Citadelle Henry, Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

Discovering the Heart of Haiti’s Past at the Citadelle Henry

“Citadelle Henry is a living testimony of the determination of the people to consolidate their right to be sovereign and free, and to decide their own destiny. It is a place of remembrance and reflection, a symbol of dignity and freedom”. – Transcription on a plaque posted at the entrance to Citadelle Henry 

Perched high above the ocean within the lush green confines of the mountain Bonnet-à-L’évêque that surround the small farming community of Milot are two of Haiti’s most prized possessions and symbols of freedom, Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Both built in the early 1800s during the reign of Henry Christophe, an important leader of the slave rebellion that led to Haiti’s independence, these two UNESCO World Heritage sites are perhaps the most impressive and iconic monuments in all of Haiti. They are definitely worth a visit to grasp an understanding of Haiti’s tumultuous, heroic past which enabled this tiny nation to become the first free black nation in the world.

We set off after breakfast from our hotel in Cap-Haïtien towards Milot. Although Milot is only about 17 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, it of course took an hour to navigate through the swarms of pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, and rough roads to reach Milot, a small town located at the base of the mountain and the entry point for Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Thankfully we had our trusted driver Nixon at the wheel of our six-passenger van steering the way through the madness. Yet of course it didn’t fail that we got lost trying to get our of town and had to hire another motorcyclist to show us the way. It was becoming a common trend!

Cap-Haïtien, Haiti 

Leaving Cap-Haïtien and heading north to Citadelle Henry.

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While the Palais Sans Sousi is located within the folds of the Bonnet-à-L’évêque mountain on the edge of town, the Citadelle Henry is perched high above Milot (over five miles up) on top of the mountain and requires quite an effort to get there. Given the heat and the potential for crowds, we decided to visit the Citadelle Henry first.

Reaching the Citadelle Henry is not for the faint at heart. There are basically two ways you can do it: On foot or on horse. If you go on foot, it is requires a couple of hours to reach the top depending upon your fitness level and the heat. If you go on horse, it is quite easy and only requires your patience dealing with squabbling horse handlers trying to continually negotiate a higher tip for the 30 minute ride up.  We opted to ride the horses which ended up being a great decision given the hot and humid weather.

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Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

A Visit to Meet the Metal Artisans in Croix-des-Bouquets

No trip to Haiti is complete without a visit to Croix-des-Bouquets. Croix-des-Bouquets is a unique artist community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that has grown into one of the largest, sustainable metal art communities in Haiti. It all began in the 1950s by a local blacksmith named Georges Liautaud who began using recycled oil drums to create amazing freestanding sculptures of art known as “fer découpé”. Liautaud mentored and inspired many metal artisans within the growing community of Croix-des-Bouquets and although he passed away in 1992, his most celebrated apprentice Serge Jolimeau continues to be a moving force within the community. Known as the godfather of Croix-des-Bouquets, Jolimeau opened up his land to the artisans so they have a place to work for free and learn the trade through apprenticeships.

Today, Croix-des-Bouquets has over 1,000 metal artisans with over 60 different shops and studios creating social change and opportunity within the community. It is a magical, happy place filled with energy and life. Although Jolimeau travels the world with his art, he continues to reside in Croix-des-Bouquets where he supposedly never even bothers to lock his door. It is that kind of close-knit community; a sharp contrast to some of the neighboring slums.

Croix-des-Bouquets is located on the edge of Port-au-Prince in the district of Noailles. You can tell you have arrived in the right place by the non-stop clanking of the hammers on metal. Beautiful handmade metal signs hang outside each workshop and the entire place is alive with the sounds of creativity. I felt like a kid in a candy shop looking at row after row of artwork with each piece being more spectacular than the last. My camera in hand and notebook ready, we began our tour of Croix-des-Bouquets and I was thankful it was not my first visit. Taking it all in for the first time can be quite overwhelming.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

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Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Finding my soul at the Playa San Josecito

“Witness and stand back from nature. That is the first step to the soul’s freedom.” – Sri Aurobindo

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine setting off into the afternoon sun horseback along a remote beach in the heart of the Osa Peninsula. The ocean air gently caresses your face while you slowly ride along the beach. Only the sound of the waves splashing  against the shore and the rustle of the monkeys playing in the trees remind you that you are truly in a magical place where jungle meets the sea. The beauty surrounds you and touches your soul with purity and ease. For that moment in time, you feel truly alive and free. 

