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Exploring Haiti: Môle-Saint-Nicolas

I know I’ve said this before, but I think the only way to truly enjoy living in Haiti is to get OUT of Port au Prince every so often. It’s not easy given the state of the roads and cost of air travel. But when you get out of the overpopulated capital, you see why Haitians are so proud of their country.

A few months ago we ventured far outside Port au Prince – about as far as you can go. We chartered a small plane with a group of friends and went to Môle-Saint-Nicolas, a small town on the extreme northwestern tip of Haiti. In fact, Môle-Saint-Nicolas might be closer to Cuba than to Port au Prince! The flight wasn’t cheap, but it was safer and much more convenient than making the almost 8 hour drive over mountain roads.

The town is on a large bay that gets very windy and is a favorite spot for kite surfing. Christopher Columbus landed in this area on December 6, 1492. With the recent news of the Santa Maria ship being possibly discovered off the coast of Haiti, I wonder if it’s nearby.

The beach is lovely, as is the lodge where we stayed. There’s really only one place: Boukan Guinguette. They have protected camping spaces to rent on the beach, or you can rent one of their beach bungalows with a nice bathroom, mosquito netting, and a beachfront porch. They serve great, freshly caught seafood and are the only place in Haiti I’ve been to that actually respects the local lobster season.

In town, there are ruins of several colonial forts, built around the 1750s. We saw several cannon and went inside an old armory. We were told the armory is well maintained because it’s used for voudou ceremonies. The acoustics are awesome, and after we left the armory, two little kids went in and we could hear them hooting, howling and giggling at how cool their echo sounded.

Môle-Saint-Nicolas felt like the end of the earth. It was a calm, but an active fishing and market town and I can see how anyone would be proud to be from there. After several stressful weeks of work, it reminded me of the best aspects of Haiti, and reminded me that Haiti is so much more than Port au Prince.

"pap pral naso" =  "I'm not going to Nassau"

“pap pral naso” = “I’m not going to Nassau”

 

Coconut Mango Popsicles

We have mangos! In the last two weeks, our mango tree has finally started to produce ripe fruit.  We must have arrived right as the last mango season was ending, because we’ve been in our house for 8 months (wow, time is flying by) and these are the first mangos we’ve seen.  We have plenty to eat ourselves, and to share with our housekeeper, gardener and friends. We’ve eaten them plain, in smoothies, and this week I made coconut mango popsicles that turned out deliciously.


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Here’s the very simple recipe I used:

1 ¼ cups diced fresh mango

¾ cups light coconut milk

juice from 2 limes

 Mix in a blender, pour into your popsicle molds, freeze, and enjoy.

You could add sugar if it’s too tart for you, although our mangos are plenty sweet without the sugar. And of course, you could add some Haitian Barbancourt Rhum for an “adult” version.

coconut mango popsicle

The one area for improvement would be that our mangos are a bit pulpy and have these tiny hairs that I don’t know how to remove. I’ve tried pushing the mango flesh through a fine mesh sieve, but it was pretty time intensive, and the hairs are so fine that most got through anyway.  Any ideas on how to deal with those tiny mango hairs would be much appreciated!

Arcade Fire comes to Haiti for Carnival

Sorry for the blog silence.  Plenty has happened since November, and somehow I wasn’t inspired to sit down and write.  But last weekend changed that. Arcade Fire + Haiti + Carnival = once in a lifetime awesomeness.

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Arcade Fire came down to Haiti and played Friday, February 21 in Jacmel, a coastal town in the south known for its art and music. We left work on Friday, made the four hour drive from the capital, checked into our hotel with friends, had dinner and got ready for an outdoor concert that we couldn’t quite believe that was actually going to happen.  Arcade Fire recently came out with their new album, Reflektor, which was partly influenced by Haitian music. Specifically, some of the music on the track Here Comes the Night Time is reminiscent of Haitian carnival music.  Carnival season is music season in Haiti. Many established Haitian bands come out with their special carnival song right around this time, often with subtle (or not so subtle) political messages in the lyrics.  And many Haitians form ad-hoc rara bands that are mostly made up of long, single-pitched metal horns and drums, and play in the carnival parade and during Easter week before disbanding until next year.

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The concert was amazing. After several well-known Haitian bands, Arcade Fire got on stage and performed a mix of songs from Reflektor and several favorites from their earlier albums. It was entertaining to watch Haitians listen to Arcade Fire, who were on stage so full of energy with drums and streamers. Honestly, some Haitians just didn’t get it. Some just stood and stared curiously as the Canadians with crazy outfits went all out. And I understand –the songs are in a different language, and probably very few of them had ever heard of the band before. But as the show went on, the crowd warmed up and soon was dancing and waving their hands; they got into a few of the call and response songs and cheered loudly whenever the band said anything in Creole or French. The crowd had fun, but the expat hipster crowd (if the shoe fits) was borderline euphoric. I mean seriously, listening to Arcade Fire perform “Haiti” in Haiti – I may never be able to top that. I wish I had photos to share of the concert itself, but I decided to leave my camera safely at home. So instead, you should click on this article for photos and the set list.  Also, most of the band stayed at our hotel and I finally worked up the courage at breakfast to say hello.

Saturday was a low-key beach day for us, but Sunday was the big day in Jacmel for Haitians: carnival.  The actual, official carnival is this Tuesday in the central town of Gonaives, but Jacmel always does their own carnival a week or two early.  They are known for their elaborate paper mache masks, raucous parades, and great local rara bands.  A friend of ours arranged for a rooftop spot along the parade route so that we could enjoy pizza and beer while watching the explosion of colors and sounds below.  We ventured into the street a few times to take photos and visit some other friends in a balcony a block away, but mostly were happy to be high above the melee.

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Sometimes Port-au-Prince seems dull and monotone. The dusty gray roads, chalky earth and cement cinderblock houses don’t provide much color. But this weekend we enjoyed a totally different side of Haiti. The streets were full of paper mache versions of every creature imaginable – there were zebras in vibrant colors along with bumblebees, butterflies, parrots, panthers, giraffes, goblins, demons, vodou deities, current and former presidents, dinosaurs and dragons.  There were svelte young women dancing with chicken masks on their heads and men covered in molasses and mud threatening to rub their muck on parade watchers.  After the dancers and costumes, the rara bands with their trumpets and drums began to appear as the sun was setting. The streets went from full to completely packed. The crowd became one solid river of people slowly flowing up the hill.  The occasional fight would break out, but mostly it was a mass of people in full party mode. I’ve never seen anything like it, a complete assault on all the senses.  It was hands down one of the most memorable weekends I’ve had, and definitely the best one in Haiti so far.

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