Posts in Haiti

In Jacmel Haiti Abandoned Coffee Factories Become Vibrant Art Galleries

In Jacmel Haiti, we ventured down a shaded side street and into an avenue of crumbling factories that seemed all abandoned. But behind those rusted red doors was something of a secret discovery.

Haiti always has something surprising to show.

Part of the surprise is that Haiti hasn’t been a destination on the top of most lists to travel to, so much of what’s to see and experience is unknown. But I’ve already gone through the reasons why you shouldn’t judge Haiti by its media coverage and why it is one of my favorite places to visit. Besides just those surprises of the unknown, when I visit Haiti I always feel like I’m having some profound experience — more so than I feel in other places.

It isn’t the monuments of history like Rome, where I lived out a childhood dream exploring the Colosseum. It isn’t moments like bungy jumping for the first time and the feeling of death and life gripping you within seconds of each other. As always with Haiti, it’s something more engrossing, more powerful, and more raw. It’s the feeling of the air around every experience there. In every interaction. In every step and touch and taste and smell and smile. It’s old and fragile yet ready to burst at the seams with life. There’s just some things that hold it back, and a part of that is that the world and people look at Haiti like a crumbling ruin that should just be passed by without a glance.

As I’ve come to experience from both of my trips to Haiti, one in 2012 and the last in 2015, is that no matter how it looks to the naked eye, Haiti always holds surprises within. And with that said, it was no different when we came upon an avenue of apparently abandoned buildings. As we wandered the side streets of Jacmel Haiti, we found a small gallery hidden behind a half-opened red iron door of a cracked building.

Inside, we met Prince, the owner of the gallery who we had the pleasure to learn from about the history of those very buildings. And he gave us a private tour of the abandoned factories connected, ones that held the past of a prosperous Haiti frozen in time behind locked doors. Inside those crumbling shells told the story of Jacmel, a booming port city in the early 1900’s — and those buildings were coffee factories processing coffee brought in from the hillsides.

It wasn’t just another abandoned place, because I do my fair share of urban exploring. The whole time walking through those halls and hearing the history gripped me, and nearly stole my breath. I could feel the “once upon a time” of it all. But more importantly, it was what beautiful things were happening behind these crumbling facades that was the surprise. Instead of passing it by without a glance, we chose to peak in and discover what was really beneath the surface. Now it’d your turn to.

Come check out the video that I’ve put together about this experience, and share your thoughts after!

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Old iron doors this heavy duty were a sign of a prosperous business.

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Century old coffee machinery still intact.

 

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Near the coffee machinery, Voodoo drawings on the wall. Our guide said some people sneak in to have ceremonies here.

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I could feel this profound “once upon a time” sense here, almost as if I could see the machinery running and the business bustling.

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An old well that is said to be cursed by bad Voodoo spirits, or so I was told.

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Old desks with paperwork and transaction receipts still cluttering the surface.

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An old bottle of rum, nearly 100 years old, stands defiantly dusty against time. On the label it noted all of the health benefits of rum. Ain’t that something?
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Automobile lubrication charts that were used as mock instructions on up keeping the coffee machinery.
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Century old ledgers and receipts, handwritten, noting sales of tens of thousands of Haitian dollars worth of coffee lay scattered on the ground.
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“These were once all coffee factories” our guide said as he took me to the rooftop.

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“It wasn’t the earthquake” he told us in his harsh cigarette voice, “it was just forgotten.”
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The intricacies of the arches and doors show just how wealthy this factory once was.
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Across from the crumbling factory, he had more to show us. More of the abandoned factories that weren’t just “forgotten”.
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An art gallery and studio was created from the ruins of one factory to make an inspirational space for young artists.

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Some artists favor traditional art, others modern. Much on display was also different mediums used to depict Voodoo culture and history.
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Political art, amongst the rest, was prominent here with the young artists using their skills as their voice.
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A young Haitian artist paints a traditional piece with other students, depicting history of Haiti using different symbols.

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Quotationmark

Again Haiti left me in wonder. For it is only here that I feel I see such an inspirational rise from ruin to create beauty from decay.”


Loving Haiti? You’ll also love these articles below!

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Haiti Travel Guides

Welcome to the one and only, über awesome guide to Haiti! Ever wanted to visit the Pearl of the Caribbean, Ayiti? Intrigued as to find out more about what lies beneath in this mis-represented country? Ever wanted to know what the hell to pack, where to go, how to get around, what the food is like, and all of that good stuff?

Well dudes and dudettes, you will find information and extensive guides below!

Interactive Map

(Don’t be shy! Tap or move your cursor over the map and look at the points of interest!)

 

Haitian Flag PNG        

SAKAPFET! – Sah-kahp-fèt – What’s going on?

