The Tinii

It's plural for Tinius, because we said so.


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Jacmel

Ah, Jacmel

When people think of Haiti, they think of Port-Au-Prince during the earthquake. Port-Au-Prince is one giant mess. The traffic is indescribable, it smells horrific, and there is a lot of poverty everywhere. The good news is that Port is one city in the whole, entire country. We already blogged about the magical city of Cap-Haitien, but there is another city that is just as magical. Way back in 2010, we first laid eyes on Haiti. It was only three months after the earthquake and things were still crazy sad. Even then, however, Jacmel felt special. Fast forward four years and up the special level by at least a hundred and you’ve got Jacmel today.  Side note: If you don’t want my whole “why Jacmel is magical” thing then skip to the summary at the end.

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Port-Au-Prince can get you down for sure. Then you go to Jacmel and you swell with hope for what Haiti could be. There’s a lot of development going on, including this artsy little boardwalk.

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Jacmel is an extremely artsy town. If Haiti had hipsters, they’d live in Jacmel. It’s is famous for it’s paper mache art. Our good friends Josh & Chandler run an artisan coop called Haiti Design Coop. They work with a paper mache artisan from Jacmel who makes cow skulls. There’s a lot of talent going on in this town.

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It’d definitely a town where you can spend the afternoon walking the streets, visiting artisans, and hanging on the beach. The downtown beach is what you would expect. The boardwalk is lovely, but it’s a little trashy. If you want a good, clean beach – head east about 15 minutes. There are some hotels and public beaches down that direction that are excellent. We used the beach just past Hotel L’Amitie where there are a few bungalows and some tables. The bungalows are available for rent. We were told $50/night for 4 people. They are simple, but clean and have fans. The restaurant and beach there is great so I’d recommend it as a hang out spot for sure.

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The one thing you absolutely have to do, hands down, is Bassin Bleu.

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I mean, this is real life, ya’ll. Getting there is a big adventure. These are – honest to God – the best directions I can give you. Head west from downtown any way you can toward the river bed. Cross said riverbed. If you aren’t sure about crossing puddles/the ACTUAL river just wait and watch motos go through or ask if your car will make it. People are helpful. Once you get through the river, ask where Bassin Bleu is. There are a million small roadways through the river bed. People will have to just point you in the right direction. Once you reach the tree line there is a sign. Follow the road up and there are signs the whole way! There is a little building once you get there and you’ll have to pay 100 gourdes per person to visit. You’ll also have to pick out a guide that you’ll need to tip at the end.

You pass a few small pools and waterfalls on the way. The guides are helpful and informative and will point everything out and help you get across.

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The final trek requires half climbing down a boulder with assistance from a rope and the guides. Once you get down, though, you get some breathtaking views of the basin.

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The water is freezing and suuuuuper deep. Haitains will tell you all about the zombies and mermaids that live at the bottom. It’s deep enough to do some serious cliff jumping.

Funny story – in 2010 I tried jump from the top. I got up there and froze. NOTHING could have made me jump off that cliff and the more I waited the worse it got. Finally, Josh climbed up and shoved me off the cliff rescued me.

Summary: Here’s a brief overview of what we loved about Jacmel. I’m only including what I’ve experienced, where I’ve stayed, etc. but there is plenty more!

Where to Stay:

  • Hotel L’Amitie – We stayed here for $57/night including breakfast. It’s right on the beach. The rooms are super simple but clean. There wasn’t a working phone at the time so we had to stop by and ask about rooms and pricing.
  • Hotel Cyvadier – This place rocked. We stayed here for $67/night including breakfast. It’s back in a cool little cove with a small beach area. The grounds are fantastic and the rooms were nice.
  • Hotel Florita – We didn’t stay here but we did hang out a bit. It’s amazing. You have to stop by just to grab a drink. It’s in an old historic building downtown and it feels like the sort of place Hemmingway would get drunk at and write.
  • Hotel Kabic Beach Club – We tried to stay here for $110/night but our reservation got mixed up. It’s nice, right across from the beach, and the owner is super sweet.

