From Papaye to Dondon, the long way around

I visited a friend in the Sant Lakay of Mouvman Peyizan Papay, a sort of Marxist training center and sustainable agriculture demonstration site. They have some sustainable technology I really like. They keep their goats confined – the only time I have seen this in Haiti. This stops them wreaking havoc, eating baby trees and your gran’s cabbage patch, and also allows their manure to be harvested. They have aquaculture, agroforestry, home gardens, and the best design of composting toilet I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot of designs of composting toilet).

This center is five or six kilometers outside of Hinche. I set out from there around 9:30 this morning, and got to Dondon at about 6 in the evening. In between was a rainstorm, a flat tyre, three rivers to ford, an issue with the front axle, an exciting rope bridge, and precious little tarmac (asphalt for those of the Yankee imperialist persuasion).

Those clouds don't mean anything bad, do they?

Those clouds don’t mean anything bad, do they?

Papaye, to Hinche, to Maïcasse, to Pignon, to Dondon – I reckon it at 76km. That is twice what I usually do, and it was nearly all on unpaved roads, which is much harder. I guess I was feeling ambitious today.

The last hour or so was fueled by nothing but willpower. I actually thought I might fall asleep on my bike. I was overjoyed to arrive in Dondon, and immediately ordered a big plate of grub from the first lady on the side of the street. I sat and ate with her and her friends and we chatted. Across the road was a big white hotel. Thank the gods of travel! I have somewhere to stay for the night! The food finished, paid for, and washed down with tasty beverages, I knock on the steel door of the hotel. Nothing. I pound on the steel door of the hotel. Nothing. Damn it. I doubt this town is big enough to have two hotels. A daringly lesbian-looking lady tells me it’s been closed for a while. The lady who cooked my dinner calls me back and gives me intricate direxions to ‘Kay Oba’. I follow them and here I am in Oba’s house. Oba has a spare room with a ridiculously big bed and 24-hour electricity. Such things always work out in the end.

Dondon - a little mountain town of about 25,000 - has its own version of the Hollywood sign. Sorry about the quality of the photo

Dondon – a little mountain town of about 25,000 – has its own version of the Hollywood sign. Sorry about the quality of the photo

An overview of Project Treemobile: I’ve gotten a lot of buzz, but little has converted into donations. I’m on the home sprint now: I just want to hit the north coast, which will take me another two days at most, and then it’s time for me to go back to Ireland. I want you guys to donate more, please, if you’ve enjoyed reading this, or appreciate what I’m doing.

 

How to cycle for four hours by mistake

I’ve spent the past few days in Valere, an amazing community with the most successful reforestation program that I know about in Haiti. Valere will get a long article of its own soon, just a quick update on me for now.

At about 2p.m. today, I was sitting in Mirebalais, looking at maps. Here’s my thought process:

Conor: Hmmm…. If I sleep here in Mirebalais, I could get to Hinche tomorrow. Let’s see… Ooh that’s 57km, a little bit far for one day, but I could do it.

Other Conor: Why not cycle an hour or two now, and pull in at the next flophouse? Then you’ll only have about 40km to get to Hinche tomorrow. This is definitely not a dumb idea that’ll get you in trouble.

Conor: Ok, Other Conor, I trust you for some reason. All those dumb ideas you’ve had in the past are water under the bridge.

So I set out cycling. I pass the idyllic lake created by the Péligre hydroelectric dam. I pass through Cange. I haven’t seen a guesthouse all day, so I guess I’ll just keep going. My sister in Ireland calls me, and I take a break to update her on my adventures. I keep going. It’s getting dark. If I don’t find something soon I’m gonna have to start knocking on doors inquiring into the status of their guest room.

In true action-hero style, I found something in the nick of time, a one-room guesthouse in Thomonde. Insects included in the price. What was meant to be a little bite out of a bigger journey took me nearly all the way to Hinche. I’ve only got about 23km to cycle tomorrow, or two hours.

From Jacmel to Mirebalais

I’m saying goodbye to the southern peninsula and making my way up north now.

I like the roads from Jacmel up north to Léogâne: tarmac roads over gentle hills with friendly people and views like thiiiis…. actually never mind. No way can I upload photos on this connexion. Just imagine pretty mountains looking out over the Caribbean Sea and we’ll move on.

Leaving Léogâne, heading for Port-au-Prince, Carrefour stands in your path like some mythological monster. Its potholes are sneakily concealed by trash-water, and splash you when you ride through them. Mack trucks belch smoke. Even the pigs seem to hate it.

I passed right through Port-au-Prince. Sorry I didn’t stop to say hi to you, whoever you are reading this right now, but I wanted to make progress.

After Croix-de-Bouquets (Wyclef’s hometown, apparently), I got into the sort of landscapes I’ve been looking for: stark, moonlike hills, with not a tree for miles. If it’s not rock and sand, it’s saguaro cacti and scrubby things. I thought this was a profitable place to fire my seedbombs.

Me and the rain had a deal: I cycle by day, you do your thing at night. He kept up his side of the deal until today. Of course, in Haiti, everything is dry again after five minutes of sunshine.

I made it to Mirebalais a day ahead of schedule. I’m a little bit impressed with myself. That weighs in at about 50km a day.

Reforestation IS possible

Some people think restoring forests to a degraded ecosystem is an unrealistic dream. But in fact, it has been done successfully over and over again in different parts of the world.

The BBC recently published this article about Ascension Island in the Atlantic. Two hundred years ago it was a barren rock. No trees grew there, and there was not enough fresh water to sustain an ecosystem.

