Saturday, December 3, 2016

Animals of Haiti Memory Game

Through Shutterfly I made a memory game of native animals of Haiti.  As with other tropical islands, Haiti doesn’t have any large native mammals.  Bats are the most common mammal, the solenodon and agouti (hutia) can only be found today in the small patches of remaining rainforest, and the Caribbean monk seal was last seen in the 1950s.  Whales, dolphins, and manatees supposedly can occasionally be seen along the coast, but most of the kids here in central Haiti haven’t seen the ocean.  I tried the game out on the kids I teach each Saturday in a small community in Bohoc, and by the end they knew all 24 animals on the memory cards!  Half of the photos are mine, and half I found on the internet under public domain or for educational use (yay Wikipedia and ARKive).  They then drew their own memory cards on index cards that we cut in half.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hotel Imperial and Auberge Villa Cana in Cap Haitien

Breakfast at the Hotel Imperial
In mid-November 2016 I stayed at the Hotel Imperial on National Rt. 1 in Cap Haitien, and went to a conference held at the Auberge Villa Cana about 2 miles to the west on the same road.  It was flooding in Cap at the time, but the hotels set far enough back from the highway that they and their parking lots were dry.  The Hotel Imperial was a basic hotel with free wifi, a pool, small bar, lobby, and restaurant.  Bannann peze with pickliz was $3.50 US.  Breakfast was complimentary and very good.  The choice on the menu came with fruit, juice, toast, and coffee – I had omelet creole every morning.  Rooms had AC and hot water (if you let the shower run long enough).  My room had enough breeze from the open windows that I only used the ceiling fan.  They take credit cards, and charged a special rate for conference participants at around $75 US per night.

The Haitian Studies Association Conference was held at the Auberge Villa Cana, which sits farther back from the highway down a short drive.  It has a large parking lot.  I didn’t see the rooms but was in the other facilities.  This hotel has 2 pools and a hot tub, playground, an auditorium, and several smaller meeting rooms.  Evening meals and activities were set up in a large gazebo.  I didn’t order food from the restaurant, but the snacks and meals provided for the conference were good.  They also had wifi for guests.

Flooding in front of Cap Haitien police department

Flooding in front of Hotel Imperial

Hotel Imperial

Hotel Imperial pool in background
Red sign indicates turn to the Auberge Villa Cana
Auberge Villa Cana reception and lobby

Auberge Villa Cana meeting room
Auberge Villa Cana auditorium.
Auberge Villa Cana pool

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cap Haitien International Airport

The Cap Haitien Airport has a daily flight to and from Miami on American Airlines.  I decided to fly out of there rather than Port au Prince on my most recent flight.  Cap’s small airport is very easy and quick to navigate.  Not many guys were waiting to help me in with my luggage, and they were not pushy.  I had all carry-on and one guy asked once if I needed help.  I said no and he moved on to someone else.  After checking in at the AA counter, you go through security screening only once, and the immigration booth is right there as you exit the screening room into the waiting area.  The bathrooms are clean.  Upstairs from the waiting area are a couple small shops and a food place that has meatball sandwiches and spaghetti, and an espresso machine.  The $4 cappuccino was only about 6 ounces, but good and strong.  In the waiting area a guy came around and collected our tickets, giving us back the seat stub.  They called out rows of seats for boarding, but since you have to exit the airport and walk across the tarmac to get on the plane, it became a free for all about what order you actually board.  The large plane was only about ½ full.

The road to Cap from Pignon in central Haiti was a different matter.  The 40 mile trip took 4 hours! It was raining on and off so the road was slick, and the 4wd truck I was in had trouble getting up one hill, and then fishtailed in places on the muddy flat road.  Only in a couple places was it paved until we arrived at the outskirts of Cap.  This trip was through Ranquitte, Bahon, and Grand Riviere du Nord – see the map for times it took to get to these places.  On a previous trip I had taken highway 3 through Dondon where you can see the Citadelle in the distance.  That time the road was dry and the taptap that I caught in Pignon had no troubles.
Along the Grand Riviere in Bahon

View of Cap Haitien from the airport waiting area.

Cap Haitien airport waiting area.

