Saturday, December 22, 2012

Things to see in Camp Perrin

The electric plant along a beautiful stream.
Camp Perrin is about 1/2 hour from Les Cayes and well worth the trip.  Here are some things to see.
1. Etang Lachaux - Hunting and fishing is banned at this lake.  It was stocked with fish, and once the fish are large enough fishing will be allowed with special nets that allow the small fish to escape.  Way to go Minister of the Environment for the South Dept.!
2. The water fall at Saut Mathurine.  Bring your swim suit and a picnic.  There is also a little souvenir booth near it.
3. The electric plant down the road from the falls, along a beautiful rocky stream.
4. The NGO Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment (ORE) - visit the bamboo grove and mango dehydrating facility.

Contact me if you would like directions to these places.

No fishing or hunting at Etang Lachaux.

Etang Lachaux

New road to Camp Perrin along Etang Lachaux.

The waterfall Saut Mathurine.

Entrance to Saut Mathurine waterfall.
Bamboo at ORE.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Haitian board game Rhum, Rom

The standard-sized board.
Here in Cayes many people sit outside their house playing a game called rhum or rom (pronounced waom), on homemade boards.  Ashley’s friends made one for her, then I commissioned one small enough to fit in my suitcase.  The idea is to be the first to move all 4 of your pieces around the board and into the center, before someone lands on your spot and sends you back to the start (or eats your piece).  You roll two die, and need a 5 to move out of your starting block and onto the board.  Play continues around the board, moving the number of spaces you rolled on the 2 dice (i.e. a 4 and a 5, you can move 9 spaces with one piece, or 4 with one and 5 with another).  The exception is if you roll a 6 you move 12 places.  If you roll two 6’s, you immediately roll again.  If this second roll results in two 6’s, your piece that is furthest ahead (but not up your alley on the way home?) goes all the way back to the beginning.  You always have to move the maximum spaces possible, even if it puts you in a bad position.

5 moved the piece out to the green space, then it moved 4.

There are colored spaces in which you are safe (green or red in these photos).  No one else can land on these spaces while you are there.  So the goal is to move from colored space to colored space to make it home safely.  The only time you can eat someone on a colored space is if they are on the one at your starting block and you roll a 5 to get out.  These colored spaces are 5 or 7 spaces apart, which make moving quick since you shouldn’t need to count every space when you move.  The Haitians can move quickly around the board, I still need to take my time and count the spaces.

You can also block other players by having 2 of your pieces on the same space.  The only way someone can pass these is if they also have 2 pieces on the same space and roll the same number on both dice to land on your 2 pieces, as long as your 2 pieces aren’t safe on a colored space.  If an opponent's block is on your starting space, you can eat both pieces by rolling a 5 to get out.

Post comments if you know about this game!

Update - This game is parcheesi!  With differences in how the dice are counted.  I also found it referred to as Haitian Lotto or Haitian Parcheesi, with one being sold as "Handpainted. 'VooDoo Eye' motif. Oil on board. c. 1970's. 28" x 28". Provenance: The Ute Stebich Collection. Est. $200 - $400. Ship: $35."

My rhum board made by Dervensky, complete with a bird.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ile a Vache Ecotours

Abaka Bay.
Yesterday my translator James and I went to Ile a Vache to scout it out for ecotours lead by AUC.  Ile a Vache is a large (2 mi x 8 mi) island off the coast of Les Cayes.  It is rather forested compared to the mainland, and the coastal waters are clear, good for swimming and snorkeling.  Once we plan an itinerary and formal tour, we will post it to the AUC Audubon Center website.

We got to Ile a Vache in a small wooden motor-powered boat, which had life jackets.  They gave us a plastic sheet to cover up so we didn’t get totally soaked with seaspray.  The boarding area in Les Cayes is super trashy – James had a talk with some people there about cleaning it up to attract more customers.  And you have to be carried out to the boat which is in waist deep trashy water.  If you are staying at a resort on the island, they come get you in a fancy boat that is covered in the lodging price.  For our ecotours we will arrange for customers to be picked up at the large dock nearby.

