Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ecotour Day 4 - The road to Duchity

What do you mean it is an easy walk?

For our final day of the ecotour, we decided to go higher in elevation to see different vegetation and possibly go birding.  The point of this trip was the journey and exploration for future ecotourism, and we were rewarded by finding a wooded area for potential birding beyond a somewhat difficult rocky path beyond a somewhat difficult rocky road outside of Duchity.  Duchity is a small town about 8 miles as the crow flies NW of Les Cayes along National Highway 7.   It is marked incorrectly on GoogleMaps, and is in the Grand Anse Department to the north at 18.433023, -73.901338.

Natl Route 7 construction.
In Haiti you report distance by travel time, not miles.  The paved highway is under construction, so with over an hour of construction delays and one stop at a wetland, it took about 3 hours to reach our destination. One of the AUC students that is active in the Audubon Center of Les Cayes joined us so that I could introduce him to the world of ecotourism.  During our longest construction delay he taught the gathering children about the importance of birds to Haiti.

Rough spot in the road.
The road leading into Ducity crosses a large river which would be fun to explore.  Sturdy shoes would be beneficial to navigate the large rocks.  When we reached Duchity I called a friend who recommended a friend who pointed us to a guide who could take us to see birds.  That's what led us to the rocky road and path.  The walk was easy at first and we got to see rural life.  Then it turn more difficult in our sandals (Tevas etc.), though the Haitians kept insisting the end was not far and the walk was easy.  I finally insisted that I and my visitor with a bad knee needed to stay put on some large flat rocks while the rest of the group went ahead to see a spring.  That group returned with grapefruit (chadik) and reported that beyond the spring was a potentially good forest for birds.  Despite not seeing birds, we enjoyed seeing rural life at a rocky 2000 ft. For the next trip we will be ready with an early departure from Les Cayes, sturdy hiking shoes, and plenty of snacks and water.
The spring.  Beyond there is a potentially good birding place.
Grapefruit for all.

When we returned the guide to Duchity he showed us what he said was a cave entrance behind a house in town, then insisted on taking us down the highway back toward the river to show us the old road.  I knew better than to believe him that it was a short easy walk down the rocky hillside to see this old road and stayed on the highway with my visitor while the rest of the group followed the guide.  My friend who went with the group said it wasn't much of a view and the path was difficult.

We started our day at 7:30am and made it home in time for the 5pm meal provided by our guest house. 

This post concludes the 4-day ecotour I arranged from my visitor from Michigan.  My visit to Haiti was not yet over, so stayed tuned for following posts about a lake and a guesthouse in Port.
Teaching about birds.
Cool formations at the road cut.

Monday, January 27, 2014

More paintings by Wilnot

Wilnot with 2 paintings I commissioned - not for sale!
My last night in Port Au Prince I was fortunate to see Wilnot Mercier, the artist from whom I bought paintings in this previous blog.  I bought several more from him, including the two he is holding which were commissioned and not for sale.  Let me know if you'd like to buy one of the others pictures.  They are $30 each plus whatever it costs to ship them to you.  All are 12x12 inches, and all but two are on wood frames.

Not on a frame





Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ecotour Day 3 – Saut Mathurine at Camp Perrin

The blue pool at the base of the non-falling falls.

On our third day of the ecotour we drove to the waterfall Saut Mathurine at Camp Perrin.  Our purpose was to enjoy the falls, walk along the river, and see what the vegetation was like for birding.  Unfortunately the falls have been completely diverted the past year for hydroelectricity!  Not even a minimal flow is falling.  They are doing a great disservice to the tourism industry by shutting off the beautiful falls.  This would be a great place to start the day early with birding (the gray-crowned palm tanager was there), followed by a swim in the pool at the base of the falls (which is cold!), and then lunch at the new restaurant just up the hill.  Bring snorkeling gear to see the friendly fish that gather around the rocks (only saw one species). 

The woman at the gate to the falls said we couldn’t drive the truck down, but we paid her $10 and she let us drive through.  Don’t go all the way down to the end of the road, the rocks are slippery and while not steep, we had trouble turning around.  Park just beyond the restaurant and art shack.  A series of easy steps lead down to the fall, then you can cross the river to go birding in the wooded area.  The hillside above the river is pretty steep and slippery – wear good hiking shoes.  You can also go above the falls which is worth the view.  The path right along the falls is very rocky, steep, and very very slippery.  There is a dirt path up through the wooded area farther to the right of the falls.  

The new restaurant along that road has typical Haitian food – fried meats and starchy foods.  It is made to order, so be prepared to wait and enjoy the view of the falls and trees.  We ended the day with a drive on a steep road to the source of the water.  In our non 4wd truck we made it, but wouldn’t be able to if the road was wet.  This would also be a great place to get to early and go birding and exploring.  The hydroelectric dam is farther downstream near the falls which is worth a visit to see the river and for those interested in hydroelectricity.

Access – Easy walk down the steps to the falls.  Difficult hike to top of falls.  Flattish land along the river.

From the top of the falls.  The algae-covered rocks are very very slick.

The river downstream of the falls.

The steps leading down to the pool.