Where to Eat:

  • Jacmel Pizzeria – This place is downtown within walking distance of Florita and the boardwalk. They have pizza, Mexican, and a good breakfast.
  • Madame Barbeque – this place is very Haitian. Right at the entrance to Hotel Cyvadier there is a small building that says “Cyvadier Market”. Madame BBQ is there. It is delicious! Don’t be intimidated or nervous. She grills barbeque chicken and a plate comes with fries and a salad for $5. You can run in the little market and grab a drink.
  • Hotel Florita – The food here was fine. Limited menu though. Go for the atmosphere.
  • Bungalows on the Beach – These bungalows are right down the beach from Hotel L’Amitie. DELICIOUS food and drinks. This is the place to go for fresh seafood.
  • The Vatican – This is hands down one of the coolest bars I have ever been to ANYWHERE. Here is the problem. I don’t know how to tell you to find it. Maybe that adds to the awesomeness. It’s downtown near a park and close to the Jacmel market. It’s stuck between two buildings so have fun trying to locate it.

 

 

 

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Chris Columbus Wuz Here – By Josh

Last week we bused over to the east side of the island where they speak Spanish and play baseball.  It was a great trip although a little awkward at times.  I kept responding to people in French or Creole the whole time we were there.  Then I would try to correct myself in Spanish, which I don’t speak except for what I remember from Sesame Street.  Other than that we had a great time!

We took a bus through Capital Coach Lines. The bus was great. They handed out sandwiches, water, and juice and played a wildly inappropriate movie (if you take this bus with kids bring some headphones and a blindfold). The border crossing was pretty quick. We just hopped out to get our passports stamped and bags checked. Once we got to the bus station we got a taxi to our hotel for $10. All in all, getting there took around 8 hours from leaving to lounging by the hotel pool.

Speaking of the hotel, Allison got a deal on the Renaissance hotel that’s about a 20 minute walk from the Colonial Zone. Apparently, Marriott has a Best Rate Guarantee and if you book through them but find a better price elsewhere on the same room, they’ll match the low rate and give you a 25% discount. Our hotel ended up being $55/night!

Santo Domingo is a nice city that is filled with interesting history.  There are museums about the history of the island, art, the Taino people who originally inhabited the island and more.   Many of the expeditions discovering and colonizing the New World were launched from Sano Domingo.  It is also where Christopher Colombus is buried…  Or was buried??  Or is possibly still buried???

There are also amazing natural wonders- like Los Tres Ojos.  We went there our first day there and it was amazing.  Los Tres Ojos (the three eyes in English) is a series of cave lakes created by earthquakes hundreds of year ago.  The caves were originally inhabited by the Taino Indians.

Los Tres Ojos

Los Tres Ojos

For 100 Pesos I would absolutely recommend that anyone who is going to be in Santo Domingo visit this place.  It is cheap and a short cab ride away from town! I think the round trip cab ride cost us $20 from our hotel, but our taxi driver took us by some other sights too.

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Another cool place that we visited was the Alcázar de Colón.  It was built by Chrisopher Colombus’ son Diego Colombus.  Now it is a museum with artifacts from the Colombus family.  It was a really cool museum, and for another 200 Pesos you really cant go wrong.

Alcázar de Colón

Alcázar de Colón

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Also if history isn’t your thing there are plenty of other things to do, including the chocolate museum.  I am really not into going places where people are going to try and pressure me into buying something, therefore I was hesitant to go into the chocolate museum/factory, but once we got inside there was a guy who just basically wanted to give us free samples of everything including their chocolate liquors.  While we were standing there the guy behind the counter actually told us that his plan was to get us drunk on samples so that we would walk through the store and buy one of everything.  It definitely beats the- I’m going to stand here and pester you until you buy something or leave approach.  The factory isn’t too big but there was definitely a lot to look at and see.