Airport shops and restaurant.

Looking back at the airport across the tarmac.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Educator Academy Part 3 - Canopy Walkway, Explorama, and Ceiba Tops Lodges

ACTS Canopy Walkway
I never got around to a post of these lodges, so here are some photos.  The ACTS field station lodge is the smallest and most rustic of the ExplorNapo Lodges, but they fed us well and had showers.  It mainly serves education and science groups doing work from the ACTS Canopy Walkway.  After that we stayed at the Explorama lodge which had indoor plumbing, electricity, a bar, and small gift shop.  There, people from the local village demonstrate traditional crafts and ways of living, and we bartered for handicrafts (bring t-shirts, all they wanted was t-shirts! The fishing lures did not go over as well as I had hoped).  Our final lodge, Ceiba Tops, is for those who want to experience the Amazon but still have A/C, indoor plumbing, and a pool.  It gave us a chance to clean up before flying out of Iquitos.

Yagua trading booths at Explorama.
Explorama bar and gift shop
Yagua trading booths at Explorama.

ACTS lodge

Ceiba Tops dining hall and restaurant.

Amazed to have electricity and hot showers!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Educator Academy Part 2 - ExplorNapo Lodge

This post continues the previous, leaving Iquitos Peru on a boat ride up the Amazon River and arriving at the ExplorNapo Lodge.  Our first night at ExplorNapo consisted of orientation to the lodge and Educator Academy program, introductions, dinner, and a night boat ride.  I opted out of the boat ride so I could get up bright and early at 5:30am the next day for the first of many morning birding excursions by boat.  With very knowledgeable guides Luis and Lucio, and returning birders Phil and Dave, we saw over 150 bird species in just 8 mornings of birding (1.5 hours each).  And also saw the pink Amazon River dolphins!  And sloths!  Each night we took either a boat ride or forest walk to see caiman, sleeping hummingbirds, bats, bioluminescent fungi, and the Southern Cross (for the first time). 

Our days were packed with lessons and discussions about the forest and hands-on activities.  This gave me many ideas of what I can do with both the Haitian university and elementary students, such as having students interpret tables to make graphs of biodiversity, explore one-meter square areas of forest floor, and look for birds with Cornell’s BirdSleuth kits (if anyone would like to help me purchase supplies, you can donate at my Global Scholars account).

The Explorama series of lodges are very well maintained and serve great food.  All have large dining halls where we had our classes (with water, coffee, and tea available all the time).  These first three nights we stayed at ExplorNapo Lodge.  To reach our dorms from the dock and dining hall we had to cross a bridge over the flooded forest!  Talk about immersion into your studies.  While there was electricity in the dining hall, kerosene lanterns lit the bedrooms and walkways.  The latrines were huge!  And showers cold, so I adopted my Haiti routine of showering and laying out my evening things during the afternoon while there was light and a cold shower felt good.  We were in the Amazon during Peru’s dry winter season, so temperatures stayed around 75F.  Which meant I used a blanket at night.  But humidity was so high that you work up quite a drenching sweat just walking through the forest during the day.  Many visitors staying at the more upscale CeibaTops Lodge (electricity and hot showers) stopped at ExplorNapo for lunch on their way to the ACTS Canopy Walk – subject of the next post!

Giant latrine!  With nice walls.
Walkway in front of the rooms.
Mosquito nets over the beds.  Open windows and thatched roof!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Tropical Ecology Class for Teachers – Educator Academy Part 1

Flight to Iquitos over Amazon forest & rivers.
I teach tropical ecology classes at UCCC in Haiti, and was fortunate to take a tropical ecology class of my own this summer!  In the Amazon!  I wanted to see in person what it is that I teach my class: the physical structure of the rain forest, the shallow organic layer covering the forest floor, the diversity of birds and other wildlife.  However, to reach Haiti’s remnant tropical forests such as those at Peak Macaya requires a day and a half drive, a day’s walk, camping equipment, hiring a guide, etc.  It all seems complicated.  And financially impossible to take my students.  Then I learned about the Educator Academy in the Amazon Rainforest that takes teachers from the US to Peru to not only teach basic tropical ecology, but just as importantly, how to convey that information to students.  And I received a partial scholarship to attend the academy!  