Then, the roar of the howler monkeys make you open your eyes and smile. Your horse senses your excitement and begins to trot. You give your horse a gentle squeeze, and you are off, galloping as the wind whips your hair, your camera rocks back and forth against your chest and you let out a loud, exuberant scream. Ah so this is what it is like to feel 16 again, young, happy, pure and free. 

We set off around four o’clock down the steep gravel road that leads to Playa San Jocesito. The air was thick with humidity, blanketing my sunscreen arms with a thin layer of heat. It had been a long time since I had last rode a horse which seemed funny to me since I grew up loving horses so much and being an avid rider.

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The steep gravel road leading down to the remote beach.

I was filled with an energy and playfulness that I hadn’t felt in years. Was it being on a horse that made me feel so joyous? Or was it the fact that after an entire week in Costa Rica, I finally would get to go for a swim in the ocean and watch the sun set at the beach? I couldn’t stop smiling.

At the bottom of the road, we arrived at the entrance to the beach. Except for a couple of cars, there was no one else there. It seemed surreal to have such a beautiful place all to ourselves. But given the isolation and remoteness of the beach, few people came.

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It would take us an hour to reach a special cove along the beach that was known for its swimming. There are no roads to this beach and the only way you can reach it is on horse, on foot or by boat.

While we rode along the shore, some of our group embraced in lively conversation while I remained quiet, deep in thought. I grew up riding horses and spent several summers going to a sleep-away horseback riding camp that felt worlds away from my home. At the camp, we were each assigned our own horse to care for and ride the entire week. I started going when I was nine and went every summer until I was 13. I loved it and especially enjoyed the feeling of responsibility and pride at having a horse to call my own if only for a week. When I hit puberty and was no longer that wide-eyed little girl, my passions changed. I no longer rode horses.

Along the beach, I relished the feeling of riding with no trail, no single file line and no rules. When it came time to run I embraced it, letting go of all my inhibitions as my horse raced effortlessly into the horizon. I was aghast by the liberating feeling that swept over me. I was young once again, with pigtails and free.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The jungle literally travels down to the sea. There were tons of scarlet macaws and monkeys within.

When we reached the cove, we got off our horses, tied them up and got ready for a swim. Slightly off the beach, a group of monkeys were quite excited about our arrival and decided to put on a little show. We watched for a few moments but the lure of the water didn’t keep us long. It was time to dive in and swim like a fish.
Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa RicaPlaya San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The water felt absolutely amazing. It was perfect — warm, calm and silky soft. I floated, I swam and when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I grabbed my camera to take a few shots of the beach from the water. It was too beautiful to resist.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The last group of people on the beach were getting picked up by the water taxi. Soon we had the entire place to ourselves!

And too beautiful not to capture it and share in this short video.

We swam and played in the water for a little over an hour. I could have stayed longer, but the sun was beginning to set and before long it would be pitch black. It was time to get back on our horses and head back.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

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Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

A Stay in the Jungle at Amazonita Lodge

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more”. –  Lord Byron

By four o’clock, I was hot, dirty and exhausted after such a thrilling day that begin with watching the sun rise over the Osa Peninsula and ended with a six-hour remote trek through the thick jungle of the Corcovado National Park. I can’t quite remember ever having a past twenty-four hours so incredibly invigorating and succinct to Mother Nature. I’d seen sloths, a troupe of collared peccary, pizotes, a mating pair of scarlet macaws, monkeys and more. Yet best of all, it was only us and the wildlife. Not another soul had ventured into this part of the park and for that I was truly blessed.

