

8. Boarding card check on entering the plane.

Port au Prince - Atlanta

The flight is unremarkable, we have three seats for the two of us and can spread out.

At Atlanta there is a long queue for immigration, and David yet again doesn't pass through the automated self-check, but we have plenty of time (nearly six hours) here, so it doesn't really matter.

At least we don't have to collect our checked in luggage – as a 'favour' the supervisor in Port au Prince checked our bags in all the way to London (I didn't even know that was possible), and gave us a 'golden ticket' to show to staff here.

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We are not even given a second glance at customs in to the US, but as usual the body scanner causes all sorts of issues. The scary thing is that my panty-liners showed up but not the mobile phone I'd forgotten in my pocket!

At Homeland Security Ram Ram is undressed and re-dressed by a charming official with a sense of humour (they are few and far between!). He is even swabbed for drugs but again found to be completely innocent. The possibility had occurred to me that maybe the artist had been using drugs and some traces had somehow remained on the sculpture, but I needn't have worried. Ram Ram even gets a 'seal of approval' in the form of an 'INSPECTED' tape.

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After our last Atlanta Airport dining experience on the way back from Haiti in February (Read all about the most expensive pizza we ever ate here), we head straight for the airport train and the Food Court at Terminal E - still with Ram Ram in tow.

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We settle for a TGI Friday's, where David is delighted to find they serve cider! Of course that is a pure coincidence, we don't read the menus of all the restaurants to check before deciding where to eat. Much.

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The food is pretty good too, we both have Sizzling Chicken and Cheese, and it is nice to have mashed potato for a change rather than the ubiquitous fries which come with almost every meal in the hotel restaurants in Haiti. The bill is a fraction of what we paid last time too, so we are on to a winner here.

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Later we even stop for a cinnamon bun, but although it is nice, it is just not a Cinnabon!

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After a long and boring wait here at Atlanta, we finally get to board the Virgin Airways flight for the next leg of the journey home, just as the sun goes down.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:06 Archived in USA Tagged flight caribbean tickets atlanta delta air_travel passports haiti port_au_prince security_check voyages_lumiere delta_airways passport-control homeland_security virgina_airlines Comments (1)

Port au Prince: Street Photography

On the streets of the capital of the poorest country in the western hemisphere

sunny 34 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today is set aside for some street photography; again to compensate for the fact that last time we came many of the streets in Port au Prince were out of bounds for security issues surrounding the political demonstrations taking place at the time.

Bus Station

We start the day at the bus station, to see some of the many painted buses that are unique to Haiti. The chassis is imported (mostly from the US), whereas the body work and decorations are added here to create the ubiquitous Haitian style; with popular themes featuring religion, history, politics and local celebrities.

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The bus station also houses one of numerous street markets found in and around Port au Prince. With jobs being scarce, selling what little they can helps to supplement family income. There always seem to be way more stall holders than customers though, and most vendors sell very similar stuff.

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I love this guy's T-shirt slogan:

Eat a little pig
Take a little swig
Do a little jig

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Mobile pharmacy

Marché de la Croix des Bossales – the Slave Market

Situated in the place where the slaves arrived in Haiti, the Marché de la Croix des Bossales is the biggest market in Haiti and one of the largest in the Caribbean.

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Today parts of the market are a chaotic mess, a huge jumble of second-hand clothes imported from the US for resale.

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The import of second-hand clothes has all but killed the once-thriving tailor businesses in Haiti, as it is much cheaper to buy used clothing than to have items made for you by a craftsman. The few remaining tailors now specialise in uniforms and alterations.

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After commenting on how we seem to be as much of attraction to the locals as they are to us, Serge replies: “They don't see many foreigners, I never bring tourists here, only you!” I take that as a compliment.

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Pouchard drives slowly past the market stalls for me to carry out my 'trademark' drive-by-shootings (photographically speaking only, of course). Given the almost-stationary traffic, this is not a difficult task.

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Livestock Market

Since the earthquake, cattle is rarely seen at the markets in Haiti, these days it is mainly goats and chickens for sale.

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Never sleep under a defecating goat

A somewhat deranged woman gets most upset about me taking pictures, thinking I am photographing her. She does not calm down despite Serge's reassurance that I am only interested in pictures of the animals, and continues to shout obscenities even after the other workers try to calm her down.

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We make a swift exit before she gets over-exited, photographing the pigs on the way out. They don't seem to object to having their photo taken.

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How to transport your live goats

Slums

Leaving the port area, we travel through some serious slums.

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The area may be a ramshackle shanty-town, but their immediate surroundings are mostly tidy and I am impressed at how the residents have made the most of their situation and tried to brighten up their surroundings with a few plants.

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Bel Air

Serge takes us up in the hills for a better view of the sprawling market below. The Bel Air area is said to be a notorious hot spot of crime and poverty.

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According to Wikipedia, Bel Air is a “slum area of the city... Crime is widespread, and kidnappings and killings have created panic among the local population.... the murder rate in Bel Air reached 50 murders per 100,000 residents ”

The British Government doesn't have a much better view of the place either:
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the ... Bel Air neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince due to the risk of criminal activity”.

That's OK then.

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Raram No Limit

We meet a local celebrity: the main man behind the band Raram No Limit.

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He shows us some of the street art he and others have painted to brighten up the neighbourhood.

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Central Market

We head for one of the many other markets in town, to look for a belt for David. The market is crowded, with mud and debris everywhere and some interesting stalls.

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The beauty of shopping in a place like this is that you don't have to go to the vendors, they come to you.

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More Street Art

David gets his belt, and we return to the down-town area of Port au Prince for some more street art, this time on the walls of the fence surrounding the University.

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Lunch

After taking a lot of ribbing over the last week from my Facebook friends about always posing with a drink in my hand, I decide to prove that I don't normally have alcohol at lunchtime.

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Look, no drink!

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Only fresh lemon juice

It doesn't seem to convince my friends much though.

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Packing

Time to get ready for the return to the UK. Packing shouldn't take long, although we need to ensure the new mask goes in the case first and everything else can be wrapped around it. There is only one 'slight' problem – the sculpture – who we have named Ram Ram – is way too big for the bag. Oops. It didn't look that big when I bought it....

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The guys on the hotel reception kindly let us have some newspapers and cellotape to wrap him in, but it soon becomes apparent that he needs more, especially if he is to travel in the cargo hold of the plane.

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I send a text to Jackie, our local agent Voyages Lumiere, asking her where I can get some bubble wrap, and less than an hour later her driver Pouchon turns up at our hotel with a huge roll of the stuff! Now that is what I call great customer service!

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I think Ram Ram is now ready for his journey of a life-time to his forever home in England.

Drinks and Dinner

Just to keep my Facebook friends happy (believe that and you believe anything), we order some 'proper' pre-dinner drinks: Plaza punch (with plenty of rum) and some white wine.

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Everyone makes sure their cocktails match their outfit for the night, right?

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After an interesting dish of chicken in red wine and vanilla sauce, it is time to say goodnight as we are getting up very early tomorrow morning for our flight home.

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Thank you to Voyage Lumiere for yet another fantastic holiday in Haiti. You guys are the best!

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:08 Archived in Haiti Tagged market public_transport caribbean buses photography bus_station pigs goats livestock pig_market haiti port_au_prince street_photography voyages_lumiere le_plaza painted_buses second_hand_clothes marche_de_la_croix_des_bossales slave_market _goat_market Comments (1)

Port au Prince: Marché de Fer and Atiz Rezistans

Iron Market and Craft Centre

34 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Iron Market (Marché de Fer)

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As we were unable to reach this – one of Haiti's most important civic landmarks - on our last visit because of the political rallies taking place, we have set aside a morning to explore its sales halls.

Shipped over from France in 1891, the structure was originally destined for Cairo, where it was going to become a railway station; but the deal fell through so it ended up here in Port au Prince instead. No-one is quite sure why or how.

The iconic market was badly destroyed during the 2010 earthquake, but has since been rebuilt and is yet again the focus of the city's vendors.

Notorious for its overwhelming atmosphere and high-pressure aggressive salesmen, it is with some trepidation we enter the first of the two halls, which contains a number of food and everyday household items for sale.

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Manioc

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Plantain Smasher

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Star anise

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Gourds and dried mushrooms

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Great selection of fancy shoes

Herbal Medicine
Many locals prefer to rely on alternative medicine, and we see several stalls selling a great variety of herbal infusions.

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For medicinal purposes only?

No salesmen have bothered us so far, but I guess the other hall – full of Vodou paraphernalia, artists and souvenirs, is where it is all happening as far as the tourist goes.

