Over the Hills and Through the Woods!

Saturday morning we got up early  to head out on a little road trip. After a yummy breakfast we piled in the car and Ryan hopped on his motorcycle and we started making the journey across the island to the north of Haiti. Our plan was to visit friends we’ve known online for several years, but had yet to meet face to face, with the exception of Cory who had stopped by about a week and a half ago for the first time.

I had never been past Goinaves in the 7+ years that I’ve lived here, and it’s been years  since Chris took a trip up north. Back then the roads were horrible and it could take 5-6 hours or more to do the drive. Since then they’ve done a lot of road work and with the exception of a few places the roads were fine. We were able to do the trip in about 3 hours with a few stops along the way.

One thing I love about Haiti is how much the landscape changes from zone to zone. Our area is barren compared to most other areas in the sense that it’s mostly short grasses and scrub brush, if there is any. If you go north of St. Marc you arrive in the Artibonite Valley, which is where most of Haiti’s rice is grown. In areas where they haven’t irrigated the land is very arid. I do think it’s important to mention that when the island of Hispaniola was found, it would have been covered in trees and jungle type growth. Looking at Haiti now, at least in our area, it’s hard to envision that. But, when you have the opportunity to see other areas where large trees are still allowed to grow and under brush isn’t cut back it’s a tropical paradise. It’s sad to look at the terrain in our area and know what it could look like, if only the trees were kept or replanted and protected.

The dot of light is Ryan on his motorcycle following us.

The dot of light is Ryan on his motorcycle following us.

Early morning sunshine.

Early morning sunshine.

I love this moment in the drive where you crest a hill and the Artibonite Valley sprawls below.

I love this moment in the drive where you crest a hill and the Artibonite Valley sprawls below.

The Artibonite River in Pon Sonde.

The Artibonite River in Pon Sonde.

The start of a very busy market day. Two hours later and it would have taken us about 15 minutes to get through here.

The start of a very busy market day. Two hours later and it would have taken us about 15 minutes to get through here.

In the Artibonite you pass miles of rice fields…

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As you get into Gonaives the land changes again. In 2004 Gonaives was badly flooded and the flood left a lake where cacti used to live. The lake has finally dried up and shrubs are starting to come back, and the grass is growing. The last time we drove through there people were still fishing out of it.

North of Gonaives you start to see bigger trees. The Mapu tree is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They have some significance in voodoo, so while you might see limbs cut off a Mapu tree, you never see one cut down. Because of this they’re massive. One time Chris and I were in an outlying area of Gonaives and we came across a Mapu tree that was literally about 10 feet in diameter! I have a picture of Chris somewhere standing next to it. In order to get a good picture of the tree I had to stand way back, and Chris looks like a dot. The Mapu trees will grow mixed in with old mango trees, trees that drip with fruit. It’s amazing!

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The road over the mountains is literally that – a road that goes over the mountains. You climb and climb and climb through a maze of switchbacks and curves as Haiti’s mountain ranges lay out before you. In Creole there is a phrase –  “Apre morn gen morn”. Loosely translated it means “After mountains there are more mountains.” It’s so true. You can look at the side of a hill and think that’s the highest range around, but when you get to the top you see miles of hills and mountains stretched before you going off into the horizon. I have honestly never seen anything like it.

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At the top of the climb you come to the place where the road forks. Go one way and you’ll head to Marmelade, which we’ve heard is beautiful. Go the other way, and you head to Cap Haitian. We went the other way :)

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You’re only at the top for a few seconds and you start to go down the other side. There is one spot where you are literally at the top of the range and looking down both sides you see miles and miles of valley below you, filled with it’s own smaller ranges. It baffles me to think of who originally cut these roads.

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Looking at the road to come…

Apre morn, gen morn.

Apre morn, gen morn.

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Smoke from charcoal pits filters up.

Going down, down, down you start to find yourself in green. Big trees, high grasses, flowering bushes – it’s so lush and fresh. After going down the switch backs and past small communities the road starts to climb again. This time the climb isn’t as severe, but climb you do.

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As we started to come down the other side of the second climb I looked down to see a river finding it’s way through the green jungle like landscape. It caught me by surprise, because rather than being the brown river that is the Artibonite River, this was clear fresh water that tumbled over boulders and wove through the valley.

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At the bottom of our decent we found ourselves driving parallel to this beautiful river. Children played in it and ladies sat in groups washing their colorful laundry. It wasn’t full of garbage and wallowing animals, and I thought to myself, “This is the Haiti I want people to see, because Haiti is so much more than what people see when they get off the plane.” The truth is, many never get past Port au Prince and it’s surrounding areas. If you only see one thing, you think that’s what defines a place, right? Haiti is so much more complicated and beautiful than that, though.

