Ile a Vache is a special place. It’s special for a number of reasons, the least important of which, but maybe the most satisfying is being able to sit on the toilet on the side of a hill and look out over an aqua marine bay – safe in the knowledge that if one of the locals walks past the usually quiet path up the hill, they will be getting quite an eye full. But who cares, your on a paradise island in the Caribbean enjoying the view while the morning coffee works it’s magic.
But really it’s special. We had only got off the boat two hours previously and were already discussing how best to start a beach cleaning operation, build some cabins and put travelling on hold for a few weeks. Alas, plans like these sometimes come off and sometimes they don’t but it gives you an idea of the immediate connection we felt with the island. Getting there is easy enough from PaP but coming from Jacmel was a little trickier, a range of tap taps got us to the main road and from there we jumped on a big bus from PaP heading to Les Cayes. Another interesting town, dominated by markets (not uncommon in Haiti) and colleges and universities. It certainly had the feeling of an academic city with it’s central park filled with students reading from their french textbooks. The boat to Ile a Vache is a small fishing boat, not unlike those that hop the islands in the Phillipines or Indonesia and therefore just as unreliable in rough seas. There were some beautiful fishing boats out on the ocean with us, sails constructed from old rice bags flown in under the US AID programs, the re-purposed white canvasses fluttering on the sea breeze.
We had found a house to ourselves on Air BnB up on the hill and it turned out to be a little gem, a bit pricey but normal for Haitian standards and with views out over the bay towards the mainland. As with most places on the island, night time meant relying on the energy captured from our solar panel, and as the weather can be hit or miss this time of year we were burning through our supply of candles. Waking up in that house on the hill is something that will stay with me for a long time, the quietness of the island and the incredible generosity of the islanders immediately makes you want to stay indefinitely. Once a week its market day in Madame Bernard, the local port and somewhat later than the locals we took the three hour walk down to pick up supplies, fresh veggies and fish for dinner. On the way back we were offered coconuts from a local who casually shinned up the nearest tree and handed over two to myself and Diego – I would later discover in Jamaica that climbing the tree in the easy part, it is the getting down that’s problematic. He introduced himself as the local DJ on a radio station transmitting from the Island, one of two apparently although his batteries had recently been stolen therefore the station was off air for the time being.
What Ile a Vache is probably most famous for is it beaches and rightly so. Seemingly half of the islands’ sands were covered with the usual plastic debris that plagues Haiti and most other countries these days, on the other side it’s a different story. Hiking up and down steep hills is a small price to pay for completely deserted palm fringed beaches, we would return to the same beach later in the week to drink a bottle of Haiti’s finest rum under the stars. Our evenings were spent at the island church witnessing lively sermons that were extremely well attended, or at the island community centre. It was here we invented a new board game that the locals took to immediately and within a few hours they were beating us with rules we had just hours ago invented.
All in all, a really amazing island and somewhere I would love to come back. Completely ignoring the beaches, the sense of community that envelops you as soon as you arrive is something to behold and everything else is a bonus. Next we take the not overly long but painfully slow journey north up to Haiti’s second city Cap Haitien for a date with the president.