Other than that the Colonial District is filled with monuments, statues, street cafes and cigar shops.



 

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Panteón Nacional- Originally a Jesuit Church it now serves as a national mausoleum for honored leaders and citizens of the Dominican Republic.

 

 

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Painted Obelisk to honor the Mirabal Sisters who were assassinated because of their opposition to the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in 1960.

Painted Obelisk to honor the Mirabal Sisters who were assassinated in 1960 because of their opposition to the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

 

 

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Cigar shop with hand rolled cigars.

 

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Cathedral of Santa María la Menor- The oldest cathedral in the New World. In front of that is the Colombus Statue pointing to where Colombus first spotted land.

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A statue of Fray Antón de Montesinos- A priest who protested Spanish treatment of the natives

A statue of Fray Antón de Montesinos- A priest who protested Spanish treatment of the natives.

 

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We also hit up one of the nice malls and ate at a Chili’s just to feel like we were in America, but after about 10 minutes in the mall we were like, “Oh yeah, we hate malls and don’t miss this part of America at all” and left.

The bus ride back took a lot longer. Once we got through the DR border, we were stopped so they could search the bus. Then we went to Haitian immigration where a bunch of guys kept trying to tell us that we’d filled our paperwork out incorrectly and they could help us (which I didn’t fall for and therefore kept the few bucks they wanted for their “help”). THEN we got stopped about 20 minutes down the road for them to search bags. It was annoying, but nothing terrible.

All in all, we had a great time in Santo Domingo. It felt nice to be “traveling” again and we definitely enjoyed the town.

 


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The Citadelle (be prepared for too many pictures) – By:Allison

I’ll be very honest. The first time I came to Haiti I knew very little about its history. I knew there was a slave revolt and voodoo and that’s about it. When we came back for an extended period of time, I really did try to learn about the history and about the historical sites here. It turns out that Haiti is a gold mine for nerdy and somewhat adventurous travelers. The slave revolt is fascinating and the system of forts here is a historical-site-loving person’s dream.

In late January, Josh’s parents and sister, Casey, came for a visit. They decided to treat us to a trip to Cap Haitien. This town is up in the North near Labadee (where Royal Caribbean stops). It’s about a 5 and a half hour drive from where we live in Port-Au-Prince. The roads were great up to Gonaives and after that they were a bit pot-holey, but nothing too bad. The drive was gorgeous so we didn’t mind bumping our way along. One of the cool things about Haiti is how quickly the terrain changes. We passed the beach, dessert-like land with cacti, rice fields, and green mountains.

Rice fields in Haiti

Rice fields in Haiti

Cap Haitien is a really cool town. It’s a lot cleaner and calmer than Port-au-Prince (duh) and the roads are laid out in nice grids. There’s a little boulevard that runs next to the ocean downtown that has several nice looking restaurants. We drove up a hill that overlooks the town to our hotel. We stayed at a nice little boutique place called Habitation Jouissant. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the manager, Florence. She’s a delight. The staff was great and the rooms were nice – small – but nice. We had breath-taking views of Cap Haitien and the ocean.

View of Cap-Haitien

View of Cap-Haitien

More of the view

More of the view

Hotel Restaurant

Hotel Restaurant

We spent the afternoon reading and just enjoying hot water showers and air conditioners. The next morning, we headed to the Citadelle around 9:00am. When you get to the parking lot, there’s a booth to your right where you buy your tickets for $5 per person. If you want a guide you can hire one for $10 per person there as well. We immediately were overwhelmed with ladies wanting to sell us hats and a guy who REALLY wanted us to by a flute…which he played for us quite a bit. Who wants a used flute? Not this girl.

