Origin trip to Haiti, July 2015
Day 1: Arrive in Haiti [Jodie]
We arrived at lunchtime and were recommended a really lovely courtyard restaurant, Quartier Latin. European menu, European prices which means all business lunches, we seem to be the only tourists here. We spoke to the Argentinean ambassador at the next table but he was hard pushed to give us recommendations except for a sushi restaurant. We walked around town, very dumpy but found the beautiful old Kinam hotel, very glitzy bar and restaurant on a square surrounded by touristy art for sale along the sidewalk.
Some kids came begging and a couple of them followed us for a while, then we walked through a market road, it was buzzing with people, cars and bikes and we had to keep jumping out of peoples way onto the packed and filthy pavement. We saw a bar that looked inviting with red lanterns hanging on the ceiling, it was on the third floor of a building and we went up for a beer, it was lively as Haiti were playing an international football match on the TV. We met an NGO from Germany and he told us of the troubles of putting in the new government, there are currently 60 parties running, none with any formal ideology and none with any idea on how to improve this country's infrastructure. He recommended a pizza place and we went for dinner, another pretty courtyard, a delicious rum punch and pizza and ice cream, we are yet to eat local food, but I suppose this is the local food for the wealthy, and it's really good. The vibe is different here, the people seem neither happy not sad, it's not a laid back place, everyone is busy and on the streets, mainly selling anything they can find, I get the feeling that they are homeless or that being on the street is preferable to where 'home' is, I wonder if it was like this pre earthquake, it seems likely, it seems like this has been an unstable city for a very long time.
Day 2: Port au Prince [Jodie]
Today we had the real Haitian experience. The hotel offered us a driver for $80 but no, we (Paul) thought it would be so much better to take the bus, actually he was right, for 60p we both got on the shanty town bus from Petionville market to Port au Prince, a really easy journey, a packed lively bus full of people who were keen to talk to us (creole/French) and help us find our way. We did the touristy things, the Haitian history museum, where we learnt about the revolt of the slaves , a stunning gallery of Haitian art, we tried to visit the presidential palace and memorials but all were enclosed by fences and building work - that's really it for Haitian culture. I then wanted to visit the 'marche de fer' and that's when things got a bit hairy. Never in India, Asia or Africa have I got so close to slum life. The roads are just cross sections of filthy market stalls selling hardware, smashed laptops and 2nd hand jeans. It doesn't smell here, no one looks unhealthy, quite the opposite, every ones fairly well dressed and just seems accepting (not particularly happy) with their lot. We felt fairly safe wondering around the slum market until we arrived at a beautiful church that had been demolished by the earthquake, at the church gate (locked) a number of homeless started following us asking for money, and yelling at us in creole, we were at a dead end but thankful Paul kept his cool and we walked though the trouble. We arrived at the famous iron market (marche de fer) through slum town, a market full of voodoo paraphernalia, creepy broken dolls covered in blood, weird alcoholic concoctions and the traders equally as scary. I wanted to leave but we were in literally a square mile of filth and chaos. We found our way out, we tried to go through a cemetery but 6 men surrounded us saying it was tradition that we had to leave something behind if we were to go in, I was thinking of leaving Paul, the scene was so reminiscent of the opening of Live and Let Die, we turned and head down walked on. We walked another mile or so to the beautiful, old world Oloffson hotel, the old, colonial setting of Graham Green's book The Comedians, where we celebrated our return to civilisation (as we know it) with an ice cold beer. We just got back to our hotel in Petionville on the back of motorbikes (sorry mum) for $1, pleased with our safe return, our adventure and our saving of $80.
Day 3: Cocoa trail [Paul]
Today was when the cocoa journey started for real. An early morning start from Petionville awaited us but by the time we drove through Port au Prince the city had woken up, with pure gridlock as we drove through the dusty streets. Erie maneuvered this way and that letting cars pass so we could finally get over a busy crossing. Street traders and guys touting for out of town buses were in full force. As we drove out of the city although the density of concrete buildings and rubble began to diminish, the street life continued. As our travels in Haiti would continue we came to realise that the roads are the arteries of the country with a constant life and activity throughout; whether it be street traders, people tending animals, kids playing, other road users, people collecting water, people carrying fruit in baskets on their heads, people washing and drying clothes, and surprisingly frequent lottery booths too!
