I have been fairly quiet since early last week as I have houseguests. My son Michael is home for a few days, with a few friends for a working visit home. As you can well imagine, there has been a constant flow of movement and activity associated with the arrival of friends and family. Meal planning, outings and cooking have been keeping me on my toes these last few days. We had also been planning a family trip to Cap Haitian for sometime, and were anxiously awaiting this last weekend to make the road trip to the North.
For those who do not know this, Haiti is the second largest Island in the Caribbean; the biggest being Cuba. We share the island with the Dominican Republic in the East, and the entire Island is called Hispaniola. It is a very large land mass and quite varied in topography. We have several high and vast mountain ranges which make up a large portion of the island, the fertile plains and then the coastline.
Isle Amigas off the north coast of Haiti
Often I feel that Haiti never gets the credit it deserves as the Mother of the Americas. We always seems to be the poster child for negativity. Natural disasters, old dictator regimes, failed governance, and poverty are often what the mainstream media finds great pleasure in highlighting about Haiti. In fact, if you look up Haiti on a search engine, you will often be shown a series of pictures of the 2010 Earthquake and other alarming images. Yes! This was most definitely one of the biggest catastrophes in our recent history, but it would be wrong to only associate Haiti with this tragic event. This past weekend allowed us to visit places which made us awestruck at the sheer beauty of this country. My family was so proud to share the weekend with our visiting friends. We too were enthralled by the natural wonders as well as the historical sites of Haiti.
We decided to drive from Port au Prince to Cap Haitian early on Friday morning. We knew it would take at least 6 hours to get to our destination. It was an amazing way to see the country and the different departments as we made our way along the coast and then inland to cross the central plains on our way to the North East section and Cap Haitian. The scenery was awesome; lush, green and beautiful. We then made our way over the mountains and into the northern department. One remarkable note was that the provinces were not densely populated as the capital. Finally after 6 hours, we arrived at the town of Milot where we made our way first to visit the Citadelle La Ferrière. This fort was built by the Emperor Henri Christophe right after Haiti’s independence in 1804. It stands as a symbol of Haiti’s might and power in gaining its independence against the French. In 1982 It was declared a world heritage site by Unesco and has been undergoing a general refurbishing.
The upper open square and courtyard of the Fort
The mules used for riding up to the Citadelle
The distance from Milot to the Fort is 7 miles and it sits at an altitude of 3000 feet above sea level. We drove up and parked at the information center. From there, we took mules to ride up the steep path to the Fort. It was really an amazing engineering feat to have built this grandiose structure by trekking material up the side of the mountain to the chosen site. The strategic position of the Citadelle allowed views of the bay as well as the coastline and there are also fertile plains and a beautiful coastline. The construction of the Citadelle was instrumental in showing military might and prowess of the new black and free country. There is a huge arsenal of cannons and ammunition taken from many of its enemies and stockpiled within the walls of the Fort. It was truly an honor to visit this national treasure.
Below at Milot is the palace ” Sans Soucis ” or no worries. It was built as the home of the Emperor and Empress. The palace lies in ruins today, victim of the 1842 earthquake which devastated the area. The Citadelle was however unaffected by the temblor. Although the majestic palace is a mere glance into the opulence of the time in which it was built, one can imagine the elegance and splendor of this magnificent compound. It could rival any European castle of the time and was meant to be a symbol of the power and ability of the free black race.
The Sans Soucis palace at Milot
The following day, we spent a glorious day boating along the North Coast. We chartered a boat and captain and went to Amigas Island. This small island is just off the coast of Haiti and was named by Columbus on his first voyage. The beautiful sandy beaches and pristine aqua water make it a veritable paradise. Local fishermen offered us their catch of the day: lion fish, eel, and conch. They cooked our appetizer platter for us over charcoal. They were the freshest and most delicious morsels imaginable.
Fresh catch offered by local fishermen (photo credit Luke Versalko )
Amigas Island or Ile la rat
After Amigas island, our captain took us to Kadrass on the coast of Haiti for the rest of the day. The beaches here are beautiful and pristine. They are only accessible by boat and this has been a blessing in their perfection. We spent the afternoon at the beach home of a friend and had an amazing feast of grilled lobsters, fish, crab and conch. They were expertly prepared and served with the perfect accompaniment, fritaille: banana pezé (fried green plantains), breadfruit and sweet potatoes. There was a sauce ” ti malice” made out of hot peppers and lime juice which is traditionally served with grilled foods here. It was a perfect in its simplicity.
A beautiful platter of fresh grilled lobster
Shelled grilled crabs served with crab roe
I am so happy to show my weekend highlights with you. It is important to share positive views and experiences. This past weekend was most definitely in this category. My family and our friends spent a memorable 3 days together. The local tourism jaunt gave us a renewed view of Haiti and great pride in this land we call home.
My family with the backdrop of the Palais Sans Soucis, Milot, Haiti.