Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Citadelle in Haiti

I finally got to visit Haiti’s famous Citadelle, the fort built on top of a mountain by Henri Christophe in 1820.  It is near Cap Haitien which now has international flights, and the road is paved, so is easy to get to.  From Cap Haitien drive south on National Route 3 to the town of Milot.  Drive through town, and past the Palace Sans Souci (Perhaps first visit this palace since the Citadelle is grander.  Don’t buy all your souvenirs here, there’s more at the Citadelle).  The road to the Citadelle is paved with rocks and is steep.  You’ll eventually come to the parking lot where there are flush toilets and sinks, souvenir booths, a police station, and what seems to be a new visitor center.

You can either walk or ride horses.  Going up took about 40 minutes on horseback.  A friend is working with the horse guides and owners to get better saddles and treatment for the horses and much improvement has been made, so I didn’t feel badly about riding a horse.  A guide will lead the horse up the trail, and occasionally take pictures for you.  But also other people will come along coaxing the horse or ‘helping’ you and expecting a tip!

At the Citadelle you dismount and tell the horse guy if you’ll walk or ride back.  There are also women here selling cold pop and water and snacks (bring small bills to pay them).  Then a guide will take you all over the Citadelle explaining what everything is.  Near the end of the 2 hour tour is a modern bathroom (leave some money for the lady who cleans it).  There is also a new museum with lots of cannons, and a restaurant is being built.

The walk back down to the parking lot is easy and only about 40 minutes.  There is also a short cut near the little building right before the Citadelle.  The path isn’t any faster than walking the paved road, but you see cool rocks and are amongst the trees.  It is tricky to navigate since you are going down over rocks.  The guide will help you. 

The visit cost $25.  Because someone else made all the arrangements, including paying the guides and driving, my group and I were free from the hassle of many people trying to be our guides, and hangers-on wanting tips for ‘helping.’ The women selling souvenirs were really pushy, you just have to say no and walk on.  At the very end when we were in the truck about to leave, a bunch came over offering their wares for super cheap, so I got two of the bird carvings I had been eyeing for $5 total!  The lady had asked for $15 each when I was in her booth.

After the trip read the historical fiction about this time period, The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier.  Here is someone else's blog about his Citadelle visit.
The road through Milot. The dome is on a church that is next to Palace Sans Souci.
The road to the Citadelle, coming from Milot.
The parking lot and where you get on the horses.
The ride up to the Citadelle.
Start of the shortcut down.
Steep shortcut.
Walking down from the Citadelle.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Papaye Haiti - Casava, jelly, cabbage, and a church

After leaving Hinche, the road to Bassin Zim goes through Papaye.  After making a left at the major fork in the road, look for Terezya on the left.  Make a stop to buy some cassava bread, jellies, and wine made by the Little Sisters and Little Brothers of St. Teresa, and see how it is made.  I’ve seen their yellow jars of jelly in supermarkets.  You can also see their biogas pigs and tilapia ponds.

Farther down the road is the place mentioned on the big sign at the fork in the road, Lakay Sant Nasyonal Fòmasyon Kad Payizan, which seems to be an agricultural education center for farmers (peasants).  They were growing a lot of cabbage, had charcoal briquettes made from cow manure, goats were in raised pens instead of wandering around eating everything, and were raising tilapia.  There was also a composting toilet with detailed instructions. 

Cassava mill at Terezya.
Our final stop of the day was at a retirement center for priests, le centre Emmaüs à Papaye.  The landscaping was beautiful and then we went into the church.  They had upholstered chairs!  Just like in the US!  The church was beautiful, but the chairs made me envious.   I suddenly was not in Haiti anymore.  You have to go up a flight of steps to get into the church – I hope all the retired priests can make it up!

Lakay Sant Nasyonal Fòmasyon Kad Payizan

Charcoal from cow poop.

Tilapia pond.

How to use the composting toilet.

The retirement center for priests.

Fountain outside of the church.
Upholstered chairs!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bassin Zim Haiti

I took my ecology class on a field trip to Bassin Zim in Haiti’s Central Plateau.  The road to it is in Hinche off of National Route #3.  At the last big bridge as you are heading out of town toward Pignon, on the Pignon side of the bridge look for the road that goes to the east (marked 308 in google earth).  Take this road until you come to a fork with a large sign for a peasant organization, it has the word LAKAY on it.  Take the road to the left and keep going through Papaye.  You’ll eventually see a green sign for the falls, and the road gets rocky and steeper going downhill, until it ends at the parking lot for Bassin Zim.  It might be ½ hour from the highway, but we kept making stops so I lost track (see this post for the stops).  You can see the basin in aerial maps, in google earth search Bassin Zim, Centre, Haiti.

