Haiti Travel Advice: Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover.

In All Topics, Featured, Haiti, Personal by Ryan71 Comments

book on the map

It has now been nearly 2 weeks since I returned from my 10 day trip across Haiti to film a documentary on an amazing sustainable energy project. Now that my intense reverse culture-shock has subsided, I wanted to straighten out a few things about the bad reputation Haiti receives.

The moment I stepped off the plane in the capital city of Port Au Prince, Haiti, I realized my fears had been false. That all fears of Haiti from others had been false. That the preconceived notions had been false.

Ignorance bitch slapped me across the face for the next 72 hours as I adjusted to the fact that everything I thought I knew about the country; destruction, sadness, squalor, and violence through word of mouth and news — was all false.

All observations that lay only on the surface, hiding an amazing country.

It’s as if Haiti this whole time has been a worn book with a blank cover, passed around from person to person. Each time, someone would pass on the book to the next person without reading it, and tell them what the heard the book was about.

From person to person, the book would collect more dust and wear. The story would change to something completely different. The person receiving it would see the state of the book and hear what it might be about. Then, instead of exploring it themselves, they would let it sit around until they could pass it on to another.

It was presented to me, and it wasn’t a book would have been interested in reading either. But I’ve grown to learn by experience. To find the truth for myself.

I can tell you one thing for certain. Haiti was nothing like I had heard.

Peering out from the mountain fortress of La Citadelle

After experiencing the country, it is one book I would read over and over again. And again.

 

“Don’t get Shot!”

“Don’t get aids!”

“Don’t get kidnapped!”

“Be careful, it’s dangerous!”

“Don’t get Cholera!”

“Why would you go to a place like Haiti?!”

“Oh you are going to help with the earthquake stuff?”

 

These are the examples of the rubbish most people regurgitated at me after I told them I was going to Haiti. Warnings, opinions, and fears unjustified. Just information implanted from somewhere.

At first I would laugh it off and tell them I’d try not to get shot or killed.

As the trip grew closer, my response became more of a challenge back at them. I would ask them why they thought I would be killed. I would ask them why they thought Haiti was a place they would never visit.

Where did this influence come from 100% of the time? Their answer: The news.

All news is always bad news.

That wicked media construct of chaos, death, and destruction meant to always have us shaking in our boots about the world. For Haiti, it painted a picture of exactly that. And still does.

Well, I’m here to break it down before your eyes.

I read and watched the same things about Haiti as you did over the past few years. If my best friend hadn’t been Haitian and such an freakin’ awesome dude, it’s possible I would have believed everything I heard.

He told me of beautiful places in the country and the history, but it seems some of the bullshit had sunk in. All I could picture was collapsed buildings and crying babies. That’s all that damn media shows us! But I was looking to be proven wrong.

As we passed through customs at the airport in Haiti, it became apparent how much fear the news had driven into me.

Suddenly, those preconceived notions I tried to fend off at home took over. I fought it, I really did. But I’m being honest with you. That fear still did linger.

Someone is going to run up and snatch my camera and bags. I held everything tight to my body.

A mob will break in any minute, guns blazing, just to kidnap us. I scanned the airport continuously.

But of course, nothing happened.

Nobody even asked me to carry my bags to the door to then trick me into tipping them afterward, and I thought that was a given!

Nothing.

When I left the safe confines of the airport, the journey from ignorance to truth began.

 

Yes, there is plenty of destruction on the surface. Driving through Port Au Prince the damage from the magnitude 7 earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 is still apparent. Yes, shanty towns crawled up the mountains around the capital. Yes, little kids scrambled to the car to wash windows.

And if you sit there and think this is what the whole country is like, and that is all you soak in, you need to look under the surface a much more. Open your eyes. And if you aren’t there, don’t believe everything you hear.

Once you do look under the surface, you begin to see how the country really is…

The guy on the side of the road creating one of the most beautiful wood carvings you’ve ever seen.

The music begins to reach your ears as you let your guard down.

That amazing aroma, its real food. And it’s damn delicious.

Nobody sits alone — everyone is always conversing with another.

People are doing their best with what they have, and nobody complains.

Nobody is too busy to help another person.

Children running around and smiling.

Just beyond the crowded capital lies tall mountains, rolling hills, pristine white-sand beaches, crystal blue water, and rich history.

