Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Southern Claw, May 2013

Last week I went on a work trip out to the southwestern tip of Haiti. We were based in a city called Les Cayes (lay kai), one of Haiti's larger cities. Most of our work was in the smaller towns around the city. The southern "claw" of Haiti is one of the greenest and most productive regions of the country; it is still, however, desperately poor. I don't know that I've ever seen so many ribs and hip bones sticking through the skin of so many animals: cows, donkeys, horses, dogs -- very few animals looked like they got enough to eat. The scenery, on the other hand, is breathtaking. There are lots of mountains and valleys, and on the main highway you can crest a hill and suddenly be looking down at a place that looks nearly untouched by people. Closer inspection, of course, reveals significant human intervention, but the view from above is quite surprising.

Throughout Haiti, motorcycles and motorbikes are very common, and Les Cayes is no exception. Motorcycles are seen as multi-person transport, and they often serve as a family's only vehicle. I saw four small children and one grown man on a motorbike (but didn't get the picture). A lot of people seemed to have helmets, relative to Port-au-Prince, but the vast majority do not.

Street scenes from Les Cayes.

Just outside of the city is a place called La Gelee. There are a bunch of little seafood restaurants and shacks serving shrimp, lobster, and Haiti's favorite, conch. The little bridge crosses a freshwater lagoon and goes out to a sand spit.

Looking roughly west from La Gelee towards the last southern-reaching headland on the island.

Looking roughly south from La Gelee towards Ile a Vache (Cow Island), a very posh resort destination in its early days and reported to be the operations base for the pirate/ privateer Henry Morgan, way back in the day.

Old church bells in Petit Goave, a city celebrating 350 years of existence in 2013.

St Anne's church, Anse-a-Veau. I love the pink and turquoise on these country churches.

We took a very bumpy and long road out to Fond des Blancs (basically means "White People's Valley"). There is a Fond des Negres (Black People's Valley) just down the road. The Haitian attitude towards skin color is quite different from U.S. attitudes to skin color, but that doesn't mean racism and classism aren't alive and well here.

This gorgeous tree is on the road to the little beach town of Morency, which is east of Les Cayes. The next several photos are from the same road. It crosses a tall and broad ridge and offers spectacular views in all directions.

Looking roughly north, returning from Morency to the main road.

The Haitian countryside is littered with little churches in varying states of repair. This one was charming in its lopsidedness.

There are family burial plots all over the Haitian countryside, and this one is representative if rather striking in its location.

And a happy little donkey keeps watch over it all. Donkeys are shopping trolleys here, and you see them on the road very often, loaded down with baskets of food or firewood, or other goods. I also saw a donkey carrying four little kids back from school - they were all in their pink uniforms, and the donkey looked almost dignified.

From the top of the Morency road, looking roughly south out to sea. The long island is Ile a Vache.

The little town of Morency is right on the beach, and the road transitions from gravel to sand. All the houses we saw were single story with tin roofs, and all the property demarcations were done with hedges of succulents.

The main street, I think, driving into Morency.

The next photos are from the road heading west out of Les Cayes towards idyllic beach resort town of Port Salut. We visited Port Salut briefly, but most of our work lay in smaller towns well off the main road. I don't know if this house is a ruin or if it was never finished. There were certainly squatters living in parts of it. I love the trees growing out of the porch roof on the left side!

Looking roughly northwest towards what might be Pic Macaya (Macaya Peak). Rice is still grown in Haiti, though national production and food self-sufficiency have been fatally undercut by imports from the U.S. and now Vietnam.

The road from the main highway to the little town of Torbeck ends dramatically in the ocean. Look at the color of that water!

Torbeck has a library/ internet site in a lovely old building. As Ian pointed out, however, there do not seem to be any power lines going into the building, so it's a little hard to say what powers the internet.

This river is not choked with trash. I wouldn't drink the water, but it's a relief to see a waterway that is not choked with styrofoam and plastic bags.

This is a much more common state of affairs for rivers in Haiti. Obviously this river is running through a town and backs up against a market, but this is much more standard.

Precarious living is the norm in Haiti, from location and construction of houses to motorcycle helmets to highway transportation. We saw lots of buses with people and goods stacked up on the roof as the buses tried to make record time up and down the winding mountain roads. Young Haitian men seem to have mastered the art of nonchalance while clinging to moving vehicles.

I found this cow particularly stunning, though you can see her hips sticking out rather more than they should.

This is an important secondary road leading to one of the smaller towns outside of Les Cayes. It was relatively well maintained, though it was definitely quite bumpy.

We forded a river in a beautiful place. It was fine, but I cannot believe it would be possible after a heavy rain.

We drove out to Port Salut one afternoon, and it was lovely. Port Salut faces more or less southwest (towards Jamaica), and it has long been a watering hole. Ian and I plan to go and stay for a long weekend sometime soon!

Boats off the public beach at Port Salut.

There is a great new road cut through magnificent pink rocks near Petite Riviere de Nippes. The pink rocks, blue sky, and turquoise ocean make for a stunning palette!

There's a big dock and a customs shed at the end of the new road. The land on the horizon is Ile la Gonave.

We passed several markets in different places, and this one attracted my attention because, while there were lots of buses and some pick-ups, there were many horses and donkeys used to cart goods home.

One small woman, many large baskets. Since she's selling baskets, I think these baskets are empty.

Back to Port-au-Prince and the insanity of tap-taps (public micro buses that are pick-ups with modified canopies) with young men hanging precariously out the back. This tap-tap is, I think, an Isuzu pick-up from the mid-90s. Port-au-Prince looked even dustier and more crowded than usual after the green and clean of the south! Still, it was good to be home.

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