Here we see all sorts of 'creations' – I find the ones featuring dolls (of which there are many) - somewhat unnerving.

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Other - equally macabre - items are produced from and around human skulls. Real human skulls that is.

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When the slaves were brought over from Africa, they were forbidden to practice their Vodou religion, so would disguise their art behind a veil of Catholic saints. Today the two merge into one as far as art goes.

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The bowls of turtles intrigue me, and Serge explains that they are used for rituals. The turtle is not killed, merely drained of some blood, which is mixed with rum and coffee (isn't everything over here?), and given to pregnant women to protect the foetus from evil spirits.

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Candles used for ceremonies

The last part of the market is dedicated to souvenirs, and although we are approached by the stall holders and encouraged to browse their goods, they are not what I would call 'aggressive', or even particularly persistent. Perhaps this is down to the fact that Serge has spent years trying to discourage them; maybe it's because we have taken one of the stallholders as a guide, or it could be that we are just so used to it from our many travels through Africa and Asia that we just ignore it. While Haiti does not receive many tourists as such, the great number of visiting diaspora are the main buyers of these items, wanting to take a small piece of their home-land back to the US (or wherever) with them.

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From the Iron Market we make our way across town to the area known as Grand Rue (Main Street) through the labyrinthine warren of back streets in neighbourhoods dedicated entirely to car scrap yards and recycling.

Atis Rezistans – the Sculptors of Grand Rue

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It is not immediately obvious where the junk-yard ends and the art museum / gallery begins.

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The artists in this tight-knit community use salvaged wood, discarded car parts and household items to create bold, radical and warped sculptures.

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E Pluribus Unum”: out of many, one.

Compelling and whimsical, sometimes disturbing, often absurd, always extraordinary, each piece of art has a story behind it and a meaning to it, although the latter can be very elusive to the non-initiated.

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This open-air gallery is crammed full of sculptures, the focus seemingly being on ghoulish representations, although I am told the symbology is based on slavery, death and rebirth, Vodou, Christianity and the occult.

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Fetish, sexuality and anatomy are recurring themes in these fantastical creations reborn from discarded everyday items.

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And of course the ever-present human skulls grinning at us as we walk past.

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“Who buys this stuff” I ask André Eugéne – the founder of the art museum – as he invites us in to see his studio and bedroom. “It is mainly art collectors from all over the world, rarely locals” he explains. The interior of his work-and-living-space is dimly lit – by a human skull with red and green bulbs in its eye sockets. Not exactly what I would like to wake up to after a night on the rum.

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As we are leaving, I take a fancy to a mask hanging by the exit. “Everything here is for sale” says Eugéne, but I recoil when he ask for $400. “That is way out of my reach” I explain. “How much?” asks Eugéne hopefully and I throw back an almost derisory offer of $100, which is immediately rejected for double that. I explain that this price is still way too high for me and walk away. Eugéne calls me back, money changes hands and I am now the 'proud' owner of an 'original' piece of Haitian art. More on that tomorrow.

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Kids' Place – a Street Kid Project

Children between the ages of 10 and 17 are encouraged to create their own art and have been given a small shack in which to display and sell their creations.

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We - no, correction, I - buy another mask for our collection. David looks at me and shakes his head. Evidently he and I do not share the same taste in art.

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The kids are cute and love playing up for the camera.

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Le Plaza Hotel – chill time

After a morning of 'culture', the 'arts' and shopping, we have some free time this afternoon. Inspired (encouragingly 'bullied') by my friend Ian to use my macro lens, I take a few close-up pictures of everyday items in the restaurant.

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Ice cubes in my ginger ale

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The metal table

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Salt Pot

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Bubbles and condensation on my glass

Levitation Trick

The rest of the afternoon is spent in and around the swimming pool - first to create some trick photography.

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So how are these created? Quite simple really – one photo of David on a chair, and one photo of just the scene (making sure that the camera is in the identical position), then layer them in Photoshop and remove the chair. Voila!

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Later we fool around in the pool with my little waterproof camera, until the sun goes down and the lights come on.

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Dinner

After a quick shower we wander down to the restaurant for dinner. Although they do have an air-conditioned dining room, we make the most of the lovely warm evening by sitting outside in the leafy courtyard.

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David enjoys a cold Premiere beer in a frosted glass

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Prawn skewers with garlic mango sauce

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Filet mignon with creamy mushroom sauce

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I take great pleasure in a refreshing Plaza Punch after dinner, before it is time to say goodnight.

Thank you Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere for arranging this amazing trip to Haiti for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:27 Archived in Haiti Tagged art craft masks hotel market sculpture pool photography souvenirs mask swimming_pool artists haiti recycling port_au_prince vodou le_plaza le_plaza_hotel atis_rezistans sculptors scrap_yard atis_resizistans_vodou_art vodou_art iron_market marché_de_fer mask_collection 2010_earthquake fun_in_the_pool waterproof_camera levitaion_photography _levitation_trick levitation andre_eugene Comments (0)

Port au Prince: Fet Gede / Day of the Dead

Party in the cemetery, believers possessed by their dead ancestors and sacrificed goats - it is all happening today!

36 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Fet Gede

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Today we are setting out to see, experience and photograph the Fet Gede – the reason we made this return journey to Haiti.

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As a photographer, I have never perfected the art of travelling light.

Fet Gede, the 'Feast of the Ancestors', is a traditional Vodou festival which celebrates the Lwa (spirits) of death and fertility; a time when believers honour the ancestral dead who they regard as walking with us all our lives. Gede (the sacred ancestors) is considered an important part of every living person as we will all join them eventually.

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Fet Gede can be described as the Vodou equivalent of Mardi Gras, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Halloween, all rolled into one incredible ritual with enough drumming, singing, alcohol and laughter to quite literally raise the dead. The Fet Gede celebrations are unique to Haiti, a blend of traditions brought over from Africa during the slave trade, mixed with colonial Christianity and a dash of ritual from the original Taino inhabitants of the island.

Haitians believe that the frisky Vodou spirits helped them win independence and become the world's first black republic. Tradition marks the beginning of the revolution at a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman, where the call to arms was issued by a Houngan (Vodou priest), and within hours, the northern plantations were in flames. The rebellion spread through the entire colony and the rest is history as they say.

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Grand Cimetiére

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We start the day with a visit to the main cemetery. As you do. The Grand Cimetiére in Port au Prince is like a city for the dead within the living city. Like many cemeteries, it mirrors real life in its layout. Here you find various 'neighbourhoods': crowded slums with rotting tombs and muddy graves; stately communities with fabulous mausoleums, middle class suburbs and even a main boulevard.

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We can't get anywhere near the cemetery by car due to the enormous crowds of people. After a lot of hassle, Wilson (today's driver) manages to find a spot where he can stop long enough for us all to get out. We are joined today by Sam from New York and a group of five international architect student who are here to learn the art of building bamboo houses. After shuffling our way through the crowds, we enter the necropolis through the main gate which reads “Souviens-Toi Que Tu Es Poussiere” (remember you are dust).

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The cemetery is teeming with life and people thronging through the narrow alleyways. We make our way along the main boulevard, along with thousands of others. The atmosphere is convivial and friendly, with not a hint of sinister or threatening undertones.

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Kwa Baron (Cross of Baron)

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Vodouists come in a spiritual pilgrimage to the cemetery to pay their respect to the dead, but first, permission of passage has to be obtained. The grave of the Papa Gede, the first man who ever died. Ancestral services are held at this 'crossroad', considered to be the bridge between life and death. Kwa Baron is the Lwa guardian of the cemetery and head of the Gedes.

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So, who is Papa Gede?
The corpse of the 'first man' can in many ways be compared to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who is revered at memorials throughout the world - he may not necessarily be Haitian - just like the Baron is not Haitian nor African, he may be 'other' (foreign). Papa Gede is a psychopomp who waits at the crossroads to take departed souls into the afterlife, although he does not take a life before its time. Papa Gede has a very crude sense of humour, and a cunning ability to read people's minds, knowing everything that happens in the worlds of the living and the dead.

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Skulls and bones are removed from the crypts and turned into a makeshift shrine

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Pimam

Making an offering of Pimam (a mixture of raw rum known as clairin and 21 habareno chillies) is said to help the Gede (ancestral spirits) become warm and passionate again. Having been 'sleeping in the cold', the rum and chillies helps to 'heat them up' so that they can offer advice on such things as job hunting, love and marriage.

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The floor is awash with rum (and also coffee, which has been offered by the cup-full too). The smell is quite overpowering, and the bottom of my jeans are soaked in the stuff. I guess I'd better wash those before going on the flight back to the UK. We brave the crowds to venture further into the maze of alleyways in the cemetery.

