Sunday, June 16, 2019

UCNH guest house

UCNH has a guest house for visiting professors and other people working with the university. I lived in the house for 5 months and saw many groups come and go with expectations that didn’t match the reality of the accommodations. It’s a great place to stay and your visit will be more enjoyable if you know what to expect. This is about the ranch house near the provost’s and president’s houses.

The house has 2 guest bedrooms with 2-3 single beds per room, 1 shared bathroom with indoor plumbing & flush toilet, kitchen with propane stove and refrigerator/freezer, dining room, and living room. Electricity is provided by a campus generator that runs approximately 7a – 11p most days. Rooms have ceiling fans (which won’t run once the generators turn off for the night). If you need electricity for a CPAP or other necessity, make sure your host knows before your visit to allow time for other arrangements. No internet – ask your host to provide a temporary hotspot.

The campus generator runs the water pump for the entire campus. No generator means no water, so prepare accordingly – take showers when generators are on. Keep bathroom buckets full of water, always! It takes not having water only once to remind you to keep them full. There is usually no hot water in the shower.

Don’t use the tap water for drinking or brushing your teeth. Drinking water comes from a biosand filter that is filled from the taps. It is safe – and avoids using individual plastic water bottles that just add to Haiti’s trash problem. Use the provided water filtration supplies, keep them clean, and make sure the blue jugs are kept full. Running low with no electricity to fill the filter is a quick lesson about being vigilant to keep the jugs full. Don’t use this precious filtered water for anything but drinking. Dishes are cleaned with water straight from the tap, followed by a rinse in bleach water.

The kitchen stove is propane, which is supplied in tanks brought from a larger town. Conserve fuel and don’t use it to heat bathing water. We need to cook food more than we need to have hot water for bathing. If your hosts arrange it, cooks will provide your meals. You can also buy snacks at the snack shop or off the street outside the university gate.

Towels and sheets are provided, and you should be able to find a mosquito net to hang over your bed, bring your own to be certain (leave it behind to make room for souvenirs). Toilet paper is provided sparsely – remind the house manager (not me!) often and early! Bring everything else you will need: toiletries, snacks, sun screen, bug spray, reusable water bottle, coffee if you want it before the cooks arrive in the morning.

The house has a beautiful yard and a front porch to enjoy the flowers and birds. See my other posts for things to see and do on campus and in the community.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Village of Labadie Haiti

Approaching Labadie Village
A nice surprise near (1 hr walk) from Cormier Plage is the Haitian village of Labadie. Moto or walk up the curvy paved road from the hotel (away from Cap) and you’ll reach the top of the hill that overlooks the private cruiseship Labadee Resort. The guard let me in to look at birds and take pictures. Then walk downhill and you’ll follow a high fence on the right to keep guests in the resort, and a nice wooded area on the left where you can do some birding. Keep walking to the water taxis, little boats that will take you to the actual village of Labadie. I think it cost around 100gd to hire one privately to take the 2 of us to the village. On the way back we waited for the boat to fill with other travelers and it was much cheaper. There were some larger motor boats too – perhaps they can be rented to go to some nearby islands.

Water taxis to go to Labadie Village
Labadie is a small quiet fishing village tucked into the forested hillside. I walked around with a friend to look at birds, but we didn’t eat or linger long. It would be a nice place to spend a morning or afternoon. If you are comfortable eating Haitian street food you could eat and drink there and hang out by the water. I didn’t see any other foreigners and kids were eager to say hi. Some people have kayaks so perhaps you could rent one. There seemed to be 2 hotels along the hillside between the village and mainland taxi stop. Here is another blogger's post about Labadee/ie.
A small cave!

The mainland taxi station.

Water project in Labadie Village funded by the Royal Caribbean Cruiseships

Hotel Cormier Plage Cap Haitien Haiti

My favorite place to stay in Cap Haitien is Cormier Plage, whose beautiful grounds have a variety of birds, plants, and reptiles, and sit along a clean swimmable beach. Bring snorkel gear! There is a small reef where you can see sea urchins and colorful fish, and next door is a coral restoration group Amiga Island that also offers snorkeling trips at a nearby island. The paved road to the hotel follows the north coast out of Cap – watch for signs for forts.

Someone's anchor
The hotel room had a ceiling fan and AC and patio. I didn’t notice hot water (I forgot to check since I don’t have it at home). The room electricity is off during the day which I think is great for conservation. You can charge electronics at the restaurant/bar right along the beach where you should be anyway. The room price included a breakfast of coffee, juices, bread, and fruit, as well as a selection of eggs, oatmeal, and other food from a menu. Lunch and dinner ranges from pricey to cheaper sandwiches, and even omelettes (which took a while to make!). Try the rhum banana for dessert! Avoid the conch (lambi) which is over harvested and avoid lobster during the reproductive season (March - June), or there won’t be any more next year! 

A 40 minute walk up hill on the main road you’ll come to an overlook of the private Labadee cruise ship port – complete with roller coaster and zipline for resort guests. Turn left and walk downhill to get to water taxis that will take you to the actual village of Labadie (see this post for more).

