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The Citadel

I travelled up north to see this colossal castle and it did not disappoint. Other than taking a tour, there two options to get there, the first is to use the variety of public transport options or take a taxi. Public transport is made up of an army of motorcycles, pickup trucks, minivans (yes my South African friends they are Hi Aces) and old US school busses. Some of the busses are still yellow but some of them have been painted in a mirad of colors. They are called tap-taps because that is how you get them to stop. Someone taps the side, or the roof, or pretty much anywhere that makes a sound that the driver can hear.  If you’re standing next to the road, you just flag one down by raising your arm and leaning it in the direction you’re going. If the driver doesn’t see you it is common for a passenger to tap for you, assuming that not fully loaded. The pickup versions basically have a canopy that is raised off the bed side walls by approximately a foot. Then there are seats along the sides of the pickup bed for folks to sit on. The majority of them have the seats extending out past the backend of the canopy to provide more seating space.  It is common to see people standing on the bumper ledge and holding onto the canopy if the seats under the canopy are taken. Believe it or not but they generally have 8 to 10 folks loaded up. I counted 14 including the standing folks in one. You pay when you get off and it is very cost effective with a short distance ride a couple of gourdes and the longer distance rides a couple of US $. They have a defined route but pretty much stop whenever their customers want them to. If they were more luxurious, I would say they are the perfect customer-driven transport. The video below shows some of the different vechiles going through an intersection in Port-au-Prince.

The motorcycles behave in a similar manner and I have seen three passengers behind the rider, passengers with baby goats and chickens while the rider had a crate of 1L Cokes balanced on his gas tank. And they cut in and out of traffic. Speaking with one driver, he said there is at least one accident a day. I created quite a bit of consternation using a tap-tap because the driver had never had a “Blan” in his tap-tap. They call folks with light skin “Blan” and i had become used to this nickname, especially from the kids. He did want US $ and the ride cost me $2 which is a ripoff compared to the local non-tourist price. Considering he relegated the passenger in the front seat to the back and gave me that seat, I wasn’t going to complain. His English was superb and had spent some time in the US but had to come back to help his mother when she got sick.

So, clearly the tap-taps made an impression… onto the Citadel. You can use whatever transport to get to a town called Milot. The Palace ruins are located just outside the town and you buy a ticket to visit both sites from a kiosk there. I made use of a guide again to leverage local knowledge again and to support the local enconomy but it is not needed. The road is pretty easy to follow and there are plenty of guides on the Internet. From the palace, you follow a cobblestone road 6 km to a plateau which now serves as a parking area with hourdes of hawkers. This is where the tour companies and taxis stop thereby saving you the serious effort of the long uphill hike to the plateau from the town. The last km is seriously uphill with parts at what felt like 45 degrees.  It was also raining intermittentantly, so the road was slipperer than snot too. As some of of you are aware, I have just finished up months of recovery from the last time I slipped and fell off something. So maybe I was a little over sensitive but I had no plans to repeat because I’m finally getting my fitness back.  Besides getting hurt would defeat the purpose of my trip, volunteering.

Heading up the path, you are constantly plagued by horse/donkey vendors trying to get you to take a ride. There are some motorcycle tap-taps that are parked next to the side of the road too.  I was polite in the beginning but after the twentieth I just shook my head. Besides this was a monster workout and we had a fast pace going. According to Antonio,

Citadel wall looking up from slippery path

my guide, it takes 25 minutes by horse and 45 minutes on foot.  We were up in just less than 30 and I don’t think we were missing anything because we were talking most of the way up. Ok, my guide was talking but you get my drift. Antonio was like a mountain goat and he knew his way around warning me where the path was super slippery as he zip-zagged his way up and later down. He is one of 54 guides and he has been doing this for 15 years and so he knows his way around. They basically do it until they can’t do it anymore or die.

The Citadel was built between 1805 and 1820 and is now a UNESCO site and as such they’ve done a lot restoration. Identifying their work is easy because they are using

cement instead of the ground down coral mixture that was originally used. The

Piles of cannon balls Inside the citadel wall

bricks they are using are also thinner and of course the wood because most of the original wood has long ago rotted. The exceptions are some of the solid mahogany cannon cradles. I really liked that could take a look at the original canon balls that they had stacked around the fort. The anti-personnel one was the first time I’d seen the real thing.

Due to safety concerns the dungeon and rooftops are blocked off for repairs. UNESCO is building a museum up there in which to store some restored pieces of art for the public

viewing. We were literally in the clouds and as such visibility was nil. The whole time I was up there, we were walking in a light drizzle and as such a lot of the surfaces were slippery, especially the restored ones. The original bricks were not nearly as bad as the new rock & cement combo. There was one ramp where we clung to the outside wall because it was dry because the wet area was like ice. There was a group guys behind us and they slid down the ramp on their haunches.

On the way down, we encountered a group of doctors from Canada who had just finished volunteering. Speaking with one of

Looking down at the cannon balls

the nurses, who took a horse. She was trying to work out which was more terrifying: the horse ride or slipping on the paving. Further down, some of the horse vendors were following a group of mostly ladies in the hope that they would get tired and make use of their services. Considering the state of most of the horses, I don’t have it in my heart to put my fat ass on them. That’s assuming that I didn’t want the workout and hike. I had been preparing for this hike ever since planning the visit and being able to workout again. The first steep piece of the downhill was challenging in the wet but the second piece was just long and quite boring. We hitched a ride with one of the groups for part of the long path was thankful for that because it was a grind.

At the end of the road, just outside the town is the

palace which was mostly destroyed in the earthquake that happened in 1842. While some restoration has been done, after the Citadel, it is underwhelming even though it must have been a pristine building too. There is just too much damage to really visualize the building in all of its glory. There are still pieces of the slate roofing that caused so much

Looking up at the Palace entrance

damage to the building coming down during the earthquake.

for those interested in more information, here are the Wikipedia links: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sans-Souci_Palace  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citadelle_Laferrière





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  1. Lorraine Mc Murdo
    February 13th, 2017 at 10:27 | #1

    wow looks interesting, as you said good hike, should loose a few lbs. tighten your belt! x

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