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Baron Kriminel ('Baron of Criminals') is the enforcer of the Gede. As the first person to commit murder, he is Gede of murderers and perpetrators of violence against others; thus victims' relatives pray to him for revenge. His 'chevals' (possessed followers) are said to have an insatiable appetite for food, biting and chewing on anything and anyone (even themselves), they will attack those around them until they get fed. Thankfully none of the chevals present today seem to be possessed, as I don't fancy becpming breakfast.

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There is nothing formal about any of the celebrations here, people push and shove, stand on the graves to get a better view, and even put their feet on the altar.

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All this, and the enormous crowds everywhere, makes photography a real challenge! I am impressed, however, at how the sea of people seems to magically open up as I try to get closer to the action – spectators actively move aside and even encourage others to do so in order for me to see what is going on. Lots of locals are photographing the event too, and even the TV and radio stations are out in force.

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The occult has always fascinated me, and voodoo is no exception. In reality, voodoo is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world, something I became more and more aware of as I did my research some ten years ago before our trip to West Africa. The word 'Voodoo' is in fact a bastardisation by Hollywood of 'vodoun', the original West African religion (also known as vodun). (One interesting observation here is that ‘voodoo’ passes the spellchecker in Word, ‘vodoun’, ‘vodun’ or the Haitian version of the religion, known as vodou, do not.) Hollywood also gave the world the idea that vodoun (or voodoo) is an evil black magic cult setting out to spread death and destruction. Films like the James Bond ‘Live and let Die’ also fuelled this misapprehension with its violence and bizarre rituals. Ask an average member of the public what they first think about when they hear the word ‘voodoo’ and they are most likely to answer something along the lines of ‘black magic’, ‘zombies’, ‘human sacrifice’ or ‘sticking pins in dolls’. I would love to be able to say “nothing is further from the truth”, but of course there are some associations to all of these within the vodoun religion, but there is so much more to it.

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Vodoun is a religion that can trace its roots back at least 6,000 years; some sources claim 10,000. It is freely practised in West Africa, and was in fact accepted as the state religion of Benin in 1996 where 80% of the population is followers. It is believed that over 60 million people practise vodoun worldwide, 30 million of which are thought to be in West Africa. Vodoun is widespread throughout the Caribbean, notably on Haiti where vodou was proclaimed the state religion in 2003 where is is popularly stated that the people are 80% Catholics and 110% vodouists. It is also found in Brazil, the Guianas, Dominican Republic and parts of USA, introduced by the slaves.

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Vodou in Haiti

There are also an awful lot of misconceptions that vodou originated in Haiti. Yes, it is the state religion in Haiti, but it was brought here by the slaves from West Africa during the French colonial time, when it mixed with local Taino religious beliefs and European mysticism, taking on a camouflage veneer of Roman Catholicism after it was outlawed by the slave masters.

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Vodou (a derivation of the West African Vodun and the New Orleans Voodoo) is mysterious and complicated, inherently mistrusted, frequently maligned and often misunderstood religion. Its reputation was badly tarnished by the 1960s dictator Papa Doc, who encouraged his people to believe he was Baron Samedi, the vodou spirit of darkness and dead. Most westerner's exposure to Haitian Vodou is through Hollywood portrayals such as the 1973 James Bond's Live and Let Die blockbuster (in which Baron Samedi featured as a villain), something that has created further suspicion and discredit in Vodou as a serious religion.

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Having witnessed a Vodun ceremony first hand in Benin in West Africa a few years ago, I was keen to find out a little more about how this enigmatic, cabbalistic doctrine plays out for the Haitians.

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Vodou ceremony in Benin 2006

I have tried to gain some sort of understanding of Vodou, and here I will try and give you a very brief synopsis of what I have gleaned from talking to our guide and other Haitians, as well as various websites.

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Lwa

Their top dog – the Supreme Creator – is called Bondye but doesn't really want to have anything much to do with mere mortals, so the people direct their worship towards one or more of the many spirits, known as Lwa. Each Lwa has a particular aspect of life which they are responsible for – much in the same way as Christian saints, Hindu deities and Greek gods. Voduists create altars, participate in ritual ceremonies involving music and dance; and make offerings to appease their chosen Lwa.

There is no one definitive form of Vodouism, each priest has a different style of worship, depending on the Lwas his 'house' honours. Priests can be either male (houngan) or female (mambo) and are said to have supernatural power to hurt or kill people in addition to doing good by helping and protecting others from spells of course. A Haitian Vodou temple is called an Hounfour or Peristyle.

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The Lwa and the humans belong to each other and are interdependent – the humans supply food, the Lwa provides protection from evil spirits, health and good fortune.

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In Vodouism, your soul is said to take the form of two parts – the Big Good Angel (gros bon ange) or Little Good Angel (ti bon ange). Big Angel is in charge of the more physical aspects of your life, such as breathing and the flow of blood; whereas Little Angel is the ruler of your personality, nature and willpower – basically, the Big Angel decides what to do and the Little Angel works out how to do it.

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Unlike the evil portrayed by popular media, Vodou moral code of conduct focusses on the vices of dishonour and greed, on love and support within the family, respecting your elders and giving alms to the poor. Much like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and most other religions.

Baron Samedi

The ruler of the graveyard and the Lwa of the Dead and is known for disruption, obscenity, debauchery, and having a particular fondness for tobacco and rum. Sounds like my kinda guy.

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Baron Samedi is a very sexualised Lwa, frequently represented by phallic symbols such as this skeletal hand between his legs.

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Fet Gede celebrations are huge here in Haiti and everywhere we go in the cemetery there are people taking photos and videos; plus all the TV and radio stations. Here Baron Samedi is interviewed for the daily TV news.

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While most devotees are merely here at the cemetery out of curiosity, some come to worship, and a small number of believers actually become possessed by the Lwa (spirits). As this guy goes in to a trance, he loses control of his senses, flails his arms and legs around and staggers about as if he has been given a hefty push in a drunken stupor. As we are all on top of a crypt at this stage, with steep steps and a throng of people, there are a few hairy moments as he tumbles down through the crowds and onto the ground below. Fortunately no-one is hurt on this occasion and he is helped by a number of bystanders as he recovers from his bewildering state of possession.

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Erzulie

This tree represents Erzulie, the Haitian African Lwa (spirit) of love and passion. She is fond of money and clothes, but especially of doll, and she enjoys receiving them as gifts.

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Devotees come here to attach dolls to the tree, in order to send messages to their dead loved ones and ancestors; which in turn will then ensure that Erzulie brings them luck. This practice is thought to have been the base of the misunderstanding and misinformation (perpetuated by popular media) that Vodouists stick pins in dolls to cause harm to their enemies.

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Peristyle - The Vodou Temple

From the cemetery we continue (via the supermarket for water and toilet stop) up into the hill towards Petionville to attend a vodou service to commemorate Fet Gede, the Feast of the Ancestors (or Day of the Dead).

Wilson drives the minibus as far as he can up roads that become narrower and more uneven as we climb higher. Eventually we reach a point where the road has been washed away (possibly by the recent hurricane?) and the surface is down to the bedrock. We scramble up further on foot and enter a series of tight alleyways occupied by children and goats. There is no sign of the Vodou Temple until we are right upon it and even then it is unrecognisable as a place of worship as we know it.

The immediate area outside the temple is full of people hanging around, smoking, drinking and chatting. There is an 'off-licence' by the entrance where worshippers can buy their rum for offering and personal consumption.

The temple itself can best be described as a small wooden shack, the inside of which is beautifully adorned with white and purple balloons, Halloween-style decorations and an altar awash with offerings - people bring with them food or drink particularly enjoyed by their ancestors when they were alive.

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Music

A group of special people, known as houn'torguiers, provide the music in the form of shaking rattles, playing drums and blowing a trumpet. Three drums, covered with ox-hide, provide the rhythm. They represent the three atmospheres of the sun: the largest represents the chromospheres, the middle one the photosphere, and the smallest one the solar nucleus. The instruments have to be purified prior to the ceremony.

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Everyone seems to be taking photos or recording video, and the TV crew are in attendance with their huge camera and microphone. As was the case in the cemetery, we are the only white people here.

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Maman Brigitte

Soon after we arrive, the ritual reaches a crescendo as (a devotee possessed by) Maman Brigitte (Baron Samedi's wife), frees the souls of the followers. She is a colourful character, both in appearance and speech, and is known as the guardian of the dead. As a psychopomp, she leads the dead to the afterlife.