Then, in the 1840s, Charles Darwin and Joseph Dalton Hooker started to ship trees to the island. The Royal Navy delivered shipment after shipment of trees, bamboo, and other plants. By 1865, an Admiralty report stated, “through the spreading of vegetation, the water supply is now excellent”.

This point about water supply following afforestation is noteworthy. Ascension didn’t just lack trees; it lacked the water to support them. But when the trees were planted, they condensed the water they needed from sea winds, capturing it in the ecosystem.

If it was possible there, it is possible here. Click to donate now to support grassroots reforestation programs in Haiti.

Days 6-9: From Les Cayes, to Port Salut, to Les Anglais, to Les Irois, to Chambellan

Woooah some crazy days. I haven’t had enough internet to post for the past few days.

July 30th took me from Les Cayes to Port Salut, along some gorgeous Caribbean coastline:

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In the hills around here, you can see the battle between deforestation and afforestation:

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Port Salut is a lovely seaside town, and it works that to generate a bit of a tourism industry. There are small hotels and seafood restaurants. I forget if I took this photo in Port Salut, or one of those other towns, like Port-a-Piment. I was later told the statue portrays a Haitian fighter with his foot on a blue-helmeted head that says ‘Minustah, Cholera’. Wish I’d gotten a better photo:

The next day, the 31st, I went to Les Anglais. Just before Les Anglais, the road stopped being paved for the first time on my trip. What fun! This bike is way too good to only drive on tarmac. I was passing more disgustingly pretty Caribbean beaches:

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And some rivers dried up by drought, and landscapes blasted by deforestation: But look at this majestic mapou tree fighting for a greener Haiti! When you get to Les Anglais, the first thing you notice is this big solar power plant: IMG_20150731_191153The hotel I stayed at was growing its own moringa trees. This is the sort of grassroots reforestation project you’re supporting when you donate: The 1st of August was a nightmare. I mentioned the roads stop being paved just before Les Anglais. I spent the first hour of the day cycling on flat, unpaved roads. This was fine. I got to help out a kid whose bike was broken down (I’m travelling with basic tools to repair bikes.) and chatted to a bunch of guys making charcoal: Charcoal After that, you hit the town of Tiburon, and the road suddenly turns into a steep shale path. It’s hard to walk up, much harder to cycle up. I was climbing for three hours in the hot sun. When I finally reached the peak, I was on my last nerve, and ready for some fun downhill mountain-biking over rocks. But that lasted one minute before my tyre blew out. After 30 minutes trying to fix it, I decided it was beyond repair, and walked on. It turned out I’d been only a few hundred meters from a farming community the whole time. A guy there took his motorbike to town to buy me a new inner tube. In the meantime, the whole community gathered around and quizzed me about my trip, my nationality, my family. I am used to this, but as I say, I was extremely physically tired, and frustrated about the tyre. Of the forty or fifty people who had gathered, everyone was cool, except for one guy. This one guy was stoned, paranoid, talked more than everyone else put together, and got really in my face. He was also gesticulating with a machete, and really ruined my experience of being stuck in that village (called something like Pa Kafou) for the two hours it took for Richardson to come back with my inner tube. Past Pa Kafou, the climb doesn’t get any easier, but it’s worth it. Some of the ocean views are so beautiful that you could almost be forgiven for thinking you’re in County Kerry:

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I arrived in Les Irois dog-tired just before it got dark, and asked the cops if I could camp in their courtyard: On the 2nd, I left Les Irois early, and took a lunchbreak in Dame Marie. Sitting waiting in the restaurant, two American guys I know from Port-au-Prince wandered in: “Conor! What are you doing here?” Well, lemme tellya…

After Dame Marie, I got a bunch of flats, which were would have been easy to fix except my ticky-tacky pump (bought in a Port-au-Prince market) barely works. This slowed me down considerably and I had to stop for the night in Chambellan. Chambellan is a very charming town on a river, surrounded by breadfruit and mapou trees. You should totally take someone there if you’re trying to be romantic. (Photo uploading just stopped working. Go see it.) Here’s the lads playing football on the main street in Chambellan. The crowd dispersed and they stopped every time a truck came past.

Somehow, in spite of all the difficulties, I managed to cover over 40km a day. I’m taking a few days off cycling now by a nice… relaxing… hike up a mountain, macheteing my way through jungle… I may not have thought this through. Pic Macaya is Haiti’s last bit of remaining cloudforest. It has bird species, spider species, plant species, that exist nowhere else in the world besides Pic Macaya. I’m gonna go camp in the cloudforest for a few days with a friend, then back to seedbombing from my bicycle.

Day 5: Aquin to Les Cayes

Had a lovely experience at the beginning of the day. I got a flat after just a few minutes. (That’s not the lovely experience; we’re getting to that.) It happened that I was right outside a community center (i.e. some wooden benches with coconut thatch for shade). All forty people sitting there, men, women, and children, mobilized to help me fix it. Ok, so that was a bit annoying having that many people try to do what is, at most, a two-man job, but it’s the thought that counts. Everyone was genuinely friendly, helpful, and interested in my tree-planting and publicity mission. When I was leaving, I asked the name of the town. It’s St. George, just outside of Aquin.

Trees in Haiti! Check out how hardy and productive this  morinda citrifolia is being, growing out of rock and dropping (really expensive) fruit all over the ground!

Trees in Haiti! Check out how hardy and productive this morinda citrifolia is being, growing out of rock and dropping (really expensive) fruit all over the ground!

I’m getting into some really beautiful land these past two or three days. I spent most of today cycling along the coast:

…and stopped in a roadside bar where I was served a beer by a guy called Schopenhauer (honest to god, Schopenhauer) after one of my favourite philosophers.

Made it to Les Cayes and took this photo to prove it:

Byenvini

Then found a hotel room and made the tiniest friend:

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