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Voyage of Traveler / Blog » Traveler Postcard From Haiti

Voyage of Traveler / Blog

March 13, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Haiti

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:15 pm

Port Morgan
Ile a Vache, Haiti
Lat 18-06.24N
Long 073-41.57W

Bon jour,

The cruising guide warns yachts sailing between Puerto Rico and Jamaica to avoid Haiti altogether, especially the southwest corner of the island.  It recommends giving it a wide berth, passing at least 50 miles offshore.  There are a lot of desperate people with nothing to lose. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Piracy has been a part of their culture for hundreds of years, since the days of Capt. Henry Morgan (the port we are in is named after him and this is where his ship sank.)  And all of that was before the January 12 earthquake.

Since then you have seen the footage on CNN and read newspaper and magazine stories about the current situation.  Suddenly, there are 2 million people homeless with a huge percentage of the population injured and/or unemployed, spending all day trying to scrounge for themselves and their families, with very little food, clean drinking water or other necessities available.

This is now our third day in Port Morgan on Ile a Vache (Cow Island) at the SW corner of Haiti.  It has been an amazing experience, mostly in a good way.

On our arrival here we found it to be a very sheltered harbor with three other cruising sailboats at anchor (always a reassuring sight), two from France and one from the US.  We were immediately greeted by a dozen, friendly, polite boat boys who wanted to help us, clean the boat or sell us something.  We bought four drinking coconuts for $2, a nice way to start our visit.  A lobster fisherman paddled his dugout canoe to Traveler and sold us seven live lobster for $10, and Yansen made us a great dinner that night.

Next we gave away our care packages to four young men, each with six to eight in their families, and each had paddled out to Traveler. This included a bag of rice, a sack of potatoes, a salami, Frosted Flakes, a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, four rolls of toilet paper, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a razor and a bar of soap.  Our donations were well received, as you can imagine.

The island has a population of 12,000, with 99% black and descendants of slaves.  It is about 7 miles long and 2 miles wide, and is situated just 6 miles off mainland Haiti.  We learned that Ile a Vache has no cars or electricity, just a dozen or so rural villages with foot trails connecting them.  About 90% of the island’s population has never even been to the mainland–so they have never seen a city, or a car, or used a telephone, or watched TV, or used a computer. Wow!

We had two guides take us on a hour-long hike to the main village for market day.  It was more of a sight-seeing field trip than provisioning, as there was very little offered for sale that we wanted.  The local bananas, however, were tree-ripened and excellent.  We saw lots of used clothing, probably donated items, offered for sale.

The fishing boats are mostly sailing vessels without engines. We rode one, with our guides, from the market in the main village back to Port Morgan.  It was a fun, memorable, downwind sail that took about a half hour.

We then rented horses to ride the island’s rolling hills, or at least we tried to do so.  The horse I was assigned to ride was pregnant, near full term, and didn’t like my weight on her back.  And the horses assigned to Kellie and Brian didn’t like each other, at all.  One violently bit the other on the neck and they both bucked, throwing Kellie and Brian off the homemade saddles.  It was a wild and memorable ride, and lasted barely five minutes.

We met the captain and crew for “Sea Hunter,” a 220 ft. research vessel specializing in recovering ship wrecks.  A few months ago they discovered the “Port Nicholson,” a wreck that was sunk by a German U-boat in 1942 off Boston in 650 ft. of water.  It has, they say, billions in gold and plutonium in its holds.  They plan to recover the treasure in the coming months.  Check out their website at subsearesearch.com.  The Sea Hunter came to Haiti on a humanitarian mission with over a hundred thousand dollars worth of aid.  Unfortunately, its distribution was a disaster.  The ship and crew were first swamped with customs officials and police, who took the best for themselves, and then hundreds of desperate Haitians started fighting for the aid.  One man punched a woman in the face and took from her what she was given.  It got so out of control that Gary Esper, the captain, fired two warning shots into the air trying to regain control and ordered everyone off his ship.  By then, there was not much left.  The police arrested one of the locals hired by the Sea Hunter to facilitate the distribution, and demanded a payment of $10,000 US in customs duties (which Sea Hunter refused to pay). The police tried to detain the Sea Hunter because the captain fired a gun into the air and refused to pay the duty.  The situation was so bad that Sea Hunter left quickly without unloading a mobile field hospital, which was the most important single item they brought with them from the US to Haiti.  All this happened a few miles away on the mainland, and we met up with them the following day here at Port Morgan, where they were trying to unwind and enjoy themselves, and clean up their ship from all the mess, before returning to the US.

The Port Morgan Hotel, run by a Frenchman, is the only hotel on Ile a Vache, and I’d give it, generously, two stars (by American standards.)  But it is one of the finest hotels in the country, and one of the few that is open for business.  The food was excellent.  We had a fabulous fish dinner here our last night. At the hotel we met a French woman who had been working for the past five weeks in Port-Au-Prince for a Swiss charity that focuses on children.  She lived in a tent with few amenities.  She was at the hotel to take a weekend off.  She said one of the many shocking things she saw in Port-Au-Prince were all the flies, millions of them.

We are now in the Eastern Time Zone and have traveled through 21 out of 24 time zones, completing 7/8ths of the circumnavigation.

In a couple of hours we set sail for Port Antonio, Jamaica, an overnight passage of 155nm.  Look for our photos from Haiti, which I’ll post when we get to an internet cafe in Jamaica.

Living the Dream,
Michael
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

3 Comments »

  1. Hey, that’s the geratest! So with ll this brain power AWHFY?

    Comment by Brayan — October 1, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

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    Comment by lkpshbg — October 3, 2012 @ 1:43 am

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    Comment by yswbvsb — October 3, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

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