Camping In De Mer, Haiti – Motoring out of Cap Hatien, Nord on Route Nationale #1 we made good headway against a continuous stream of old trucks, small trucks, cars of every variety, donkey and human-powered conveyances. The flight into Cap Haitian originated in Port-au-Prince.
It was a quick, but blustery ride over wicked-looking Haitian mountains. These mountains appeared to be wicked as seen from our moderately low cruise altitude. On arrival, we were bundled into an old Toyota Forerunner that was to take us to De Mer. De Mer, Haiti is a small village that is not too far from Cap Hatien, but exudes a subdued character by contrast. Our camp would be a small two room house situated on a neatly cultivated holding with elevations high enough to afford pleasant vistas of the ocean and surrounding pastoral areas.
We passed Haut-Du-Cap and Vaudreuil. The overcast skies faded to a darker shade of gray and by the time we passed the turnoff for Cercaville, it began to rain. The rain lasted for about ten minutes. When, finally, the vehicle’s windows could be rolled down, the air smelled like fresh grass and frangipani. The sun was now burning through the clouds and all was well. The hills of Nan Blanque could be seen in the distance across the shallow limits of the bight that protrudes inland from St Michel. Our driver had promised us fresh fish and a brief stop at the village pier was a suitable opportunity to stretch our legs and take photos. We purchased three very fresh groupers that had just been gutted and cleaned. The fisherman also donated some limes and local seasoning. Nicolas, our driver and fixer, insisted that we would not have to worry about supplies and basic items like charcoal. He had worked the provisioning list before our arrival. Even the Presidente beer, ice and coffee were in supply. Fabulous!
Madame Betiane was parked in her son’s yellow pickup as we pulled onto the property. She lived about eight miles away. Nicolas, the fixer, had located the camp and negotiated the rental fees. Nicolas patiently translated all of Madame Betiane’s concerns including warning us that the cows might pass through the yard areas on their stroll down to a water hole. No problem. These cows would be safe with our vegetarian crew. Their droppings might even cultivate a few mushrooms that might go well with the fixings. We must work with the ox that we have, and not with the ox that we want!
Our two-room dwelling was modest, clean and constructed on a shallow concrete pier with CMU walls. The additional room featured walls and windows built with wood. The little house was painted green with a tan colored trim on the doorframes and windows. The roof was corrogated metal painted bright red. The house faced the prevailing winds and was just right in all-important respects. The furniture was minimal, locally made of mahogany and the walls were decorated with three exceptionally nice Haitian paintings. There was no electricity. The galley area was part of the living room. The cooker was a locally manufactured propane two-burner that worked quite well. The propane bottle sat on two concrete blocks uncomfortabley close to the stove, but just. We have survived riskier installations on boats with less ventillation. The head, including a shower, were located outside to the back of the main dwelling. Though small, it was newly constructed with a flushing toilet and a small porcelain sink.
We built a charcoal pit and even found a discarded steel mesh that came in handy as a cooking surface. We cooked a large pot of rice and peas along with fried plantains. The fish were seasoned and grilled to perfection. It was very dark by the time dinner was actually enjoyed. By eight PM the Sony Bluetooth speaker was retired in favor of the discreet night sounds of coqui frogs, and some very loud Haitian crickets. This was a memorable first night on a six-day retreat in the Der Mer area.
Our treks through the neighboring hills also included road trips out to Limbe, Bellevue and even Redoute. It was a much needed escape from a stifling life routine in America. Having a reliable 4X4 vehicle and a good measure of local knowledge brought us to places that will be talked about for some time. One memorable day trip to Redoute afforded spectacular views of the mouth of the bight near St Michel, and the Baie de l’Acuil. Added to that was a lunch of Haitian creole chicken and rice prepared by a farmer and his family. Permission was granted for us to cross his land and we traded cold drinks and a sack of Haitian country rice for lunch. On our departure, Madame Betiane was gracious enough to sell me one of her paintings. This was not easy, but she finally caved after I through-in a Kershaw knife and LED flashlight to seal the deal. Merci Madame! De Mer, Haiti was a very affordable and worthwhile adventure.