We paid 25 goudes each to enter, and as soon as we started walking a bunch of kids came and 2 latched on to me as my guides (even though I was with 12 university students).  They helped me on some of the rockier parts of the trail and across the stream up to the cave.  I gave them each $1US at the end.

The basin at the base of the falls isn't ideal for swimming since the force of the water creates a whirlpool with debris swirling in it.  Downstream where it becomes a stream might have been ok, but there were women washing clothes at the edge of the pool.  A bunch of UN soldiers from Uruguay were having a party there and had inflatable tubes, so they must have been swimming.

The walk up to the cave is relatively easy, up steps and across a small stream.  Wear shoes you can get wet.  At the first landing you can see the basin from above and several pools leading down to it.  There is also a small alcove with stalagmites and stalactites and what looks like voudou activity.  Get back on the steps and keep going up to the main cave.  There the small stream starts from a pool that has little fish.  There are wasp nests all over the wall of the cave, as well as swallow nests.  Shine a flashlight into the cavern that is farther in and you’ll see bats.  We didn’t climb up into the cavern, so I don’t know where it leads.  The child guides knew where to spot boas in the trees.

I would like to visit Bassin Zim again with fewer people, no “guides,” and spend some time birding and exploring the streams!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nou bezwen pwoteje zwazo yo! We need to protect birds!

This fall I have returned to the schools that I began teaching in 2009.  I go from class to class to teach that hawks (malfini) eat rats, parakeets (perich) drop seeds and reforest Haiti, and hummingbirds (wanga neges) pollinate flowers.  The first time I went to the schools all the students said they do not like hawks because hawks eat chickens.  Now nearly all the kids said they like the hawks!  And the first time around nearly all said they crush the nests.  Now they all say they protect the birds and the nests!   That is 556 kids who now like hawks and protect birds and nests!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hike to the cave

Boa hiding near the cave.
Saturday morning bird guide Louiders led my ecology students and me on a 5-hour hike to the cave Vout Santi that I blogged about here.  Along the way we saw many birds, a working sugar cane mill, people cutting trees, and charcoal being made.  Here are some pictures.

Cutting sugar cane for a snack.
Cattle turning the sugar cane mill.
On the way to the cave.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Caiman Birds 2014

Here are the birds I saw in Caiman in fall 2014.  See this post for information about spotting the rare plain pigeon.  * indicates endemics to Hispaniola.

English name Creole name Scientific name Oct. 2014 Nov. 2014
·  Antillean Mango  Wanga Nègès  Anthracothorax dominicus x x
·  Vervain Hummingbird  Wanga Nègès  Mellisuga minima x  
·  Hispaniolan Parakeet*  Parich  Aratinga chloroptera   4
·  Cattle Egret  Krabye  Bulbulcus ibi x x
·  Plain Pigeon  Ramye  Columa inornata 2 2
·  Common Ground Dove  Zotolon  Columbina passerina x x
·  White-necked Crow*  Kaw  Corvus leucognaphalus x x
·  Hispaniolan Palm Crow*  Ti kaw  Corvus palmarum x x
·  Smooth-billed Ani  Boustabak  Crotophaga ani   x
·  Greater Antillean Grackle  Mèl Diab  Quiscalus niger x  
·  Prairie Warbler  Ti Tchit Zèl Jon  Dendroica discolor   x
·  Cape May Warbler    Setophaga tigrin x x
·  Black and White Warbler  Ti Tchit Demidèy  Mniotilta varia x x
·  Palm Warbler  Ti Tchit Palmis  Dendroica palmarum x  
·  Ovenbird  Ti Tchit Dore Seiurus aurocapilla x  
·  American Redstart  Ti Tchit Dife  Setophaga ruticilla x  
·  Palmchat*  Esclave  Dulus dominicus x x
·  American Kestrel  Grigri  Falco sparverius x x
·  Hispaniolan Woodpecker*  Sepantye  Melanerpes striatus x x
·  Black-crowned Palm-tanager*  Kat-je Tèt Nwa  Phaenicophilus palarum x x
·  Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo*  Tako  Sauruthera longirostris x x
·  Broad-billed Tody*  Kolobri  Todus subulatus x  
·  Gray Kingbird  Pipirit gris  Tyrannus dominicensis x x
·  Bananaquit  Kit  Coereba flaveola x x
·  Nutmeg Mannikin  Mannken  Lonchura punctulata - intro x x
·  Turkey  Kodon  Meleagris - intro?  x x
·  Chickens!  Poul  Gallus gallus x x
·  Guineafowl  Pentard  Numida meleagris x x