(Gorgeous valley on the way to Cap-Haïtian)

(Gorgeous valley on the way to Cap-Haïtian)

Honestly, not one Haitian mentioned the earthquake the whole damn time we were there. I even hate mentioning it now because it has no place being associated with a country so optimistic and progressive minded country. And it seems like Haitians feel the same way.

Not one Haitian ever talked about being miserable or unhappy. Most Haitian’s we spoke to talked about the need for progress and to clean up the country. Most knew the name of every head of Ministries and the Mayors of the cities. Most Americans cannot even name their Senator.

 

What about the danger of an American traveling there? Or anyone for that matter?

The U.S. travel advisory warns travelers of increased violence, theft, and injury to American travelers to Haiti. Searching Haiti Travel in Google yielding auto-film results of warnings and advisories. Oh, and the Haitian governments disagreement of them.

Want to know something crazy?

Most of the time I was in Haiti I felt safer than I do in most parts of Washington D.C.

Baltimore, close-by city has a reputation for highest murder rates in the USA.

Google Search Haiti Travel

Example: We were grabbing some street food in Cap-Haïtian in northern Haiti. After a delicious meal of pork, rice, and plantains, we waddled out with round bellies. After walking a good 2 blocks someone came running back to us shouting. We turned around to see one of the people who had been eating at the same table running toward us. Turns out my friend had left his expensive shiny watch on the table and the person ran after us to return it.

I can’t recount many instances where I’ve left something behind in the U.S. and someone chased me down to return it. Someone that we probably would have never seen again.

Do you begin to see a pattern here?

 

Of course I am not saying that you should frolic about carelessly through all countries.

And I’m definitely not saying that you should carelessly travel around country to country not believing any types of travel warming. Travel warnings in places with past turmoil such as Haiti has experienced shouldn’t be ignored. I was even warned by Haitians that Port Au Prince can be a dangerous place at times, but they noted it was mainly when political violence erupted there.

Outside of the capital? They all said there was nothing to fear. And I can vouch for that.

 

Inform yourself. If there is a local newspaper, read it. It’ll be a much more honest resource about the state of the country.

If you are going to a “third world country” then don’t travel with fear, travel aware. Be prepared and with an open mind. Travel there with someone else, or a group. Don’t put yourself in risky situations. Know what you need to stay healthy and be safe.

But don’t just believe everything you watch or read on the news. Don’t let it hold you back. Don’t live by other people’s opinions.

I took the time to open that dusty worn book and read what was inside. It is quite marvelous.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” So be willing to read it yourself.

This post is a part of a series of articles about my recent trip to Haiti to experience the country and film a documentary. Guides, tips, photos, and videos of this mis-represented country will be posted all month. Subscribe via email on the left to get notifications and let me know below your thoughts below!

 

Comments

  1. Jonathan Grandchamp

    I read your blog and honestly this has really touched me. This is what I have been advocating for so long I’m from Haiti and for the past years of my life I have told so many of my friends not to always believe what you see or read in the media and that Haiti has so much more to offer and that the only thing that you see are the negatives which is only in one city rather than seeing the positives which is everywhere else! Thank you so much and I’m really glad you got to have such a great experience. And I can’t wait to see your documentary when it comes out!

    Best of Luck and safe travels!

    1. Revenson

      Mi from Haiti and currently starting this Haitian movement called “MwenSeHaiti” which translate into I,Am Haiti. You could find us on Instagram @Madeinhaitbyus. Our main objectives is to kill the way the media portraits Haiti. And sheds some lights on our history culture and backbone of Haiti.

      1. Author
        JustChuckinIt

        Hey Revenson, thanks for the comment and I’ll look you up on Instagram! Definitely want to learn as much as I can about the country =)

  2. Rose B

    Thank you so much for taking the time to Read my Country’s book and allowing yourself to experience such a great time. It’s unfortunate that most people take only what they see on TV to judge Haiti. They end up missing on a beautiful, Exotic and wonderful culture.

    Thanks and take care,
    RB

  3. Anne

    Thank you so much for writing this! I’m Haitian, and could not be more proud to be.. This touched my heart in so many ways that someone saw in my country what i see every single time I go there ( often enough after the earthquake) . I just wish a lot more people would give this country a chance! thats all they really need…. It has so much potential , and it’s blessed with the most amazing, kind hearted people you will meet! But thank you again for this article! Thank you ! Thank you!!!

