12th January 2017
A Wild Frontiers recce tour is, by definition, "fantastic fun and highly rewarding", but "will not assuredly go 100% to plan". Not surprisingly then, our Haiti: The Undiscovered Caribbean tour, a recce one, was full of surprises, and sometimes we had to deviate from the original itinerary, thereby discovering something completely new to us and, possibly, even better than what we expected.
This was certainly the case with our ride to Jacmel, originally planned in 4WD lightly armoured style vehicles nicknamed "rhinos", over the mountains and through La Visite National Park. Safety reasons, basically the bad conditions of the track caused by odd weather, had prompted us to change the itinerary at the last minute, getting to Jacmel on the main road instead (which was an adventure in itself, especially getting out of the very busy traffic in the capital Port Au Prince). We were already planning ahead to day 4 so that we could still enjoy the guided city tour and swim in the fabulous waters of Bassin Bleu.
So, day 4 of the trip had to be reinvented and, if the afternoon was going to be a lazy one at our beautiful hotel on the side of Cyvadier cove, that meant the morning was free for us to do something else.
Our guide, Michel, suggested we could visit Fort Ogé, a great site often underestimated because it's quite tiny compared with The (with a capital T) fortress, La Citadelle. It is still very important for the Haitians in the past and in the present, so much so that it has been drawn on the back of the 10 Gourdes banknote (see above). It was built around 1805-1808 as part of the defensive system organised by Jean-Jacques Dessalines against a possible invasion by the French.
It became evident early on that the vehicle we started the trip with, a normal minivan, would not be able to climb the 10km bumpy off-road track up to the fort, so we called in a 4WD pick-up. The limited number of seats inside this second vehicle offered the chance for the more adventurous among us to stand in the back, with our hands safely holding onto a big metal bar, whilst still enjoying fantastic views of the valleys and villages along the way - a real highlight for some of us. One hour later we were up at the top, where we met with the resident guide Jean Philippe who, in perfect French (translated by Michel), explained the importance and beauty of the site. Just a few travellers visit it each day, so during our visit we almost felt as though we were the only guardians of the site, left there by the first ruler of an independent Haiti. We explored inside the dungeons, around the courtyard and over the bastions, with our guide bringing it alive for us throughout. The view around was impressive, as was the great work that has been undertaken to restore the site.
At the end, just before going downhill in our faithful 4WD, we also learnt that the local community is reinvesting part of the profits from the entrance fees into schooling and road maintenance projects, to help the people who live in the area. Absolutely right and deserved, we thought, after they'd been guarding the southern coast of the nation for more than two centuries.
Tour leader Daniele Binaghi has just returned from leading our recce Haiti: The Undiscovered Caribbean group tour.
All photographs by Daniele Binaghi.