“Sonja Lapli Ki Leve Mayi Ou” – Haitian Proverb meaning “Remember the Rain that Made your Corn Grow”
After an eight and a half hour treacherous drive, our van finally arrived into the outskirts of Cap-Haïtien. Once the richest and grandest city in the entire Caribbean, due to a powerful sugar and coffee industry built on slavery, Cap-Haïtien’s history is long, violent and heroic. It was here under French colonial rule that Haiti won its independence in 1804 after a bloody revolution and became the first free black republic in the world.
Today, the remains of a once grand city whose history can be seen in the layers of peeling paint and the crumbling of its French colonial architecture is a reminder of the poverty, hardship and natural disasters that have continued to devastate Haiti since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. While greed, violence, and corruption are a common thread throughout this impoverished island nation’s history, there is also a rich cultural heritage that goes back for centuries. There is no better place to learn about Haiti’s past than by spending a few days visiting Cap-Haïtien.
As we entered the town, I noticed a slight resemblance to the colorful run-down streets of Havana. Just like Havana, if I closed my eyes I could almost picture the once remarkable beauty of the place before its demise. Layers of pastel-hued walls gave the city an ironically cheerful feel despite the piles of uncollected trash, the mismatch of junk sold along the street and the darn right brutal shape of some of the roads and buildings. The corniche which is the long boardwalk that lines the sea was probably the place to be and be seen years ago yet now it is filled with congestion, garbage and dirt. Off in the distance as far as the eye can see lay some of Haiti’s most beautiful beaches with perhaps one of the most lovely ones of all being open only to the foreign cruise ship passengers spending the day in Haiti’s luxurious, private and exclusive Labadie. Directly south in the lush green mountains lies the famous fortress, Citadelle Henry, which is one of the primary reasons for visiting Cap-Haïtien besides the beaches.
For me, I wanted to visit Cap-Haïtien for the culture and history. I had never been to the northern side of Haiti and knew that it was blessed with a rich heritage and was once known as the “Paris of the Antilles”. Unfortunately two days would not be nearly enough time to explore the city and its surroundings. But it did give me a different experience in Haiti.