The day started out great. I woke up sort of early and had a good breakfast of watermelon, cantaloupe, mangoes, toast and fried eggs. I strapped my backpack to the motorcycle with a couple of bungee chords, filled up the gas tank and hit the road.
Getting to the other side of downtown was of course a challenge. Once I was downtown, I played the game of snaking my way through a mish-mash of cars, people fixing their cars in the middle of the road while five lanes converge down to one, plus a few inches to spare for the motorcycles. There are the two buses that are literally scraping past each other. There is the open manhole cover in the center of the street with a man standing in it up to his chest bathing while traffic inches by just a couple of feet away.
After about an hour of stop and go traffic, the road finally opened up. As I traveled west, the mountains moved further away and I was riding through a wide flat area along the cost. Buildings along the shore had signs that read things like Belle View Resort and Jonny’s Beach Club but they were no different than any other place in Pot au Prince. The large lots had tall crumbling concrete walls around them and empty shells of buildings inside. And turquoise waters just beyond.
My phrases of creole allowed me to ask “Which direction to Miragoane?” The GPS on my tablet computer allowed me to confirm I was going in the right direction. The road veered inland and the traffic was almost nothing. Occasionally I would pass a tap tap but out here, the large cargo trucks with people riding on top were the fastest vehicles. I looked to ride behind them because they ensured that anybody trying to pass, coming from the other direction, would get back their proper lane before they reached me.
The main roads were all in good condition out here. The closest coastal vacation town to Port au Prince is Jacmel. It’s almost straight south. About an hour out of town, I follow a different road that heads west. Everything all becomes more rural and calm. There are not many trees away from the road or on the mountains I can see, but along the road, where people live, there are plenty of palm trees and other trees shading their homes. In several places the road is actually shady. Even though this is a highway, it’s more like what a back county road without lane markings would be in the United States.
I’m keeping my eyes out for Petit Goave because there is supposed to be a turnoff after it to a very highly rated secluded beach that I’d like to stop at on the way back. It’s called Kokye beach. However, it’s hard to tell exactly where I am because most towns don’t have street signs. Also I’m not sure if I’m entering new towns or not. I’ve never been out of sight of a home yet. Now, the occasional place has a thatched roof.
Finally, I see a sign for Petit Goave. There is a main street a couple of blocks long with people out vending their mangoes and bananas. There are stalls with cell phone company logos painted on the sides and others that say Loto. One of the larger trucks that had passed me is now pulled off to the side and several guys on motorcycles are parked at the intersection waiting to give a ride to people returning from Port au Prince.
A while later I stop at cluster of vendors who have a thatched roof stall and buy some fried plantain and a hotdog on a stick. There is a dirt road heading up a hill in the direction of the sea and I ask where it goes and the lady says to Kokoye. So now I know where to turn on my way back. I read that it’s about a15 minute drive up this road to a little village, then you can pay someone there to lead you on 30 minute hike down to the beach. The people in this village apparently keep the beach clean and let people camp there. I’m tempted to stop there now, but decide to keep on going instead.
Now the road starts down a step decline where I can see for miles. At the bottom, there is a lake, and where the lake meets the road, the out-flow of the lake has washed out the road. In place of the road are people with small row-boats they maneuver with tall wooden poles. I negotiated a price with a boat owner to take me and the motorcycle across to the other side for less than $2.00 U.S. Later on at the next town, I noticed what appeared to be a significant road leading somewhere, but there was only one highway leading through town. I stopped to check-in with my GPS when I noticed that this road made a loop around the place where the road I had just taken was washed out. I enjoyed the adventure of lifting the motorcycle onto a small boat, but on the way back I think I’ll take the loop and save myself the $2.00.
It turns out, l’ve come across several bridges that are out on my trip and for most of them, the detour runs through the river or, for one of the larger rivers, there was a new smaller bridge that would probably not work if the river was higher.
I pass over a mountain range to get to the southern coast. It’s an easy drive. Walking up the side of the road is a funeral procession, people carrying the body wrapped in woven palm mat, ladies singing and just a ways further, people are lined along the road waiting for the body to get carried by.
Now the coast. Wow! I’ve never been to Hawaii, but I’d bet there are some places in Hawaii that might start to come close to this beauty. Where are all the mega-resorts, the Sandals, Club Meds? All I see are little villages where the homes have tin sides and trails spider out among the palm trees from home to home.
I pass the southern unit for the department of tourism and I pull in to see what I can learn. They say the plan is to build an international airport at Les Cayes (known to Haitians as Aux Cayes, and pronounced “Oh Ky”, so a note to myself, don’t ask which road to Les Cayes.) There is an island just off the coast here, the beauty is said to be even greater. The man at the tourism department says they would like to build a resorts here with a casinos. I have a little chat with this guy and tell him this is one of the only places in the world with this natural beauty that doesn’t look like every other place that once had an abundance of natural beauty, except for those special places where the government first created a national park and tightly controlled the style of development.