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Creole (Kreyòl) and French (Français)

There are two official languages in Haiti, Creole and French, but there are vast cultural differences. French is by some considered the language of the educated, and was the only official language until 1961. Whereas Haitian Creole is considered the language of the Haitian people and spoken by nearly the whole population. Both are quite similar, and if you know French, you should be all gravy.

  • What Haitian phrases to know before you go (Coming Soon!)

 

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Location and Geology

Caribbean, Island of Hispaniola

You can’t deny that the Caribbean is home to some of the most beautiful vacation spots in the world. Haiti, on the western portion of Hispaniola, is the third largest Caribbean island with one of the longest coastline in the world…which makes it pretty damn beautiful. Like other Caribbean islands, the waters are warm and the sun is always shining! Haiti is covered in rolling hills and mountains, but due to deforestation, has very little green left.

  • Must Visit Destinations in Haiti (Coming Soon!)

 

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Largest Cities 

Capital: Port-Au-Prince/Pòtoprens, Cap-Haitian/Okap/Kapayisyen

Port-Au-Prince is Haiti’s capital city as well as its largest population density by far. Constructed like an amphitheater, the city’s business district is located close to the water, with the homes up in the hills. Much of Port-Au-Prince is in disrepair due to the 2010 earthquake. Cap-Haïtian is the second largest city in Haiti, and described as the more educational focused city. From Cap-Haïtian you can reach Labadee, a tourist attraction, or La Citadel which played an important role in their independence.

 

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Culture and Population

9,7000,000 (2011 estimates)

The Haitian people have quite the storied history. With influences from colonization of the Spanish, to their native Taino people, it has combined to create a rich culture. After declaring their independence in 1804, Haiti has had a history of political corruption and violence that has held it back, but the good is still apparent. With a love for music, vibrant artwork, amazing food, and a will a love for talking, there is plenty things amazing about its culture.

 

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Food

Spicy, Fried, Rice, Beans, Pork, Fresh Seafood, Plantains

Haitian food is absolutely delicious, and absolutely deadly if you don’t know what you are eating. When I say deadly, I mean fiery, and if you can’t handle spice, know what you are eating. Haitian food is influenced by Spanish, French, and its native Taino and is generous with herbs and spicy peppers, as well as rice, beans, pork, and chicken.

  • Delicious Food Guide to Haiti (Coming Soon!)

 

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Religion

Catholic, Protestant, Mixed-Voodoo

Catholicism is by far the largest practiced religion, sitting at around 85%, brought over during early settlements by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish. Also practiced is the highly mis-understood Voodoo religion, practiced by nearly 50% of the population. Oh, and it’s not nearly as Hollywood horror-esque as it’s made to be.

 

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Getting Around

Main Highways: Route Nationale 1 (North), 2 (West), and 4 (South).

Traversing Haiti can be a little bit wild to put it lightly. Haiti’s infrastructure for roads and highways is not very well-kept, and all attempts to build a public transportation system have all failed. Two main highways, Route 1 and 2, are decently kept and can take you all the way North to Cap-Haïtian or West from Port-Au-Prince. Also, Route 4 will take you South to the popular coastal town of Jacmel.

  • Guide to Getting Around Haiti (Coming Soon!)

 What else would you like included in this guide from my experiences?

SOS! Stranded on the Caribbean Sea in Haiti.

Oh shit, is that bad?” I said, sitting up and eyes wide.

It began with a slight pitter patter, which soon turned to a stuttering putter, which became a grinding ‘grrrrrrr’, which led to a finale with a ‘KINK CLUNK’, followed by silence. The propeller had stopped, and we were dead in the water in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
Broken down boat in Haiti

Nah, we’re all good man” Vick re-assured me.

Well, we weren’t in the middle of the Caribbean Sea per-se…but as the Kapitèn Bato, or boat captain, yanked the boat engine rope over and over with no rewarding roar of an engine starting, it seemed as though we would be stranded east of Tortuga in Baie de l’Acul for an un-foreseeable future.

At least that is what my comically disastrous mind immediately started coming up with.

Scenarios involved a Gilligan’s Island-esque existence, or possibly man-eating sharks swarming our boat which didn’t exist when we were swimming in the water earlier. Or what if a freak storm were to hit! I would have no volleyball available to be my best friend…

Actually, maybe we are fucked!” Vick said, then proceeded to laugh.

Truth be told — our rickety water taxi; built of weather-worn planks and corrugated metal roofing, had broken down off the coast of Northern Haiti and our “captain” had no tools with him.

And we had no cell reception of course.

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The day had begun as all cliché island adventures do: The sun was bright (of course it is, it’s the sun!) and the azure Caribbean water was calling us (of course it was, it’s blue…and it was freakin’ hot!)

Our motley crew; David, Vick, Mike, and I, were just coming to after a night of Prestige…the beer. There was nothing prestigious about us at that moment as we licked our dehydrated lips, grunted as we picked ourselves up off the beach chairs where we had passed out, and chugged water vigorously.