Right past the parking lot is San Souci palace. It was built by a guy named Henri Christophe. Haiti’s slave revolt was the world’s only successful slave army revolution. The first leader was Dessalines, who declared himself Emperor for Life. That didn’t go so well and that life was cut kinda short. After that, Haiti was divided into the North and South. Henri Christophe took over the North and established a sort of feudal system. Though Napoleon had given up on establishing France in the New World, Henri didn’t want to take chances so he built a really impressive system of forts with the Citadelle being the crown jewel. At the base of the mountain that hosts the Citadelle he built San Souci Palace. It was one of NINE palaces built by the guy! After Henri Christophe suffered from a stroke and committed suicide (supposedly with a silver bullet), the place fell into ruin.

We toured these ruins first where we picked up a few uninvited guides. I may not speak a ton of Creole, but they got the point that they weren’t wanted.

Ruins of San Souci

Ruins of San Souci

Statue at San Souci

Statue at San Souci

More of the ruins...

More of the ruins…

After walking around San Souci for awhile, we started up the mountain. Most people drive up to the second parking lot and hike from there. We are not most people. We are Tinii. One of our uninvited guides couldn’t believe we were walking and left us alone. The second guide hiked along with us…and a half dozen horses who WOULD NOT GET OUT OF OUR GRILLS. I mean, really. When you’re hiking straight up a mountain in the heat of a tropical country, the last thing you want is to be surrounded by janky looking horses. Our unofficial guide kept telling them to leave and finally they listened to him. From that moment on, I didn’t care how much money he weaseled out of us…it was worth it.

The hike that wouldn't end

The hike that wouldn’t end

The guide ended up being helpful actually. I got a chance to practice Creole and he was pretty encouraging (he kept telling us we were strong people). He pointed out different fruit trees and was really shocked when I told him the price of avocados in America. I mean…he was flabbergasted.

Once we got to the second parking lot, the guide helped out again. We didn’t have our tickets with us and he talked the ticket booth into letting it slide. There are restrooms again, people selling drinks and souvenirs, and a little cafe at this parking lot. Our guide told us, “Soon you’ll see the Citadelle.” We asked him if that meant we were close. The answer was no.

At this point we were all pretty exhausted. All of us are strong hikers but that trek was legit. My butt and calves were on fire. Unless you are in good shape, drive up to the second parking lot FOR SURE and hike from there. This last part was the hardest but had some amazing views.

First glimpses..

First glimpses..

This felt surreal.

This felt surreal.

Once we finally made it to the Citadelle I was shocked by just how large it is. It’s over 100,000 square feet!

Because Haiti was never attacked all of the cannonballs are still lying in wait for Napoleon.

Just waiting for Napoleon.

Just waiting for Napoleon.

Still waiting.

Still waiting.

Our guide told us a lot of stories including one about the tomb on site. It’s apparently Henri Christophe’s brother-in-law who made the mistake of smoking in the gunpowder room. What was left of him ended up in the tomb. We also learned that Christophe is buried somewhere on the property but no one knows where and that Wyclef filmed a music video here.

Wyclef Wuz Here. We begged the guide not to take this picture.

Wyclef Wuz Here. We begged the guide not to take this picture.

Words can’t really do this place justice. It’s incredible and even if you don’t happen to find yourself in Haiti, it’s worth going to see. Cap-Haitien would be a really great vacation spot if you like this kind of thing and are a bit adventurous! One of the things I love about traveling in Haiti is that it really feels like a travel adventure! You have to be flexible and fly by the seat of your pants a lot. Plus, contributing to tourism here really does make a difference.

Breathtaking views!

Breathtaking views!

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After the trip back down the mountain via moto (Which cost $10 and was totally worth it), we headed back to the hotel to recover. In fact, we spent the next day recovering at Cormier Plage – a hotel on a really pretty beach about 10 minutes from out hotel. The beach was in a little cove and we could see people para-sailing from the cruise ship at Labadee around the corner.

All in all, Cap Haitien was a breath of fresh air. Being there certainly makes you have a lot of hope for Haiti.


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Saut d’eau Waterfall aka Boobie Falls – By:Allison

Let me start by saying the last story about the passports has a few fallacies but I won’t go there…

Josh and I really do enjoy being in Haiti.