I’m afraid Haiti’s dire need for cash and a healthy dose of corruption will mean that whomever promises the most jobs, or whomever is first to take a chance here, will get to build on their own terms by threatening to build elsewhere if their demands aren’t met. I told this tourism man that I’ve seen large projects go bankrupt leaving a huge complex of unfinished buildings, reefs blasted open for ports and the value of the natural resources diminished. When I told him that people will want to experience Haiti’s culture, his eyes opened wide. “Eco-tourism” he said. I think he was sincerely interested in what I was saying. We exchanged contact information and he asked of I could help him get into a Masters degree program in tourism in the United States. (So if anybody reading this blog can help, this might be our chance to change the course of Haiti’s plans to pursue Casino-tourism.)
Well, I eventually get to Port Salut. The first thing I notice is that the streets are paved with pavers. It’s one of the nicest street I’ve seen, even by American standards. There are many nice upscale hotels, or more like bed and breakfast type set-ups. The cheapest one was $75 and I also found a fantastic place with private cabanas overlooking the rocky cliff for $156. Both are more than what I intended to spend. There is a nice beach in Port Salut with a narrow, one-way road that winds along the edge for about half a mile. The main through road is further inland, making this part of town a quiet beach park with a scattering of hotels across the street from the beach. I stopped to talk with a Swiss lady and her American husband who have made this town their home for almost two years. They said people often sleep in the park with a hammock. Anywhere with two trees is fine and they insisted that it is very safe. They also tell me lots of political people have places here.
I decided to keep heading west to try to find a place listed on a Lonely Planet online forum that had rooms for $5. I must have missed it because I ended up on the next town where some people waved me down. It was some people who work at the orphanage I just left. The lady insisted I stay with them. However, I really wanted to sleep next to the sound of waves crashing against the shore. I didn’t want to offend her so I reluctantly unpacked the bag off the bike. However, they couldn’t unlock the door to the guest room. One guy climbed through the space above the door and tried from the inside. There are actually two doors to this room and they couldn’t get either one unlocked. I went on a short walk a around the only block in the town and watched some kids play soccer while a man called the play by play over a megaphone. The other side of the block had a beach with palm trees and I felt cheated out of my objective to camp by myself listening to the waves hit the shore. So, I marched right back to the house where they were still working on the door and apologized for not staying but I was on a mission that I had to complete.
A couple of towns further along and I saw a palm tree lined crest of land curving out into the turquoise colored sea. I tuned off the main road and followed the dirt road out to the point. I asked people who were standing outside their thatched home if there was a place I could hang my hammock by the beach for the night. They talked amongst themselves and directed a young man to lead me around to the other side of the riverbed on his motorcycle where we came across a little clearing lined by a thatched fence. In the middle were three open-air cabanas with thatched roofs. Perfect!
Before I could get all my stuff set-up, about twenty people were standing around watching. The little kids had fun trying-out the hammock. I had fun playing some type of improvised instrument one kid had made out of a piece of wood, nails and rubber bands. The crowd of people weren’t about to go anywhere and I wanted to go for a swim. Even after I pulled out my swimsuit, they still just stood around staring. I went to the other side of my hammock for a little privacy to change before going out to sea. (I made sure all of my belongings were zipped up inside the hanging mosquito net that surrounds my hammock, just to reduce any urge someone might have to poke around. As I went for a swim, they all just stuck around. I didn’t want to lay down and have them all watch me fall asleep, so I stayed out on the beach about twenty feet away, where I could keep an eye on them and also look at the full moon rising. Eventually they left and I went to bed.
To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable with all this. I was thinking that maybe I should have splurged on a hotel room or stayed with those people from the orphanage. But I had a plan if anybody came poking around at night. My halogen head lamp is blindingly bright and I had my Gerber survival knife by my side. If I could just create a little confusion long enough to give a yell, all those people from the village would come running. Besides the motorcycle, I didn’t have much else that was worth very much. No credit card, and just enough cash to get by, and a little extra stashed in my shoes.
At some point, I awoke to the sound of a motorcycle, possibly the guy that lead me to this trap. I reached for my light, and my movement must have scared him off because the motorcycle turned around and left.
A couple of hours later I awoke, not to the sound of a single robber, but to the sight of a mob brandishing flashlights and guns. Then, I hear in the commotion, “Police, come out!”. Still coming out of my sleepy fog, a little confused. I made my way out of my mosquito net contraption and tried to explain myself in French. They took the papers for the bike and inspected the serial number. They took my drivers license and ordered me to pack my stuff up. Then they said “The key!” They took the key to the bike! I was lead to the back of the police truck. I was going to jail.