I feel at home with mountains here in Haiti. I was awe struck the first time I saw them as they were uncommon to me coming from Georgetown, Guyana. For 18 years of my life, I had lived in an area which was below sea level. My native land is vast, lush, green and beautiful, but there are no elevations any where in or near the capital. Guyana most definitely has mountains ranges but they are located deep inland, far away from the coastline where most people live. The Pakaraima mountain range straddles the Western frontier near Venezuela. Mt Roraima our highest peak towers into the sky at 9,220′ above sea level. The Kanuku Mountains in the Rupununi area are also very far away from the area where I was born and grew up. I had seen some of our great mountain ranges while flying to visit the mighty Kaieteur and Orinduk Falls, deep in the interior of the country. Thick jungles and large meandering rivers make up the majority of the landscape of Guyana. The great mountains are far away and accessible only by plane or via long overland treks into the interior. Unlike Guyana, mountains are everywhere you look in Haiti.
There is a saying in Creole ” dèyè mòn gen mòn”. It means behind mountains are mountains. In Haiti, the hilly terrain is endless in the landscape. If only the mountains could talk! Like silent sentinels watching over us, they stand erect and tall.The things they have borne witness to here in this country over the passage of time. Once they were once gloriously covered with trees and vegetation and were probably teeming with birds and wild life. Today the lush tropical paradise is no longer widespread as in the past and many of its original flora and fauna are are now extinct. The high altitudes and peaks in Haiti are often caressed by the low lying clouds as they float by in the sky. Pic Macaya at 7,700′ is the highest elevation here and is reputed to host a thick pine forest and is home to diverse bird and plant life. In stark contrast, there are also areas where the forests and foliage have been decimated by the charcoal industry and the agricultural land needs of an ever growing population. Treeless, the mountains have been scorched by the sun, leaving the brown earth exposed after the brutal deforestation and a reminder of desperate times in Haiti. The earth in these parts is dry and the landscape has turned bald and barren. But like faithful soldiers, the mountains remain erect and intact; their gaze still focused on Haiti waiting patiently for it to bloom and prosper again.
I love to visit the mountains. It’s wonderful to hike up to Belot where we have a home at an altitude of about 6000ft. We go to breathe the fresh air and to inspect the trees in our little forest to see how much they have grown. It’s quite something to witness the rebirth of a piece of land. We first acquired this property over 20 years ago. At the time, it seemed desolate and empty. There were a few eucalyptus trees and a couple of hardy bushes in a vast open. We loved the area and were charmed by the fresh cold air and the connection we felt to to the earth there. We decided to do a landscape project to change the environment. Although it would take time and perseverance, we were ready for the challenge. We planted 20,000 trees of various types such as Pine, Gravaria, Hispaniola pines, African tulips, and myriad of fruit species. Over the years we have also planted peaches, apples, plums, lychees, longans, olive, coffee, oranges and limes. We also experimented on hybrids like kiwi and artichokes. Most of these thrived in the temperate climate and fertile red soil, but some species did not adapt as well. Over the course of several years we worked prodigiously on this project. Faithfully we would drive up to the mountains most weekends to carry seedlings and small trees. The kids joined in the venture and understood that we wanted to make this a family haven for the future. Finally we built a little house there so that we could spend the weekends and start planting some crops. The greatest joy was to see how the trees were growing and adapting and how the land had begun to transform. This once sparse land with the most magnificent views of the majestic Mont La Selle had begun an amazing transformation and was growing into a little green paradise. An image of the land in Belot at the beginning circa 1998
Carrying plants and saplings in the pickup for the reforestation project at Belot. Little Pine trees about 2′ high already. Today they make up our little forest.
Every hurricane season we would hold our breaths. The fury of nature is one which no man controls. Many prayers are said in the hope of saving the land, the trees and the crops. God has been Great and Good. Even though we have had losses over the years, nature’s resilience is evident. Last year we were hit hard by Hurricane Matthew as he ravaged Haiti and everything in his path. We knew as the hurricane headed across the islands that the mountains would destroy and break up the winds. As expected, the high mountains ranges dispersed the winds, but at a great price to the nature in the mountains. The devastation was extensive. I shed so many tears when I saw the land. It was as though an atomic bomb had fallen there. So many of our beautiful mature trees had been ripped apart and lay like broken matchsticks across the land. We lost about 30% of our forest that day and also parts of the roof. We also lost several horses and cows. All of the potatoes, onions, leek crops were totally washed away and destroyed. It was disheartening; but in the South and the coastal areas of the country, the losses and the human toll were far higher. We counted ourselves lucky by comparison.
Yesterday we spent the day in Belot. I was so pleased to see on this trip that the nature had finally begun to reinstate itself. The land was lush, green, and vibrant. Even broken trees have begun to take on new forms and have sprouted new branches and leaves. The look of devastation has almost completely disappeared. This is a reminder of the transient state of disaster and the powerful rebirth of nature; even after catastrophic situations. Time is a great healer and with patience and nurturing, nature can be rebooted.
In these last 20 years, we have seen the fruit of our labor here. The once desolate area with hardly any vegetation, is now teeming with life. There are birds, bees, insects, frogs and we have a little forest. I associate the forest with my family. We planted these trees and started the environment when the boys were very young. Like the trees, my children have grown, matured, and become adults. I look at them with love and admiration and see that there is hope and success when you give it your all. It truly is possible to change an environment during one generation and definitely during a lifetime. The mountains which surround us have also borne witness to these changes. They too are pleased as I am. The land in Belot today almost 20 years later green and lush with trees and vegetationMountain home in Belot