We had a meeting with the mayor of Cap-Haitian that afternoon, but chillaxing in the private beach cove called Belly Beach had been so much damn fun that we needed one last day to explore the area before leaving. We were on Haitian time anyway, and surely the Mayor was of course, so we could take our time cruising a bit.

After grabbing some of the typical finger-lickin’ grub of Haiti, fried pork and plantains, Vick was able to convince a boat taxi driver to spend the day with us taking us around the coast. Just like taxi drivers in big cities, they hate leaving their “jurisdiction”, but a few extra buckaroos is always enough to change minds.

TIme to cruise the Caribbean baby!
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Photo Feb 25, 4 42 30 AMSometimes the fates can be assholes, and maybe I should have taken this as a sign. It was kind of like an “Au Revoir suckers!” before we even set off.

But we didn’t expect anything to go awry as our boat slid off the beach and the engined roared up to take us out into the open waters. Actually, more like a lawn mower sounding when it turned on, but whatever!
Photo Feb 26, 1 40 30 AMWith the wind blowing in my hair (of course the wind was blowing through my hair, we were moving!) the boat zipped out into open waters and we were finally going to get to tour the coastline.

All jokes aside, I gotta’ admit to you – The waters around Haiti’s coast are kind of mind-blowing. They really are like looking through a thick piece of glass.
Royal Caribbean HaitiWanna’ play chicken? I think not. The cruise ship was in port near Labadee and people darted around in the distance on jetskies.
I'm on a boat! In HaitiI mainly stuck to the bow of the boat marveling at the scenery while our boat driver explained a bit of the area.
Old ruins in HaitiAlong the coast it was common to see little outcrops of ruins from clubs or resorts that once was. It looked like an utterly amazing spot to relax, but Haiti’s tourism has yet to recover.
Photo Feb 25, 4 41 42 AMRazor sharp rock outcroppings line the coast in many places, I’m guessing from some sort of volcanic activity?
Exploring Haiti's North CoastI’m on a boat! It was crazy chill cruising around, and at that moment I was totally diggin’ the rickety boat. But that wouldn’t last of course.
Jurassic Park like Island in HaitiTotally looks like Jurassic Park huh? We all at this very moment started singing the theme song at the same exact time.
Swimming in the Caribbean
All was fine and dandy. We were swimming in the warm waters off the coast before heading back. I mean, look how freakin’ happy Vick is…and this is his own country!

But all would stay at such gleeful levels. After diving for a bit off the boat, we all boarded and realized it was getting WAY late, and we still had a meeting to make it to!

And then it happened. Or began to…

It took our boat driver a few pulls to get it started this time. At first I didn’t think much about it, but as we continued on I kept seeing the driver fiddling with the engine.

We started cruising closer and closer to the coast because I’m guessing he knew something was wrong.

Then, with an orchestra of mechanisms failing, the engine grinded to a halt.

There wasn’t much around us at all, just some huts in the distance with smoke from cooking fires rising into the air, and far off silhouettes of boats out of yelling range.

Boat in Haiti with CraftsThis guy paddled up to us with an assortment of handmade souvenirs, but alas, I don’t think a small carved paddle would help us out of this one.

At this point I had nearly bitten off all of my nails. Our two other Haitian friends were completely relaxed and chatting, but I was thinking up the worst ends to this dilemma as possible.

Suddenly the driver got the engine working again, and our little boat that could began cruising again!

And again the engine failed.

Haitians repairing an engineLuckily for is this time the engine happened to fail close to a stone landing. Our driver let the boat drift over to the landing tied up the boat.

From the top of a hill a few Haitians called out, and the driver called back. Then a gent came strolling down the stairs and to the landing.

It’s amazing just how Haitians up and help strangers out, but as I’ve said before, it’s a quality I noticed all over Haiti.

They hoisted the engine onto the landing and the presumable owner of the house broke out his tool box. I have no clue what was done, but it seemed after a few trial-and-error experiments and the engine back up and running!

And though I was still pretty skeptical of our boat’s ability to get us back…I let out a HUGE sigh of relief.
Boat to LabadeeBut with sights like this would it be all that bad to get stranded here?
Sunset on the coast in HaitiAs much as I love a life untethered, I wasn’t ready quite yet to play Survivor Man on a random island near Haiti.
Sunset over LabadeeThough we didn’t make it back in time for our meeting because of that unexpected mis-adventure, getting to cruise along the coastline of Haiti was a damn good time, and is exactly one if the reasons why I fell in love with the country.

Not the breaking down part…the beauty of course…

Ever had a mishap like this one? Share your mis-adventure!

 

Weekly Photo: Shady Dealings in a Haitian Marketplace.