The boat dropped us off at Port Morgan resort, and from there we walked to two other hotels.  Here’s summary of the differences and benefits of them.  All three have a port for drop off and pick up by boat, and all 3 have restaurants.  Click on their name for their webpages.
Port Morgan – Has a nice pool.  Guest rooms are on a hill with a great view of the bay.  You walk down the hill to get to the beach.  Like Abaka Bay, they say you have to be a guest to rent kayaks and other equipment, but eating a meal there counts as being a guest and you can use the pool.
Abaka Bay – Rooms and the dining area are directly on the beach.  We rented kayaks here, $30US for 2 kayaks for 2 hours.  I took my snorkeling gear along in hopes of finding a reef, but there weren’t any right in the bay.  We’ll need to scout out snorkeling places for the ecotours.
Village Vacances – The simplest of the lodges and right on the beach.  Would appeal to people who want to have a palm beach to themselves and like simple accommodations, or for a team who wanted to rent an entire place for themselves.  Touted as an ecolodge.  They are planning on having kayaks. 

Port Morgan from the hotel rooms.
These lodges are all on the western end of the island where there are no roads.  You get from place to places on foot paths, and get to see Haitian life.  They are all within 40 minutes of each other.  The less adventurous (my non-ecologist friends!) would prefer Port Morgan or Abaka and could spend their entire time at those resorts.  Those who want to see Haiti and like hiking (my ecologist friends) could walk to all the resorts to visit, and might prefer Village Vacances.

Warning – prices are very high!  Meals are American prices ($10 for hamburger, $2 for a coke) and lodging at Morgan and Abaka is around $150 PER PERSON, even if you share rooms.  I suspect Village is cheaper.

The wharf in Les Cayes was super busy when the boat brought us back at 4pm.  This time the boat had 5 other customers on it.  I don’t think this mode of transportation is for the unadventurous – you sit low to the water and it seems kind of small and tippy.  The wharf was chaotic upon our return, lots of other small wooden boats trying to get close to shore.  Ours couldn’t get very close so we had to get into another one that was even ricketier, and it seemed to me pure chaos as we all jumped into the other boat, and as soon as we were near shore men whisked us onto shore on their backs.  That was the most stressful part of the trip, and I work on the water for my profession!  If the boat captains and workers came together they could pool resources to clean up the area and build a proper, safe dock.  In the meantime we won't be using that area for ecotours!

If you are interested in visiting Ile a Vache, contact me at naturesphoto at hotmail dot com and I’ll put you in touch with James who is an excellent translator and tour guide.
The boat ride to Ile a Vache which you can see in the background.

View of Abaka Bay.

Lunch at Abaka Bay.

The vache (cow) on Ile a Vache, with Abaka Bay in the background.
Village Vacances.

View down the beach from Village Vacances.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Busy teaching in Simon

John Kelly teaching about bats.

These past two weeks I have been busy teaching ecology in Simon, near Les Cayes.  Here are some pictures, check the AUC Audubon Center website for details.  We held two-hour workshops for high schoolers and primary school teachers in Simon.  Three teachers then invited us to their schools to teach in their class rooms.  James coordinated these visits, and students from Tropical Ecology helped and began teaching the classes.
James teaching at the high school student seminar.

Teacher seminar.

Dieubon and Pierre teaching at Lumiere et Vie.
Lumiere et Vie class with AUC students looking on.
Excelsior classroom building.

Adelin, a young student, Rodine, Dieubon, and James.

Rodine and Dieubon

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Les Cayes Gateway after Sandy

The first picture is the Les Cayes gateway as you enter the town coming from Port au Prince, taken when I arrived in August.  Note the 0 on the right.  The second picture is from the opposite side as you leave the city, taken a couple days ago from the end of the AUC driveway.  The same 0 is on the left - in its new position after Hurricane Sandy.
Aug. 2012, before Hurricane Sandy.

Nov.  2012, after Hurricane Sandy.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

From Cayes to Port au Prince, post Sandy.

