It was about 5:30 am on Friday, and I received a call from Barry. His flight from Omaha to Atlanta had been canceled. Immediately, I began to brainstorm solutions. I went online and searched for other flights departing from Omaha that day. They were all in the evening. I then looked for flights leaving out of Kansas City; about a three hour drive away. Still, to no avail. It didn’t look good. We were only going to be in Haiti for four days and to miss Friday would really be short changing the experience. I remained calm and sense my flight wasn’t until noon, I eventually fell back asleep.
An hour later, I received a second call from Barry. He was able to find a flight to Miami, on American Airlines, which connected to a flight to Port-au-Prince.
The Land of My Parents
Because of the flight mix up, we actually ended up arriving at Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport just minutes apart. As soon as I landed, I met up with Barry in front of the currency exchange hut. He stood there, the biggest person in the room, face down in his cellphone. He looked up, smiled and we slapped hands. We had arrived in the land of my parents.
When traveling to Haiti, you need a contact. You need someone who knows the lay of the land. Someone who can get you from point A to point B, and back. My good friend Fabrice, grew up in Jacmel and still has family there. With Fabrice’s help, I arranged to have his cousin Max, and our driver Abdul meet us in Port au Prince. We rented a small SUV from Dream Rental Car. Fabrice knew the owner, which gave us important leverage. The last time that I was in Haiti (August 2017), I tried to rent a car through Avis and though the price of the rental was $50 a day, they actually required a $1200 deposit. At Dream, the prices were comparable, at $60 a day. Instead of paying an outrageous deposit, they hold your passport as a security deposit. I thought it was a fair exchange. There is no way our trip would have been possible without our own transportation. The public transportation in Haiti is too unreliable for the short time that we were going to be there.
Abdul was an expert driver, who knew Port au Prince and Jacmel very well. He especially knew the route to Jacmel which was dangerous, if you were not familiar with driving along steep mountainsides. It seems as if Abdul had memorize every turn and twist along the 2-hour right, as he took the mountains with ease.
Jacmel is considered the cultural capital of Haiti and once you get there you understand why. The downtown area is reminiscent of the New Orleans French Quarter. As a matter of fact, much of the architecture and style that you see in the Quarter was inspired by Jacmel. During our time there, we stayed at the Colin’s Hotel, one of the few hotel’s along the beachfront. It’s an old boutique hotel, with an old feel too it. The rooms were small, but clean. Nothing fancy, but it did the trick. We had a pool, bar and restaurant in the courtyard, all facing the ocean. It was all we needed. Quite reasonable too, at $85 a night, I must say it was a definitely a good find. After getting checked-in, Barry and I had chicken wings, fries, pikliz (spicy Haitian-style coleslaw) and Prestige beer, as our first meal in Haiti.
Saturday morning I went for an early morning 3 mile run, while Barry grabbed his phone and took photos of the city. We later met up at the Jacmel Art Center, next to our hotel. It was curated with paintings, metalwork and wood sculptures; done by local, Haitian artists. We later had breakfast and watched the World Cup at the Florita Hotel, just across from our own hotel. The Florita was a really cool place. It’s lobby was a former sugar cane storehouse converted into rustic bar and restaurant with beautiful Haitian artwork on the walls and handmade furniture that made you will only find in Jacmel.
We later met a local gentleman name Michel Jean-Baptiste who eventually became our guide. He was very friendly and knowledgeable about the culture, history and happenings in Jacmel. Michel took us to Bassin Bleu, a hidden blue waterfall about 45 minutes outside of the city. For lunch, he then took us to the Cyvadier Hotel where we had amazing cocktails and fresh lobster. He even had the hook-up on Haitian cigars. Before we parted ways he took us to the oldest hotel in Jacmel, the Emanuel Alexandre Hotel, which was in its final stages of renovation and ready to open at the end of July. It was an immaculate hotel with amazing views of the entire city. Michel had us meet the owner, a local, who lived in Brooklyn for 40 years as a doctor and decided to come back home.
We had had a full day, but we were not done. After coming back from our daily excursion, Barry and I sat pool side and enjoyed a few more bottles of Prestige, our drink for the weekend. All of a sudden we heard a young lady complaining about someone stealing her phone, but in actuality, her friend had it all the while. Crazy enough, one of her friends, happened to be a former student of mine, Tammi. I had taught her 10 years ago at North Miami Beach Senior High School. It was her first time in Haiti and she shared with Barry and I how she remembered all the things I had taught her about Haiti; the history of the Haitian Revolution, the national heroes of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean Jacque Dessalines. She remembered it all and now she was here, in Haiti with her teacher. I was so proud of her. That was the most profound moment of the trip and one of the proudest moments of my teaching career.
Later that evening, I went onto my Facebook page and a friend of mine Kara, who lived in Jacmel for nearly 10 years commented on my page about a live music performance happening that night at Vue Sur Mer, just about 25 minutes outside of the city. It was close to midnight and I was reluctant at first, but Barry motivated me to check it out. So we took taxied a motorcycle outside of our hotel. Three of us, on one bike took off in the middle of the pitch black night down a country road along the sea. When we arrived, it was a wooden shack along the ocean. We paid the 250 gourdes ($4 US) door charge. It was red lights, people dancing from wall to wall to the sounds of Afrobeat, Reggae, Hip hop and Kompa. Barry danced along with his Prestige in his hand, while I stood back and enjoyed the vibes, enjoying a Prestige of my own. During the last hour, we were blessed with a live performance from Steeve Valcourt, a local artist, who was good friends with Kara. By now it was well after 2 am and unbeknownst to us, our chauffeur was outside waiting, to take us back to town. We went back the way we came, on the dark moonlight road to Jacmel. The the ride was 600 gourdes each way ($10 US) and totally worth it.
