At three thirty in the morning on a Saturday, the rocky trail that winds down from Petit Bwa to La Digue is packed. It was full of people, donkeys, and mules carrying goods to the market in Archaie. Some barefoot, all loaded down. We had a tough time navigating and trying to climb with so many coming down the mountain, especially in the dark. I did enjoy two things about hiking in the dark: 1) It was much cooler, and 2) I wasn’t nearly the spectacle of white-skinned-ness that I am in the daytime here. There were many we passed that didn’t even notice the difference in skin color, and some who only noticed at the last second – much to their surprise. It was a nice change.
Speaking of change, I left La Digue wearing pants, since the original plan was to ride mules. After about thirty minutes of hiking, though (even though it was “cooler”), I had to stop on the trail and pull shorts out of my backpack. Fortunately it was still dark, so hardly anyone noticed the strange white man changing clothes on the mountainside.
About an hour in, Pastor Rony and I were walking together when we met his mother on the trail. I had never met her before, so I enjoyed that. She was on the way down at four in the morning, which meant she must have left her home somewhere around one o’clock a.m. She wasn’t carrying anything to sell, so she was simply hiking all night to come to a market to buy goods for her family that week. How does your commute to Wal-Mart look now? I asked Rony how old she was, and I was very amused by his method of calculating the answer. He told me she was married when she had thirty years, then one year later his older sister was born, who is now 45, so she must be 76 years old. I was shocked. She looks like she’s in her 50’s to me, and was cruising down the mountain like she hadn’t just hiked for three hours. I told Rony she must be living right. Here’s the best part – Saturday night she was back up in her home town of La Grenade, the village we hiked to. I was dead-tired and laying on the ground while she was making her SECOND trip on that trail within 24 hours. Amazing.
By sunrise, we were on a long flat stretch of trail behind Petit Bwa. The sunrise was beautiful, and the easy trail was a welcome relief. We stopped for one short rest under a tree, and had our first accordion accident. During the transfer from one back to another, the squeeze-box hit the deck. After some testing, it was determined that there was no damage to our beloved traveling sound system, and we continued on.
There was only one time that I started thinking maybe this hike was a bad idea. The next major rise behind Petit Bwa is just that – MAJOR. I had enjoyed our nice flat path, we were making good time and I had almost stopped sweating. Then we started going straight up again. The steepness can be measured by how many zig-zags the trail makes per distance traveled. For a while, we weren’t going more than five feet at a time before turning around and cutting back up again. (On the way down, I found the donkey trail that goes down a lower grade – it was slower, but I would have had to go down the other way on my face at that point. My legs like the climbing much more than the descending.)
As we progressed deeper into the ‘mountains beyond mountains’, the trail evened out as far as drastic elevation changes, as it varied between climbing and descending quite a bit. The loose rocks and sand slowly changed into mud and jagged jutting rock as we reached the higher elevations. It was considerably cooler, and much greener.
I was of course still sweating profusely, but one of my comrades pulled out a jacket to put on once we were back into the forest. Many of my Haitian friends kept talking about being “cold and stiff”, and worrying about sleeping in the cold and the effects on their health. I on the other hand could not wait to feel something below 70 degrees. In fact, between the exhaustion – the full stomach from an amazing Haitian meal – and the beautiful cool evening – I’ve never slept better…even though I was on a bed made of cinder blocks and plywood and a mattress of two inch foam.
I slept in the Pastor’s home. He and his wife graciously gave up their two-room house for Pastor Rony, his wife, and me. The house was made of sticks covered in sand and white mud, with a thatch roof. The floor was dirt that had been swept and worn down to the rocks below. There was an enclosure behind it made of woven palm leaves for bathing. Down a path about fifty feet away was the latrine – a hole in the ground with a thatch privacy screen. Like many Haitian homes, they have a separate lean-to made of sticks and leaves that they cook in outdoors.
Later in the day we continued up the mountain to visit Delpeche. Along the way, I saw the homes of Pastor Rony’s parents, and a few other homes belonging to families of my friends and employees. Outside of Delpeche, I met Madame Rony’s father and visited her childhood home. As always, the mountain people of Haiti were warm, welcoming, and wonderful.
We visited the family of Merilien, one of Lifeline’s employees, and spent time with his brother. His brother attends the Lifeline school, but has been home in the mountains trying to recover from a serious illness. I think he might have Malaria, and he hasn’t been able to walk or hardly eat for weeks. It was very hard to see him laying on the ground covered in ragged blankets. I pray he is recovering, but with no health care available, and the lack of education regarding sickness and treatment here, I don’t know what will happen to him. We’re sending medicine to treat Malaria, but beyond that I don’t know what we can do.
When we returned to La Grenade for the evening, it began to rain. The Saturday evening church service was postponed, so I layed down to rest. I told Pastor Rony to wake me up when the service was going to start. I woke up to hear the rain pouring down and leaking through the roof. I checked my watch – it was only 6:30 pm. I got up to see what everyone else was doing, only to find that they’d all gone to bed.
I had no trouble going back to sleep. I fell asleep to the sound of the rain and roosters crowing. Haitian roosters never seem to know what time it is, contrary to the idea of them crowing at sunrise.
Sunday I was treated to a wonderful church service. Everywhere I turned people were hugging me and offering to feed me. If I ever get discouraged, all it will take is a trip up the mountain. The people were amazing and joyful - an inspiration.
The trip served to teach me many things, and also to encourage me. These beautiful mountain people are people we could ALL learn something from.
In my head, the video version of the trip is coming along nicely. In reality – I haven’t started. Maybe for a Christmas present for our readers I’ll complete that project. But most likely not.