In Haiti Nov. 1 and 2 are national holidays, so I took a short vacation back to the US to visit friends and family in PA.  The logistics are such that it is best to get back to Port the day before your international flight, and stay overnight.  The options for making this trip from Les Cayes are:
  • Charter a MAF flight for $500 or so, or if the timing is right, book a seat for $110 on a flight someone else has chartered.
  • Pay a private driver (a friend of a friend) around $250.
  • Pay $10 for a bus ride on Travel Chic or the bus that leaves from the Meridian Hotel.
I was nervous about taking a bus back to Port, picturing it to be crowded and driving too fast (I heard it takes 3.5 hours on the bus, when everyone else takes at least 4.5 hours).  But my friend Jehu saved me from that!  He is the brother-in-law of missionary friends in the Central Plateau, and took me on a tour of Port au Prince the week before the 2010 quake.  And he happened to be in the area and driving to Port the day I need to go.  So I rode in luxury in his giant cargo truck, high up in the passenger seat with a great view of the land.  And great view of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.

These pictures don’t do it justice.  I saw banana trees and corn fields flattened.  Water and mud on the road, high and very turbid rivers.  And this was 5 days after the hurricane left.  From our 3rd floor guest house in a strong concrete building, we had no idea of the havoc Sandy was wrecking on the country.  This article indicates that 70% of Cayes corn, bananas, and breadfruit crops were destroyed.  Haiti was already facing high food prices with the loss of US crops due to the drought this summer.

I also saw my first tire-burning protest, about an hour into our trip.  It was in an area where the river floods often, so may have been related to the government not doing anything about the flooding.  Or may have been about food prices.  We never found out.  But the police were out with their giant guns and Kevlar, and turned us back.  We waited it out at a convenience store, and were entertained by an older hippy-looking Haitian woman dancing with young men to the blaring music (Why do they need to blast music in the Caribbean?!  Even churches have giant speaker systems that make the service unpleasant.).

In Port I stay at the Matthew 25 House, a very relaxing oasis in the midst of dirty, crowded Port au Prince.  Arriving in Port after being in Les Cayes was a shock.  There was a brown haze of smoke, dirt, something over the city.  People still live in tents.  There’s shanties everywhere, a ton of trash along the road and in the river beds.

Fortunately MAF was flying to Cayes on my return, so I was able to make the 40 minute flight and had a great view of the southern peninsula and the very steep, deforested mountains (which of course the pictures don’t do justice).  I also saw the wide swaths where the flooded rivers had raged down the mountains, unimpeded by any riparian vegetation.  

Flooded field along National Rt 2.

Tire burning down the road (where the smoke is).

Police dealing with the protest.

Flooded National Rt 2.

Steep mountains on the Southern Plateau

River bed.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Mesay, Sharky, and Abu, and Hurricane Sandy

4 weeks old.
Rather than being thrown into the fiery furnace like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, our month-old orphan kittens Mesay, Sharky, and Abu survived their first hurricane safe in the third floor guest house.  Hurricane Sandy hit Jamaica earlier this week, and here in Cayes Haiti we have had heavy rain and winds for three straight days.  I haven’t left the building since Monday (today is Friday), but I heard that roads were flooded and power was out in town.  I was to take my two classes to the botanical garden this week.  Tuesday morning as it became apparent that the rain would not stop, that got changed to staying in and watching a movie (Medicine Man) during class.  It wasn’t until later in the day on Tuesday that we realized this was a major tropical storm and everyone needed to stay home.  But four ecology students showed up yesterday!  So we huddled around my netbook and watched the 1992 movie starring Sean Connery as a researcher on the brink of discovering the cure for cancer in a rain forest about to get bulldozed for a logging road.

A couple Haitians that I don’t really know texted me to see if I was ok during the storm.  One even asked if I was scared!  Which put into perspective how they must be viewing the storm verses how we are, all safe in our concrete building.  Watching movies, making pizza, snuggling the luckiest kittens in Haiti.

For more details about how Sandy has affected Haiti, visit this post by a friend who lives in Port au Prince.

My favorite, Mesay, named after her mom Day-o.

At the pizza restaurant with Uncle Earl - 3 weeks.

2.5 weeks old.