Yet each village we passed through somehow displayed its own distinct character and rustic charm with locals selling either mangoes, avocado, yam, nuts, corn, bread, live chickens, bananas or pineapples.
We stopped off in Cayes to pick up Jephte, Erie’s cousin, whose English was near perfect as he had offered to come with us on our trip to Dame Marie to help translate. All in all it was a seven hour drive to the very Western tip; I would say ‘to the end of the road’ but if truth be told the road had given way to bare rocks some hours before. That didn’t stop the occasional colourful painted bus making its way laden with passengers, even sitting on the roof amongst bundles of baggage. From the comfort of the four by four we crossed mountain passes where from the summit we witnessed what seemed the whole of Haiti before us.
The Western tip has a beautiful coastline with tropical beaches. The terrain is quite different with more of a lush habitat and we saw the first inkling of cocoa territory with cocoa beans drying out on mats by houses in the town of Moron. We arrived in Dame Marie late afternoon, a coastal town which has a long road running along the beach, and we became much more relaxed than in the hustle and bustle of the city. A real poverty was apparent though. However the road was visibly clean and free of rubbish and, having escaped the excesses of the earthquake (the people had just felt tremors), there was less rubble and concrete on the paths. The people in the streets looked much healthier too.
There was a great community feel in Dame Marie. There was no electricity in the houses except for a few that could afford generators, and there were water wells with filtered water (which the United Nations have helped install over Haiti since the earthquake). There are some pretty churches with a main cathedral on the square and as it’s a fishing village, people tending nets by the beach and piles of discarded conch shells or “lambi” wherever you look. We gave Jephte some children’s clothes and notebooks which we had brought with us for him to distribute to a local orphanage.
We were cooked local fish by our room overlooking the sea for dinner, with fried plantain and fresh pineapple and mango for dessert.
Day 4: Dame Marie [Paul]
Today is the day we discover cocoa. We were welcomed at the local cooperative by everyone involved in the process of preparing the cocoa beans ready for export. It is called CAUD (Cooperative Agricole Union Development) and works hand in hand with Kaleos who have funded their expansion. It was an honour that the committee had come out in force to meet and greet us and after initial handshakes we were taken into the bio storage shed where we sat down together. The President, Gesner, explained to us how their cooperative was founded in 1984, and now has 800 members, how it works and each member’s role in turn. They have 19 employees and export to Europe and the United States.
I presented Gesner and the Vice President, Francois, with the Gold certificate which Kokoa Collection won from the Academy of Chocolate this year, for them to hang in their office. We had also brought an assortment of Kokoa Collection marketing materials with us for them to keep, and to help me explain how we use their cocoa beans. As a gift we gave them some English biscuit tins with the Royal Family on that Jodie had bought for them.
We were guided around the cooperative facilities and I was impressed with their professionalism and care for the cocoa beans. The first stage is to choose and sort the best beans and then to leave them for two days in the sun to raise the temperature. We then visited the fermentation stage, for which Kaleos has invested in wooden boxes, the best fermentation method to ensure quality beans. The boxes are laid out in three to allow rotation and ensure that the process is controlled and the temperature monitored. The beans spend two days in each box so receive six days of fermentation in total. The PH acidity must be monitored along with the humidity and temperature to create the perfect results.
Then it is the sechage; the drying stage looked after by Spencer Cesar. Each batch is labelled so that the beans can be traced back to the original farmers plot at all times. As the beans are laid out to dry under plastic sheeting they use apparatus to measure the humidity. Only once they reach a setting of 9% can they be taken to the weighing room, where the beans continue to dry finishing at the designated 7-8% humidity.
In the weighing room the beans are bagged and stored. The beans from the members are designated Fairtrade and Organic and are treated as such. Non-members whose beans are processed in Dame Marie are stored as non-fairtrade and non-bio however, so the committee aim, in time, to bring more members in to the committee and more beans processed in the correct environment. The last process once bagged and before the seal, is the quality check. 50 beans are tested and split in half so a quality percentage can be determined. For example one defective bean, two halves, will lead to a 98% score.
