Okay, maybe we didn’t “run” away, but we did “get” away!
About a week and a half ago my dear husband surprised me by suggesting we get away for a night in Petion-Ville for Valentine’s Day. We have a friend who opened up a new boutique hotel, La Lorraine, at the end of last year. Chris thought it was the perfect place to go, and he was right! I had thought about it since we got a tour pre-opening last fall. We made arrangements for Yonese to come stay with the kids at night and between her and Ryan we knew they would be well taken care of.
Chris took Olivia to school yesterday, and then we headed out. It really is a very rare occasion that we make a trip in to Port au Prince with nothing on the agenda, or only fun things. Usually our days are filled with errands that make the most of the trip. We had some things we wanted to do, but there was no pressure and no schedule. We didn’t have to be anywhere at a certain time and didn’t need to be back at a certain time. You know what that is? Freedom! Freedom we haven’t had since Olivia was small enough to take wherever we wanted to take her (and she was awesome at just going with the flow). Freedom we haven’t had for a while with life that revolves around running the mission.
So, we set off and our first stop was at a mattress factory in Bon Repos on the way into town. Our bed that we bought after we got married has not been kind to us, and it’s really hard to find something in Haiti that isn’t marked up 5 times what you might pay in North America. Some people had suggested stopping by this place because they’d been happy with the beds they got there. It’s the same company that made the bed we currently have, but we thought we would give them the benefit of the doubt thinking maybe they had more models from the outlet where we got ours. Nope. We weren’t planning on buying a new bed yesterday, just gathering info, and the info we gathered was that we would keep looking. The beds are fine, we just know we need something with more support.
The thing that was fascinating about the visit to the factory was that they’ve also started a major recycling business on site. I had heard that they recycled metal, and when we pulled in the gate we had to weave our way in between vehicles and men that were lining up to weigh their haul for the day so they could get paid. As we continued on we passed an area where people were lining up to have bottles counted and to get their money for what they had brought in. We’ve been seeing giant (as in fills the back of a pick-up truck box big) sacks around that will be filled with plastic bottles waiting to be picked up. Now we know where they go! They squish them down into huge bales for recycling. As I was waiting in the car for Chris to come back I also saw a section where guys were shredding paper and bagging it. I didn’t get any pictures of this stuff, but it was cool to see. People often ask us what kind of positive changes we’re seeing here. I would say this was a big one! I do know I’ve seen less metal scrap sitting around and fewer plastic bottles.
After the mattress factory we decided to do something totally spontaneous, but something we’ve wanted to do for years – we went to the Barbancourt Rum factory and got a tour! It was really cool. I would definitely recommend this for anyone visiting Haiti, even if you don’t drink! The production of rum has been such a foundational part of not only Haiti’s history, but for many countries in the Caribbean. The Barbancourt factory has been making rum for over 150 years, so this is really one of the few pieces of Haiti’s history that you can come in contact with. The great part is that you don’t need to make an appointment or call ahead for a tour! You can just pull up to the gate on Rue Barbancourt (one of the side roads that connects Route Nef and Route Nationale 1) and tell the guard you’re there for a “vizit” then go into the main office and ask for a tour/vizit. Everyone was really nice and they even served us complimentary, AMAZING espresso before our tour. One of the higher ups within the company was the one to give the tour and we were surprised at how relaxed and informal it was, yet we got to go right into the heart of things.
We started by going through the yard where all the cut cane is brought in. From there it goes into the machines that start shredding and pressing it. It’s amazing how dry the husks are. They actually burn a lot of it to create some of the power that is used to run the plant!
After watching the press we got to go up to the fermenting vats. They’re HUGE! We climbed a ladder to a full one that was just slowly bubbling away. We could have literally dipped our hands in it. From there we walked over to the control center for the stills and got to see some of the hard alcohol that had come off a batch that morning. Our guide poured some on our hands so we could see how fast it evaporated. It smelled like strong hand sanitizer, but let me tell you – my hands felt way cleaner! It wasn’t harsh at all, very smooth feeling and it really did evaporate quickly. It was very cool! We got to talk to one of the head technicians/distillers which was fun too. It’s times like that where I’m so glad we speak Creole.