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Dancing

Dancing is an expression of spirituality, and is seen as a connection with divinity and the spirit world. The dancing and drumming intensifies repeatedly and repetitively until the dancer is possessed by their Lwa, by which stage they appear to completely lose control of their body and some even appear to lose consciousness. Their limbs go stiff, they appear to fall backwards of they flail their arms and legs about, thrashing anyone and everyone in their way. This is the Lwa’s way of having a bit of fun with the devotee.

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Vodou devotees believe that everyone has a soul which is made up of two parts: a gros bon ange or 'big guardian angel', and a ti bon ange ('little guardian angel'). The ‘little angel’ is the one that leaves the body when the Lwa possess the dancers during a ritual, and it can be quite scary at times to watch. The Lwa will take over every movement of that person, they become the spirit and are no longer themselves, and the spirit will talk through the possessed – sometimes in a language they do not understand or even knew before they were possessed. The Lwa will convey – through the possessed – advice, desires and warnings.

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During the Vodou service, prayers are offered to the Lwa, followed by songs for the Lwa accompanied by shaking a calabash rattle (asson) filled with rattlesnake bones, as well as hypnotic drumming. Like many Hindu devotees, most Haitians have a 'favourite' Lwa, and as 'their' song is played, they believe that the spirit takes possession of their body and is thereby able to speak and act through them. They trust that by following the directives and taboos imposed by their particular Lwa, the Lwa will help them in life, enabling them to discard any toxic influences from the past as well as offering thanks to the ancestors and accepting beneficial help for the future. Fet Gede is a celebration for reconnecting with the past, and preparing for the future. By offering insight into the past, Fet Gede frees people from any futile or unacceptable patterns and habits that they may inadvertently repeat, thus preparing them for a better future where greater happiness can be achieved. Conversely, by ignoring the advice of the Lwa, all sorts of misfortunes will befall the worshipper.

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Other worshippers help the Houngan (Vodou priest) to stay cool (if that is at all possible in the stifling heat inside the Peristyle) while he is possessed.

The Gédé spirits are lewd and raucous, and those possessed by them during ceremonies can be wildly provocative and sexually charged – like this guy tying a goat to his belt by a rope, and simulating sex with it on the dance floor.

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Chanting

Chanting is also an integral part of the Vodou ceremony. The chorus is made up of a group of people, led by a strong spiritual devotee. The idea of the chanting is to attract the Lwa on the astral plane in order to draw them down to earth.

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Pimam

Pimam is an 'altar wine' made from klarin (Haitian moonshine) with habareno peppers – it can quite literally be described as 'fire water.' Once a worshipper is 'possessed', he (or she) drinks or rubs themselves with the pimam as a signal that they are really a Gede (spiritual ancestor), in other words: dead and need warming up.

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Devotees also sprinkle alcohol on the ground to attract the spirits.

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Sacrifice

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Fet Gede celebrations nearly always involve an animal sacrifice (never virgins I am assured!). Since the earthquake in 2010 goats and chickens are favoured over cows.

Unble to bear the heat inside any longer, we leave the temple for some fresh air (not that it is much cooler outside), and almost immediately Serge beckons me to come down a set of stairs with him.

There, without much pomp and circumstance, is a goat with his throat being slit.

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The blood is drained into a bowl as the head is severed off completely.

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The rest of the body is slung aside (still kicking) while the next goat is fetched.

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The goat is hit over the head with a mallet to stun it, then stabbed in the skull with a sharp knife.

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The blood from the bowl is smeared on the forehead and tongue of believers (who have paid 50 gourdes for the privilege). By drinking the blood whilst possessed by the Lwa, it is believed that the Lwa’s hunger is satisfied and the devotee will receive forgiveness for any wrongdoings.

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After the sacrifice has taken place, the animal is cooked and shared out amongst the villagers. This way, nothing goes to waste. The killing of an animal is believed to release life, which the Lwa receive to rejuvenate themselves during the rapture of the ceremony.

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Still overwhelmed and buzzing from the powerful experiences today, we return to our hotel to get ready for a night out with Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere.

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Jacqui brings along her friend Kelli from the US who has just adopted an adorable little Haitian girl called Vanedjina.

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We have a lovely relaxing evening with good food and great company – the perfect way to end a frantic but captivating day.

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Thank you Voyage Lumiere for making this happen.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:17 Archived in Haiti Tagged altar temple travel vacation skeleton cemetery halloween crowds holiday necropolis tv dancing drums photography coffee killing candles spirits graves bones goat skulls ancestors rum sacrifice crypt celebration voodoo dolls mardi_gras haiti offerings crossroads trance day_of_the_dead chanting peristil port_au_prince baron_samedi vodou possessed fet_gede fete_guede fet_guede fete_gede gede feast_of_the_ancestors lwa loa vodum vodoun grand_cimetiere kwa_baron cross_of_baron papa_gede tomb_of_the_unknown_soldiers pimam clairin clarin klarin maman_brigitte habarenos baron_criminal occult peristyle erzulie zonbiw erzulie_mayang vodou_temple voodoo_temple houn'torguiers psychopomp houngan mambo vodou_ceremony voodoo_ceremony Comments (0)

Montrouis - Port au Prince

Here comes the rain - briedfly

rain 33 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today is very much a non-event, as David is up at 04:00 with an upset tummy. He stays in bed while I go for breakfast, the whole morning, as well as while I enjoy lunch. Only as we are checking out to travel back to Port au Prince does he surface.

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Yummy fruit and French toast for breakfast

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While David stays in the air-conditioned room feeling sorry for himself, I soak up the last of the ocean views and some sunshine.

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Grilled cheese sandwich for lunch

I am feeling very much more alive on this journey than the one in the opposite direction a couple of days ago, and spend my time taking photos of the passing traffic which consists of overfilled tap-taps (open-sided small trucks used for passengers), hand carts, cows eating from rubbish tips, big Macks (the truck variety, not the burger), donkey carts, sleek modern buses, pedestrians and kamakazi goats dashing from one side of the road to the other through the crazy traffic!

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It's Monday, so it must be wash day!

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A new venture for a future ex-president?

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David, on the other hand, is not having a good day, and is violently sick on the journey. Thankfully - and much to Pouchons' relief - I always carry a sick bag.

Rain and flooding

Half way back to the capital, we encounter the much publicised rain; and it certainly looks like they have had a LOT of it here, judging by the flooding in the streets.

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Just a mile or so further on the rain has stopped and the roads are bone dry. Strange weather.

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Unlike the reverse journey, the freeway is running smoothly; but when we arrive in the capital, we hit a major traffic jam. Pouchon tries to avoid the standstill by cutting through some of the backstreets – areas with slums heavily ingrained with poverty like we've rarely seen anywhere in a capital city in the western world. Feeling very uncomfortable about taking photos (for safety and ethical reasons), I do snap a few covert pictures from inside the mini-van.

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Le Plaza Hotel

Arriving back here is like coming home; and the receptionist, remembering us from last week, greets us like long lost friends.

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Samantha, our gorgeous waitress this evening, gives us a French lesson as she takes our order. Just afterwards, a heavy peal of thunder is followed by a power cut. Just as I have found the torch in my bag, the lights come back on again.

My Tassot de Boeuf (fried beef in spicy sauce) is very tasty, and I have forgotten how delicious their piclis (spicy coleslaw) is!

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David takes two bites from his Poulet Pays au Noix (Haitian chicken with nuts) and immediately feels nauseous again.

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I order a cappuccino after dinner, but when Samantha comes back to tell me they have run out, I am 'forced' to have a piña colada. It's a hard life.

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We speak to Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere (who kindly arranged our trip to Haiti) to confirm the details of our itinerary for the next couple of days, before retiring for the night.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:45 Archived in Haiti Tagged travel hotel holiday caribbean sick trucks haiti mack nausea port_au_prince voyages_lumiere le_plaza montrois le_plaza_hotel nauseous upset_tummy Comments (0)

Montrouis - Moulin sur Mer beach resort

More chill time

storm 36 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I am up early this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds.

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Yellow Faced Grassquit

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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Palmchat

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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White Necked Crow

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Bananaquit

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American Kestrel

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Grey Kingbird

The hotel also has domestic ducks and geese on its ponds; as well as a pigeon loft.

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Breakfast

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Lots of lovely fresh mango, and French toast with bacon - one of my favourite breakfasts!

Montrouis Beach

Apart from a conch shell salesman, and a sunbed stacker, we have the beach to ourselves this morning.

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It is blisteringly hot and suddenly my tummy doesn't feel good at all. In fact, it is so sudden that I don't make it back to the bathroom on time – a most unpleasant experience.