Charcoal in Iquitos (like in Haiti)
The following posts highlight the activities we did at each of the ExploramaLodges that we stayed in during this 10 day excursion.  The lodges are located along the Amazon River and its Napo tributary, accessible only by boat from Iquitos, Peru’s port city on the Amazon (and the largest city in the world accessible only by boat or plane).  Who knew that the Amazon River had ports as large as ocean-side ports?  And that ships travel all the way upstream 2200 miles from the Atlantic Ocean? 

The trip consisted of flying to Lima Peru, meeting up with 30 other teachers and the academy faculty, staying overnight in a hotel connected to the airport, flying to Iquitos on a rather large plane, and landing in a decent-sized regional airport (I was expecting dinky plane and airport like in Haiti).  We loaded onto a bus and stopped at a market on the way to the boat dock.  I couldn’t help comparing everything I saw to Haiti, which made me realize I expected Peru to be less developed, and perhaps indicates how undeveloped (or just chaotic) Haiti really is (the crowds, litter, downed electric lines, open manholes, horrible traffic, etc. has all become normal to me). 

Cat at the Iquitos market
At the dock we boarded two boats for a 2 ½ hour ride ON THE AMAZON RIVER!  To our first lodge – located IN THE AMAZON FOREST!  More to come in the next post.

Tapir and caiman skulls?  

Logging ship on the Amazon River.
Large ships at port on the Amazon River.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bassin Zim guards and guides

Entrance to Bassin Zim
Feb. 2017 update - they addressed these complaints!  There is now a sign with prices and we entered the park in peace.

Bassin Zim is a waterfall near Hinche in the central plateau.  HaitiLibre had an article about the Ministry of Tourism putting it on their "Water Route" circuit so it will “be part of a model of sustainable development based on community tourism.”  The Ministry met with the locals in Dec. 2015 to discuss “the need for communities to well welcome visitors to the site.”  I write this review to give the Ministry some feedback from a foreigner’s point of view. 

Three times I have taken my Haitian university students to Bassin Zim to learn about water quality, and have not felt welcomed upon arrival.  The 15 minute haggle over entrance fees makes for a poor start to the visit.  It is especially sad that the guards want to charge their fellow Haitians twice as much just because a foreigner is with them.  Negotiations involve telling the guards we were charged 25 gds per person on our first visit, the guards insisting on 50 gds a person then getting mad and yelling.  One time this deteriorated into them hitting children with sticks and large rocks, making the kids cry.  While the kids had disrespectfully yelled at the guards to let us in, the violent reproach left a very bad impression.  

Last week my freshman ecology class negotiated a price of 250 gds ($4) for the entire van of 19 people.  As we left we thanked the guards and said we’d return with another class.  Yet on arrival just one week later with my juniors, the same guards again demanded 50 gds a person.  After much haggling and the guard feigning locking gate and stomping off, my junior ecology students managed to get us in for 250 gds, this time for a van of 13.  Each time my students were respectful, and even broke up the fight between the guards and the children.

Measuring turbidity.
During last week’s visit with my freshmen, five “guides” (both children and adults) followed us around and insisted on “helping” me (but not my students), even though my students explained we had a plan and knew where we were going.  This week the children figured out we had an agenda and hung out in the background.  A student gave them a little lesson about testing water chemistry and evaluating the watershed.  If the Ministry of Tourism really wants to promote Bassin Zim, it needs to standardize and post entrance fees (with reduced rates for locals), and train guards and guides to be courteous to visitors (both Haitian and foreign). 

If they truly care about the water and sustainability, they need pick up trash, ban livestock and washing in the river, protect the remaining trees (charcoal was being made right along the path to the cave), put a buffer of more trees around the park (crops grow right up to the walkway), and remove the new tilapia pond that sits next to the cave and dumps directly into the river.  Maybe someday one of my students will work for the Ministry of Tourism or the Environment and enact these changes.

The big cave

Small cave
Teaching about water quality next to the tilapia pond.

Measuring temperature.
Measuring forest density.