We feel like the country has a lot more to offer than making Americans feel good about themselves by helping Haitians. When we came in 2010, we got to visit Jacmel. This time around, we’ve done a few trips around the Port-Au-Prince area. Even so, there’s so much more to see and do than we’ve seen or done. We decided to be proactive and create a Haiti Bucket List to keep us from being lazy and never experiencing all this place has to offer. So, we got together with our friend Kelsey and our friends Josh and Chandler, sat down with a few drinks, a notepad, and a guidebook, and got to work.

And let me just tell you – our bucket list is amazing. It involves owning a donkey, camping on beaches, and sailing to Tortuga to look for pirate treasure. Yes. Pirate treasure. You are all welcome to be jealous and/or come join us.

Right after we wrote the bucket list, Josh and I had a day off. Kelsey had a free day as well – lucky for us because she also has a car named Stuart and a complete mastery of the Creole language. So Kelsey, Josh, Joseus (her boyfriend), and myself hopped in Stuart the not-so-trusty truck. I say not-so-trusty because he has a bad habit of catching on fire and his starter is going bad, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’d decided to check out a place which had been growing in infamy since living with the Salvants – Boobie Falls. Now, the real name for this place is not – afterall – Boobie Falls. It’s actually called Saut d-eau (pronounced Sodo) – a hotspot for Voodoo activities and bathing. The Salvant kids have not-so-affectionately nicknamed it, however, because the bathing leads to seeing “lots of big Haitian boobies.” Yes, that’s a direct quote. And if you google Saut d’eau you will, in fact see lots of big Haitian boobies.

After praying over Stuart multiple times and making sure we had a butcher knife to use in lieu of a starter and a few gallons of water to put out fires – we set out. Along the way we gained another adventurer. Kelsey and Joseus’ friend, Serita, who is a very sassy lady around 50 years old. I can only hope that I am such a great adventurer in my 50’s that if I was standing in the market in a nice dress on a Monday and saw some 20-somethings I knew, I would also hop in the car without much thought.

On the way up the mountain, Stuart struggled. We were being passed by semi’s while all praying out loud. Not being passed by semi’s in a dangerous way, but in more of an embarrassing way. The best part of the whole trip might have been the drive.

Where we live down in Santo, all the houses are surrounded by walls. It’s extremely dusty and usually hot. For a bunch of people who love the outdoors – it’s not an ideal situation. As you go up in the mountains, walls disappear and you start to see gardens, fields, and green GRASS! It’s utterly refreshing.

Once we got to the town of Saut d’eau we were all enamored. The roads were not only free of potholes but they were painted with yellow lines AND HAD REFLECTORS. There were even signs to let you know there was a dip in the road. We were ready to move.

Once we got to the entrance of the falls we did a little haggling on the entrance fee (non-Haitians were 200 gourdes which we talked down to 100) and headed down. The whole place was surprisingly park like. imageThere are steps that lead right down to the little pools at the base of the falls. Before you reach the falls, there are little changing rooms and benches. We spent the afternoon freezing in the water and having a picnic.

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Josh was clearly excited about the waterfall – thus all the pictures of him looking excited.

Craziest of all…there were no boobies. We must have gone on a slow day. There’s a lot of superstition and religious activity surrounding the falls. There’s a yearly pilgrimage laced with Catholic and Voodoo themes because the Virgin Mary appeared in a long-ago cut down palm tree. The waters supposedly have healing powers as well, though I didn’t feel anything but cold when I was there.

After Serita hired someone to give her a massage, cut her tea leaves, and bring her water (girl supported the Saut d’eau economy for sure) we took a lovely group picture and headed back.

Of course we said even more for prayers for Stuart though we felt pretty confident in his abilities by now. Although we took one small wrong turn, we coasted down the mountain right as the sun was setting.image

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I feel pretty good about crossing Boobie Falls off the list. If you come to Haiti I’d definitely recommend the trip as long as you don’t mind an hour and a half drive out of PaP and the possibility of the falls living up to their name.