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You'll be glad to know that there are no photos of my little "accident".

Lunch

Today is Sunday, so lunch is a buffet.

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Chicken curry, national rice, fried plantains, creamed corn and tomato salad

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A delightfully tart passionfruit mousse

Rain? What rain?

The forecast for this weekend (and beyond) has consistently showed rain, rain and more rain, plus the odd thunder shower. There is certainly no sign of that this afternoon, the sea is sparkling in the sunshine.

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We sit for a while just gazing out to sea and those mesmerizing sparkles of sunshine dancing across the water like little luminous fairies. Life is good, until my tummy tells me that the lunch is an unwelcome guest and is about to be evicted, so we retire to the cool room. Next door is a lovely local family who are here for the weekend with their small child. I am unconcerned when I hear hear the key being turned in the connecting door as it is surely locked from both sides; but before I have had the chance to say “I'd better put some clothes on”, the girl and her father are in our room. I don't know who is most shocked: the kid or her dad! For the rest of their stay he avoids all eye contact with me.

I guess that is my cue to get dressed and head out to wait for the sunset.

There are a few more people down at the beach this afternoon; both in and out of the water.

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Tonight's sunset is not a patch on yesterday's, but the 'Bushwacker' cocktail more than makes up for it: Khalua, Amaretto, Baileys, cream and ice cream. Heaven in a glass!

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What the evening sky lacks in terms of colour, intensity and clouds, it more than makes up for in a passing lightning storm.

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Dinner

On the menu tonight is langoustine thermador – one of my favourite dishes. It certainly lives up to expectations.

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Thank you to Jacqui of Voyages Lumiere for yet another day here in Haiti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:05 Archived in Haiti Tagged birds sea water sunset ocean beach storm caribbean sleep drinking birding photography lightning thunder woodpecker cocktail haiti lightning_storm langoustine bird_watching kestrel american_kestrel moulin_sur_mer montrouis voyages_lumier twitcher hispaniolan_woodpecker grassquit yellow_faced_grassquit bananaquit kingbird grey_kingbird waterskiing bushwalker_cocktail langoustine_thermador Comments (0)

Port au Prince - Montrouis

Beach time!

34 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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We have a nice leisurely start this morning before being picked up for the two hour journey to Montrouis and the Moulin sur Mer beach resort.

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Breakfast of hareng a l'haïtienne (herring in a spicy vegetable sauce), maïs moulu blanc (corn grits) and some sort of cake.

Unusually, we are spending the first two days of this trip in a beach hotel in order to acclimatise to the time zone and get used to the heat before we throw ourselves into the melee of the celebrations.

From the hotel we take the back-roads of Port au Prince out on to the main highway, with a couple of police checks on the way. Once on the main road, we encounter a massive traffic jam. We are both really struggling to stay awake for the journey, it must be the effect of the jetlag.

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Moulin sur Mer

We arrive at the beach resort around midday, and are greeted in the parking lot by a golf buggy, which takes us and our luggage down to reception and then on to our room.

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The room is nice and airy, with a large bathroom and a terrace outside. We leave the A/C on for the room to cool down, and go for lunch.

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Fresh mango juice

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Club sandwich (cheese, ham, egg and tuna) and 'Moulin' burger.

The restaurant is open air, but shaded by a roof, and looks out over the blue Caribbean sea.

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The hotel is spread out over a large area, and once we have filled our bellies, we explore the extensive grounds.

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Although the thermometer says 'only' 34 °C, it feels like it is way over 40 °C this afternoon with the humidity! We are both really struggling with the heat, and decide to go back to chill in the air-conditioned room.

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When we get there, the room is far from cool, instead it is stifling hot and whatever we do with the temperature on the remote control for the A/C unit, it remains so. After about an hour of slowly melting, we take another look at the controls, and realise that the settings were in fact on 'fan' rather than 'cool'! Doh! As soon as the air cools down a little, we both drift into a blissful and much needed siesta.

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Feeling very much more refreshed, we wander down to the beach and order a beer ready to watch the sunset over the sea.

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In the bay we overlook is a loud, obnoxious American (apologies to all my lovely American friends), who, as soon as he spots my camera, starts to shout out various camera settings. Maybe he is trying to be funny, but he just comes across as an insecure small man with a big ego and a small 'lens'. I try to ignore him, but he won't go away. Groan.

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Despite an insipid start, the sunset pans out very nicely and we stay and watch until there is no light left in the sky.

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After a quick shower and change, it is back to the restaurant for dinner – prawns in garlic for me, chicken goujons for David; followed by cheesecake which I can't finish as I am so full!

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Feeling completely shattered, we retire to the (now) cool room. I am not sure if it is the heat or the jetlag, but it seems to us that all we have done so far on this trip is to eat and sleep.

I would like to say THANK YOU to Jacqui of Voyages Lumiere for arranging this trip to Haiti for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:03 Archived in Haiti Tagged sea sunset beach travel hotel island breakfast sand caribbean resort hot heat beach_resort haiti herring voyages_lumiere hotel_le_plaza le_plaza moulin_sur_mer montrouis tap_tap Comments (0)

London Heathrow - Atlanta - Port au Prince, Haiti

We've arrived, with even more goodies than we set out with.


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Never before have we travelled with so much luggage! Normally when we travel, we park at an off-airport long-term car park and take advantage of their valet parking deal, where we just drive up to the terminal, jump out of the car with our luggage, and someone else takes the car away to park it. This time we decided to get a hotel the night before as the flight departs so early. We stumbled across a great deal with a 'mystery' hotel and parking for the week for less than we normally pay for just the parking. The 'mystery' hotel turned out to be the Hilton at Terminal 5 (and very nice it was too), but as we are flying from Terminal 3, it means getting the Hotel Hoppa bus from the hotel to T5, then the Heathrow Express train to T3. With four large bags, two rucksacks and a camera bag. At 05:00 in the morning.

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The check-in girl at Virgin Atlantic Airways is delightful, and when we tell her all about the donations we have received to take over to Haiti with us for the victims of Hurricane Matthew, she waves the fee for checking in an extra bag each. Well done Virgin!

The flight is not full, so we are able to spread out and have a row of seats each.

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Approaching Atlanta

We chat to the crew on board, and tell them about the good deed their colleagues on the ground did this morning by allowing us to carry the disaster relief for free, and amazingly they return with a large bag of goodies for us to take: blankets and toothbrushes/paste. Virgin Atlantic really does rock!

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The US is the only place in the world that I know of where you have to collect your luggage and re-check it even if you are on a connecting international flight. The customs officer brusquely asks: “What is all this?” pointing at our four large suitcases. “Clothes” I reply. After ascertaining that we are not carrying any food, he lets us pass and we can get rid of the main bags again.

The full body scan turns into a bit of a palaver, as even my silk scarf and empty money belt show up and I am asked to remove both. When trying to get it off, the money belt gets tangled up in my bra and they reluctantly allow me to just hold it to one side and do the scan again. I then get a full pat down and with all the distraction and fluster, I leave my scarf behind. I don't discover it until we get to the gate, and it's a long way back via the inter-terminal train and in through a NO ENTRY sign. David really is a star for going back to collect it for me!

While waiting at the gate, our name is called and we discover that we have had our seats re-allocated on the next flight – we again have a row to ourselves! Well done Delta!

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Pouchon, our driver, waits for us by the luggage carousel at Port au Prince, and whisks us through the dark streets of the capital to our hotel.

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Thanks to my Facebook friends' generosity, over a thousand items of clothing (from babies, toddlers, children, teens to adults) came over with us to help out the victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.

We also took some shoes and hats, toiletries, feminine products, space blankets and enough water purification tablets to make 20,000 litres of clean water.

Our friend Jacqui in Haiti (who runs the local tour agency Voyages Lumiere) agreed to take in the collection, so we leave the bags in the car for Pouchon to take to her house.

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Through one of her contacts who runs a bus service, Jacqui has been able to get free transport for the bags to the severely affected areas in the south.

Another friend of hers is a doctor who spends a couple of days a week treating the poor for free; and he has agreed to be the co-ordinator and distributor in the stricken area, making sure the items go to the most needy.

Many of my friends also gave us money to help out the victims; and I am delighted to say that with the addition of funds we would otherwise have spent on the two extra bags, we collected $750. In Haiti we received a refund from our tour operator for unused services (after an itinerary change) that we added to it, and after topping it up with some extra, we have made it a grand total of $1000!

The aforementioned doctor is also currently administrating a project to fit new roofs to houses damaged by the hurricane, which is where we decided to direct the money we collected.

