Rebuilding Haiti, and Its Tourism
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My flight to Port-au-Prince, only three and a half hours direct from New York, was a cinch. Things got rougher when our group of 13 piled into two battered vans for the three-hour ride to Cyvadier. After juddering along the rutted city roads, which led through garbage-heaped slums and tent cities outside Port-au-Prince, our drivers headed south across a mountain range riddled with freakily skewed hairpin turns. Still, the route looked out over beautiful scenery—terraced valleys, swales of shade trees, a hazy scrim of blue ocean—which I appreciated as best I could between bouts of nausea.
Most of my travel companions were, like me, first-time visitors to Haiti; many were also serial do-gooders, who’d put in time volunteering for causes and organizations around the globe. Our two trip leaders, Andrew and Meryl (who worked day jobs as, respectively, a journalist covering responsible tourism and a lawyer for various nonprofits), told us about the Let Haiti Live compound—the dozens of children we’d meet there, the warmth of the staffers, the delicious porridge and cabri en sauce (stewed goat) cooked over open fires.
The vans dropped us at the base of the same hill we’d soon be climbing with our buckets of rocks. But for our inaugural walk up the slope, all we carried was our own luggage. After ducking beneath a handmade archway that local residents had fashioned from bent sticks and flowers (on the dirt next to it, “Welcome” was spelled out in small white stones), we were warmly received by the three full-time Let Haiti Live staffers—reforestation expert Guerlyne, agronomist Cheler, and community developer Elie. A group of children had trailed us up the hill, and one, a shy four-year-old girl with beaded braids named Lunja, suddenly recognized Meryl from the previous summer’s trip and leaped into her arms.
The majority of our group would be setting up tents here. But once I’d scoped out the rock-strewn terrain (which we later learned was crawling with biting ants and tarantulas), and the single bathroom without running water, I felt glad that with a handful of others I’d decided to stay in a hotel down the street that catered to foreign relief workers. It was a little rough around the edges, but infinitely better than shacking up with dinner roll–size spiders.