Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ile A Vache, Haiti

The inner bay , below the Port Morgan resort

Loading up to head home from the market

Market day at Madame Bernard

On the beach at Caille Coq
 Ile a Vache Haiti is like no other place in the Caribbean. Or Haiti for that matter, as the local population  is trying to keep their island from being overdeveloped with resorts which do little for the local population even though their clientele pay European rates to stay here.

There is no easing into the local scene here.When you are sighted sailing into the bay, everybody who can get on something that floats- dugout canoes, pieces of surfboards, old patched up dinghies,etc- race out to meet you. And it is a race, it is the local custom that you hire the first one to get to the boat as your local guide/helper. I had about 12 people hanging on the boat before the anchor was dropped. The first one out was a young man of about 15 years named Corby.  I thought he may be a bit  young so with his agreement I split the work between him and an older man named Mckendy. Their help was invaluable in shopping at the market, procuring fuel, cleaning the bottom and replacing all the bamboo in my sails.
Caille Coq from the anchorage in the outer part of Baie de Feret
The inner bay was very protected and calm, but it was a bit small for my comfort level with other boats anchored in it. The outer part of the bay offers much more anchoring space and less bugs.
The weekly market at Madame Bernard is an experience not to be missed. This is where the assistance of your guide is essential. Corby led me on a nearly 2 hour cross country hike over the island and through some spectacular beach villages. There were two shops there where dollars can be exchanged  for gourdes. From make shift shops to just piled on the ground the selection of produce was impressive. It was a chaotic place with a random layout, people leading donkeys around with loads of goods, women walking around with large loads balanced on their head, animals being butchered on the ground, piles of produce and other goods everywhere. After stuffing my backpack with a weeks worth of produce  and a few more items in hand Corby suggested that we take a boat back to Caille Coq instead of walking. He set that up for me and then we retired to the shade of a small shop to enjoy a cold soda while awaiting departure.  After many bags of charcoal were loaded on the boat it was time for the people with all their food for the week to wade out and climb aboard. There were 15 of us sitting wherever we could. The boat was slightly overloaded and had to be bailed every time a wave lapped over the side, but with very careful boat handling we all made it home without getting too wet. Haiti is not an expensive place to visit. That entire shopping trip for a weeks worth of produce including the guide and the boat ride cost about $20 USD.
 As for the Port Morgan resort , I never went in there having been told it was very expensive. The best place to eat out is Jean Jean's cafe where he lives with his family. It is a few hundred feet down the beach from the internet cafe run by Mckendy's brother. A huge plate of fresh lobsters with beans,  plantains and rice for $12. Order the day before so dinner can be caught.
It takes more than a few days to learn your way around here and meet the people and for them to get used to you. After the first week, the constant visits by people in dugout canoes selling everything and looking for handouts slows down to a more manageable handful per day.
 If you are planning to visit here, bring items to trade or donate. Rope, sails, computers, vhf radios, lights and more are all needed here. There is no electric or  piped water supply. It is all handled on an individual basis with generators and solar panels being very common