So thanks to my very generous Facebook friends, at least TEN families will received a roof over their heads; as well as hundreds of people getting new clothes! I am absolutely humbled and extremely grateful to be able to organise this. Well done the power of Facebook!

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Our bags are now looking decidedly empty, so I guess I shall have to do some shopping while we are here in Haiti.

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We just dump the luggage in the room and head for the bar for a cold, refreshing Prestige Beer and a light dinner.

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Meatlover's pizza

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Terrace burger

What's a girl gotta do when she asks for a cappuccino after her meal, but they have run out? Order a Piña Colada of course!

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Before signing off for today there are a lot of people I have to say a “Thank You” to:

Voyages Lumiere for arranging this trip

Jacqui for agreeing to be our local coordinator for the aid we brought over

Dr Robert for helping to distribute the goods in the south as well as arranging the new roofs

My Facebook friends for their generous donations

Virgin Atlantic for allowing free passage of the suitcases as well as the large goodie bag

The world truly is full of beautiful people.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:52 Archived in Haiti Tagged beer travel us usa hurricane pizza aid atlanta luggage heathrow delta burger virgin_atlantic facebook haiti piña_colada port_au_prince #selfieless selfieless hurricane_matthew hurricane_relief voyages_lumiere haiti_relief hurricane_mathew aid_work aid_relief hotel_le_plaza le_plaza hilton_terminal_5 atlanta_airport us_customs body_scanner prestige_beer Comments (0)

Bristol - London Heathrow

A return to Haiti, but not empty handed


View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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During our visit to Haiti for the carnival in February this year, we were fascinated by our guide Serge's tales of the Haiti's official religion of Vodou in general and the the Day of the Day celebrations in particular. So much so, in fact, that we decided to make a return visit to Haiti for this particular fiesta, which is held on 1st and 2nd November every year.

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Fast forward to the 4th of October, when the powerful, long-lived and deadly category 5 hurricane Matthew hit the south west of Haiti, killing some estimated 1,600 people, injuring hundreds more, leaving close to 200,000 people homeless, and causing $2.25 billion damage to an already impoverished country.

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We felt terribly torn at this stage – should we still go? Is our hotel still standing? Are the areas we are visiting badly affected? We spent a lot of time talking it over with Jackie (our contact in Haiti), as we were concerned if it was ethical, practical or desirable for us to still visit so soon after the hurricane.

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Jackie assured us that life in Port au Prince and the surrounding areas are still very much 'business as usual' and that we would be welcomed with open arms by the people – they need the tourist dollar more than ever now.

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The parts of Haiti we are visiting were largely undamaged by the hurricane, and most things are still running as normal. It was felt that we could do more good by coming, as we will be bringing money to the country in the form of hotel bookings, transport, entrance fees, and guiding, which in turn will help with continued employment. On top of that will be any shopping we do (including food and drink), and tips that we distribute while we are there.

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What I did feel would be totally unethical, however, was to arrive empty-handed, so we packed everything that the two of us need into one piece of luggage and launched an appeal to my friends on Facebook for any clothing that we could fit in the spare bag.

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To say I was overwhelmed with donations is an understatement, and from the small initial proposal it snowballed into a huge project! Bags of clothes, shoes, toiletries, pharmaceuticals and other useful items arrived in masses; and a number of my friends who were too far away to physically give me stuff to take, donated via PayPal or bank transfer.

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We bought a couple of extra cases from a charity store, filled them with donated clothes and other items and set off on the first leg of our journey: to Heathrow to stay overnight at an airport hotel.

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Hilton Heathrow Terminal 5

After checking in, we pop down to the bar for a drink.

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Mr Todiwala's Kitchen

With traditional British fare or an Indian restaurant on offer, there is no choice for me, and we settle in to order what turns out to be some of the best Indian food we have had outside India.

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Mini poppadoms and chutneys - my favourite is the date and tamarind chutney.

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Vindhalo de Carne de Porco - a traditional Indian pork vindaloo is not the mind-blowingly hot dish served in curry houses in the UK, but rather a slightly sweet curry soured by vinegar.

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Beef Tikka Laal Aur Kaala Mirich Masala - cubes of fillet steak with a coating of chillies, black pepper, mustard, ginger and garam masala. Described as "HOT and not to be taken lightly".

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Desserts - rosewater and pistachio kulfi (Indian ice cream)

A great start for the first leg of the journey, although I have a very disturbed night after the spicy food and three pints of cider.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:10 Archived in Haiti Tagged travel hotel hurricane aid charity heathrow hilton haiti indian_food day_of_the_dead #selfieless selfieless hurricane_matthew relief_work charity_aid mr_todiwalas_kitchen vindaloo hurricane_relief facebook_friends fet_gede fete_guede fet_guede fete_gede voyages_lumiere Comments (0)

Port au Prince - Atlanta - London - Bristol

Homeward bound


View It's the Caribbean, but not as you know it - Haiti for Jacmel Carnival 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

05:00 is way too early for my liking, but I prefer to have plenty of time to get ready. Today is departure day and Geffrard is picking us up at 06:15. He is early and we make it to the airport in no time.

The whole airport experience is a bit of a palaver. Uncharacteristically, we allow a porter to take out bags from the car to check in, and tip him accordingly. He lingers, consistently demanding a “tip for my supervisor” Really?

Suspecting previous experience is to blame for the pre-check-in checks in the departure hall, we are not surprised when a Haitian couple are unable to produce a green card or visa for the US, pretending not to understand the questions posed to them and thus holding up the queue.

In the queue for security, I chat to the Canadian UN security worker in front of me, whose alcohol-breath poses a real fire risk. She gets stopped by the officials – I wonder why...

I am not sure whether it is the Haitian authorities or Delta Airlines whose paranoia leads to the sheer number of checks:

Pre-check in checks: US visa / ESTA / Green Card
Check in – tickets / pre-printed boarding cards / passport
Bag drop – boarding cards
Security – boarding cards, shoes off, x-ray
Immigration – passports, boarding cards
Another check – boarding cards scanned
Second security – boarding cards check, manual bag check, body pat down
Boarding gate – boarding cards and passports
On entering the plane – boarding cards

Finally we board our Atlanta bound plane, and find ourselves surrounded by a large group of Pennsylvania Dutch. Are they Amish? Mennonites? Quakers? I admit my ignorance at not knowing the difference. They are all in plain dress, with the women wearing mostly matching pale blue gingham-checked floor-length dresses, a white bonnet covering their hair and make-up less faces devoid of any smile or outward sign of joy. The men – mostly young lads – nearly all look alike which makes me think they are possibly brothers or even one large family. They speak some variation of German amongst themselves, and English to the crew. As the plane starts to taxi, the sound of two dozen passengers quietly singing hymns emits from all around us in the cabin. In all the 650 or so flights we have taken, this is a first!

Leaving Haiti we head due north, initially over the mountainous interior, then later we have great views of Turks and Caicos islands from the plane.

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After a beautiful start, we soon hit clouds and experience some pretty severe turbulence, eliciting loud gasps and even screams from the passengers.

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More officialdom on our arrival in the US of A. The self serve immigration desks scan our passports and take our fingerprints, giving me a green light and the go-ahead to enter the country, but David gets a cross and a referral again. They obviously don't like his passport, as the same thing happened on the way out.

The guy in front of us at the queue for the manual immigration also has problems, and requires a Creole translator. We swap queues and are in luck: an immigration official with a sense of humour, joking that David Howard is a common name. "Less of the common please, I like to think it is popular" quips David.

In most other countries when you are in transit, you literally arrive in the departure hall and remain there until your flight is called and you go to the gate. Not so the US. The hand luggage goes through an X-ray while we have to remove our shoes and go through the complete body scanners, followed by a manual pat down.

We collect the luggage and exit through a security check where we hand in the print out from the self check-in in Port au Prince. The luggage then has to be re-checked-in at the desk. Fortunately there is no queue here, and the lady behind the counter takes a shine to my accent, making me repeat the short sentence “It is” again and again. OK......

One more check of the boarding card and passport, then through another body scanner, then we are back in the departure lounge. We check the information board for details of our next flight – I never get used to the unique way flights are displayed in the US – in alphabetical order rather than chronological like in the rest of the world.

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Ecco Restaurant
Having five hours to kill, we want to sit down for a proper meal, being served by a waiter (or waitress), rather than grab a quick bite to eat at a fast food place. The general manager shows us to our table, and starts chatting. Finding that we are on the same wavelength, we and up talking to him for half an hour or more, covering a number of subjects, including politics, travel, culture and languages.