Saturday, October 25, 2014

First week at UCCC

I have completed my first week of teaching ecology at Université Chrétienne de la Communauté de Caïman (UCCC). I teach 3 classes a week to the same class of first year agronomy students so that we can get in an entire 3 credit course in the 6 weeks that I am here.  Already the students have asked me if bats come from old mice, and the topic of zombies came up.  I lecture in English with my friend Diranot translating into Creole (though maybe the students want French?).  Handouts and tests are in French thanks to a French graduate student at the Univ. of Kansas and google translate.  There’s no power at the university so I hold up my computer so the class can see pictures – can’t teach about biomes without showing what a tundra or taiga looks like!  Next week is their first quiz, and an outdoor lab to learn forestry measurements.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wharf and ecotourism school

View of wharf from Ouanga Bay Beach Hotel.
Near Ouanga Bay Beach Hotel (review at previous post) in Cote des Arcadins is the wharf for boats to Ile de la Gonave, Haiti’s largest island.  Some men involved with the ecotourism school took us there before we headed across the street and up the hill to the ecotourism school.  The wharf was busy with passengers and products being loaded onto boats.  There were large sail boats and a motorized boat.  The road down to the wharf was lined with people selling food.

The ecotourism school offers a 6 month training in the service industry.  It is sponsored by the Brazilian group Viva Rio.  There are 4 new buildings featuring a restaurant kitchen and dining room and a hotel room.  The school also does some farming projects such as methane from pig manure and tilapia.  To reach both the wharf and the school you have to walk along Natl Rt #1, so watch for vehicles.  The walk up the hill to the school is a bit steep but it is not far.  Well worth the effort to see what is going on in Haiti.

Passengers waiting to go to Ile de la Gonave.

American rice waiting to be loaded on boats.
Methane piglets at ecotourism school.
Tilapia ponds at ecotourism school.

Ecotourism school buildings to the right.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ouanga Bay Beach Hotel

 If you are looking for some easy snorkeling right outside your hotel room, try the Ouanga Bay Beach Hotel in Cote des Arcadins along Rt. Natl #1.  It is about a 2 hour drive from Port au Prince on the paved highway.  Look for the sign with the hummingbird, and the entrance has a metal seahorse on the gate post.  Ouanga occupies a long narrow strip of beach, with parking behind the hotel on the highway side.  There are two choices for rooms – regular rooms for $110 each room or bungalows with TV for $135 (Oct. 2014).  The bungalows are stand alone, while the regular rooms are in a row like regular hotel rooms.  We stayed in the regular rooms.
The room had A/C, hot water, and two beds.  There was no door on the bathroom, which might make for an awkward situation if you don’t know the people you travel with very well.  All the rooms have an ocean view.  The water is very clear!  The best snorkeling was right outside the regular rooms.  You have to go down a short flight of steps, walk to the far end of the beach and climb over come rocks to get on the beach.  This isn’t the main laying-out beach.  Wear water shoes since there are sea urchins.  We saw puffer fish, a sea snake, little colorful fish, and gobies that like to swim around your fingers.  There are also some chunks of coral to swim around.  Watch out for jelly fish the further out you go!  They were dispersed enough that you can avoid them, and looked beautiful swimming, but still gave us the willies and we went back closer to shore.  There is also a swimming pool at one end of the property.

The lounging/swimming beach is in front of the bungalows and next to the bar/restaurant that sits over the water.  It is a very relaxing place to hang out.  Except when the jetskiers decide to come to shore at the swimming beach!  We left a note of complaint about that.  Our dinner was very good, and relatively inexpensive for a beach hotel.  My friend had bbq chicken with fries ($12).  I asked for a vegetable plate of carrots, melotin (chayote squash) and avocado, with fries ($10).  We had cake for dessert ($5).  A great breakfast comes with the room price: omelet, fruit, juice, bread, and coffee.  They set the coffee out early so you can sit and enjoy the sunrise over the hills behind the hotel.

The people in the lobby were very friendly.  There is no store, but they do have little toothbrush kits if you forget yours.  There are steps to go down then up to get to the rooms.  There weren’t a lot of people there the Saturday night we stayed.  A three or four families, a couple foreigners.  More people showed up Sunday morning, perhaps to spend the day at the beach.

Over all Ouanga Bay is very enjoyable and relaxing.  See the next post about the wharf tour and ecotourism school that are within walking distance of the hotel.