I love marketplaces. I think marketplaces in countries abroad are the true depictions of the country itself and what makes it tick. People put pieces of themselves out on display in hopes that someone will see value in it, from hand-crafted works of art to hand-picked fruits.

In the marketplaces people talk about politics, news, family, and life while bartering and exchanging currencies. In a marketplace you can feel the ebb and flow of the country’s inner workings – what fruits are specialties, how they prepare meats, poultry, and fish, what visions pass through their minds to translate onto canvas or meld into metal work.

It’s all there on display; craft, skills, labors, hobbies, and thoughts — and it is the best way to get to know a country in my mind.

This is a bustling marketplace in Cap-Haitian, Haiti, that is a part of a vast network of roofed sections with hundreds of people going about their daily lives away from the scorching sun.

Haitian Marketplace

Share this or a bit of travel mojo below to your friends!

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“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”

– Anthony Bourdain

Haiti is taking over the blog. Read more HERE!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

Travel Horror Story: Stumbled into a Haitian Crypt.

Unearthed skulls, slow burning candles dripping molten wax over the rough stone crypts, echoes through the hallowed corridors of chants in unison which called forth the god Bondyè.

Peeking around one of the crypts, my stomach retreated into my ribcage like a scared pup cowering in its doghouse as I saw women and men swaying, shaking, and chanting.

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A goat, eyes glazed over with fear from the commotion, was pulled forward to a priestess adorned with a gold. Firelight dancing over the hammered metals she wore, and in her hand reflected the bright silver light from a curved blade.

I held my breath, so not to disturb the ritual, and so wouldn’t be next to have my head laid on that fire charred stone mantle. Or should I say chopping block.

Then it happened. Swift and clean like a knife through warm butter. No “Shing!” noise was made like you might hear in movies when a sword cuts into a foe. No, this sound was much more nightmarish.

Have you ever heard a goat cry?

If not, I never wish it upon you.

As blood burst over the white matted fur and the goat collapsed, a wail like the one from a crying baby rang out through the stone labyrinth of crypts, and as the goat’s twitched its screams turned to a whimper, then a gurgle, then silence.

And I wanted to vomit.

And that was a fictional travel horror story…

Gotcha! Hopefully I didn’t give you the heebie-jeebies too much, but I told this very Horror movie-esque tale because this is what I expected to see when I first explored a Haitian above ground crypt.

I already have a fascination with cemeteries, but growing up on ‘The Crypt Keeper’ and hearing very terrifying stories of Haitian Voodoo ceremonies, I expected to be trapped in my own Hollywood horror story.

As usual though, it ended up not being like I expected. So come with me through a tour of a haunting, yet beautiful Haitian Cemetery.

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It kind of happened by accident. We had never planned on exploring one, but we happened to stumble into the old marketplace director who was fascinated by our project.

When I found out we were going to be getting a tour of one of the cemeteries, usually gated and locked, I became über giddy.

I don’t know what it is, but I always find myself drawn to the age old stone markers of lives that once were wherever I tend to travel to.

Up until this point I had seen tons of them, small and large, lining the roads we drove through or dotting city blocks. Always walled and locked.

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When we first entered through the rusted wrought iron gate following a priest, I felt the need to hold my breath like I did as a little boy whenever you would pass a cemetery in a car.

It was silent, except for the others echoing voices as they had already walked far ahead. I was just 10ft in and already felt lost in a labyrinth.

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I couldn’t help but walk slowly though. Even though I’ve been in PLENTY of beautiful old cemeteries, I hadn’t been into on like a Haitian cemetery.

Personal mausoleums towered over me like a bustling city of the dead, all brightly colored and stacked upon each other like a small Haitian city of its own.

Some were cracked or crumbled from time and the natural disasters that have plagued the country.

Yet, in the presence of the dead amongst the crumbling skyscrapers of passed loved ones, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of these memorials.

And there was a pit in my stomach as I walked through the corridors thinking about my mother, and how she does not have one.

A bucket list item of my own.

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When we came to this iron topped blackened crypt with a small stone box connected to its base was when thought up that elaborate and creepy story at the beginning of this article.

The priest told us that this was a very special stone, one in which individuals come in the twilight hours to give trinkets, burn herbs, and offer vodou prayers. And MAYBE even sacrifices.

*cue the suspenseful music*

Whether or not that is true, or to scare some gullible American like myself that believes everything explodes or is haunted, it was still intriguing.

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I feel like I could have wandered, and probably gotten lost, for hours in that cemetery, but the priest also turned out to be the ex-head of the marketplace in Cap-Haitian and was taking us on a VIP tour of that as well.

But one thing was for certain as we walked back through those snaking colorful corridors – Haitian cemeteries are not bloody voodoo ritual grounds, but beautiful memorials to their loved ones.

P.s. I have actually heard a baby goat cry, and it is just as terrifying as I described.

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What do you feel about cemeteries, and where is your favorite?