Last week, 30 days had passed since my last mental health break. Without actually counting the days, I could tell it was time for me to spend some time away from Leogane. But because I’m leaving soon, it didn’t make much sense for me to spend the minimum required three nights off base. So instead, I decided to take a day off, and spend it in Jacmel.
Given my previous near-death experience with Jacmel, I was nervous and anxious about traveling there again. But having survived much longer and more arduous tap tap rides to Île á Vache and Port Salut, I felt confident that I could survive a return trip to Jacmel. Besides, I really enjoyed the city when Jessica and I went in November, and I didn’t want fear to stop me from going back.
So early Saturday morning, another volunteer, Kisa, and I made our way to the bus station in downtown Leogane. Once there, we decided to take a moto taxi for 50 gourdes each (a little over $1 US) to the bus station in Carrefour Kolas. After waiting about 20 minutes, a van finally pulled up. It was already packed with people, but the driver insisted there was room for us. As I looked inside at the overcrowded, stuffy van, I had flashbacks to the Blue Bird bus ride from hell. I asked if another tap tap or van was coming. The driver said there were manifestations in Port-au-Prince, so we’d have to wait. (I’d later learn that many drivers and riders were upset over the government’s decision to increase fuel prices, which disrupted transportation.) Just as we decided to squeeze on board, the driver informed us that there was no more room. I breathed a sigh of relief.
After waiting a few more minutes, Kisa and I decided to take a moto to Jacmel. We knew it’d be more expensive than a tap tap or van, but it’d be faster, more fun and less crowded. With an idea of how much we were willing to pay in mind, I approached a driver and asked how much he’d charge to drive the two of us to Jacmel. He replied 500 gourdes, and didn’t appear to be in the mood to negotiate. So I went to another driver. He gave me the same price. When I stared at him blankly, he asked how much we wanted to pay. I offered 300 gourdes and he declined. So we compromised at 400 gourdes ($10 US). After giving the driver the speech I give all moto drivers (“Don’t go too fast and be careful because I don’t want to die. Do you want to die?”), we were on our way.
The moto ride through the mountains to Jacmel was spectacularly amazing. The majority of the ride was smooth and relaxing. There were only a few times that either I gasped or held my breath for a moment.
The beach in downtown Jacmel, much like the one in the Leogane, is filled with trash and other debris. So once we arrived in downtown Jacmel, I asked our moto driver to take us to Hotel de L’Amite just outside of Cayes Jacmel in Marigot. Because our final destination was several kilometers beyond the city center, we ended up paying 600 gourdes total ($15 US). Still a good deal, in my opinion.
As soon I stepped onto the white sandy beach at L’Amite and gazed out into the turquoise blue sea, I knew I’d made the right decision in taking the day off. I instantly relaxed and breathed in the fresh air. For the next couple of hours, I soaked in the sun’s rays and waded the warm water.
For lunch, Kisa and I made our way to Cayes Jacmel where we stopped at the Hotel Cyvadier’s restaurant. We sat at a table overlooking the hotel’s small beach cove. While we waited for our food to arrive, we sipped on delicious rum punches and enjoyed great conversation. Our bellies full, we made our way to a fast food restaurant called Epi Jacmel for dessert: ice cream. I selected the 8 oz cherry flavor, and ate every single ounce. (My tummy was later angry with me, but it was so worth it.)
Next, we went exploring in downtown Jacmel, where we stumbled upon a boutique selling jewelry and home decor items. The store (unfortunately, I don’t remember the name) had some of the most beautiful handmade, hand-painted merchandise I’ve seen in Haiti. I wanted to buy almost everything they had, but settled on a ring made of recycled paper.
After briefly browsing around a papier mâché shop, we walked along the beach. The trash on the beach contrasted with the beauty of it is something that’s difficult for me to wrap my head around. I realize there’s no waste management system in Haiti, but Jacmel is supposed to be more “progressive” and touristy than other parts of the country. So to see the amount of trash on what could be a really beautiful beach is disheartening. I don’t understand why the local government or private citizens can’t come together to clean it up. But I have digressed.
As our last and final stop of the day, we went to the historic Hotel Florita. Originally built in 1888, the Hotel Florita is architecturally stunning. It has exposed brick walls, arched doorways, large iron doors and beautiful artwork everywhere you look. While Kisa and I enjoyed another rum punch, we marveled at our surroundings. There are lots of images out there of Haiti. They’re usually quite negative and focus on activities occurring in the capital. But Haiti is much more than just Port-au-Prince. I wish more people could see and experience the other side of Haiti…the beautiful, magical side of the country. On the other hand, perhaps it’s best that the masses stay away and leave the rest of us to enjoy the unspoiled beauty. But again, I have digressed.
Just as the sun was beginning to set, we started making our way back to Leogane, smooshed in the cab of a mini-truck with two other people (including the driver). The ride wasn’t nearly as relaxing as the moto ride mainly because it was dark, so the bright lights from the oncoming traffic was blinding. But it still wasn’t as scary as the previous “incident”. And for that, I was grateful.