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Île-à-Vache, Haiti

Still a well-kept secret! 

After two hectic days spent in the Capital – how could anyone visit Haiti without stopping in Port-au-Prince (we will talk about this stay in another article) - we headed south towards Les Cayes.

It is a market day and all the towns on our road, Miragoâne, Fonds-des-Nègres, Croix-des-Bouquets, Léogâne, and Petit Goâve, are animated by stalls overflowing with fruits, vegetables and colorful clothes and where a crowd, also very colorful, is busy exchanging greetings and negotiating.

A boat is waiting for us at Les Cayes, and we soon are sailing to Ile-à-Vache. 14,000 ilavachois live on this small island, 15 km long by more or less 5 km wide, in the southwest of Haiti, sustaining themselves mainly from fishing and farming, without any cars.

On the hill

We were invited to stay at les Suites La Colline by the owner, Lambert Farand, a Quebecer who fell in love with the island a few years ago and decided to build a house he now shares with a few privileged guests.

The view of the Caribbean Sea, cliffs, inlets and surrounding bays, as well as over the Laguna that contains one of the largest mangrove forests in the country, is breathtaking.

Breathtaking could also be applied to climbing the hill, which is needed to reach a hostel that is aptly named. The climb could prove to be a bit breathtaking indeed with the mercury showing close to 40 degrees and if you are not in great physical shape. But the reward is great! And we feel that we have time to take our time and the personnel from Les Suites are there to carry bags and luggage.

A large and lovely suite, the Dany Laferrière Suite, is ready for us with 2 large, comfortable beds, a living-dining area and a large modern bathroom. Works of art on all the walls and furniture: paintings, cut-iron pieces, masks and sculptures. It is a true immersion in Haitian art of all forms, and not a sad one!

A large terrace surrounds the suite with long chairs and hammocks. We are soon sitting in the middle of palm trees, bamboo, bougainvilleas and pink laurels enjoying a fresh local beer waiting for Véliciane, the chef, to prepare a delicious white fish for lunch.

However, the sound of the rolling surf reminds us of the sea and we quickly step into our bathing suits and flip flops and head to the beach where 10 minutes later we are diving into the turquoise Caribbean Sea. We are at Anse Dufour, a white sandy beach where we will spend hours in the coming days, most of the time, the only bathers in clear and warm water with the horizon line only broken by the square sails of the “bateaux-pays”.

We can hardly believe that such peaceful sites still exist, so close to home, and still almost unknown. And we have to resist the selfish thought to keep the secret to oneself…

A few shared beaches

In fact, apart from Les Suites La Colline, the island has a few other charming destinations: Abaka Bay Beach Resort at Anse Dufour, Hotel Port Morgan in the Port Morgan Bay, named after the English pirate Henry Morgan who trafficked in the 17th century and where a few sailboats are now mooring safely, as well as the Hotel-restaurant l’Anse-à-L’eau.

Let's not be too lazy 

Without a car, the island is ideal for discoveries on foot or by boat. The personnel of Les Suites is more than happy to show you around to discover small villages such as the nearly Kaykoy village, with its typical colored houses, bays, cliffs, beaches as well as surrounding islands.

Other islands

It is in a “bateau-pays”, a typical wooded boat with square sails, that we will sail to the discovery of Pélantin Island. A small fishermen haven with houses made in makuti (palm-tree leaf) and where a group of young children greets us happily, proud to swim with us, before introducing their father who will accept to sell us a few fresh crayfish for our dinner treat.

The next day, the same captain, handling sails and tiller with unequaled dexterity takes us to Ilot-aux-Amoureux. It is in fact a sandbank in the middle of the turquoise sea whose only inhabitants are a colony of birds looking for lambis, so numerous in the area and so delicious. It is an idyllic site where we will spend a few hours swimming, looking at the different sizes of sea-stars in the bottom of the sea and bathing in the sun.

One concern…

The Martely government announced a few years ago the project “Destination touristique Ile-à-Vache” that includes an international airport, now under construction, and the addition of many hotels and villas. Fortunately… or unfortunately, we haven’t seen traces of those yet!

Let’s hope this development will be done with intelligence and that the island will stay, at least for some time, as a haven of calm of peace and where one can still find time to take the time to listen to the silence, absorb the noise of the surf and the wind in the eucalyptus and palm trees, without seeing it abruptly broken by a car horn.

To get there

Air Canada and Air Transat have direct weekly flights to Port-au-Prince. From there, you can rent a car or board a bus to Les Cayes. A boat will take you to l’Île-à-Vache in 30 or 45 minutes depending on your choice of boat: a traditional wooden boat or a modern motorboat.

 Christiane Théberge

 

 

 

 

Market day at Fonds-des-Nègres

Suites La Colline

View on the Caribbean Sea

Entrance of the suite Dany Laferrière

Mask on a wall 

Anse Dufour

Typical house

Pélantin Island

Fisherman in his "boisfillé" boat

  

 

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