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David is delighted to find they serve cider

The pizzas are very nice, but nothing exceptional and the wine is expensive even though we choose the second cheapest on the menu. . After a couple of desserts and two coffees each, we are totally shocked to find the bill comes to $160! That is by far the most expensive pizza I have ever had. I check and re-check the bill against the menu, but find it is correct, and leave the restaurant with a sour taste in my mouth (and it wasn't the wine).

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The setting sun is just above the horizon as we taxi out to the runway at Atlanta for our flight back to London Heathrow.

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The rest of the journey home is totally uneventful, and in the car on the way back from the airport in the UK, I reflect on airline security checks. On our journey from Haiti to the UK, my passport was checked nine times, boarding card eleven times. My hand luggage went through three x-rays and one manual check. I had two X-rays, two full body scans and two manual pat downs, as well as having to take my shoes off twice. It's good to know we are safe.

Welcome home.

Posted by Grete Howard 02:58 Archived in USA Tagged sunset travel flight usa security pizza expensive virgin airline passport atlanta luggage heathrow aiport delta immigration haiti rip_off ecco security_check ecco_restaurant Comments (1)

Cormier Plage - Cap-Haïtien - Port au Prince

Back to the Ole Smoke

sunny 34 °C
View It's the Caribbean, but not as you know it - Haiti for Jacmel Carnival 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day eight of our tour of Haiti with Undiscovered Destinations.

Darkness still hangs over the Caribbean as we go for breakfast this morning, later replaced by an aspiring sunrise which never really amounts to anything.

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In the distant twilight we spot the Anthem of the Seas – The Royal Caribbean's cruise ship - heading for Labadee so that its passengers can spend the day on the beach.

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In the time it takes the ship to make its way across our horizon, twilight has almost been pushed aside by daylight, showing the ship in all its glory. I reluctantly admit that it does look impressive, at least from this distance.

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The sun is still low as we are driven to the airport for our return journey to the capital.

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Arriving at the airport, my heart sinks when I see the long queue of people - complete with huge amounts of luggage - waiting to check in; and when I realise that even the passengers are being weighed ready for the flight, the aforementioned heart plunges further into my stomach. I am therefore immensely relieved when Serge walks past the queue to another check in desk - the poor people heading for the humiliation of having their weight recorded are travelling to one of the outlying islands, not Port au Prince. Phew!

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Pimp my Truck

In Port au Prince Geffrard awaits us, now like an old friend, navigating his way through the morning traffic; all of which is infinitely more colourful and enriched than our min-van.

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Literally meaning 'quick quick', these buses – known as tap-taps, follow fixed routes, but not a timetable – they leave whenever they are full. That is full according to Haitian standards, not European, with passengers often hanging on the back or even sitting on the roof! There are no fixed bus-stops, the passengers knock the roof when they want to alight.

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They are mostly pick-up trucks which have been lovingly home welded and garishly decorated to the point where they resemble art galleries on wheels.

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Often painted with religious names or slogans, portraits of famous people, and intricate, hand-cut wooden window covers, the ubiquitous tap-taps are unique to Haiti.

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Musée Canne à Sucre

Although it is not far from Port au Prince airport, by the time we reach the museum I am feeling decidedly weary. The sun is shining relentlessly, and it's already very hot - I always suffers from the effects of dehydration quite quickly - and severely - and I suspect I have not taken in enough liquids this morning.

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All I want to do is sit down, in the shade somewhere, with a cool drink. Instead we are introduced to the guide who will show us around the museum.

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The first room displays a brief chronicle of Haiti's history, from the Taino Indians through to Victorian times.

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Taino artefacts

I feel listless and disinterested, which isn't at all like me. Normally I love museums, and soak up every word the guides say, but this morning I find myself wandering around the displays aimlessly, not really taking any notice of the explanations offered.

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The museum has the appearance of a haphazard collection of random items, situated in someone's living room.

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Slavery
The second room focuses on slavery, revolution and black history in Haiti. If there is such a human trait as having too much empathy, then I suffer from this condition. Looking at the impassioned illustrations displayed, my mind immediately wants to try and imagine how I would feel if I was in that situation. Damn emotions... STOP IT! If I was indifferent to the exhibits earlier, I now find myself getting quite distraught at the thought of man's inhumanity to man.

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Seeing Haiti today, it is hard to believe that it was once the wealthiest overseas colony in the French empire! However, economic success came at a cost - Haiti's riches could only be exploited by importing up to 40,000 slaves a year. For nearly a decade in the late 18th century, Haiti accounted for more than one-third of the entire Atlantic slave trade.

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Map showing where the slaves came from

Conditions for these men and women were atrocious; the average life expectancy for a slave once they arrived on Haiti was 7 years. Essentially, the owners worked their slaves to death and then just bought more slaves. Those who tried to run away were severely punished and by 1789, there were 500,000 slaves in Haiti.

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Cut-away model of slave ship shows the conditions the slaves were transported across the Atlantic under. Goods at the bottom, people on the middle deck.

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Some of the gruesome ways the slave masters kept their 'workers' in check. It doesn't even bear thinking about how cruelly these people were treated. I find it impossible to imagine how someone would have the mentality it would take to dish out that sort of punishment to another human being, and the fact that it was not just isolated incidents, it was considered the norm.

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Once they arrived in Haiti, slaves were divided into different categories: domestic help, overseers, agricultural workers and those involved in the sugar cane industry.

Revolution
Inspired by the French Revolution, the revolution in Haiti (1791-1804) is the only successful slave revolt in modern times, and makes Haiti the only country where slave freedom was taken by force. A bedraggled group of slaves organised themselves, held a vodou ceremony calling for their liberty and went out with a guerilla war to defeat Europe’s most powerful army.

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Plantations were taken by force, or by using more subtle methods, such as poisoning their masters.

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In 1804, Haiti went on to become the first independent nation in Latin America; it is the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere (after the US); and the oldest black republic in the world. The three main players in the fight for Haiti's liberty were Jean Jaques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion.

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Set in the grounds of the ruined old sugar plantation Habitation Chauteaublond, the museum courtyard features a collection of antiquated material relating to the sugar cane industry.

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17th century water mill, brought over from England, was used to extract the juice from the sugar cane.

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The guide turns the water on for us to show the wheel in operation. As we are the only people in the museum, it makes sense not to have the mill running continuously.

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As well as hydro-power, animals were used to operate this traction wheel.

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Vats for boiling the sugar cane to make molasses for export to Europe where it would be fermented to make rum.

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Belonging to the Haitian American Sugar Company, S.A. (HASCO), this – the first train in Haiti – was used for transporting sugar cane from the fields to the processing plants.

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Relais de Chateaublond Restaurant
Although the gorgeous on-site restaurant is famous for its selection of flavoured rums (such as passion fruit, anise and various herbs), we stick to Diet Coke with our lunch.

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Croix des Bouquets

In the suburb of Noailles is the commune of Croix des Bouquets, famed for its metalwork artisans. The flamboyant movement of recycling metal into art was started some 60 years ago and today there are over 1,000 artisans working in Croix des Bouquetes, hammering away to create intricate masks and other wall hangings from discarded oil drums, car parts and even kitchen utensils.

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We visit the workshop of Jacques Eugene, a renowned artist who was born here in Croix des Bouquetes and now employs several other locals in his studio.

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Like most of the artists, Jacques takes his inspiration from vodou, creating extraordinary wall hangings which are as bizarre (to us) as they are curious.

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Jacques explains the process from the raw material to the finished product: the oil barrel is cut open, burnt and flattened, then a pattern is traced on the surface. The rest is done with a hammer and chisel, metal cutters and artistic skill.

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This handsome mask now hangs proudly in my living room along with the two masks we wore for Jacmel carnival and the one I bought at Milot (well, I had to have something to do while David and Kyle were visiting the Citadelle – that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)

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In addition to the intriguing masks, one of the most popular designs for steel drum art is the Tree of Life, a symbolic image with a cultural significance to the people of Haiti. Representing immortality, new life, blessings and fertility, the branches of the tree reach into the sky, while the roots burrow deep into the earth; uniting heaven, earth and the underworld. Having seen several different variations on walls in our hotel rooms as well as restaurants, we are keen to pick one out to bring home.

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David also adds a lizard to his collection.

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Making our way back to Hotel Le Plaza (again), we are stuck in a traffic jam (again). The cars are completely stationary, and we soon become aware that several cars in front of us make a turn. Serge goes off to investigate what the problem is, and comes back to explain that there was an accident between a car and a motorbike, and all the bystanders have taken the side of the motorcyclist. They then set about beating the car driver, who very wisely retreated to the safety of his vehicle. That didn't stop the mob apparently, and now they are pelting his car with stones. Justice Haitian style!

