Haiti In My Heart
I’ve always wanted to visit Haiti.
Living in Jamaica in my 20s, I knew people who went there for business and came back with stories of hanging out with wealthy middle-class professionals and suitcases bulging with colorful original art.
But over the past few years, when I’ve asked travel industry colleagues who’d visited their impressions, they fell into two camps: The set who told me that the country wasn’t ready for tourists, was unsafe, and that I shouldn’t go. And the other, albeit smaller group, who said I should definitely see one of the Caribbean’s most misunderstood nations, experience its culture and see its historic sites, but with a sensible amount of caution and expectations realistic for a developing nation.
Last month I finally had the chance to spend three whirlwind days on the ground in the capital, Port-au-Prince. My base was the Marriott Port-au-Prince, an oasis in the middle of the bustling, gritty city of 2.6 million people.
With its installations of local art; use of local products; and a staff of 158 Haitians (of 165 total employees), the hotel seamlessly incorporates a distinct sense of the destination into your stay.
It's something that I strongly feel is a gesture of respect not just to the countries in which hotels brands such as these make their money, but also a huge cultural bonus for their guests.
My itinerary was originally focused around visiting artists and other creatives, with a day to be spent out of town at Bananier Bay, a secluded south-coast beach about two hours’ drive from the city, that’s apparently only accessible by boat. Alas, heavy and almost constant rain scuppered our plans for that excursion and, coupled with slow and heavy traffic, somewhat curtailed our city agenda, too. But unexpected challenges – both great and small – are the norm in Haiti, where “Beyond the mountains, more mountains” is a common saying. It’s a description of both the belief that after every obstacle lies another, and also of Haiti’s sharply mountainous topography, which makes even Jamaica’s impenetrable Cockpit Country look like it’s not even trying!
So I quickly learned to do what the locals do: shrug off any disappointment and pivot toward a new plan. And I was rewarded with experiences and people I’ll never forget.
People like Romel Jean Pierre, “diplomartist,” filmmaker and our Tour Haiti guide, whose pride and love for his country is contagious.
Experiences such as visiting the village of Noailles, where artisans have been crafting Haiti’s distinctive metal sculptures from discarded oil drums for decades.
And unexpected kindnesses like the bowl of delicious beef-and-cornmeal stew metal artist Jacques Eugene so generously shared with me during our visit.
You can watch the first of my two-part Port-au-Prince adventure in this video. It’s a four-minute postcard of an unforgettable three-day trip – one that left me hungry for yet more time in one of the Caribbean’s most fascinating capitals.