This may be our first visit to a community that draws water from a well where the residents then collect water from fountains that operate on rotational days. There is no electrical network. The residents are unable to afford generators yet a few are fortunate enough to have a small solar panel. What these people lack in material possessions they make up with friendly smiles and conversation. Fortunately for us many are also fluent in English, in this former French colony of Haiti.
On our arrival we were mobbed and I now understand why. Before we could get the anchor down we were surrounded by guys in dugout canoes, the odd paddle board and few broken small boats. It was a little challenging to anchor and not run over the flotilla of greeters. We herded the boat boys to Auras’ stern and we spoke with each of them and listened to their offerings of hull cleaning, stainless steel polishing, tour to the markets, tour of the island, bananas, coconuts and even diesel. Our issue was that we didn’t have any local currency and the size of our USD notes are not something easily changed on an island without an bank, ATM or conventional type shops.
We arranged a tour with Bernard, he was the first to greet us. He had paddled nearly half a mile in his dugout canoe. I remembered that we still had a few small Euro notes from our time in Guadeloupe and Martinique and we purchased a Haitian courtesy flag from another guy. I gave him €10 and he returned with 100 local (that’s about two dollars). I was pleased he returned and we now had a few local dollars. The harbour master visited, he arrived on a broken fiberglass boat with a strip of steel protruding from the bow. His boat has an outboard but his two assistants were paddling instead. We paid our harbour fee for Aura and Tourterelle and also his fee to facilitate any customs immigration arrangements. He told us about the island and of the new solar pump project for the well, our friends Ken and Jenny had recently assisted on the installation. With the financial formalities complete we enjoyed our new surroundings.
A few local fishermen provided Tourterelle with lobster and thus dinner was organised. We chatted to a few other cruisers, they were heading to Jamaica so we exchanged experiences and phone SIM cards. We hadn’t had the best of sails from Jamaica. On our departure the seas were short and steep with the wind on our nose. Before long, we had 2 to 3 meter swell flinging poor Aura from side to side. This was broken up with the occasional “BANG”, as we smash down to the trough of a wave. It is not often that Simon mentions that he is feeling unwell. For me it is quiet common to have the bucket handy on our first day out. This was definitely bucket sailing. We found it more comfortable to sail even if our path was taking us north instead of east. Once we found 18 degrees north we had protection from the point on the Haitian coast and we motored the following day to Ile-A-Vache. The uncomfortable passage was soon forgotten with the help of a rum or two.
The following day Bernard showed us around. We passed the school, a few churches and found our way to a beautiful gold sand beach on the west coast. A small American hotel occupied the corner fortunately it wasn’t overbearing in size and it fitted well with the local surroundings. The walk took us past mango trees, small banana plantations, tethered goats and sheep. We noticed that the newer houses were made from stone and brick, while the older homes had thatched walls, progress and a change of craft. We past many small children dressed immaculately in school uniforms. On several occasions Bernard would stop and give a child a hug or kiss. Another cousin he would say. He really is a kind hearted nice young guy.
Local Living (note everything is extra neat & tidy)
The previous day Tourterelle (Ian & Ann) had also purchased a flag and they hadn’t received their change. During our walking tour we found the seller and they received €10 change. Not the local or USD that they had expected but the same note that I’d provided. Ann then paid Bernard with the same note. I’m sure if we had stayed longer, it would only be a matter of time before that note went full circle and was returned to me.
We enjoyed a fish dinner at Jon Jon’s restaurant (Calico) on the beach. He opens for bookings made by visiting yachts. It’s BYO and light however we didn’t get that memo. Fortunately we were joined by a few regulars who lit the table with solar desk lamps. These regulars once made the annual cruise from Martinique to the island but with age they have a small house on the hill and visit the island annually. We were also joined by long time cruisers Murry and Clare. As it was Kim’s pre-birthday celebration Tourterelle found a few treasures in the bilge and we enjoyed a few special bottles of wine.
We found many treasures in our bilge for the locals. We had been asked for dive masks, sails, clothes and food. We decided to help out and trade. It was just a matter of principle for the adults as we realised they didn’t want charity but would rather work or barter. An old dive mask and fins for a few guava, papaya and coconuts. A fisherman was pleased with my swimming googles as he tested them out he found star fish under Aura. In exchange he gave us a few lobsters. I made one guys day by giving him an old mobile phone, other kids we just gave little gifts of shampoo and clothes. A young boy asked if I had any school shoes but the best I could give him was my worn leather Merel shoes. I found fishing hooks that I’d purchased in Panama back in 2008 to gift. The best I could do for the guy asking if we had any old sails was the canvas cover for the dingy. It had never been used and he looked pleased.
The window to Puerto Rico was still favourable so we continued our way east into the prevailing wind and seas.
Next Kim’s birthday in PR.
Farewell Haiti - On our way to PR