I really love walking. Which is strange because in London I hate it, if I have to move more than three or fours metres it is on two wheels, and anything less than that feels slow and tedious. Yet take me out of the city and away from a bike and my desire to use my two short legs to climb mountains suddenly awakens!
I am tempted to go into physcho-analysis here and delve into; maybe what I love is moving and the sensation of movement, that would be a nice metaphor for this journey that I am on, turning my life into a never ending series of journeys. This would also make sense given that the last two times I have felt most depressed have been times where I have been unable to move effectively, be it cycling or even walking. This is so loosely related to a blog post entitle Furcy to Jacmel that even the latest BBC reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes would struggle to find a lead, but it does give you pre warning that this blog will almost certainly be a mix of mental wandering, outrageous generalisation about a country I know very little, and small part travel blog. And very long sentences by the looks of it.
Discussions of how to get from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel were ongoing when a friend of mine sarcastically said ‘we could walk?’ he had met this Italian guy who had a “crazy” idea of walking to Jacmel over the mountains to the south of the city. Now that I am in my – I love walking – mode, especially in mountains, this didn’t seem like a crazy idea at all. In fact it seemed like a great idea and I told both of my friends I would be joining them a day late in Jacmel as I would be walking with some Italian guy, hoping I could convince him to leave the next day. They were incredulous but not wholly unsurprised. Thankfully I did manage to convince him to leave the next day, his name was Paolo and we both set off from the market in Kenscoff around 1pm the next day.
Experienced hikers will tell you that one of the most important factors to a successful day on foot in the mountains is an early start, and generally I would agree. If something goes wrong, bad luck, but at least we still have plenty of day light left. You really don’t need the setting of the sun to be a concern when things are going pear shaped on the side of a mountain. So naturally we set off at 1pm to start a days walk that is meant to take 7-8 hours. But when you organise a trip like this the night before without having even met your walking partner, just being there is a bonus so I cared little. Furthermore, to describe the walk as “being in the mountains” makes it sounds slightly more dramatic than it is. Technically they are probably classed as mountains and it is the highest range in Haiti but they are pretty forgiving, even in wet season and nothing over 3000m.
That being said the middle part of the day was a slog. Physically more difficult than the climb up Pico Duarte, possibly due to us skipping food and barely stopping at all in order to reduce time walking at night. Usually if the going is very steep, the path is winding up above you and you just keep plodding along unaware of the never ending ascent before you. However, one particular climb will stick in the minds of both of us I’m sure, rather than winding and meandering up the hill before us was a long straight section of trail that led up and up and up. Somehow being able to see how long the climb is makes it more difficult but just as we crested the top, a large flock of Parakeets flew overhead screeching and darting above us. We thanked them for being so kind as to wait for us in a nearby tree and commence a victory flight in appreciation of our efforts, and then carried on our way.
If the first part had been slightly underwhelming going through rural villages on a pretty normal looking road, the next part was stunning in comparison. Lush green valleys folding into each other for as far as the eye could see. I say lush, yes they were green, but like nearly every mountain I have seen here in Haiti, it had been, or was in the process of being completely deforested. But when it comes down to seeing your family go hungry, or chop down a few trees to make charcoal and sell, I can see why the lack of trees came about.
One area that does have plenty of trees is the national park situated at the top of the climb. The trail winds through a misty pine forest, which in hindsight would have been a really lovely place to camp for the night. There are a few caves to explore, cavernous openings in the earth exposing strange rock formations and colourful stalactites.
For those of you that read the blog from Hampi in India my geological theories are often profound, and almost always incorrect but… The deforestation here has had an alarming impact on the topography of the land, without the support of tree roots and plants the top layer of subsoil on the mountains has been washed away, little by little each wet season. Exposing strange rock formations below that are present in many places in the country, you can almost imagine them as inverted teeth shooting upwards from the ever receding gums of the earth.
I camped atop the hill in the garden of the guest house Paolo was staying. Travelling around with a tent, sleeping bag and mattress is a lot of kit to carry around all the time. So any excuse for me to use it and it’s coming straight out. Just start thinking about camping and I’m with tent pegs at the ready (although I wish they were carbon fibre).
The next morning was beautiful, going through mountain villages with markets in full swing, undulating hills spreading out in front of us. The village of Seguin is the biggest and there was plenty of activity with traders from all over the area present to sell their produce. Happy smiling children running through the fields, birds singing overhead, sickly sweet description I know but an accurate description of the feelings I was having walking that morning. It was just a lovely place to be, perfectly cool temperature, peaceful and happy. We all agreed that if there was going to be a rural place in Haiti to live, this was it. Apart from a downpour halfway through the second day, the going was ok. In parts the trail descended very steeply over slippery rocks and scree but slow and steady wins the race and before long we were back on the road winding through sleepy villages on the way to Marigot and Jacmel.
The trail head begins from Furcy, all of the moto conchos at the market in Kenscoff will know where to drop you off. Camping is certainly an option here, I would recommend the pine forest. There is a spring conveniently located nearby, as always use maps.me for the trail and also the location of the springs. Bring enough food for a day and a half, the latter part of the second day is through villages where you can find food. The trail is easy to follow, when exiting the national park you have an option to continue straight down to a guesthouse or head left towards Seguin. The name of the only guesthouse in the area is Kay Winnie/Auberge La Visite – you can camp or get a private room, the price is not cheap and seems to be dependant on the whims of the owner Winnie, but the price does include three good meals.
This walk is just the tonic tonic you will be looking for as an escape from the activity of Port au Prince, peaceful and serene, a stark contrast to the capital and a reminder of the diversity of landscapes and cultures the country has to offer.
Next up Jacmel, untill then.