Difference between revisions of "Haiti"
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Haiti (Haitian Creole: Ayiti, French: Haïti) is a Caribbean country that occupies the western one-third of the island of Hispaniola. The eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola is occupied by the Dominican Republic. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north, while the Caribbean Sea lies to the south. Haiti is a country with a troubled past, and its future still remains uncertain. Decades of poverty, environmental degradation, violence, instability and dictatorship have left it as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
Administrative divisions : 10 departments (départements, singular - département); Artibonite, Centre, Grand 'Anse, Nord, Nord-Est, Nord-Ouest, Ouest, Sud, Sud-Est and Nippes.
la gonave grande source
As in many countries, it is extremely helpful when traveling in Haiti to have a local contact, through a church, a hotel, or just through making friends with someone. Experiences like dining locally, riding on a tap-tap, or strolling through one of the insanely crowded outdoor market are great fun and very worth doing, but much safer and easier if you have a trusted Haitian to go along as a guide and interpreter.
Tropical; semiarid where mountains in the east cut off trade winds. Lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and subject to severe storms from June to October. Experiences occasional flooding and earthquakes and periodic droughts.
Mostly mountainous (but don't expect to see any snow), with a wide, flat central plain the north. The highest point is Chaine de la Selle at 2,777m.
The native Arawak Amerindians - who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Columbus in 1492 - were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola, and in 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island - Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly 500,000 slaves revolted under Toussaint Louverture and after a prolonged struggle, became the first black republic to declare its independence in 1804. Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history since then, and it is now one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Over three decades of dictatorship followed by military rule ended in 1990 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president. Most of his term was usurped by a military takeover, but he was able to return to office in 1994 and oversee the installation of a close associate to the presidency in 1996. Aristide won a second term as president in 2000, and took office early in 2001. However, a political crisis stemming from fraudulent legislative elections in 2000 has not yet been resolved.
Visas are only required by citizens of China, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Panama. Citizens of other countries can stay 3 months.
International travelers will arrive in Haiti at Port-au-Prince (PAP) at the Toussaint Louverture Airport or Cap-Haitien International Airport in the north. The plane tickets can be purchased via many online ticketing sites and agencies. There are intra-Haiti flights available as well. Prices on these flights can fluctuate from time to time due to inflation but, depending on the airline, are usually between USD125-132 return from and to Port au Prince - though cheaper between Port au Prince and Jacmel. In addition to avoiding rather dangerous and inadequate public transportation system by bus and tap-taps, flights offer a safe passage into and out of Port-au-Prince from other parts in Haiti.
Airlines such as American Airlines and Spirit serve Port au Prince from the US. Air Canada, Air France, Caribair as well as others also offer international flights to and from Port au Prince. Lynx Air flies from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Cap Haitien. MFI (Missionary Flights International) fly to Cap also from Florida but only registered non-Catholic Christian missionaries are welcome aboard. Other international airlines serving Cap-Haitien include Sky King, Turks and Caicos Air and Pine-apple Air.
Taxis in Haiti are usually in the form of SUVs or trucks as most of the roads are long overdue for repairs in addition to plethora of unpaved roads one faces while travelling in Haiti. The price is often prohibitively expensive (i.e., $90 dollars Haitian money from PAP to Leogane) but offers safety and comfort that cannot be found in riding tap-taps or buses.
The people of Haiti call their forms of public taxis a "tap-tap" and they're often modified trucks or vans, usually with a raised wooden canopy-like cabin over the truck bed. Wood benches are attached to the bed and serve as seats. Tap-Taps are usually painted bright colors, and often bear a religious slogan, such as Jesus vous aime ("Jesus loves you").
Tap-taps are the most economical way to travel in Haiti with the ticket prices usually under a dollar. They are also quite convenient as they will stop along the route wherever you request. However, they are sometimes over packed and can be quite dangerous to ride in the mountain roads where the road conditions are less than ideal. First time travellers who do not speak conversational Creole are advised not to travel by tap-tap without assistance. There are also bus versions of tap-taps used for longer voyages. The prices are often expensive due to the distance traveled.