Gate from main road

View from balcony

Breakfast before I knew we could also choose from a menu!
Just one page of the large lunch and dinner menu.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Chocolate making tour

Roasting cacao seeds
An ecology student showed me how chocolate is made, from picking the pods, to drying and roasting the beans, and grinding them into what we would call pure chocolate. Finally we made it into the hot chocolate drink people enjoy here. Everything took place within walking distance of UCNH university near Limbe. Let me know if you would like to set up a tour! See this blog for how to identify the 3 varieties.

Drying the cacao beans

Grinding the cacao beans
Resulting balls of cacao which are boiled to make hot chocolate.
Boiling the ground chocolate in water, before adding milk and sugar to make a drink.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Casa Cubuy Puerto Rico

I took a week off from Haiti to attend a BirdsCaribbean shorebird workshop in Puerto Rico, and ended up staying an extra 4 days as political protests in Haiti grew and shut down the country. The stay included 2 nights at a really cool lodge called Casa Cubuy on the south side of the El Yunque National Forest. I didn’t have much time to research my extra stay in PR, and am glad I ended up here. The owners were kind enough to email and call me with directions. The narrow windy road up to the lodge is scenic. Follow the directions on the website, and look for the last yellow building on the right. There is parking on the downhill side of the lodge, but no sign with the name. When I arrived a bit frazzled from deciding to head back to the US instead of Haiti, the owner Michael invited me into the kitchen and offered me a glass of wine and sliced up a mango for me.

My room was spacious, with 3 beds, 2 little desks, a ceiling fan, and a bathroom with hot water. The balcony overlooked the forest and cascade that sits below the lodge, and had a little table and chairs. It was very relaxing to hear the coqui frogs and cascade at night. I brought food for my lunch and dinner as the closest place for meals was 20 minutes away (the town of Naguabo off Hwy 53 has gas, grocery store, and restaurants). The kitchen has a large refrigerator for guests to use. They will make lunches for guests for $10, either to take on a hike or eat at the hotel.

Breakfast isn't served until 9am, so I missed it the first morning as I hired a guide for birding. The 2nd morning I got to see what I missed out on – a family-style breakfast with the other guests, with lots of fruit, juice, and coffee, and wonderful oatmeal, eggs, and hash browns made by the owner.

Casa Cubuy is in the national forest and has a short path to the cascade below that has pools deep enough for swimming. The road past the lodge gave me a chance to do some birding, and I heard that at the end of the road are paths into the forest. Unfortunately my stay wasn’t long enough to explore those.

The only drawback to Casa Cubuy was the 40 minute drive back to the area that had beaches and more parks and tourist attractions (around Fajardo). A longer stay at the casa would have been ideal, with a couple day-trips to other attractions. Also I am an early morning person so waiting until 9am for breakfast was inconvenient, so worth a longer stay to have mornings to enjoy that.

Here are the birds I saw just from the road, with links to eBird. Also, I was told the guesthouse downhill has hummingbirds.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

List of UCNH birds

45 species of birds seen on and around UCNH campus as of 24 Apr. 2019.
Helmeted Guineafowl
Plain Pigeon
Common Ground-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Smooth-billed Ani
Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo
Antillean Palm-Swift
Antillean Mango
Vervain Hummingbird
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Glossy Ibis
Red-tailed Hawk
Broad-billed Tody
Antillean Piculet
Hispaniolan Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Hispaniolan Parakeet
Gray Kingbird
Stolid flycatcher
Loggerhead Kingbird
Black-whiskered Vireo
Palm Crow
White-necked Crow
swallow sp.
Northern Mockingbird
Black-crowned Palm-Tanager
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Greater Antillean Bullfinch
House Sparrow
Village Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia

Agroforestry tours at UCNH Haut Limbe

In addition to the many species of birds found at and around Université Chrétienne du Nord d'Haïti (UCNH) in Haut Limbe (east of Limbe), visitors can learn about the agriculture in the area, including cacao - the source of chocolate, and bananas and plantains. There are many groves of each in the area, and the denser cacao groves host many species of birds, including: common yellowthroat, yellow-throated, black-throated blue, and Cape May warblers during the winter; broad-billed todys, Hispaniolan lizard-cuckoos and Antillean bullfinches, and the endangered plain pigeon. 

Chocolate is made from cacao seeds which are found in pods that grow directly on the trunks and branches of the cacao tree (a habit known as cauliflory which is common among tropical trees). All three varieties can be seen, even in the same grove. Criollo, supposed to make the best quality of chocolate, but susceptible to disease, is identified by reddish podsForastero, more productive but not as flavorful, is identified by longer grooved pods. The hybrid of these, Trinitario, combines these two qualities, and is identifies by its stouter warty pods.

You will also learn to identify the differences between plantain plants, which are starchy and boiled or fried, and the sweeter banana plants. Plantain leaves are a lighter green and have a pink edge, and the bunches are looser. They grow better in the sun. Banana leaves are slightly darker, have a thinner browner edge, and the bunches are tighter.

Contact me if you would like a tour to see birds, agriculture, or chocolate making. Please be considerate and ask your guide before taking photos of people.

Yellow-throated warbler
Trinitario the hybrid



Banana left, plantain right with pinker wider edging