The port-side road that leads out ofPort-au-Princewas tightly packed with eager people on route to carnival weekend. Motos, tap taps “taxis”, cars, and trucks, filled with people were a sight to marvel at. Everything was busy and beeping, literally, with excitement. Somehow it didn’t matter that it was going to take us 5 hours to arrive in Jakmel-a trip that would normally take just 2 hours. Geoffrey, our delightful friend at the wheel, filled the car with phatt hip hop that had us singing our way through the striking chaos into the country side mountains.
As we pulled up to our ‘weekend villa’ the door was kicked open by an army pant leg and an armed man emerged to pull the gate completely open. Where were we?! It was breathtaking. The villa stood spectacularly at the tip of a cliff over looking theCaribbean Sea. It was lit to showcase its golden structure complimented with an enormous furnished veranda that hugged its walls and a terrace that wrapped around its pool. The place was so magical the stars actually twinkled at night. It was so majestic we found ourselves pulled from our slumbers at 4:30am just to marvel at the beauty of nature.
Jakmel is an artisan town, filled with rich history-it was heavily influenced by the French prior to the 1804 independence and many of the buildings echo French architecture with aCaribbeanflare. The sidewalks are paved with local artisan works while the buildings resemble brightly coloured ginger bread houses. We were fortunate enough to be given an in depth Jakmel tour by the mother of Geoffrey who was born and raised in Jakmel. Our first stop was an old school house that was damaged during the 2010 earthquake, now being reinvented for future economic enterprises. The red bricks that lined the rebuilt archways seemed to pulse with history. We were rendered nearly speechless.
The rooftop of the building showcased a panoramic view of Jakmel-a contrast of brightly coloured buildings, artwork and rubble. Our minds reeled with the possibilities for a Local Buttons-Jakmel soiree. We envisioned runways, artwork and music filling the space. Girls can dream right?
Our desire for music and people was fulfilled at night as we hit up the Jakmel carnival festivities and danced along the streets (small in comparison to the giant party happening in Les Cayes where over 300,000 Haitians celebrated). Carnival weekend is 4 days of festivities leading up to the final party on ‘Fat Tuesday’ before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. Carnival is a major part of Haitian culture. No matter what political upheaval is in place- from dictatorship, to foreign intervention or incompetent governments all is put to the side for the four days of celebration. This year Carnival was of special importance as the 2010 earthquake forced the festivities to be put on hold for the past two years.
Jakmel is a town of contrasting wonders. The beaches are majestic yet dangerous with strong undercurrents and the shores lined with discarded remnants as there are no garbage of recycling containers anywhere in sight. The streets are lined with art, yet when you look closely you see the majority of art represents the artists struggle with the earthquake and both the ongoing emotional and physical rebuilding that continues to take place. The city is rich in culture and history-many of the most prominent Haitian artists are from Jakmel and its economic history was based on the export of deliciously rich coffee and fine oils. There were no coffee plantations, but rather an abundance of independent growers that grew as much as they needed to sustain their livelihood and the wealth of the local coffee industry. The coffee is noted to be some of the best in the world, and our “experienced” taste buds agreed! It is rich black and is the most alkaline.
It was the most wonderful weekend where in marvelous company we enjoyed sun, sea, fresh fruits, and fresh seafood.