What a crazy, great thirty hours my trip to Jacmel was.
Hands on typically has a half day every other Saturday so volunteers can rest up and potentially travel to see other parts of Haiti. Last Saturday myself and a group of seven other volunteers set out for a seat of the pants trip to Jacmel, some 50km from Leogane. It was a good group including the guys from my bunk bed row that I consider my best guy friends here -- In fact it was a bit of a guys' trip as the only girl was with one of the guys and they did their own thing for the most part.
About 3:30 pm we left the Hands On base and walked to the tap-tap station and after a quick search of "Jacmel? Jacmel?" we found a tap-tap that said they were going that way and we all piled on. It all seemed like a smooth start. We were on a tap-tap and headed up into the mountains.
The road up there is narrow and twisting and hugs to the top of cliffs and large drops and ridges where you can look down hundreds of feet on both sides. Combine that with the crazy way Haitians drive and you have one nerve-racking ride.
So as it was all working fine, something had to happen. At some random point our tap-tap just stopped. The driver said he wasn't going any further. "Jacmel," we said. "This is the road to Jacmel," says the driver. Lots of confusion and some arguing, but in the end, this was the halfway point and he was turning around to head back to Leogane. We paid him the price for this far (it wasn't just us blancs that were taken by surprise at this, but another Haitian in the tap-tap as well) and stood in the road hitching.
Nobody stopped for about half an hour, until at last a big bus (literaly a bus) of a tap-tap stopped for us. Only problem was that there was no room inside, just on the top, a good ten feet above the roadway. Being young, adventurous and a bit dumb, we climbed on up for what would be one of the most white knuckled rides of my life.
Holding on for dear life, we tore down the widing road. Probably one of the riskiest things I've ever done, it's amazing how fast you can get used to, and even eventually enjoy, something like that. The view from the top of a bus overlooking the mountains, valleys and slopes is pretty great -- unfortunately I was a little too nervous to take many pictures, preferring to hang on most of the time.
After a forty-five minute trip we ended up in Jacmel, safe and sound. After a little misdirection from an English speaking Haitian claiming to know where we wanted to go and promptly taking us in the wrong direction, we found a hotel with just enough beds left for our group.
Then, since it was basically just a guys' weekend, we grabbed a couple beers and sat on the porch overlooking the busy street below and chatted until the sun was starting to go down. Then, feeling hunger set in, we went out for a look about town and it's options for food.
Jacmel hadn't suffered as badly as Leogane in the Earthquake, but you can still see many signs of destruction that it left. The buildings are the main square had been hit hard with the big central hotel and the county administration buildings being declared unsafe and shut up. The square itself had become a IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp, which happened to be hosting a basketball tournament that night that we just missed - a good sign of the community living on after a disaster.
Eventually we settled on some BBQ chicken from a place just around the corner from the hotel and we went back there to eat and enjoy a couple more beers... and some rum.
After a while, we got up our steam again and went out looking for one of the other hotels to try and find some new people. Then, failing in that, we went to the night club across the street from our hotel. Who knows what the Haitians there thought when a group of white guys took over the dance floor just before close. We shut the place down with our great white guy styles.
Back for sleep and up the next morning fairly early to get the included breakfast. Being a little hung over I wasn't all too happy to see that breakfast was... a bowl of soup? Chicken noodle soup. That didn't sound all too appetizing, but I tell you now, it was a good bowl of soup and it hit the spot. Was good to have coffee as well. I felt ready to take on our activity of the day: The search for the Bassins-Bleu waterfalls.
First we traversed the town and a Sunday market jammed full of people. Next we forded three rivers (One big arm and two little arms of the same river really). Then it was a 5k hike up a steep mountain in the growing afternoon heat of Haiti. We arrived exhausted, sweaty, and hungry --- but no lunch available!!! We failed to pack a picnic. Lucky for us we were able to grab a couple of coconuts in the village right by the falls.
After a short repose in the village we went up to the falls with the mandatory guide we had hired in town.The waterfalls were amazing. Well, the biggest one was amazing. To reach it, you had to dive into a clear, cool pool of water bordered by 60 feet cliffs on both sides, swim around a corner... and then, there it was. 75 feet cascading down rocks. We climbed up about halfway to a ledge to jump off into the water. We floated about. We explored the caves of funky stalagmites and colors behind and around the waterfall. It was a great afternoon and well worth the hike and the hunger.
We weren't really looking forward to the hike down, but luckily a passing NGO truck stopped and picked us up after only a couple kilometers. It belonged to a Norwegian woman working in camp management in the area. She had AC in the car and I was able to enjoy it for a good 5k. And we didn't even have to ford the river again, the car took car of us. What great serendipity.
We went straight to the station. The ride home was pretty uneventful and we arrived in Leogane around 7pm and immediately decided to get food.
A good night and day. All done on a wing and it all worked out, as things do with a little patience and a bit of luck.
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