Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hiking in Haiti - La Citadelle

La Citadelle and Sans-Souci – Milot, Haiti - 10/28/12 – 3 Miles

How did I jump from the Great Smoky Mountains to Haiti?  Kind of a short story.  My church put together a mission trip to Haiti and I joined in.  One of the best leaps of faith I’ve ever taken.

Our group of two women and seven men flew from Charlotte to Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti to spend a week doing light construction work and helping with a food distribution program for the elderly in a remote part of the country.  Life is so different there, each day felt like ten days, as every experience was unlike what happens in the U.S.  Taking a (cold) outside shower meant hoping that the neighbors next door (the U.N.) haven’t accidentally shut off the electricity that pumps the water supply.  Riding into town to buy food meant hopping on the back of an open flat bed truck and hanging on for dear life, exchanging money, negotiating to buy bags of rice or beans in a marketplace filled with sights, sounds, smells you don’t encounter at your local grocery store.  Going for a walk along the road brought us into contact with the family cows being walked home for the night, motorcycles with five people hanging on (including little kids), passing cemeteries with above-ground crypts with burnt chicken parts on top.  There is an order amidst the chaos, much poverty, and abundant grace.

Our group put together a video of our experiences in Haiti that you can see here.  It is worth the 12 minutes.  You should be able to recognize me – the one with the white skin and white hair.  I’m sure some of the Haitians thought I was albino. 

After a rousing worship service on our Sunday there, we spent the afternoon exploring La Citadelle, a mighty fortress high on a mountain outside the remote town of Milot.  After driving several miles up the mountain on a restored stone-and-concrete road, we parked our truck, navigated through the Haitians selling souvenirs and offering to be tour guides, and walked the last couple of miles.

Our trusted transportation for the week

Lush Haitian countryside

Walking up the mountain with lots of enthusiastic “guides” who would not take no for an answer.  Eventually I gave in and chatted with the two who had singled me out, flanking me like bodyguards.  They were very nice teenage boys, this is the only way they have of earning money, and they’ve picked up several languages.  Interestingly, they are not allowed inside the fortress.  It’s not exactly open to the public.

Banana trees everywhere

La Citadelle is the largest fortress in the Americas and is designated as a World Heritage Site. It has become an icon of Haiti and some call it the 8th wonder of the world. It was built by Henri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, after Haiti gained independence from France in the early 1800's (somewhere during the time of the construction Christophe helped assassinate the emperor and declare himself king of the northern half of Haiti.) The site could be a tremendous tourism draw if Haiti can ever attract tourists.  It sits on the top of Bonnet a L'Eveque Mountain.

A guard station on the road up to the fortress (I think).  See the sharp mountains in the center back- ground?  On the other side of them is the town of Milot, where we spent most of our time.

Our translator/ guide/ friend Jacqueline (on the left) gave us a personal tour of the interior of La Citadelle.  Don’t know how he got the keys.

La Citadelle was fortified with 350 cannons, never actually used. 

Like I said, it’s technically not open to the public.  A few safety issues need to be addressed. 

Looking 300 feet straight down.

Piles of cannonballs – too heavy to be souvenirs – not like picking up rocks on the trail.

About as high as we could get

Piles of cannonballs in the lower right

After La Citadelle we walked back down to our truck (passing through the vendors again) and drove back down and around the mountains to Milot.  At the edge of town sits the ruins of Sans-Souci Palace, one of nine palaces owned by the same Henri Christophe and built while La Citadelle was being constructed. This sits at the bottom of the mountain right at the end of the street in Milot. It is another tourist gem and in its day was referred to as the equivalent of the Palace of Versailles in France.  Henri committed suicide here in 1820. The palace was largely destroyed by a big earthquake in 1842.  This photo is the back side of the palace.

Walking up the back steps of Sans-Souci Palace

The remains of the front gardens and buildings

Sans-Souci Palace

Looking through a doorway at the town of Milot

A Catholic church and the town of Milot at the bottom of the curved roadway behind the palace

A sculpture of Henry’s wife, Queen Marie-Louise, on the palace grounds. She and her daughters were "escorted" from the palace along with the king's corpse.  They returned to France.

This was one short afternoon in our week-long visit in Haiti.  We met wonderful, friendly, genuine, gentle, gracious people who tolerated our lack of their language and treated us warmly.  I was very glad to return to my physical comforts at the end of our week, and I think about our friends with little shelter and even less food, realizing what I take for granted, and am humbled.  My life is easier mostly because of an accident of birth.  I hope to visit again in the next couple of years.  I fear that little will have changed, because the problems of corrupt governments and generations of poverty are not overcome in so short a time.  But someday wouldn’t it be wonderful if tourism could be ignited in Haiti and you could all go to see La Citadelle?

Never know when you’re making a memory; they will wish they was here together again someday ~ Rickie Lee Jones

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the posts. I hope to visit one day soon.