A Haitian Road Trip Part Three – And Then We Walked to Seguin
The morning in Furcy was cold, the valley around us filled with fog. We had stayed the night at le Rustik, an eco-lodge where every single thing was repurposed or recycled: we ate at a table made from a giant wire spool; the windows were made from recycled bottles; and there was a fantastic tree house built of reclaimed wood.
THE HIKE TO SEGUIN
We set out early – while it was still cool – and also because we weren’t sure how long the walk would take us. When we’d begun planning a trip to study Haiti’s environment, over and over we’d been directed to Seguin, a small village on top of some of the highest mountains in Haiti, home to Auberge de la Visite, a charming guesthouse, andFondation Seguin, one of the most prominent Haitian-led environmental NGOs. But we hadn’t found much online about the walk. Our guidebook had a general passage about hiking from Furcy to Jacmel, on the coast, which brings you through Seguin, and we found a handful of blogs talking about how steep the road was, but how rewarding the trek to the trees was. Our contact at Fondation Seguin had suggested it would take between 5-6 hours. When was the last time you set out for a day of walking with no real sense of how far you were going? The sense of adventure felt luxurious, like a special treat.
LEARNING BY WALKING
The trail is actually a wide road. The surface is dirt and rough stones; the trail is bounded one side by the steep hillsides leading up into the clouds—and on the other side an ever-expanding vista of mountains, mountains, mountains. The hills seemed to extend forever.
To walk was to learn—about the landscape, about the people who live in these hills, about the time it can take to get relatively short distances when there is no real road. (Seguin is also accessible by all terrain vehicles (ATVs)– it is less than two hours to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, and while our group will have access to one of these in the event we need to get to the city quickly, the local people in the hills are not so lucky).
You could see the stark violence wrought upon the hills by erosion, as past mudslides had made deep cuts into the vegetation. The trail wound up and up through tiny hamlets, collections of small houses perched on the mountain sides. Five or more houses meant a bustling market scene, with goods spread out upon the ground for passersby to look at. We walked up with trains of donkeys, women carrying baskets of goods purchased in the markets below, thin men in worn-in button-down shirts. When we followed the trail down, the next day, we walked beside baskets upon baskets of carrots, beets, and leeks, all bound for the markets below. All of those crops enhance the effects of erosion: when you harvest them, you pull the entire plant and the roots out of the ground, further destabilizing the soil.
WINNIE, WHO SPEAKS FOR THE TREES
I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
The very last stretch of the uphill climb to Seguin is quite steep, though the views are magnificent. We huffed and puffed our way up, and then, suddenly the landscaped changed. There were trees – a tall forest of pine trees stretched across the mountain top, the mist from the clouds tucked tightly into the trees. We meandered for the next mile, remarking on how different the forest felt, and how clean the air smelled.
Ask for Kay Winnie, we’d been told – Winnie’s home, in Creole – everyone will know it. Winthrop “Winnie” Attie, one of the founders of Fondation Seguin, has devoted his life to this forest. A tall man, he speaks with the slow intensity of someone who needs his words heard.
Environmental stewardship is the most important thing to teach, he told us, gesturing into the woods around his inn. To that end, Fondation Seguin started the Green School, which brought Haitian school children up by foot from Port-au-Prince, to plant trees and build the retaining walls that would keep soil in the fields. Many of the children who visited Seguin had never seen a forest before, and I can only imagine the effect this place must have had on them. We have been privileged to visit many of the world’s great forests, and this was a place of singular beauty. Suppose this was the only forest you’d ever seen…
The forest of Seguin is under constant threat. If the farmers who live nearby can earn more by cutting down trees to make charcoal, then what is to stop them from encroaching on the land? Fondation Seguin conducts outreach to educate people about the long term value of the trees—as well as initiatives to help build their earning power, whether through agriculture or trade. Their efforts appear to be succeeding, as we did not encounter any charcoal on the trail to Seguin.
The next day we returned to Port-au-Prince, stopping by an experimental farm that tests different options for crops, in the hopes of making Haitian farmers more successful. Haiti is so fertile, Charles, the head agronomist told us, we should be one of the world’s breadbaskets. He and his team are hoping to cut the use of expensive pesticides, and push more resilient types of crops.
We worked with Tour Haiti, a tourism company run by a charismatic Haitian named Jean Cyril Pressoir and his father, Cyril Pressoir. (He met us after our descent from Seguin dressed immaculately in turquoise pants with a sweater carefully folded over his shoulders, which somehow only served to highlight how sweaty we all were…) Tour Haiti is committed to building the type of tourism that can help transform Haiti’s economy—Cyril and his dad are contributing to building a different type of sustainability than Fondation Seguin – though no less important.
We spent our last evening in Port-au-Prince at the Hotel Oloffson – a stately Victorian era hotel that has long been the home to writers and artists, and was featured in Graham Greene’s The Comedians. If any place we stayed while in Haiti was haunted, this would be it—but we ate and slept well, tired from our long walk to Seguin, and so excited to return in March.
– Adam and Jenny
This is the third in a series of three blog posts about a scouting trip to Haiti that Adam and Jenny took in early November, to lay the groundwork for a workshop in March.
Read the first post here: A Haitian Road Trip: Part One – Boston to Port-au-Prince (with a jiko).
Read the second post here: A Haitian Road Trip: Part Two – Mirebalais to Saint Marc