The next morning, Max and Abdul met us in the lobby at 11 am. Barry and I had our final meal and drinks in Jacmel. It was off to Port au Prince.
The 2 hour mountainous, winding road through the countryside to Port-au-Prince was beautiful. Mountains and lush vegetation went as far as your eyes could see. Beautiful people walked along the side of the road in their Sunday’s best, adding accents to the green mountains with with brightly colored shirts and dresses. Old men and women took to the mountains with ease. And everyone seemed to have a bible in their hand. This was Sunday mornings in the southern countryside of Haiti.
Once we arrived in the capital, we checked-in to the Royal Oasis Hotel, which is located in Petionville, about 4 miles south of Port-au-Prince. Petionville is very different from Jacmel. It’s far more populated and metropolitan. It’s a suburb where many of the Haitian upper-class reside. The Royal Oasis rivals many hotels that you find in the U.S.; concierge, elegant restaurants, shopping, views of the entire city, huge rooms, pool, room service, shuttles to the airport and a full workout facility. You name it, they had it. Our room was much larger and more modern than room what we had at the Colin’s Hotel. As soon as we entered the room, Barry let out a loud “Wow!” He was pretty excited about our new digs.
Now that we were settled in, I thanked Max and Abdul for all their help, put some money in their pockets and they headed back to Jacmel. In usual fashion, Barry and I went out to find some food. We found a place across the street called The Backyard. It was a soccer themed sports bar, with a TV’s everywhere, world flags hanging from the ceilings and a miniature indoor soccer field, right in the center of the establishment. Of course, the World Cup was on every monitor. Like clockwork, Barry and I ordered “de Prestige” along with some chicken wings and fried plantains.
When we got back to the room, we changed into our swim gear and headed to the pool. There had been a kids pool party all day and we finally had the pool to ourselves; at least the adults did. We relaxed, had more beers and watched more world cup soccer. We weren’t the only ones enjoying. There was a group of three couples who had two bottles of Hennessy and they were all taking swigs, directly from the bottle. Barry and I looked on with intrigue, as they took down the bottles effortlessly.
By now it was night time and we had to find something to get into. After all, it was our last night in Haiti. I searched a few places on the internet, but nothing seemed to really be happening near us. So we decided to explore the neighborhood. We stumbled upon a party in which everyone was dressed exquisitely. They literally had a red carpet laid out. We walked in casually as if we belonged, but with us both wearing short pants and t-shirts, it was clear that we were out of our element. A young man with a suit approached us and informed us that it was a private party, by invite only. I can’t lie, the vibes and music was dope, but they kindly turned us away. We ended up going to a few a spots closer to the hotel. The first, an outdoor restaurant where they had a live singer, who covered songs in English, Spanish, French and Creole; rather impressive. But the vibe was dead. We finally ended the night by grabbing some good old American food at an Italian restaurant. Barry ordered a burger with fries and I orders a personal pizza (not recommended). And that was our last night in Haiti.
Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien
I woke up in the morning refreshed, but not ready to leave. There was a complimentary breakfast downstairs that ended at 10 am and I didn’t want to miss it. Barry and I went down to the fancy La Villa restaurant and grabbed breakfast. I had the Omelette Creole; scrambled eggs with sautéed onion, peppers and slices of ham, along with a cup of Haitian coffee. For the first time, I had eaten more than Barry, who simply had some coffee and fruit.
We checked out, just a little after 12 o’clock and headed for our final stop, the National History Museum in Port-au-Prince. We were on our own now and drove the rest of the way through the city. Barry was my navigator and used Google Maps to get us to our destination. Parking in Port-au-Prince was actually pretty easy. We parked right in front of the museum and walked in. Entrance was 250 gourde ($4 USD). Photos and videos are not allowed, so you have to be there to really gain an appreciation of the history.
One segment is a gallery filled with beautiful and colorful Haitian art. The other section is dedicated to preserving the the history of Haiti. It does an excellent job of beginning with the culture of the Taino people and ends with the current state of Haiti. Tours were done in English, French and of course Haitian-Creole. It was the perfect way to end our trip. Haiti continues to impress me and I am proud of my heritage. This trip really helped me to further gain an appreciation of Haiti’s role in the world and that it’s true beauty has yet to acknowledged by the mainstream culture.
Next summer, Barry and I will embark on our 6th Annual Brothers Retreat in Charleston, South Carolina. Our annual retreats have become a tradition, in which we seek fellowship, reconnection along with researching history of the African Diaspora in various cities throughout the world. More enslaved Africans were transported through Charleston, South Carolina than any other city in America. We want to explore the history of slaver in Charleston, as well as the richness and stories of the impact that Charleston has had on America. It should be a great experience and maybe our greatest journey yet. I’m excited.