Haitians speak French (fwansé), associated with the local elite and the upper middle class and not commonly spoken by many poor locals, and/or Haitian Creole (kreyol), which is the language of the masses, consisting of strong French and African influence along with Spanish and Taino influences to a lesser extent. Do not expect to be able to speak Kreyol if you know French, as the two are separate languages with highly differrent vocabulary and verb structures. Many Haitians are very appreciative if you go to the trouble to learn at least a little bit of the native language, rather than using an interpreter or expecting them to speak English. Be advised that only a small minority of Haitians are fluent in French, and that its use may have negative connotations in the mind of many ordinary Haitians. Haitians working at tourist areas usually speak English well enough for conversation and they can help you with any inquiries.
The Haitian gourde, pronounced goude in Creole, is the currency of Haiti. It's notionally divided into 100 centimes, but as the exchange rate (as of August 2007) hovers around 35 gourdes to the dollar, you're unlikely to see these. Haiti has become famous for its very informal yet interesting bustling marketplace. Everything is sold here ranging from the curiously appealing to the dullest of objects for rather inexpensive prices. Haggling is wise and recommended and not doing so may cost you precious dollars. The merchants can become quite bothersome so if you're not interested, a brisk "Non, Merci" and walking away should do the trick. There are various large retail supermarkets in the capital that offer a variety of items. Haiti is a world of crafts waiting to be sought after.
Although by law, merchants are required to quote prices in goude, rarely do they do so. Instead, virtually everything is priced in "dollars"--not USD but Haitian dollars which are equivalent to 5 goudes.
Haitian cuisine is a wonderful mix of Caribbean and African sensibilities. It is similar to its Spanish neighbors yet unique in its strong presence of spices. Roast goat called 'kabrit', morsels of fried pork 'griot', poultry with a Creole sauce 'poulet creole', rice with wild mushroom 'du riz jonjon' are all wonderful and tasty dishes. Along the coast fish, lobster and conch are readily available. Haiti has a very fine collection of fruit including guava, pineapple, mango (Haiti's most prized fruit), banana, melons, breadfruit, as well as mouth watering sugarcane cut and peeled to order on the streets. Restaurants in the bigger cities provide safe and wonderful meals, and precautions are taken with the food and water to keep things safe. Even in resorts with purified water, it is not always safe to assume that raw vegetables (such as lettuce and tomatoes) have been properly washed. In smaller or more humble venues make sure to eat fruit and vegetables that can be skinned or peeled, drink bottled drinks only, make sure any ice is from a clean water source, make sure any meat is well cooked.
When bottled water or boiled water is not available, a freshly opened coconut provides water and electrolytes with minimal health risk in Haiti.
Haitian rum is well-known. 'Barbancourt 5 star' is a top of the line drink. 'Clairin' is the local firewater made from sugarcane that can be bought on the street, often flavored with various herbs that can be seen stuffed into the bottle. 'Prestige' is the most popular beer, and is of good quality and excellent taste. Also be sure to try the 'Papye' drink, a sort of papaya milk shake that is delicious beyond words on a hot day.
There are many guest houses throughout Haiti. However, these are quite hard to find while overseas. Many of these guest houses run about 25 to 35 dollars a night and includes 2 to 3 meals during the day. Sometimes these houses are associated with orphanages (e.g., Saint Joseph's Home for Boys).
Saint Joseph's Home for Boys is in Delma 91 in Petionville.
Fondwa Guest House is at the bottom of the hill from Anbatonel (a small village 1/2 way between Leogane and Jacmel).
Camping is a high risk activity in certain parts of Haiti and is not recommended.
Surviving through decades of political and economical instability, the Haitian people are very weary and want nothing more than the basic necessities of life. As it is with spending time with other people who live with the barest necessities of life, Haiti teaches its visitors what is really important in life and offers glimpses of how the world can become a better place.
There are many ways to approach Haiti but always keep an open mind about how the Haitian way is different than our own. There are many lessons to learn as well as many beautiful things to see and beautiful people to meet.