  4. Diana Pierre-Louis

    Thank you so much for writing this post! Your details about the real Haiti are true and I work hard every day to reshape the image that the world has on Haiti. The people, the culture, the food are just a few of the things that make me keep going back! You nailed it, though. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself and are spreading the truth about such a wonderful place.
    xo,
    Diana

  5. Toni

    I love this post hun because, as you say, it’s not until we go to a place that we really discover what it’s like! But then sometimes I think, when we hear such negative things about a place etc, when we go and fall in love with it, it makes that love and bond that much stronger for it!
    I spoke about this quite a lot in my talk last weekend for solo female travel – that you should get advice about safety and the places you go etc but that you need to make your own informed decision…good to know there are other travellers out there thinking the same :)

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      I agree darling, that bond seems to be much more intense because everything you expect is shattered and replaced by such amazing things. I’m sure that has happened to you, like your adventures through Africa.

  6. SB

    This is awesome! It’s wonderful that someone took the time to explore all that Haiti has to offer. Haiti is a wonderful place that everyone seems to have turned their backs on… Some because they think it is hopeless, some because they don’t care, and some because they think it is “cursed.” Whatever the reason, the country has so much to offer and if everyone turns their backs on the nation, it will never grow. I am thrilled that you took the chance to explore and experience the country and judge for yourself… And it’s great that you actually loved it so much! :D

    1. JustChuckinIt

      A place is never lost. It should never be given up on because it has faced turmoils. Haiti has so much to offer, and even though it is in disrepair in certain areas physically, economically, and policy wise, it is not to be abandoned. And I was happy to see the Haitian people strong willed and trying to get Haiti back up!

  7. Christy

    I challenge anyone to go and try your best not to fall in love with this little island and it’s people. It’s been a little over 2 years since my first vist and I have a little Haitian princess as my daughter today. I am already figuring out ways to save the money to return sooner than later. There is a peace and happiness there that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Thank you for sharing the real story.

    1. JustChuckinIt

      I so agree with you Christy! I had best friends from Haiti and I knew how much they care about others before I went, but going to Haiti concreted that.

  8. James T. Faustin

    It is unfortunate that Haiti is till paying for being the first country to free itself from slavery over 2oo years ago. The international community and media do not want to see Haiti progress and prosper however, Haiti has survived and will continue to survive. If Haiti was a white or Spanish or English speaking island it would not have have seen as negatively as it has. But because it is a black country, and black government it is being continually surpress. I thank you very much for proving the stereotype about Haiti wrong. I am very glad that you have taken upon yourself to experience the country, the history and culture and best of all the food that we all know to be the best in the caribbean. I am looking forward to your blog and to see your pictures…Best wishes.

    1. JustChuckinIt

      It is quite unfortunate, and it is unfortunate that the largest countries and most financially stable countries in the would still practice that age old ways of suppressing smaller unstable countries to reap benefits. It isn’t just the US, but every large nation has for centuries.

  9. Moriyah

    There is no words to describe how i really feel right now..So emotional “tears”…Thank you sooo much for setting the records straight about haiti..Thanks again!…I’ll be taking a trip down there really soon and im sooo excited :-) (AYITI MWEN RENMENW meaning Haiti, i love you)

  10. DAPHYDOC

    I am very happy to read this article, as i share it on my facebook page . Thank you so much for sharing, this article means a lot to us . I am thrilled that you had the chance to enjoy the HAITI that we know. I am tired of explaining to my coworkers that HAITI is not only what they have seen on TV. Great job may God bless you

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      It is quite hard to continually explain to someone that believes so much about what they see on the news. But keep at it and thank you for sharing the article!!

  11. Joya De Gregorio

    Love your article and feel the same way. I’ve been to Haiti on 5 medical missions since the quake and have grown to love the Haitian people and their beautiful country. It makes me sad to see all of the negative publicity, mostly from people who have never been and don’t know anything about the country. Every place has areas that you wouldn’t go to alone, esp. After dark, even my small town and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. Where we hold our clinic, in a small village called Chantal, we are perfectly safe walking around after dark and the folks are friendly,happy and very helpful. I look forward to many more trips to Haiti.