The Fauche campus.

The Fauche campus.

We got to Limbe and headed down the road to Fauche (foh-shay) to the Wesleyen campus where they live. Again, it’s a beautiful area. It gets hot, but the large trees and greenery make for a different kind of hot. I think it was cooler than our place, partly because it’s more north, but also because of the greenery. It’s amazing how much heat a large tree can cut out.

We really enjoyed our weekend with Kris, Cory, Eli and Anna and hope we’ll get to see them when they make trips down our way. There’s a big difference in spending time with people that have been in country for years and spending time with people who are only a few years in. Kris was also a missionary kid here so we heard all sorts of interesting stories about her time growing up in the country and how different things were back then.

Cory is an agriculturist, so Chris and I had fun walking through his “garden” which is really a loose term because it’s pretty huge and sort of trickles down one side of the property. He has a nursery area where he starts his plants or babies his cuttings, then finds new homes for them. The variety of things he’s trying out is mind-boggling. When he stopped by for a quick visit a couple weeks ago he brought us almost a pick-up truck box full of plants and trees. Yesterday we left with a trunk full of cuttings and root balls! Chris really enjoys trying out fruiting trees, so he and Cory had fun talking about what would work in our area and what to try. It was also fun for us to get to try some of the fruit from the things that he gave us, like ever bearing mulberry! People often ask us what we miss food wise, and when it comes to fruit, we both miss berries! They need cooler dormant times, and Haiti just doesn’t have that. But, this mulberry is great for hot climates like Haiti and is delish! We ate them fresh and in pancakes, and you can use them to make jam!

One of the other fascinating plants that Cory gave us is Miracle Fruit! Miracle Fruit is this berry that you eat that heightens your taste for anything else you eat after it, for about 20 minutes. Sour things can become sweet and sweet things become more sweet. We found one ripe berry on their bushes, so Chris, Ryan and I split it and had a tasting party before we left. I already have extra taste buds, so food tends to taste more intense for me naturally, so I was curious. Wow! The sour stuff was fun, but I noticed the biggest difference on a slice of mango. It was so syrupy sweet I could hardly finish it! It was fun, and I can’t wait until our bushes start giving fruit and we can let our workers try it. That’ll be a fun day! :)

Miracle Fruit!

Miracle Fruit!

Most of what Cory gave us yesterday are flowering plants, which I’m so excited about! We have lots of green things at our place, but not much that flowers. We now have about 10 different kinds of hibiscus and other things like ginger, anthurium, peace lily and several varieties of heliconia. Have I mentioned I’m excited???

One of the Hibiscus varieties.

One of the Hibiscus varieties.

Another Hibiscus variety we got. There's also a peach one like this, a giant coral orange one, the standard red, a deeper red, a pink with light streaks, a peach with burgundy center... so many!

Another Hibiscus variety we got. There’s also a peach one like this, a giant coral orange one, the standard red, a deeper red, a pink with light streaks, a peach with burgundy center… so many!

Cory getting some "help" from Alex. We already have the giant leaf plant that's over Alex's head growing in our yard. Cory is digging up some of the plant with the purpleish leaves for us to take home.

Cory getting some “help” from Alex. We already have the giant leaf plant that’s over Alex’s head growing in our yard. Cory is digging up some of the plant on the right for us to take home.

The drive back was just as pleasant as the drive there. We made a quick stop to buy some mangos just before we arrived back in Gonaives. There’s one area under a bunch of big old mango and Mapu trees where ladies line up along the road and sell their fruit.

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These Mapu trees are still very young, probably only about 15 – 20 years old.

It was a fun get away!

~Leslie

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4 thoughts on “Over the Hills and Through the Woods!

  1. I loved some of the pictures Robin had taken when he was on the vision trip last year dropping off the water filters because the area seemed so lush compared to PAP. Now these pictures you shared are beautiful and thanks for the explanation of the Mapu tree. I had wondered how such large trees survived in Haiti.

    • Hi Beth!

      Glad you enjoyed them. The Mapu trees really are amazing. The larger ones I’ve seen would be comparable to a giant Redwood, or something like that. I remember the first time I saw them. I wondered how they managed to not get cut down, then Chris explained. When we were looking at land there was one piece that had a neighboring Mapu that was amazing. The large ones are just so majestic looking.

  2. Thanks for sharing your weekend! Carol and I hope to get up to northern Haiti sometime and also out to Les Cayes. Have a blessed week.

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