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Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

We left Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre saying goodbye to our newly made friends and traveled the short distance down gravel roads to a locally-owned eco lodge located on the outskirts of town, surrounded by tropical rainforest jungle. I would soon discover that the Amazonita Lodge was the ultimate nature lover’s paradise.

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Breathless in Bolivia

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. – Helen Keller

Almost a year ago today I was climbing up high into the Bolivian Andes in Condoriri Valley with my dad. It was an unforgettable trip in many regards. First and foremost, it was only six months after my father completed chemotherapy. To climb two mountains over 16,000 feet in two days is quite a remarkable recovery to say the least. I am so grateful that we were able to go on another amazing hike together. I don’t seem to have any other hiking partner as adventurous and fit as my dad. Second, for me it was proof that I could mentally and physically climb at high altitude. Landing in La Paz at one of the highest international airports in the world and then promptly driving to our base camp at 15,000 feet proved that my body could adjust and handle the thin air. It was the determining factor in my decision to climb Kilimanjaro this past July.

While I don’t have any climbing trips planned at the moment I still enjoy remembering and reflecting on my trips to the mountains. I have recently decided to revamp my Instagram account and slowly add new photos to my gallery. I feel these two pictures from my trip last November to Bolivia are right up there among my personal best. They inspire me to chase my dreams and never give up. I hope to be climbing again soon somewhere in the world.

If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards. – Paul Bryant

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

This photo was taken as we were leaving our base camp in Condoriri Valley. In high season there can be hundreds of tents and climbers however we were the only ones there. It was quite cold in November dropping down to 15 degrees farenheit at night. But we had the entire place to ourselves. How lucky!

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Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, SolarSisterSummit

Reaching up to the sky on top of Kilimanjaro

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. – Bruce Lee

What are the boundaries we make for our lives? I know for myself, I have certain boundaries I will not cross. I will not be dishonest, disrespectful, or full of hate. Instead, I will be as open-minded as I can, as loving, loyal and honest as possible. I have set my standards high at trying to be the best “me” I can humanly be. Do I make mistakes? Of course! We all do. Yet I strive to correct them, to push ahead and to always try to improve myself to make me a better person and human being.

While I may be an adventurous person who is driven to explore, wander and challenge myself physically there are other aspects of my life that are relatively structured and risk free. I have my boundaries on what kinds of risks I want to take and what kind of life I want to live. My family always comes first. Yet thankfully I have the most incredible, supportive husband possible who encourages me to follow my dreams and challenge my boundaries. Climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro is one such boundary I had dreamed to conquer, and thankfully with plenty of hurdles and obstacles along the way I fulfilled my dream at the end of July.

I have written a lot about each day of my Kilimanjaro climb. But I have not written yet about the hardest, most difficult day of all. The Summit. So here the story goes.

Shira Camp, Machame Route, Kilimanjaro

Sunset at Shira Camp. 12,600 feet/3,840 m

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Shira Camp, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Kilimanjaro: Day 2 Climb to Shira Camp

 

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Here is a copy of the map of our trail. Not the best quality but the best map I can find to show you the route we followed.

I woke up to the sounds of the camp. Tent zipping open and closed. The sing-song sounds of Swahili and the birds crowing. I had made it through my first night on the mountain and needless to say, did not sleep well. The ground was as hard as a rock, our tent was on an angle just like the mountain itself and I was frozen cold all night long despite the low elevation. It would become a regular battle for me each and every night trying to figure out how to stay warm, how to not have to get up in the middle of the night to find the toilet tent and how to remember in the pitch black darkness which green Zara tent was  mine. For me, sleeping was going to be the hardest part of the climb.

The second day climb would take us from 9,780 feet (2,980 m) to Shira Camp at 12,600 feet (3,840 m) passing through rainforest glades, the vast open moorlands and up to the Shira Plateau where the treeline ends and the vegetation becomes sparse. In total, the climb is roughly 4 miles (7 km) taking anywhere between four to six hours depending upon speed.