  12. Joya De Gregorio

    Loved your article, and totally concur. I’ve been on 5 medical missions to Haiti since the quake and have grown to know and love the Haitian people and their beautiful country. It saddens me when I read all of the negative publicity, most of which comes from those who have never been and don’t know. Of course, there are areas everywhere that you don’t go to alone or after dark, even in my pwn small town and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Thank you for trying to enlighten those who are terribly misinformed. I look forward to many more mission trips to Chantal, Haiti.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Thank you for the comment Joya! That is great that you have had the chance to return to Haiti multiple times. And not walking into sketchy places applies to everywhere in the world. Trust me, I’ve experienced so much uninformed opinion about Haiti that its wild. But people seem to pass judgement before experiencing it themselves. I hope you get to return as well!

  13. Gamfresh

    that’s awesome!!!!! it’s wonderfull to take time to see the good parts in haiti,your blod has really touched me.
    I wish that blog go all over the whole….
    great job…

  14. Kenley

    I like that post! thanks for taking the time. A lot of what I think is mentioned in this article. We should all learn to try experiencing before judging. Simple, no?

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      So simple Kenley, but it seems like one of the most difficult things to do for some people. Hopefully we’ll change that!

  15. Ralph Reid

    Thank you for writing such an upbeat account of your trip to Haiti. I wish and know more people will see just what you saw recently.

    Good luck with your documentary.

  16. Stephane Achille

    Oh Yeah!! I’m totally following your “Chucks”!!!! I also wish I could reach into the computer and give you great big hug for this awesome blog! I hope your words reach enough people otherwise Haiti will just remain our little secret paradise. Well done!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Aw shucks Stephane, ok I’ll take a wifi hug :) I really hope so too and to bring what Haiti really has to offer to as many people as possible!

  17. James Shannon

    Utterly amazing post! People thinking about going to Haiti need to read this, as do the haters.

    Also, your graphic skills, with the comments of people back home, the collage of newspapers in the U.S., the Google results on “Haiti travel…” … unbelievable creativity! I haven’t seen a posting style like this anywhere else.

    In short, you got something special here Ryan, keep it up!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      James, you flatter me kind sir! Thank you, and I’m really happy people dig the attention to detail I attempt to put into the blog.

      Also, I agree, people should travel more countries like Haiti. It’s all about being aware but also open to the fact that there is something still amazing to be offered in countries that struggle with certain issues.

  18. Jeff Kerzner

    Great post! Appreciate your positive spin on Haiti and I look forward to seeing your documentary. It definitely gets a bad shake from the media, but does have so much beauty to discover, rich culture to experience, friendly and hospitable people to meet, and so much unrealized potential…..

    I would just caution that it’s impossible to understand the complexities of this country during a 10 day visit. After 10 years down there, I’ve barely scratched the surface, and my experiences have run the gamut from horrific to ecstatic. Not for the faint of heart, but an amazing place to visit for an authentic and adventurous experience which will keep you coming back…..so hope you can continue exploring and enjoying The Pearl for many years to come!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Jeff, what a great point you make. Trust me, I do not at all think I discovered everything to know about Haiti or that I am an expert when it comes to knowing what to expect here. That’s why I think it’s so important to do your own research and prepare the best you can when going to a country like Haiti. 10 years, wow that is so amazing! What have you been doing while visiting? I really can’t wait to explore the Pearl again and again as well and see more below the surface. Thanks for your insight!

  19. Leticia- Tech Savvy Mama

    I stumbled on your link via Twitter and am so glad that I did. I visited Haiti last January traveling to PAP, Croix des Bouquet, Leogane, and Jacmel and found a beautiful country with warm and wonderful people. I have to admit in feeling a little nervous about a return trip this spring thanks to news reports, first hand accounts of kidnapping, and the State Department’s increased threat level since last year however, my desire to return is stronger any fears.

    I am planning to return in a couple months to continue the work we started in January to teach artisans to use technology and social media to connect and share their stories on a global level and am excited about our trip. I look forward to following you and hearing more about the documentary you shot while there.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Leticia, I would love to know more about this project you are working on as well! Sounds fantastic! And I heard about the same warnings and such and that’s why I was so adamant about writing this article to change that. I’m sure some of the warnings are justified based on actual happenings, but I also think most warnings are exaggerated. Like I said, just being aware and prepared (traveling with another person) is the best way to travel any country with a unstable history.

      So glad you are going to be following the blog!