We spoke about what additional help, if any, CAUD would appreciate above the support of Kaleos, and Gesner answered that the best thing would be help to build a school for the children of the farmers to improve their education.
We were then driven to various plots of land where the cocoa grew. The excitement mounted by all as we drove through a dense area towards the cocoa. The cocoa variety in Dame Marie is called Criollo, which has an excellent reputation for quality and flavour. July is out of season between two harvests; February to June, and August to December. As we drew up to the agricultural area there were a mix of fruits such as bananas and mangoes, and occasional livestock on the road tied to a tree. We got out of the 4 by 4 and walked into the trees. It was an amazing feeling after all of our travels to finally spot cocoa pods on the branches in front of us! Most of the pods were bright glossy green but some of the committee managed to collect a few ripe pods for us so we did not leave empty handed! Inside the pods are rows of cocoa beans laid out, about 40 in total, covered by a sweet white lychee-like fruit. We drove back to the cooperative with big smiles on our faces.
Day 5: Moron. [Paul]
Back on the rocky road in the 4 by 4 today as we left the characterful Dame Marie and headed North into the hills to what seems to be its sister town, Moron. The members of the local cooperative committee were there to meet us in the centre of the town and showed us into a pretty courtyard with a banner proclaiming “FET KAKAWO” for the cocoa festival that had recently taken place.
The president of the committee, Fortilus, explained that he was delighted and honoured to meet us and spoke to us about how the land and the climate makes Moron special for growing cocoa. The cooperative has been in operation for 7 years, set up in an effort to increase production and improve cocoa quality. They have 200 active members growing cocoa and at the moment they actually transport the beans to CAUD in Dame Marie for their fermentation, but are looking at ways of introducing that process to Moron. They have began constructing a building to make this possible and in doing so hope to create new jobs. They asked us for any expertise and help with equipment which could allow them to make better quality cocoa powder, such as automated machines to mill the beans rather than doing this by hand on the old tools they currently have, so I offered to seek advice in Europe.
They have good natural cocoa trees in Moron and are looking for opportunities to convert more land to farming and replace existing trees as they are so old. Work has begun on this and the community have a nursery ready with criollo saplings ready to plant. Other crops growing locally are bananas, yam, haricot beans and coffee plants which are being prepared in the nursery.
When we drove to where the cocoa was growing we saw some of these fruits and vegetables as well as avocado, coconuts and ‘chataigne’ - the local breadfruit. Everyone came with us on the back of the 4 by 4 and once there we spoke to farmers tending the land and were even treated by one lady to a lovely sweet song! Fortilus showed us the cocoa, explaining how they care for the trees to ensure the pods get enough light and are cleaned regularly. Next to us there was a small black pig grunting away merrily.
Arriving back in Moron we shared out some of our Dark Haiti 75% chocolate that I had brought along. It wasn’t in perfect condition as had melted en-route but everyone enjoyed sampling none the less! We exchanged email addresses to keep in touch and I gave one of the farmers my Kokoa Collection t-shirt… I hope it fits :)
Day 5 Contd. Moron, Port Salut [Jodie]
So after a terrible nights sleep we had a good breakfast and I ask for the bill. $300 - fair enough I think, $300 Haitian dollars is about £18, fine for a dump of a room and some fruit and eggs. But no, they want $300 U.S. dollars for the room for 2 nights. I went mental, my French reached a new level for words like 'sales' and 'degalas' Here's how it works in Haiti, everything the Nationals need is cheap but anything for a tourist or the wealthier Haitian is priced ridiculously.
We leave town quickly, the hotelier has to be calmed, and we make our way to the next cocoa plantation in a town called Moron! I love the scenery, green and lush and colourful villages where the women stand around the water well and the men around the lottery stand, everyone is so friendly along the way, everyone waves at us, kids ask for photos and old men smile toothlessy as we pass, we've now got some fantastic photos.
We are the men from Del Monte, we arrive and the whole village is there to welcome us. We are ushered into the corporation's office (a tin warehouse) and then taken on a field tour with the whole village in tow. The people are so lovely, can't thank us enough for buying their cocoa, the farmers thank us when they show us which trees they own.
