Dec 2, 2013

Visiting Port-au-Prince, Haiti

We totally loved our visit to Haiti.  We found it was less expensive to fly into Santo Domingo then fly to Port-au-Prince from there. The biggest problem was connecting between the two Santo Domingo airports so hired a nice young man to drive us thus avoiding the taxis.  It was expensive but smooth and easy, which we appreciated. Port-au-Prince suffered from the 2010 earthquake but we were impressed because everyone seemed busy and things were improving. We were in Managua twenty years after they suffered a similar earthquake and, except for clearing the ruble away, nothing had been rebuilt. 

In Port-au-Prince we stayed at the new Best Western Premier which was lovely and had a lot of Haitian artwork on display and even had a book that described the artwork.  Many of the governmental buildings including the Presidential Palace were destroyed but are in the process of being rebuilt.  The restored Iron Market is the bright sign of hope for the future of Port-au-Prince. Like a vision from the Arabian Nights the beautiful red Iron Market complete with minarets, was restored by John McAslan who has a variety of interests in the area, namely the major internet company. On Tuesday, January 11, 2011 he joined Bill Clinton for the grand reopening of the market.  The Clinton foundation, which has many programs in support of Haiti, commented that the
completed market was a “bright beacon” of hope for the future of Haiti. Without a doubt it provides employment for many people. The market is jam packed with everything from handicrafts to pigeons. The building has an interesting history. It was prefabricated in France and was intended to be the train station in Cairo. But the plan didn’t work and, as the story goes, Florvil Hyppolite, President of Haiti from 1828 to 1896, was visiting France and decided it was just what Port-au-Prince needed so he bought it and had it shipped to Haiti to serve as the central market. 

Every visit to Port-au-Prince should include a visit to The Observatory.  It offers an expansive view of the mountain, sea, and the city.  We visited twice.  Once during the day and then returned in the evening where there is a new restaurant, The Observatory has great food with a magical view of the city lights far below. 

One day we ate at Le Chateaublond, located just a short distance
from Port-au-Prince. It is a sugar cane museum with artifacts and structures that recall the days of sugar cane production a key component in Haiti’s history. On display are a train, the chimney, vats and other artifacts.  Our meal was hosted by Pierre Richard Moiso who explained typical Haitian food and beverages while sharing his love of Haiti.  I learned about acra, a favorite appetizer made from a Haitian ground root; Chiquetaille de Lambi, a conch recipe that is a must-have at a Haitian’s first communion celebration; and Clairin, a popular drink similar to moonshine that comes in a variety of flavors.  

Dining at Chateublond was a total experience with Pierre Richard Moiso in charge. We learned about Haitian food and the sugar cane industry. Moiso said when he looks at the tall brick chimney he thinks of his ancestors who toiled in the cane fields. He explained, “Haiti has something special. It is not like everywhere else. Yes, there are things I’d like to see changed but I don’t want us to lose our identity.”