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We also decide to get out of here before this escalates. That means driving through a 'less-than-salubrious' neighbourhood, and we are advised to close the windows and put the cameras away. So what do I do? Take photos of course...

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With so many cars having turned around to avoid the melee and are now travelling the opposite direction, the traffic is still terribly slow moving, so it's a great relief to finally arrive at the hotel. This being our third visit to Le Plaza in the last week, it's like coming home.

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Feeling awfully jaded and quite unwell by now, I am rather grateful we don't have any plans for the rest of the afternoon; and after re-packing for tomorrow's journey home, we take a siesta. I notice I have the beginnings of a cold sore on my lip, something that causes me some concern after last time I had one, which developed a secondary infection, resulting a several courses of antibiotics.

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When Geffrard turns up to pick us up later, he brings me a gift from Serge: spicy peanut butter! What a wonderful surprise.

This evening we have arranged to meet up with Jacqui (the local agent) and Paul (the Bradt Guidebook writer we met in Jacmel) for dinner. Jacqui has also invited Dawn (she was at the carnival with us too), who is bringing a friend; so it is quite a happy little band who turn up at La Plantation Restaurant in Pétionville.

The cocktails are good, the food is great and the conversation is even better.

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It's a delightful way to end this tour – we have found Haiti to exceed our expectations in every way. This small nation has so much more to offer than the usual Caribbean attractions of sunshine, beaches and sunset cocktails – although it has its fair share of those too! With extremely welcoming people and an intriguing culture, I am already planning my return visit to delve deeper into its vodou customs and celebrations.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:37 Archived in Haiti Tagged beaches art planes beach history travel vacation hotel museum caribbean artisans photography cocktails revolution slavery pilot metalwork artists aerial_photography slaves spicy haiti undiscovered_destinations canon_eos_5d_iii voyages-lumiere port-au-prince port_au_prince baron_samedi paul_clammer bradt vodou cap-haïtien haitien_revolution haitien_food haitien_art labadee cormier cap_hatien petionville croix_des_bouquets jacques_eugene sugar_cane haitian_revolution peanut_butter Comments (1)

Cap-Haïtien – Cormier Plage

Chill time!

semi-overcast 29 °C
View It's the Caribbean, but not as you know it - Haiti for Jacmel Carnival 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day seven of our tour of Haiti by Undiscovered Destinations.

Encouraged by yesterday's bird watching, I get up at the crack of dawn to see if there is any more avian life around the grounds. I spot a couple of the usual suspects, but nothing mindblowingly exciting:

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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Palmchat

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White Necked Crow

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Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Last night we received a text from Jacqui to say she is in Cap-Haïtien this morning on business and would we like to meet for breakfast? Despite her flight being delayed out of Port au Prince, we do have time for a quick catch-up at Hotel Roi Christophe before going our separate ways. To my delight, the hotel serves the legendary spicy Haitian peanut butter. I must get some of this to bring home!

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Cathedrale Notre Dame de Cap-Haïtien

Having been picked up by the driver from our destination hotel, we make a quick stop at Place d'Armes du Cap-Haitien in the centre of town to photograph the recently renovated 18th century cathedral fronted by the modern, well equipped kiddies' playground.

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Labadie

From here the rough and winding road meanders west, hugging the cliffs above the shoreline. Locals have been fighting to get this road modernised and improved (although we see no sign of any work), as the Royal Caribbean cruise ships dock further along the coast. The cruise company has its own beach area here (known as Labadee), and restrictions which forbids the tourists from leaving the private resort have recently been relaxed. The people of Cap-Haïtien are trying their best to get a cut of the tourist dollar by offering tours of the area and enticing foreigners to spend money in local shops and restaurants (and who can blame them?), but the terrible state of the road is putting many people off and making it hard work to get to anywhere. Currently, only a small controlled group of Haitian merchants are given sole rights to sell their merchandise and establish their businesses in the resort (for a fee of course); guarded by a private security force. However, it is not all bad news, as the resort does employ 300 locals and the Royal Caribbean pays the Haitian government $12 per disembarking tourist.

What I do think is a crying shame, is that those tourists do not get to experience the real Haiti; although I guess all they want to do is relax on a beautiful sandy beach and partake in water sports. Controversially, the company continued to dock its luxury cruise ships in the private port immediately after the 2010 earthquake, although they did announced at the time that they would be donating US$1 million to fund relief efforts in Haiti.

Last month, a peaceful but rowdy protest was held here against the upcoming presidential elections in Haiti, blocking the port and causing the Royal Caribbean to temporarily suspend this port stop.

This area and village is called Labadie (whereas the private resort is Labadee), and is named after the marquis de La Badie, a Frenchman who first settled the area in the 17th century.

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View of the coastline

Cormier Plage

We are NOT heading for Labadee thankfully (I can think of few things worse than 3000 cruise tourists in one hermetically manufactured resort) – rather our destination is Cormier Plage Hotel on the beach of the same name.

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“What is going on? The hotel has no food or drink? I am not staying here!” Seeing the sign at the entrance to the hotel, I josh with Serge - it takes him a second or two to get the joke.

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We are shown to our room, which has an unusual split-level layout with a couple of extra beds.The room is large, cool and comfortable, and boasts a terrace – complete with rocking chair - overlooking the grounds and ocean beyond.

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View from the terrace

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Decisions, decision... what to do first? Rocking chair? Hammock? Bar? Swim?

Predictably, the drink wins the day.

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Swimming
It would be improper to leave here without having had a swim in the warm waters of the Caribbean. However, our venture into the sea can be more accurately described as a frolic in the waves than a swim. There is some pretty good surf going on, making it safest and most comfortable to stay in the shallows.

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At least it means I can try out my new selfie-stick with my little waterproof camera. It's not as easy as it looks – least of all because I bought a VERY cheap stick, which means the camera keeps twisting around just at the wrong moment; and without a screen at the front of the camera it is hard to figure out what the result will be like and how much of the intended subject will actually be within the frame.

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It does provide a little light amusement for a while, but I certainly won't be making a habit out of this selfie-taking lark.

Lunch
The food here at Cormier Plage is pleasant but nothing awe-inspiring. David is feeling in need of some traditional comfort food, so orders a double cheeseburger with chips, while I choose something with a little more Caribbean flavour - shrimps creole with rice.

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We're not beach people per se, but we are more than happy to spend a day or two by the ocean. Sunbathing is not our style, but there is something very relaxing about watching the waves from a white, sandy beach, and strolling around the extended leafy gardens with its tropical vegetation, birds and lizards.

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Black Crowned Palm Tanager

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Broad Billed Tody

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Grey Kingbird

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Palmchat

Eureka!
I finally manage to photograph a hummingbird – although not a brilliant picture as it caught me unawares and was there and gone in a flap of a wing - I can safely say my holiday is now complete!

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Hispaniolan Emerald

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The resident cat is on the prowl for an afternoon snack. Lizard is on the menu, but he has to catch it first. He does.

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Thankfully lizards are in plentiful supply here, in the trees and on the walls. I love these little critters who epitomise the tropics for me.

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I thought I heard Danish spoken at lunch, and my suspicions are confirmed when we discover the Danish Consulate in the grounds of the hotel. So... what does a 'day at the office' look like? "Hmmm, spent the morning on a deck chair on the beach, followed by a seafood lunch overlooking the Caribbean, then some emails on my laptop in the beach bar..." What a life! Actually, they probably work very hard and I am only jealous that none of my workplaces were as exotic.

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All this excitement is tiring you know, so David puts his feet up in the rocking chair.

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.

Or should that be hammock?

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"I can hear the sea..." Not surprising after a couple of those potent rum punches!

We are so inspired by these hanging coconut shell lights that we immediately start working out how to incorporate this idea into the refurbishment of our garden gazebo back home. Nothing unusual there, as the last few days of almost every holiday sees David making plans for another home renovation project.

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Dinner
Perusing the menu for dinner, the waiter informs us that they have no fish and no beef. A beach restaurant with no fish? Unbelievable! So that leaves chicken, chicken, chicken or goat. We choose chicken.

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Chicken curry

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Diablo chicken

As the bar (and restaurant) is devoid of any life, we retire to our room instead. We do happen to have a bottle of rum....

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:19 Archived in Haiti Tagged birds sunset beach vacation holiday caribbean hammock palm_trees tropical rum haiti hummingbird undiscovered_destinations rum_punch cap-haïtien carmier_plage labadie labadee cormier Comments (2)

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