Haiti’s Rough And Ready Frontier

Mj 618_348_haitis rough and ready frontier
Paul Clammer

Môle Saint-Nicholas, at the tip of Haiti’s northern “finger,” sits on a wide enclosed bay, fringed with a long strip of creamy sand. When Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Americas here in 1492, he noted the area’s “beauty and graciousness.” He neglected to mention that the entire region was thick with caves, hills, and reefs, making it an irresistible destination for future adventurers.

The area around Môle is rife for exploration. The low forest is threaded with miles of goat paths that are perfect for mountain biking. Some paths lead along the cliffs and down to the sea, while others plunge into enticing limestone caves as yet unexplored by spelunkers. Tracks too rocky for wheels offer further hiking possibilities, such as the 600-foot summit of Morne Cabris (“Goat Mountain”), with its ruined fort and dramatic views over the Windward Passage. Locals claim that on a clear day, it’s possible to see Cuba, just 52 miles away.

The nearby turquoise bay contains some of the most pristine coral in Haiti, as well as the wreck of a small fishing boat popular with the few snorkelers that make the trip north from Port-au-Prince. Kite-surfing pioneers looking for the next break have already marked Môle’s bay as something special, and it’s even possible to hire a rig to take to the waves and the wind.

The area around Môle’s downtown is littered with old forts and other historic sites, leftovers from the French colonial and early independence era. The ceremonial gates of the Batterie de Vallière and Fort George still mark the town’s limits. On the main road out of Môle, La Poudrière is an old gunpowder magazine, still used occasionally for both Christian and Vodou ceremonies during religious festivals – foreigners are welcome to attend.

Expat types frequent the Boukan Guinguette, a chilled-out mishmash of bungalows, tents, and open-air showers presided over by a thatched beach-bar restaurant tucked between the remains of a colonial fort and the sea. Dinner is almost invariably catch-of-the-day served with fried plantains and a cold Prestige beer. If you hear an early-morning rustling outside your accommodations, don’t be surprised to come face to face with a three-foot-long rhinoceros iguana. Endangered across Haiti, these quasi-dinosaurs still seem to thrive here.

Môle Saint-Nicholas is, after all, a world away. The northern coastal road from Port-de-Paix, the nearest city, is rough and the highway that runs to the city of Gonaïves becomes a menace as it winds its way through the cactuses that crowd the peninsula.

If getting to Môle has never been easy, staying has never been hard. As Haiti settles down and does more to promote itself as a destination, expect word to get out that the first spot in the Caribbean to welcome a foreigner still has a lot to offer explorers.

More Information: If you’re in a group or short on time, local airline Tortug’Air can arrange charter flights that’ll get you from Port-au-Prince to Môle Saint-Nicholas’s airstrip in a scant 20 minutes. American Airlines offers regular nonstop service to Port-au-Prince from Miami.

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