After that we walked by the lab, then out into the factory grounds again and over to one of the cask store houses, of which there are many! We went through two of them, seeing hundreds of casks. The barrels are all made in France and shipped over. The HUGE ones are assembled on site. We asked some of the men that are responsible for maintaining the casks/barrels how old the oldest ones are and they said some are over 90 years old!
After the cask store houses we went to the bottling center and got to see the bottling lines working. Not just from a distance, but walking right between the lines and seeing the machines running. It was cool!
It was a really fun way to pass an hour and I’m so glad that we took the time to do it! I was really impressed with the whole operation and thought it was really cool to see how nicely the grounds within the place were kept there was grass between the buildings and big flowering bushes growing everywhere. They were even replacing a section of grass, and there wasn’t a bit of garbage in sight. If you live in or visit Haiti and decide to visit make sure you go between October and June – they shut down production for July-September to clean the machines and do all the annual maintenance. Interestingly enough, the company has cane cutters specifically for it’s fields, and during that break time they get a bonus so they aren’t without income.
After our tour we headed up to Petion-Ville to get closer to our hotel, and decided to go for lunch at, well, Lunch Box. It’s a cute little outdoor restaurant that we’ve probably driven by many times and just didn’t know was there. The food was decent and so were the prices compared to a lot of places in PV. From there we headed up to our hotel and enjoyed an afternoon of relaxing without hearing “Maa Maa!” or “Can I have some juice??” I won’t lie, it was SO nice to sleep all the way through the night and until after 7 this morning without being woken up by someone under 4 feet tall. I did get woken up by Chris, but it was to tell me that he had asked for coffee to be sent up, so that’s allowed :)
We love La Lorraine. I’m so excited for our friend. For years we’d been hearing about this dream of hers, and to see it become something real is very cool. And the place is cool! No two rooms are the same. They all have unique decor and are really well put together. The whole place is just really cool. And the bed… that mattress issue I was telling you about? Yeah, we got the insider scoop on where to go to get a good bed for a reasonable price. Last night we both slept better than we had in a very long time.
We went by our favorite bakery in all of Haiti for breakfast pastries, Marie Belliard. If you’re ever in Petion Ville, just go. And have their ham and cheese croissant. Or two. And an espresso. With sugar. I love how countries that have espresso as part of their regular fare know exactly how much sugar to put in it to make it taste perfect. You just order it “with sugar” and it’s perfect. Every time!
We went grocery shopping at the new Caribbean Supermarket. We used to go to the old one that came down in the earthquake about once a month to every six weeks if we were in town. We don’t usually go up to Petion-Ville so the new one is out of our way. Since we were there we decided to see what it was like. Um, I haven’t felt that overwhelmed since one of my first trips back to Canada after being here for a while without a break! I could have taken pictures at various places in the store and you would never have known it was Haiti! It was literally so overwhelming that I told Chris several times he had to leave me alone because I was on overload and couldn’t concentrate. It’s a beautiful store, but it was expensive and while it was fun to see it we know we won’t shop there all that often. Most of the stuff we eat regularly we can find in our area now, or at one of the other stores in PAP that is more accessible.
I do have to mention my highlight of the shopping experience, though. As I came around the corner to the frozen foods section (a.k.a. all the imported stuff that will cost you an arm and a leg, like a 1L container of ice cream for $10+) I came face to face with two employees wearing… wait for it… SNOW SUITS!!
In Haiti. Wearing. Snowsuits. In. Haiti.
I had to stifle laughter because it caught me so off guard. I mean, I completely understand that they were loading up stock in the freezers in the back to bring out for stocking shelves, but coming from Canada it was SO funny to me because a guy doing that back home would *maybe* wear a jacket :) I loved it though, and after I caught the laughter the first thought that ran through my head was, “I wonder where they had to ship those in from?”
TIH. Never a dull moment.
We had a great time on our “run away”!