The source of the river, which is now diverted to the hydroelectric plant.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ecotour Day 2 – Kounoubwa Cave near Camp Perrin

After an easy Day 1 of birding, we had a more challenging day of walking to and exploring a cave.  We drove to Camp Perrin where we picked up the cave guide Joel Constant who is mentioned in the Clammer/Bradt Haiti guide.  Joel was trained by spelunkers and has the keys to the gates to the cave – you need to arrange with him to see the cave.  We gave him around a $25 tip at the end.  We then parked on the east side of a wide river and walked across the dry river bed.  I don’t know how deep it is when it is flowing.  Then we immediately climbed up a rocky steep rocky hillside to reach a grassy path that ascended the hill.  The younger crowd (age 8 – 18) with us ran ahead and waited for us older folks to catch up (40 – 70 with a bad knee).  Our slow walk took about 40 minutes to reach the cave entrance where there are small benches for resting.  Decent into the cave was slippery and steep.  Again the children bounded down while the rest of us practically crawled down on our hands and rear ends.  Joel showed us around the large cavern which had been vandalized with many large stalactites broken and missing.  The group then made another steep slippery climb to another room while I waited with my guest.  This other room had bats.  We also saw cave crickets.  We spent 1.5 hours in the cave.  The descending walk back to the truck took about 30 minutes.

Access – Moderately difficult.  Right after crossing the river which was dry during our visit you must ascend a steep rocky hillside.  Then the path is relatively easy walk up a grassy slope, with one steep rocky area to navigate.  The decent into the cave is steep and slippery.  To move farther in past the main cavern you again navigate over steep slippery rocks.  You will get muddy.  A headlamp is necessary so your hands can be free.

In the dry river bed.
The walk to the cave.
The short climb up from the river bed.

Broken stalagtites

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ecotour – Day 1 Birding and Fort Oliver

 We started the day with a 6am pick up by our driver Sonny who took us to a property that is known to have the gray-crowned palm tanager (Phaenicophilus poliocephalus), Haiti’s only endemic bird which lives only on the southern peninsula.  Our guest came to Haiti specifically to see this bird, and another was along for the adventure.  The property lies in a small patch of scrub forest overlooking the ocean between St. Louis du Sud and Aquin.  During our 2 hours of searching for the bird in the gray misty rain I caught a glimpse of it but my visitors didn't.  Then the sun came out, warblers got busy looking for insects and defending territory, and finally we all clearly saw 2 tanagers.  We stayed a bit longer while the visiting birder taught us how to distinguish warblers.

Access – Easy.  Contact me for property owner information.  Park at the gate or drive up the inclined driveway.  It is an easy walk around the flat property or you can take steeper paths up into the shrub which is where we saw the bird.  Wear long pants and closed shoes as the scrub is thorny.

After seeing the birds we then went to Fort Oliver, a French fort at the tip of a peninsula on the west side of St. Louis du Sud.  You can read about the history of this fort in the Clammer/Bradt Haiti guide.  The drive on the short peninsula provided a picturesque view of life along the ocean.  After we parked people came out of the woodwork to greet and help us.  One man did most of the talking about the history of the fort, while another chimed in now and again.  We gave them $7 and $5 respectively, as well as a couple dollars to an old man who helped me navigate the stones across the shallow water surrounding the fort.  The fort is made of limestone and coral that I assume were gathered from the area, along with bricks brought from France.  The fort consists of several rooms and one room was once full slate and has a tunnel that goes to the hillside across the highway.  There is also a fort on the island in the bay which one of the guides offered to take us to.  We passed, wanting to be better prepared for swimming etc. on the island.

Navigating the steep steps at Fort Oliver.
Access – You must walk across shallow water, then up very deep and steep crumbling steps to reach the top of the fort, which has a great view of the bay.  Even if you can’t make the stones or steps, you can still walk around the base of the fort after wading through the shallow water.  

Limestone and brick wall.  The main guide in purple.

Limestone wall of Fort Oliver.
Coral embedded in the wall.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ecotour in Haiti

This month as a representative of the Audubon Center of Les Cayes I had the pleasure of leading a 4-day ecotour on the southern coast of Haiti for 2 visitors from the US.  One visitor came exclusively to see the gray-crowned palm tanager which lives only on Haiti’s southern peninsula.  The other visitor came along to enjoy the tour and to learn more about the hydrology of Haiti.  Day 1 was birding in a place known to have the tanager.  Day 2 was a trip to a cave.  Day 3 was a trip to a waterfall to swim, bird, and explore the river.  Day 4 was a trip up in elevation to the town of Duchity to bird and see what we could see along the way.  We had an excellent driver, and many recommendations about places to visit from Haitian and American birders who have lived in the area for a number of years.  

Our trip to Les Cayes was a tour in itself.  After flying into Port au Prince and staying at Matthew 25 guest house for the night, we took the 7am Capital Coach to Les Cayes.  The bus ride took only an hour longer than usual (see post about this bus).  We were detoured from the main road to Carrefour and the driver manipulated the bus along the tight streets that ran along the back side of the Iron Market.  Then when it seemed we were on our way we came to a road block set up by school children!  They were protesting that their teachers have not been paid for three months.  I think it is a sign of more anti-Martelly protests to come, as he promised free education for all children.  We arrived in Les Cayes and our driver Sonny took us to us to our guest house about 5 minutes from the bus stop.  Lunch was soon ready and my birding visitor had his first truly Haitian meal.

Stay tuned for posts about each day.  If you would like to schedule a tour, contact me at naturesphoto at

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Paintings by Wilnot

I am helping a young Haitian man, Wilnot Mercier, sell his paintings to put himself through school and support his adopted son.  I met Wilnot in 2009 at an art class that an American woman held to help Haitians in the Central Plateau discover their talents.  Wilnot has come a long way from the first paintings I bought from him.

These are for sale for $35.  $30 goes directly to Wilnot, $5 to me for shipping them from Haiti.  Oil painting on canvas on wood frame.  12in. x 12in.



Nor for sale.  WIlnot 2009.

Nor for sale.  WIlnot 2010.