We leave, in a hurry, as at certain times the mountain road closes for a couple of hours for the diggers to go in causing landslides. We arrive at the first one a minute too late, we may have to wait on this dirt track at 2k metres high for 2 and a half hours. A stroke of luck, a diplomat's car arrives and we're allowed to pass, the same thing happens at the next 3 stops - lucky everyone's so scared of the government here.
A few hours later we arrive at Port Salut, not a orange rind in sight but the most beautiful beach, with a restaurant on the side and a band playing fabulous church music and everyone singing and dancing, finally a taste of the Caribbean after a few exhausting days.
We found a clean hotel in the centre of a town called Les Cayes, apparently rum exported from here used to have an 'aux Cayes' stamp on it when approved and that's where 'ok' comes from. We went for a wander. The town is exactly how I imagine an African town in say Botswana. Noisy, dusty and hectic with crazy motorcyclists, street vendors and completely dark. We meandered through the town with only the light of upcoming motorcycles. One place was brightly lit, a huge open air church, where an evangelist was on a microphone and 100's of people were swaying with hands in the air. We watched for a while enjoying the great music and eating delicious cashews that we bought from the side of the road.
Days 6 - 9. Ile a Vache [Jodie]
Today we took a boat to Ile a Vache, where the sea is tourquise, our room is a villa perched on a hill with white sand below and deck chairs on the balcony, we've just had lunch and I'm now going to disconnect.
It's hard to be inspired when you're lounging around a nice hotel. The place is run by Didier, an older guy with white hair, a pony tail and a black labrador wearing a bandana. He comes up to us at every meal and checks we're happy and asks us what we need. That's why the service and food at the hotel are excellent. The other guests (not many of them) includes two gorgeous Swiss girls who have brought 2 of the cutest orphan girls here. They are both 5 years old and teeny tiny and beautiful, not sisters, both their sets of parents were killed in the earthquake and now they live in an orphanage. I have no idea why they are with the Swiss girls, they are not being adopted, the Swiss are going back to work at the orphanage for this year. Maybe they are guests of Didier the owner of the hotel? Anyhow it's so lovely to see these kids laughing and playing in the pool and sea and being so loved by the older two.
Yesterday we motorcycled down to the weekly market on the island, a half hour ride through villages, horse manure and muddy pot holes. I was excited, I thought I may pick up a nice top for Rachel or a pretty picture for my mum. Got that wrong, the market was stalls of dead animals being hacked up, live fish and chickens flapping away and rank vegetables. No vibrant colour, no smiling market traders, no tourist tat to bring home. We negotiated a taxi boat back (the exact overfilled kayak that the guide book warns you not to go in).
Today we hiked to a beach called L'Anse a l'eau, we took a guide, a good way of giving cash to kids without them begging, a gorgeous boy who spoke English, French, Spanish and Creole, all taught at his school on this tiny island. His mum lives in Port au Prince and works in a hotel, she comes home once a month, his dad is a taxi motorcyclist in Les Cayes and comes home every week, this kid cooks and cares for his 8 year old brother alone the rest of the time. He was telling me that the President of Haiti loves this island and has invested money in building a school and a hospital (both which we saw), he was only 11 but dreams of being President too, a great kid, I hope he does well. By the way, for anyone who donated school clothes, exercise books and pens, I gave them to our driver who personally delivered them to the orphanage that his local church runs, now I wish I'd brought more, but really pleased that I did get stuff to bring over.
Last night we ended up in a local bar run by a great lady and her kids. Paul drank rum and I played dominoes with the little ones. The bar is actually in her garden right next to a tiny port. The roof is festooned with flags from everywhere from Wales to Guadeloupe, she asks the boat owners to swap flags with her for her infamous rum punch.
Today we walked across the island through really sweet villages, where it was nice to see investment in new houses all very clean, even a new cafe (of sorts). Loads of fresh mangos on the trees which we ate on the way (note to self: always carry a toothpick). Two sweet boys were our guides, they had made pull along cars out of milk cartons and sticks, I have never heard such gorgeous giggles when we gave them a dollar each, we could hear them screaming their excitement to the whole village as they ran home. We walked to a 5* resort called Abaca Bay, according to the poster in their reception this is the 57th best beach in the world (as voted by CNN)! Well it was certainly lovely there but definitely lacked any personality.