Machine Camp Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Morning welcomes us at Machame Camp. Elevation 9,780 feet (2980 m)

We ate a delicious breakfast of eggs, fruit and freshly made chapati bread (there are a lot of Indian influences in Tanzanian cuisine) and then were on our way. We set off around 8:30 am along with all the hundreds of other climbers, going up a steep, narrow path in single file line. The first hour was rather laborious and frustrating because when one person or group stopped, it set off a domino effect going down the mountain stopping us all. Thankfully the trail widened and opened up a bit later into the hike or it would have been a long, annoying day.

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Sleeping at the Foot of a Bolivian Glacier

Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post series The Drive to Condoriri Valley. To read post click on link. 

“I think it’s my adventure, my trip, my journey, and I guess my attitude is, let the chips fall where they may”. – Leonard Nimoy

Within an hour our entire campsite was set up and our home for the next few days was ready. It had been awhile since I had camped outdoors, and I had never camped at 15,500 feet before. Although it was nearing summer, I knew that it would get cold once the sun went down and the winds picked up speed, sweeping cold air off the ice of the glacier.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

A view from the dining tent. My tent is the small white one in the background with the glacial tongue shortly behind it.

Since we had an hour or two before dinner, we decided to explore our surroundings by taking a short hike to the mouth of the glacier. The rain had stopped but the wind was fierce. We had heard that this time of year can be rather temperamental in the Andes which explained why we were the only ones there at the camp site. In another month or two, it would be filled with tents and trekkers. Yet despite the questionable weather I felt lucky to have the entire view to ourselves.

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South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Exploring the Grand Canyon: A Hike Down the Rim to Ooh Aah Point

On the last day of our October visit to the Grand Canyon, I decided it was time to take a hike down off the rim and explore. After a taste of hiking down the Bright Angel Trail, I agreed with everything I’d read. Getting below the rim was the way to truly see the magical colors, depth and splendors of the Grand Canyon.

Although we had seen some families with children hiking below the rim, I personally did not feel comfortable bringing my children. Not only was it incredibly steep, there was no protection. One slip and down you go. Thus, I decided to do a short 1.8 mile hike myself, on the South Kaibab trail to the OOH AHH Lookout Point.

South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Start of the trailhead

My husband and kids dropped me off and away I went, elated to be doing one of the things I love most: Hike!  I had the next hour and a half to hike before they would come back to pick me up. I could hardly wait.

South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Getting ready to go!

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Cuban man

A Taste of Cuba

A trip to Cuba is possibly one of the most fascinating travel experiences ever. Landing in Havana is like taking a step back in time to the 1950s where everything remains frozen in time yet in various states of decay.  I instantly fell in love with Cuba the moment I got off the chartered plane and saw my first 1950s retro-fitted American car. The history, culture, and people of Cuba are utterly invigorating and Havana has an energy that swept through my veins and left me craving for more.

Over the past eight days in Cuba, I took well over 1,200 photos and 50 pages of notes on all the various historical, cultural and social facts about this unique country. I learned a great deal and am so excited to share my insight into Cuba over the next several months on my blog.

As an American being required to enter Cuba on a special visa for a “people-to-people” trip (one of the only ways Americans can enter legally as a tourist) allowed me to gain firsthand knowledge and insight into the ins and outs of Cuban life, history and culture. Although I’d rather travel there freely, being on such a tour felt like taking a university class. I learned so incredibly much in so little time.

It will take me a few days to unwind and digest my trip to Cuba. In the meantime, I wanted to give you a quick taste of some of the highlights of this wonderful, captivating place, a country that stole my heart. Below are some selected unedited photos to give you a delightful taste of Cuba.

Old Vintage cars in Havana

Vintage American cars from the 1950s dot the landscape of Cuba sweeping you back into a different era.

Havana street musician

Cubans love their music and street musicians are everywhere.

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