Peaceful setting: The beaches of the south offer quiet repose.
Red earth and blue sea: the beauty of Pestel
As calm and stability return to Haiti, the southerm peninsula reveals its splendor
By Yvrose and Jerry Gilles Bookmanlit
The south of Haiti has traditionally been a more tampered region, remaining somewhat secluded from the politics of the noisy capital or of the volatile north. On a recent journey through this less populated section of the island, we caught a glimpse of its splendor and of the daily toils of its people.
We began our journey atToussaint Louverture International Airport, which owes its name to the hero who opened the gate out of the era of slavery and colonial rule.Today, Louverture is the passageway into the country. As we exited on the tarmac, we were greeted by the serenade ofmusicians playingdrums, guitars, and maracas,all capped in bright sunshine.
The Cellular City
The drive through Port -au- Prince brought us face to face with streets filled with equal part vehicles and equal part pedestrians, all fighting for the right of way. A few newly installed solar powered traffic lights could not impose order in the chaotic melee.Added to the traffic frenzy, were small to giant crater sized pot holes making driving on level ground a puzzle solving endeavor. Rising above thetraffic were the newest high rise telecommunication towersset up byDigicel, a company that has recently invested heavily in the island,creating as many as 500 direct and 5000 indirect jobs.Vendors peddle cellular phones, phone calls,calling cards,while entrepreneurial motorists and homeowners with solar panels make money recharging phones.
It appears as though everyone owns a cellular phone, but because of the scarcity of jobs,phone users have learned to shift the cost of talking.Cellular phones double as beepers as some callers allow the phone to ring only once so that the charges are shifted to the recipient returning the call.Pre-paid minutes can also be purchased by family members abroad in places like Miami and New Yorkand sent to loved ones like remittances.In front of the Champs de Mars, a park adjacent to the National Palace, families, locals, and students can be seen making a statement with their cellular phones at hand.
New Peaks: Cellular Tower in Pestel
TheRoute National #2 pierces through the mountains of the southern peninsula. Proud mountains that once echoed the signals of maroon communities now reverberate electronic messages from their descendants. It appears that a new era is in the making. The people are hopeful and Digicel is the electronic conch shell carrying the message.
Sunrise in Aquin
Serenity: In Aquin, you can view a peaceful Caribbean sunrise
Three hours from Port-au-Prince,the town of Aquin,with beaches overlooking the Caribbean Sea,was far enough away fromthe bustle of the capital to lure one for a leisurely stay. From the balcony of our hotel,we got a panoramic view of the harbor and quaint historic town.Little known heroes are immortalized in its streets. Its main street, Julien Raymond , is named for the Aquin born co-writer of Toussaint Louverture’s 1801 Constitution which abolished slavery in Haiti.
Aquin’sseaport is magnificent and tranquil. Such beauty may not rest long without being awakened to the arrival of cruise ships and visitors from distant shores. Those who go now get to enjoy it in all serenity. On the west side of town, the beaches caress the road which snakes its way along the coastal waters in what has to be one of the world’s most scenic ocean side drives.
The most unexpected pleasure in Aquinwas a simple sunrise which we viewed from the comfort of our hotel balcony. In the calm coolness of the morning, the rising sun above the awakening town appeared ethereal, like a fleeting image in adream. Fortunately for point and shoot cameras, we have retained forever a pure moment of peace and tranquility.
The Road to Pestel
Pestel is a small and picturesque town on the gulf coast of the southern peninsula. Although roughly 40 miles from Aquin, it is a difficult five hour drive. One must cross through the massive chain of Makaya mountains. Only Peak Laselle near Port-au-Prince, and El Pico on the Dominican side are higher, elevating respectively to 9,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level.Driving to Pestel is best done in bright daylight. The breathtaking views are at once awesome and frightening,somewhat like a Disneyesque ride, only for real. The rocky andunasphalted mountain terrain reducestravel time to a crawl, as inch by inch, our rugged all terrain vehicle maneuvered over boulders, craters, and rivers. Once in Pestel, the beauty and uniqueness of this red earth destination makes the entire trip worthwhile.This is what keeps people coming back. Differences in wealth aside, its mountainous and red copper rich soil brings to mind Sedona, Arizona. Pestel is a fisherman’s town, and many livelihoods here are tied to the sea. During the town’s annual Feast of the Sea, maritime activities abound such as swim relays, canoe and sailboat races, and fishing tournaments. Pestel boasts of the tastiest seafood with plenty of snapper, crab, lobster and conch on hand to please the palate.
Occasionally, aboulgari, a storm which begins at seaand runs through the town,brings in much needed rain to the cisterns that are built in many homes to collect rain water.The lifestyle here makes everyone in Pestel acutely aware of the water cycle- evaporation, condensation, precipitation- nature’s ownmethod of desalinating the sea to provide drinkable water.
Seafest: Pestel celebrates
Rara in Pestel
During the annual feast, another kind of tempest runs through Pestel - this one in reverse direction -coming from the mountains down to the sea. Colorfully dressed Rara Bands descend upon the town playing lively rhythms accompanied by well choreographed dances. The Raras compete for a cash prize awarded to the group with the finest musical presentation.
The Diaspora Returns Towns like Pestel and Aquin are undergoing great transformations driven in part by retirees who want to enjoy the beauty of these tranquil places. The most visible element of this transformation isthe homes being built by those returning. Constructed in brick, the homes are sometimes imposing and often equipped with the latest self-sufficient technologies from solar power to internet access. You can be in Pestelwith your cell phone by a Sony play station surfing the internet while enjoying the tranquility of being in one of the most secluded places in the world.
Visiting Aquin and Pestel
Best for:Lovers of history, mystery, and artistry. Also of interest to those with a taste for Creole cuisine, an eye for Afro-Caribbean architecture, and a spirit for adventure. Getting there:American and Spirit Airlines fly daily from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to Port-au-Prince. The trip takes approximately one and a half hours. Airfare averages 200 dollars for a round trip ticket. (Once you’re there, remember that you’re infour by four country and will need the skills of an experienced driver/chauffeur.) When to go:The rainy season begins in May and continues on to October. In November, hurricane season ends and the drier, cooler season begins. Summer is peak travel season and many small towns offer festivities to attract vacationing students and families. Where to stay:In Aquin, The Aldy Hoteloffers modern comforts andcomplimentary breakfast.In Pestel, several Bed and Breakfast can be found, among them the hospitable Hotel Louis and Louise. Where to eat: In Aquin,Ches Nennette is the favorite local hangout. In Pestel, the best Creole cuisine is available chez Madan Yo. For more information: Contact the Haitian Embassy in Washington D.C. www.haiti.org