Day 10. Jacmel [Jodie]
After a huge and delicious breakfast (3 pancakes smeared with maple syrup, home made peanut butter and bananas), we left the island and headed back to the mainland Les Cayes, to meet up with our trusty driver, Erie. Trusty in the loosest terms, as he sped across the Haitian version of the grand corniche at 100mph, overtaking anything in sight, we obviously didn't have the same driving instructor as I think he must have learnt that 'at the brow of the hill' was the place to overtake. The view was tremendous, at the summit we could see the whole of Haiti, miles of forest, meandering rivers and of course the surrounding turquoise Caribbean sea.
We are now in Jacmel, an artisan colony where the dusty town is dotted with art galleries and artisanal workshops. We wandered around for hours. The nicest gallery we found is owned by an Algerian woman and her Jewish Egyptian husband, but I'd prefer to spend my money with the locals, one gallery is run by a foundation for female artists trying to make money for their families. Jacmel was, 5 years ago, at the heart of the earthquake and the devastation is apparent on every building, it's heartbreaking. But the people are jolly and you can see their determination to improve the place. Our hotel was an old coffee merchants (est. 1888) nice for Paul to be somewhere coffee focused, it's full of eclectic art and crazy antiquities. Our bedroom is an old storage room, the door is a metal shutter with a padlock and the walls are exposed brick - very boho, doubt I'll sleep for a minute tonight.
Final Day [Jodie]
The final post. We left Jacmel as soon as Erie recharged the jeep's battery (slightly nervous we'd be stuck here another night). Back over the mountains, but the journey was quite fraught and for the first time this trip I felt car sick and feverish. I started panicking that I'd caught malaria last night as although we had a mosquito net over our bed there were a few already inside that we couldn't get rid. Anyway finally back in Port au Prince for the last night. We stayed at the best hotel there, the Marriott, ok so it could have been anywhere in the world (which Paul hated) but sometimes you can soak up the atmosphere of the place just by people watching in a hotel lobby. And you know what, it's also interesting to watch how the wealthy Haitians live.
The airport the next day was as expected, hot and muggy, crowded and disorganised. A man asked for a bribe to get us on the front of the queue but when we told him we only had a few dollars he started shouting at us. Two planes left 5 mins apart and both sets of passengers went through the same gate, what chaos.
We arrive at JFK in good time for our next flight, so we thought, but a Saudi plane came into NY just before ours and customs was doubly vigilant/slow. Then no bags came off from our flight, apparently the canister had got stuck in the hold. Now, Paul and I had argued. His bag contained cocoa and coffee beans and 2 cocoa pods. Knowing US customs as I do I was so nervous that he'd be fined/arrested - I was doing my nut (no pun intended). Fate played a great hand, with only 10 minutes to spare we ran to the gate for our next flight and were expedited through baggage control!
So trip ends and after a great experience I'm happy to be back with the family and a bath....and fabulous memories.
About the Haiti trip
Paul Eagles and Jodie travelled to Haiti in July to see the cocoa used for Kokoa Collection’s Dark Haiti 75% hot chocolate growing first hand. The trip was prompted by their 2015 Gold Award at the Academy of Chocolate so a great opportunity to personally deliver the certificate and meet the farmers.
Kokoa Collection is an award winning hot chocolate brand established by Paul Eagles in 2011. Our hot chocolate can be found in many good coffee shops, cafés, bars and restaurants in the UK and is now also available to buy through Ocado.
The hot chocolate is made using real chocolate solids and sourced from single origin cocoa beans around the world. The brand has received recognition and numerous awards.
Most recently their Haiti 75% dark hot chocolate origin, which helps support local communities in Haiti, took home the 2015 Gold Award at the Academy of Chocolate and a Gold Star at the 2015 Great Taste Awards.
For further information on either Kokoa Collection or this trip to origin please contact Paul Eagles