    2. Nat Ayiti

      As Leticia said above, Haiti is a country with warm and wonderful people. It’s not perfect but it’s not as bad as the media paints it either.
      Though there are many challenges to be dealt with and a lot of work to be done, Haiti still remains one of the most beautiful places I know.

      Haiti has a lot to offer. Our craft sector is going through a revival phase. The artisans work tirelessly to create amazing products that folks can enjoy for years to come. Our network supports their efforts to expand the range of Haitian artisans products on the global market.
      Check us out at http://www.artisanbusinessnetwork.com
      Thanks for taking the chance to discover the real Ayiti!

      1. Author
        JustChuckinIt

        That sounds like a marvelous program you have going on. THere was some AMAZING works being produced in Haiti and I was blown away just by the detail and beauty. I was sitting there saying, “Someone needs to help these artists get there work out there and inform them on how to. People need to have these.”

        Like I said, Haiti on the surface might be a bit scrapped up and bruised, but a wound won’t heal if you keep picking at it! You need to take care of it, and it seems like the Haitians have that mind-set.

  20. Kristin of Be My Travel Mues

    K I laughed at the “don’t get AIDS comment”, in spite of myself. Also, how damn good are plantains? Finally, I left my iPhone in a 7-11 once in Taiwan and it was returned to me. Sometimes it’s astounding how amazing people can be to each other.

    1. JustChuckinIt

      I think positivity can be such a powerful thing, and however much the Haitian people have been through, most stay positive. It was refreshing and eye opening!

  21. Nancy Francois

    Nice piece and very well said. I just would like many to realize there are those from parents who are not visiting paradise if they were to visit. So keep in mind the need to get to those youth whose reality as well as their parents reality is not so bright. Like the other day I asked my mom who is from Port-Au-Prince, “Did you ever visit the Citadel?” She said, “No”. I know I have never gone and do not plan to for many reason that are not easily made at ease. Maybe one day, but till then I will still love its rich history. Wish many would understand that many kids here are not presented a pretty picture from their parents who left poverty and hopelessness. The solution is finding an approach that does not offend and rest them assured when they visit the slums their parents are from they are safe there too. Thank you that is where I see a need to tackle is the youth born here who are not typically seeking or care to seek their culture.

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Thats a great mission Nancy. The people I went with; two Haitians in their 20’s, had never been to La Citadelle as well. Time to get the youth excited about the history Haiti offers! And everyone else!

  22. D.J. - The World of Deej

    Pretty great stuff man…It’s easy to judge that book by the cover, and not bother reading it for yourself. Good for you to get out there, face “the fear” and come back to tell a far better tale than one if all of those terrible things we always really did happen…

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Much appreciated Deej, and I think this applies for all parts of the world. It’s a terrible thing to believe you know a country before experience it, but things are driven into our brains and hopefully people will take the time to get the real answers themselves. Thanks for the insight mate!

  23. DarnelleC

    Chuck, you brought tears to my eyes! (really). Wifi hug from me to you. I am planning to go back some time next year. Looking forward to your documentary.

  24. Salem Saloom

    Thanks for your post. Was in Haiti in 1999 and felt same way you did. People are wonderfully proud and patient honorable people. They are proud of their heritage and optimistic people and culture. Matter fact, headed back to Haiti tomorrow, Sat. November 8, 2013 with a team of 9 of us to minister to the Haitian Episcopal clergy for an 8 day retreat for them. Again, thanks. Salem Saloom

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Salem, I’m so stoked to see you’ve been to Haiti as well! You are so right, such an amazing place and I am excited you are going again! Thanks for the comment!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Always happy to drive interest in Haiti, and I am so excited that you will be going there as well! I hope you have an extraordinary time, and please do keep in touch!

  25. Fred

    I would like to take the time to say thank you. Thanks for traveling out there, thanks for your message and thanks for opening other peoples eyes. I was born in the U.S but raised in Haiti. My family have a okay life meaning we not to reach nor poor. Politics in Haiti makes Haiti what it is today what I call fear. Funny thing is we don’t need much like here we don’t complain if there’s a blackout cause we have one another to talk to. The only thing we want to make it to the next day is a bottle of Prestige (Haitian beer) and a plate of food. The music takes our worries away and that what make it unique to the rest of them. Yes the most unsafe place in the country is the capital. FYI few places you should visit dear readers Jacmel, Jeremie, cap Haiti,Mole Saint-Nicolas and Ile de la tortue. I hope this help you folks please have a safe trip

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