Ask yourself whether, given your own personal circumstances, you are comfortable traveling to Haiti knowing that you could be caught up in politically motivated violence or targeted by criminals. Ask yourself if travel could be deferred or an alternative destination chosen. If, having considered these issues, you do decide to travel to Haiti, foreigners are reminded of the potential for spontaneous demonstrations and violent confrontations between armed groups. Visitors and residents must remain vigilant at all times due to the absence of an effective police force in much of Haiti; the potential for looting; the presence of intermittent roadblocks set by armed gangs or by the police; and the possibility of random violent crime, including kidnapping, car-jacking, and assault in some areas. Acts of politically motivated violence occur frequently and civil disorder is a problem in some areas such as Cité Soleil in Port au Prince. Local authorities, including the police, often have limited capacity to control the situation or provide assistance.
While the US State Department  has lifted the departure from Haiti of all U.S. Embassy non-emergency employees and all family members of American embassy personnel, all American citizens who travel to or remain in Haiti are advised to remain extremely vigilant at all times.
Tap water should be avoided as much as possible. Stick to the bottled variety. Health care, though often not of the standards one would be accustomed to in more developed countries, is available in all large towns and cities; many smaller towns and villages also have health clinics. However facilities, technology and a good variety medicines can be in meager supply.
The biggest concern in Haiti for travellers is malaria, and dehydration. One should make an appointment with a travel clinic for anti-malarial prophylaxis. Hydration requirements can be fulfilled by preparing one of the many water purifying systems as if one were going camping or by buying bottled water once in Haiti which is widely available and inexpensive by western standards. Washing oneself with water from places such as creek or lake is not recommended due to risk of water-borne disease.
Depending on your itinerary, you may have to walk a lot so comfortable footwear is crucial for avoiding blisters. Hiking boots are recommended as well as comfortable sandals.
One thing a missionary or other visitor to Haiti learns very quickly is that the Haitians are a very dignified people; they have their pride, despite all they have had to endure. There are some beggars and peddlars in the cities, but they are the exception, not the rule. Don't expect kow-towing. Impoverished Haitians will always accept gifts, but they will almost always stand straight, look you in the eye, and repay you with a sincere "Mesi".
The smart visitor should look people in the eye, wave hello, and treat them with friendship and respect, as equals, no matter how poor or desperate their living conditions may seem. Try to learn some basic words of Creole.
Ask permission before taking pictures of locals (don't be surprised if they ask you for money). Don’t walk about sticking your camera in people’s faces or taking pictures randomly. Do not solely take pictures of the piles of trash you may see in some of the bigger cities (such as Cap Haitien or Port au Prince), as it may offend people or anything else that Haitians are not proud of (or that you would not be proud of if it was your country). However, people have no problem with debating issues and foreigners taking pictures of beautiful scenery, cultural events or historical sites. Carry a few gourdes in your pockets for the kids who carry your luggage/shine your shoes/hail your tap-tap at the airport (but be alert for pick-pockets as you would be in any poor area). Sometimes visitors to Haiti like to walk about handing out candy or dollar bills. While many people, especially children, will accept your offering, this is offensive to most people as it compromises the dignity of Haitians, fails to solve any of the problems of poverty, and serves the ego of the donor rather than the needs of the country. Carry an extra water bottle and food to share with your driver/guide/interpreter.
Be patient. Murphy's Law is everywhere; deal with it. Remember that most of these people are living on a survival level; they will find your whining amusing at best, severely insulting at worst.
Carry a few photos of the area where you live, your workplace, your family, to share with friends you make.
AVOID talking about anything that's Dominican! Haitian people still resent Dominican people since the border wars of the 1800's and 1900's.
These are the things the transform you from just another tourist into a real person. More often than not, the Haitians will return the favor, and you might just find a friend.
Your emotions are real - it is okay to feel overwhelmed if you have not experienced this type of culture difference before. If you are easily affected by signs of poverty, Haiti is not for you. Be polite but not intrusive. It is OK to ask questions of the locals, but you should be prepared to be hassled a LOT of the time if you stand out as a foreigner. Remember that you are a guest in their country. This is not like a "vacation" you may have had in the past. Don't expect to be treated as a king or a queen (though you might get some extra privileges) because you're foreign. Haiti on a whole is emphatically NOT a marketed tourist destination and therefore they do not view foreigners as tourists whom they are ready to please and serve on hand and foot. If you prepare your mindset before arrival, you will be better able to cope.